Friday, 22 June 2012

'Garden Party' by Kymm Coveney

Rain falls in even musicality on the High Street, white noise to the thunderous clinking of bottles under dawn’s borrowed window. Female voices carry up from the yellow kitchen. Three old women, each a decade apart, are having tea in dressing gowns.
She will not give them another decade.

Charlotte waits for her at the lush, hidden end of the garden, behind the radishes and bamboo shoots. They have juice, a large pot of coffee and a basket of French croissants. There are jars of homemade marmalade.
Birds flit in and out of the tall, fat cypress tree.
‘Like an apartment building,’ Charlotte says, ‘in and out all day. Off to work, bring home the worm, off again.’

Aiming for a bohemian look to tend Charlotte’s gallery, she carefully puts on the clothes selected days ago from the closet at home, and lines her eyes in black.

Downstairs, the front parlour is now a sanded floor with one overstuffed armchair and a square wooden table recovered from a dumpster. Sunlight streams through the front window and lies in panes on the floor, across an unframed print.
She softshoes the length of the walls, studying the paintings, formulating gallerista commentary, then settles into the armchair and boots up the laptop. Behind her, in a corner of the floor between the radiator and a brightly-painted end table, sits the radio Charlotte has tuned to the Bloomsday broadcast.

Stately plump Buck Mulligan.

At the other end of the afternoon she is called to photograph the table. Candlesticks line up as one, divide the table into repeating images of mirrored, sparkling wine glasses.

Her name tag is placed exactly where she would have changed it to, were she that kind of guest, that kind of person.

She strikes up a conversation with a tall beauty who is far too young for this party.
Rather than confess ‘I have no idea what to do with my life,’ as she might have, certainly must have, the young woman says earnestly, almost forgivingly, ‘I’m searching for a way to express myself.’
‘What is it you love best?’ she asks, offering her only advice.
‘That’s just it,’ comes the answer. ‘That’s where my research is taking me right now.’
A smile flashes and fades as the dinner bell rings.

She finds, in conversation, that smooth, rational logic rolls off her tongue in perfect, reasonable sentences. The future Nobel laureate to her right nods thoughtfully.

Ruby Tuesday plays in the corner cleared for dancing when she succumbs. Couples lean in, wrap their arms around each other. The Rock Star unbuttons, then abandons his shirt.
Three middle-aged men follow suit.

She sits quietly in the darkness of the gallery, the rain putting an unironic end to the deep night. She is not huddled and puking in the gutter.
She sits in the artist’s armchair, hardly noticing as her head begins to loll and she fades to black saying yes I will Yes.

'Transformation' by Cathy Lennon

They’d laughed at school, when Vicky said she wanted to be a scientist. The boys found her girliness too threatening and the girls thought her geekiness weird. She was a separate species. At least, that’s how it felt.

Getting this job in the first place had been a battle, but getting promoted was all-out war. You had to be outstanding. She was sure she was. At least, everyone treated her like she stood out. When they weren’t ignoring her.

She often got landed with the laboratory paperwork. She was efficient and they trusted her to get on with it. ‘Of course,’ she replied, ‘leave it with me.’ She thought that hard work and willingness would make the difference. Until the paperwork started overwhelming the experiments, which were given to Bob, the other young scientist in the lab. He usually said things like ‘Not yet,’ and ‘I’ll do it later.’

She tucked magenta strands of hair behind her ears. The striplights hummed above the stark, grey benches and glinted off the storage units. This was her favourite time. She ran a manicured fingernail down the list of procedures, scratching an invisible tick by each.

Her supervisor came out of the decontamination booth, surprising them both. He frowned and pushed an arm into the sleeve of his goretex jacket. ‘Did you get permission for the trials?’ His mind was already running, like a paraglider, across the landscape of his future weekend.  She made her usual response and watched him soar free of the laboratory without a backward glance.

She watched the hand of the clock move round, counting off a safe ten minutes before unlocking the store room door. Bob’s eyelids barely flickered when she flipped on the light. She smiled and shot her cuffs. Crouching down on her haunches, her rubber sole flats planted squarely on the floor, she hoisted him up and dragged him onto the seat where he lolled, chin on chest.

The technique was highly experimental. No ethics committee would ever touch it, but she knew her methods would always be unconventional. You needed to push the envelope if you wanted to be outstanding. She peeled Bob’s face off and then her own. She inspected both carefully for damage and then exchanged them. She did the same with the wigs – she’d really got a little tired of the magenta, it clashed with a lot of her clothes. She took Bob’s inert hands in hers. Her tongue peeked out as she painted his nails a peacock blue.

She was getting used to administering their injections. A sharp pain, a minute’s dizziness.
“Hey Vicky! Wakey wakey!” She leaned over the reclining body, loving  the sound of her deeper voice. The head snapped up and the eyes focused on the white coat in front of them. “You’ll finish tidying the store room, won’t you, before you go home?”

Vicky looked at Bob and blinked. “Of course,” she said, her voice rising an octave. “Leave it with me.”

'To Catch a Falling Leaf' by Kevlin Henney

They say it's good luck to catch a falling leaf. Some say it will bring you a day of luck and happiness, others say a month. A few say you should make a wish when you catch it.

"Is no such thing as luck." Mr Korzhakov might not believe in it, but I could really do with some. Parents are talking divorce, someone nicked my bike, I failed last week's applied maths test, Milly dumped me and Leona just looks right through me.

"What people call luck is just experience of the one in probability of one in N. If you bet on heads you have one in two chance. If you get heads you feel lucky, if you don't you don't. If you bet on rolling three, you have one in six chance. If you roll three you feel lucky, if you don't you don't. And so on." Mr Korzhakov sweetened dry lessons in probability and stats with a rambling preamble before moving on to a syllabus that invited sleep and doodles.

"Not if you use my dice!" Aaron spilt gaming dice over his desk. Mr Korzhakov walked over and picked up a d20, holding it close enough to peer over his bifocals.

"Icosahedron? Pure maths is Mr Brown, Aaron. But of course, this is one in twenty. Bigger N, luckier you feel if you get it. Is why people like to play lottery — N very big!"

"What about bad luck?" I asked.

"Ah, good question, Jim. Is still luck, just different type. You want one-in-six bad luck? Play Russian roulette with six-shooter! You buy lottery ticket? Have more chance of being hit by car than winning! Good or bad, luck is just name we give to events we notice but not see bigger picture, when we hope rather than predict."

It's Mr Korzhakov first this morning. I'm about to head through the school gates when I spot Leona on the other side of the road. I slow to match her pace, to think of something to say, to think of a reason to talk to her.

I spot a leaf twist in the breeze and fall from the sycamore overhanging the road. The breeze is gentle enough that I can tell how and where the leaf is going to fall. Golden and crisp, touched by a reluctant autumn sunrise, it seems to hang in the air for a moment, like an invitation. Luck is on my side. I run, crossing over to catch it before it hits the road, my wish at the ready.

But it falls through my hand. Passes through it. Right through it. As if it didn't exist.

I look up. Leona is standing next to me, staring right through me, her mouth frozen, open, covered by her hand. I turn to see a car, a shocked driver fumbling an emergency call on his mobile, teachers and pupils running towards the gate, a fallen boy on the road wreathed in uncaught autumn leaves.

'Chickens On The Side' by Brendan Way

Once you realise that the punchline to the infamous 'why did the chicken cross the road' gag is not so much an obvious matter-of-fact statement, but a cruel pun that suggests it is hit and dies (thus prompting a journey over to the mysterious unknown of 'the other side'), you find it a lot harder to find things funny anymore. To you, it might seem like the imagined fate of a hypothetical bird, but to me, it sums up the futility of trying to do anything, go anywhere, and be someone, because it conveys that ultimately you'll inevitably be cut down in your prime.
I don't get invited to many parties...

'Going Somewhere' by Amy Han

It was pretty crazy, what she was doing. Crazy – or stupid? Was there a difference? Sitting on a plane bound for London, following a boy she’d been dating for three months. What was three months, anyway? Nothing at all. And yet, Kiera felt that the rest of her life had started three months ago, when she met Liam after a show. She called them shows, but they were just open mic nights. You didn’t have to be any good to get up, just brave, or good at faking it, which she seemed to be pretty good at.
     Her family followed her to the departure gate.
     ‘Do what you have to do, sweetheart,’ her dad said.
     ‘Text me as soon as you land, ok?’ That was mum.
     ‘Bye, sis,’ said Max. He was eighteen now, tall and strong and playing it cool, but his hug was longer than she expected and a little tighter.
     A large French woman squeezed into the seat beside her, so she pressed closer to the window and looked outside at the runway: planes being loaded with luggage, little boxes in which people had packed their lives up to escape a little while. That’s what she was doing, wasn’t she? Was she running away from something, or towards it? Another same-diff, she supposed. The moon was a crescent in the black sky, but there were no stars, not when the asphalt ground sparkled with lights.
     Liam was a tall guy, lanky, cute face, a deep voice. A kind of drawling voice, that self-deprecated and laughed at its own jokes, which were often too clever for Kiera. He said that listening to her performance took him somewhere else, into a woman’s mind, and it was the way he called her a woman, so casually, without the slightest question, that made her blink, and when she opened her eyes again she knew this was something.
     By the time he left two weeks ago, she was at his apartment every night. They made love like time was a bending, stretching thing, and the world could wait. She read him poems and he made her toasted waffles with ice cream.
     He’d accepted the secondment in London before they met.
     ‘Do you want me to come with you?’ she asked.
     ‘Don’t turn your life upside down for me,’ he said.
     Neither was sure, but the last few weeks had been so good Kiera felt she didn’t have a choice. He didn’t tell her not to come. And how would she ever know if they could work, if this was it, if she didn’t take the chance? If she just let him go?
     The seatbelt light switched on, and the Captain introduced himself. A video demonstrated how to put on masks and life jackets. An air hostess smiled and asked the French woman to put her seat up. Kiera took a deep breath, not really knowing what she was doing, but knowing that she had to do it, and stopped thinking.

'A Creation Myth' by Martin Porter

The shark and the kauri were having an argument.
“You see everything as spirit” argued the shark, “and there is nothing material in what you say.”
“You see everything as rational” argued the kauri, “And you have no soul to what you say.”
While passing overhead, the albatross heard the noise and flew down to mediate.
This is what he said:
“In the beginning the Creator lay idle. His hands were heavy, so he lifted them and clapped them together. The whole universe was created by this one clap.
In the universe lived two tribes. But these two tribes could not live in peace because they were two opposite sides of one creation. If they met they made war and, because they were equals, destroyed one another.
The Creator saw this and was unhappy. He breathed hard against the warring tribes and separated them with the wind of his breath, one from the other.
But the people of each tribe became lonely, so the Creator opened his heart and he gave them the gift of love, and each came together in groups of their own kind and grew into a great race.
And the Creator sat and he rested.
But the breath of the Creator was so strong, that the peoples of each tribe still moved apart from one another like spirals spinning through the sky.
So they stopped speaking to one another and grew cold in their own natures.
When the Creator looked again, the universe was dead. By separating the two different natures, the creator had taken away the life force.
So the Creator picked up the dead halves of the universe in separate hands. His hands were heavy, so he lifted them and clapped them together.
And the opposite sides came together and in one single clap the whole universe was created.”
The shark and the kauri listened carefully and were ashamed. So in an act of contrition, they swopped skins. That is why, although it lives in the flowing sea, shark has a rough skin as thick as bark. That is why, although it lives on land, the kauri has flaky bark like the scales of a fish. That is how, although they are opposite in nature, kauri and shark can share the same planet.
And that is why the albatross lives over the sea and breeds on the land and flies in knowledge and wisdom.

'Smoking Rules – OK?' by Garrick Batten

Are you a smoker? Since when? Well that probably explains it. You’ve got lung cancer Mister Fitzgerald, and I have to tell you it doesn’t look good. I’m very, very sorry to have to say that, but it’s better that you know now so that we can help you make things as easy as we can from now on.”

This happens to other people – even someone that you know. Not me. Lots of people smoke. Granddad smoked a pipe and cigarettes and he lived to 89 without a day’s illness, if you don’t count gout. And yes, I’d smoked since I was seventeen. Well I’d had one or two in the bushes behind the bike-shed at school before that. But it really started when I went to work on a school holiday job at the oil installation.

Four of us schoolboys got a job helping repaint 44 gallon fuel drums in company livery. Petrol and diesel were shipped in drums to the Islands in those days and the empties came back in various rusted colours.

You had to check in all matches and lighters at the gate and the only ignition was from wall-mounted filaments in the lunchroom. So that was the only place on site that you could have a smoke. Hard won Union strength to protect workers’ rights meant that the drum painting crew was split in two, with each taking half an hour every hour to go to the lunchroom for a smoke and to play cards. If you didn’t smoke, you couldn’t go. So I started smoking. And became a good Five Hundred player too.

I kept smoking. Now I was dying.

Union workplace rules were supposed to be good for workers. Not kill them

'The last picnic' by Chris Bell

The park was unnaturally quiet with none of the disorder they’d been warned to expect. There was no birdsong and something wasn’t right about the sky’s pale flatness. It might have been an everyday picnic had it not been for the public service announcements that preceded it. The couple might have chosen to stay at home as advised but, in the little time they had left, decided their favourite park bench was the best place to be.

There were clusters of people, a few but by no means all of them sobbing. Someone played a recording of Ryuichi Sakamoto and David Sylvian’s ‘Forbidden Colours’. The couple didn’t know what to expect – would they feel anything? So they waited, imagining what others around the world were doing. And although none of them knew for certain they correctly guessed it was the closest the human race had ever been to unity.

'Potting for the Other Side' by Oscar Windsor-Smith

It was an unusual place to hold a séance. Well, I'm assuming it was an unusual place. I'd never been to one before. Perhaps they often hold meetings with the hereafter in branches of Anne Summers.

Seemingly it all started with a remark someone made at around closing time in the Dog and Duck last Saturday about Carol Ridgley's old man. Well, the remark was actually about her old man's old man, if you get my drift. About his todger, pork sword, donger, salami, or – according to a familiar voice from the back of the scrum at last orders, partly drowned out by the clash of glasses and tinkle of loose change – his limp chipolata. 

"Is there anybody there?"

We were hand-to-hand, two deep and crotch to bottom, round the dildo display when Gypsy Rose Arkwright – her that works three nights a week stocking shelves at Scunthorpe ASDA – began her spiel. The lights were out but we could see quite well by the glow of luminous accessories.

"We are here to call up the spirit of Sam Ridgley's departed penis," she said, all serious like until a voice from the back row that sounded remarkably like Carol pointed out that it was the spirit that was missing not the penis. Then the same voice admitted it was an academic point.

Things became a bit heated when another voice said there was nothing at all wrong with Samuel's equipment. To be honest, in the half-light it was difficult to see who said what, and who was doing what to whom. But at some point Carol showed her colours, turned on the lights, and knocked hell out of a leggy blonde who it transpired was a bloke called Bert Higgins, singing sensation of the floorshow at Pinkies Gay Bar in the high street.

It seems Sam and Bert had been getting it together on the nights Sam was supposed to be learning to throw pots at our local art college.

It's turned out okay though for both parties, or so I hear. Sam's taken up playing the maracas and joined Bert in a double act. And Carol, thanks to some wise investments in underwear and batteries-not-included accessories from Anne Summers, is performing hot and sticky reruns of scenes from Ghost with a virile young pottery tutor she met at the art college.

So, all's well that ends with a smooth finish, eh?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

NFFD NZ Write-In

It's National Flash-Fiction Day in New Zealand, so we're launching another Write-In.Starting at 1pm BST (midnight in New Zealand, the start of their Day) and running until midnight on 22nd June BST (35 hours in total) we want you to respond to a theme and send us your stories. 

As New Zealand and the UK are on opposite sides of the world, our theme will be 'The Opposite Side'. Take that however you like - the other side of the world, the other side of the coin, the other side of the street - we don't care, it's your story, make it what you will!

Max word count is 500 and there are no limits on style or genre. Please send your stories to: with your work in the body of the email and your full name included and we'll post them up. Just one story per writer, please.

We can't wait to see your stories!
Oh, and please spread the word. We'd love as many stories as possible, from all over the globe!

Now, let's do that antipodean flash thing!