Saturday, 13 October 2012

End of Issue 2

And... that's it, ladies and gentlemen, the end of our second issue.

We hope you enjoyed it. There was certainly a lot of chat and noise on Facebook and Twitter, and a lot of kind comments which have been posted.

Please continue to read through the stories at your leisure and, if you like them, share them with your friends via social media and please, please, leave comments for the authors. We will make sure they all get passed on to them.

We hope to bring you more FlashFloods in the future, so do keep checking back for our next submission window. And if you've liked what you've seen and would like to be kept up to date with events for National Flash-Fiction Day 2013, please drop us a line at nationalflashfictionday@gmail.com and we'll add you to our mailing list.

Once again, thanks to the editors, and to the writers, and to you for reading, and we'll see you soon!

Calum Kerr
FlashFlood Editor

Friday, 12 October 2012

'Goodbye' by Thomas Mason


What stood before me was no longer a man I knew, no longer an archaeologist a, colleague, a friend. He was more, and at the same time, much less.
He opened his arms to the vastness of the chamber and looked back at me. Behind him something writhed in the darkness, something gargantuan and impossible.
I had not been able to move until now, and I did. I turned and ran, ran through the Anatolian archway that housed a three story door, past great columns carved into fantastic patterns and towards that small hole I had originally crawled in through. I dived in to it, clothes and skin tearing alike and I clawed my way towards the outside. I could not progress; I knew I had to pass through it backwards so my shoulders could fit. My heart was beating rapidly and my eyes blurred and stinging from sweat or maybe blood, my feet led the way through the two meter tunnel.
But I was forced to look into the darkness, my eyes straining, making out shapes and figures, with my torch off and my body sealing the only entrance for light it was black. My nails were ragged, my fingers bloody and my muscles aching, I realised I was crying. I was stuck again. Then from the distance I heard running, the clacking of nail on the floor as something came charging out of the blackness towards me.
I closed my eyes and felt close breathing upon my face. The visage of what Langstom had become was burning in my mind.
And then it said it.
In a scream or a shrill call, it called my name.
I opened my eyes.
Nothing.
I left the Black Sea as soon as I could; saying nothing of my discovery and bringing nothing back.
That last part is a lie. Something followed me. That is why I am writing this.
Here I am at my estate: it is 3 am. I do not know if I am sane anymore.
There is a figure I recognise at the end of my garden, I am going out to meet it.
Goodbye.

'Red Carnation' by J Adamthwaite




I look for women who understand flowers.
       The little boy didn't notice the red crayon he had dropped under the seat when his mother hurried him off the train, so I picked it up and drew a picture of a carnation on the back of an election flyer. I went over it three times and the petals flaked like old lipstick.
       I glanced at her, sitting opposite and reading a second-hand newspaper. She looked up.
       I held up the flyer, hoping she would recognise the ruffled petals, the tarragon-leaves.
       She smiled, held up her ring finger: married. 

'The Tale of The Wind and The Dry Bones' by Mandy Taggart

The crows had taken all the meat off a dead old fox that was lying up on a fairy mound, beside a standing stone. Birds call each other from miles around for fox meat if they can get it, to take revenge for their own kind.
But now all the flesh was off the bones, and the sinews and muscles gone, and her red fur tugged off with beaks and carried away to make nests. All that was left were little dry bones that went click-clack in the breeze. Her family came to bury the bones, as foxes did in the old days.
But the wind hadn’t finished with the bones yet, and on the night when the foxes arrived it was clicking and clacking them, rolling them together on the ground behind the fairy mound, tapping them against the stone to make bone music. And when it saw the foxes, it decided to have more fun still. It swept the bones up into the shape of the old fox’s skeleton and danced them like a puppet around the stone, as if she was still alive without her flesh and fur. It took a bit of work to hold them together.
When the other foxes saw this coming, most of them were frightened and ran away. But the big Daddy fox and one brave daughter stayed to see what would happen next. The wind hadn’t expected that at all, so they all stood still, the fox skeleton hanging in the air with the leg bones turning underneath it.
And the Daddy fox stood guard, and his daughter spoke to the bones.
“Grandmother,” she said, and the wind moaned out through the bare eye sockets and in between the ribs, and the small bones of the feet clinked together.
“Grandmother,” she said again. “We have come to bury you.” But the wind had no words to answer, either for itself or for the dead.
They stood a while longer, and none of them knew what to do, until the Daddy fox took a step forward. The wind drew back, and it was as if the fox skeleton reared up on its hind legs before them.
“There must be a burial,” said the Daddy fox to the bones. “We have come to bury you, old mother, and bury you we will.”
But the wind was tired of the trick, and of holding the bones for so long in their shape. With one last fling it swirled the bones away up into the air and screamed through the ribcage,  lashed the dead tail and rained teeth down on the daughter and the big Daddy fox. The two living foxes turned their tails to the mound and ran until their paws left a trail of blood behind them. The old fox was left scattered over the field where she should have been buried.
From that time on, the foxes stopped burying their dead, and the wind can make bone music all through the night.

First published by NewMyths.com, Issue 18, in March 2012

Tosca' by Calum Kerr

How did it know? And why this day of all days?

How did this dog which he had never wanted, and to which he begrudged the cost of food and the daily expenditure of energy required just so the damn thing could take a crap, know to bring him here?

Archie looked up at the dark, dirty brick of the bridge, and Tosca looked up with him. The ageing chocolate Labrador had pulled and growled, snarled and barked until Archie had, as usual, relented, and the dog had led him here. The distant streetlights did nothing to illuminate the shape of the bridge, but each approaching car – rare on this cold winter’s evening – transformed the black surface into a geometric shine.

Tosca was a stupid name for a dog, Archie had always thought, but Jack had liked it. Archie had looked it up once, and found that Tosca was an opera. Figured. What really annoyed him, though – more than it should – was that the Tosca in the opera was a female character, and Tosca the dog was male. The dog didn’t care, and Archie guessed that Jack hadn’t either, but somehow it always served to wind him up when he thought about it.

Archie had never wanted a dog. He didn’t want the hassle of looking after it. It had been bad enough with the kids but at least he’d had Edith for that. With her gone, and them moved out, he had been able to do his own thing. That was, until his sod of a brother once again showed how inconsiderate he could be, and Archie found himself dumped with Tosca.

Over the year since he’d had the dog, he’s rarely been able to walk it where he wanted to. The dog took him on his own paths. Probably places Jack had taken him, thought Archie. The pair of them had ended up in woods, down by the river, walking through the remains of old mills, wild-flowers growing through the cracks in old loom-floors.

Tonight, however, in the cold and the dark, Tosca had brought him here. They hadn’t been here before, and Archie still wondered how the dog knew about this place. Archie himself had only been back once after the accident, and hadn’t really thought about it since, but here it was again.

He stared up at the uncompromising, unyielding, blank-faced bricks and remembered the night – exactly a year ago - when he got the news; remembered going round the next day to his brother’s flat to be told by the council worker that if no-one took the dog then it would probably be destroyed – too old for re-homing they said.

He remembered and remembered, and stared upwards, lost in thought. He reached down and scratched gently at the top of the dog’s head. Tosca let out a low growl – almost a moan – and Archie felt the cold wind sting his face as it wiped away his tears.

'Melt' by Nicola Belte



"There we go mi babby, yam looking pretty," I say as I run a red lipstick around her lips and strap her in. She looks surprised, but she always looks like that.
I reverse out of the driveway, holding her hand as the neighbourhood kids jeer and rap on the glass and make crude comments that no lady should have to hear.
"Ignore them, sweetheart," I tell her, turning up the radio to drown them out, propping back my ex-wife's sunhat that's fallen forward over her beautiful face.
My wife was nothing like my Babs.  Mean, bitter; always measuring me up against the other husbands, nothing that I did ever good enough.  She'd hate Babs, think that she was stuck-up with her pert breasts and her red curly hair; think her weak, just because she cares.
"We'll watch the sunset from the pier," I say, leaning back to check that the thermos isn't leaking, that the sandwiches in our picnic basket aren't being crushed. Her head bobs, and I can tell that she's excited.
I hire two deckchairs, ignoring the vendor who's trying to take sneaky pictures of us with his mobile phone.  I may be old, but I'm not stupid.  And I don't blame him.  In her large sunglasses Babs looks like Onassis, or Hepburn, like a star.  I put my arm around her. For the first time, I have somebody who's mine.
We sit by the sea, and I weigh her down with books, so that she doesn't blow away.  I rub sun cream into her shoulders, and tell her about when I was in the Navy, when I'd lived in Malta, and Spain.  She doesn't interrupt, she never does. She's a good listener, my Babs; her silence like freshly made tarmac around the tread of my tales, making them real, making me remember when I wasn't afraid to leave my mark, when I didn't erase myself with apologies and excuses.
I buy ice-creams, with flakes and strawberry sauce, and tenderly scoop out the pools that have collected inside her open mouth. She'd melt for me, my Babs; not like those other women, with their cold hearts like coals that would never kindle, no matter how much you gave; no matter how kind you were.
"We're lucky, you and me," I tell her, seeing the proof in the parents' angry faces as they pull their kids away, in the laughter of the teenagers who've gathered around us; their insults fired from the turrets of sandcastles that the tide will take, of no consequence.
"Happiness can do that, Babs," I tell her, as I wipe their spit and kicked sand from her perfect cheeks, "can make unhappy people nasty."
Mud, blood, sweat, regret; with her, it all comes off. But not love, never love.
"Let's go then, babby," I tell her, and loop her loving arms around my neck as we follow the lights of the pier, back to the car, and home.

'The Writing Course' by Angi Holden

The evening meal is finished, the dishes cleared away. Only bowls of fruit and dishes of
salted nuts remain, scattered between the glasses and the open bottles of wine. Moving to
the lounge seems too much effort; they agree to share favourite poems and snatches of prose
around the table. The main lamp is turned off and they read by the soft light of candles and
wall-sconced lanterns. Somebody reads an extract from Richard Mabey’s Nature Cure and
heads nod in silent agreement. There are selections of Auden and Larkin, and some more
modern offerings too: Armitage, Polley, Oswald.
The mood lightens with the consumption of alcohol. There is a comic poem about
residential courses, the lecherous tutor making the most of the opportunities offered by his
adoring audience. The participants chuckle; several have been on courses like that, they say.
How fortunate we are to have a female writer-in-residence. One recalls a poetry course spent
in a remote country house, and the difficulty of avoiding the attentions of the distinguished
poet. No names are mentioned, but the description is faultless and the mannerisms familiar:
the lean physique, the floppy blond hair swept back by slender, well-manicured fingers.
The wine and conversations flow on. In the pitch-black window the course leader
smiles at the woman sitting next to her, slides her hand further up her thigh, squeezes gently.
The woman smiles back.

Boo' by K. A. Laity

It started with the little black cat. “We should take it in,” she said, looking at the damp moggie shivering in the light evening rain.

“Black cats are bad luck,” he said and laughed. He could always find some way to shut her suggestions down. The restaurant was too expensive, the movie too lovey-dovey, the beer wasn’t PBR.

Once she pretended she was confused and bought Schaefer instead. When he remonstrated with her, she used the excuse that she didn’t drink, it all looked the same. Before he finished the case, he made sure she would remember.

Her mother didn’t believe the broken arm had been an accident. “I thought you were better than that.”

“She looks so cold.” Her heart went out to the little critter. It looked up at her through the window as she filled the sink with hot water.

“I got all the pussy I need in here.” He slapped her bottom with a yelp of laughter.

He had already downed a few PBRs so it made him chuckle the rest of the night to repeat his witticism. “Heh! Wait ‘til I tell Asian Bob that one. He’s gonna bust a gut.”

She tried to fall asleep but kept hearing the pathetic mews in between his snores.  Easing herself out of bed, she tiptoed to the kitchen and retrieved a couple of ham slices from the refrigerator. Slipping out the door, she crouched down facing the overturned bucket where the cat had sat on.

A pair of bright eyes peaked out from behind it.

“Here puss.” The light mist covered the piece of ham she held before her but she stood patiently until the cat—no more than a kitten really—crept out to take it from her, wolfing it down as she patted its head and purring loudly. “You need taking care of,” she whispered.

The towel didn’t dry her hair completely, but she figured it would be all right. Yet when she crept back into the bedroom, he switched the light on.

“You fed that cat.”

It wasn’t a question. She bowed her head.

“It’s going to be hanging around here forever now. We can’t have that.”

“I’ll take it to the veterinarian around the corner in the morning, she’ll find—“
“Another sucker?” He sniffed. Beer always gave him a runny nose at night. “The world doesn’t need yet another useless cat.” He rolled out of bed and shook the pillow out of its case. “Get my bat. We’re going to put an end to this.”

“But—“

“Get my bat.” He walked out into the kitchen and stepped into the yard. “Here puss. C’mere, kitty. I got a nice surprise for you.” The joy in his voice unnerved her. “Where’s my bat?”

“Here.” She wasn’t sure she said it out loud. Her hands made the decision for her and she swung the bat down on his head. Twice.

The cat ate all the ham as they sat in the rain.

'Bridget and my Geography Field Trip' by Jacquie Wyatt



We went on a coach for the school trip to the Devil’s Punchbowl. The rest of the class were looking forward to it. I was late on and lumbered towards you at the back as the driver set off. The gang’s henchman had taken my seat next to you. I sat down as close as I dared. The gears grouched and the atmosphere was charged with the smell of cheap cheese and onion crisps. It was as if some chemical had been released and the gang’s taunts got louder and more focused.       Frigid Bridget they chorused as if it rhymed. I sat alone on the seat, two in front of you. Thinking of sparrows and how they just turned on one bird and pulled its feathers out, then ten minutes later, it was all forgotten. I was trying to work out if that bald bird ever recovered and to remember what frigid meant.       I couldn’t see but I knew what your face would look like. Your prominent teeth would be biting your lip and you’d be doing that stirring gesture with your fingers. The one you used when things were worse than you could take. I knew it but I couldn’t look back because it would make it real and would put me right in their line of fire. Instead, I tried to send panic signals forwards.       But the harassed teachers didn’t come beyond the tenth row from the back. They looked and shrugged like it was my choice being late and like we'd wanted to go there, like we’d survive.       As soon as we were out of the coach in the car park, still juggling coats and bags and regrouping, you ran. The bullies muttered their refrain but you were only just in earshot and heading for the edge. You didn’t stop when you hit it.       There was the sound of flesh connecting with ground – that marrow chilling inert brutality. The others all screamed. The shock ran right inside my silent open mouth and hid like a tiny animal I must protect from everyone.       I swallowed, remembering when you smelt of the sweetness of your dog’s puppies and were briefly, bemusedly, popular.       When I’m alone at night I try to tempt the tiny animal out with my dream of going back to insist on sitting next to you, stilling your stirring fingers with my own plump ones and making a solid fist.

'The Privacy of Caravans' by Andrew Green

We were sat back on the long seats of the caravan. It was still cool enough in the evenings to need the gas fire on.
‘I really don’t like him you know’.  Her voice was indignant, about Dick and there was some reproach for me in there too.
We had got back from the bar and waved goodnight to the others. This was our first chance to talk about what had gone on. I had guessed that Lynne would not be all that keen on Dick or his mate. The asbestos stripper from Skem. They were the old hands, the ones who knew the ropes. They had been friendly, helpful in our first couple of weeks in France. That said I knew what Lynne meant  about Dick with his lank mullet, sleazy jokes.
It was the dog thing that I think sealed it for her. Not just his cruelty, but the way he did it. He tempted and teased the dog, then sharply smacked it's nose so it squealed. He did this infront of all of us, made us his accomplices. 
She was angry now, half with him but half with me. She thought I ought of have said or done something but I hd not. I was annoyed too. I had known I was being weak yes,  but she refused not to understand why.
In the privacy of the caravan, I raised my voice to make my point.
‘I think Dick is a complete prat, an absolute creep. What he did to the dog was shit. But we need the bastard right now. He is the one with the van, without that we are stuck here.’
 The next morning I learnt all I needed to know about the privacy of caravans, when Dick looked straight through me.

Listening to silent tears' by Emmaleene Leahy

Her voice began to get that flutter in it. Her eyes had gone all watery. There was something about the newspaper, the boy knew that.
The family meal finished, Mike had cleared away and was already in the other room watching the tv. Sam was at the sink washing up. He was trying to pretend not to notice the change. It was when her voice quivered that he stopped asking questions. He let the silence of the evening half-light take over.
He gulped nervously and seemed to swallow what daylight was left. He turned to the window like a plant straining for the light, turning his back on the secret. She didn’t know that he listened to her sobbing in the night.
Kneeling up on the chair over the sink, the sorrow that seemed to be plucked from the twilight pulled his gaze towards her.
She sat hunched over the newspaper which soaked the tears that fell from her cheeks. He looked again. She had never cried openly in front of him before. It seemed to the boy that she didn’t even know she was crying. The boy did.
He wanted to abandon the wash up and go and stroke her hair and whisper
 “Are you ok?”
He imagined himself doing it then turned and edged closer to the darkness. He couldn’t do it. He had to pretend not to notice her tears. He knew it was because of something that happened a long time ago. It was something that prowled in the darkness of his existence waiting to consume every happy moment he had ever experienced.
He listened carefully at night to the muffled sounds that filtered into his room. He sat on the other side of doors covered in layers of paint, listening, hoping the secret would unfurl itself. He looked into the patterns in people’s eyes analysing the dark shapes.

'Star of the Show' by Rebecca Stanley



She cycled down King’s Parade at least three times a day. She’d been doing it from the age of seventeen, since that ‘wouldn’t it be funny if’ conversation with her best friend. It might well mean she was going the long way round occasionally, but what did that matter? She always looked her best and her black, vintage bicycle was always gleaming. In the basket, her much loved satchel peeped over the top. Her expression was pleasant at all times; no furrowed brows, no screwed up eyes. During inclement weather she donned her very tasteful navy mackintosh, the one with the white piping, along with a rather fetching cap to keep the rain and snow off her face. Today she had to visit that same friend who lived nearby. The detour was a long one and she was feeling very tired, but she couldn’t stop herself. 
As she pedalled along King’s Parade she smiled left and right, but forgot to look straight ahead where a delivery lorry was turning in the road. As she went under its wheels her life flashed before her in snapshots. Her last happy thoughts were of the thousands of holiday snaps in albums and frames around the world, featuring that elegant lady cycling along in front of the most photographed college in Cambridge. Almost seventy-three year’s worth.

'The Closet' by Garry Snaith

I woke afraid. The room was dark and the wind and rain rattled against the window.
I pulled the bedclothes up tight around my neck and shoulders – an almost subconscious move on my part whilst I waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark.
A glance at the bedside clock informed me it was only two-thirty in the morning.
As my eyes adjusted to the dark, I began to recognise familiar shapes around me; The desk where I was often found drawing; The basketball I’d left on the floor; pictures of my favourite pop stars on the wall, which I recognised, even though I couldn’t fully see them.
At the bottom of my bed I noticed the walk in closet door was slightly ajar. Had I left it like that before I went to bed? I didn’t think so, but I couldn’t be sure. It was then I noticed a large shape sat on the single chair in the corner of the room.
I was frozen in fear. Part of me wanted to shout for help, part of me wanted to hide under the covers. I could not do the latter, however, as I was sure that as soon as I did, the monster sitting at the bottom of my bed would pounce and drag me into the closet, never to be seen again.
Outside the rain continued to lash against the window, the branches of the trees swaying ominously in the wind, leaves rustling as if alive.
I looked back towards the shadows at the bottom of the bed and the monster I knew was sitting on the chair, staring at me, its teeth ready to rip and rend my flesh.
Had it moved?  It seemed closer now or was that just my mind playing tricks on me.
I let out a small cry of alarm when there was a creak outside my bedroom door. I was unsure where now to look, as I knew taking my eyes off the monster would cause it to pounce.
My bedroom door opened and light poured into the room, the darkness receding, along with my fear. I could now see that what I thought was a monster, was the large teddy bear my dad had won recently for me at the local fair, which I now remember putting on the chair before I went to bed earlier tonight.
A familiar figure was silhouetted in in the doorway
“What is it, Mickey? A bad dream?” my Mother asked, stepping into the room.
She tucked my bedclothes in and kissed me on the forehead.
“It’s okay, honey,” she whispered. “It’s just a storm, it can’t hurt you. Go back to sleep.”
All was well again.  The monsters that moments ago seemed so real were all just in my head.
“Night, mom” I whispered tiredly, already on my way back to sleep.
From the closet, unseen by Mickey and his Mother, two dark eyes, malevolent and full of hate watched and waited.

Scar' by Angi Holden



His hair is cut short, so short that she can see every mark on his scalp. She watches him lean forward to catch what a girl is saying to him. There is a scar across the back of his head, about an inch long, level with his ears; shiny, it catches the light from behind the bar. She wonders how he got it, and as she stirs the ice cubes in her glass she maps out a narrative. A drunken fight outside a nightclub. She sees the gaggle of mini-skirted girls on the pavement, shocked out of their tipsy frivolity by the sudden violence, by the sight of blood across the steps, by the blue screech of police sirens. She wonders if there were other injuries, a knife wound perhaps. She imagines the arrest, the court appearance. Maybe there was a custodial sentence. He looks the type.

Later, much later, she will meet his mother. She will tell her about the holiday in Devon, a small boy running towards the ice-cream van, slipping on a flight of steps, his blonde head striking the corner of a tread. The smell of blood and sea-salt, the screech of sirens.

'Baby's Ear' by Rachel Stanley



The sea-weathered glass in her net bag clinks softly as she walks the shoreline.  The day has barely dawned, and she is alone.  Always alone.  She stoops to pick up another shell and examine it, deem it proper enough to treasure.  Half a heart cockle.  Fitting.  Another few feet and she finds a small, white shell with a swirling pattern.  Baby’s ear.  The name floats to the front of her mind and a tear falls down her cheek as she caresses the shell.  Her most recent failure is why she’s alone now.  Always alone.

'The Cabin' by Simon Williams

Deep in the forest surrounding the cabin, though within a stone's throw, eyes burned. They had been fixed on this, the sole building for many miles, since the evening sun bled to darkness.
He thought back to the first time he stood there, in the clearing, and listened. The absolute silence. The sense of freedom. The decision to rent the cabin for the summer was easy. The decision to extend the lease straightforward.
Now a routine had established itself. Up early to fetch water, chop logs and gather provisions. It was no hardship to drive to town for provisions, but foraging kept this small inconvenience to a minimum. A quick wash in the nearby stream, bracing even in midsummer, then breakfast. Mostly, this was finished by eight. He guessed the fresh air, the return to nature, something like that, meant he woke early. Not like life in the city. Then the day stretched out in front, to be filled thinking, writing.
His initial fear of oppression had not been realised. He had never been so productive. Hundreds of pages drafted, re-drafted, shaped, moulded to his will. Before he knew it, the day was over, time to light the fire and put something on for supper.
Satisfied, he would lie in the hammock slung between two thick columns in the room at the front of the cabin for a short spell. Soon he would drift off, content. He was coming to terms with the imminent return to city life, as the editor's deadline approached.
That night his thoughts turned to what he knew of the cabin. The rental was cheap, no money down. Apparently the owner had it built thirty years earlier and had brought his family out there for holidays several times until something happened to his wife. That was a touchy subject, even with the agent. It was in good condition, though basic. The chemical toilet in an outhouse wasn't so bad, though you wouldn't want to be out there at night without a powerful torch. Far enough away that even after five months there was no smell. The cabin was two-roomed, the front larger than the rear. Of maple construction and with large windows, for a good part of the day it was light even though the clearing was small and the trees in this part of the forest were old and loomed tall. It was in this room that he spent most time, during the day as well as later, in the hammock. He did not feel comfortable in the smaller room.
The question of the owner's wife bothered him as he lay drifting between thought and sleep. Something told him there was a secret in that clearing. Before sleep came, he resolved to learn this truth, though unsure why it seemed so vital.
The eyes blinked, now rather closer to the log cabin. The silence of the forest intensified and, in a smooth arc, a stone the size of a child's fist flew through the night.

'Words' by Stella Turner

“Okay so what?”
 
What indeed I thought. Don’t these kids have any shame anymore?
 
In my day I’d be too ashamed to tell my mum what I’d been up to. We kept quiet and prayed no one had seen us. My mum used to say if she’d been misbehaving by the time she got home the news had reached her father and his belt.
I could see Chloe’s embarrassment. She twisted her hair and sucked the end like it was best steak. She was never going to make eye contact unless her mum plucked out her eyes and put them on the dining table.
 
“So?”
 
I felt her mum suck in her breath. Felt the tension in her body. Felt her disappointment. I could feel her trying to find the right words, not the angry words that would hurt forever.
 
“Its miss-spelt” yelled my daughter. “What do you think mum?”
 
I looked at Chloe’s tattoo. “Could be worse, if you change the ‘b’ for a ‘u’ now that would be gross”
 
My daughter and grand-daughter looked at me horror stricken. I’d lived long enough to know a few choice words. 

'The Brightlingsea Boy' by Daniel Jeffreys


It was an in-joke, an archaeologist who was 'good in his field.' He no longer laughed. That had stopped long ago. An instinct for the dead kept him at it and a desire to clean the mud from cowhide faces. All through the winter rains he searched for the remains of The Brightlingsea Boy, the Anglo-saxon Prince preserved in salt-marsh and samphire among the timbered ruins of his palace.

            ‘I don’t want to hear anymore…’ his wife said, raw and red-eyed from another sleepless night. ‘You can’t bring him back.’
            ‘But I can clean him up. Reinstate him in a mock-up of his palace.’
            ‘Why don’t you leave him where he is? No matter how many bodies you bring to light it won’t make the slightest difference.’
‘We can learn from him.’
‘There’s nothing I want to know. He died. We die. That’s all I need to know.’

The young intern squatted by the burnt post-hole with yellow measuring tape. The Prince was nearby, staring up through the mud. The archaeologist felt the wind and thin boy fingers stirring his hair.
 ‘Below here,’ he shouted. ‘Right here..’ And then they were falling through the rotted thatch roof of the burial chamber. Light glanced off bronze bowls hanging on hooks around the bier, buckles and blue glass shone with phosphorescent fire. There on the stone bed was the young boy, half-raised, with hands outstretched and fingers that reached into your dreams.  The intern grappled with her boss, restraining him from embracing The Prince and all the time he whispered his son’s name.
He tried to explain to his wife that they shared a kinship—young men who have tasted the same soil, the bier only half a mile from the churchyard and the tower built from the ruins of a much older settlement. Stones that The Prince would have once crawled upon before taking his first tottering steps in the courtyard of his palace until the arrowhead, deep in his chest, did for him.
‘I think of his parents… all they could do,’ and he went to hold his wife but she pushed him away and told him to ‘give over,’ filling her ears with his nonsense but it was different when he placed the blue glass bowl on the table.
‘Is it safe?’ she said. ‘I mean hygienic…’ But she took it anyway, feeling its weight and coolness and stability.
The blue light danced on her hands as she turned the bowl over sending crazy little jags up the wall.  She didn’t know how to respond to its beauty—this thing, this luminous container of emptiness, destined to be filled with conkers and car keys and other crap exhorted her to live up to its promise. She stepped quickly into the living room and brought back the canister kept beneath the graduation photo and began unscrewing. The bowl was too lovely for that. Instead she touched her husband’s fingers that held onto the glass.

'Fashion Victim' by Susan Howe




She spots them from across the road and they hold her gaze while she winds between the cars. Standing in front of the shop window, she can barely breathe as she touches the glass.
     She steps inside and an assistant glides towards her.
     She points, her mouth dry. “Those.”
     “They’re fives, Madam.”
“Perfect.”
     She sinks into a velvet chair with the sense of being on the brink of something unique.
     With exaggerated reverence, the assistant lifts the shoes from their Perspex tree and hands them over. Their beauty brings tears to her eyes as she runs a fingernail down the spiked heel, strokes the scales and the smooth, red sole.
     “Sensational, aren’t they?” the assistant says. “Handstitched python. Each pair as individual as the animal itself.”
      A faint gasp escapes her lips as she notes the price, but she kicks off her own shoes and forgets she ever liked them.
The assistant kneels to guide her feet into softly upholstered interiors that feel welcoming and alive. A thrill shivers up her spine as she hands over her credit card. Already inseparable from her purchase, she wears them out of the shop, carrying her old shoes in a chic paper bag.
She has a powerful urge to go dancing and calls her friends. They meet in the bar, where she sits on a high stool with her legs crossed, inviting attention.
“Oooh,” one of them says. “New shoes. Can I try them on?”
She looks down, hesitates, then smiles and shakes her head.  “Maybe later. Let’s dance.”
And how she dances! The crowd becomes an audience as she shimmies across the floor, her feet weaving intricate patterns with confidence and grace. She is the last to leave, exhausted but exhilarated beyond anything she has ever known.
She collapses into bed fully clothed. The shoes resist her half-hearted attempt to remove them and she falls asleep feeling desired.
Held in a crushing embrace, she dreams of being tasted and consumed. Her thighs tremble beneath the touch of an unseen lover and sweat trickles between her breasts as she writhes and twists in ecstasy.
She wakes, fighting for air, sweltering darkness all around, cocooned in padded walls, she can’t move anything except her toes and wavelike motions squeeze the breath from her lungs as she slides towards oblivion.
Snapshots of her life flicker past with stark and unforgiving clarity and, for the first time, doubt pricks her conscience. Summoning the last of her strength, she prays for redemption. 
An image emerges from the blackness; a few words on a chic paper carrier. This bag is biodegradable.
Guilt assuaged, she leaves her careless life, and the objects of her desire slide back to their tree to await the next consumer. It won't be long before hunger strikes again.

'A Real Wooden Girl' by Angela Readman

My mother loved me enough to make me flesh. Bitch.
            ‘Nadia. Can it be…? My girl,’ she cried, squeezing hard.
Skin squished under hands. There was a hideous heat in my cheeks I carried to bed, school, then, work. Mother placed towels around women’s necks. I clutched a broom like someone who’d lost an arm. It wasn't easy, being a puppet in the body of a girl.
            ‘Nadia, be good and make Mrs Kulos coffee,’ Mother said.
People always wanted something. They couldn’t sort out their own roots. I looked out at the rain, people rushing towards coffee and buses. Why could they never stand still and open their mouths? I swept cropped curls into a huddle and nicked my thumb on foil coffee filters. Blood made my fingertips look like knots.
I was small for my age. 16 brought a spurt. Growth. Too fast. I couldn’t sand my chest, whittle myself free of bumps. Worse, no one oiled me to prevent every word getting under my skin. There was a boy who delivered pizza who wouldn’t look at me, then looked too much. He sprayed his lips on my face in red. I went out with him once, ‘I’ve got wood,’ he said in the park, moving my hand. It was not wood, but I let my hand stay. I listened to trees rustling overhead. I didn’t expect Mrs Kulos to walk by, but she did. When other boys started delivering pizza’s with immodest pepperoni designs, Mother grounded me.
                        ‘I hate you,’ I yelled.
Mother looked at me, eyes sky before rain. I stormed to my room, missing slow sap, its dry yellow eye. I didn’t like the pizza boy much, or the one I saw after him, but the thought of him made my lips part like parched buds at dawn. I took a pencil sharpener, pushed the blade against my thumb and sighed. It reminded me of simpler times, being hugged by a vice, the puppet-maker carving his name onto my spine. Mother’s customers whispered now when I came into the shop. I wished I could chop off a leg and show them the rings right through me, ‘Special, special, special.’  I wanted everyone to see I was so much more than a girl, but there was nothing to see.
I lit a cigarette in my room and winced. Holding the orange tip to the quilt Mother made, I imagined scorching holes to the nipples of her favourite smocks, stealing her purse.  I sucked on the spark of the cigarette in the dark. Mother made me fleshed out by love. I'd burn through it, do whatever it took to still this terrible pounding in my chest.

'Tattoo' by Wendy Ann Greenhalgh




When I first knew him, Gary had a tattoo. A sleeve of blue, shifting ink, a skinful of waves. In the middle, marooned on a patch of freckled skin, a mole. A fleshy island I trailed fingers towards. When I touched it, the sea retreated, lapped back, and he’d gasp and grab my wrist. Back then I had the power to turn the tide, now he wears long shirts that button at the cuffs.

'Diaphragm Dancer' by David Hartley

The diaphragm dancer breathed her last upon a synapse leap. Teeth crashed together in applause, glands wept, cried encore.

Twisting nerve strings fused in from rib-wings, scooped her small body up, held it aloft. The raptured collective thrashed louder, shuddering alveoli.

Her disintegration began as the cheers softened. It felt perverse to watch.

An organ from above hummed a sonorous peal in eulogy, beckoned for her full consumption back into the body politik.

The nerve-hands obliged, and the gathered allowed a suitable silence to fall. Somewhere, a bone creaked, in mourning perhaps, but it seemed fitting.

And then she was gone, cell-absorbed, queued for reconfiguration. Back now with the mindhead, to manifest as a beautiful thought, they hoped.

An enzyme swept her remnants from the stage, wondering who to give them to.

'Baking Day' by Laura Huntley



Doris kneads the dough, making her arm fat wobble. She sweats as she digs her thumbs in, turns it over and pummels. She likes the way it swells to life under her hands. Her striped cotton apron is dusted in flour, as are her hands, her cheeks and the lino floor.
George naps upstairs, he dreams of young ladies in tiny swimsuits: blondes, brunettes, redheads, he’d long stopped being fussy. He smiles as they frolic in the water, cheeky pink nipples popping through shiny fabric.
Doris shapes the dough, chubby fingers work briskly to capture the intricate features. She’s making a bread George. Her tongue lolls at the side of her mouth in concentration. The dough’s too sticky; she throws another handful of flour on to the worktop, covering George’s bread face and has to pick out the nooks and crannies of his eyes, nose and mouth again.
She doesn’t really like George. Her mother had promised her that she would grow to love him. Well fifty two bloody years later and all she feels is a persistent stab of annoyance. She loathes his nightly snoring. She despises his greedy salivation at young girls on the television. She hates the way he shouts out the answers at quiz shows, his smug face when he gets them right. Doris spitefully sinks her thumbs into his dough eyes until they emerge at the other side and smoothes them over.
George wakes in agony, he can’t see, his eyes won’t open, his entire head burns with a searing pain.
Doris hears his cries and wishes he would shut up. He’s always making a racket. With circular motions, she rubs a large piece of dough into a ball. With great delight, she crams it into George’s bread mouth.
George mumbles, struggling for air, as he writhes in the bed, a salty taste fills his mouth and a pressure makes him gag but it’s no use, his lips fuse together until he can’t make a sound.
Doris smiles, feeling pleased with the tranquillity. She looks down at George’s dough nose and aches to rip it off, or flatten it with the palm of her angry hand. She longs to do it. But maybe this is enough? He can’t leer at attractive girls or shout at the television. Perhaps she could live with this new George?
Devilment wins the day as she gleefully screws up the dough in her large, mean hands until no trace of the George face exists. She stuffs it into the loaf tin and slams it into the hot oven.
She walks upstairs, her heavy feet creak on each step. She pops her head around the door. No George. He has quite disappeared. His spectacles remain on the bedside cabinet, and flour covers the sheets, but he has very much gone.
Doris enjoys a peaceful, pleasant evening, watching television, and pulling apart chunks of golden, freshly baked bread, smeared in butter and jam, eating until it’s all gone.



'Stitches' by Kevin Scott

‘Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What’s happened to you?’
Ma’s standing in the doorway, looking down at me as if she’s just dropped her messages. The blood feels tickly and stingy.
‘I cut masel,’ I say, finally.
An open palm swooshes through the air and heats my ear with a ferocity that makes it buzz.
‘I can see you’ve hurt yersel, yer dripping blood ontae ma clean close. Here…’
She hands me her pinny. I press it against ma temple.
‘Right, what happened?’ she says, still blocking the doorway.
‘Nothing. I fell aff ma bike.’
‘And where’s yer bike now?’
Her tone makes me take a step back.
 ‘It’s doonstairs. Andy’s watching it.’
‘Get in,’ she says, like I’ve passed a test. ‘And God help you if you get blood on ma carpets… kitchen, now… shoes aff… move.’
I kick ma sannies aff and make for the kitchen. As she turns on the cold tap I look oot the windae. Andy’s doon there like a wee ant, guarding ma bike. Good man. Ten bob it’ll cost me, but worth it. I fall intae a chair.
‘C’mere, let me see you.’
A take away the pinny.
‘Were you building ramps?’
‘Naw, I was…’
‘So help me, I will phone Father Hayes…’
‘Awright, we made a ramp, but it was Andy…’
‘Andy’s fault then, aye?’
She’s wet a cloth now and is rubbing ma face as if it’s a dirty pot. It’ll be the TCP next.
‘Florence,’ she screams. ‘Get ma nurses’ bag. And the TCP.’
Ma used to be a nurse afore she had Florence. She’s oot of practice but it doesnae stop her practicing on me like I’m a burst teddy. I’ve heard da shouting at her tae take me tae hospital, but it’s always efter the event.
Flo comes in wi’ a black bag and the TCP.
‘Ay, that’s minging,’ she says, grinning this massive grin. Her big teeth are growing in more.
‘Out,’ says Ma.
‘But ma.’
‘Out.’
Flo vanishes and Ma doesnae see me gie her the Vickies.
‘You, haud this ower yer face.’
I do as she asks, and feel ma pulse throb. My t-shirt’s red and I think I might be running oot of blood.
‘Ma, how much blood have we got?’
‘Enough.’
She grabs a clean cloth and spins the lid aff the TCP.
‘Aw…’
‘Don’t be a baby,’ she says, swapping the bloody rag for the clean one. I scream as the sting makes me kick ma legs oot. This isnae like before, I can feel it melt ma fucking bones.
‘Right,’ says Ma, spinning ma chair so I’m facing the windae. She pulls the cloth away. ‘This is the sore bit, son. But it’ll no’ take long, then ye’ll be back oot on yer bike.’
She lifts ma fringe and kisses ma forehead. There’s this weird buzz in ma thighs and when I catch a glimpse of the thread looping through the pointy end of the needle a fog fills the room. The song ma’s starting singing sounds awfy far away.

'Nests' by Rachael Dunlop


He lies on his hospital bed, beached and bloated. His skin stretched taut with the fluid that pools rather than flows around his body, he is pinned on his back by tubes and needles and nozzles.
His heart is failing and he is alone.
He is in his hospital bed and he is in the attic of his house. He inhales cool oxygen though a nose-piece, soft but intrusive, and tastes the warm-timber scent of the attic. The last time he was up here, he found row-upon-row of wasps’ nests, each abandoned for the next, only the last occupied. They had chewed the wood from his garden fences, mashed it in their tiny maws, made it into paper, and laid it down, leaf-upon-leaf, to build their nests.
He lies on his hospital bed and turns towards the window, unseeing eyes seeing the dormer window in the attic that admits only a slim slot of sunlight. He has put the box in the darkest corner he could find. His wife doesn’t like to come all the way into the attic, scared by its otherness, a space above the house, but not part of it. She lobs things in from the top of the ladder, less afraid of a fall than the heat-packed space under the resin-rich rafters. He had to clear a path from the hatch to get in properly, shoving backwards and outwards the stacks of stuff. A timeline of one family’s life, the boxes furthest from the hatch containing baby clothes and cot sheets. The ones closer, discarded schoolbooks and defunct games consoles.
He is in his hospital bed, his heart failing, and he is alone.
He tries to get comfortable, wishing there was someone to smooth the sheets that have ridden and rucked up under his shoulder blades. A man with two wives, dying alone.
One wife is not here because she doesn’t know. She thinks he is on a business trip, because that is what he tells her, when he is with his other wife. Neither knows about the other. Concurrent not consecutive. He has spread himself thin, spread his heart thin, to be husband twice-over, his two lives weighing one on top of the other, his heart expanding, stretching, until it is more than his chest can contain.
He lies on his hospital bed and he is in his attic, wedging the box tightly under the eaves. The box with the marriage certificate for his second wife (in his heart, if not in law) and the birth certificates for their children (his in all ways), the mortgage deeds and the bank account details and everything that wife will need when he is dead. He hopes the wasps have not raided it for their building materials.
He is in his hospital bed, sweaty against the plastic sheets, bloated and burdened and dying and he hears the door open.
‘I need you to go into the attic,’ he tells his wife.

Always Mine' by Caroline Kelly

Harold fastened the last of the buttons on her nightdress and gently laid her down on the pillow.  He picked up the lipstick and applied it as best he could.

‘Not the best job, Mary, but I know you don’t like to be seen without it,’ Harold whispered, leaning over to kiss her gently on the forehead.  ‘Now, I’ve put your best nightdress on.  I know you wouldn’t want people seeing you in it but I didn’t want to have to struggle with tights and underwear and all that.  All fingers and thumbs, me, you always said.’

Tears pricked at his eyes.  Harold blinked them away as best he could.  Now was not the time to start showing his sensitive side - too late for that.
He looked in the mirror and straightened his tie.

‘It’s not just you who doesn’t like to be seen under dressed in public,’ he smiled, lying down next to her on the bed.  ’37 years - such a long time, well a lifetime really.  I’d be lost without you, Mary.  We’re better together.  I know you don’t believe that but we are.’

He lifted the gun from the bedside table.

‘You might think you don’t love me anymore, but I know you do.  This way, you’ll always be my Mary,’ Harold said, pulling the trigger for the second time.