Sunday, 22 June 2014

That's all folks!

Well, either you are completely sick of flash-fictions, and you won't even be reading this. Or, like me, you find them a source of endless wonder, and now you're all disappointed that they've come to an end.

Either way, I think all those writers deserve a massive round of applause, and we thank them for their words.

We will be back for next year's National Flash-Fiction Day, if not before. But in the meantime, keep writing, keep reading, and most importantly, keep flashing!

Calum Kerr
Editor and Director of National Flash-Fiction Day.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

'Jump' by Rob Walton

“So how many’s that?”
“Five this year.”
“Yes, well.  That’s the way it goes.  This is the way it goes.”
Wordsworth looked down and gestured for me to look down with him.  We were high, seriously high.
“I’m not sure I like it up here.”
“Come on then.  Let’s go inside.  You only need to ask.”
Inside was reached through a door which seemed to have neither lock nor handle.  The furnishings were a settee and a wooden dining chair.  The chair was on the settee.
“Make yourself comfortable.”
I wasn’t here to carp, so I sat on the settee, removed the chair and put my feet on it.  I wouldn’t want to over-egg this, but I was profoundly uncomfortable; almost in pain.  The settee fabric was surely designed to relieve itches and the colour was there to make whatever mismatched outfit you had chosen look fantastic.
“I don’t think so.”
“All right.  Thanks.”
He left and returned within a minute.  He offered me a large glass of red.  In his other hand he had a Lidl carrier bag.
“You got one in there have you?  Is it – hang on!”
I stopped myself.  The wine was unbelievably good.  Not only above my expectations – but seriously delicious.
“Not bad, eh.  Twelve quid a bottle from the bloke next door.”
“Does he – is he – does he know -  ”
“Yeah, he’s a vintner.  Just part-time now, like, but he still knows the way to a man’s, you know.”
I drank some more and he shook the bag.  I finished my glass and he shook the bag again.  I leant forward and put the glass down on the chair, next to my right foot, and felt my hamstring getting annoyed with me.  He shook the bag in my face.
He put his hand in the bag and brought out what would surely be number six.  I licked my lips and made some noises which were new to me.
“I had one, but not like that.  Not quite the real McCoy, but not terrible either.  Made by a reputable company but not what Peter Tynan would have had.  Not what you’ve got there.”
“Lad in my class.  He had all the best gear, authentic stuff.  Walkman.  Not one from Tandy like me.  He had all the proper outfits, all the accessories.  Scuba diving, camping, polar expedition.  He didn’t do the Blue Peter making stuff.  He bought – ”
“Shut up a minute.  You’re getting on my nerves.  I want you to make a choice now.  Clothed or naked?”
The last one had been naked as far as I could tell, so I stuck with that.
“Correctamundo.  Let’s do it.”
I followed him down the corridor, back on to the balcony.  He took the plastic figure and placed it on the ledge.  He knelt down so his eyes were level with Action Man’s.
“I was going to save you, but this fucker’s got murderous intent.”
And he pushed.

'Betwixt' by Thaddeus Howze

Paolo will sit in a dimly-lit coffeehouse after work.

Dirty work often required something to wash the taste and the smell from one’s mind. Paolo Diaz was an Agent of Order and of Chaos. Two monsters which invaded his dreams as a child.

They came on the fire and smoke, burning his eyes and nose, flames set to drive his family out of their homes. As Paolo died, he railed and cursed a heaven which allowed such evil. And these two came, one a visage of soothing beauty. Cold to the touch, she lifted his chin, examined him and deemed him worthy. “He will grow strong and beautiful.” The other monster, slapped him in his child’s face and said he was broken. “Listen to the screams in his head. It is all he will ever hear in the dead of night.”

He went to work for them. As such, his work lay Between.

The smell of burning coffee soothed him. It’s bitter aroma filled his nostrils, taking him to his childhood in Colombia; before the fire, when he was happy.

Paolo hated his job. Not the work, but the people. His hands trembled with the exertion, the rough fabric gripped tightly as he held the corrupt businessman over the edge of the roof. He marveled at the strength he had been given. The man was as light as a feather but heavy was his soul, heavy with the evil that men did. He was out of balance, this businessman, Victor Dawson. His spiritual checkbook declared bankruptcy. Paulo was here to repossess his soul.

Paulo smelled the fear, the man was redolent with it. Dawson offered Paulo money, wealth, women. Paulo declined politely. He no longer needed such extravagances. Paulo was a man between; he was between here and there, thither and yon, left and right, good and evil, gifted and cursed.

Blessed now with the strength of ten men, unable to touch anyone tenderly for fear of harming them. He was promised this power would come with the capacity, a sense of rightness. As the man dropped to the pavement, his sins expunged, Paulo felt no right.

Or wrong.

He was an agent of the Balance. He was Between. He listened for the solid meaty sound. He noted the slight bounce and then the horrified screams of passersby.

Paulo stepped from the roof himself and was between here and there.

He appeared on the street, suddenly but no one noticed, he was Between their awareness of now and then. He was now. They could see him but didn’t.

His work completed, his phone received a text. “Well done, Pachjo”. He hated when they called him that. Only his mother could call him that as a child.

He already sensed the next place he was to be. His next subject in need of Balance would be in a coffeehouse five blocks from here.

He hoped he would have time for a cup. Of course he would.

Previously published in 30 Cubed SF Journal -​​

'Cuts Like A' by Simon Sylvester

The crowd fell silent as Marco took the stage. His cloak was lined with red satin. His moustaches were waxed into devil tips. The flat broad blades of his knives clashed at his hip. Across the stage, his wife was cuffed to a rotating disc. The wooden boards were scarred with countless knife strikes. Marco shrugged off his cloak, flexed his shoulders, cracked his knuckles, and spun on his heel to hurl the first knife. There were gasps from the audience as it flickered through the air and thudded into the board, inches from his wife’s neck. Marco grinned. God, how he loved showtime.
His personal challenge was to land the knife close enough to make her scream, to make a fool of her. That night, he succeeded three times. Once, the blade landed near enough to nick her arm.
The audience loved that one best of all.
After the show, he berated her cowardice.
‘You’re nothing without me,’ he sneered, and poured another calvados. ‘I could find another assistant anywhere. Anyone could do your job.’
He drank, and insulted her, and drank some more, and she sat there, cowed, bandaging the nick on her arm, and said nothing. He drank. He drank until his eyes grew dark, and the world rotated like a wooden disc. His last memory was his wife helping him out of the chair.
Marco woke with a thudding hangover. Every few moments, gravity sucked at his eyes and ached in his brain. Maybe he’d been too hard on her. He should apologise. When he opened his eyes, the world was spinning. It took him longer than it should have to realise why.
The auditorium was empty. His wife stood across the stage, wearing his cape, carrying his blades.
‘Miriam?’ he croaked.
‘You’re right, Marco,’ she said. ‘I’ve been thinking about it, and you’re right. Anyone could do my job.’
‘Miriam,’ he said.
She raised the first knife.
‘I wonder,’ she said, ‘if anyone could do yours.’

'Eight Thirty-Eight' by Tracy Fells

6:38 am: Jackson’s eyelids twitch. Facial muscles contort, pulling back in horror. In two hour’s time his dream will come true.
6:59 am: Jackson opens his eyes. A sunbeam slips through the gap in the curtains warming the bedroom; dust particles dance in the morning’s glory.
7:00 am: Crickets chirp from the mobile on the bedside table heralding the official start of Jackson’s day.
7:07 am: The TV double-act recites road traffic statistics. Warning drivers to look out for pedestrians at two critical time-points in the day. Six twenty two in the evening is a deadly time for foot-commuters when the number of fatalities peaks… but Jackson is already stepping into the shower and doesn’t hear the second, more lethal, time of day.
7:08 am: Hot water jets over Jackson’s head and shoulders. Shampoo runs into his eyes trickling down his cheeks like frothy tears
7:21 am: Jackson checks emails one-handed while towel drying his spiky hair. 
7:34 am: He pours boiling water into the travel mug, even though he knows this scolds the coffee, swallows a handful of vitamin tablets and a capsule of fish oil, resembling a prehistoric globule of tree amber.
7:58 am: The tube station is shut. Iron gates bar the entrance where a group of commuters hiss like a snake charmer’s basket.
8:24 am: Flicking onto Twitter Jackson tweets how he would have worn trainers if he’d known he was going to have walk all the bleeding way to the office!
8:28 am: The iPod’s battery dies. Without the numbing soundtrack a chorus of attention-seeking horns and the whine of brakes assault Jackson’s empty ears.
8:32 am: Jackson plugs the earphones into his phone and normality is resumed. An envelope pings onto the screen. A text from his mum. Jackson laughs. She hasn’t got the hang of predictive text.
8:36 am: If he cuts across the traffic before the lights change he can take a short-cut through the shopping arcade.
8:37 am: He steps from behind the yellow Peugeot, stagnant in the queue for the lights. The bus driver doesn’t quite see Jackson.
8:38 am: Jackson feels the sun on his face. The screeching ringtone of seagulls from his phone announces another text. The sky stretches across the city like an inviting ocean of blue.
8:39 am:

'Cat’s Eyes' by Karl Russell

The dead man came and lay with mummy again last night. Stanley just moved over to let him in, and mummy would have slept right through it like last time, so I had to do something. I arched and hissed like crazy, but when mummy woke, all she did was shoo me away. I spent the night on the landing, listening to him wheezing and groaning, doing the thing again.

Mummy was crying in the kitchen this morning, but she doesn’t know why. She just feels tired, like she isn’t sleeping properly. I wish I could talk, but Stanley says we can’t do anything, so why worry? He only cares that his bowl is filled. I tried to cheer mummy up by rubbing against her legs, but she tripped over me and yelled at me. She’s never done that before.

The dead man came back later on, when mummy was in the garden. She just thought it was the wind, blowing her skirt up. I could see his friends, standing by the fence, watching; they’re more here than before, but still not enough to touch her themselves. I tried to claw them but it goes straight through. I pointed them out instead, staring at them and crying, but mummy just called me a stupid moggie and walked right through them. Quick as a mouse, the dead man flew down and bit her ankle. I saw his dirty teeth digging in as she fell, but when she sat up, all she saw was a few red scratches, and me at her feet. The dead man and his friends were laughing at me, and I know he did it just to get me into trouble.

Now I’m locked outside and mummy’s on her own with the dead man and his friends. Stanley is blaming me for missing his supper, but he can go and howl. He thinks that we can just get another mummy. I don’t want another.

I tried the windows and both swingly doors, but mummy has locked them. Someone has anyway. I can hear them laughing and screeching, getting ready for doing the thing. Sitting on the windowsill I can see them too. The dead man is sitting on mummy’s lap, scraping holes in her tights. Mummy doesn’t see it but she’s scratching where he touches, tearing her own holes, right through to the red underneath.

I want to go in yowling and slashing like a tiger, to save mummy and show her what is happening, every day and night, before they are all here and ready to do the thing. She’s so tired, I don’t think she could take it if they all did it.

But then Stanley comes by, smelling of something lovely and fishy, and he says that the woman in the grey house has put out tuna for us.

Maybe a new mummy isn’t so bad an idea.

I follow him down the road, and leave the woman in the blue house with her friends.

'Full Marks' by Elaine Miles

I wish you’d stop standing there, gawping.  Surely you’re not that stupid.  Did you honestly not see this coming?
Teacher training didn’t prepare you for this, did it.  Didn’t prepare you for me, fifteen, hot ( let’s not deny it), bursting out of my uniform, desperate for a shag.  Or so you think.
Big mistake, letting me stay behind so many times.  You should at least have kept the classroom door open.   Did you really believe I was that interested in Chaucer?  I fucking hate Chaucer.  Got those questions off the internet.  You seriously thought I was that keen?
You know what they say.  Don’t get mad;  get even.  It’s nothing personal.  You just happen to fit the profile, that’s all.  Poor you.  Old enough to be disgusting, far enough from retirement to be destroyed.   And, most importantly, you remind me of him.
I can’t fix him, so it’s going to have to be you, I’m afraid.   And who are they going to believe?  Traumatised,  pre-pubescent schoolgirl or sagging, overweight, divorced English teacher?  It’s a no-brainer.
Oh, please don’t beg …that is so pathetic.  Begging’s pointless.  I should know.
I expect you’re thinking, ‘Why me?’  While I’m thinking, ‘Why not you?’  Not that I blame you.  I used to ask myself that question all the time, but I was just a kid then.  I know better now.  Because life’s random, isn’t it.  Stuff happens and we’ve just got to deal with it.  We’ve got that in common now.  Random stuff, just happening to us.  That’s nice.  Gives us a special bond.
And I’m fresh kill.   Confused?   Let me explain.  You see, I’ve still got last night’s battle scars which’ll give my story a really authentic feel.   Stroke of genius on my part, don’t you think?  He doesn’t normally do it on a Tuesday  night, so I really had to think on my feet.  Took him by surprise when I fought back  because normally I play dead like I’m not even there but this time I pushed him  off me and he was livid and I thought you stupid bastard you’ve played right into my hands which is fucking ironic because it’s been the other way round up to now.   In more ways than one.  See what I did there?  Did you enjoy the wordplay?  You taught me how to do that.  You should be proud.
 I freshened up the scratches on my legs when you were droning on about The Wife of Bath earlier.  You didn’t even notice, did you.   You want to pay more attention.
So when I go crying to the headmaster any minute now, you won’t stand a chance.
You look a bit pale, Sir.  You should sit down.  Oh, for God’s sake,  don’t blub … do you honestly think I give a shit?   What?  Am I scaring you?  It’s not like I’m going to attack you with a knife or anything.  I’m not getting mad.
I’m getting even.