Sunday 25 June 2023

2023 FlashFlood: The Complete List

In case you missed any of the pieces we appeared during the 2023 FlashFlood, here's an index to everything.  Happy Reading!


Saturday 24 June 2023

'Only Water' by Sarah McPherson

It is only when the storm breaks and rain waterfalls against the windows, the rushing and crying and the noise of it and the pressure suddenly released, that she realises she needs to leave, needs to get out of here and she runs out of the house without coat, without shoes, without thought, and across the dunes leaving the imprint of her feet dotted across the wet sand like braille, like a route map, and the sound of the rain masks anything else and she can’t quite tell where she is and she is gripped by a sudden fear that she won’t find the ocean, or that she’ll find it too soon.

It is only when her hair and clothes are wet through and plastered to her skin, clinging like seaweed, that she stops, falls to her hands and knees, crawls up and over the next dune as marram grass whips in her face and there is sand under her fingernails and she can smell the salt and she knows she is going the right way.

It is only when the drumbeat of the rain and the deep rumble of thunder overhead are joined by a new noise, the growl of the surf singing with them in harmony, that she feels like she can breathe again.

It is only when the first ripples tease her fingers, dancing around her hands then sucking the sand from under them, that she gets back to her feet.

It is only when the water is up to her knees, her thighs, her waist, that she leans backwards until she is floating.

It is only when she is floating that she realises the rain has stopped.

It is only when she sinks that she feels free.

It is only her; only water.

'A Melody You’ve Never Heard' by Melissa Fitzpatrick

You are swimming. There are no waves. There is only the water, immense and blue. You dive down and down into the silence, into the rippling light, searching, searching. A blue whale glides slowly overhead. A school of fish glints silver, turning one way and then another. You hear someone singing, a melody you’ve never heard but that you think you know. Down, down you swim until you find him. Your boy. He is sitting on the bottom of the ocean, criss-cross applesauce, his hair floating out from his head like a halo. He is blowing bubbles, and the bubbles are floating up and away. When he sees you, his eyes brighten. Look, Mama! Look! he says, and you know his voice, though you’ve never heard it before. You open your mouth to tell him yes, to tell him I see, to tell him I love you. But you are out of air, and you know you will have to surface soon. And you know you will spend the rest of your days trying to find your way back to this place.

'Scheherazade' by Kate Mahony

In the bar, my lover is silent. He acts bored and says he is tired. I see him glance around the bar as if in search of better company.

I tell him this story I read in a newspaper. A man somewhere in Asia went to a hospital complaining of complications from surgery. The doctors found nothing wrong, but the man refused to leave his bed.   

After a year, a new chief of staff took over the hospital. He said the man had to be removed. It took six policemen to carry him out. On a stretcher. He was still wearing his pyjamas, I tell my lover.

My lover blinks.  He casts a covert glance at me as if possibly he may have a question or two in his mind.

I do not wait for him to speak.  I begin another story.


---

First published in Bonsai, Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand, published by Canterbury University Press, 2018.

'Calling time with Edith Piaf' by D X Lewis

Calling time with Edith Piaf


… and Daniel suggests we lunch at the bistro, I think how romantic, maybe we can have a siesta, it’s a long time since we … you know, so we book a table, I put on sexy clothes, scent he gave me, and they give us our usual table, but this time Daniel sits with his back to the wall, which I don’t like because I like watching everyone else, and this way I can see only him and the Edith Piaf poster, and he’s tense and pale and I say what’s wrong he says straight out do we want to stay together for the rest of our lives, and I’m shocked, I ask has he found someone else, someone better in bed, someone who can still have children, he hasn’t slept with anyone else has he, no he just feels the spark’s gone and we should see if we can feel more alive with someone else, I must have noticed we hadn’t, you know, for a long time, it’s not he doesn’t love me, but he can’t imagine being with me for ever and time is running out we should look back on our three years as a happy or at least satisfactory chapter and move on, stay friends of course, but each of us find someone else, let’s have a nice meal and bottle of wine and be grateful for what we’ve had rather than sad for what we’re losing, I thought that was beautiful when the Queen said that about her mum, but I haven’t died, and my mouth dries and eyes water and the waiter recommends the pumpkin soup and garlic lamb but I’m not hungry now so I stand up and walk out as Edith starts singing her bloody song about no regrets …

Debut Flash: 'Five Minutes to Midnight' by Anthony Q. Rabang

I.
We’re already jolly-jumping like what we always do in welcoming the New Year. Believing in superstitions to invite good fortune. With an empty biscuit can, grandma drumming her heart out with a wooden ladle like a rock star; and we jump with each beat until our legs become very sloppy. On polka dots, dad opens all the windows of our house and makes the coins in his pockets rattle – complementing the music in full volume. Mom wrestling with frying pans, steel pots, and a pressure cooker in the kitchen sink. A fruit salad, an arroz caldo, and a pineapple-glazed ham are slated for the Media Noche.

countdown:
her little fingers
skipping some numbers

II.
Far from home. I am alone at my condominium,  in solitude, welcoming the New Year.
On the balcony, from soft to loud, the crackling sound of pyro brings me to the present.

‘Oh gravity!’
The weight of a heavy heart and an overworked body dissipating. . .
The vastness of citylights from here brings forth thoughts of what it used to be at home.

III.

fireworks
the slow descent of
grandma’s ashes

'Jailbird' by Minglu Jiang

My cellmate had a trio of pet parrots named after the Three Tenors. Emphasis on “had.” When he got nicked, he used his one and only phone call to tell his brother that Luciano, Plácido, and José need fresh produce 4 times a day, water dishes cleaned and replenished as often, pages from the latest issue of The Strad at the bottom of the cage, at least 3 hours out of their cages daily and ceiling fans and electrical wires and hanging lights, all those things that exist not in the amazon parrot’s natural habitat, removed.

My cellmate was an operatic bass who starred in every high school production despite his lack of falsetto. He attended Colburn and didn’t pay a penny and didn’t receive any either after graduation. 2 days after we met, he came down with a delirious fever and raved lovingly about Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. My only experience with music was as a roadie for a friend’s shit punk band that dressed like they knocked off a Hot Topic clearance. They probably did. We were that broke.

Luciano, Plácido, and José died in less than a month and in that order. With proper care, the amazon parrot’s lifespan is about 30 years in captivity. My cellmate wept and it made me angry. He loved those birds, he said. But if God intended birds to fly, caging them must equal suffocation, and what sort of love is that?

'Polaroid 129' by Paul Phillips

I sit on the bunk bed in my unflattering puff sleeve top and high waisted pants, cheeks flushed, chin pimpled, thumb and fingers loosely gripping the exposed Polaroid for fear of perspiration, lips drawn back to form an imperfectly braced smile. Around me the plush animals, dogs mostly, seem perturbed and a little lost, like their names if they ever had them, which I suppose they must have done, same as I suppose that bland pink wall behind me must once have engrossed us with a texture. On the daisy patterned bedspread lie the other Polaroids – fogged, fading – and the other camera.  

We got the cameras for our birthday. I remember using up all ten shots in the cartridge, then switching to those exciting flat boxes of spares that were our second presents and would double as places to hide secrets – click-clicking and whirring at everything that came to hand, one another, of course, the abalone and the amethyst, and other childhood keepsakes, the mobile of ceramic doves and, bizarrely, other photographs, of bands, and foreign lands, and boys, even Dylan, even then, with that breaking wave of blond-tipped hair and the latest incidence of bad skin on his sucked-in cheeks, framed forever on the daisy bedspread, or for as long as such cut-price alchemy can last.

Here it is beside me now, fading still: Dylan; Dylan's bad skin and retro zoot jacket with the sleeves rolled over like a dozen times; Dylan's car.

And there you sit on the lower bunk bed, in your unflattering puff sleeve top and high waisted pants, cheeks flushed, chin pimpled, thumb and fingers loosely gripping the exposed Polaroid in hope of miracles, lips drawn back to form an imperfectly braced smile.


---

First published online as part of the Found Polaroids project (foundpolaroids.com) in 2017.

'Redline' by Rich Youmans

Redline

 

0–90 along the backroad peach blossoms fly


He slips glances at her sunlit inner thigh as he throttles and shifts, the hemi whining wire-tight. All day he's waited for her, driving the same streets from stoplight to stoplight, as shadows climbed the stubby Main Street buildings. Now she's done with ringing up Dixies, with fending off the locals in their threadbare tees and splattered workpants. He shifts again as they take the bend by Miller's Farm. She flashes one of Old Man Miller's prized bulls before it can even look up. She laughs, her blond hair blowing wild, all the windows down. She holds her open palm into the wind as if to sail away, gives him that sideways look. Tonight they'll park again out by the lake. Already he can feel her flesh on his, see her pale face shining as if to slip its skin, hear her breath giving life to wishes—to head out west, past the Mississippi's muddy flow. To drive away, far from her parents' shotgun rooms, his father's temper and pile of empties. His graveyard shift. To find a plot of land, green and deep. To see nothing but what they can call their own.

crossroads    down every turn the same horizon



---

First published in MacQueen's Quinterly, Issue 6, January 2021.

'Behind blue eyes' by Sarah Royston

1991

I have two friends, Brenda and Barbara. We love dressing up. In summer we go in the garden. Sometimes Maxie comes to play. She’s really cool with super-long blonde hair and pink earrings and a tutu. I’m not allowed to try it on. At Christmas we get new clothes and take turns wearing the sparkly ballgown.

1992

There’s shouting downstairs. Then we get presents, even though it’s not Christmas. Shiny purses and jumpsuits. Riding gear – as if we could straddle a horse. Shoes that soon get lost. A new girl arrives, Jasmine. Her dark hair is longer than Maxie’s. We move house, but go back to the old place at weekends. In the kerfuffle, Barbara disappears. Brenda keeps smiling, but it doesn’t reach her eyes.

1993

We wear mini-dresses and dance to Madonna. OK, mostly we just lean on the walls. A guy turns up. He stands around stiffly, always wearing the same tuxedo. Then suddenly, everything is about him. He dates each of us in turn. His mouth gets a raw look from kissing. One time he’s with Jasmine when Maxie comes over. She throws a fit, saying boys only like blondes. The tuxedo gets ripped in the row. It’s months since I went outside.

1994

Maxie shows up in a state – hair hacked short and streaked with red. She’s got all her stuff in carrier bags, says she’s staying for good. I finally try on her tutu. It’s not that great. My skin is firm and smooth as ever, but my hair is tangled. The velcro on the ballgowns is clogged with fluff. We have one shoe between us. It’s dark most of the time. We lie quietly together on the pile of clothes. In the dimness, Brenda smiles. Sometimes I wish I could shut my eyes.




'Woodpecker Houseguest' by Alycia Calvert

We put it off, blame winter snow for obscuring nesting materials, hear in-wall chicks as snow thaws into wildflower. We climb, rung by rung, equipped with gloves, goggles, filling foam. We climb, counting your holes, a scatter plot parabola triangulated around meaning.

In bed, we spoon, find our utensils don’t fit, layers spread space thick between us. “Why are we lonelier together?” We perform fear-based love. Your beak-tapped messages a respite. Our winter nights less lonely, we live for you. On the top rung, your nest empty. “We” dissolves into “he” and “me.” I spray expanding foam into our absence.


'Kaleidoscope' by Annie Marhefka

Uncle Billy made kaleidoscopes by hand. He was a carpenter first but grew tired of the legginess of tables and the unnecessary curvatures of armchairs. The stillness of furniture made him anxious. He preferred the simplicity of a solid cylinder, the rhythmic sanding down of its endless curve. You could just keep spinning and spinning it and never know if you’d gotten back to where you started. You could pour a glaze and it would drip and drip, as long as you kept swirling the wood in your hands. He liked how its ends were indistinguishable from its beginnings, how you could break glass into a thousand shards and make it more beautiful. He liked how, when he gifted someone a finished product, they had to shut the world out with one eye to see what he’d made, the way his art required you to look. He liked how sometimes you couldn’t guess what he had crushed to make it whole: whether it was the blue glass of a soda bottle, the velvety red of a wine jug, or a fistful of seashells. Guess, he’d say, but never reveal the answer. After he died, my brothers would dissect the kaleidoscopes, inspect the mirror systems that refracted the light, pull the rainbowed fragments from the object mechanism and declare their origins. I hid my own kaleidoscope from them, buried it in my sock drawer. I did not want to know the pieces or to unveil the secret chambers within. I only wanted the mystery of the emerald green shards dipping into the blue and the amethyst and the triangles turning to circles and back to triangles again. I wanted to peer into a world where everything would always be whole.

'Dream State' by Melissa Flores Anderson

The hair dresser hadn’t me the phone and I heard my mother’s voice break.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said.

“Maybe it’s time.”

I got home smelling of coconut and lemongrass shampoo from the salon to find my dad at the dining table, his eyes downcast and his shoulders folded forward.

“You’re right,” my mom said, a catch again in her throat.

Time for the cat to be put down. Bailey. A 12-year-old Siamese mix with a creamy coat. He’d gotten the name from my college boyfriend who had a penchant for Irish cream. The cat had long outlived the relationship. After college, I moved back home and the cat took to sleeping on my bed at night.

While my parents sat, I knelt down to get into the crawl space under the stairs to retrieve the cat carrier. I drove with my mom to the vet while my dad stayed home, not wanting to be present for it.

“I’ll give you a minute alone with him,” the vet said in the sterile room. The cat hunched down on a cold, stainless steel table. We petted behind his limp ears, his fur greasy and unclean, and he let out his squeaky half purr for the last time. Bailey’s spark left the room and we had just his body left in front of us.

That night as I slept, I felt his weight jump onto the edge of the bed, his half purr emitting into the dark. Half awake, I sat up to reach for him before I remembered he was gone. For a week, I woke to the sound of the purr, a comfort in the quiet, empty morning. And then Bailey was gone for good.

'Woman, Scarecrow' by April Bradley

My insides are outside, strewn and clumped together, leaking out of my clothes, covering the floor. I have been cut down, mown, and used for fodder. My insides sit next to me, a tangle. My insides grow outside, swallowing up the electrical lines and the homes, your home. You, satisfied and whole, only see the overcast sky, the sweet promise of rain.

You don’t see the spark, the rage, the rage, my rage—

is the inferno that burns us up.



---

'Woman, Scarecrow', After "No Trespassing" by Andrea Kowch, 30" x 24" acrylic on canvas.

'Traceless' by Kelli Short Borges

If the familiar scent of lilac hadn’t clung to his sports coat that evening, if she hadn’t sneaked from the marriage bed into the shadow of his den, hadn’t slid a hand into that same coat pocket, hadn’t rifled through the business cards gum keys cigarettes receipts of his life, hadn’t found the scrap of paper, hadn’t seen the sprawling script of her best friend Delilah, the words hot and hotel and fuck and tomorrow, hadn’t silently crawled back to bed, burning, hadn’t remembered the promise he made, “Never again,” hadn’t followed him the next afternoon to the Lazy Dayz Motel, hadn’t seen them slip into room 203, his hand on her ass, hadn’t peered through the blinds five minutes later, hadn’t stifled a scream—if she hadn’t—she wouldn’t have greeted him at the door two days later with a drink, watched his Adam’s apple bob as the glass was emptied, rinsed the last dregs of residue as he fell, erased google history.

Debut Flash: 'Honestly' by Nicole Winchester

No one ever wants to make or answer phone calls, nowadays. There's too much anxiety, too much urgency in the act of speaking, thinking of the next thing to say on the spot, as opposed to typing a response with your thumbs at your own leisure.

Too much honesty in it, too. No time to lie. That was my problem. I enjoyed the time that texting afforded me.

Eric: I got an invite to a party next weekend, u wanna come?

Me: Naw I got stuff to do, sorry

Eric: lol like what ur a hermit

Me: My mom is in the hospital actually

Eric: oh shit I'm sorry. Tell her hi from me

Me: I will, thx

I think about that exchange a lot, wondering if I cursed myself, if things would be different if I had accepted the invitation.

I missed the call that my mother really was in the hospital until everyone in my family texted me at once that she’d passed away.

I'll be honest. I wish I'd never told Eric anything.


'Static' by Darcie Johnson

The signal was first detected by some kid on his ham radio.  I wondered what would have happened if he had just switched to a different channel and not told anyone.

It seemed silly. Who cares about some sound on a radio? Cassie and I had laughed about it. How did anyone know it wasn’t just static?

But it wasn’t static. It went from puff piece to the only thing on the evening news. They talked about it without telling us where it came from or what it did. Except that they thought it was some kind of wake-up call.

Now they’re estimating that half the population is affected, and the numbers are growing.  Most people think it’s some kind of extra-terrestrial parasite. Embedded in humans from the beginning. Taking over quietly and turning us into real-life pod people. Others think it's a form of mind control, sent from another country to turn us against each other. We’re all being asked to see our doctors; they have a way to tell if we are still ourselves.

Last week Cassie and I made a plan.  If the world is ending, we just want to be together.  So, we packed our bags and plan to leave before things get crazier.  I had my appointment last week and she has her’s today.  She’s scared. Worried they’ll think something is wrong with her. Not everyone comes back from the doctor, her dad didn’t. I agreed to go with her, said we’d leave right after.  We held hands and rode up in the elevator together.  

“It will be ok, Cass.  Once we get through this we can go anywhere.”

But of course we wouldn’t.  I knew once Cassie went in, she wouldn’t come out the same.  I hadn’t either.

'Mississippi Counting' by Gail Warrick Cox

Billy-Jo was sick, couldn’t come out to play with me and Molly-Mae, and the other neighbourhood kids, so we left her home, all tucked up in bed, awaiting our return.

‘Let’s play hide and go seek,’ Elijah shouted, ‘you can be it, Cora.’
I closed my eyes, began to count, the other kids scooted off to hide.

‘You count too fast,’ Molly-Mae complained, still there on the sidewalk beside me. ‘Don’t you know to say Mississippi after each number, that’ll slow you up.’
I covered my eyes, counted again. ‘One Mississippi, two Mississippi…
ten Mississippi. Here I come. Ready or not!’

I looked in all the usual hiding places. Found Elijah squatting in the empty barrel behind Hunter’s store. He always hides there. A couple of the other kids were in Jackson’s barn under the old wagon, shushing and giggling so loudly they gave themselves away. Mary was holed up in her mother’s outhouse. I swear that girl prefers spiders to people. Just Molly-Mae to find. I asked the other kids to help, but they shrugged their shoulders and headed home.

I scoured the streets, checked backyards, peered in porches, under verandas, behind hedges and in outbuildings but Molly-Mae was nowhere to be found. Something was wrong. She’d vanished. I needed to tell Momma before she was gone for ever.

‘Molly-Mae’s lost,’ I panted, when Momma opened the front door. ‘We were playing hide and go seek, she hid so good I can’t find her now.’ Tears sprang to the rims of my eyes.

‘Well,’ Momma said kindly, ‘perhaps you’ve outgrown your imaginary friend.’
The tears spilled. I bolted upstairs to tell Billy-Jo all about the Mississippi counting and missing Molly-Mae.

‘Cora.’ Momma’s voice came sternly from the bottom of the stairwell. ‘Just who are you talking to up there?’



'Tastes Like Salt' by Alison Woodhouse

I want to be fluff, I say, the kind you blow off the head of a dandelion, pow.

Please be serious, you say. What do you want really?

I want superpowers like flying and disappearing and biffing the head off a giant robot who’s threatening the planet’s existence. I want to be a clean machine, sucking up the landfills, mashing up the metal in my cavernous insides and pouring out pure ozone. Actually, if I’m honest, all I want really is to float.

And why, you ask, in your literal, literally driving me mad, usual way, would you want to float?

Isn’t it blindingly obvious, I don’t say?  

Because when the icebergs melt and the oceans rise and the land disappears only the floaters will survive, then the floating population will make towns and cities out of all the plastic that will rise to the surface of our landlessness and we’ll have to learn to dive like south sea pearlmen and the best of us will have lungs like iron and us floaters never cry, no we don’t, and melting icebergs should taste like salt so why do they taste of nothing at all?

You’ve got that face on again that says you have no idea why we ever got married and you really want to talk about it but I’m not going to exhale, no I’m not.


---

First published by Reflex Fiction.

'In the Quiet Moment, Just Before the Light Fades.' by Kathy Hoyle

She bears the weight of the child against her breast. He suckles, amber eyes gazing up at her.

When he is sated, she lifts him onto her shoulder, cradling the back of his head with a fragile hand. She feels his puckered breath against her neck. He nuzzles her for more.

‘Shh, greedy boy,’ she whispers, ‘shh, bonny boy.’

 She has missed these quiet moments, the world paused, the child’s whole future before him - a myriad of possibilities.

Her back cricks as she lowers herself into the chair. She is careful with him, as only a mother can be. She rocks him, lullaby-slow, until his limbs slacken, and she feels his lashes settle on her cheek.

The frail winter light moves softly into shadow. The room darkens. Her lids grow heavy. She takes a thick woollen blanket from the arm of the chair and tucks it tightly around them both, relishing the swaddled warmth.

My sweet boy, she thinks, I’ve waited so long for you.

She inhales the freshly powdered scent of him.

His chest rises and falls. 



Rise and fall
Rise and fall
Lullaby-slow



Sleep finally takes them.


During evening rounds  the nurses find her - nightgown pulled low, one breast exposed. A thick woollen blanket has slipped from her lap and lays supine on the tiled floor. Her eyes are closed, as though she’s sleeping.

A worn blue bear rests in her lap, its amber eyes fixed upon her peaceful smile.

  

'The Scream' by Joshua Jones Lofflin

It starts with a low hum, a vibration in the back of the throat, a child parting her lips, a mother wincing in the dark from a migraine, an old man gasping for breath from the depths of his deathbed, the noise swelling within him, within her, within thousands of bellowing marchers howling under the flat slap of truncheons and spray of firehoses, their voices shrill as a million chainsaws, a cleaving icesheet, a rifle’s hollowed report as soldiers drop their weapons and tilt their heads back into smoke-filled air, hinge their jaws open wide, wider, as wide as the wailing mouths of infants pulled from screaming mothers who crush hands of screaming partners who lock eyes with screaming midwives and doctors as they resuscitate patients from failing ventilators, delivering thirty chest compressions and a screaming breath then thirty more as the patients utter silent screams of yes yes yes like the soprano on her hotel terrace, her cries echoing down jagged alleys as she presses her hips into her screaming lover’s mouth who bends forward as if in prayer and listens—and listens—as the entire city screams, the citizens stepping to their windows, flinging them open, finding one another’s hands, emptying their lungs their hearts their spines, until cracks spider across mirrored glass, until steel skyscrapers flex and sway, until oceans ripple beneath the beating air and a hundred millions wings blot out the sun——until the earth shifts on its axis, slipping just far enough in its orbit to bring back the rains, restore the melted ice caps, to make the last wild rhinos furiously copulate after trampling the last screaming poachers, to make the smallest child run naked into a gentle hush of waves, to leave her doubled over with laughter and amazement.

'Family Tree' by Megan Cannella

Mother
(n.) one who sheds their human form to fully transition into sacrifice; the juxtaposition of widow and youth

See synonyms: martyr, enemy, friend, stranger, future

Father
(n.) a myth you don’t quite believe in anymore, despite the evidence you see every time you look in the mirror and see his face; an ancestor; an increased risk of heart disease

See synonyms: absence, answer, question, mirage

Brother
(n.) a person you raised but have no maternal claim to

See synonyms: ungrateful, asshole, heart, forgiven


You:
(unsure) versatile; resilient; repurpose as needed

See synonyms: mother, father, sibling, tired, wretched, alone



---

First published at Mac(ro)mic on October 28, 2020.

'I’d Like to Report a Prophecy' by Emma Brankin

Cassandra watches her eyes ruin with red and purple. Sees her own face bulge and whiten in desperation for breath. Her cries become formless as she tries to dislodge his grasp from her neck, her hands nothing but wisps of air.


She details her latest prophecy to the police officer standing in the hallway of her flat. She describes her ex’s violence, aggression and belittling in a voice that walks a high wire, balance tilting with every step.

‘He’s going to kill me,’ she says, looking at the officer with eyes as grim as head-stones.

The officer scratches his neck. Tells her he wants to believe her. That he wishes she could show him proof. But when it’s just one person’s word against another’s, his hands are tied.

‘You won’t do anything until you’re zipping me into a body bag,’ Cassandra says, as the future, cruel and all-consuming, twists through her mind.

The officer pats her on the arm. Offers a strained impression of a sympathetic smile. Suggests perhaps she could stay with a friend.


Cassandra sways gently in her doorway as she watches the officer pushing away into the night, darkness closing around him like a fist. How lucky, she thinks, that he’ll only have to die once.


'Planets at Intergalactic Met Gala' by Suchi Stava

Earth, the shy heiress, strutted past Jupiter in his starry high floating heels and the holographic mist of gases–golden, amber and ivory. She felt underdressed.

The parched tint she had tried to hide under the layer of green satin, was very evident. The blue was over-draped in fumy grey.

Earth wanted to show off ‘vibrance’, the theme.

Her chief stylist was a big time procrastinator and his last minute decisions gave her dress the texture of grey-green-rotting meat.

She had taught him the ABCs of the trade, given him a chance when nobody else would.

 “...hot cutter…cuter…haught…coucher….” He had even struggled at pronouncing Haute Couture.

At first she thought he was making passes at her, later they became thick friends, until his rise of fame.

Nothing was going as planned.

She rang him. “At the tone leave a message for….”  She ended the voicemail.

Just then Pluto walked by. The shutterbugs rushed past Earth to capture the least popular one in avant garde icy shimmer.

“It’s not even a planet!”

This was urgent, now. Earth called the stylist again, and again, trying to reach for him behind the veil of voicemail.

“One last time before I take matters in my own hands.” She called again. ”At the tone leave a message for Human….”

Earth erupted, spewed lava all over her attire; burning…the glow and the drama were the best anyone had seen. Shutterbugs ran to her.

Her DM apps were flooding with applause and forwards of more applause.

After she was done, she sighed, whispering under her breath. “You are fired Haughty Coucher.”

'To Love Another ______ is to See the Face of ___' by Siarra Riehl

TO LOVE ANOTHER ______ IS TO SEE THE FACE OF ___


before

When the poppies first appear, she is shocked they aren’t red. Two grey flowers bursting through carefully amended soil. Their grey reminds her of the cliff she and her friends used to jump off in summer. The cliff they once coveted as theirs. After the poppies grow, she thinks to bring them to the cliff and hold them over the water. She wants the flowers to reveal themselves to her.

II

As children, they would hold dolls—dresses stitched with fresh flowers—over the water’s surface. Unearthing a true face from their reflection. She remembers the way the sometimes-rippling surface changed their features. Turned smiles to grimaces, goods to bads. She often conflates this memory with another. Of water. Of whistles and shouts. Of friends face down, afloat. Of blues and purples and fists pounding on chests.

after

The cliff crumbles like shortbread under her weight, sending soft crumbs toward the water. Carefully, she places the poppies on the ground. Imagines her floating friends. Nothing about this place—not the thick heat nor the crackling branches nor the brimming ache from breastbone to throat—feels like her memory of it.

IV

She’s too high above the water to see her own reflection, but she looks down anyway. Allows her feet to dangle loosely over the edge. Is she somewhere in that far-below? Are her lips turning? Her eyes swelling open or rippling shut? She reaches one hand toward the water and places the other on her cheek. One of them meets wet. The un-red poppies tumble toward the water and barely make a splash.


Debut Flash: 'Teeth' by Martha Hampson

Her teeth arrived early, eager to experience what the universe had to offer. By five months she had eight of them, crenellated edges like the gates to a new world: a sensory kaleidoscope of crisp-snap-crunch. Wide-eyed, she rubbed them with her tongue, her knuckles, her toes; gnawed the bars of her cot until the paint flaked away. She greeted strangers by grabbing their fingers to run along the ridges, dribbling proudly. She bit me, hard, just once, the bloody milk shocking her more than my pain.

After five years' service the first smoothed pebbles fall out, their replacements already pushing up for air. She brushes them clean at the kitchen table, holding each one up to the light before placing it in a tiny hessian bag to exchange for two shiny coins under her pillow.

How will the Tooth Fairy know? she asks.

There's a list, I say.

Like the one Father Christmas has?

Yes, probably.

Maybe they share it, she says, nodding with satisfaction at the efficiency, eyelids closing.

"I can't believe they're gone," I sob into my husband's shoulder, "I didn't even say goodbye."

Gently, he reminds me that nothing is ever really gone, because we are all parts of one another: stardust and DNA regenerating in an endless swirl of love and memory. And, also, that the Tooth Fairy is me.

In midnight darkness we lift her soft small head from the pillow, her hot breath ragged with dreams. The switch is made with a solemn sprinkling of blue glitter. We feel ludicrous.

As I tip the teeth tenderly into my hand, I resist a compulsion to eat them, to return them to where they had grown. A part of me, a part of her, jettisoned without sentiment, for the price of a strawberry lolly.

'A Space Station Odyssey' by David JI Hampton

“Morning!” I say as I float past a friend.

“Gosh, is it?” They say, gliding past me with ease.

We can all fly, you see, as free as birds. All of us can. In mid-air, we move like bobbing, bumping apples. Busy with our daily tasks. We worship a great machine and spend our day tending to its needs. Flying and checking a dial here, hovering and noting a reading there. This machine keeps us alive. It has taught us how to fly high above the oceans and clouds. If we worship it, it will keep us safe.

Our flight is not truly free, alas, for we are caged beasts who, beyond the confines of this cage, would surely die. Outside is blackness and despair, our homes no more than specks on a flash of blue and brown that we endlessly drift across like roaming nomads.

Round and round, we go on this giant fair ride, trapped and free simultaneously. Loving the thrill yet dreading any mistakes. Dreaming big dreams whilst taking care of minute details. We stare in wonder at the majesty of it all yet yearn for the journey home with all our hearts.


'Nightingale' by LJ Moss

Describe the sound of a nightingale singing, the little coos and trills and clicks, how you’d never heard one before but there was a video online you watched an hour or two ago.

Describe the sight of a crescent moon: the curved sliver of light on the edge of a shadow of a circle, Venus and Saturn close by: how does it make you feel?

Describe the sensation of carrying one of those heavy old suitcases, how it stretches your arm, your shoulder, pulls on your neck, how your fingers ache and turn white and red wrapped round the sharp-edged handle.

Describe walking at night with the suitcase, in the periodic cold blare of a street light and the muffling darkness in between where the street lights are broken: on a scale of 1-10, how scary is that?

Describe walking at night with the suitcase, because you had to leave home even though there was a silver sliver of a moon, and the nightingale was singing; and some of the street lights were sharp and dazzling but most of them were broken, nobody would fix them, like the potholes in the road.

Describe walking at night with the suitcase, heavy, no gloves to protect your fingers, because you had to leave the home you loved at night, suddenly, with the nightingale singing so sadly, the moon aghast, the streetlights blinking out, one by one, stepping over potholes so deep you might stumble and fall, fall far, fall deep, fall long, fall and never get up. Describe the fall.














'Can Jellyfish Feel Love?' by Martha Lane

Golden jellyfish, isolated in their saltwater lake, cultivate algae by following the sun. As though they have faculty, as though they are wise. Really their nervous system recognises the light, knows they need it. Nothing more. This is as close to a decision that they can make. Your reflexes programmed; steps taken beyond your control; you migrate to the Red Lion.

A lion’s mane jellyfish the size of a blue whale was discovered once, tentacles nearly 100ft long, far reaching. Doesn’t need to be near its prey to cause it damage.

You come home, stale breath leading the way. Cigarette smoke knitted into your hair. You don’t say much, but you close the laptop, tell me I shouldn’t even be looking. Make it clear you aren’t getting on any planes.

‘Too Faro away,’ you laugh. A belly-shaking boom. Headliner of your self-acclaimed one man show. ‘Too Faro away,’ you repeat, explain, wait for me to smile.

‘Portugal has beer too,’ I whisper to no one.

The Portuguese man o’ war isn’t a true jellyfish, it’s not even one animal. It’s a colony of creatures with specialist jobs, all with the drive to survive.

Imagine. Harder some days than others.

People think a group of jellyfish is called a bloom or a swarm. But really, they’re called a smack. There isn’t a part of the ocean jellyfish haven’t drifted. Hundreds of thousands of smacks, impossible to avoid.

Jellyfish have survived every mass extinction.

Jellyfish produce their own light.

Jellyfish can’t sting each other.

We could never be jellyfish.

'The Mournful Cigarette' by Nora Nadjarian

He puffs out a face of smoke which almost touches his. He slow-smokes his thoughts and through his half-closed eyes he sees someone, or something. No, someone. Oh, it’s you, he says, shaking the blue packet of Gauloises, listening to its rattle of almost-emptiness. He taps the ashes tap tap, looks up at Someone, who says Yes, it’s me, who else? He half-smiles at the sound of her velvety voice. It’s too dark here, she says, I’ll sit over there. Come join me? More question than invitation as she flicks her hair, and he eye-follows her to the other end of the bar. Click click-ing her heels, in time with the beating in his temples. He tries to focus on her face but she is only half there. Or not even half there. There is only her sunset-red hair and her gloss-glued lips. What’s she doing , in fact, in the burning pink light of a nightclub? His right hand shakes a little, he squeezes its fire right out, stops her perfume from seeping back into him. Jesus, he says to himself, get a fucking grip, his fingers zooming in on the photo. She laughs. A high-pitched, bitchy laugh, the type he hates. What’s going on, what’s going on, going on, his thoughts are swimming out of their depth. They are swimming towards her as she swirls the bar stool slightly to her right, where her knee almost finds the knee of the man next to her, who is surely not, surely not, lighting her cigarette, whisper-touching her hand. Get a fucking grip because that’s not her, can’t possibly be, she’s at work. This never happened. Except that his thoughts are now soaking wet with sweat and his mouth tastes of acrid, of toxic, of final.


'Maybe it got stuck in between my teeth' by Leia Butler

I went to the dentist yesterday and when I was crossing the road coming home, someone asked me an easy question. But I said um for too long. Because yes I knew the answer but what if things had changed between now and the last time I knew? And what I didn't tell you is that we were still waiting for the lights to turn green at the time. I was thinking and waiting, and I realise I didn't actually remember locking the front door when I left. So now I am thinking and waiting and worrying. Except I didn't actually say um, I only thought it. So they asked someone else.

And it's later and I did lock the door. The dentist recommended more flossing, and when I thread the string through my teeth, I pull out the words that got caught earlier. I scrunch them into a tissue and throw them in the bin.

'This is How it Is' by Kathy Seifert

This is how it is with desire. You see a guy that you like in—of all places— the umbrella department of Nordstrom’s. You don’t want an umbrella, but you do want the man. You wonder if you should strike up a conversation, but we’re talking umbrellas here so there’s not a whole lot to work with.

This is how it is with age: at forty-three, your choices narrow to two things, you either get bolder or you get complacent. So you wind up your courage and stand close enough to smell the spice of his aftershave and notice the fine hairs at the back of his neck. And you whisper, “Did you know it’s bad luck to open an umbrella indoors?”  

He smiles and says, “Shall we test that theory?” He opens an umbrella drawing you both under its intimate canopy.

This is how it is with love. You feel a spark inside your ribcage, mid-way between the heart and the stomach. It grows like a rising sun, spreading its energy and warmth. It is how you feel right now next to this man—alive and full and present.

This is how it is with luck. You notice the gold band on his ring finger and your heart sinks. You taste bitterroot in your throat, because you know there are certain places you refuse to go.

This is how it is with you.

'C is not for Cancer' by Kay Sandry

A is for apple,

B is for ball,

C is for Cancer.

A is for Appointment Card,

B is for Hospital Transport Bus,

C is still for Cancer,

D is for Don’t Mention Cancer.

E is for Enema,

F is for Fuck, and trying not to give any.

G is for Graham who brought Covid onto said bus,

H is for Hope, the flip side of fear.

I is for Me when I feel most alone. A straight line of being that curls up tighter and smaller until ‘I’ becomes a ‘.

J K L is for Family. Together we huddle in alphabet land.

M is for Maggies Cancer Centre: carefully curated coffee, cake, and calm.

N is for Neil the Bus who banned eating, Covid, and Graham.

D is for Denial,

O is for Eternity.

P is for Prostate and Prostrated, but also shouting at Popmaster.

Q is for Queuing.

R is for You. Still you, even so.

S is for Shit. So, so, much shit.

T is for Talking to Folk,

U is for Others. The ones who don’t talk. Who sit in hospital gowns and stare at their hands, hooked up to machines that beep, and sometimes don’t.

V is for Forgetting, and never for Void,

W is for Water, slowly sipped,

X is for X-rays, radio waves, consent, denial, kissing your hand.

Y is for Why. Why you? Why us? Why now? Just why?

B is for because.

Z is for an end point. A pausing in time.

A is for Advanced,

B is for Bollocks.

C is for paddling in with the sun on your back.





'When the curator is a wolf in disguise' by Joyce Bingham

When it rains, a circus of tourists will arrive at the museum. I raise my eyes and purse my lips into a raspberry sigh. They’ll bring in castles of sand, sticky fingers of chocolate ice-cream, white smears of suncream.

I ready the gift shop, pens, erasers and notebooks, all embossed with the museum logo. Woody pencil sharpenings and pungent wax crayons mingle with cleaner notes of local crafted lavender bags. I shuffle postcards of petrified shards of dinosaur bones ensuring equal fading in the sun.

They sail in, pushchairs awash, rippling umbrellas and plastic see-through ponchos drowning the entrance, their clamour echoing through the main exhibit hall.

My senses heighten, muscles poised to seize prey between my slavering jaws.

The howl of a baby, persistent squeak of miniature designer trainers, football shirts rippling with static and snot pulled back up dirt-crusted noses.

Prowling aisles, I prop ‘Do not touch’ signs with a flick of my paw and lick brown smudges off glass. I edge downwind towards the curling finger, said to have been torn by a wolf from a witch’s hand.

Boys dare each other to touch the exhibit of withered flesh, the nail a yellowing horn, an end of grey bone, three phalanges still articulated, beckoning the unwary.

A growl rumbles in my throat, I watch through the display case of a doll’s house. They smudge the fragile glass, prodding it with their filthy digits. Their flabby meat, marinaded in ketchup, burgers and chips, is not deserving of my hunt. My hackles fall, my jaw relaxing into a benign smile.

I take their candy-sticky money, place lollipops and postcards into paper bags. In their haste to leave the museum’s stillness for amusement arcades, they each miss my gleaming amber eyes and hunter’s breath so close to their throat.




Debut Flash: 'Bus stop 4' by Jeremy Boyce

It was early evening and the sky above was already deep blue-black.

Street, house and shop lights glowed outwards from pillars, posts and curtainless windows. Pools of down-light formed and gradually expanded, the passing traffic tracing white and red streaks above the black bitumen,

There was no wind to stir the dust or rustle the autumn leaves, and the sky under the bus stop was strangely still. People come and go, getting off, getting on, leaving stains and cigarette butts.

When they come , some hurry at the last minute, others are early, waiting worryingly and accusing their watches.

A gradual implosion towards the worn spot on the kerb stones where the doors hiss open. Now, the space was empty, and the bus stop was left waiting alone.

They were walking away in all directions, bags and rattling roller-cases grasped in tired hands :



                                                                       Scattering



                                   outwards

                                                                                                                 from

                    The                                            Bus stop



each

                                                                                                                  at

                                   their

                                                                                                                 own

                                                                       speed,

meeting someone in a waiting car, walking with quick or slow steps, returning or possibly just arriving. They came together on the bus, now they were going their own ways.

The departing red lights disappeared from view in a cloud of diesel fumes, passengers swallowed whole through the double-doors and baggage stowed in the guts. They came their own ways, now they were going somewhere together on the bus.

There was nobody left at the bus stop to see the bright stars and darkening sky coming their own ways together.





A strong black hand rolled a white bike along from right

                                                                                            To

                                                                                    Left,

                                                                            Black

                                                                    Wheels

                                                            Turning

                                                    Slowly

                                            Towards

                                    The

                            Stop

                    But

            It

Didn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

---

Editor's note: due to intentional formatting, this piece is best viewed on a larger screen.





Congratulations to our 2023 Best Small Fictions Nominees!

We are delighted to nominate the following 2023 FlashFlood stories to the Best Small Fictions Anthology: ' I Once Swallowed a Rollercoas...