Sunday, 28 June 2015

It Looks Like It's Letting Up.

Time to remove the galoshes and shake your literary umbrellas: the flood is over for another issue. 

While the summer may have been a little disappointing so far, we have been nothing short of impressed by the variety and quality of flash fiction sent to us over the past week or so. We’ve had comedy, tragedy and horror - and that’s just from the editors who had their work cut out for them, whittling down the hundreds of submissions to just 144.

Our thanks go to everyone who took the time to submit to us. We do read each and every one and if you weren’t successful this time, please don’t let that put you off submitting to the next edition. A rejection doesn’t mean your story was bad. In many cases we just had too many vampire/ghost/FSOG stories and didn’t have a fit for yours this time. 

We’d like to say a big THANK YOU to all who have helped promote the Flash Flood Journal and National Flash Fiction day. Without all the Facebook shares and Tweets we’d not have had the ‘problem’ of a huge number of great stories to choose from. We’ve also enjoyed seeing how pleased contributors are to be included - it makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Thanks should also go to our editorial group - Susan, Susi, Cassandra, Shirley, Annette and Caroline - who, as usual, gave their time for naught but the joy of flash fiction.

If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please share the stories with your friends and if you haven’t submitted before, we’d love to hear from you next time.

Thank you again - and keep flashing!

Calum Kerr

FlashFlood Editor and Director of National Flash-Fiction Day

Saturday, 27 June 2015

'The Seagull' by Sharon Bennett

She had been about to launch into the water, when he landed on her head, his webbed feet embedding into her backcombed hair. And that was that. She tried to bat him off, tugged at him, jumped up and down, tipped forwards, sideways and back. All pointless, his balancing skills were second to none. He was there to stay.

Today is their first year anniversary. She has found a cake to celebrate, which she balances on the metal struts of her usual bench. Isn’t he heavy? Somebody wants to know. Not really. She is used to the weight and the wobble now. Also the smell, but no need to mention that. Or the gloopy mess that drips onto her shoulders and runs down her back to form a warm black and white streaked cloak. At least the screeching has stopped and he has calmed down since that first day at the end of the pier. They are used to each other now. And he is quite the hair stylist, as it turns out, teasing her strands every day into an impressive nest-do of white and grey.

She would miss him now, if he wasn’t perched up there on her head all day and night, caring enough to keep lookout. She catches sight of their reflection in windows sometimes. Him standing on one leg as he keeps guard with beady eyes, his head tilting one way then another, the shift in weight making her head nod with him. He doesn’t always stand, she explains to a lady at the end of her bench. He sits too, and when he settles down, he fits onto her head perfectly. Like the hat you spend your life looking for. And she sleeps better on her carrier bag pillow since it has been stuffed with feathers rather than newspaper. At night, he sleeps on the side of her face, his soft belly covering her ear, so she can hear the sea and the gurgling rock pools of her childhood. Sometimes he stretches out his wings to cover her completely. Then nobody even knows she’s there.

Although she is eating cake today, they normally have chips. They take it in turns, she explains to the park attendant. One chip for him, one for her. Him. Her. Us. The ones he wants to save for later he pokes into her hair oriental style. If he doesn’t fancy chips, they wander over towards the overflowing rubbish bins for a rummage. But generally he prefers the chips, she tells a new man who arrives with a chattering radio on his lapel, reminding her of that day at the end of the pier, when she had been about to jump. This man wants to know how many fingers is he holding up. One less now, as it happens. She feels bad. She thinks she should really offer him a chip, but she must fly.

 She does. The seagull keeps an eye out to make sure nobody follows. 

"Giraffe" by Jo Derrick

He was tall enough to reach the juiciest, lush leaves at the top of the tree. His camouflage protecting him from predators. His long legs were perfect for dancing. His hooves delicate enough to point and flick. 
As a child he’d been raised on bread and dripping. There was never any money and he’d been teased for being as thin as a lathe. He’d been called Twiggy, Beanpole and Sticks, amongst other things. He was a gangly, clumsy teenager and had lost count of the clips round the ear from his gran for breaking various pieces of her best china.
But it was different now. People paid to watch him dance with beautiful women, who whispered in his ear about running their fingers across his smooth, hard chest. The fact that his skin was the colour of treacle toffee only made them want him more.
Terry never knew his mother, but she’d been as pale as a snowdrop, his gran told him. He had never known his father, and Gran never mentioned the colour of his skin. She didn’t have to. His dad was a sailor and his mother had met him in a dockside pub after her shift at the biscuit factory.
The day he decided he was a giraffe was when the heat shimmered across the landscape, waiting to pounce like a hungry beast. The sun ate up the lush green grass and replaced it with yellow stalks. No water came out of the taps and there was a standpipe on The Green. Oh, the irony in the name given to the one patch of grass in the middle of the village. Even his gran wore a sleeveless dress, which she ran up on her old black and gold treadle machine. Terry wore shorts and the other kids had pointed and laughed at his impossibly long legs decorated with bizarre pigmented patches that no one could ever explain.
Laura wasn’t the first woman to comment on his unique markings.
“Ee, ya look like a bleedin’ khaki patchwork quilt!”
He should have joined the army. Ideally suited for duty in Iraq, blending in superbly with the terrain. But Terry was too clever for the army - and too delicate and by then probably too old. They didn’t recruit dancers. Terry was too graceful. If someone had given him a tenner for the amount of times he’d been called gay. But the women knew better. They continued to flock around him like dancing flies on the desert sand. Yes, giraffes could take their pick from the tastiest vegetation.
As he’d placed the gold ring on Laura’s finger, Terry had the urge to stick out his long tongue, swish his tassled tail and bat his impossibly long lashes. If only those kids in the playground could see him now. He’d give them a run for their money. Lolloping over African plains with a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like on his back.

'The Dancing Girl' by Paul Heatley

I stand in shadows at my bedroom window, and I watch. There is a girl in the building opposite. She leaves her curtains open and she dances in the middle of her front room, her bare feet apart, her eyes closed, her arms wrapped around herself as she sways slowly from side to side as if embraced by an invisible lover. I don’t know what music she listens to though I often wonder. Her hair is brown and cut below her ears, and she wears a cream jumper and a black skirt that ends at her knees. Always she wears these clothes, a uniform, as if she cannot dance in anything else. Her walls are bare and the room is minimally furnished, the sofa and chairs arranged around the space in the centre where she dances, like she’s expecting an audience. 

Sometimes we pass each other on the street. These moments are not manufactured. Sometimes we will be in the same cafĂ© or the same coffee shop, and she will order drinks with soy instead of milk. Sometimes I will try to catch her eye, to smile at her, but she never looks my way. 

But I watch her dancing, night after night, and when she’s not there I wonder where she is, and in these lonely moments I understand that I know nothing about her, not even her name. 

Tonight, she is there. She dances. I turn on the light, clear a space in my room, and take my place in the middle of the floor. I don’t put on any music. Just silence. I close my eyes and I begin to sway, and I imagine I am the one holding her, dancing with her. When I open my eyes, her curtains are closed. 

First published by Spelk Fiction

'Poking the Beast with a Stick' by Emmaleene Leahy

Where time was measured by season and crop rotation, the turning of months in a year, the meaning of hands revolving around numbers is replaced by a serrated metal blade to tear open cans. Now, time is measured out in tins of soup and beans and pineapple slices.
The sun glints from his corrugated roof.  Alone in our galvanised existence, I haven’t seen movement for a while now.
The shimmering air vibrates with forgotten ghosts, apple trees, acorns, bluebell, buttercup, cowslip, dandelion, heather and ivy. Rich fertile land now a barren desert.
Whole village wiped out, only us two left. All my fault; my blunder in the nuclear waste plant. He was my boss; a bit grumpy now irreversibly venomous. I know not to knock on his door. He’d shoot me with his old blunderbuss, leave me walking around with guts in my hands like dirty washing.
Need to check if he’s alive. After relentless unrest, nail-biting, pacing, I risk it.
Sand swirls on the wind, howling gusts whirl, whip, trudging crunch of sand beneath feet. I throw a rock at his window. A web of cracks emanate from the point of impact.
A sudden burst erupts, zing of metal severs the sky. Danger in the present tense.

I run.

'Liquid Nights' by Chris Milam

The bartender with the plastic smile asked what I wanted. A glass of Her. Can you pour me a second chance? Told him I wanted something dangerous, a drink that would singe.
The India Pale Ale with its ABV of 7.5% arrived and I drank. Hard. Dylan was crooning about a rolling stone from the jukebox. Guys in white tank tops and loose jeans tried to impress their girls with a trick shot on the beat-up felt. I suppressed a primal scream.
The bartender wiped off the polished wood with a practiced swipe. Could he pull that maneuver within my mind? A lazy stroke and all those memories of Her are cleansed. Can I borrow your rag, man?
Emptied the glass. Didn’t find any solutions at the bottom, just backwash and a thirst unquenched. Rapped my knuckles on the bar: Bring me another round of bitterness. He obliged.
The lady with a tattoo of a fractured, black heart on her neck drank shots and blew smoke rings.
“What’s your name?”
“Andrew. You?”
“Rita. You married?”
“The documents tell me I’m divorced. You?”
“Available but scarred. You live close by?”
“You know why. Two lost souls with festering wounds drowning in alcohol. Do the math.”
“I’ll pass.”
Rita chuckled and turned to her left and asked the guy in flannel what his name was. Frank, he said.
The bartender was telling a sad story to the young bohemians in matching turtlenecks. Part of his job. Be a good listener for tips. Repeat their tale of woe to others. For a tip. An auteur in a Led Zeppelin shirt and jean shorts.
Bruised another drink with rage-filled swallows. Glanced at the mirror behind the bar. A reflection of Her running her delicate hand thru my hair. A flash of white. Burgundy lips. Emerald smoke in her eyes. I slammed my lids shut. Peeked and blinked again. Go away. Or come back.
A man in a red hoodie with eyes of a similar hue asked me about the game last night. Asked if I was a Red Sox fan. Only if She played second base, maybe. Or if the stadium was filled with melancholic bags of popcorn. No, I didn’t watch the game.
I jostled Rita on her inked shoulder.
“I did the math, let’s go.”
“Sure, baby. Can Frank join us?”
I’m game for anything that distracts the razor for another night.
The bartender eyes me like I’m a schoolgirl in a plaid skirt with knee-high nylon stockings. “You mind if I come too?”
Only if you bring your tip jar. And a rag.

"Astronomical Odds" by Vesna McMaster

There was something really wrong with my father. Apart from his absence. He didn’t just leave an emptiness. It was more like the pulsing radio waves of a neutron star or the gravity of a Black Hole, sucking in peripheral unwary strands of information and conversation. No-one would talk about him. At all. Aunt Jenny simply shook her head and made her jowls wobble, sometimes lifting her finger in silence if I asked. I knew better than to ask my mother. Most of the others pretended not to hear and changed the subject. I’d never seen him, of course.

Just once, when Aunt Jenny’s nose was tinged pink with a glass of New Year’s champagne and her eyes had that crinkly blue-mist haze, she forgot herself for a second. “He had ideas, my love.” Then the haze lifted all of a sudden and she extricated her hips from the armchair with a violent pull of suction. She ran to the kitchen and turned the tap on, even though all the dishes were done.

I was studying for my Uni entrance exams, window wide to let in the cut-grass-and-lilac from the garden and the radio on easy jazz. The midday newscast came on and an earnest voice relayed the latest from some war-bogged Eastern European country. I focused on the page on the death of Socrates. The floral print of the curtains bloomed suddenly into the room and my mother’s torso burst in through the window in a whorl of flying black hair and gardening gloves. She slammed her hand down on the radio button, engendering silence.

We stared at each other. She panted. My mouth was open but I might have forgotten to breathe.  She drew herself up, tucking hair behind ear.

“Extraneous auditory input decreases the efficacy of study,” she said.

I blinked into the sunlight as she turned and left.

Socrates was dead. I abandoned the revision. I couldn’t remember which country it was the newscaster was talking about, but I made a guess. Google worked overtime for twenty minutes.

The rebel leader in a blurry photo in some pastoral setting. Something in his posture made me look twice. More photos, not so blurry. A chiseled, delicate jaw and peculiar set of the eyes. Blue. A certain stoop. Dates, about sixteen years ago. And a tiny mention of our hometown in a bottom left margin of Wikipedia.

My gaze lifted to meet the one in the mirror. The heart of the neutron star.