Sunday, 23 June 2013

Thanks for Reading

And that, I'm afraid to say, is the end of the Flood. We have restored the defences, piled up the sandbags and stemmed the flow at the end of another issue.

We hope you enjoyed all of these wonderful stores. They, as with previous issues, will stay up here so you can continue to enjoy them in a more leisurely way; to read, enjoy, comment and share.

FlashFlood is building up to be quite an amazing flash resource, with nearly 500 stories now on our site. Thank you to all the writers who have made this, and every previous issue such a success.

And thank you, of course, to all the editors who do such an amazing job behind the scenes!

By wrapping this issue, we're also wrapping up National Flash-Fiction Day 2013. Hope you had a good day and enjoyed some wonderful flash!

We will be back with  another issue, later in the year. So, get writing now and we'll look forward to reading your new stories.

Until then, happy flashing!
Calum Kerr
Editor, FlashFlood and Director, National Flash-Fiction Day.


Saturday, 22 June 2013

'Love, Virtually' by Elaine Miles

On Monday, we met in a chat room.  All formalities dispensed with, we quickly became close.  I was thrilled when you wanted my email address, but relieved you didn’t want webcam.
On Tuesday, you wanted my mobile number.  The intimacy of your texts excited me.
But on Wednesday you wrote on my Wall that you were afraid of commitment.
Humiliated, I hid my profile.  Switched off my phone.  I couldn’t even tweet.
On Thursday, you unfriended me.  You even unfollowed me on Twitter.
By Friday, your Facebook profile declared you single.
Which was heartbreaking, as I’d been in love.
Well, virtually, anyway.

'Misty At The Range' by Will Barrington

Misty can smell crazy, it's why she took over the range when Pops retired. Her older brother Dale too bold, too careless; too proud to acknowledge the snub.

Since breaking off with Orin, Misty got bored. Most likely it was Orin that made her bored. Dependable Orin, regular as a repeating rifle.

There's this guy at the range who lingers at the kiosk, buys more ammo than he needs. Don't seem the full clip, but he looks at her with hungry eyes, and she kinda wants to see what he looks like when that hunger's sated.



http://willbarrington.wordpress.com

'Wish-list' by Becky Talbott

She despises what she sees in the mirror. She takes out her pen and makes a list: 

Hair- Shinier, longer, blonde (or any colour except ginger)
Eyes- bigger, brighter, blue (or any colour except green) 
Lips- fuller, redder
Teeth- whiter, straighter
Arms- less hairy, less flabby
Tummy- flatter, defined abs
Legs –longer, less hairy…

She is nowhere near finished but already its time to go. She quickly writes her name and age at the bottom of the page and puts it in the envelope “To Santa”. She hurries down for her tea.

She asks her mum what she wants for Christmas.

'The Bench' by Gary Tippings

It was the same wait every day. Arthur would arrive first, he liked to make sure he got his favoured side of the bench, and Tom would shuffle towards him after ten minutes or so. Lifting his stick as he entered the park to let Arthur know it was him, a semaphore signal of only their understanding.
            And Arthur still liked to arrive early. If it wasn’t raining he’d be there. His newspaper served as a mat if the bench was still wet. It was only falling rain that kept them away. The bench was their social club, their doctor’s waiting room, their table in the restaurant, their bar without beer. It was about the right height and position for a view over the valley of Clackheaton. It took the sun at twelve and held it till three. It did the listening when one or the other nodded off and the story needed finishing.
            Tom had been taking longer and longer to arrive once inside the park gate. Even the wave of the stick had begun to falter recently. He blamed his hip for his lack of speed, and his shoulder for the weak signalling, but he dreaded the idea of the ‘home’. ‘Rather keep going as long as you can’, he would say, ‘until time comes to lay down long’.
            The weather had been good recently. Spring had eased the air and tidied the drabness. Tom hadn’t sat with Arthur for three weeks now. Today Arthur had brought the pork scratchings as he always did on a Friday. This was the third occasion where he’d be struggling through the whole pack so as not to waste. He’d bought scratchings with his first pint every Friday since he first was a young miner. Didn’t even wash the coal off his hands before picking up that first pint, he wasn’t going to waste his space at the bar to clean his fingers for the scratchings. It did you no harm, a bit of coal.           
            Tom had been a miner too, though they’d never met when working men. It was hard to know whose health was the worst. They took it in turns to complain about the lack of clean air they had to endure. All for profit, but long gone now. Almost thirty years since Tom’s pit closed. You’ll not see the like again.
            And so Arthur sat there on the dry bench and wondered if there might be another old fella who’d like to sit and chat with him when it’s not raining, when there’s things to be said. And as he looked at the gate and thought for a moment how he might best find Tom’s resting place, who he might ask, how he might get there, the familiar walking stick appeared, followed by the old shuffling miner, walking slower than he’d ever done before, but walking nonetheless. Arthur picked up his newspaper from off the bench beside him, smiled broadly, and opened the packet of pork scratchings. 

'The Reality of Nightmares' by Katie Foster

­­­­­­I pull my duvet cover up to my neck, and close my eyes. Feeling my delicate eyelashes tickle my skin, my nose twitches, before I allow my entire body to succumb to darkness.

Footsteps. Echoing. Hauntingly mirroring the beating of my heart. Downstairs. Yes, that’s where they are originating from. Downstairs in the kitchen. The hammering of bulky trainers on the freezing cold concrete tiles, leaving behind dirty, encompassing footprints imprinted on the glossy surface. Silence. The opening of a cupboard. The soft clinking of glasses kissing each other at the rim, and then the running of the tap. A jet of water, followed by the trickling of stray liquidised particles upon the floor. Rushed gulping. Sharp breaths. The placing of a glass upon the scratched, grey-toned granite worktop. Footsteps. Again. Out of the kitchen. Into the lounge. A zip scratching against the sofa. The irritating tear of embroidered threads. A churlish curse muttered from the mouth. Over to the window. Curtains screeching against the rail. The squeak of a thumbprint forming on the window, then the rub of a sleeve as it dissolves into a smudge. Eyes rest upon the handle, followed by the muted turn of a key in the hole. The push of the button, and the solid ninety degree crank of the handle. Creeping away from the frame, the rush of fresh air as the window is opened. Breathing in the petrol fumes and late-night crying. The whistle of wind and sunlight dying…

More footsteps? This time closer. Straight outside my room. The familiar patter of my Father’s worn out slippers. My heart races. Who is in the kitchen? He pauses at the top of the stairs. Waits. He hears nothing. Hand repositioning itself upon the banister. Stairs groaning under foot. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. He’s reached the bottom. The flick of the light switch. The yellowish glare from the bulb. Into the kitchen. Another light turned on. A ‘Hmmm’ at the glass upturned by the sink, saliva clinging to the iridescent edge. Footsteps reach the fridge. The door swings open, as a milk carton is withdrawn. The unscrewing of the lid, and the gentle pour of the bottle, a consistent glug, straight into the mouth. Tired hands tighten the lid, before the bottle is placed back in the fridge. The door closes. A noise. He turns robotically. What’s that behind the door? A pixelated shadow. A pair of eyes. Something silver, glinting in… a hand? The shadow tilts, and a figure is revealed. A man. My father turns to run, but his feet are glued to the spot. The stranger darts towards him. And the possession he is carrying is identified. A knife. Terror is smothered all over my Father’s face. The man pounces towards him. One quick slice through the throat. My Father drops to the floor. Dead.

Then I wake up. I pull on my dressing gown, and rush downstairs into the kitchen. And there he is. My Father. Just as I pictured. Dead.

'The Danger of Cake Crumbs' by Anouska Huggins

The key is where Erin expects it to be: Blu-tacked to the bottom of the highest rockery stone. Old habits. She unlocks the squeaky back door, stepping into the kitchen.


The sink shines. Three tea towels hang on the oven door, pristinely folded. Scarlet: like Clara’s favourite coat. The room smells of lavender and rosemary, as it always does. Erin runs her fingers along the cool counter, swallowing. If Clara catches her here.

The chrome mixer stands silent, empty. Ceramic mixing bowls are on the shelf in descending size. Erin remembers the clatter of the wooden spoons against their sides. The afternoon sun glints off the glass dome. She lifts the lid. Nothing. Beside it, the three-tiered stand gleams white.

Erin opens the fridge. A lone diet ready-meal. Clara never did eat her own cooking. Always watching her waistline. Could pile on three pounds while her sticky lemon cake rose in the oven, she always said. Not like Erin. Clara didn’t know where she put it. At one time, anyway. Try these, she’d say, taking a tray of spreading cookies from the steaming oven.

Slamming cupboard doors, Erin makes her way around the kitchen. Regiments of soup tins. A box of muesli. Caddies of green tea. But mostly, blank, vacant shelves. Not even a bag of flour. There has to be something, somewhere. Just enough to keep her going. It’s been eleven months, two weeks, four days. Five stone, nine pounds, three ounces. She deserves one last fix. For old time’s sake.

On top of the fridge, square tins are stacked like the Spanish Steps in Rome. It reminds her of that holiday when Clara fed her gelato for days. Until she couldn’t stand the spoon in her mouth. Until she couldn’t swallow. The ice cream just sat on her tongue, syrupy and liquefying. We’ll stay at home next year, Clara had said. Nothing had the lightness, the sweetness, the moistness of Clara’s cakes.

Erin drags a chair to the fridge. Steps on it. Reaches for the top tin. Hollow. She grabs the next. It topples, slips, crashes to the ground, smashes open. Erin stares. Empty. Just as well, Clara would find even the tiniest missed crumb.

Then the final tin. Weighty. Full of promise. She pauses, opens it, peeks inside. A whole fruit cake. It smells of their first holiday in Seville, the late night brandies of those early months. Erin shoves her fingers into the cake, seizes a fistful and stuffs it into her mouth. Deep, dark buttery sugar melts on her tongue. Juicy currants squish between her teeth. Morsels cascade onto her jumper.

A flash of scarlet passes the window.

Erin freezes on the chair, in front of the fridge, her hand in the tin.

There is a painful squeak as the door swings open.

The cake catches in Erin’s throat, rough and dry, and as the red figure comes into focus, she begins to choke.

'The Super-man' by Jonathan O'Brien

Glass and steel rise before me. A monolith in the modern style. I must climb each of its Art Deco steps. 
One by one. Step by step.

My heart is pounding. I might have an attack before the end. But I keep going. Mustn't stop till I make it to the top. Step by step.

The roof is quiet. The city is sleeping. The neon lights fade as the sun rises over the steel horizon. 
Step by step.

Then I fly.



@writerjobrien

'Map to the Stars' by Kristen Bailey

Harry has never slept alone.

Every night his mother curls herself around his body and lies with him.  She closes her eyes and pretends to be asleep but secretly she’s making shopping lists and thinking about the TV schedule.  Tonight, Harry takes
his finger and traces the freckles that outline the curve of her cheek.  He stops at the mole on her jaw line.

‘What do these dots mean, Mama?’

‘It’s a map,’ she says, her eyes still closed.  ‘Go to sleep.’

‘A map to where?’

‘The stars.’

‘Then why is it on your face?  Maps should be on paper, in books.’ She remembers they need laundry powder.  And salt. ‘Because I’m special, a chosen one.’ He pauses.  ‘But one day your face will get old and wrinkly and the map won’t look right anymore.  And you’ll die and they won’t be able to keep your face.’

She opens her eyes.  He traces his fingers along her eyebrows and smiles.  'Good night.’  He finally goes to sleep.  He dreams about this special map, and how it leads his baked bean tin spaceship to a planet ruled by monkeys who wear waistcoats.  His mother, like she does every other night, falls asleep next to him.  She dreams about her face melting off like wax and awakes with a startle at midnight to find her evening has gone and she’s hurt her neck.

*

Harry sleeps alone these days, in a pod built for one, attached to a wall.  He unbuttons his rest bag and he’s carried to the control panels in zero gravity.

‘Niner, five niner, come in.  Can we get a progress report on the mining expedition?’

‘The minerals report is coming to you now.’

The craft is never silent.  Switch gear and air vents click and hum in harmony.  Fuzzy messages break the monotony to check he’s still there with them.  Harry gets a glimpse of the darkness outside.  A halo of light makes the planet’s atmosphere glow bright and neon.  Stars flicker in the distance.  They have never looked real, like dots on a dashboard.  He remembers they used to shine brightly against alabaster white.  They used to move according to whether she was happy or angry or confused.  These ones carve out direct routes, fixed patterns.  Hers weaved themselves around her features.  They shone more brightly with the sun.

‘The carbyte levels are misleading.  We’ll need repeat measures of these.’

‘Copy that.’

Harry eats from a packet of freeze dried granules.  He readies the extravehicular mobility unit and moves into the depressurised zone of the craft.  He opens the doors.  Maybe the stars were just always in her; for now she is part of the stars.  There was never any map.  He takes a step on to the planet, clouds of dust displace and float into nothing.  He smiles.  He looks out into the silence; still dreaming, still waiting for that monkey in a waistcoat.

'Earthbound' by Sinead O'Hart

Out of hundreds of thousands, they’d selected him for trials. Once there, he’d passed every test. His coordination, balance and physical condition were top notch, and his IQ was passable, if not brilliant. Most importantly, he was among the few who took to the Untethering process - in fact, he’d been a perfect test case. For him, Earth would soon be a fading, painless memory.
When they broke the news, he tried to act surprised.
‘Congratulations, Shane. You’re going into space, son. You’ve made it.’
‘Sir, I…’ he gasped, jumping to his feet to shake the Commander’s hand. ‘I mean…’
‘I know, son. I know.’ The older man smiled as he watched the eager waves swell and crest in the eyes of his newest recruit. ‘The honour is too huge to put into words, right?’
‘I can’t tell you how grateful I am, Commander…’ Shane began.
‘Grateful’s got nothing to do with it, son! We’re not doing you a favour. We’re not sending you on the first manned mission to Mars because we think you’re a nice guy. You’ve got what we want. That’s all down to your hard work. Understood?’
‘Sir,’ replied Shane, blinking away a tear. ‘Yes, sir.’
‘Now. We have just one final test for you, Shane. It’s nothing, to a man like you.’
‘Anything, sir,’ said Shane, trying to dampen his enthusiasm beneath a serious, professional frown.
‘Follow me,’ said the Commander.
He was led to a room, featureless and bright, with a metal table and chair at its heart. The light came from nowhere, and the temperature was comfortable. Shane sat, and the chair moulded itself to his body. He relaxed.
A door opened like an eyelid folding, and a woman entered. Her every step made pressure grow behind Shane’s forehead, until he felt his eyes were going to burst. He didn’t know what part of her to look at for fear of missing something.
‘Extend your arm, please,’ she said, her voice like a warm bath. She took his blood pressure, and attached monitors to his brain and heart, leaving trails of electric fire on his skin where she touched him. She made some notes, but told him nothing. Her eyes went on forever.
By the time she left, his mind was already beginning to curl at the edges. Long-dormant synapses began to fire as his brain began to retether, and his thoughts started to cycle through fantasies of a life he’d been trained to do without; soft flesh, long evenings, gentle conversation. He burned with a sole urge: he had to tell her, had to touch her, find out her name… He stirred, jerking out his monitor wires.
Then the door opened again, and he looked up. The words ‘Thank God’ were on his lips, but they never made it out; the bullet passed through his head before he could speak.
In another room, the Commander watched Shane’s readouts go flat, his brainwaves stop.
‘Damn shame,’ he muttered. ‘Damn, damn shame.’

'The Road to Trowville' by Darren Seeley

We saw them on the road between Old Bridge Creek and Trowville. At first,  it was just part of a foot, the heel slipping between the trees back into the forest, but then a little further along the road where the apron of grassland widened in front of the treeline, we saw a whole one.

Whether it was the headlights or the noise of us approaching that first drew its attention wasn't obvious, but we stopped the car on a verge at the side of the road and cut the engine.  Looking up through the windscreen, we saw it looking right back down at us.  

Despite the night, an almost full moon illuminated its skin to a curiously familiar bluish rocky grey. If you wanted to paint a picture of one from your imagination, it's exactly the colour you would use.

It examined us fairly nonchalantly in that disappointing way that wild things do, though we did see it was clasping food in its hand; there was the odd leg sticking out between the fingers.    It kept smelling the food, almost obsessively, every few seconds or so and because it's body moved so slowly the arm was continually going up and down like an old giant carnival attraction; without the grin.

We knew about the trolls, well everyone did really but me and Eddie had never seen one before and the first thing I thought was they do look pretty sad.  People say it's because they're hungry all the time having to live off what they find dead on the roads.  But it's a real melancholy behind the eyes and it looks like it comes from a place far deeper than the bottom of their empty stomachs.  Eddie said why don't they kill stuff, and I said they don't, they're just not made that way.   Lost their hunting instinct I guess. 

I said they were like giant carnivorous cows emerging from the forest at night to feed by the mercy of dumb animals,  bad drivers and luck.

Eddie said what did they eat before the roads came.  I said I didn't know.

Now I've seen one I really like them but I can understand why some people wouldn't.  They are huge and scary things.

It wasn't bothered by us and in the end we got bored of watching and Eddie started up the car.

As we drove away I wanted to wave goodbye, and for a second I believed that it might actually wave back at me.  

'Support Services' by Anne Lauppe-Dunbar


HANDBOOK

Don’t let apparently negative comments get you down. Take the ones that help, and forget the rest.
Does the introduction beguile the reader?
It might after all, not be important for us to know the Dai was drinking Guinness.
And who the fuck is Dai?
Showing and telling
Errors of diction
Not ‘enamoured with’ but ‘enamoured if’
Not ‘but he didn’t like it though’ but either ‘but he didn’t like it’ or ‘he didn’t like it though’.
Put this in italics ♫
Solidus or slash Ø
There’ll be camels en route and kif and jellabahs
May your night be sleepless
Your aim should be
not fog and tricks
but accuracy and magic.

Smokers' by Orjan Westin

It started with a nod, a noncommittal acknowledgment of another's existence.  It became part of his morning routine: get up, put on a robe, make a cup of instant coffee, light a cigarette, and nod to her.

On the day she first spoke to him, she couldn't get her lighter to work.  He watched, not sure whether he should offer her his own or if that would be intrusive.  It's one thing to offer a light to a stranger on the street, or to ask for it from one, but a neighbour? That's different, he thought, that's someone you see every day, and keeping it on a nod-only level made it nicely uncomplicated.

"Uh, excuse me?" she said. "Can I borrow your lighter?"

"Yes, of course."

They met at the low wall of her front garden, and he handed her his lighter.  She lit her cigarette and gave the lighter back.

"Thank you." She smiled.

"Don't mention it."

He gave her another nod and half a smile, stubbed out his finished cigarette, and went back to his house to resume his routine. He surprised himself by thinking of her, recalling her warm smile with the chipped front tooth, her thick dark hair held together in a ponytail, her voice. He smiled at himself, shook his head, and went to work.

Over summer, the simple nod became a nod with a smile, then a mutual "good morning" and a few exchanged words, which became an ongoing conversation held in short daily talks.

And then, one morning, she wasn't there any more. He wondered, he worried, and realised that he missed her.

When she came back, two weeks later, she was bald.  He didn't ask her about that, or where she'd been, but halfway through her cigarette she looked at it, made a disgusted face, and stubbed it out.

"My mother has cancer, lung cancer," she said.

"Oh. I'm so sorry."

"She's getting treatment. Chemotherapy."  She shrugged.  "I've been looking after her, helping her.  Her hair fell off, so I took mine off, too."

"Will... will she be okay?"

"The doctors are hopeful."  She shrugged again.  "I've promised her I'll stop smoking."

"Well, yes, of course."

"I thought it would be easy to quit, after seeing her. But it isn't."

"You have to, though." He hesitated, not sure what to say next. "You have to," he said again.

"Yeah." She looked down the road, then back at him with a smile. "Well, see you..."

Each morning after that, he looked out his window to see if she'd come, and each morning his heart made a little leap when he saw her open her door. Until finally:

"This," she took a puff, "is my last cigarette. Last of the last packet, not buying any more."

"Well done!"  It was heartfelt, and yet he wished she wouldn't quit.  His own cigarette forgotten between his fingers, he gathered his courage.  "I'll miss you, though," was all he dared say.

'The Visitor' by Maeve Heneghan

Opening my eyes, I know I must have slept for quite a few hours. Sleep, when it comes is precious. 

I'm starting to adapt more to my routine, welcome it even. I never did wear a watch, too busy living in the moment. Mum always called me the flaky one. Said I needed to start taking more responsibility and grow up.

I stiffen slightly as he opens the door. His face is still covered. He puts dry toast and tea on the floor. He turns, bolts the door again and rattles a key in the lock. 

It must be morning.

'The Path of Least Resistance' by Rachael Dunlop


Under the lightless twilight sky, the street glowed, its luminescence stolen from the sun in the heat of the day that had passed.

He sat very still on the bench, hands tucked under his legs, back curled to make himself small. People hurried by, glanced, carried on. Earlier, they might have stopped, checked to see if he was okay, asked if he had been in that building, the one with the fire. But now they just wanted to get home while they still could.

He should go home too. Water was lapping around his feet. No, not lapping – there was no push-pull, in-out, just a creeping roll, rising bit by tiny bit. How long before all of downtown was flooded?

He could still smell the smoke, taste it too. Water from the first sea-surge had got into the basement of his office building, shorted the electrics. Strange how water could make fire.

Water will always find a way, his father had told him when he was a boy. Water always takes the path of least resistance, he had said as the two of them stared up at the water dripping through the light fitting in the kitchen ceiling. Water sweetened with perfumed bubbles, overflowing from the bath upstairs. His father had called the ambulance and then broken down the bathroom door. No need to rush.

The fire this afternoon in the office had caught fast. The emergency services, busy with sandbags and pumps down at the waterfront, were slow to arrive, the roar of their engines and wail of their sirens drowned out by the slow roiling rumble of incipient collapse. The building crumpled and folded into itself. Not everyone got out alive.
He thought about his father, old now, waiting for him to come home, waiting like he did every night, cold ham, warm mayonnaise, bread not buttered to the edges and a pot of tea waiting on the kitchen table, the ceiling above still water-stained. He thought about the bodies in the building, the bodies that weren’t bodies any more, obliterated, unidentifiable. No remains remaining.

He unfolded himself from the bench, stood, pulled his work ID card from his top pocket, and dropped it into the rising water. He started to walk. He didn’t know where he was going, but he knew he would find his way. Like the water, following the path of least resistance.

'Tennis Season' by Emma Shaw

Every year, at the start of Wimbledon fortnight, mum used to tune in and not tune out until she'd watched every stroke. She even had a green carpet in the living room, stretching from her favourite chair to the TV screen like the pristine grass of Centre Court on the first day. I was sure she would mark it up with tramlines but maybe dad thought this was a step too far.

My sister and I were banished to the garden, or to our room to play, but no chance of catching up with our usual after-school programmes. Even rain didn't stop play because thanks to the good old BBC we got endless repeats of matches already played and, in the case of really severe weather, an action re-play of last years' final. So no respite for us.

When Wimbledon was announced my little sister would wail 'Oh no, cold food' which made us all laugh but didn't deter mum from her course. So, cold food it was. But we didn't mind. It was nice to see mum so happy and we got to eat strawberries and cream every day.

Finals weekend was organised like Operation Overlord so that nothing could disrupt the viewing. Food was available in the fridge, but serve yourself. The phone was unplugged. Anyone having the temerity to knock on the door was sent off with a flea in the ear. A bottle of white wine and a smoked salmon sandwich were placed on a small table next to mum's chair, along with a box of tissues in case her current favourite didn't win. When dad came home from the pub he was told to sit down and shut up.

I've never known why she was so keen. She'd never really played tennis and, in general, didn't like sport. Dad was a rugby man and although I preferred football I would watch just about anything. I still do.

Mum's on her own now but my sister and I arranged for her to have satellite TV and treated her to a subscription to Sky Sports. She can hardly believe all the tennis that's on, all year round. It's a problem with the carpet, of course, as it doesn't match the red of the clay courts, but she's considering the options.

RHETORICAL LYRICAL by John F King


All the stuff that had happened to me had happened, all the stuff that was going to happen hadn’t. Time was as still as the afternoon; May, like all memories become.
The Clash were asking ‘should I stay or should I go?’ from Hugh’s mono speaker, notes dropping down from the first floor windows onto the quad.

10 men sauntered past, whites camouflaged for blossom. Their leader cupped his hands around some words, intoned  them into a request  directed at Hugh’s room. I couldn’t make it out above the second verse. Answer was there none.

The man looked back at his team blankly then saw me for the first time.
‘You’ll do,’ he said. I was all in grey but he overlooked it.

Minutes later the red dot was hurtling towards me.

All the stuff that had happened to me had happened, all the stuff that was going to happen hadn’t.

'Present Time' by Oscar Windsor-Smith



The time machine rematerialized with a sound of thunder.
Startled, Jake Marley staggered back, rubbing his eyes. The sign on the wall quivered as if viewed through moving water.
Experience Christmas past with Present Time, PLC
Remember, parents, there is no time like your Present.
Jake checked around the room and glanced outside the window. The trial run had produced none of the changes to the present time they had feared. That meant a go-ahead for commercial operations.
A door hissed open. Jake's partner stepped from the machine, dragging a sack of parcels.
'What's going on, Eb?' said Jake, inspecting one of the parcels. 'We were licenced for viewing only – strictly no contact. Now you've endangered everything, bringing this stuff back to the future.'
'Quit bleating, Jake,' said Eb Scrooge, seizing the parcel from Jake. 'Why transport rug rats to gawp at the Nativity for peanuts when we can make a killing? Do you realise what people will pay for classic toys in original boxes?'
Jake snatched the parcel back. 'Where did you get these?' He drew it close to his face, eyeing the label. 'This says "…with love from Daddy and Mummy". You stole presents from children – probably broke their hearts. This must affect our time.'
'Nah. Back then parents wasted their lives playing games with children, going for walks, reading stories. Their brats didn't miss a few toys.'
'Wait a minute.' Jake fumbled for his spectacles. He reread the label: To Jake… 'You bastard,' he said. 'This was meant for me. I remember the year burglars stole my presents, but Mum and Dad made sure we had the best family Christmas ever.'
Jake rechecked the wall sign. There was something curious about that last line, but for the life of him he couldn't think what: Remember, parents, there is no Present like your time.


(With apologies to Ray Bradbury 1920-2012 RIP)

'Not Lost One Yet' by Ed Broom

I'm giving the baby boy pushchair wheelies and he's gurgling away and the girlies are racing ahead on their bikes and the sun's reflecting off the reservoir and isn't this all top family fun with just Dad and the kids?

Ahead lies a stretch of squishy mud.

I carry Laura then squelch back and carry Daisy then squelch back and carry both bikes then squelch back and drag the pushchair backwards with the baby boy still gurgling and my boots and ankles are caked.

Daisy says she's tired of biking. Laura agrees.

I balance Daisy's bike complete with stabilisers on one pushchair handle and hang the saddle of Laura's bike on the other and we all have a drink and a biscuit and the girlies are OK to walk 'cos this next bit is downhill.

Our path seems to double back around a swampy inlet.

It's fast approaching the baby boy's tea-time and I've brought no baby food and it smells like he needs a change and we're at best halfway round and the car's a distant spot on the opposite shore and the girlies want to know how much further and Daisy needs a wee and the light's going and we're all out of juice.

Kids, I say, I need to call Mum.

'This one mindful life' by Alison Wells

Why does everything boil down to goldfish?

In their short life the goldfish experienced everything that a single, intense, life in a moment might offer. Love: that boy on the outside of them through the swish swosh of the water, his face familiar over and over. Imagine love at first sight, again and again and again. It was like that.

They cast no remark over this clear, bright, remarkable life. A stage set where they looked out. The woman arranging flowers in a vase; she placed them close, that waving palette, that sharp fantastic. The woman’s face: Smudgy, everything rubbed out at the edges in the lamplight. They flicked their tails like mermaids, splashed like children aged under seven with their raw happiness.

Sometimes the boy and his mother were beside each other in the evenings, the man not as often. Oh seeing the boy and his mother it was a great, light, swishy tail feeling. With the man it was different but still fabulous, they dreamed in one fast shut eye moment of being electric eels. He moved them one step on with his imagination. He would creep in late, when the others had gone to bed, he would turn on one small light and wake them up from their limbic slumber. They felt no love but mirrored his fascination, that big, godly eye pressed close to their bowl, they could see the iris, his green blue eyes reflecting everything that mattered, they swam around his cornea, they flicked in the reaches, the great universe of his gaze.

When he came to see them they felt as if lightning danced on the water. Sometimes he would drop in extra flakes, the golden ones. He whispered to them, fishy wishes not the dark rumbling voice he spoke in when the boy and the woman were there. They felt as if they’d found Atlantis.

One evening he brought them a gift. It was a rock to put into their bowl, something to  make their lives completely different.

In the many sided crystal faces of the rock they saw their own faces, reflected and refracted back and in that single moment they understood all that they had been, all the single forgotten moments rejoined, all that love for the boy, all that comfort of the mother, the fascination of the man. They got a sense of themselves and forever.

Then everything was fizzing. He had turned out the light and gone. The crystal began to dissolve. Stars spun across the still water. The goldfish tasted salt and for a split second were eels in the ocean, all swish and electric. Then all the single forgotten moments rejoined. They remembered everything and then again, in the next moment there was nothing left at all. 

'Elevator' by Amanda Oosthuizen


Gail was a hydraulics engineer specialising in elevators; rupture valves to be precise. And I can tell you, Gail did like to be precise. In the event of a catastrophic failure, her rupture valves would mechanically stop the outlet flow of hydraulic fluid, thus stopping the piston and the car in the down direction.

Gail was intent on preventing the down direction. For twenty years I’ve known Chicken Provençale on Thursdays, tagliatelle on Tuesdays, that we’d spend an hour and a half walking our three Patterdale terriers along the same paths before work each morning and forty minutes on our return home, that we’d be dutifully intimate on Wednesdays and Fridays, that we’d holiday in a gîte in the Garonne, and that Gail would eat exactly three squares of Montezuma’s orange and geranium chocolate every night whilst viewing an innocuous episode of a vintage sit com. And she never offered me a single square. And I never laughed. And she didn’t notice.

Gail would be pleased to know that an antique Bramah and Robinson hydraulic catafalque will lower the coffin from the crematory hall. It will be transported on a short length of narrow gauge track to the furnace where the bier will be introduced to the Tousoil, Fradet and Cie gas cremator which will burn for ninety minutes at 900 degrees centigrade. Thereby removing all traces of whatever.

I won’t be there to see it. I’m in Rio with a crazy looking cocktail and three beach girls called Maria.

'A Taste for Shoes' by Anne Summerfield

Emma eases her feet into the snug linings and feels stiletto heels tilt her above ground. The green leather is the colour of the tops of leeks, intended for short steps out of taxis, spotlessly swept up-town streets, the carpeted lobbies of hotels. Cinderella shoes. Emma buys them with the  petrol money her mother gives her as if she’s still a student.
     Even without donations, she’s faithful enough daughter to make regular trips back but sly tricks of forgetfulness prove she’s full-grown. Each time she returns her parents present her with gifts of home-grown veg. Mud-caked carrots, onions fat as teapots, apples wrapped in pages from the Daily Mail. The car fills with an organic stink of wet soil and vegetation. The leeks are overpowering on warm days.
     Back in the flat she unpacks into fridge and cupboard. She’ll use what she can but her life of prick and ping affords little chance for country cooking. Confined to smoked plastic coffins at the base of the fridge, lettuces soften to seaweed then liquefy. In the cupboard’s dark, potatoes wrinkle and bolt, their finger roots tangling and distorting. Onions discover new hearts of green while leeks spring back to life, their tops reincarnated into mutated curves.
    On an autumn visit while they’re alone in the orchard picking unwanted fruit, Emma’s mother tells her that her father has appointments for tests. He won’t attend, of course, he is the sort who believes that growth should be left unobserved below ground. He’s embarrassed, her mother says, he’d gone for a tetanus booster, mentioned something to the nurse and now there’s this fuss.
     They go inside for tea, don’t speak of it in front of him. The sandwiches are filled with home-grown salad, wet and unspun, a little gritty. Her father says the lettuce is a new kind that keeps growing from the root even after the top leaves have been picked.
     At the flat, Emma unpacks potatoes, carrots, Bramleys big as babies’ heads. She has no idea how or when she will use them. She takes her unworn green shoes from their box, tries to conjure their magic power. But the phone call comes all too soon. Her father has been passing blood. It won’t stop, her mother says, they rushed him off in an ambulance. I’ll come home, Emma promises. Her mother insists on a night’s rest, driving back in the morning. 
     Emma gets out her largest pan, pulls veg from the cupboard, peels off the soggy bags, scrapes and slices and chops. Heaps up pale potatoes, acrid onions, jaffa bright carrots. Whooshes them into hot oil, stirs hard so they won’t stick. No leeks. She looks around and sees what she needs, lays them flat on the board to cleave into jagged chunks.  She stews and stews.  The cupboard is clear and she wipes it clean. No more unobserved growths in the dark. Then she settles to this last supper, learns the taste of green leek shoes.

Hazard Lights by Al Kratz


One of the most dangerous places to be, when I was a teenager, was inside a place called Mother’s Imagination. I always found trouble there, always came home late, but it does take a long time to get a car out of a ditch, change flat tires, or outrun the police. It wasn't just me, around every corner were strangers trying to give me free drugs or lure me into their cars to do things far too horrible to be said out loud in that place. Unchecked, I would’ve stayed “her little boy” there forever, but all places have some rules and it was forced to face that I was becoming a man. Oh shit, the places I’d go!

I’d often jet over to a neighboring place called Dad’s View. It seemed much safer there, although too quiet. Most of the people there liked me; they’d say stuff like I was a chip off the old block. The men at the barber shop weren’t so sure. I overheard them arguing about where I came from, but agreeing it was somewhere far away. We never got into trouble that really mattered in the View. Boys will be boys, nothing for anyone to lose sleep over. 

Something always got me back to Mother's Imagination. Maybe I thought if I let its tides pull me in, I could keep real troubles out to sea. The road back from Dad's View was so bumpy, I couldn’t believe, after all those years, they hadn’t built a smoother way to connect with each other. Oh well, by the time I’d get back, I had it up to 90 mph and no worries. I was sure I’d never die which seems strange now considering how many times I rolled my car, got lost in corn fields, or was abducted by strangers. At least the last time when I was missing for most of the night and they found me and my car stuck upside down in Amy Jackson’s oak tree (long story), at least that time I had on clean underwear.