Saturday 27 June 2015

Creases by Ingrid Jendrzejewski

Enid was seven when she discovered that when she folded something perfectly, it came into existence. She had always been taken with paper, textiles, cling film, doughs -- anything she could manipulate with her hands -- but it was only when she was old enough to pair patience with manual dexterity that she was able to fold life into her creations.

Her parents hid the word 'origami' from her for as long as they could, but before Enid's age exceeded the number of nimble fingers on her two hands, she was crimping up cranes by the dozens. When she started in on frogs and small mammals, her parents traded the family home for a ranch with lots of acreage and very strong fences. The move was made just in time; within weeks, Enid was studying patterns for elephants, dinosaurs and dragons.

Such large-scale creatures amused Enid through her teens, but as she grew older, she began to work on a much smaller scale. If she got plenty of sleep, had a healthy breakfast and then concentrated very hard, she found that she could precisely fold things that were very tiny indeed. She started an undergraduate course in biochemistry, but before she completed even half of the degree requirements, she was snapped up by the pharmaceutical industry and put to work folding proteins. She found she had a real knack for polypeptides.

Enid had an illustrious career and a good life; she married a kind geometrist with an interest in napkin folding problems, and together they built their home and furnishings in the pureland style, using only mountain and valley folds. Their children grew up happy and healthy, with pets of every shape and size.

It was only when her hands began to tremble with old age that Enid realised her fundamental oversight: she had spent so much time creasing the stuff of everyday life that she had forgotten about time. If only she had turned her attention to that most malleable of substances, she thought, she might have been able to fashion her own inevitable.

Celestial Invocation by Jenah West

My eyes struggled to adjust to the low sunlight of late afternoon. I was lying in the boot of Dad’s old Volvo estate, resting my head on a stack of jumpers and scarves. My three sisters took the back seat, while Mum and Nan were up front. I didn’t know our destination, having only been given the instruction to “get in the bloody car”, but it must have been hundreds of miles from home.
I shifted my top half to a 45 degree angle, making sure not to poke my head above the window line, and stared out of the back window. It was just before sunset; the sky stained violet, pink, and red. Mum thought of every natural spectacle as a sign of my father’s enduring presence, and if she was right, he surrounded us with brilliance that day.
Dad had the build and temperament of a warrior; tall, broad, often stubborn, always protective. He was expected to fall in only the most spectacular battle. As it was, he passed on his own terms. No note, no explanation, just an infinite number of questions. I couldn’t forgive his actions, because I had no way to understand them. He left too many memories unmade, and had, in effect, robbed all of us of the future we thought we deserved. I couldn’t let go of that resentment. It led to many arguments, which came to a head the night before our road trip. Through gritted teeth, Mum reminded me that we were all heartbroken, and the family needed me to be strong, just like my father.
“Oh really? So I should probably top myself, right?” I snapped.  Mum struck me hard across the face, grazing my flushed cheeks with her nails. Her distress hurt more than the slap, and through tears I apologised. We all huddled on the sofa together that night, under Nan’s crocheted blanket, and shared tales of him. He had left us too soon, but at least with each other. It was a sentiment that consoled me as we arrived at Land's End.
Bracing against the icy wind. I pulled Dad’s scarf over my nose, inhaling the mix of Old Spice and Golden Virginia. Nan had held Dad’s ashes to her chest for the entirety of the journey, and passed him to Mum as she hobbled out of the car. All of us, in turn, held our outstretched fingers to the urn, gently pressing against it for a few solemn moments. Mum unscrewed the lid and turned away from the wind. She swung her arms and returned him to the universe. Dust to dust. Mum’s face contorted in raw pain. She began to collapse, and we fell with her, cushioning her descent. We sat entwined for an hour or so, until the night wind nipped with such intensity that we headed home. I offered my hands to Mum and lifted her up. Though we walked together, there remained a distance. Suddenly, however, we were struck by the dazzling grandeur of the night sky, unpolluted by city lights.
“He’s with us.” I told her, as she squeezed my hand.

Lost by Hanna Siltamäki

It wasn't her real name. She lost that in the desert.

Needle and Thread by Jessica Sajovie

Something fluttered in the corner of Erica's eye.  Suddenly on guard, she launched herself from the couch cushion with amazing speed, and grabbed the nearest weapon to hand, a rolled up magazine from the Saturday paper.  She wasn't keen on any winged insect, but she had a special terror of moths.  Lepidopterophobia was the scientific term, but there was no sense sticking a fancy Latin name (or maybe it was Ancient Greek) on something that primal.  Fear was what it was, pure and simple.  The thought of their horrible scratchy papery wings made Erica's skin crawl.

Creeping cautiously over to the window, she raised the magazine above her head, ready to bash it down on anything that moved.  She gave the curtain an experimental tap with the magazine, and again produced a flutter, though she really only saw the initial tremble before somehow leaping halfway across the room, hiding behind the high edge of the couch, and allowing only her eyes to peer out.  The movement had stopped again.

Erica knew she was being ridiculous.  She never should have faced up against something like this without a more substantial weapon.  Running into her bedroom backwards, while keeping a wary eye aimed at the curtain, she emerged with the baseball bat she kept under her bed for emergencies such as this.  Well, butterflies, burglars, zombie attacks; all the usual contingencies a 20-something year old woman living alone might have to face.  She hadn't played baseball since she was a kid, but she still had a wicked swing when adrenaline spurred her on.  Determined to rid herself of the invader once and for all, as night was coming, and there was no way Erica would be able to sleep with that creature in the house, she marched back into the living room, and hefting the bat in one hand, her heart racing, she grabbed the curtain and gave it a good firm shake.  It was then that Erica noticed her rather aged curtains had developed a small tear along the edge, which must have been gently quivering in the breeze.  This then, was her moth.

Weak with relief, Erica shook her head at her own foolishness, and reached up to unclip the curtain from the rail, so she could mend it.  As she did so, her arm brushed against the curtain, and she felt a sudden velvety sensation against her skin.  Looking down, she saw it.  There, perched in the folds of the curtain, lurked a large white cabbage moth.  Thud!  Erica passed out, her head safely coming to rest on the thick, shaggy carpet.  The cabbage moth flapped its wings softly, and calmly flew out the open window into the balmy night air.

Father's Day by Dylan Jaggard

Out of the blue, you send me a friend request. I message your daughter. Only I don’t think she wants to be your daughter ever again.
The following day I went round to see your ex-wife. She doesn’t want me passing on any information about her. Then your daughter turned up. She was expected. She wanted to borrow some money from your ex-wife.
None of us could even agree how long it had been. I thought it had been 15 years. Your daughter said it was nearer 12 or 13. That wasn’t the main issue though. What should I do? And when I said I wasn’t going to accept your request, the relief I felt from your ex-wife and your daughter was palpable. But then I told them I was going to message you and give you my email. ‘Lines of communication’ was the phrase I used.
They were supportive; or at least they felt that they ought to try to be supportive. The look on your daughter’s face.
I told my girlfriend. Only she isn’t really my girlfriend. It’s complicated. But she knows me. And she could tell. She could tell that it was something I couldn’t ignore.
Yesterday I went to see my ex-wife. We were together when I got the phone call all those years ago. She was firm. ‘He’s your Dad’, she said, ‘No matter what he did’.

The Torn Curtain by L.F. Young

The yellowed torn curtain hung limp from the rusted rod. It moved like a ghost when the breeze picked up. There was not one bit of glass left in the old homestead. Too many years of neglect had passed, after my grandparents had died. I tentatively climbed the rotten steps, keeping to the edges where the wood was the strongest. The front door was on the floor, and a scurry of brown fur told me I was not alone. Somehow I felt a great comfort knowing the old place was now home to a host of wild critters.

The same rose colored pattern on the walls brought a smile to my face, as I remembered this parlor of my youth, half a century ago. The wallpaper was peeling and yellowed, but the faint squares were still visible where pictures of the family once hung in humility. The air smelled a strange mixture of old wood, wet paper, and animal droppings. Not entirely unpleasant, the sweetness of the air held fast to the back of my throat. Five steps into the room, and the floor started to groan and creak, reminding me of the sound of ice cracking, and the toe of my boot disappeared in rotten wood dust.

I quickly scrambled back to the relative safety of the hallway, as part of the floor sagged into the dark basement below. Close call you old fool! I thought as I wiped the sudden sheen of sweat off my brow. I was debating whether to venture any further. A guy could get killed in this old shack. I just had to get one thing.

I gingerly made my way down the hallway and into the kitchen. Same linoleum and same oil stain where the Kerosene barrel sat. The ancient wood burning stove was long gone, as was all the stove piping for the flue. My gaze fell to a spot next to where that oven used to live. There was a wooden box in that very spot that held the kindling for the fire, and behind that box, which was no longer there; I could plainly see the small section of flooring right next to the wall. I dug out my pocket knife, and slid the blade into the crack at the end of the five inch piece of flooring. It popped up as easily as it had when I was six years old. That’s when I had left my treasure in there, long ago forgotten, until my grandson was born. I cautiously reached my wrinkled old hand into the hole and found my prize.

The hand painted toy soldier was in excellent condition. Even the decorated rope on the drum was still crisp on the now antique lead figure. I secured the toy in my handkerchief and slipped it in my pocket as I headed towards the back door, which was still hanging from one very twisted and rusted hinge. One last look at memories, and I was on my way.

Fifth Stitch by Sophie Dumont

From when my hands were half their size I learnt how to cross-stitch with my mother’s favourite needle. Like a row of little brown and grey kisses the shape of a city skyline slowly formed. Of course I’d always known something odd happened on the fifth stitch but my mother’s friends always chuckled at my haphazard finish of a line and I had no reason to question their skill in comparison to my own. I became accomplished with the needle, now my favourite too and I got used to the itching after every fifth stitch.  After I finished an image I would stick it in the window and see it come to life. Most days I would gaze across at the block of flats opposite ours, wishing my mother’s needle could stitch through the grid of hollow windows, past the couple opposite and up to floor five, the flat with the washing line. In my embroidery hoop the buildings were binding. Up and across diagonally, I move, and there the fifth stitch would appear on the soft flesh of my wrist too, a reflection from gauze to skin that was now hardened with scar tissue where I’ve had to cut away at the skin to release the thread. I should really stop cross-stitching, maybe even skip the fifth stitch but inevitably with time the sixth would become the fifth and it would catch up on me, the itch continuing.  They ushered me through the doors of a clinic once, the doctor mumbling with practiced concern but I just told them it’s the damn fifth stitch and my mother’s needle is the only one that hooks so smoothly, doesn’t catch in the previous thread. I almost feel sorry for others that don’t have a passion like mine.

Playing Out by Christina Taylor

            Mum called us in over an hour ago but our dissection of the worms is going too well to stop. I’m not supposed to be playing out today; I should be on my best behaviour for Grandpa’s funeral. But the silence in the house drains all the energy out of it like a black hole, so I can’t remember him any more. I escape through the back window, running free with Kirsty to the fields beyond the railway tracks where Gramps and I used to walk.
            At first my worm is alive and kicking despite its decapitation. It wriggles between my thumb and forefinger, but its battle is futile. A twinge of sympathy passes over me; many times I’ve been caught in Liv’s vice like grip, twisting and turning until my wrists are raw. My older sister is an expert torturer; now I’m practising those same arts.  I harden my heart and continue, jabbing a stick into the worm again and again.
            Kirsty pokes her worm with a twig as if that will bring it back to life, but the last wound is final. Water pools in her big blue eyes.  Bowing her head, her ponytails droop onto her heaving chest.  Guilt twists inside me; I forced her to it, threatening to tell the class that she still wet her knickers every night.  Fizzing on Monster Munch and Space Dust, she couldn’t refuse. I clamp my hand over her hot, sticky mouth, stifling her wails. Clinging to me like a limpet, her tears soak my dress. After an interminable time she stops, wrenching away. Sticking her fingers in the mud, she launches the first shot.
            Mid brawl, two strong hands pull me away.  I struggle, resisting like the worm. Mum looks at me, shame lining her face. Now it’s my turn for tears. I’ve tarnished Grandpa’s day; he never hurt a fly.  His house was full of waifs and strays most people had given up on.  Picking up another dead worm, I rub it between my fingers, blowing on it as if it will bring Gramps back too. But it’s no use; he's gone. That's when the rain starts, washing away the dead bodies, washing away the last memory.

IOU by Caroline Thonger

Hands clasped behind his back, James scowls at the two over-door paintings, one each side of the great fireplace. He wishes the men from Sotheby’s would hurry up.

Memories of endless, boring Sundays are dredged up in his mind. Having to wear his best bib and tucker. Minding his Ps and Qs. The snotty butler sneering down his nose: ‘Another potato, young Master James?’

In his severe velvet smoking-jacket, his grandfather was like some latter-day Victorian. His grand house was as comforting as a mausoleum.

As a boy the paintings really freaked him. Grandfather ranted on about what man really needed was a nose for ‘fine art’. In one painting two vicious-looking guinea-pigs crouched amid the sombre fruit, slavering over shiny cherries like vampire bats.

In his dreams he’d feel them scuttling up his trouser-legs.

And in the other one an evil-faced monkey seemed to cackle behind upturned half-pomegranates, with seeds glinting like the eyes of a dead fish.

Now Grandfather can no longer pester him with questions of his future. He can turn in his grave as his grandson squanders his expensive education. No ghost can condemn the level of his gambling.

As he’d mumbled the name embossed on the picture frames into the phone, the man from Sotheby’s had almost squeaked in delight. ‘Giovan Battista Ruoppolo?’ he’d repeated. ‘Seventeenth century Neapolitan Baroque—and a pair you say?’

Now he’d have the last laugh—once the auction came up trumps, James would be home free. What were a few losses at the tables when now he’d found his true vocation? His brilliant solution to getting Nosher Jones and his henchmen off his back.

Rat tat a tat! Ah, there’s someone knocking at the door. It must be Sotheby’s, thinks James.

‘Come in gents and see the paintings—oh God, it’s Nosher and his gang. I’m done for!’

Lost and Found by Astrid Sutton Sharkey

He led me past the boxes of glass eyes and prosthetics to a more prosaic shelf, labeled car keys. I thought I might have dropped them in a taxi, meanwhile the car was racking up quite a bill at the pound in Camden Town.

He stood there while I looked through the box marked ‘Fiat.’ The key ring would have been easy to spot, with its tag labeled ‘Lefty zone, do not enter' a free gift from Left Handed Day 2011.

Once I’d established that my key wasn’t there, the man asked “How much time has this cost you, love?”

I hadn’t really thought about it. But before I could say anything more, he lead me past the shopping trolleys and clothing department to a small door marked “Lost and Found Time.”

“Go and speak to Gary at the ticket office on the “Lost” side” he said. “It might be worth your while. Take a pink ticket from the dispenser first with your number on it.”

The office turned out to be quite cavernous, with a grandiose clock over the ticket windows.

The light was flashing number 42, my ticket 66.

To my surprise, I saw my mother in the queue with her carer, Sue.

“Hello Mother,” I said.

“You’re not my mother!” She replied. “Mother and father are over there. Have you met my friend? She’s on holiday here.””

Sue, mother and I nod at each other. I tell S. quickly about the car keys.

It seems Sue takes mother for a weekly trip from The Home to see if Lost Time can give her anything back. She's looking for 75,000 hours of lost memory.

“It’s lovely weather isn’t it? ” remarks mother. “That’s why we have the deckchairs. Would you like an ice cream?”

“Yes please“ I reply, “A strawberry cone.”

Asking Susan whether she can keep an eye on the window I go over to Justin Time Coffee and buy two. Minutes pass, or were they hours?

A man ahead is being referred to another office for wasted time, which is in another building.

The window is now flashing 66. If I get my three hours perhaps I could donate them to mother?

Gary listens to my car-key-lost-time story, and doesn’t seem too engaged. “I’ll look on the computer. Bear with me.”

After a desultory scroll or two he just says “Nah. Sorry. Difficult to prove. Unless you want to donate to another cause?”

I give him mother’s details and he knows about her. “Aah, right. She’s the lady looking for 75,000 hours. She can have them as a donation.  Have a nice day.”

I find Sue and tell her the result.

“Last week he said there might be a little result. - six hours probably. So that’s nine in all. Better than nothing eh? And good luck with the car keys.”

I pass the pile of questionnaires for consumer satisfaction and tick the one labeled “fairly satisfied.”

Unsynchronised by Ciara O'Connor

It was always the same: I'd join a club. Tom would wait one, two weeks at the most and then he'd join too.

I'd just be finding my stride in athletics when he'd whizz past me on the track.

'Running is awesome!' he'd pant, hands resting on his taut thighs.

I'd be getting the hang of karate, tying my belt tight and reading over the rules when there'd be a gold medal round his neck at his first ever tournament.

'Karate's the best!' he'd grin.

I'd be half way through a golf lesson when I'd spot him up at the club house bar, celebrating a hole in one.

So I've joined synchronised swimming and so far, there's been no sign of Tom.

I don't think I'd even notice if he DID join. I'm too busy under the water, making sure that my legs are perfectly in sync with everyone else's.

Stockholm by Jenny Gray

I lie looking at the torn curtain. It had snagged in the window's catch and you, instead of lifting the metal, loosening the material as I would have done, pulled it roughly free so the fabric tore. Now the loose threads stir in what little breeze comes in through the half-lifted casement.

There are days when you don't come and visit and there are days when you do but I wish you would not. I am beginning to feel like the woman in the story who sees figures in the wallpaper. But my room is painted green – the colour of sleep – and no matter how hard I squint, all I can see is that dense aquatic hue, the curve of a wave. To think that you picked it deliberately is laughable and I do laugh sometimes.

There were days before this one when we would walk in the park and I would keep my back to the greying sky and the sycamore leaves caught in the snarl of the  autumn wind. We'd walk along Davie to the corner of Thurlow, and turn right, down to the water where we'd sit on a washed-up log and watch the ferries cut their way to the island. We no longer voyaged out ourselves. We stayed on the log and I told you how I felt the boundaries of our lives shrinking. Your fingers were whiter than the sand that ran between them and I remembered how you were an olive-skinned boy when we met.
Now there is only wave-green.
The curtain threads hang loose and languid. Beyond the room, beyond the window, summer is making other people fractious, they snap at their loved ones. The voices in the park: the laughter and the screams, and the hot scent of traffic drift up to the sixth floor.
Ice clinks on glass when you bring in cold pitchers of water or tea. I turn my back to the door and imagine the green of the walls casting ripples on my face like light bouncing off a swimming pool.
You slip a hand under the damp cotton of my nightdress and every muscle in my body tightens then relaxes. There are days when I could love you. Days when you pause in the doorway, the squeak of your rubber-soled shoes on bare boards as you shift your feet.

Day Tripper by Kymm Coveney

Ellen feels expandable, like the waistline of her mother’s jeans, or the carry ons stuffed into the racks above her head. On her lap rests a combat green shoulder bag, empty but for a small bottle of water that is already sweating through the canvas. She has four stops to go. A group of Nordic walkers waits for her at the fountain at the north end of the park across the street from the station. Ellen knows none of them.

The train lurches on its tracks, banking hard to the left. Ellen feels her stomach drop the way it used to through the curve in the tunnel under Lesseps Square, sparks flying out where the Bonneville’s tailpipe kissed the asphalt. Craig had been a reckless boyfriend.

When the train straightens out again, Ellen’s expandability turns against her, and she begins to fold in like an accordion, a fan snapping shut against a powdered Spanish bosom, the maps that took them across Italy. She remembers the way the salesman folded the walking sticks up. "Great for travel," he of course remarked. She had nodded and backed out of the store, her smile scraping against her teeth. Now she realizes she will have to offer excuses. She has brought water, but no Nordic walking sticks. She has forgotten to apply sunscreen, hopeless. When the train reaches the station across the street from the park with the fountain at the north end, she wills it to fly past, onto the next stop and the next, until she is able to stretch out her legs, open the bottle of water.

Hide and Seek by Tim Roberts

The slam of the letterbox followed by the slap of an envelope landing on the tiles in the hall. The delivery is too aggressive for it to be our regular postman. There’s no name or address; just a small piece of sellotape sealing it. I pick at it with my thumbnail and when it opens a picture of you slides out. You are 22 years old and look exactly like your mother; those same intense brown eyes.

I stand the picture on the mantlepiece beside the only other one I have of you.  It was taken at the tennis courts just after your 5th birthday. Do you remember? I would hit the ball and you could never return it. You would hit the ball and it would never reach me. In the end we gave up and played our favourite game: hide and seek.

That’s what we were playing the last time I saw you. You ran behind the nearest tree. I waited for you tiny voice to shout, I’m ready. Each time you hid, you chose a tree that was further away, determined to beat me. Each time, your shouts became less audible until I could no longer hear them over the wind that crept through the leaves.

They reopened your case, last week. They say the picture is what you would look like now and it will appear on national TV, because somebody out there might know where you are hiding.

On the Button by Liz Hedgecock

Julia was tidy. As a child she always coloured inside the lines, with light pressure, while all around her other children gripped their crayons and scored circles and spikes into the page.

When Julia left school she got a job in an office. She folded letters exactly into thirds and slid them into envelopes, and then unfolded other pieces of paper and filed them away. At the end of the day she packed herself into a tin can of commuters, ate a balanced meal, and slid between the white sheets of her bed with a sigh of relief, smoothing the covers over.

On Sunday mornings Julia did her laundry, folding pillowcases into four, and rolling and stacking towels until her bathroom resembled a boutique hotel in a magazine. She delighted in the row of creaseless garments waiting in her wardrobe, and almost regretted removing one from its companions to wear it.

She was hanging up a freshly-pressed blouse when she saw a buttercup-yellow, star-shaped button lying on the wardrobe floor. She picked it up and it glowed in her palm. Where had it come from? She couldn’t imagine wearing something with star-shaped yellow buttons on it.

The sun threw squares of light onto the floor, and the yellow button glinted. ‘I need to find out where this belongs.’ Julia thought. The button jumped in her hand as she stepped outside, but she put it down to a slight stumble on the steps.

On impulse she turned right, looking at every passer-by for signs of a missing yellow star-shaped button. Most of them didn’t notice because they were looking at their phones. ‘Perhaps I should take it to a haberdashery,’ she thought. But that seemed cruel, like leaving it on the steps of an orphanage. ‘I must find its owner.’

The little button jumped again, and weaved Julia along streets big and small, through an arcade, and down an alleyway to the wrought-iron gate of a square she had never seen before, though she had lived in the town all her life. Music floated towards her, and the little button trembled in her hand.

The music led Julia to a bandstand. A young man was playing the flute, surrounded by people sitting on the grass. Her eyes leapt to his shirt-front, where - yes - a button was missing! Then she looked up, and their eyes met. She had to grip the button tightly to keep it in her hand. The song finished, and while the audience clapped Julia walked up and held out her hand. ‘I think this belongs to you.’

The man looked down at his shirt, and smiled. He held out his hand and the button jumped into it. ‘No, I think this is yours.’ He reached into his pocket, untwisted a green paperclip, threaded the button on, and tucked the buttercup into Julia’s lapel. She looked up at him, and her chin glowed yellow.

And from there, everything unfolded.

Things that Happen in the Night by Shirani Rajapakse

The window appeared when it felt like it, or so it seemed. At other times it remained hidden. Like it covered its face with a veil of plaster.  The first time she noticed it was a few days after moving in. She hadn’t been able to fall asleep; there were too many sheep in her room jostling for space, along the floor, all over her bed and threatening to fall from the ceiling. She’d shooed them away and come to the kitchen to get some tea. The light shining from the outside had attracted her. Opening the small back window she had stared out at the strangest sight. Bizarre shapes floated above the trees like pieces of clouds hurriedly snatched from the sky’s laundry. Other forms glided closer to earth while outlandish figures slithered or walked with great difficulty. She had stared for a while then returned to bed, not quite sure if what she had seen was real.

The next morning the back window had disappeared. There was not even a trace of where it might have been. She ran her fingers all over the wall, scraping gently with her fingers and beating on the walls. But the walls refused to reveal its secrets. She thought she had dreamt it. Or maybe seeing all those sheep had done something to her mind. She’d checked the garden, but there was nothing to show there had been any party or that anyone had been outside. 

A week passed then a month and she had forgotten about the back window. It was as if it didn’t exist. She’d stopped counting sheep too. Waking up with a dry throat in the middle of the night she went to get a glass of water and ran into the window. This time she decided to explore. Sticking her head out she called to the crazy figures but no one bothered to answer. Lifting one leg and then the other she hoisted herself onto the window ledge and sat pondering her next move. A rabbit like creature scurrying by stopped to look at her. Its eyes were kindly and beckoned. Then it turned around and disappeared into a group of foam like figures.

She let herself down into the garden. The plants reached up covering her feet in soft leaves like fancy shoes. She took a hesitant step and another into the garden. The forms stopped to take in her presence as she wondered about. Someone offered her a drink in a tall glass shaped like a lily or was it a lily that had turned to glass? She took a sip and moved towards the tree that stretched out its arms to embrace her. And then she saw it. She opened her mouth to scream but all that came out was a hysterical laugh that sounded like a dozen hyenas. 

Out Of Sync by Allie Costa

We were never really in sync, were we? Even when walking side-by-side or swimming in the same sea or looking up at the same sky. It wasn’t the same. It never was the same for us.

The colors, bright for me, muted for you.

The flowers, drawing me in, making you sneeze.

The voices, calling out to me, welcoming me, never acknowledging you, not that I noticed. There were so many voices, mine the loudest of them all, and growing louder, the later the night became. I was pulled closer, deeper. The music and the movement and the people and the faces blurring together, that’s okay so long as they’re smiling, just keep them smiling, and you, hiding in the corner, never far away, never letting me out of your sight.

You’re furious with me, aren’t you?

You could have stopped me. So many times, you could have stopped me, but I refused to consider the possibility.

Because you’d always be there, wouldn’t you? No matter what I did. No matter what I tried.

You were right there. Watching. Listening. Waiting. Knowing everything I did, and thought, and felt.

You knew me better than I knew (myself).

I thought we were in sync. I never realized I had no sense of rhythm.

Tourists by Vivian Thonger

Still crumpled and fizzing with jet lag, we take the tourist drive. Slanting sun draws our gaze to horizontal marks striping the slopes, as if a giant had folded neat pleats across every rounded green hill. An American voice asks the question.

Our driver-guide Moki sighs and spits out of the window. He takes his time to answer, holding his open hand out towards the landscape.

‘Forget geological marvels, spirit trees, steaming rocks, roaring eel streams, the taniwha — I get most questions about those bloody marks. Are they sedimentary rock folds, every level a million years? Aeons of volcanic ash layers? Inca/Aztec terraces or prehistoric earthworks? A Maori mystery? On and on. Nonstop.

‘So I tell tourists they’re age lines like on a tree trunk, one for every thousand years. I say go ahead, count them. And they do. That buys me some quiet time.’

He flicks away a fly on his arm, leans back on his headrest and closes his eyes. The bus is silent, all eyes on the hillside. We’re trying to resist counting the folds, but do anyway. 

The American voice booms out, and several heads jerk round.

 ‘I make that slope right there around forty thousand years old’.

Sheep bleats float across the lush valley into the open windows.

Back There by Allie Costa

A noise.

A loud thump.

Something smacks into the wall against your bed.

You wake up with a start.

Everything is silent. Everything is still.

It was nothing.

It was just a dream.

This is your home now. You are safe now.

You have an early day at work tomorrow. (Today? What time is it?) (It’s dark. So dark. It’s the middle of the night.) You need to make a good impression at your new job. You need to make a fresh start. You should go back to sleep.

You don’t. You can’t. Not yet.

You rub your elbow, tracing the scar. It hurts.

You remember you live in California now. Maybe that was an earthquake. You wait for the aftershocks.

You wait.

You wait.


You breathe a sigh of relief and lie back down.

You breathe.

You are safe now.

You hear a noise again. Louder. Closer. Right outside the window. Right behind you.

The hairs on your neck begin to rise.

A noise.

A loud thump.

A voice whispers your name.

They found you.

[written to the prompt 'back window']

At the Seams by Nichola Deadman

When he comes downstairs the morning after, the rip in the curtain catches his eye. It’s letting in sunlight – a bright white mouth gaping against the dark material.
It comes back to him in jerky, disconnected scenes, flashing across his memory like one of those children’s toys where you pull the level and the little plastic disk of pictures cycles around.
Click. They were tired and irritable when they got home – it was Friday at the end of a long week.
Click. They both knew it was coming, as it did so often now. They tried to avoid it, putting off hostilities with exaggerated politeness. How was your day, darling? Tiring, frustrating… but never mind – how was yours?
Click. Inevitably, someone said something. That was as clear as the forensic evidence could be. It might have been an offhand remark, it might have been biting one.
Click. The tension flooded in; the standard complaints floated out. He spent too much time with his mates, practicing with the band. She was tired of never seeing him. She spent too much money on fabric and craft supplies. No of course he wasn’t saying she should stop, just be a little more fiscally responsible.
Click. Something snapped. He doesn’t know what was said – they were both shouting by then – only that she walked over to the curtain (which she’d only just finished sewing last week) and grabbed a handful of fabric and pulled. He’d felt it physically, viscerally. Something tearing, fibres coming apart. Something that had been made with love, torn.
She was in that place where she went sometimes, shouting about how worthless she felt, how nothing she did meant anything. She was so angry. So lonely. He couldn’t reach her. He could never bloody reach her.
Click. She’d stormed off to bed and he’d followed at a suitable interval. They lay with their backs to each other, not touching. He couldn’t tell if she was sleeping.
Click. And here we are again. He stares at the sloppy triangle of sunshine and remembers how proud she was when she finally finished and hung the curtains. Her biggest project yet. Maybe she’ll mend it, he thinks as he walks to the kitchen and puts on the kettle. I hope she’ll mend it. You’ll probably still be able to see where it ripped, but at least it’ll be together.
She’s still sleeping when he comes into the bedroom holding two mugs of coffee, made just the way she likes it.
“Morning, my love,” he says softly.
Click. She stirs, sits up. Her face softens at the sight of the coffee. They are both sheepish.
“I’m sorry about last night,” she says, at the same time he begins to say, “I’m sorry about last night.”
They sit side-by-side in silence, knees touching. Alright for now, all past and future temporarily banished.

A Post in the Sand by Jen Vennall

It was five in the afternoon, said the shadow of the post in the sand. Camellia glanced down at the solitary wooden figure, waiting for the tide to come back in. The news said high tide would be back at ten twenty-three. Waiting for another five hours wouldn’t hurt.
            She wandered down the thick stone steps onto the beach. Sandals stripped and left behind she wandered barefoot to the post, savouring the softness between her toes and that sinking feeling.
            There weren’t many others on the beach. The season for tourists was fading, the winds whipping too hard for the day-trippers to make the effort from the cities. Kids from the neighbourhood were tormenting the seagulls by the pier and a few venturous families had attempted to make a day by the seaside, but they were packing up now. That suited Camellia. She’d watched them play their games all day, she didn’t want to watch anymore.

            With no thought for the sand, she sat down beside the post, spreading her skirts like a lady in a painting. She leant her weight against it, the wood solid against her shoulder. How would it feel, she thought, naked here by this post in the sand? It made her smile, blush, feel the last of the heat from the sun and the chill breeze coming off the water prickling her covered skin.

            The post was a friend, without an arm or a comforting word, but rigid. It was always there, no matter weather or tide or time.

            She did not draw circles or faces in the sand as she sat on the beach and waited for the tide to come in. She didn’t pick up the little shells that freckled the sand and pop them in her pocket like she did as a child. She watched the water come forward and retreat, come forward and retreat, and the clouds above grow and shrink and shift and fill the sky with old light. She was in a photograph, she thought, being developed as she sat.

            Her head against the post in the sand she let tears fall. Old eyes glanced her direction but shuffled on, young eyes paid her no attention at all. If they did they only laughed with nervous energy and ran on.

            She cried through a sunset, watching for the stars to stop hiding as the sand grew damp beneath her skirt. The post no longer held her fast, but became the vicious liar that hides behind false smiles. Camellia hit her head against the post in the sand; let the splinters scratch at her face like fingernails and a careless smile she knew.

            Ten twenty-three, like the news had said. The beach was silent but for the waves. It was end of season, no tourists.

            And wasn’t the wind so much stronger after the sunset?

            And didn’t you hear about the girl they found, dead by a post in the sand?

Vision by Denise Sparrowhawk

Amelia still isn't sure what it was she saw that day exactly, but she has long since stopped talking about it. At first, bursting with wonder and excitement and curiosity, she told everyone she met. Her words spilled out, tumbling over themselves in a gabbling torrent, the description warping and buckling under the weight of so many, many words! Her hands flew here and there, trying to catch the words and put them into better order. People were kind at first, listening, their eyes bright and interested, but then the shadows came, clouding their faces. Gentle hands would hold hers, a single finger placed over lips to stem the flow. Gradually the listeners became less friendly, their eyes filled with dark clouds as soon as she began to speak of it. Hands rough and hard, brushed her words away. She stopped talking. Instead she hugged the memory to herself, and waited. One day it would come again, and she would be ready. She would know. And the others? Well, she could not help them. They should have listened better and tried harder to understand.

Everything She Wanted by Santino Prinzi

Gav went out that morning to go to the bakery to pick up some fresh bagels so he could make Jess breakfast in bed for her birthday. He had no idea he’d forgotten to bring any money with him. His hopes for today were as high as his smile was wide; he wanted to make sure she got everything she wanted today.

On his way to the bakery he was distracted by the European Market. At first it was the combination of different aromas; zesty fruit, spiced meats, freshly baked delights. The colours dazzled him, everything from handcrafted goods to the bright flag bunting hung around each stall so you knew which country the vendors were from. Gav thought he might find something a bit more unusual at the market – something which he couldn’t just pick up on any other day, something extra special – so he decided to check it out.

“Young man, step right up and look no further. Here’s everything anyone in the world could ever want, everything you could possibly need in life. I have for you what you’re looking for right here in my hand.”

Gav turned to the stall owner pointing at him holding a small jar of translucent liquid. Gav wasn’t one to wander towards brightly dressed men wearing bowler hats but the liquid seemed to dance inside the jar. It mesmerised him.


“Come closer.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s glue.”



“What’s so special about glue?” Gav remarked, yet could not draw his eyes away from the jar. Without knowing what he was doing he went to caress the jar.
The stall owner pulled the jar away before Gav could touch it. 

“It’s sticky.”

“Of course it’s sticky – glue’s supposed to be.”
“Yes, to stick things to things, my good friend.”

Gav wanted to look up at the face of the man. He tried to lift his head but couldn’t. In a panic he placed one of his hands on top of his head and grabbed his hair, and the other he placed beneath his chin. He tried to pull his head up and away from the jar of glue – but he couldn’t. The stall owner laughed in triumph. Gav was transfixed. Stuck.
Jess woke up alone. No Gavin. Brilliant, she thought as she spread her limbs as wide as she could across the bed, peace at last.

Finding Solace in Solitude by Emily Clayton

Lost. I am lost. Tears drip down my smooth, trembling cheeks, spilling salty sadness on my tattered childhood blanket.
"Don't worry, sweetheart," my mom says. Her eyes are gentle, crinkled softly in the corners. "One day you'll meet a guy who will love your mind."
Does it help -- or hurt -- that an English teacher once said the same thing after I poured out my heart in a writing assignment? Another tear shed; another rip in my tender creative soul.
I don't know who I am anymore. Clever. Quirky. What does that mean? Why is it unappealing? I stare out the back bedroom window, a deep rumbling sigh reminding me of my cat-like qualities. I could almost sense a tail flick.
I glance up into her friendly, loving face, my emotions tangled in a web of blackened, twisting dismay. She plants a quick kiss on my head. "Late blooming doesn't always apply to those teenage years. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to find the right one. You've got great wit. Strong independence. Forget about what others think. Focus on you. What makes you happy."
"I'm lost. Lonely. I don't know how to be free."
"Find your happiness, and you'll find yourself. People will notice. Trust me. That's how I met your father. I wasn't always the one who could light up the room. I used to glower in the corner, writing my pain on paper serviettes." 
Warm hazelnut eyes search mine. Her words strike me. Give me hope. It radiates downwards, filling me with strength and determination.
If I can't fend off the insults, at least I can write them off in my stories.

[prompt:Lost (and found?)]

Amelia, Still by Allie Costa

Amelia still isn't sure what it was she saw that day exactly, but she knows it had a tail.

Or at least she thinks it did.

Whatever it was, it was fast. As fast as a cheetah. Faster, even. It scampered.

Amelia has never used the word "scampered" before.

And yes, Amelia knew she was supposed to be home before dark.

And yes, the sun was setting.

And yes, Amelia knew she was not allowed to go into the woods.

And yes, the creature ran into the woods.

So of course she went after it.

Of course.

When she emerged from the woods three hours later, barefoot and wild, panting with effort, the townspeople found her and carried home, kicking and screaming.

She did not want to be carried over that threshold.

She did not want to stay inside those walls.

She said that wasn't her home anymore.

She said she was queen of the woods.

She thrashed, hurting others and herself, until they bound her.






She was silent for a time before speaking again.

She tried to describe her adventures, but the words got jumbled and came out all wrong. Her tongue was foreign; her tongue was swollen. No one would understand what she said, least of all her hysterical mother, who wailed and wept and begged her husband to go into the woods and find their daughter, their real daughter, not this changeling that sat unmoving and unintelligible on their kitchen floor. But he refused, having pushed his own wildness down, down, down when he was a child, never to speak of again.

Amelia still isn't sure what it was she saw that day exactly, but she knows it will return for her, soon.

She cannot wait.

The Write-In is Open for Submissions

Has it really been more than a year since we last met? It seems unlikely, but calendars don't lie. It is National Flash Fiction Day 2015 and the Write-In is open for submissions – for one day only! – based on our prompts. So write us a piece of flash and send it over, but hurry!

We're looking forward to reading your stories.

Happy Flashing!

Friday 26 June 2015

It's Coming...

Like sleigh bells in the distance on Christmas Eve, something special is approaching...