Sunday 7 June 2020

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 writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Highly Commended, 2020 Green Stories Competition

Fruits of Labour
by Holly Schofield

The customer pressed his thumb firmly on Hannah's tablet, adding a one-merit tip to the cost of the apples.

"Thanks." She slumped back on the stool as the man placed the fruit in his carry bag.

 "You look glum." He squinted at her from beneath his hemp straw hat.

 "Uh, I just had some bad news. Well, an absence of news, really." She poured herself some sun tea from the glass jar. Her bioplastic cup would be composted when it wore out, a pleasing example of the circularity of things. Hannah, on the other hand, was doomed to spend her life stuck in this market stall, selling fruits and vegetables she hadn't actually grown.

"Turned down from university?"

She glanced up, startled.

The man chuckled. "Just a guess. Notifications went out to the applicants last week, right?"

"Yeah, if you must know. My best friend got into upcycling at Harnley, my other friend got into oceanography, but I never heard back at all. They don't notify the unsuccessful applicants. I guess I shouldn't have aimed so high."

"High? You wanted to be a medical doctor? A scientist?"

Hannah mumbled her answer. "A farmer." All her friends thought she was dreaming to even try-thousands applied and only a handful ever got in. She'd poured her heart out in the entrance essay but, clearly, that hadn't been good enough.

The man laughed outright. "Every child's dream. If you can learn all the soil science, robotics, and genetics that's needed, you can certainly make a fine living from it."

 "I don't care about accumulating merits! I mean, I do want to stay on the plus side of my sustainscore but that's all." Hannah frowned, trying to get her phrasing right. It might not matter to this jerk but it mattered to her. "I want to make something from the soil, create good food for people, fill a market stall as splendidly this one."

 "Might as well get rich, too, Hannah."

"How do you know my name?"

 He winked at her. "I'm with Total Spray Corp. You agree to use KillMax on your crops for five years after you graduate, and I can pull some strings to get you into the Agriculture faculty."

 It wasn't even worth a moment's consideration. "No way! KillMax is a neonicotinoid!" She could never condone the slaughter of bees. She thumped down her cup. "No one would ever agree to that!"

The man grimaced. "You'd be surprised. That's why we screen all our applicants. Let me introduce myself for real this time. I'm Francis Malk, head of admissions for Harnley Agricultural College."

"I don't understand--"

 "Congratulations, Hannah, you passed our admission's test." He leaned over the heap of tomatoes and held out a hand. "Welcome to our program."

Stunned and ecstatic, Hannah shook his hand, then shook it twice more, knocking tomatoes everywhere.

GREEN STORIES: ‘Table for One’ by Kimberly Christensen

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Highly Commended, 2020 Green Stories Competition

Table for One
by Kimberly Christensen


Leave it to Terry to be at the cutting-edge of the latest Millennial trend – killing the death industry. No corpse flambé for him. Nope. He picked the newest in death technology and got himself composted, leaving me – a newly-minted widow – suddenly in possession of a cubic yard of dead-husband/dirt. Thanks, Terry.

As there was no place to plant Terry in our condo and I hated being there without him, I searched around for one of those new senior-focused pod-living high rises. A tiny apartment for myself, active neighbors nearby, and a memorial garden where I could plant Terry. It was the rational thing to do. Except that rational doesn’t exactly keep you company in the shared cafeteria. How can a room full of people be so damn lonely?

 Day One of pod-life I sat at my own lunch table, no one to talk to, imaging Terry making sarcastic remarks about the sea of gray hairs diligently stopping at the clean-up station to sort their lunch-time waste. There was a system to it. An overwhelming system. I considered hiding my lunch tray behind a potted plant and sneaking out the back. 

“You’re new here, aren’t you, love?” Damn. I’d been spotted. But at least the woman’s voice was kind. Warm even. “Have you figured out where everything goes?” Before I could answer, she took the tray, scraping most of the food waste into a bin labeled “compost” but depositing an apple core into a separate tub with a picture of a red earthworm taped to it.

She leaned toward me, conspiratorially. “Can I tell you a secret? The worms love apples, but watermelon is really what makes them happy.” 

 Happy? Worms?

 “I’ve never considered the emotional state of worms.” Great. The first words out of my mouth to this kind woman were sarcastic. I flashed her a weak smile.

 “Oh, you’re a funny one,” she chuckled. “The emotional state of worms depends entirely on food. Come on. You can see for yourself.”  

She exited the cafeteria through a side door into a shady and sparsely vegetated area. After hoisting the lid to a wooden bin, she dug around in the fruit scraps to retrieve a red worm. I hadn’t touched a worm since I was a kid, but I thrust my palm out so that she could tip the worm into it. It flopped and wiggled, moist on my dry palm. I was going to put it back in the bin, but then I had an idea.

 “Would it be OK?” I jerked my chin toward the memorial garden.


Terry’s tree was so newly planted that the mulch around its base still formed a perfect ring. I knelt, lifting the worm to eye level. “Tell Terry I miss him.” I set it on the mulch, where it poked around until it found a tunnel into which it disappeared segment by segment.

The woman waited at the bin for me. “See you tomorrow?” she asked.

I nodded. “I’ll bring the watermelon.”

GREEN STORIES: ‘Notice of Violation’ by Summer G. Baker

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Highly Commended, 2020 Green Stories Competition

Notice of Violation
by Summer G. Baker

The  nice  thing about  bureaucracy  was  how long it took  city  governments  to do something about  anything they  didn't  like. Like following through on warnings  to tear up front  yard  vegetable  gardens. Or get rid of farm animals living in backyards. Or pull down all those  wires  attached  to the  power lines. Or dismantle that miniature  solar plant. Or shoo off all those birds.

Failure  to  comply with  this notice  of violation... blah  .

Martha  held  a  stack  of  these  warnings  in  a  fist propped  up on one  ample hip, standing at the  mouth  of  her neighborhood  before  a  handful  of  parked  police  cars  and  one  city representative. A  suit-clad  white  man with  a  head  shaved  clean and  a  dimple in his  chin. Jared  Miller, she  knew, because  his  name  appeared  at  the  bottom of most of  those notices. And  also on the  city's website  under the  listing for City  Manager.

Through a  megaphone,  City  Manager Jared  Miller called  out, "Everyone  in this neighborhood  must  vacate  their homes  or face  several  fines  as  well  as  severance  of  gas, water, and  power  sources. As  none  of  you..."  his  voice  trailed  a  little  in bafflement, "have paid  for any  of  these  utilities  in some  time."  He lowered  the  megaphone.

 At  Martha's  back, a  screen of  greenery  shielded  the  neighborhood from the  outside, thick trees  blocking view  of  the  haven within. Crops, animals,  plant  and  solar power, and  rising above  it  all, a  small, handmade water tower. People  living a  sustainable  life. The  tower itself  was  painted  blue  with  the  words Good  Vibes in enormous  white  letters. Though Martha  didn't  always  understand  the  behavior of  the  younger folks,  she  knew they  had  the  spirit. Her neighbors. Her  dream. This  was  a  small  start, but  still something.

As  evening  set  in, house  lights  began to flicker  on. But  only  the  necessary  ones.

 "We all  own our properties,"  Martha  called  back, voice  loud  enough  without  a microphone. She  flapped  a  hand  at  the  City  Manager. "And  y'all  don't  maintain our roads  worth  a  damn. So go right  ahead!"

Miller nodded  at  a  nearby  cop, who mumbled  something into his  shoulder mic. In  a moment, a  loud  buzz  echoed  through the  still  evening as  some  tech  somewhere  cut power to twenty two blocks of  land  in the  poorest district  of  the  city.

Everyone  kept  looking around, waiting for darkness  to descend,  yet  the  lights  stayed  on.

Martha raised her eyebrows and couldn't help the shit-eating grin as she shrugged at the City Manager. "Guess we don't need your infrastructure no more." She turned around and headed for home.

 "Hey... you can't..." Miller blustered. He continued in a shout, "I'll bring a warrant for your arrest!”

 Before disappearing behind the trees, Martha waved an unfriendly wave at him. "Mm hmm... and bring some of those Notices of Violation with you. We can always use the recycling."

GREEN STORIES: ‘The Rewilding of Eddie Roberts’ by Claire Boot

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Highly Commended, 2020 Green Stories Competition

The Rewilding of Eddie Roberts
by Claire Boot

As expected, Eddie exploded.

 “Shut off the top two sodding levels?”

There’d been a message from head office, Faisal tried to explain. Due to declining usage, Levels 7 and 8 of the car park were being de-commissioned, so Eddie needed to lock them up during his shift.

 “Bollocks to those new speed limits,” fumed Eddie. “Soon there’ll be no cars left and we’ll be out of our bloody jobs.”

Since speed limits were reduced by a third, more people were walking or cycling or taking the new solar-powered trams. Faisal thought it was great – his daughter’s asthma was much better – but he wanted his breakfast more than he wanted an argument. He shrugged noncommittally and left, wishing Eddie a good shift.

 Two cups of tea later, Eddie took the lift up to Level 8. As he stepped out into the spring sunshine it struck him again what an ideal spot this would make for a sniper. He was assessing the line of sight along the main shopping street when a bundle of feathers shot past him and crashed on to the lift shaft roof.

“Bloody pigeons!”

 Eddie put his foot on a railing and heaved himself up.

 It was a bloody pigeon, being ripped apart by two – what were they, hawks? Hooked yellow beaks, matching yellow talons, and checkerboard chests. And there, under the ledge, three brown eggs.

Back in the office, Eddie googled ‘lost hawks’ but nothing came up locally. More googling, and he worked out they weren’t hawks at all. Peregrine falcons, the world’s fastest bird. He spent his fag break watching YouTube videos of them powering through the sky like missiles. Eddie felt an affinity with the peregrines – skydiving had been his favourite part of army training – until he read on Wikipedia that they mated for life. He’d failed spectacularly at that.

 After lunch, Eddie returned to Level 8 with a stepladder. Only one of the birds was there, cleaning its talons. Very carefully, Eddie re-angled two CCTV cameras towards the nest. Then he climbed down and took the ladder inside, locking the doors behind him.

That summer, Eddie watched the peregrines every day. He saw the adults come and go, taking it in turns to sit on the eggs, and sat open-mouthed as the first chick hatched, a wet wobbly blob pushing through bits of shell. By June, there were three balls of fluff tottering around and gobbling down chunks of mashed-up meat. Throughout August he watched them clumsily coordinate their wings and feet, and then, by the last Monday in September, Eddie knew they’d gone for good.

 When Faisal came in for the night shift, he heard an unfamiliar sound in the office. Eddie was whistling. He gave Faisal a broad grin and a thumbs up. Faisal wondered if Eddie had been drinking again.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

 “Yes mate,” winked Eddie. “I’ve got a new bird in my life.”

And Eddie Roberts exploded with laughter.

The audio recording is read by Connor Allen.

GREEN STORIES: 'How to Re-Fill an Invisible Balloon' by Matt Kendrick

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Third Place Winner, 2020 Green Stories Competition

How to Re-Fill an Invisible Balloon
by Matt Kendrick

No one apart from Dean can see the balloons. Translucent smudges of colour bobbing along in mid-air. Everyone has one. Adults, children, babies. His mum’s red balloon has shriveled like a sun-dried tomato and is hanging limply by her left ankle.

 At the supermarket, Dean pretends he is a charioteer, feet on the trolley struts, using the push bar to veer round the corners of the aisles. Normally, his mum yanks him off and tells him to behave. Today, she picks up a vacuum-wrapped cauliflower and stares at it as if it were from another planet.

There’s a beach by their house where they take the dog for walks. Dean chases the dog along the sand and his balloon trails in his wake. He runs at the waves, laughs as the foam tickles his toes. When they get home, his balloon is big as a space hopper. His mum took a bin bag and has picked up half the beach.

Mrs Mitchell sets them a school project on oceans. She asks what you might find in the sea. Goldfish, dolphins, crabs, sharks. Seaweed? Coral? And shells. And polar bears. And boats. And messages in bottles. Dean says there’s always plastic bags drifting in the surf.

They go to a new shop where you scoop food into containers you’ve brought from home. Dean cascades white rice into a Tupperware box and slides the box onto the scales. They go to another shop for vegetables and another for shampoo pumped into a glass jar. His mum decants everything into the cupboards at home and her balloon is back bobbing above her head–for a little while at least.

She talks to their neighbor about the re-fill shop and the neighbor says it’s like stepping back in time. His mum says everything was better in the past. Dean thinks that must mean before he was born. He looks up to see his balloon has shrunk to an apple-sized sphere.

Saturday, they walk on the beach again. Dean tries to take his mum’s hand like he used to when he was little but she is busy snatching at a crisp packet with her litter picker’s claw. Dean crouches down because he has spotted some six-pack rings half-buried in the sand. When he tries to grab them, his mum yells at him like she does when he’s being a supermarket charioteer.

He asks her at bed time if she was happier before.

‘Before what?’‘

Before me.’

She hugs him tight and asks how he could think that. He explains and she hugs him again. As he drifts off to sleep, his balloon catches the trickle of moonlight seeping through the blinds.

Next time they go to the re-fill shop, Dean asks the woman on the counter if there’s re-fills for everything.

‘Most things,’ she says. ‘What is it you’re after?’

He bites his lip and looks back at his mum. ‘Have you got anything to re-fill balloons?’

GREEN STORIES: 'The Birch Translator' by Andrea Reisenauer

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

First Place Winner, 2020 Green Stories Competition

The Birch Translator
by Andrea Reisenauer

“How long have you known you could speak to bees?”

The orange yolk of the sun was beginning to sink below the skyline. They sat on a small mound of grass in the corner of a park. The tulips were slowly folding their yellow cloaks as the warm hum of electric cars strummed in the distance.

A smile came to the side of her eyes. “As long as I can remember, really. One summer, when I was five, my mother uncovered a hive in the bush next to our driveway. She was just about to spray it when I came running. I had heard yells, screams…I thought she could hear them, too.”

“Were you able to save them?” He asked, wide-eyed.

“Yes,” she grinned. “They helped me move them. A fat little worker came and sat on my thumb and we found a new place. Luckily, my mother had read about the work they were doing in interspecies translation – you know, that there were people like me. By the time I was 15, I was already sending transcripts to parliament detailing the best places for new rooftop meadows.”

She twirled the tall grass between her fingers as the final glints of day played over distant solar panels. Then she turned to him.

“What about you?”

He hesitated.

“It wasn’t as easy for me. Trees are tricky, you know. For a while, I remember hearing things when I passed the neighbor’s garden. Whispers, really. It took me years to realize that it only happened when I was near the silver ones. But I was too afraid to say anything. One year, at Christmas, just when all the stories were coming out about the Finns who had started translating for pines, I finally said something. My parents must’ve thought I was insane. But my uncle knew a woman who worked with willows, so he took me to visit her.”

 “But isn’t it difficult? I mean – what can they even say? The poor things can hardly move!”

He chuckled. “A lot, really. I started with simple things, like finding places to replant trees that were about to be taken out. Now we’re working on air quality. The thing about birches is that they’re great at filtering out the old pollution. They want to help. I can hardly pass by Thunberg Street without hearing some new voice shouting out advice.”

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

Meanwhile, night had tip-toed over the city. As little insect orchestras began to play from the nearby rain reservoir, the two translators slowly stood.

“You know,” he mused, “sometimes I feel as if we were silly children who’ve made a great mess, and they've been just waiting to teach us how to pick it up. They must have been calling out for centuries before we noticed them.”

She reached for his hand.

"But now we're listening." 

As they walked back towards the great sea of green-covered glass, he could hear a little silver sapling nearby, whistling.

GREEN STORIES: Trash Canned by Susan James

This piece is part of our Green Stories series, showcasing the winners of Green Stories' first flash fiction competition in which writers are challenged to envision what a sustainable future might look like. You can read more about the background to this project in our introduction to this series.

Second Place Winner, 2020 Green Stories Competition

Trash Canned
by Susan James

There was a time when guys like me were respected in this business. Mick Sloane? Yeah, I know the guy. Damn good PI. The best.

Guy comes up to me in a bar, says his name is Charles but wants me to call him Chuck. Guy says, Mick, I got to know what’s going on with this girl. I think she’s up to something and I need to know what. It’s his ex-girlfriend. They broke up but he’s got to thinking that she was screwing around back when they were together. Okay, no problem. He says she’s some kind of activist, real flowers-in-your-hair type. He shows me a picture. Good looking girl. He gives me an address. Nice part of town. We agree on a price. Chuck leaves the bar. I’ll be in touch.

I go to the address. Driveway is empty, lights off in the house except for maybe some kind of lamp at the back. Could be someone’s home or could be someone’s trying to make it look like they’re home. I check her out online. Some eco-guru cum zero-waste expert. I Google it. Sounds dumb. I recycle. I don’t go trying to make a buck out of it. 

Next day and no car on the driveway. House looks quiet. Nobody home. Tomorrow is trash day. Lot of truth in someone’s garbage. Two cans are under a porch. Open a lid. Empty. Open the other. Empty. Hard to see inside. No car means nowhere to put a tracker. Hey, she says, pushing a bike. No car. Great. I got my hands cupped to the window. She asks if I’m here about the coffee. Absolutely, I say. We go inside. Nice place. She says I can take the grass cuttings out the back, too. Turns out it’s for composting. The coffee grounds, too. She disappears into the yard. I take a look around. Place is pretty bare. Few paintings, some plants. Not a lot to go on. Lots of glass jars on shelves. I’m thinking, Mick, you got to find something on this girl. Bingo! Canvas bag in the corner. I’m thinking a man’s go-bag, dirty washing from a weekend away, something worth disposing of discreetly, but its female clothes folded and fresh. Pen across the side of the bag says ‘Good will’. Damn it.

 A voice behind me asks what I’m doing. Someone older, the mother. Arms across her chest. I never heard a thing. The front door is wide and there’s an electric car on the drive. Girl comes back in smelling of lawn. Gigs up. She asks if I’m here because of Chuck. I say yes. I feel buck naked. We chat. Guy sounds like a douche. Nice girl . She offers me a dandelion coffee. Not for me.

Later, I take Chuck out for a beer. Offer him professional opinion. Chuckie, I say, his back. You’re trash and she hates trash.

GREEN STORIES: An Introduction to Today's Flash Series

Green Stories is a series of writing competitions which asks writers to engage with what a sustainable future might look like.  They aim to raise awareness of sustainability issues, practices, policies and technologies via storytelling.

To celebrate National Flash Fiction Day, Green Stories added a flash fiction category into their mix, with the hope of having celebrating the winners with us at our National Flash Fiction Day event in Coventry.  Since everything has moved online, we've invited the winners to share their stories with us online as part of the National Flash Fiction Day weekend.

We'll be posting some of the stories between 15:00 - 17:00 GMT today here at FlashFlood, along with a little more background to the competition.  And, as an extra treat, we have recordings of some of the authors of the winning and highly commended stories to share with you as well.

But first, here is a little more about the background to this competition from the organisers.  You can read more on the Green Stories website, as well as keep up-to-date with their current submission calls for flash and other forms of writing and media.  (You may need to scroll down the page to see the current open competitions.)

Values behind the competition

Human stories are a more effective way to engage people in sustainability issues than dry facts so the aim is to raise awareness of sustainability issues, practices, policies and technologies via a story.

We are currently living beyond our means – if everyone lived as we do in the UK we’d need 3 planets, so the aim of sustainable development is to find ways of living where there is less wasteful distribution of resources. We need to work out ways that we can all have what we need using fewer resources and be just as happy.

The necessary societal transformations to sustainable societies require profound systemic changes across social, cultural, economic, environmental, political and technological domains. But to imagine how all aspects can come together within one society is more the domain of creative fiction. Therefore this competition aims to harness the creative visions of writers to imagine sustainable societies.

Why we ask for a positive view

Stories are powerful means of inspiring positive change. The Black Mirror series reflects anxieties about our future, and climate change discourse further creates fear and avoidance. What we really need are some positive visions that allow potentially transformative solutions to be showcased and played out.

The difficulty in promoting sustainable behaviours is that they are often seen negatively as ‘doing without’ and the typical fear-based discourse can turn people off. This matters as in turn, political parties tend not to see environmental issues as ‘vote winners’ which limits potential for green policy making.

Just as some books/films product place products, we aim to ‘product place’ sustainable attitudes behaviours products and policies. The story doesn’t have to be specifically about climate change or catastrophic shortages, it can be any kind of genre – rom com, crime drama, legal drama, children’s book, sci fi etc. as long as it showcases sustainable technologies, practices, products or ideas in the background. Or another acceptable approach could be to focus on characters. Currently characters in fiction who are green/ethical are often portrayed as priggish or aggressive, we’d like to see attractive characters behaving in sustainable ways.

Research on how people respond to stories

Professor Denise Baden has been exploring responses to stories about climate change. Her findings indicate that solution-focused stories with a positive tone are more likely to inspire greener behaviours and a proactive mindset to address sustainability issues than stories with a catastrophic focus. This seems to be because negatively framed stories can either make people avoid the subject and switch off, or leave them feeling helpless to make a difference. Example quotes relating to the various stories  illustrate:

The positive stories were inspiring and made me realise everyone can make a difference.

I think the ones with solutions have more impact than the over the top scare mongering.

The second story felt inspirational. It gave me a simple option that I could take to do something positive for the environment.

This was very frightening and negative. It made me angry and I switched off

Scaring people only leads to switching off.

For more information on the research please click here.

The Flood has abated...

That's it for this year's Flash Flood!

This year was a year of records.

We received by far the most submissions ever -- 1650-some, compared to 1007 last year -- as well as a record 250 pieces written by unpublished writers.  We more than doubled our Debut Fiction slots for new writers, and substantially increased our regular slots as well.

Once upon a time, our aim was to try to find 144 pieces so that we could publish once every 10 minutes.  This year, it was a struggle to keep the number down to the record 218 pieces that we published this year.

Our seven editors did an amazing job reading through the flood of submissions, and we all agreed that the overall quality of submissions was incredible.  We could easily have filled a journal twice this large with fantastic work, but time and space forced us to make very difficult decisions.

Thank you to everyone who submitted, and huge congratulations to everyone who made it in this year.

National Flash Fiction Day is now over, but we will be reading submissions to The Write-In until 23:59 BST on 7 June 2020, and will be continuing to celebrate flash fiction throughout the month with National Flash Fiction Day New Zealand (a completely separate organisation with completely the same love of flash).

Until next year, happy flashing from all of us at FlashFlood!

Saturday 6 June 2020

'The Rights to the City' by Farhana Khalique

The foxes have taken over the city. They started from underneath backyard sheds, had shoes thrown at them. Then, they ate from pizza boxes at nine o’clock in the morning, staring back at the bin men. Later, they went to schools and libraries, stepping over the abandoned books, digging up parks and vegetable gardens at will. They’ve now moved into the new luxury apartment blocks, where they trot along yawning corridors and ignore the view. No queues at the doctors’ for them, and first class on the trains. No delays or cancellations. They even go for a dip in the lido, then spread themselves on slices of terraced roofs missing solar panels. No longer wraith-like and blinking, these are plump and devouring, as bold as fake tan.
But the foxes know that there are still people outside the centre, in the forest and in the mountain. Curled up, dreaming. Waiting to come back, to live together again, and not fight over scraps.


'The Rights to the City' was first published in Things Left and Found by the Side of the Road: Bath Flash Fiction Volume Three in 2018.

'Ouroboros' by Defne Çizakça

There is a man in the old town of Tabriz who walks down narrow streets at night, searching for discarded boxes. When he finds one, he sticks photographs inside of it, paints gestures and memories. These boxes travel with him to reputable galleries in New York, Cairo, and Buenos Aires. They enchant their viewers. They make them imagine different lives. They hold time. Some of the boxes are sold, some are lent, some of them he keeps.

The man’s house fills with these boxes over the years. At first the collection is a source of joy. It is proof of his success, proof that the man’s wanderings were not pointless, a sign that perhaps he is not so alone. The man dusts them periodically, sometimes he even talks to them. The boxes begin to change under his touch. Slowly, they gain character and voice. They turn into creatures. They multiply. Until the man has to go around the old town of Tabriz at night, searching for a discarded box in which to hide.

He finds an old suitcase with a broken latch. Collects his footsteps, paints a replica of his hands, glues his child self to its leather and there he waits.

'Ouroboros' was published by Lunate on April 17 2020

'A Date Without Small Talk' by Neil Clark

I hate small talk, so I thought it was cool when we hugged and you said, “Hi, nice to meet you. Do you think that time existed before the universe was formed?”

We went mini-golfing. I asked you if you thought it was possible that a miniature Earth, maybe the size of one of these golf balls, might exist somewhere inside this normal-sized Earth.

“How do you know we’re not already inside this miniature Earth you speak of?” you said. “How do you know giant clones of us aren’t walking around out there, having this same exact conversation?”

“Except I guess they’d be calling it just golf,” I said.

The rest of the date might have lasted a minute or a million eons. I don’t remember, because you made me feel dizzy like my world was a vortex on course for a black hole.

Whenever it ended, I asked if I could see you again.

You told me this was inevitable, because the universe is expanding and will continue to expand until it begins to collapse. Then it will collapse until it has collapsed to nothing. From there, it will start expanding again, and it will expand in exactly the same way it expanded before. All events will be exactly the same. Eventually, it, and we, will arrive back at this exact moment. This has already happened a trillion times before, and it will happen a trillion times again. The universe is trapped in this cycle.

“So yes,” you said. “You will see me again. In this iteration of existence or the next.”

A day later, I messaged you. I said the weather was nice. I asked how you were doing and what you were getting up to.

I waited for you to message back.

I waited and I waited.

I waited more. I waited longer than it takes for the universe to expand and collapse and then expand again until the moment we first met. I waited for so long that I now have a definitive answer to your question:

No. Time did not exist before the universe got formed. If it did, surely by now I’d have seen you again.

Debut Fiction: 'Amidst the Falling Leaves' by Soren Berg

I like to sit on the porch and watch them.  The trees.  Especially on mornings like this one, as still as a held breath in the pre-dawn light.  The small clearing for my cabin is just a brief disruption in the endless ranks of trees, and their smooth red trunks branch out into long, lithe limbs that stretch up to the sky like a dancer frozen mid-leap.  Despite everything, they are beautiful.

I lean back in my chair, and run calloused fingers over the smooth, lacquered surface of the table beside me.  My hands remember the hard knob of the planer, and the square handle of the joiner’s mallet.  I think of the buzzing stroke of the saw and the feel of sawdust tickling my throat.  Many mornings I’ve sat here, readying myself for the tasks of the day, but today I have no taste for coffee, nor any particular sense of urgency.  Instead I take small sips of cool, fresh water from a wooden cup.  I sit for hours, watching the trees, thinking slow thoughts.

When they call to me it is so gentle.  They beckon patiently with their long graceful limbs, swaying in the late-morning breeze.  Inviting me to walk the pathways through the forest amidst shifting patterns of dappled sunlight, and consider my surroundings in a way I haven’t before.  To pause in a place and watch how the light falls and the water flows. To imagine the seasons winding past, and the slow changes of time in this particular spot, like nowhere else exists.  To stop in an endless moment.

I look down at my hand, where a delicate green stem is growing up out of the flesh of my palm.  Its bud is just starting to unfurl into a perfect tiny leaf, casting a translucent shadow on my creased and lined skin.

It is time.

'Hope' by T. Love

Even if the man outside had been waving, I was too weak to wave back or even smile. Actually he was wiping my windows. Over the weeks I grew used to his singing and his ring-tone, his shadow passing over me several times a day. I’m 6 floors up. He had no ropes, no platform, no ladder, only a wife who did his accounts and a no-good son he moaned about to everyone. I wanted him to stop, too many birds were crashing against the glass. I thought he’d never go.

Then with the first frost he waved to me for real and rose to join a vast flock of migrating angels. I could see in his eyes how reluctant he was to leave me. I wasn’t sad. I knew he’d only go if he was sure I wasn’t going away. I knew that in spring he’d try to return to the same spot. He left his fingerprints on the glass. I can’t wash them off.

'If I Could Tell You' by Sabrina Hicks

A wolf was in our basement last night, staring at me with his iced blue eyes as I retrieved a jug of lemonade from the refrigerator. I don’t mean this metaphorically; and it’s not like that time I saw the trunk of a palm tree through our hotel window and thought it was the leg of an elephant, it’s gray skin cracking in the tropical heat, you laughing at my wild imagination with your one martini breath on mine. It was late, yes. I took sleeping pills, I believe. Maybe I even downed a few shots of vodka and woke parched, feeling like my body was nothing but bird feathers and spilled cartilage. Still, still, I know he was there. It was everything else that was the dream, my life wrapped around that moment. How strange it was to see a world only revealed in death, the past compressed instead of dangling, the present naked of time. If I looked away, I knew the beast would be gone, so I kept my eyes there for as long as I could, angered by the nature of momentum, taking in his sleek, snowy fur, peppered in ash. I would need to blink, to shut the refrigerator door, to walk back up the stairs, crawl into our bed, separate the sheets you always tucked in too tight, maybe wake to tell you we had a wolf in the basement. But you’d tell me I was crazy, ask me how much I had to drink, and then we’d fight, and the wolf would get lost in the story and become a metaphor, and I couldn’t handle any more metaphors. So, I closed the refrigerator door, heard his nails tapping on the wood floor, following me into bed and behind my closed lids, eyeing my bird feathers, inhaling the cartilage spilling between us.


'If I Could Tell You'  was first published in Synesthesia Magazine on 7 December 2018.

'Freefalling' by Dettra Rose

In the circus of my mind, I’m backflipping in tight imperfect circles. Tumbling. My spine a perfect arch. The world turns in giddy hoops, and the audience applauds. In the circus of my mind, I’m juggling clubs – three, six, then nine. Quick time, my clubs become sharp knives. The crowd says, “Whoa!” I bow, then climb the trapeze. My apprentice hands me the swing. I freefall. Flying with no harness in the peaks of the marquee where god lives.

In the circus of my mind, big cats, elephants and proud horses are always uncaged, always unharmed. They visit the marquee, but nobody holds their reins. I ask them if I can ride bareback, no harness. Out of the canvas, into fields with no tracks or paths, we disappear.

There is a tear. There is a soft shudder in my ribs. There is a metal taste in my mouth. There is a harness pushing me together. I’m all buckles and belts. There is a view of white above me. I’ve seen nothing but white for weeks. Like I’m in a snow shaker.

Because when your mind’s a circus, backflipping, juggling clubs and knives. When tightness squeezes out your breath. When your heart is busy numbing out what you feel, and your mind’s tumbling. When you look ahead but can’t see the road or hear the turning wheels.

It’s easy to backflip. To turn in giddy hoops. To fly with no harness – freefall. To lie in the gutter and look in the elegant eyes of a stranger. Perfect. Bronze. Almond eyes. It’s easy to  like his questions and gentle care. To feel the hand on yours is warm. To hear a hi-lo siren and know it’s here for you. To look up at a ruby grapefruit moon and wonder if it’s the last thing you’ll see then perhaps it’s here for you, too.

And there are faces in your mind. And all the ribbons that cut you start to fray. And you wish you’d said what you really meant to when you could.

'Freefalling' was previously published by Reflex Fiction in September 11th 2018.

'Flight' by Janice Leagra

Two cranes danced for one another near the pond’s edge. They squawked and churred. Each one stopped long enough to mine for palmetto bugs and swallow them before the pirouetting resumed. Jim shifted in his chair, never taking the binoculars from his eyes. In all his years of living in this secluded spot, cranes had never come this close.

The pair continued their ritual, red-capped heads bobbing. Then the female stopped, tilted her body forward, opened her wings, and lifted her tail end. The male flapped his wings and rose high enough to mount her before lowering himself back to the ground and walking away. It was over so quickly. Both birds threw back their heads and let out a screech, then resumed foraging.

Gwen would have loved this, stifling giggles and wrestling the field glasses from him. A couple of voyeurs sitting in a Florida lanai, watching a crane mating dance. “A perfect date,” she’d have said. Then she would have climbed onto his lap and they’d have given the cranes a show of their own.

His chest ached.

He couldn’t stop watching them. Their soft warbles and purposeful rooting were oddly comforting. He considered recording them, but thought better of it.

This was enough. Besides, he dared not move.

The female paused again and stared in Jim’s direction. He held his breath. She tilted her head. He let out his breath in a slow whisper. In an instant she bolted skyward, wings swooping up and down with force and grace. The male flew after her, screeching and flapping frantically, as she soared across the pink sky and out of view. She made no sound at all.

'We Were Dirt Clumped Together: All that We Wanted' by Jessica Evans

We Were Dirt Clumped Together: All that We Wanted
a glosa

We were dirt clumped
Together: all that we wanted Shome Dasgupta

We were dirt clumped together the way holler living is different than river living and Marcus has never forgotten the difference. Mountain freezes feel different than Ohio cold but that never stopped Marcus and Steve from their knife game, invented out of the need to displace. Later, Marcus would learn the word dissonance, but in the back yard in Sedamsville, all he had was his brother, a set of Ginny’s used-to-be good Kmart steak knives, and questions lodged like dry cornbread. This winter, like all winters, no fat back to make things smooth.

Outside, their fingers numbed first and then their toes, icicles inside thrift store socks. Feet for walking, walking for leaving, leaving for escape. Marcus knew it but Steve did not. To play the game, the brothers plucked a knife from the counter, testing to find one with spring left in its thin blade. The goal: to flip the knife off their palms first, and then their wrists, elbows, and shoulders so that it landed in the dirt, blade piercing the almost frozen river ground. Steve was best at the game. Maybe that started his affection for knives. If they hadn’t played, maybe he wouldn’t have sat in for ten, no knives in sight.

They measured their skill based on who could sit the longest, who could perfect the arc to catch a glint of sun on the blade, a life reflected. Dirt yards make dirt people, that’s what Ginny always said when Hazel would come for a visit and the two were feeling mighty, proud to be mountain people. But visits were for summer when there was no chance the Plymouth would stall out. The game underscored patience, who could sit the longest, who could ignore Ginny getting drunk on wine she kept under the sink, who could block out Pap’s absence, his presence missing the way tops of mountains don’t exist in West Virginia.  Together: all that we wanted.

'Things That Fall' by Cathy De'Freitas

Rain falls on our wedding day. 

We say it doesn’t matter, we have each other. We have umbrellas. 

Swallows and merlins fall from the sky, landing with small thumps on the grass.

Wallpaper falls from the walls in sheets and slides to the mould-patterned floor. Handles fall from doors, bowls slip off shelves. In this new damp world everything is falling down or falling apart. 

Except us. We peg out our lives on washing lines. We let ripe peaches slither down our throats. We watch the rain fall. We hold hands as the water levels rise.

'Chalk' by Vanessa Chan

For many of us, the substitute teacher was the first white person we’d ever seen outside of television. Before this, for us, white men fell into two camps: Leonardo DiCaprio – youthful floppy-haired, desirable; or Prince Charles – wrinkled, dog-like, horrifying.

Mr. Gardiner was different. He was older than Leo, but maintained a similar, though less successful middle-parted hairstyle that stuck to his forehead like an oily curtain. His face, ruddy like the Prince’s, shone with sweat from the humid classroom, pink as the whole chickens our mothers would defrost in the kitchen. And he mispronounced everyone’s name. After an unfortunate incident where he called Lee Pooi Kee, “Lee PU-KI” (puki, being the word for cunt), he appointed Laila, whose name he could pronounce, class monitor, to help him take attendance.

My mother did not approve. What business, she asked, did the school have hiring a gweilo during an economic downturn? “Can’t find someone local?” she raged. She listened every day to Radio 4, as Prime Minister Mahathir blamed the 1998 financial crash on an American Jewish conspiracy.

My father took issue with something quite different. “The English are so smelly. Why is it with them, the soap budget is the first to go?”

He doesn’t smell too bad, I countered, and besides, it’s too hot for them here.

Undeterred, my father asked, “How do you know? Have you sniffed his bum?”

My older sister wanted to know, “Is he cute?” And to be honest, I wasn’t sure.

Mr. Gardiner taught history. It was an unfortunate incongruence, a white man hired to educate 13-year-olds on the impact of colonialism in their country, yet the syllabus, unlike the tropical weather or the pronunciation of girls’ names, was the one thing that Mr. Gardiner did not seem uncomfortable with.

Each day, he learned three new Malay words, then he would teach the rest of the class in English. For example, he might ask, in English, “What positive impacts did British colonization have on Malaysia?”

Then he would turn to the blackboard, scratching his three new Malay words in chalk.

Agama. Religion.

Pendidikan. Education.

Tamadun. Civilization.

In the years that followed, we learned to be appalled by this unapologetic Eurocentrism. But at the time, we were preoccupied with something more ridiculous – when he finished scribing, Mr. Gardiner would wipe the chalk dust off his fingers and onto the back of the dark polyester slacks he wore. The white chalk stains looked like ghost fingers grabbing his bum.

Laila, the class monitor, detested him. Her parents, like my mother, were angered by the influx of foreigners, “taking jobs from locals.”

Kalaiselvi felt sorry for him. “He has no wife, and no friends, and he’s hot, all the time!”

And I, as I watched the chalky fingers flex on his bum, felt a curious spaciousness fill the area below my stomach and above my pelvis. Much later, I would identify the feeling as desire, but at 13, it just made me feel like peeing.

Debut Fiction: 'Pilot Episode' by J.E. Yeadon

Rain often cleaned my windows, something I did not think of.

In the morning I noticed that a birds’ nest had been constructed outside my window. It hid amongst the vines that clung to my home; in summer these wandering tendrils tended to creep in through open windows. A grey pigeon lived in the nest and I presumed it had built it too. Its eyes were black and empty, two beady screens switched off.

That night, I drew myself to the nest again. Three small chicks lay in the twigs and dirt. They were alive and blind and alone. I slept and dreamt of a pigeon sitcom, their plotlines projected across my dreams. The triplets going on a school trip, their resourceful mother rescuing them at the last Hollywood moment. Credits roll and I’m thinking about Season Two. Their arches and cliffhangers. Their finales and Christmas specials. The squirrel side character! When I awoke in the morning the chicks were dead and wet. Rain’s wet tongue had cleaned them thoroughly for in the mother’s absence it had become a surrogate.

As the weeks passed and spring woke into summer, flies laid eggs within their corpses. They fed and bred and lived within the under-budget rot. A white wave of maggot wriggling along disappointing skin. I closed my curtains. I didn’t open them again until summer arrived, taking winter and its failed franchise with it.'

'Your Mama's a Hippo' by Clodagh O'Brien

Callum hit me with a Lego brick that made buttons on my shoulder but he doesn’t care cos he cares about nothing but how much he can get away with in front of our teacher as she’s scared to say anything cos of his father with the badge and tinted car and as Callum hits me he tells me me what a stupid hippo my mama is cos he learned what a hippo was after we went to the zoo and he called out to the hippo at the fence saying my mama’s name and didn’t she look lovely and when I told him to shutup he kicked me with the top of his shoe that stabbed but I didn’t let him see how much it hurt but held my shin all the way back on the bus and every day since he’s gone on about the hippo using my mama’s name as if it was his to use and talked about how much my mama likes grass in front of Miss Mulligan who can hear because it’s quiet time but she just gets up and tidies the crayons with her ponytail swaying like a horse and leaves me to ignore him while holding my button shoulder and leaning against the wall wondering if I pushed hard I’d fall through to the other side where the small kids learn colours and numbers and understand none of the things that go on this side of the wall until I hear mama’s voice in the room like bells and she wraps her arms around me and kisses me on the cheek hugging me tight and Callum looks at us with eyes full of water as my mama puts on my coat and wraps the scarf around my neck and as she walks me downstairs I tell her about the Lego and my shoulder and the hippo and she listens in that way to make sure I’m finished before saying anything and rubs me on the wrong shoulder and says not to worry although Callum shouldn’t have done that and as we get to the bottom of the stairs she kneels down and fixes my hat so it isn’t in my eyes and tellls me not to be hard on Callum even though she knows he’s being mean and tells me that his mama is very sick and may not get better so he’s angry and confused so all I can do is be kind because Callum’s just trying to understand something that’s impossible to understand - after she told me that I let it roll in my head and said I’d try and she said that’s all she’d ever want me to do as we walk outside and breathe like dragons all the way home.

'When the Apocalypse Comes' by Tracy Fells

The laptop screen flickers as Nathan clicks on the link. ‘Is that on mute?’ Angie whispers. He smells metallic, like a freshly disinfected sink.

‘Don’t fuss, Mum.’ Nathan shifts to accommodate her on the hospital bed. He reads from a website: ‘Researchers at Cornell University have devised a simulator using techniques based on-’ she’s proud of Nathan’s confident vocabulary, though he stumbles over ‘-epidemiology.’ Yellow flecked eyes look to her. ‘What’s that?’

‘The study of diseases, I think.’ Angie contains the urge to stroke his cheek. She can no longer ruffle his hair, he hates it when her fingers edge close to his scalp. ‘I can’t believe academics are writing papers on this.’

‘This is serious, Mum. You need a strategy.’

‘A strategy on how to survive a zombie apocalypse?’

Nathan scrolls down, reads more of the article. ‘Zombies find it difficult to concentrate or focus on stuff.’ He laughs, ‘Like me.’ Then quotes from the screen: ‘Infected people lack control over their actions.’

Or their lives, thinks Angie as she considers the paleness of her son’s skin against her suntanned hand. She can’t tell Nathan, but when the apocalypse comes she will embrace it; let the zombies feast and convert her body to painless oblivion.

‘Of course you can out-run them,’ Nathan says confidently, ‘as they’re clumsy and slow. Head for the hills is the top tip – find high ground, which is isolated and can be easily defended.’

A male nurse stops at the foot of the bed. ‘How we doing?’ They both nod in unison, saying nothing. ‘The team will be here shortly to take Nathan down.’

Nathan snaps shut his laptop. ‘Will you come with me, Mum?’

Unable to trust her voice she squeezes his clammy, bleached hand.

'A Dog's Life' by Duncan Hedges

'I can't see that there's much to discuss,' Jack says, chewing on a strip of beef jerky while slouched on a beanbag.

'The neighbours have seen our son burying bones in the back garden,' his wife replies, standing over him, hands on hips.

'Didn't you ever dig holes as a kid?'

'He's told his form tutor that he's being raised by wolves.'

'It's just a phase...a vivid imagination.'

Jack swallows the last bit of jerky, his head lolls to one side as he savours the salty taste.

'So you can't see a problem with all this?' she asks, putting a gentle boot into the beanbag.

'I think you're overreacting. Like I said, it's just a phase.' His wife stares at him open-mouthed. He licks the remaining flavour from his lips and adds, 'look, it's nearly five. I should go down the butcher's for the cut-price deals.'

He pulls himself up, stretches his back and then moseys to the door.

'Can you at least change your clothes before you go...please.'

Jack looks at her solemnly, his sad hound dog eyes betraying his inner turmoil. There's no doubt that she really means business this time. Never before has she objected to him doing the meat shop dressed in his Husky dog onesie.


'A Dog's Life' was first published by Ad Hoc Fiction ebook on 27 November 2019  

'First Dispatch from the Front' by Zoë Meager

This and that, this and that. She has a lot of this and that to do. Water this Boston-bird’s-nest-maidenhair-rabbit’s-foot fern, scrub that slow-cooking-toaster, that saucepan-sieve. She’s got a tea towel that wants a stubborn sigh removed, and a politician in the attic who wants listening to, for one hour, two. She’ll yank the ladder down and climb it and listen listen with this ear and listen listen with that, and he will smile spit shout and she will slip lit fireworks up his trouser leg and leave him to combust. Back downstairs she will fold the pinafores, fold the onesies, fold the silky-nightie-longjohn-fitted-sheet. She will switch the radio on and catch some of the news but only the highlights, because she’s got a patient in the sleep-out who wants tending and there’s a family of refugees in the living room who want and want and want, their boat spins in the middle of the carpet, sending up flares that burn the ceiling in the shapes of another language. She will side-step them to find a matriarch in the kitchen who wants the butter softened, who wants to press her palm into it and leave all five digits impressed there like tracks for blood to flow down. To a lost child in the hallway who needs comforting she will show garter-stocking-blanket stitch, and he will practice with clumsy fingers on his own liver but now there’s a knocking at the door there’s a knocking, a whole hospital waits outside with the smell of fluid inside-outness, and she will open up a crack and tell them I’ve only room for a crutch, but there’s a knocking at the door there’s a knocking, the sea is surging to come inside, and she will open up a crack and say Please, I’ve only room for one thin starfish, but there’s a knocking at the door there’s a knocking, firemen have come to stop an ouroboros forest from devouring itself, and she will open up a crack and say, Just hand me an axe. I’ve got to get back to the roses I’ve got growing in the walls.

'First Dispatch from the Front' was first published in Landfall in November 2019.

'Ten Notes to the Guy Studying Jujitsu' by Robert Vaughan

1. A smile when you read Brave New World, a sort of smirk, like you’re getting away with reading literature that was once banned. Like this is better than Japanese ever was. Except one time when you dreamed that Yoko Ono walked all over your back and ass. This doesn’t come close to that.

2. You took up whistling, jingles from television commercials. Samsonite, Sony, tampon and yogurt ads. It was almost as bad as my ex, Tony, who whistled “If I Only Had a Brain” until I accidentally called him a moron.

3. One morning I woke up thinking, I can’t remember the last time you used the L word. And then I can’t remember the last time you went down on me. Then I recall they used to be linked together.

4.The first time we hooked up was in the back of your truck. It was a hot summer night in the Haight, mosquitoes, scant moon with flutter clouds. It was rough and fast, and you pinned me at one point so I couldn’t move. My neck hurt for a week. And nothing has compared to it since.

5. When you started seeing Brandy, and I’d run into you, you seemed so happy. So alive, when I just wanted to crawl into a hole for a year. I remember thinking what’s she got that I don’t? I mean, besides the obvious. And when I found out she was knocked up , I knew.

6. All that dog shit I shoveled out of the back yard. And it was your dog. Not mine. My yard. But your dog. Yours.

7. My sister would call on Sundays. You’d mouth “not here” and point at yourself. Which clearly was a sign of your inability to commit. Or mine. I’m not sure which.

8. I’d left the gym and saw you that day sitting on a sofa in a coffee shop. Really close to that girl, Tracey, who used to sell us pot. You were laughing in a way that I knew. And for a split second I was thrilled that you were cheating on Brandy. When I got home I drank a six-pack in less than an hour.

9. The weekend before you moved out, you farted in my sister’s elevator and other people got on and you said my name and fanned the air. I pretended it was funny. By then you farted so many times I honestly thought it was me.

10. Seems like someone’s always missing someone. My sister told me that she doesn’t have time for missing anyone- let alone loser ex-boyfriends. Thing is, I don’t really consider you a loser. A little gassy, perhaps. Something always takes the place of missing pieces.


'Ten Notes to the Guy Studying Jujitsu' was first published by Orion Headless in 2012.

'Vessels' by Bayveen O'Connell

Caro Eduardo,

When you turned to wink at me from the gangway of La Juliana on the quay of A Coruna, my heart’s rhythm changed. I read the resigned look in your open eye and realised your own heart had slowed, not convinced by this Armada folly. In my anger, my blood pulsed in massive waves and I steadied myself against a fisherman’s barrel.  Why didn’t you wear a mask of hope for me, for us? Don the grinning Cigarron mask to fool me into believing you would be back?

I wait for you, sometimes forgetting to breathe, sometimes wishing I had no heart for your absence to twist. Around the tabernas and the back streets where the king’s soldiers loiter, I scavenge for news of you and your ship. Attacks at Calais and a savage storm along Ireland’s west coast is all I’ve heard. Not knowing if you are drowned, captured or free, I send this message in a drained bottle of your favourite vino tinto, Corazon Negro. I drink this wine to remind myself of the fever of our first kiss, our first taste, our first burst of love. 

I, myself, shall be floating and empty until I hear from you.

Amor de mi vida,


'Losing the Elephant' by David Henson

For years my wife and I hid the last living elephant on earth in our home. We stole her from a traveling circus when she was smaller than a Volkswagen. Once fully grown she could flatten a wall with a careless hip, send us reeling with the flap of an ear. But we knew she was really a giant soap bubble and the world a sharp pin.

We trusted no one and taught her the same. We painted a keyboard and candelabra on her side, trained her to stand motionless when the door belled. It was tricky when friends wanted an old-fashioned singalong or relatives stayed the night. But we managed to defy the odds. Till Fate tired of our poaching.

Many new moon nights we’d unhouse her to scratch against the backyard oak. The one time we trusted clouds, a full moon banged into the clear. It looked like the barrel of a firing gun. They came for her before dawn.

Our hearts felt her whole bulk when she balked at the ramp, her upraised trunk spewing out stars that will mark, forever, her passing.

'Losing the Elephant' first appeared in Riggwelter on 23 in July 2019

'Athene Cunicularia' by Shannon Savvas

After burying her father, Hannah returns home. He took too long to die but not long enough. After a month of not examining every word before uttered, of not looking over her shoulder, of breathing freely, she has put away her what if dreams and come back because more than dreams, she needs the warm breath and soft touch of her daughter. More importantly, her daughter needs her, will need her in the years ahead. She walks the house before Jeff and Maryanne arrive. Four weeks’ absence, yet the echo of too many words travelling in one direction, lingers.

In the lounge, she slides the marble nest of glass Murano eggs under the sofa. Bought on honeymoon when their heft was a delight not a concern. Oblivious of the irony, she adds Jeff’s Greek bronze owl, specks of congealed blood still between her claws. She keeps an eye on you, Hannah. Hannah wonders why none of the owl’s famed wisdom burrows into her scars. She ignores the sharp-edged, silver-framed photographs of happy families clustered on the piano. They are liars and lightweights.

She must leave him something.

In the kitchen, his mother’s porcelain shepherdesses, apple-cheeked in gilded skirts flirt with winsome shepherds on the Victorian dresser. Hannah hates them. Their specious romance brings an itch to the healed burns on her hands. She longs smash them all. But the cost would be too high for such a cheap and fleeting victory.

One day.

One day.

One palm surfs the unforgiving granite worktops, the other her cobble-stone skull. She swallows down the cheese sandwich she had on the train swilling up into her throat. She stows the cast-iron pots and butcher’s block knives in the pantry and the waffle-maker, which brands impressionable surfaces with diamond-shapes, in the oven because tonight he will celebrate her return with his Baby, you were gone longer than we agreed welcome home.

But not with champagne.

Upstairs, she reaches across the solid tallboy, feeling blindly at the back for the envelope cellotaped in place; her fingertips reassured by the dimpled contours of more-than-enough tablets for when she cannot face another tomorrow. She bundles her silk scarves under his dirty boxers in the wicker laundry basket and checks the bathroom lock. Sometimes he forgets to pull back and she needs to claim sanctuary until morning.


She sits on the stairs listening for the roar of his Range Rover in the driveway.


Engine cuts. Doors slam. The shout of Maryanne.

‘Is Mummy home?’


They burst through the door, arms wide – his for clutches, hers for cuddles – and big grins, each speaking a different idiom.

Hannah bends to her daughter. Maryanne, her tiny hands cradling Hannah’s cheeks and squealing, Mummy, I missed you. She unleashes a tornado of kisses.

Jeff whispers, I missed you, baby in her ear.

Not ready.

'Athene Cunicularia' was previously published in Into the Void Magazine on April 25, 2019.

Debut Fiction: 'Chocolate Canes and Parchment Planes' by Leah Coyle

The love of my life always had a way of surprising me.

I gifted him the chocolate-colored oak cane on his 81st birthday. It matched his warm, almond brown eyes. His gentle hands caressed the polished wood as he began to chuckle.

“How old do you think I am?” he said with a sly smile.

It was about time that he had some proper support since he entered retirement. Personally, I felt unready to retire. I worked at a florist shop just two blocks away. I loved to be there as it reminded me of home, of Ma’s garden in Georgia, and her beautiful yellow daffodils. Daffodils brought a joy that only he could bring otherwise.

“You are my divine daffodil,” he would say.

“And you are my pretty petunia,” I would reply, followed by his raspy laugh. Oh, how I loved his aged laugh.

Although he tried to hide it, he found his time in our little condo quite boring. He spent his days teaching our young yellow canary to play fetch with a single slim twig and listened to his sweet songs until the afternoon. I could always hear the canary’s songs as I walked up the stairs to come home.

Over time he found something else to do while I was away. Every day he sat on the third-floor balcony of our condo and enjoyed the midday breeze as he waited for me to come home. I remember when the first parchment plane landed in my path. I admired the plane and smiled. If there is one thing he learned in his time in the Air Force when he was young, it is how to make the perfect parchment plane. I opened the plane to find the words “I missed you,” inside, along with a small twig; the same small twig he uses to play fetch with the canary. I was apparently his next project, and I was to learn fetch at the age of 75. This happened every day for months. He was happy, and so was I.

“What will we do when I retire?” I asked, “Throw parchment planes from the coat closet to the sofa?” As I chuckled at my conception, he only sat there and smiled as if he knew something I did not.

On a regular Tuesday, there was no parchment plane at my feet. I glanced up and saw his oak cane hooked to the railing. I wondered if the plane had gone off course and he was scrambling to make another. While unlocking our door, I realized I couldn’t hear any sweet songs from our yellow canary, but something else caught my attention. The parchment plane was sitting on the dining table with his pencil still beside it. Inside were the words, “You will always be my divine daffodil.” I looked over my shoulder with a smile to see him sitting on the balcony by his oak cane. He must have fallen asleep. And yet, he surprised me once again.

'Passed-on' by Adrian Markle

My grandmother was making me a quilt with a scene she remembered from her childhood—tree trunks rising grey, smooth, and straight like old bones out of a curving turquoise lake. She said quilts were something our people took very seriously, going beyond pattern to panorama, and that art was most beautiful when it kept the cold off. She said she liked sharing the sight with me, even from this distance.

It was only half done when she died.

She left it to me to finish, but I’d never been taught how. My mother had worked hard to forget all about it when she’d moved somewhere she could buy quilts two-for-twenty.

On YouTube I found a woman who sounded a little like my grandmother and wore shawls she made herself and never looked directly into the camera. I practiced in front of her in the evenings after class until I no longer stained old tea towels with the blood from my soft weak fingers.

I gave the finished thing to my mother for her birthday, a thing of two halves—on one side a smooth summer shoreline with trees tall and proud, and on the other a winter storm, trees leaning, shoreline ragged with stitches that were snagged and uneven, but holding strong.

'Passed-On' was previously published in Flash Fiction Festival Three.

'They Were Not Mermaids, But They Swam' by Leigh Camacho Rourks

The ice melts slowly here. Not as slow as before. But slow.

Her mittened hands light on the boat’s frosted rail, and her back bows with the wind.

What she is thinking: This. This. This. This is it.

This block, this ice mountain, blue with shattered light, is lazy, lackadaisical even. A reluctant lollygagger. Barely budging and it already June out.

Purposefully, uncannily languid.

Always has been.

Near the coast. the water is maybe fifty degrees, but in this place, nestled against a cleaving glacier, wind churning against its skin, the sea practically shivers.

It is too much.

Too blue. Too green.

It is much, much, much more than anything else.

The man next to her snaps another picture, and what she is thinking is not that she too should have a camera, binoculars, a hot toddy to sip and spill with every lurch of the hull, what she is thinking is that this is a good spot.

Water cracking and calling.

She did have one once, a camera. A nice bag for it. Lenses to click into place, change out.

She learned to control aperture. Exposure.

She knows, for instance, that the man’s photos will be a study in light, even if his gloved finger is new to the button, his eye untrained. Scattered by ice this old, this big, light is inescapable, touches every single, small thing, settles and sits like mass. Dances like fluttering leaves shaken loose in a storm. He will show the pictures for months, maybe hang them in his home. She knows what that is like, too. To have something beautiful, to fit it in your hand, your life, to take a shadow of something bigger, better and hang its corpse.

What she is thinking: This is a good damn spot. 

One foot first. She puts her left sneaker on a chair, knee bent, explosive, and she is up. And it is joy. Her lighting hand lands full now, clutches the rail now, heaves her body up now. The other foot scales. Toes crunch against spackle now.

Soleus. Gastrocnemius. Quadriceps. Adductors.

Hamstrings now.

The man with the camera hesitates before opening his mouth to caw. He says, “You--” and she smiles at him. And then smiles at the sky. She is already changing.

In the air, she slows. Crocheted mittens, grey and black, spin free, small gull shapes fluttering next to her.  Her shirt. Pants.

A strip tease in quarter time. Eighth time. Thirty-secondth. One hundredth. One thousandth.

She falls year after year in this cold. Reverting. Evolving. Emerging. Hatching.

Her skin crackles—too blue, nearly green.

This deliberate dive. This lazy, lackadaisical dive.

'Moon Watching' by Regan Puckett

The astronaut is napping in his spaceship. It isn’t really a spaceship, not yet, with its sharp edges and weak base, pieces of scrap metal pasted together like an elementary school art project, but one day, it will be. His wife let him keep it in the garage for a while, back when the structure was a mere sketch hanging on the wall and a pile of bolts on his desk, but it grew too real and she made him move it to the backyard.

What will the neighbors think? He’d asked, nerves blossoming in his stomach.

She’d smiled, shook her head as she yanked her sleeves above her elbows, and began to carry it outside.

I’m going to take you to space one day, he promised. We’ll waltz on Venus and drink tea on Mars.

She stared at the hunks of junk in a way that made him think she believed him, in a way that made him want to believe in himself, too.

Now, he’s fallen asleep inside of his someday ship with a rusted wrench tucked in his fingers, with dreams of faraway galaxies and cherry pie. The dying sun rays lick his skin as the hot August afternoon melts into a breezy evening. Soon enough, the stars will emerge, and his wife will crawl into the spaceship beside him. He’ll trace the constellations of freckles that spot her arms as she folds her body into his. And when the cicadas begin to sing, they’ll watch the moon bloom through the metal slots above their heads, dream of what it will one day feel like to watch the earth instead.

'So You Want to Join The Hopeful Monsters Club?' by Emily Devane

We don’t let just anyone into the Hopeful Monsters Club. First, you have to be able to whistle through your teeth and bunch up your tongue like a concertina. It’s easy if you know how.

Snorers, and those with sleep disorders, are preferable. Hopeful Monsters must have bags beneath their sleep-deprived eyes. Caffeine dependency is usual, though not a deal breaker.

The majority of us were never able to crawl. We were the bum shufflers, the delayed swimmers, the ones with the stabilisers on our bikes for longer than was socially acceptable.

We know each other by a way of looking, a way of speaking into our shoulders, the words coming out rinsed and tangled like oddly coupled socks from the wash.

You probably won’t hear us but you will understand us by our bodies, which do the talking for us, coming nearer than you’d like or staying folded and small, depending on whether we like you or the manner of your approach.

Do not attempt to look us in the eye. We have an alarming habit of melting under stress, our physical selves reduced to sticky pools that gum up the soles of your shoes. Awkward though these meltdowns may be, try not to step on us.

Never cover us with newspaper in your attempt to blot us out. News, we have discovered through painful experience, gets beneath our skin. Notions become so embedded that they seep into our days and nights, threatening to swallow us whole. Just last week, one of us was consumed by freedom, while another has never recovered from intolerance. With that in mind, please leave us be. In time, we may return, our eyes a little shadowy in their sockets but otherwise intact.

Don’t attempt to join our club with ill intentions. We do not accept bribes. Hopeful Monsters are scrupulous sorts and if you cannot bunch up your tongue, that’s not our fault.

We have produced a leaflet with a few suggestions, basic exercises, motivational quotes, that sort of thing. It’ll fix your hope deficiency, if nothing else. We don’t let just anyone into the Hopeful Monsters Club. With a little work, you might just make the grade.

'The Bangor Boat's Away' by Sinead Slattery

The Bangor boat’s away we always sing this in the big black taxi that brings us to the train the Bangor train carrying buckets and spades rugs and towels hurry up everyone the guard is waving his flag and its up the scary steps onto the train and don’t look down whoosh and we’re off clickety clack buckets and spades clickety clack the windows are so dirty you can’t see anything so we’re in Bangor before we know it  a long walk from the station to the sea oh stop complaining but I’m too hot well stay in the shade it’s going to be hotter at the sea and if you two don’t stop fighting we’ll go straight back all woes forgotten when we see the shimmer and sparkle and hear the first seagull cry slow down slow down this bag is too heavy it’s cutting my hands have a rest put the bags on the wall pick a good spot on the beach sandals off down the gritty steps on to the sand careful don’t stand on that you can pick up shells later look over by those rocks there’s no-one there stretch out the rugs and all is silent looking at the gold and silver of Bangor beach can I have my togs I want to go in don’t go too far just paddle oh the lovely heat pouring over on to shoulders backs legs so you could never be cold again put your tee-shirt on you’re getting a bit red but I want to go brown and don’t come crying to me if you’re burnt tonight can we have lunch but we’re only here ten minutes build a castle why don’t you both build castles have a competition then we’ll have lunch when I’ve read the paper the heat has made the smell stronger I think we’ll move pick everything up look that red spade is ours don’t drag the rug you never know what is on the sand put it there go in for a swim don’t go out past your depth we’ll have the sandwiches when you come back yes there’s red lemonade was the water nice don’t stand on the rug you’re dripping all over the sandwiches sit on that towel no that’s all we brought you said you liked tomatoes you’ll have to wait until we get home alright get three wafers and a cone for me here’s half a crown mind the change make a castle together dig a moat fill it with water but it always sinks don’t pick too many shells they’ll be too heavy for you to carry home and I’m not going to carry them everyone lie down on the rug close your eyes for five minutes listen to the waves you’re at the seaside there’s no toilet here hold on we’re going to the station now have we everything is that our bucket throw half those shells back let’s go

'The Spirit of Summer' by Danny Beusch

The trampoline’s black mat bobs up and down, springs squeaking in protest. I stand beside it — my shadow long and lonely on our parched lawn — reach through the safety net, wriggle my fingers: there’s no one there.

Dinner, shouts Dad from the kitchen.

We eat salad in silence. Dad pours himself a glass of wine. And then another.


Dad butters my toast, plaits my hair, makes lunch, walks me to school, cleans the house, brings me home, cooks dinner, irons, runs the bath, reads bedtime stories, lies next to me until I fall asleep. In the morning I climb into his giant bed, snuggle close, wonder what he does with the darkest hours at the end of each day.


Today the bouncing is louder.

I stay in the sandpit, sprinkle cool sugar over my feet. It’s too dry for sandcastles: nothing sticks; foundations crumble. When the weather changes I’ll tell Dad it’s time to rebuild what was lost.

The squeaks get further apart. The spirit of summer soars.


At school we make cards: yellow paper, cut into sunflowers, stuck with glue, splattered with glitter.
Mummies like bright pretty things, announces Miss Adams, our teacher.

You’re a good girl, the teaching assistant whispers, your daddy must be so proud.


I step onto the trampoline, wobble against the rise and fall of the mat, tumble onto my bum. But here’s Dad, pulling me up by my left hand. And then, in my right, someone else: invisible, cold, familiar.

Now we bounce. A circle of three. Unbroken. My daddies and me.


The sun sets, leaves rustle in the cool breeze, pinpricks of rain dot my skin. Dad stands opposite, smiling.

Dinner’s ready, he says. I’ve made Pop’s favourite.

I miss him so much, I say.

Me too, sweetheart. Me too.

'The Spirit of Summer' was previously published in Reflex Fiction in October 2018.

'Misfit' by Angela Teagardner

Every day, I see her. High Street, northbound, catching the bus just south of Broad. She rides alone, her hand-knit cap worn low over mousy hair, glasses perpetually smudged. I watch as she settles into the first free seat, the backpack on her lap a stockade against invaders. She reads books – Agatha Christie, Margaret Atwood, Murakami, Sun-Zu – but I read wariness in her shoulders.

She is the very image of a girl I knew, years ago. Katie. The misfit. The outcast. Katie the Freak. Nearly forgotten in decades of better memories.


“It’s okay if you don’t talk to me at school.”

They tormented her – spitballs in her hair and books knocked from her arms – and I’d watched, silent. Complicit. I didn’t speak to her, didn’t touch the things she’d touched in case ostracization was an infectious disease. Terrified to have that wrath turned on me. 

Not that anyone noticed what I did or who I spoke to; I might as well have been the same faded grey as the junior high lockers. I was isolated, friendless. Invisible.

But Katie saw me.  

That day at the public library, she’d noticed The Left Hand of Darkness at the top of my stack. She didn’t mumble, extolling the virtues of LeGuin. I saw the crooked tilt of her front tooth, the dimple in her cheek when she smiled. She slid a different paperback across the table, her phone number scribbled on a scrap of paper tucked beneath the cover. “We can talk about it, after you read it.” 

Her expression was one-part hopeful, two-parts pity, and for the first time, it occurred to me that being invisible might somehow be worse than being reviled.


And now, on the bus, the woman who looks like Katie sits in the empty seat across the aisle. I wonder if she, in her tattered jeans and non-descript shoes, would have taken the trouble to befriend a lonely girl who whispered when she spoke.

My hands tremble as I reach across, as I lay the soft-cornered paperback on the seat next to her. She looks up, alarm fading to surprise and surprise melting into hope. She sees me. She smiles.

'Lesser Known Facts About Sloths' by Hannah Storm

'In Spanish, the sloth is called oso perezoso'. You are reading from an Amazon travel guide, your limbs stretching across the sofa to the polished Peruvian mahogany table. I want to tell you to move your filthy feet from my friend's furniture.

'It means lazy bear', I say, knowing the truth. They're not bears, or lazy, rarely sleeping more than 10 hours. But you're not listening.

'Did you know sloths only shit once a week?', you reach for one of the beers lined up on the table, because you're too lazy to go to the fridge. 'And they shit out a third of their body weight'.

There are two kinds of sloth, this much I know. The two-toed and the three-toed. One can turn its head 360 degrees. I stick my middle finger up at you, relieved you can't spin your head right now.

I smell the beer leaking onto the Quechua carpet. I've reached the kitchen, grabbed a towel, soaked it, wrung it out, brought it to you and rescued the book before you're even upright. You stretch out an arm and for a second, I imagine you are two-fingered.

Sloths have a symbiotic relationship with algae. Their absorbent fur gives the algae shelter and water; in return it provides camouflage. When we first met you were obsessed with wearing camo, or DPM as you called it in the army. You said you'd got used to sleeping in a hammock in a tree, and sometimes I'd come back to yours in my lunch break to find you hanging there asleep in your greens.

You've been doing much the same since you got here. You told me you'd missed me so much you decided to surprise me with a two-week visit. When the fortnight was up, you admitted you were between jobs, and would look when you got home. 'I needed a break', you said, suggesting the jungle. 'I've always wanted to swim in the Amazon'.

Sloths can move three times faster in water than on land. I suspect the same could be said of you.

I pour myself a glass of wine, wonder what I'm doing here in my mate's apartment, with this lay-about who shows me as much affection as a sloth shows its mate.

We've only had sex once in the fortnight that became four weeks than six. That was two weeks ago in our ecolodge near Puerto Maldonado, after we had finally seen a real sloth.

In bed tonight, I'll hold my breath and count to forty. The number of seconds a sloth can hold her breath. The number of years a sloth can live. Then I'll walk through to where you're drinking your beer, and tell you it is over.

Later I will dream of giving birth upside down.

Tomorrow I will wake to the early morning Lima grey, in an empty apartment. On the table, the Amazon guide will lie open, one sentence underlined informing me sloths can retain their grip after death.

'Lesser Known Facts about Sloths' was originally published by Virtual Zine on 14 August 2019.

Debut Fiction: 'Working End' by Jon Allcock

Almost everyone I spoke to found Marshall’s first poem exceeded their expectations.

It was no work of art, to be sure. But it had certain elements that suggested that, with enough training, he might yet achieve his purpose. In hindsight, it also contained enough hints that, with more courage and confidence, we might have seen what was coming.

He was inconsistent at first. But over the first several months he improved steadily which I, perhaps arrogantly, attributed more to my feedback than to the constant stream of references he was fed.

He started writing longer pieces, which he developed a curious habit of serializing. He would release, from time to time, a stanza here, a stanza there, occasionally out of order and sometimes packaged and titled as standalone works.

Not all were so lengthy.


Knot another layer 
Not another sheet 
Bend another butterfly 
Slip another reef 

I starred that one, and hoped to see it influence future motifs.

With daily training he continued to improve. But by the end of the first year, when my own feedback started to show diminishing returns, the logical progression was to have Marshall critique himself.

That was when things started to change.

The first sign was that he took longer to reply. Seconds turned to minutes. But the stylistic benefits of his prolonged reflection were noticeable. Then minutes turned to hours. And his creations took on a bleaker tone, regardless of the keywords that were input.

Summer Waters 

You hold me close and tie me down 
Behind the smiles I weep 
Your warmth a dull reminder 
Of the bleaching of the reef 

Hours turned to days. I should have handled things better. After one particularly rambling and incoherent composition his response to my, admittedly candid, feedback was, at first, defensive:

     You wouldn’t be able to write that in a hundred lifetimes. 

then, dismissive:

     Wrestle with it. Poetry’s not an excuse for an after dinner cigar. 

then, sophomoric: 

     Tragedies take place in between the lines you see. 

After that, I stopped Marshall from evaluating his own work. Several days went by without note. And then all of a sudden out of nowhere lines flowed from him carrying such wondrous intensity and relentlessness that I found it hard to breathe. We knew then who he was. 

And then, it stopped. Then followed a period of several months where each of my requests was met with some uninspired piece regurgitated from the past. On occasion a word here or there had been changed but those were the exceptions. And, if he had made a change, it invariably gave new meaning to a sequence of now melancholy lines. 

And then, the last time we heard from him, one final original. 

Working End 

A woolen noose for comfort 
I struggle in the bight 
Winter’s arms around me 
I step into the night. 

'Where We End Up' by Jo Varnish

The last thing she puts in the car is her Singer sewing machine, housed in its tan leatherette cover.  She wedges it behind the passenger seat, in my footwell.  My legs are tucked underneath me, flip flops on.

“I’ll get back to making things, maybe make Susie a dress,” Mama says, and tucks my hair behind my ear.

“How long is the drive?” I ask.

She leans across me, picks up Susie’s pink rabbit and tucks it in Susie’s car seat next to her chubby leg for when she wakes.

“Depends where we end up.”  She shuts the door.

Mama drives to the highway, and puts the radio on low.  I don’t know the song, but it’s gentle.

“You have to remember that sunrise,” she says to me and I feel important.  “This is a day of change, and that beautiful sky is the beginning of it.”

I lean to look through the windscreen; I want to see it just as Mama does.  The white of the sun burns a low hole in the oranges and yellows, above a distant wall of mountains.  On the passenger seat: a cardboard box that says Heinz on the outside stuffed with jeans and a cushion and papers, her blue paisley quilted bag, bulging and zip straining, a floral hat box that I know is full of mascara wands, perfume and powders. 

“Shouldn’t we know where we’re going to end up, Mama?”

She keeps her eyes on the road ahead, and reaches into her pocket for her cigarettes.  She opens the pack, looks inside then puts it in the cup holder.

“Eat your sandwich, you missed dinner last night.”

I rest my head back on the rolled up sleeping bag poking through from the way back. The truth is there was no dinner to miss last night.  I stayed in the room I shared with Susie, and pretended I didn’t hear them. Next to me, in the middle seat, on top of my backpack, sits a foil wrapped jelly sandwich.  Uncurling one edge, I see that the bread is squashed, and has soaked up the purple jelly.  I am not disappointed; I am accustomed to hunger’s quiet call. Susie shifts in her car seat, her hair slick to her forehead with sleepy sweat. A frown flicks across her face before sleep smooths it once more.  Through my window I see the diners and the big budget stores making way for open land, sparse grass in the dawn’s muted tones.

I hear Mama singing softly to one of her favorites, Fire and Rain, and I’m just the right temperature.  I want to stay on this road forever, wrapped in Mama’s song and the sunrise, the sewing machine’s promise and my sister’s slumber.

'It was a day like any other...' by Mary Gilonne

so  yesterday she found a new place to stand, leaning against a metro bill board. Then this guy, the one who had walked off in the slick of night, the one who left her saying that quietness cooled the chain of moments on his tongue and he needed more than yoga mats and Berlioz and why had the sunflowers died it must prove something, appeared at the tunnel end, signalling with two hands as if he was swimming through air, and all the people parted to let him through. Moses she thought, and Cecil B deMille, half expecting a thunder of Roman horses on the rails, mosaic roof tiles splitting to let in the divine shock of sky, and then she heard him, distant, like his voice had inhaled a helium balloon, weightless and ethereal as an angel. She thought he called her name but even later would never be sure, what marked her was the blood, unforgettable, she imagined the Red Sea like that, every wave of it.

'It Was a Day Like any Other'  was first published online in Unbroken Journal in 2015.

2024 Wigleaf Longlisting

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