Sunday, 16 June 2019

Thanks for joining us for NFFD 2019!



The rain has stopped, the water has subsided, and this year's Flash Flood has come to an end.  We hope you had a wonderful National Flash Fiction Day weekend!

Thank you again to everyone who submitted work, to all our authors, to our panel of editors, and to all of you who stopped by to read.

Special thanks also to Lindsay Murphy, the Programmes Manager at Safe Ground, who shared the inspiring work of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project with us.

Submissions for next year's Flash Flood will open in the Spring of 2020.

Finally, if you like what we're doing, please consider becoming a patron of NFFD at Patreon (for as little as £1 a month), making a one-off donation via PayPal or supporting us in one of these other ways (many of which don't involve money).

Thank you again and happy writing from all of us at Flash Flood.







SAFE GROUND: Flash by Jon P

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.


Flash by Jon P

And then it happened. 

‘I now pronounce you man and wife.’ The vicar smiled, showing his stained teeth.

I lifted up the satin veil before he finished speaking. Her eyes were closed. She smelled of Spring. I kissed her. It was a perfect kiss. 

The sun was high in the pastel blue sky. There was a scent of freshly cut grass as we laughed and posed our way onto film and camera.

The reception: Family, close friends, friends’ plus ones mingling, glasses tinkling, taffeta rustling, children playing, applause and laughter then dancing.



In the early hours I lay on the extremely comfortable bed, replaying the events of earlier, some in black and white, some in Technicolor. It’s quiet but for the sound of her sleeping, and the distant traffic beyond. I replace the errant strand of hair back behind her ear, and think, ‘It’s finally happened.’


---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: 'Truth and Hope' by Stephen H

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.



'Truth and Hope'
by Stephen H


It is now that fateful day of reckoning, the day I never thought would materialize, well not like this. The 27th of January 2017. Amazingly I had slept well the night before, thinking just before I drifted off, of the inscription on King Edward III’s shield in a jousting tournament, ‘It is what it is.’

My sister, Jill, drove me from her house, where I had been staying, to Bedford rail station. It was typical cold, dark, misty morning, visibility was poor, I recall. Was this to be my last journey of what had become a regular commute? Would I be coming back? A dilemma – purchase a single ticket or a return? I chose a single, why tempt fate?

I was in a zone whilst travelling on the train, having no recollection of boarding it. I am ordinarily a phlegmatic person, well I thought so. Today I was lugubrious.

My co-defendants had been remanded into custody on the 18th. Fortunately I had been given continued bail, so I had hope, whilst I knew that they were doomed. One of them I cared not an iota about - no compassion. The other is a man that I had known for over twenty-five years, Simon, a former solicitor and deputy district judge. The journey to Southwark Crown Court took no longer than normal. My fate would be known by the end of the day. The peculiarity was not, I was not concerned for me. It was for my loved ones and how they would feel and cope. That concentrated my mind for the entire journey. I reflected I still had my freedom; I still had hope of being handed down a suspended sentence.

I arrived at Southwark Crown Court to the usual melee of navigating through security. The rush of unpacking and re-packing the contents of your bag, had become less stressful over the twelve-week trial period as the familiarity between myself and the security guards transcended into a more lackadaisical, cavalier attitude to inspecting what they had seen in my bag time and time again.

I entered into what was to be the last trip in one of the two elevators that ever worked. The third never worked in the whole twelve weeks I was there. On pushing the button for the third floor I wondered if the third elevator would ever work again. Why should I care?

On the ‘ding’ I turned right to be greeted by my daughter, Lucie. I had turned right some fifty times before simply to walk to Court 13.

‘Hi, Dad. You look well.’ She was always a delight, from when she was a toddler.

‘I don’t exactly feel it,’ I said.

‘The press gallery was full.’

I wasn’t surprised. I knew it would be as Simon’s position as a Judge had all the ingredients given the missing money and the lover’s tryst, with Emma, the other defendant. Embellishment by the tabloids beckoned.

When I entered the courtroom it was packed. I felt an air of silence when I entered the dock unaccompanied. I sat there alone. The door was locked behind me. My last day of freedom? There was still hope, I thought.

With that, Simon and his former lover who he had been besotted with years ago, which to this sorry ending of this tale, entered the dock from the cells below. The court room hushed, the packed gallery settled. Simon looked forlornly at his wife in the gallery. He looked ashen.

‘How is it?’ I asked, knowing he had been incarcerated at Wandsworth Prison.

‘A dreadful experience,’ he said. ‘An experience.’The next ten minutes, or was it two and a half hours were surreal. The judge entered, the hush continued. As he recapped the events leading up to the conviction, my mind wandered. This was not my sentencing. It was that of the other two. All I recall is the judges face grimacing, screwing up and growing redder as he became more vocal. And then the words, the only words that I heard – ‘Six years!’ And then the even more fateful words of ‘Send them down!’

It was now lunchtime. How had two and a half hours passed so quickly.

‘Mr. Hiseman can be released from the dock for the lunchtime recess,’ the Judge said.

‘Court rise!’ the clerk to the court bellowed.

Lucie came up to me. ‘Dad, you still have hope.’

‘We’ll see,’ I said. ‘It will be what it will be.’

---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: 'Her Smile Never Fades' by Stephen M

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.


'Her Smile Never Fades'
by Stephen M

Her name, her face, the colours of her hair, none of them I remember any longer. It’s been such a long time, too long to even consider counting. Time has turned its pages over many seasons and years. But her smile has never faded away, or been forgotten. Whenever I think of my childhood, she’s always there, in my mind.

The farm was big. There were plenty of olive trees, some of which played a part in my favourite climbing game with my cousin. The best part was getting to the top of the olive tree and then simply jumping down. The more bruises, the more the chances of being the winner. How funny that was; but that’s another story.

Each day, after school, I’d run home, drop my bag, grab a slice of home-baked brown bread with olive oil and tomato on it and then run again – out to meet her. I knew she’d wait for me. She always did. I was so excited and happy to see my friend. I’d run all the way through the vineyards, through other people’s farms and their olive trees. Up, down, left and right, the narrow countryside paths, when at last I’d run around the corner of a house with a water well in front of it. There she was, my friend, sitting at the side of the path amongst the flowers and various other plants, smiling at me. Most of the time, I wouldn’t eat the bread and tomato as I’d throw it away. You see, running does not go well with eating at the same time. I’d go and sit next to her and we’d talk about our day and school, and all the things we’d learned. I’d tell how I didn’t listen to my grandma, and she’d say how she’d disobeyed her mum. We’d laugh and talk more.

Whenever thirsty, we’d walk up the narrow path and get some fresh cool water from the well. The metal bucket was small; the rope attached to its handle was very long. The well was deep and there was a technique to get water from the well. I’d always get her to drink first from the bucket. Full face in.

The all of a sudden, a loud voice would come through the trees, calling her to go back home. A quick goodbye till tomorrow and off I was, running back, so happy. I’d always look back and see her smile. I’d wave goodbye, so happy.

Tome passed and the time came when I had to go away and my grandma was very upset about it. You see, she never called me grandson, just son. I left and never got to say goodbye to her and see her smile again, ever.

Thirty years later, I got to visit my cousin and his family. He was still at the same farm where he grew up. Time had stopped. Almost everything was exactly the same as I remembered it. The main topic of discussion was the olive trees and the jumping down game. Everyone listened with amazement, but not my cousin and I.

There was a man at my cousin’s home. He’d just popped in to pay a visit. After the normal introduction, he turned around and shocked me with his next words –

‘My sister has never forgotten you. She always talks about you and smiles she mentions your name; even to this day. We all knew she’d come and meet up with you after school. She thought it was your secret!’


---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: 'The Manuscript' by Chris

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.


'The Manuscript'
by Chris


‘It’s all gone through.’ The words I had been waiting for confirmed the purchase after weeks of near misses. I felt relief where I expected joy, though that returned as I drove through the gates. The large, old stone property, a secluded town north of Inverness, the view over the sea, the peace away from neighbours and enough parking for the whole team and many more were the magnets that brought me here to buy this dream.

I had a week to clean the place before the new furniture arrived. Easily, each room in turn, done and dusted clean. Ahead of schedule, I reached the last at the top. I had never noticed the entrance to the eaves, hidden by the shadow of the wardrobe. Inside, a cave, tidily arranged but full.

The last night I stayed to clear the final boxes before the morning’s rush. Amongst them an ancient wooden chest, rope handled, sporting a very faded crest above initials beginning with a G or a C perhaps. As was my wont, I kept the best for last.

The coffee had allowed me to work but this was slowing rapidly. I needed sleep but I wanted this done. I was alone, cold and tired and had let the winter fire go out. The box was locked. Of course, I should have waited but my brain was not in gear. Finding a chisel by the sink, I broke the lock, cutting my finger as the lid flew free. Blood dripping everywhere, I was back there, cold water pouring from the wound. No plasters, so kitchen paper had to serve. Freezing and finger-hampered, I picked up the papers from my box. Six scrolls in ribbons sealed by wax, four of them now with drops of blood, stabbing me with guilt.

I relit the fire, placing the bloodied scrolls to dry. Of the other two, one fell open as the wax on the seal broke. I read with awe a deed of gift granted by a king, his initials now clear, G II R or George II, and sealed three hundred years ago, now worth millions. My finger dripped again. In my fuddled rush to staunch the flow, my weary leg knocked the small table, tumbling the two remaining documents onto the others drying by the fire with the open one on top. The rush of air this caused set up a spark. As I reached the doorway, I turned and watched the flame as it licked into my manuscripts.


---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: Flash by Nolan

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.


Flash by Nolan


She had to go, she had to go. She had to get down to the coast, the White Cliffs of Dover. It was imperative for her to get there.

On the sandy path, there was something about the way she moved and twirled. There was something about the way she swayed. There was something about the way she veered off the path, onto the lush green grass, and slowly kicked off her shoes. There was something about the movement of her legs, and toes, towards the White Cliff of Dover. There was something about the wind blowing through her hair. There was something about the steadfastness of her feet in the grass.

As she approached the edge of the cliff, there was something about the blue brightness of her eyes, half closed and looking straight ahead. There was something about the dimples in her cheeks. There was something determined, and steady about the short, positive strides she was making towards the edge of the cliff. There was something about the way she slowed her stride, and shuffled towards the edge of the cliff.

There was a book in her hand, and as she stopped at the edge, there was the slight nervousness of her bright painted fingernails, tapping the book, and the light seemed to shimmer off her nails and back into the sky.

There was something about the way she smiled, and looked out over the ocean, towards the other coast line. Her eyes half shut, and looking through her eye lashes made the distance seem a lot further.

There was something about the way she swayed towards the edge of the cliff, and as she stood on the edge she thought, ‘What if? What if?’ What if I had wings and could fly like an eagle? What if I had wings and fly like an angel? And with that thought, a smile erupted slowly from her painted lips, spread across her tranquil face. The special magical moment of just being there.

As she slowly and slightly bowed her head and face toward the depth and movement of the ocean, she slowly stepped backwards away from the edge of the cliff and turned back towards the sandy path. As she stepped back onto the sandy path, and took a step, she stopped, and realized the untrammeled love that she’d had for her younger sister who had passed away after a long illness. And she knew that was the reason for her trip to the edge. And it had delivered the serenity of her sister, and the look of tranquility on her sister’s face. And she knew she had experienced her sister’s passing as an angel.
---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: 'The Funky Farm' by Blake

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.



'The Funky Farm'
by Blake


Today, I find myself strolling around a farm, not a clue what I’m doing here. I really can’t remember a thing from last night. It must’ve been some night!

After ten minutes, I decide it’s time to get the hell outta here. I stumble across a large wooden fence. It must be five times bigger than myself. It’s massive. I don’t even bother trying to climb it. Seems bloody pointless that. ‘There must be another way outta here,’ I think to myself. So I continue my hunt for an exit outta this strange farm.

After a wee while my belly starts rumbling. Christ, I’m bloody starving, but there ain’t no food around. I spot a trail of seeds on the floor. At this point I’m blimmin hungry, so I decide to have a go at them.

‘Aargh, no way,’ I shout. Tastes rank.

I continue on searching for a way outta this odd farm. I spot a trailer in the distance and start running towards it. I can’t help but smile, tryin’ to hold in my own excitement. I’m now thinking, ‘Yes, man! This is my ticket outta here.’

While making my way to the trailer I’m intercepted by a gigantic bloody monster of a pig. I’ve never been so frightened in me life! The creature is absolutely filthy, covered ‘ead to toe in mud. It’s loud an’ all, hurting my blimming ears it is. My initial thought is to leg it, of course, but the giant pig ignores me and just continues walking away.

Got me thinking, ‘What sort of a bloody messed up farm is this?’ I can’t rack me ‘ead round it. Eventually, I come to the conclusion that this must be some sorta scientific experimentation farm, where the animals are getting enlarged to produce more meat, the poor things. Well anyway, thank goodness I’m getting bloody outta here soon man.

I keep moving towards the trailer. It seems to get bigger the closer I get to it. As I approach I’m shocked to see that it’s looking more like a monster truck. Determined to get onto the back of it, I climb and make me way up.

‘Some bloody job that was,’ I’m thinking as I lie on the back of the truck. Just in time an’ all, as the driver starts the engine to get me out of this crazy farm and straight onto the motorway. I’m so relieved. I’d thought I’d never get outta this mad place. I plan to give the driver a thumbs up through his side mirror, just to let him know I’m on the back of his vehicle. But summink is very wrong. As I’m looking into this mirror, I am shocked to see that a chicken stares back at me.  


---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: Flash by Sheheen

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.



Flash by Sheheen


Another day, up early, black coffee in bed, Bloomberg in the background. The markets will open soon. Emails will come flooding in. I may need to make a call – Hong Kong or Singapore.

It’s cold outside, two block walk and I am at the gym – shoulders and biceps today.

Home again, more emails flood in. Shower, get ready for work – it will take me forty minutes to get ready. No time for complicated decisions. It’s a grey suit or black, white shirt and tie, laptop in bag, blackberry in hand and I’m off...

Will it be a black cab or the Jubilee line? I will decide when I get to the underground station. It’s the tube. Much quicker.

I get off at the other end, short walk to the tower. Now need to find a desk. It’s a hot-desking policy at work. I’m called into a meeting, one of many today. Outsourcing to India, talent management, performance reviews, quarterly business planning. Quick check – more emails, and more. No time to check when unimportant. If it’s important I’ll be paged.

Working lunch at Sushi Sumba. Stress increases. Can’t remember much of it. All I heard was ‘Get rid of him!’ Have to find a way of getting rid of him. Need to put a call into the lawyers. Will have to park this for now.

Pay review meeting all afternoon, then a call with New York ‘til 7pm.

It’s Thursday once again, drinks with friends. No late night for me.

8 bottles of Bollinger and two bottles of Grey Goose and I’m on the dance floor at China White, checking email. Everything is urgent. I will deal with it tomorrow, more alcohol, I think.

3am in taxi, need to be up in four hours. Alarm goes off, headache. Still fully clothed on my bed. I crawl into the shower.

Thank God it’s Friday. But my diary has Monday written all over it.

---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: 'The Assignment' by Vladimir

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.


'The Assignment'
by Vladimir

They told him it was a matter of national importance, the key to the survival of his countrymen; for the triumph of their principles and values. It was the existential issue of their whole being. There needed to be found a solution to the problem of being able to write in space.For this was a time when victory in space meant victory at home. And this was being prevented by the fact that no pen could work without gravity.

All the sciences, all the resources, all the efforts towards this project of national priority were being prevented from their fruition by this most simple of tasks.

So, armed with purpose and full of responsibility the man sacrificed himself in totality to the assignment. His children grew up and entered adulthood, but he missed all this as he had the assignment. They moved out, got married and started lives of their own, but he missed all this, as there was the assignment. His dear wife grew old and sad, but this was not noticed due to the assignment. When she breathed out for the final time, alone, without his love, there was no time, as there was the assignment.

Even when the official letter came, delivered by official men, informing him that they would no longer wait, that the program had been moved on, he did not flinch, for they did not understand that he had the assignment.

In the autumn of his life, at home, alone, working on his assignment, he shouted out, ‘This is a riddle that no man can solve!’

And so, exhausted, defeated, he slumped into the sofa, switched on the TV. He felt the sudden sharp pain inside and knew that his end had come. As he drew his final breath he managed to see the little girl on the screen, writing upside down with a pencil.

---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: Flash by Yakub

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.


 Flash by Yakub

 The town crier whiskerly howled not to the best of his cry.

‘People, please. Preserve. Do not waste. Ration. RATION.’ He carries on daily with the same words in different tone, ‘Ration. RATION. PRESERVE.’ His cries get weaker as the days go by.

There is a queue and people look at the thin and whiskerly crier.

Someone calls out, ‘We can hear you,’ but no one listens. No one cares.

It is the afternoon and the day is hot. The air is dry, people are thirsty, carrying on with their business. The sky is clear, people look up, but no clouds. Dismay. Suddenly, from far away a loud thunder roars. Vibrates. People in the street run, frightened. They look up. But nothing, no sign.

Evening falls. Lightning strikes fill the air, the sky bursts, luminous. Finally, thundering rain follows.

And the town crier whiskerly howls with the best of his cry, loudly, so loudly, so deafening.

‘People! Please preserve. Do not waste. RATION, RATION, RATION.’

There was no queue. People looked, did not stop, but muttered, ‘We have rain. What the cry for? NO ONE CARES.’   


---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: Flash by Andre

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.


Flash by Andre

‘It’s a girl,’ he said. ‘Mr. Stevens, would you like to cut the umbilical cord?’

BEEP. BEEP. The notification read “Mike. I know you’re on paternity leave but it’s pretty urgent. Call me. Sorry.”

‘It’s a good thing she has her mother’s ears ay.’ Laughter.

BEEP. BEEP. Three new messages. “Mike it’s urgent. Call me. Big deal on the table. Cheers.” “Hey mate. Dinner and drinks Friday night. You up for it?” “Mike a ticket to Arsenal Spurs this Sunday with your name on it. Let me know asap buddy.” BEEP. VIBRATE. BEEP. New emails – five of them. “House of Fraser sale. 50% off. Ends today.” “Your uncle in Tanzania has passed away and has left you 1.3 million. Just reply with your bank details.”

An hour passed. Mike reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the device. Three hundred new notifications. He switched it off.

---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: 'The Truth About Your Grandparents' by Antony

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.



The Truth About Your Grandparents
by Antony

Photographs were just commas in the narrative about my mother and father, for my daughter, who had never met them.

You can see his shoulders were as wide as the River Tyne, where he served his early sentence as a Geordie. And your grandmother had gentle blue eyes and the soft accent of west Cork, but steel in her sinews borne of Michael Collins. They would have loved your willingness to vacuum up their words; words lost to forty woodbines a day and maybe a little too much cheap whisky. 

My father was the only fundamental atheist I have met and he married a woman with more plaster popes on her dressing table than the Vatican has pontiff statues. But his digs at Catholicism were never intended to wound. Her attacks on his English patriotism were not the bomb or bayonet of rebellion.

Life for Walter and Kathleen was invented on the fly with visits to churches where my father would theatrically climb into the pulpit and preach against religion. But if she was not amused, he would take her into the heft of his frame and comfort her. Or, when visiting a rebel’s grave, after singing ‘The Fields of Athon Rye’, she would announce that this is why your English father comes from a race of devils. Then, when she saw his hurt look of incomprehension, she would embarrass his tough northern act with a wet, smacking kiss and a loud, ‘I love every bone in that body of yours.’

Your grandfather would have carried you laughing across the Labour Club’s room to show you off to the men he beat at snooker, always with a shark’s smile. He had a plasterer’s physique and a sense of humour that could cure a room full of failures. Your grandmother had kindness in her hands, hands that were never still; and words that would heal a graze or maybe broken bones. She sweated care from every pore. 

Somewhere they are looking down on you, and for the first time, they are judging me. They want me to teach you that we make ourselves from the stones we find and how we stack them. We are not DNA and an electro-chemical factory. Your grandparents made up life’s chapters every day. They were not Irish, or White, or Strong. They were sewn together with threads of experience that made the patchwork of authentic evolution.

We lived in South London where two accents had such different cadences I could barely understand them. But I understand the rock-hard fact that somehow you must learn without them here to teach you…that it is not where we come from but how we travel now.

Your grandparents loved you even though they never met you and it does not matter a fig that you are chosen, that you are adopted.  

---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: Flash Fiction by Nick

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.




Flash by Nick 

She had always adored him. For years they had known one another. She had watched him grow from the days when they were both at school, to now, a man with the world at his feet.

Somehow their lives had taken different directions from those heady years when they were both in their early twenties. She had married well, into a respected local family, and he had raced on, following his ambitions but had never settled down. 

Over the years their lives had continued to cross in one way or another and they had never really lost touch. While working in Zurich, her best friend had taken a job at his firm. A couple of years later they met, at her father’s funeral. It seemed like only yesterday.  

They immediately felt very comfortable in each other’s company. There was an intense warmth between them and almost a nervous energy.

She told him that she had left her husband and in a funny way that seemed to please him. They carried on chatting on their own and away from the hum of the crowd. They recounted tales of the years gone by. The more they spoke, the more they smiled.

The gathering was thinning out as, one by one, the bodies left the lounge bar of the Flounder and Firkin. They were almost the last two.

‘I suppose you’d better get going, if you’re going to make that flight,’ she said, looking down at his shoes. 

‘Wow, is it that time already?’

They gazed, fixated at each other for a few moments, knowing what they wanted to say but not sure how or whether they should. 

‘Look, this has been great, seeing you I mean, not the funeral.’ 

She chuckled a little.

‘Really great actually, and I’d like to see you again…soon…really soon.’

A broad grin spread across her face and her cheeks reddened slightly. ‘Yes, that would be lovely. I’d like that.’ They exchanged details and she reminded him again that he had to go.

They hugged. He took a few seconds to smell her hair, remembering what they had once been. As they parted, they looked at each other, then went on their separate ways.

He sat in the back of the taxi, staring through the slightly steamy windows, contemplating his wonderful epiphany. He had been around the world, his life running at full speed and the woman that he had been seeking may have always been there, right from the start.


---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: Flash by Nolan

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.


Flash by Nolan


I have been all around the world, had many, many amazing experiences. Getting on long flights to far off places, to the other side of the world. I’ve met some fantastic people and avoided some of the world’s craziest animals.

There have been many, many times that my life should have ended in an instant. And when you open your eyes, your toes are still moving, your legs are shaking, your hands are twitching, your eyes are slowly opening and squirming to see what had happened. 

‘Oh well!’ you say. ‘Shit! I’m still here, so what the fuck!’ Get up and start again, OK. Lucky this time, but at least I survived. Some of my closest friends have not, and have gone for good.

In your mind you go back in time, to exquisite places, and remember the happy carefree days meditating on the isolated beaches in Sri Lanka, running for miles and swimming through the fast-flowing river coming across the beach until one day...One Sri Lankan said to me in his accented English, which I love. 

‘You mustn’t swim tru de river!’

‘Why?’ I asked.

‘Because big crocodiles. Dey eat you. Dey eat somebody four days ago.’

So sitting here in a courtroom, looking through the toughened glass at the judge and jury, and suddenly being sentenced. Some of the words I did not hear. I was taken through the door, and downstairs and handcuffed, put in a van, in a complete daze. The van drove through the gates of the court, along a few other roads and came to some more gates which opened. There was a lot of banging and clanging. The bus came to a stop. One and a half hours later, out of the van, up the stairs, photo taken. I was taken into a separate room, told to undress.

‘What?’ I said. ‘Naked?’

‘Yes,’ he said. ‘OK?’

He then handed me a pair of blue, thin boxer shorts, and I looked at him with a frown and he said,

‘OK. Put them on.’

It was then I realized I am here to experience a new way of life.


---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: 'Truth' by Dewayne

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  You can read more about Safe Ground and the story behind this work in our introduction to this series.



'Truth'
By Dewayne


How do I know if she is telling the truth? Body language? Facial expressions? Who knows?

I really want to believe her when she says that she will pay back that money I lent her, but look at her. She looks like never before, shoulders hung, she’s fidgety, and not once has she made eye contact.

It makes my spider senses tingle. I know something is wrong. Two weeks back, when I asked her if she loved her boyfriend, wow, she started to burst with the passion of truth. She stood upright, shoulders back. She used hand gestures to describe things he had done for her. I could see in her eyes, and tell by the high pitch of her voice that she pictured everything she said in that very moment. She was glowing with honesty.

So the fact that I can hardly hear a word she says now, making me say ‘What?’ over and over, makes my heart race, my armpits sweaty, my fists clench, my teeth grit, my eyes bulge. And getting nothing back from her makes my bad feeling grow. I have things to pay for and nothing to pay with.

‘So will I get that £500?’ I ask again, trying to stay calm. She is a long-time friend after all.

‘Next week, I promise,’ she replies, in a low, slow voice as she walks away.


---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

SAFE GROUND: An Introduction to Today's Flash Series

Flash Flood is continuing its 2019 National Flash Fiction Day celebration with a day of flash written on the theme of 'epiphany' by men at HMP Wandsworth who were participants of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project workshops.  To start the day, we welcome Safe Ground Programmes Manager Lindsay Murphy who tells us a bit about the background and philosophy of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project...


An Introduction to Today's Flash Series

Safe Ground is a national arts organisation delivering high quality services and interventions in both prison and community settings. Our programmes focus on relationships and identity and use group work and creative techniques for participants to experience alternative perspectives, develop empathy and self-awareness alongside skills and competencies. We challenge people and communities to do relationships differently.

As an arts organisation, Safe Ground relies on the use of artistic practices and techniques to inform and support our programme design, delivery and evaluation. Our methodologies promote reflection, realisation and revelations. They provide participants with platforms for change and routes into transitions. Throughout our programmes moments of clarity can occur, awareness and understanding of situations can be enhanced and participants can find themselves with a renewed sense of the self. Often, participants in our programmes begin or develop skills in performance, drama and creative writing.

Part of our organisational ethos has always been to work in partnership wherever possible and appropriate. Since 2015, Safe Ground is proud to have been in a relationship with Essex University and in 2017 we coordinated a creative writing workshop with the men at HMP Wandsworth.  

It was agreed that ‘Epiphany’ was appropriate as a narrative theme, to support the groups to explore moments of change and transformation, which are inherent in the work we do. These epiphanies or turning points can provide moments of clarity but can also bring up an array of issues, dilemmas, decisions to be made and pathways to be pursued. Over two, two-day workshops, a total of 12 men participated and each produced a selection of short stories for submission. Participants ranged in age from 23 to 65 and brought with them a vast diversity of cultural, educational and life experience. The flash fiction pieces produced by participants denote an array of lightbulb moments, of points of sharp realisation, of transparency and revelation.  

Our colleague and design partner on this project was Jonathan Crane who writes:

“When the opportunity to work with Safe Ground in the design and delivery of a creative writing workshop for HMP Wandsworth arose, I was studying towards a Ph.D. at the University of Essex. At that time, I had just been researching the concept of ‘Epiphany’ in relation to short stories, and exploring the flash fiction form. To my mind, these elements seemed ideally suited for a creative writing project in a prison setting.

Flash fiction, I felt, could provide the participants with a short, accessible form with which they could experiment. Then, with the concept of epiphany as a central theme for the workshops, the men could be encouraged to reflect on their own experiences, as well as to explore their own realizations and transformations. Yet, more than this, by introducing the idea of epiphany as a focal point of change within a narrative, we could provide a structure which would help the men shape their own flash fiction. 

Using Safe Ground’s methodologies, the workshops provided a supportive forum not only for discussion, and for the expression of ideas and experiences, but also for the sharing of work. We encouraged the men to read out their work, and to give constructive feedback on the work of others. This process then fed into a session on editing and drafting stories during which the men worked collaboratively.

When I began this project, I had hoped to share some writing technique with the participants, and to introduce them to a form which might enable their self-expression. In short, I wanted to help them to write, and to have their voices heard. I little knew that the men would embrace flash fiction so keenly and create stories which ranged from the minimalist dramatic short, to the lyrical prose poem, from the poignantly personal to the surreally comic. 

It was a privilege and a pleasure to work with Safe Ground and the men in HMP Wandsworth. The men’s eloquence and honesty, their openness to discuss their experiences and insights, as well as to share their stories, not only dismantled my own preconceptions about prison and life therein, but also taught me to appreciate the small things that we so casually take for granted.
---

You can follow Safe Ground on Twitter @Safe_Ground.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

The Flood has abated...for today!

That wraps it up for today's Flash Flood, but it's not over yet; our celebration of National Flash Fiction Day 2019 continues tomorrow as well!

On Sunday the 16th of June we'll be publishing some of the work that has come out of Safe Ground's Flash Fiction Project in which workshop participants from HMP Wandsworth wrote flash stories around the theme of 'epiphany' in workshops run by Jonathan Crane and Safe Ground staff.  Come back tomorrow to learn more about this inspiring project and read some of the incredible work that came out of this project.

Tomorrow you can also head over to The Write-In where we'll be posting responses to our 2019 writing prompts.  (And there's still time to submit your own; submissions at The Write-In close at 23:59 on Sunday, 16 June!)


If you like what we're doing, please consider becoming a patron of NFFD at Patreon (for as little as £1 a month), making a one-off donation via PayPal or supporting us in one of these other ways (many of which don't involve money). 

Thank you again to all of this year's editors, to everyone who sent us work, and to all our readers. Happy reading and see you tomorrow!

'The After' by Heather McQuillan

Inside our house, sounds are diluted as if there’s water above the level of my ears. My fingers trace the flowered wall seeking out where I’d stood every first day of a month – straight-spined, feet flat and heels to the skirting board – while Mom pressed my hair down with a ruler to mark my growth. It’s been months and months since I last got measured. Maybe I’ve stopped. It feels like that. The after. Mom yells at me not to touch.

Dad says the hurricane got itself trapped up in Mom’s mind and it’s not my fault but sometimes it’s hard to tell. He told her to stay away but Mom ain’t got no damned patience for that. Time wasted heaves through her veins and erupts in hard slaps across her own legs and sometimes mine. So we’ve come to see for ourselves, shuddering in a borrowed car through streets we recognise but don’t. Air hisses from Mom’s lips as we pull up at the curb where all our stuff’s got pitched like a drunken yardsale. A mirror, its glass patched with mold, leans back on the step reflecting tumorous clouds. Dad salvages what he can. He stands, shirtless, in the doorway as Mom rushes in. I follow in her wake.

Our house is stripped bare to a shell, and that smell, damp and sweet like death, but the walls alive, spawning petals of grey, black and mauve. There’s a line all around sketched like a horizon between then and now. I kick my sandals off to stand barefoot on buckled boards, my heels to the swollen skirting. My scalp is below the horizon. I hold my breath. A surge of water inside my skull drowns out her howl.

---

First published in Flash Frontier June 2018: New Orleans.

'AP Stylebook Blue' by Jan Haag

It sat on my desk every day at the newspaper, reminded copy editors like me when to spell out numbers (one through nine) and use numerals (10 and above). Every year the spiral-bound book arrived from the news service that covered the world, its cover a different color. The blue-gray one with embossed silver letters caught me in 1983 — newly married, new homeowner.

“This color,” I said to my husband, a newspaper photographer who had worked for the Associated Press. “For the trim. Whaddya think?”

Book in hand, he held it at arm’s length in the front yard, picturing it against our dull brown house. He would grant me anything in those days. “I like it,” he said.

He suggested a light gray for the rest of our half-plex and talked our next-door neighbor into the colors, too, then took to the ladder for hours on weekends, painting away, brush in hand, sometimes with a roller, and for one stretch his brother’s paint sprayer.

I took over one day to paint the front door AP Stylebook blue to match the eaves after he came off the ladder, his face gray, his faulty heart nearing the finish line. He hated to admit that he needed to go inside and lie down.

Surgery that fall perked him up for a time, giving him a snappy aortic valve that clicked every time it shut, keeping him awake at night—that and the ruler-straight incision down the center of his chest, zipped up over his wired-together sternum, though he never complained. 

Each time we came home, we’d emerge from the car, pause on the front lawn, admiring our first paint job on our first house.

“Nice color,” I’d say.

“Nice paint job,” he’d tease, and we’d laugh, then unlock our AP Stylebook blue front door, go inside and find a reason to lie down together, sometimes to sleep, sometimes just to hold each other as long as we could.

'Love' by Anne Weisgerber

Soft clumps of radish, pulling them. First one-by-one, for the surprise of their joyful red brightness, dipped in the rain bucket to swirl off the dirt, rub off the dirt with a thumb, break off the root with the thumbnail, and bite into that crisp, tart, impossibly white flesh. The crispness of the red and the white! The mud, ever-ready to soothe a bee sting. Soon, grab handfuls of radishes by their leaves, tug out all the bulbs, wash and arrange them in a bowl later, make some pioneer still life near a basket of butter lettuces.

Next to the radish line bloom the bush-rows of lima beans, their pendent pods soft crescents swelling, their soft centers plumping. Lima beans from the garden, steamed with salt and rough- ground peppercorns. These are not the lima beans I once knew, lima beans of my people, frozen into rectangular crumbles, with fuzz-frosted ice edges, in wax paper and a white waxed-cardboard box with interlocking flaps, boiled to contraction inside wrinkle-skin, the seed-coats slipping off and sticking to teeth.

These are the Kentucky Wonder – Kentucky Wonder! – poling up alongside at just the right size (not so the beans are too big) then steamed to tender softness, taken at the tip of the teeth, mashed and savored in the mouth. And its beauty, vines and tendrils stringing up a chord, the little bean- yard on the patio ripples softly, a waterfall behind our family suppers.

---

 First published at Matchbook Lit Magazine, 21 May 2018.

'Monochrome' by Gail Aldwin

Jessie flips the lid off the packing case labelled ‘precious things’. Bubble wrap swathes the objects stored within and Jessie wonders which items her mother has kept during the move from the family home to a retirement flat (as yet without furniture). The empty lounge has the strange capacity to swamp Jessie.

‘Not exactly the crown jewels,’ her mother wafts over and looks inside. ‘But these are the things I wanted to keep safe.’

‘Would you like me to unpack the box? I can make a display on the shelf in the corner.’

‘Let’s do it together,’ says her mother.

Kneeling on the carpet, Jessie delves into the box to collect a flat package while her mother rips layers from a bulging blue and white pot.

‘Shame the lid got lost years ago,’ says her mother. ‘It had a crack down the side when I inherited it from Aunt Elizabeth. What have you got?’

Jessie peels back parcel tape to find an old school photo. It’s a black and white image from primary school. She barely recognises the girl she once was, turned out in a tunic and sash.

‘Look at you!’ says her mother.

Jessie passes the photo in its heavy frame. Her mother examines the portrait. ‘I spent hours trying to coax some curls into your hair. They didn’t hold too well but at least there’s a nice kink.’

Jessie feels the Kirby grips digging into her scalp. There’s a crick in her neck from the way she tilts her head, allowing the locks of her hair to tumble.

‘Paul’s smart in his uniform,’ says her mother. ‘I only showed him once how to tie a schoolboy knot and he never asked again. Of course he’s moved onto Windsor knots these days.’

‘Of course,’ says Jessie.

‘Look at the two of you. Such a natural pose.’

Glancing at the image, Jessie is weighed down by her brother’s arm stretched across her shoulders. Her spine stiffens with tension at their proximity. She fixes her eyes as she waits for the bulb to flash.

‘I’ll give the frame a going-over with Brasso to brighten it up. And then you can have it, Jessie. I need to start sharing out the precious things.’

Her mother proffers the photo and Jessie is obliged to hold it. She stares at the siblings. Remembers how the photographer arranged their position. Paul was so close she could feel his hot breath on her face.

‘You keep it.’ Jessie returns the photo to her mother’s grasp.

‘But I haven’t the space!’ Her mother starts to re-wrap the parcel. ‘If you don’t want it, Paul will.’

Jessie snatches back the photo. ‘Okay. I’ll have it.’

'Quake' by Caroline Greene

The girl

The dust – it’s not dust, it is stone, milled to powder between much larger stones, like rough flour – this powder is between her teeth, in her ears, caking her eyes. She has breathed it in for two days and now it silts up her lungs and her stomach. It has run out of her down her legs and back into the stones underneath. It covers her skin. 

The girl can move – just her fingers and the merest shifting of her feet. She can breathe and sigh and at first she can spit dirt from her mouth, but soon her tongue, and cheeks and lips are too dry for that.  She groans a little at first, but later she is silent in the dark. She knows that on her back she carries her house, her street, even the whole town.

Sometimes there are trickles of stone through gaps in the dark. They sound like water, or the roll of dice. She would like to drink, to reach out for the stones. When bigger pebbles fall, the sound reminds her of the footsteps passing under her window, before. 

She is unsure if she sleeps, or just mimics sleep, lying there, but she hears muffled voices, like the framing of dreams. The stones cascade in the distance and she looks toward the sound, out of the corner of an eye, and there is a tiny beam of light, which switches off, as, at last, she feels nothing.


The man

The men have quietened into whispers as the circling dog is called away and they delve into the rubble with torchlight. The light flickers between beams and blocks, and chases the shadows of broken furniture. The men judge it is safe to lift, piece by piece, the shattered walls. The light runs inside more easily and they think they have seen the pale remnant of a body. The man sighs. Then he sees the tiniest movement – a finger, a hand, a wrist.  

His instinct is to lunge for the hand, but he knows he must be careful of the shock that can flood in under the skin. So he picks off the stones, willing the heaviness from them, pulling at them as if they could be made of spun sugar. And suddenly he has a hold – the girl, dusty grey hair falling across her face. He lifts her up to his shoulders as she murmurs and he steps up out of the mess of rubble onto its summit. The crowd cheers softly, so fragile is this threshold between life and death.  As they descend, the man carries her across his arms, head bent toward hers, a pietà of dust and flesh. 

Their picture is sent into the world and hangs there for all to hold. But their bond is awkward, heavy. Passing in the street, long afterwards, they look away. Each fears they will see the other’s crime: all the lives he couldn’t save, all the hope she cannot carry.





















'Triple-J’s Bedtime Routine' by Alan S. Falkingham

My brother, John Jay Jameson, opens every door in the house before he goes to sleep. He even cracks the screen door on the back porch so, on windy nights, draughts of air roam around, causing other doors to slam shut, forcing Triple-J to get up and start his crazy routine all over again. 

Triple-J was the one who found Dad in the bathroom, hanging by his belt. And ever since then, he’s been this way. My mom says it’s because he’s special. That’s also what she said after he’d memorized every line in Birdbox. And when he posted a YouTube video of himself saying the words “This is a Haunted House” in twelve different languages. 

Triple-J says, only bad things happen behind closed doors. He says that’s why Mr. O’Callaghan always shuts the door to his office before he canes you.  And why Mom and Dad used to always keep their bedroom door closed on Sunday mornings, so that they could have sex without us interrupting them. Triple-J says every time you close a door, it takes you a little nearer to the grave. Until, finally, it’s time to shut the lid of your coffin and push you into the incinerator. Triple-J knows all about cremation. He did a school project about it in 6th grade. He even got caught on the roof of the funeral home, trying to break in. He said he was doing research, but mom got another call from the Principal after that. To talk, again, about what to do about Triple-J. 

But, as I hear him moving through the house, turning every handle and opening every door, I think that, just maybe, Triple-J is right and that perhaps every door you close does take you a little nearer to dying. Because, none of us really know what made Dad shut himself behind that bathroom door and tie his belt around his neck. Mom says it was because he just couldn’t shake his sadness and, eventually, all he wanted to do was sleep. Triple-J says it was because of the norepinephrine and serotonin in his brain. But, whatever the reason, I hope one day he’ll come back and visit us. Whenever I ask Mom if she thinks that might happen, she says she doesn’t think so, and holds onto me so tight it feels like my ribs might crack. 

Triple-J says I’m retarded and that Dad’s gone forever. But I’m not so sure. Because I think that someday his ghost might find its way back home, through all those doors that Triple J leaves open every night, and he’ll come kiss us goodnight in our rooms, one last time. And so, I do my best to stay awake as long as I can. Just in case. Until the morning begins to lighten the edges of the blinds on my window, and I know it’s time to be brave, and face another day without him. 

'Is there magic here' by Angelita Bradney

I take Sindy and Barbie to the woods. They ride plastic horses and wear cloaks like the princesses in my book. I glimpse fairies in the root-caves and around the toadstools, feel their touch in the leaves that stroke us as we pass. Bluebells, says Mummy, I love bluebells.


#

Saucers clash, the staff yell orders and the coffee machine flashes chrome. Is there a discount for bringing your own cup, she asks, placing her loyalty card on the counter. The server wears a striped waistcoat and has an eastern European accent. She takes her coffee and eats breakfast on the train, holding the paper bag under her mouth to catch the crumbs. It’s doing her figure no good, all this pastry.


#

Daddy has a telescope. He sets it up so I can see the moon from my bedroom window. It fills my vision, glowing like a goddess. I can see every shadow on its surface, its craters full of secrets. My heart bursts with wonder. I write with my finger in the condensation on the glass: The moon is beautiful.


#

She points at the graph on the screen. Says, we are on track to meet the key milestones. Around the table, people nod. She tries not to stare at the blinding light of the projector. Her jacket is tight over her shoulders; she imagines strings rising from the arms, like a marionette. Her boss frowns. Can we move on to the risk and issue log?


#

Madonna blasts out from the cassette player. We curl our hair with Babyliss tongs and spray Dewberry Body Shop perfume over our necks and arms. My friend’s little brother wants to join in so we give him lipstick and eyeshadow, then take pictures as he poses in a green dress. Click, click, click. Get that stuff off now, orders his father.


#

All she’s drunk today is coffee. When she closes her eyes she sees the flickering of the computer. She sits on the train and moves her sore feet out of their high-heeled shoes. Her hand dives into her bag, curls around her phone with an addict’s grip. No. She turns to the window. The city slides by in a jumble of concrete and traffic. There is graffiti beside the tracks. Then, on a litter-strewn embankment, she sees a haze of purple. Bluebells.

---

An earlier version of 'Is there magic here' was published by The Fiction Pool on 8 June 2018.

'Island' by Elizabeth Geoghegan

Bhīma navigates the narrow roads and unseen turns—past the one for Devi’s place—and on down by Kopi Desa. Stone deities lining the dark road. Animal eyes glimmering. We turn off where the road ends and the path begins, parking in a corrugated metal shed. I lug my pack out of the back of the Jeep and wait beside a moss-covered altar. Smell of damp all around me. He swaps car for scooter, wedging my pack in front of him. I climb on behind, longing to wrap my arms around him, clutching the cold metal seat handles instead. Careful not to lean too close. The path is narrow and full of ruts, long vines dangle in streams, skimming over us as the hill rushes to meet the ravine, my body falling against his when the tires skid in the mud and we nearly topple over. He guns it and I am lurched backward as we continue up and out. It isn’t far now. Soon the dense trees give way to irrigation ditches and flooded fields, and I can see low clouds rushing over a sideways moon. I’d forgotten how it hangs like that, heavy in the sky. I close my eyes because even though I’ve longed for this for months, rearranging my life and traveling two days to get here, now I don’t want to arrive. I don’t want him to slow down or drop me off, but for the two of us to carry on along the ridge and back down to the road that leads to the coast, following it all the way to the black sand beach, the volcano in the distance. I want to lean my cheek against his shoulder while we make the long drive. But then here we are and he stops the bike, placing my pack on the ground near the stone steps. And I don’t recognize his voice when he reminds me to follow the path, that I’ll find the key in the door. When I pull money from my jacket he shakes his head no. Mimpi indah, he says. But I know I won’t dream, or if I do the dreams won’t be sweet. Neither of us says anything after that and he turns the bike around and speeds away. I sit on the steps, watching the red glow of taillight disappearing, listen until the sputtering motor is swallowed by the night. I was convinced I remembered every detail of this island. But I’d only remembered the brown of Bhīma’s shoulders, the veins in his lean arms. I hadn’t remembered the absolute darkness with its croaking chorus of sound. I hadn’t remembered the velvet soft of the dog’s ears. The dog that wasn’t surprised to find me clambering off a motorbike in the middle of the night. The dog that seemed to sit sentinel these two years, now nosing his way into my hand. The tenderness.

'Platform 4' by Harriet Rose Stott

She’ll be there, waiting by the exit on Platform 4, like she always is. Through the train-door window I’ll see her red coat leaning against the concrete pillar. We’ll smile and embrace and kiss and walk into the outside brightness and morning freshness, like we do every Saturday. From my worn window-seat, I watch my surroundings stream away. Pebble-dashed, semi-detached houses turn into faded factories with broken windows and dismounted chimneys. I call her. The ringing echoes in my ear endlessly, but it’s Saturday so she’ll be there by the exit. Daylight and fluorescent lighting reflecting in her green-grey eyes.

Our dawn was a coffee shop. She sat with a pristine paperback. Brown hair stroked with gold. I changed my order from paper cup to china mug and took the high-stool next to hers. We chatted flat whites and traybakes and I asked her ‘same time next week?’ We emptied cafés of coffees, drank amber wine, watched plays with purple-caped actors. We watched the dazzle of midday sun turn dusky and decline until the light eased then ended and darkness shrouded the sky. Only the tips of dying silver stars survived. How many unanswered calls? How many times has the ringing echoed? But I know she'll be there, standing by the exit on platform 4, a gust from the door twirling her red coat.

We’ll eat pink tinted ice-creams next to the smudged canal. Take in the exhibition of orange-brushed canvases. Watch the white-tinted teeth of Hollywood. The train enters a tunnel and my head splits. Just my reflection looks back at me through the black window. Sudden light and I am replaced by an earthy embankment topped with empty back yards. We’ll link hands and walk into the vibrant sunshine.

Through the train-door window I see a flash of red by the pillar. But then it blends into blue, green, black as the train slides in and I cannot see through the crowds of colours, but it must be her because it’s Saturday. On the platform I’m surrounded by grey, brown, black. My trudge in the colours is unforgiving and I cannot reach through to the redness. I’m pushed along by the blended brown wave until it releases me at the foot of the pillar. I encircle it, two, three, four times, touching its grey, rough surface. There is no touch of red. No green-grey. No brown-gold. I’m left to fall out of the exit and into the outside whiteness alone.

'Under a Blood Moon' by VRL Thonger

Cole was fine-lookin with his sledgehammer swingin by his side. He gived me a locket just three month back when we bin goin a while and he said I was his gal and he was prouda me and we didnt got to sneak behind the dumpster for fuckin no more.

One ragin hot day he was gone for breakin work and I went and stood in the shade of the dumpster to remember me them sweet days. Seems like the dumpster on his mind too coz he was right there rootin that hobo girl Ella-May. They was burned on my eyeballs.


*


That night I says to Cole, let’s you and me go watch the moonrise. He says sure. Folks tell ya its hard to say goodbye but it sure were easy to tip him inta Deepdown Gully. He done gone too close to the edge.

When he stopped falling he was layin flat-out on a pricklebush like Jesus on the cross, and I chucked that dumb dimestore locket right after him, and a good glob of spittle, and I yelled down, you smashed my goddam heart like you done it with your own sledgehammer. I seen his eyes shinin but he dint say nothin.

Then I heared some yippin and yappin and it werent Cole.


*





They found him a whiles later, after the coyotes.  Dint no one say nothin or ax me nothin, me bein the heartbroke girl done lost her boy, but his maw gived me his sledgehammer for a keepsake. She still give me pie every Sunday, bless her heart, and they calls it Coles Gully now.

Folks heard Ella-May moved on and they said blamin things about her and maybe they heard them things from me and anyhows, aint nobody need to know what I done to her.

DEBUT FLASH: 'Old John Robertson wore a stetson hat to church yesterday' by Eden Kaiser

Old John Robertson wore a stetson hat to church yesterday. His wife died last Monday, slipping on her robe in the bathroom, hitting her head and bleeding to death. John wasn’t around, obviously. When he came home there was blood all over the black and white linoleum floor and Mabel had gone cold already. Nobody knew where he was when Mabel died---not that he was supposed to be home when she took showers. The only thing he was supposed to help her with was knives. Most of the time he just kept the knives locked up and bought pre-cut food.

Mabel’s funeral was on Tuesday afternoon, the very next day. There was no family around, so no one else’s schedule needed to be consulted, and the funeral home was in a lull and was able to do a rush job. The majority opinion around town was that it turned out as good as could be expected, given the circumstances. Pastor Jim was out of town so the new Associate Pastor, Rebecca, did the service. Her eulogy was better than any Pastor Jim had ever done, we all agreed, except for maybe when he did the mayor’s funeral last year.

John Robertson, out of respect, did take off his stetson hat during yesterday’s church service, but we all noticed he put it right back on as soon as we finished the closing hymn. Everyone was getting ready to recite their condolences again, for the second time this week, and wondering how they could manage to find something else equally comforting and appropriate to say to John. “Mabel was such a beauty back in her day.” “We all loved Mabel so much, and God loved Mabel most of all.” “I’m sure Mabel is looking down on us right now.” The trick was to listen to the few people ahead of you in line so you didn’t take the same line.

But before we could begin the receiving line just outside the sanctuary doors, Old John and his stetson walked out into the blinding heat of a July Sunday at high noon, and that was the last anyone ever saw of him. But the Albertsons later would say that they swore they saw the very same stetson hat once in a crowd of men waiting to dance in an all-men’s square dancing troupe in the city.

'Atropa Belladonna' by Fiona J. Mackintosh

From three cars back, I see Sadie on the sidewalk outside school, her head bent over her purple phone like always. The Lord only knows how she’s my child. Connor looks like his dad and me, solid on his feet, well proportioned. He knows how to fit right in. Never had to teach him – he just knew. 

When my turn at the curb comes, Sadie knuckles her glasses up her nose and climbs in back, slotting her seatbelt in one-handed. She doesn’t meet my eyes in the rear view. 

“Good day?” I ask, putting on my signal to pull out. 

No answer, so I say her name like the therapist suggested, and Sadie looks up. 

“Nick Botarelli thinks Martin Luther King said give me liberty or give me death. Ha ha. He’s as dumb as a brick.” 

It was one of the Founding Fathers, I know that much.  

I’ve warned her no one likes a smartie-pants. All she does is look up every little fact. I’ve never seen her take a selfie or even make a call. Once I took the phone away from her for a week, tucked it way back in my pantie drawer to hide that ugly purple, but she didn’t speak a single word to me till I gave it back.

“Honey, it’s lovely out so I thought let’s go by the park and see if the hydrangeas are blooming yet.” 

Flowers are my thing. I work mornings at a high-end florist, no drug store carnations for us. I’m good at what I do – cutting stems on the diagonal, pinching stamens, stripping birthing petals off the roses. And choosing combinations that are easy on the eye.

I pull into a shady parking spot, and we set off down the dappled path, Sadie in front, shoulders hunched. Even from behind, I can tell she’s scrolling. After our plump and lovely little boy (he lost the baby fat eventually), I wanted a girl so bad, and when the doctor put her in my arms, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy. She had tiny, perfect mother-of-pearl nails, but her shining head was bald for months. I tried every kind of bow, but they always slipped off, and when her hair did finally grow in, it was thin and crisp with static. 

Sadie runs to the wooden bridge across the creek and hooks her feet onto the bottom rail and throws twigs down into the moving water. I want to shape her face with my hands, smooth out the nose, pinch the cheekbones, press her mouth on either side to plump her lips. She’s laid the phone down on the railing as she plays, and that shriek of purple against the soft mossy green of the trees hurts my eyes. She looks away, and I lose it. One flick of a finger’s all it takes. As the phone plummets, she lunges for it, but I grab my daughter’s waistband and hold on tight.

'The Voice in the Well' by Thiva Narayanan

There are no gods and goddesses down here despite what anyone else might have told you. This is a very dry and ancient well. It is the very bottom of everything there is, everything that you know of. They do not send those with hope this way. It’s only those without a future that find themselves here. Round the stairs, round and down, did you look over to see the drop, as you made your way here? It’s quite a distance from the surface. Look up. That pinprick above your head, at the very center of the dark circle – that’s the sun. The outside. Everything you had known. Where all things are possible. Things like happiness. And hope. But not down here.

Look at me. Hey! Here. Look at me! There is no hope or such things here. It’s not that they are not permitted but it’s such a long journey down that – as fragile things require generous amounts of sunlight to survive– they dry up and wither long before reaching the bottom. This is the very bottom, right here, boy. Congratulations, you’ve made it. That’s the good news. But the only one I’m afraid. To get here, you’ve left behind all the things that would have sustained you in life. Love. Hope. Faith. Especially faith.

Don’t look at me that way. I’m not insulting you. Have you your faith still? The one that they taught you from birth? What kind of faith is it that varies based on your birth location? No, you no longer possess whatever variety of faith you’ve known. What you have is the discarded skin of the faith you once knew and held. You don’t believe me, do you?

Go on. Call them. Call the Gods and Goddesses you know.

Any of them. Any one of them. Go on. No, I am not challenging you to make them appear. That would be unfair and difficult to do even if you were up there. Yes, I’m pointing to the mouth of the well above us, boy. Even up there, you’d be hard pressed to call upon your Gods. No. Being a fair person, I only ask you to feel the presence of your faith. Can you can feel it, inside you? Is your faith still there? Go on, feel it.

I won’t laugh. I see the look on your face now. The look does not fill me with glee although it used to very much, at one time. You realize now I was telling the truth all along? If only I could show you your own face now. There is nothing more pitiful in existence than the face of a human being without hope or faith, who knows there is no salvation, that all expectations had been in vain. I have seen that look so many times and each time, it is unforgettable. I am sorry for you, boy. But now you are mine.

'Not Gone Yet' by Rachael Dunlop

It was what my mother would have called a fit of the vapours. In all my seventy-something years I’d never fainted before, but I knew what it was. I could feel my brain sinking down through my body, like a counterweight sliding down a cord. The bath must have been too hot, that’s what it was. Not the other thing. As I folded towards the bathroom floor, I hoped I’d forgotten to lock the door.

I heard you coming, the door opening, the curse under your breath. I dragged my eyes open to the sight of the steel toes of your boots. Their worn leather belonged to the man you once were, the working man. And then your hands were under my armpits, hoisting me up, my limbs soft yet uncompliant, like an under-stuffed doll that won’t hold a pose.

The towel I had wrapped around me fell as you lifted me, and there I was, naked and pressed against the wool of your coat as you scooped an arm around my waist to steady the pair of us. Desire flitted through me, or maybe just the memory of it. Our younger selves would have been back down on the damp bath mat already, your clothes ready to join mine heaped in the corner. Those quick-scrabbled moments were the best.

You propped me on the side of the bath while you got your breath back and I watched the condensation from the too-hot bath smoke the contours of the pebbled window glass. You said: you scared me, and I said: I scared myself and then you lifted my chin with a finger and kissed me and said: I’m going to miss you, girl, and I said: I’m not gone yet.

'Afternoon Men' by John King

The house remained the same the day we bought it to that day I, being the last to leave, closed the door and never went back.

My Dad chose the house as he could come home for lunch.

I don’t think then many engineers at manufacturing plants came home during the day, even for forty minutes.

We had our meals in the kitchen. The centre of this room was the boiler. This came alive according to the thermostat, seasonally adjusted.  It filled Winter silences, punctuated Spring conversations, whooshed along with Autumn reflections. I wasn’t there in summers.

Adjacent was my Dad’s chair, a deckchair. I liked the way he sat there after lunch, a post prandial cigarette before returning to the factory to make things. Sometimes he looked out in front of him as if staring out to sea or competed with the boiler with stories of machines being made to be exported across the globe.

It was all perfectly calibrated, home, lunch, cig, back. 10 minutes each way in the Morris.

Then came the lunch when he never went back.  The cigarette was lunch.

I knew something was wrong with the world the way he walked into the kitchen that day. I heard the car draw up in the drive, He didn’t make it past the boiler to the table.

The smoke was rising from the deckchair.

‘Everything cool, Dad?’ I said. I wasn’t long back from University, I wasn’t studying engineering.

He lit another cigarette. It was 1250. This was serious. He should have had the salad, he should be back in the Morris, he should…

‘Everything alright, Dad?’ I said

‘It’s over,’ he said.

The boiler shuddered.

‘25 years.  A good run?’

It was one of his expressions and this was about him.

The deck chair enveloped him, would he ever get up again, the sea rise into the kitchen?

‘Doors close, doors open, Dad,’ I said. He looked at me. He had spent more years at the factory than I had on the planet.

I modified my approach. ‘You said the order books were full. That new supersonic jet for the RAF, locomotives for the Indian Railways.’

‘Automation. Entire draughtsmen department. Gone.’

I have never seen a man so defeated. This was my Dad. He had to get up, pack up the deckchair, create the post-industrial life.

The world was never the same again, retirement unimagined. a transition unattained.

Only three years later I returned to clear the unrenovated house. I looked through old photographs.  Interlaken, Zermatt? Somewhere like that. In the background there were people skiing, sports clothes covered in logos, white teeth. In the foreground, Dad in his tweed winter coat, flat cap. He used to criticise me for not smiling in photographs. I let this one pass.

I don’t know where that photograph is now.

The boiler was too silent to comment. It must have been late Spring. I folded up the deckchair and walked into the garden.

'Lilith' by Laure Van Rensburg

 She was the warm breath in your ear that told you to speak to the quiet girl at the end of the bar — the dare you followed until my number was stored in your phone.

She was the flame that lit your cigarette, the high that hit you when you took that first drag of the day, the black tar that stayed in your lungs long after you stopped smoking.

She was your love of Neil Young, Radiohead and Kurt Vonnegut. She was the references I didn’t get, the invisible pen that underlined all of my inadequacies.

She was everywhere, although you called her ancient history, but one whose words were etched on the tablets of your bones. There were tales that defined you that I didn’t know like that weekend in Berlin or the stained jumper you wouldn’t throw away.

She was the shadows shrouding the recess where you first kissed me — the puppeteer still moving the strings long after they had left the stage.

She was the pause in your questions, the delay of hesitation, the words you didn’t speak. She was the name never on your lips, but always on your mind.

She was the phantom fingers knotting in your hair, pulling you close as you tasted me for the first time. She was the hungry mouth trying to swallow me.

She was the flicker of ennui in your eyes when I suggested a quiet night in on the sofa, and the curl of your mouth when my hand slipped below the elastic of your pyjamas as Richard Attenborough lectured us on endangered species.

She was the scar slicing your eyebrow and the small dent in the plaster of the living room wall. I ran my fingers along the depression, licked the porous surface that stuck to my tongue.

She was the kohl pencil forgotten in the bathroom cabinet. The blackest shade that rimmed her eyes and your desires. A reminder that someone had been there before me, important enough to leave something behind, important enough not to be thrown away. A message to those who would come after her.

She was the storm goddess, the one who would never lose because she was an idea, a memory only made of the good parts of your history, an excitement like salt on a split lip.


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First published by Spelk Fiction.

'Bones' by Susmita Bhattacharya

She marinates the fish in salt and turmeric. The cat rubs against her leg, purring loudly. Shoo, she mutters. Filthy creature. She kicks it away, her eyes darting to the door to check no one sees this. She drains the rice in the sink, the steam enveloping her in its warm, aromatic plumes. She prepares the table and then announces that lunch is ready.

The family rush in, talking all at once – discussing the cricket match they’ve been pulled away from, commenting on the smell of the fried fish. Wiping her turmeric stained fingers on her white sari, she expertly whisks the golden-brown pieces onto their plates and watches them eat. The master – he chews quickly, the oil sliding from the corner of his mouth to his chin. He wipes the oil off with the back of his hand and spits the pulp of fish bones into the plate. The children eat less and talk more. The mistress sucks the bones till they resemble hair combs made of ivory.

She turns her face away and tries to think of something else. But images of her own kitchen in the village, the mud-baked walls soaked with the smells of her cooking, fills her brain. Her tongue longs for the texture of the meat, the melting flesh of the fish. Her eyes are desperate to see colour on her body instead of the widow whites. He took everything with him the moment he was gone. In that second that he died, she became a shadow – to not have any desires, any comforts, any say in anything. She now cooks for others to survive but has to starve herself of the food she loves.

The master clicks his tongue and the cat, who has been sitting under the table licking its paws, runs to him. He places the leftovers from his plate on the floor and it pounces on the scraps, finishing them off in no time. The children laugh and offer titbits until their mother tells them to stop.

The family finish their lunch and hurry back to the cricket. She clears away the table. The children have not eaten their food properly. She stops and stares at the pile of bones with generous helpings of flesh still attached to them. Her tongue screams for just one more taste. She is shocked by her own craving. What would her husband say? Oh, he’s dead, woman. Her mind cries out. No one will know. She quickly places a fragment of fish into her mouth. She closes her eyes and relishes the taste. It has been too long.  The cat protests – she is stealing what is rightfully his. It jumps onto the kitchen counter, trying to reach for the scraps. She eyes him, sucks out a fish bone and places it in front of him. The cat sniffs, then turns away. She watches with satisfaction.  She isn’t going to let that creature enjoy what she cannot anymore.

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First published in Spelk.

DEBUT FLASH: 'A Blank Page' by Tom Beck

A blank page is like a new apartment. It’s exciting to see and to think about. Where will all of the furniture go? How will everything be arranged? But then, it’s a lot of work. All of the things have to be brought up. They have to be transported from the old place to here. And it’s hot outside, or maybe it’s very cold. And everything is so heavy. Why do we have so much stuff? This is mirror is broken too—throw it in the trash. Just get everything inside, put it somewhere, we’ll figure it out later. And the space fills up and nothing is in its place. It’s all scattered everywhere and there is no way to get through it all, so you push things aside, make paths. And you’re done. It’s woefully incomplete and not at all how you imagined, but you’re tired and now it’s dark outside.

GREEN STORIES: ‘Fruits of Labour’ by Holly Schofield

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories ' first flash fiction competition in which wri...