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No.37 by Scritch-Scratch





From The Depths by Calvin Watts

[Hull, England]


Dear Sarah, 

      I should explain myself. 

     My previous owner sat me on his office table, and typed into eBay: ‘Genuine Mulberry Little Softie. Black pillow effect. Filled with thick, feathery down. Reinflates when pressed. Buy now for £120.’ 


     His phone pinged and I was stuffed into a grey, plastic mailing bag. With my handles wrapped around my body, and often upside down, I spent the next four days in the dark.  


     Do you remember our first night together, in your bedroom? You slid me into your armpit, admired yourself in the stand-up mirror, tried on four dresses, put on lipstick, asked your reflection if it wanted a drink. And after you’d poured yourself half a pint of white wine, we sat in bed watching Erin Brockovich. 


     The following morning, your sisters visited. You poured cups of instant coffee and they took turns holding me. The short one — Ellen? — ran the pads of her fingers over my back and said I was soft like butter. You said that I was all you ever wanted, your own Mulberry bag. And by the time your sisters handed me back to you, I realised you were being honest: you had no idea that I was a knock off. 


     What could I do? If you found out, I’d be for the landfill. So, I let you carry on. I was designed to deceive. And you were happy. You smiled more, spoke to strangers, flirted with men. You took me to a job interview, and you got the job. You, Sarah, with me on your lap. Together, we both began to feel authentic. 


     Things changed, last summer, the day we rode the train to London. You were a bit off with me that morning. Nothing major, just a little distant, I felt. But I think taking me in Harrods and looking at other bags was actively cruel of you. You sniffed one of them, a real Mulberry bag, but didn’t buy it. And afterwards we sat on a bench, in Hyde Park, a metre apart, like strangers. 


     When we returned home you took a lighter from the messy drawer and burnt away my frayed stitching. You carried me to your laptop, and I watched you type: ‘How to tell fake Mulberry bag’. Tears trickled down your cheeks as you inspected me. And then you threw me, in here, at the back of the cupboard under the stairs. I landed on some badminton racquets and the vacuum cleaner nozzles you never use. 


      Because you might not reply to this letter, Sarah, I’ll end by telling you a few things that you should know. First, you have mice. That scratching in the walls we both heard? That’s them. Second, there is half a packet of soft mints in my inner pocket, still in date, zipped safely away from the mice. And third, as I lay here alone, I’m certain that in our separate darknesses, we still hold on to one another. 




     Your Bag

Food For Thought by Mike Paterson-Jones

[Abbots Langley, England]


Ma and Pa Gleeson lived on twenty acres just outside the town of Dalton, West Virginia.  Pa Gleeson worked at the Dalton Lumber Mill and Ma Gleeson kept house. She cleaned and cooked and grew a few vegetables. She made her husband a wild meat pie every Friday in which she put what her husband had hunted the previous weekend or fresh road kill from the interstate that ran next to the farm. Most often there were possums or squirrels from the hunting Pa Gleeson did with his buddy Paddy Murphy every weekend. The Gleesons only had one child, a grown son, who they only saw occasionally when he was between incarcerations in one of the county jails.


     One Saturday while Pa Gleeson was away hunting, Ma Gleeson had a sudden desire to have a hamburger and fries. She got in the old Ford truck and rode to town. She parked outside the diner and was about to get out of the truck when she looked across the sidewalk and into the nearest diner window. She saw her husband sitting opposite a blonde woman some years younger than him. Ma Gleeson forgot about the hamburger and drove home. She said nothing to her husband. She continued to give him his wild meat pie every Friday but now she made a separate one for herself. His pie she spiced up a bit with an ingredient from the tin on the top shelf in the barn.


     Pa Gleeson’s health started to decline, but Doc. Carver could find not find out what was wrong with him. Pa Gleeson died in the early fall. Ma Gleeson spared no expense on his funeral. He had a fine casket and Ma Gleeson dressed herself in fine new clothes and a fancy hat. After the funeral there was an Irish style wake hosted by Paddy Murphy. At the wake Ma Gleeson received the heartfelt condolences of most of the town’s people including the mayor and the sheriff. She got a shock when approaching her was the blonde woman from the diner. The woman walked right up to her and said, “I am so sorry to hear about your husband. He was a good man. He helped my brother on many weekends fixing the old house I bought when I came back to Dalton last year.”


     Ma Gleeson said nothing. She just nodded her head and smiled sickly.




A New Beginning by Veronica Robinson

[London, England]


‘Don’t show me up Dorothy.’


     ‘That was not my intention.’


     ‘You stroke my cock when I can’t get it up, and you want me to believe you’re not making fun of me.’


     ‘It was a moment of tenderness. I wanted to help.’


     ‘I don’t see it that way. I’m thirty, for God’s sake.’


     ‘Thirty isn’t the end of the world.’


     ‘How many thirty-year-old men do you know who can’t get it up?’


     ‘Drink your bush tea. A lot of men swear by Mother Henny’s bush tea. Says it helps them with their sexual problems.’


     ‘It fills me up with wind. Every time I come, I fart like a cowboy.’


     ‘So, there are some side effects.’


     ‘I can’t see, or feel, any difference.’


     ‘I have something to tell you.’


     ‘Not now Dorothy.’


     Dorothy stumbles into the bathroom, and vomits into the toilet. She returns to the bedroom, and lays staring at the celling. ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ is playing softly on the bedside radio.


     Martin sits with his head in his hands. When he feels Dorothy lay on the bed. He looks up.


     ‘You okay?’


     ‘What do you care?’


     ‘I am such a fucking failure.’


     ‘There is no way I can talk to you.’


     ‘I’ll see a shrink. Happy wit dat? If that doesn’t work, feel free to leave.’


     ‘I thought of doing just that.’


     ‘What stopped you?’


     She guides his hands to the bottom of her belly. Martin stares at her a long time.


     He takes her hand.




The Good Old Days by Mike Paterson-Jones

[Abbots Langley, England]


It was a post-apocalyptic scene. There were hundreds of rusty iron poles standing in rows along curved tarred banks. The tar was crazed and in the cracks grew grass and weeds, even trees struggling to exist. The projection room and adjoining café was a pile of rubble. Across the entrance was an old chain and a padlock long since seized solid. I stepped across the chain and walked amongst the weeds and let my mind wander back in time.


     It used to be one of the best places to go to enjoy oneself. I can remember, way back, going there in Dad’s Rover, us three kids in the back, Mom in the front next to Dad with a picnic basket on her lap. If the film was good, then life was perfect, well almost as long as you didn’t have the seat in the middle. The sound was not good. I guess the speakers had to be cheap since a fair number must have been driven off with. If it rained then it was hard to hear the soundtrack as the raindrops drummed on the car roof. It was also a mission to get to the café if it rained. It was still always a treat. Dad was an expert in placing the Chevy just near enough to the speaker post for the speaker to reach but far enough away so he could open his car door.


     As a teenager the drive-in was even more of a treat. It offered amazing opportunity in the courting process. If a girl agreed to go with you on her own it was a signal that an attempt at a kiss would probably succeed. If she agreed and didn’t ask what the film was, then the kiss was guaranteed. A perfect evening would start with a clear sky to allow a visit to the café for a burger, but would progress to rain which had the advantage of forcing you to close all windows, which in turn steamed up the windows to create perfect privacy. I once saw and admired one Romeo who took his girlfriend to the drive-in in a pickup. He parked in the last row and reversed up and half over the ramp. In the back of the pickup was a mattress and cushions. Romeo and his girlfriend lay comfortably in the back, probably not watching the film!


     I once met a couple whose first child they had called Drive-in. I wondered whether his other children had names like Motel, Bedroom or even Cancun?


      I only had one bad experience at the drive-in, and that was the night we went in the girlfriend’s car. I dutifully went to the café for burgers and while I was there the heavens opened. I discovered how hard it was to find a car in the rain not knowing either the registration number of the car or even its make! To make matters worse she dumped me!


     I come back to the present and wonder whether TVs and computers and video games were really better than the drive-in. I think the jury is out on this one!




Things Aren’t Always As They Seem by Vicki Evers

[Corsham, Wiltshire, England]


As she fell, her whole life flashed before her eyes. Her ivory dress, like a ship’s sail, buffeted for a while, then became umbrella like as it trapped the air beneath it. Her shoes, long gone, had been the first to leave her as she motioned towards the city below. Beautiful shoes, her favourites, bought on a spending spree in ‘Kinks’ when Derek had dumped her. Kinks, established in 1960, where only the wealthy entered and left with multiple bags; crisp white paper ones with a ‘K’ discretely set in the bottom right-hand corner. That day she bought those longed for leopard print, kitten heeled shoes; the ones that were by now probably dug into the roof of someone's car below. What a waste.  


     Descending swiftly through a grey cloud hoping to experience the fluff and softness of its being, she was disappointed. Mr Robarts her science teacher was right. “There’s none of that, just atmosphere.” 


     She wondered if her curls were still in place or if they had dropped through the motion. All that time spent taking each section of hair and painstakingly winding it around the tongs and waiting for the heat to set it.  Fussing which was totally pointless now, although the silver lining was that she might look more stylish if she ended up in someone’s roof garden.  


     The rooftops became more focused the nearer she was drawing towards them and as the sun went down, she watched as lights were being switched on in offices, flats, and houses; an array of flashing lights, across the bridge, along the pavements, on the yacht's moored in unsteady rows. Her old stomping ground.  


     Derek’s view was different. His world was made of moments, of reality, of experiences.  


     “Get outside in the summer rain,” he used to say to her, “feel each drop on your skin, mud between your toes, drenched hair.”


     She had hesitated, and that was it. The final straw he said. His front door open, she walked out. They agreed to take a break.    


     “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone.” he called after her. “Here take this.” He handed her an envelope. She opened it.   


     “A paragliding experience? You know I don’t like heights.”  


     He shrugged his shoulders and closed the door softly behind her.  


     So here she was now, bare footed, pulling the strings left, right, ever closer to ‘X’ marks the spot. She just wished she’d worn trainers.





Take Me Out To The Ball Game by Alan Berger

[West Hollywood, California]


At 12

Tony’s first and last year in little league was brutal.

Not one hit.

At the end of the season his failure was legendary.

During the end of the last game, the opposite teams coach felt so sorry for Tony that he instructed his young pitcher to purposely walk Tony so at least he would know how it felt to step on a base.


He never played again.

Not in little league.

Not anywhere.

But became in his little head, the next best thing.

A fan.

A super fan.


By the time he was married with a kid on the way, he became obsessed with the career of one big baseball hitter known as “The Crack”, because of the sound his bat would make during his counted, but countless home runs.


“Crack” was a hero and Tony was the hero worshipper.


Whenever the hero switched teams for more money Tony would pack up the family and move to the city his hero was playing for.

After moving the family four times, a sports reporter heard about it and wrote a piece proclaiming Tony’s loyalty.

Tony was delighted with the story and thought of himself as “The Cracks” fellow teammate.


One day while being interviewed on ESPN, “The Crack” was told about this situation.

His response was, “What a nutjob”.


This was seen by Tony as he watched the interview wearing “The Cracks” mail order jersey with “The Cracks name and number on it.


Tony was, to say the least of the least, destroyed.


Later that night, after he replaced his 'The Crack' jersey with one of his wife’s pajama tops, he killed himself.


During another ESPN interview when the “The Crack” heard about this situation, his only response was.


“Well, what did I tell you”?


 The sportswriter, and who knows, perhaps some of the crew, thought for maybe for just a tick, that every clock on the wall of ESPN Sports Central had held their place.


That night he threw away his special autographed, 'The Crack' jersey.


He thought, wouldn’t it be nice, if everyone was their own hero.





Beneath The Clock by Vicki Evers

[Corsham, Wiltshire, England]


Peggy walked into the wide entrance of Paddington train station. Above her the Victorian glass roof was opaque and covered in pigeon droppings. Orange computer-generated numbers and letters moved around on boards, hung from the industrial ceiling. Commuters stood huddled, looking up for departures, and visitors roamed the concourse, changing direction sporadically. The muffling sounds of their words broken by the tannoy announcement.


     Bristol. 17:32. Delayed. Expected 18:09. She picked up her bag and headed across the concrete tiles to the waiting room. No one was waiting. Sitting on a cold metal seat she rummaged in her bag and pulled out a second hand, or third or fourth hand, book. A poetry anthology that smelled of stale tobacco; the corners bent over in odd places, with a child’s drawing of a cat on the inside cover. An antique clock hung on the stone wall opposite and the intricate ironwork that framed it was shaped with twisted branches wrapped in ivy.


     A weekend home with dad was a treat. When it was time to go back to London, he cried. Nothing dramatic. Silent tears. Standing upright on the platform, he would reach into his pocket and discreetly pull out a clean white handkerchief, then squash it into the palm of his hand.


     Last time she was home she remembered him saying.


     “Old tears. I get old tears waving you off, under that clock.”


     Sitting at the kitchen table, a stained teapot dividing them she replied.  


     “Old tears for the clock?”    


     “That clock. It’s been there ever since I can remember, and that’s a while!” he’d chuckled. “Never seen anyone repairing it. Those big old hands. Ancient.”


     She had listened, the tone of his words calming her.


     “They made things properly in those days. Everything lasted. Must’ve taken about ten men to heave that up onto the ceiling.”


      “It’s looks delicate,” she’d said.


     “Trustworthy. That’s what it is. Steady Eddie!” he’d chuckled again.


     Sitting back on the metal kitchen chairs Peggy had noticed the seat pads, faded and threadbare. He would never replace them. It would mean erasing a part of her. She had patiently hand sewn each cushion and when the light was getting dim, she would gently call him and ask for the magnifying glass.


     “Waved her off to the land army, under that clock,” he’d said. “Be there for another hundred years or more, I expect.”


     “The train now arriving at Platform 1 is the 18:09 to Bristol Temple Meads.” The words of the Tanoy interrupted Peggy’s memories and brought her back to the cold seat and the draught from the open door.   



     It was 18:05. She walked out of the waiting room towards her carriage and then into her reserved seat. It would be a few days before she would leave Bristol again to come back to London. He’ll drive me back to the station, she thought. I’ll climb onto the train. I’ll wave from the window and above the rumbling of the engine, shout, “Bye Dad, see you at Easter!” She smiled as her mind captured the moment. He would be standing upright, underneath the clock. His hair combed; his trousers pressed, his hand reaching into his pocket.  





The Leopard by Mike Paterson-Jones

[Abbots Langley, England]


William Sampson lived on his own on a farm in the Rift Valley in Kenya. One day while out riding he came across a dead female leopard, probably killed by lions or hyenas. As he rode on, he heard a crying sound and found a very young leopard cub. It was obvious that its mother was the dead leopard. Bill took the cub home and fed it on milk with an eye dropper. The cub not only survived but thrived and soon graduated onto a doll’s baby bottle. The leopard slept on his bed every night. As it got older it, being a nocturnal animal, felt the need to explore and hunt at night, so it used to jump out of the bedroom window, onto the veranda, and from there disappear into the night. It would return in the early hours and jump back through the bedroom window. As it approached adulthood its jumps back through the window became longer until it was landing on his bed. Bill got tired of being woken up in the early hours every night but didn’t want to close the bedroom window as the nights were hot and any breeze coming through the window was welcome.


     Eventually, Bill had had enough. So, one day he put a collar on his leopard and that night attached a chain to the collar and the other end of the chain to a pillar on the veranda. He was fast asleep when, early in the morning he was awoken by something landing on his bed. In the moonlight he could make out the shape of a leopard. He lost his temper, jumped out of bed and grabbed a rhino hide whip from the corner of his room. He beat the leopard which had turned on him, growling and snarling. Bill drove the leopard back with his whip and eventually the leopard jumped out of the bedroom window. Bill went back to sleep. In the morning he went out on to the veranda to find his leopard still chained to the pillar!     





Decisions by Vicki Evers

[Corsham, Wiltshire, England]


Clara stood in the cold. It was 6.30am and the train would shortly be arriving. She pulled her collar up and held it tight to stop the frosty air catching her neck. Today she would be meeting an editor at the London Book Fair. She had been a visitor to the arena for over three years, and each time she arrived in the vast building, she fantasized about becoming a published author. It was all delusion of course, escapism, hope. But the smell of books, the hedonistic atmosphere, and the hint of a dream, pulled her to its open doors once again.  


     The tannoy overhead startled her, the echolalia words interrupting her thoughts.  


     ‘We are sorry to announce that the train due to arrive on platform one, the 06:45 to London Paddington will be delayed by forty minutes. We will keep you updated if there are any further delays.’ 


     Clara looked across at the display board. The train would now leave at 7.20am, her arrival would be 8.50am. She had twenty-five minutes to reach those ornate glass doors, the entrance to a glint of hope in her writing career.


     She felt warmth rise in her body, her cheeks flushed, and she opened her collar to catch the biting air. Twenty-five minutes was just enough time, if she ran. If she dodged through the crowds, ran towards the oncoming traffic, weaved her way around bollards and bins and chained up bicycles. That’s it. She could borrow someone’s bike? She would need a helmet too. But who? Who could lend her a bike at this short notice? She could walk. She would be late, but at least she would arrive perfectly coiffed. But what was the use of missing her slot just to be poised and still smelling of this morning’s perfume. Running. It was the only way.  




At The Back Door by Leanne Simmons

[Berkshire, England]


She draws water from the tap, listens for the murmurs as heat rises. Two eggs chortle in the water, little clacks as they jostle to the boil. Outside, the ghostly flap of sheets sway on the line. She is needed. No longer for picnics, paddling, or rolling down grassy banks. These days, she can get up close to summer and listen to the sky sounds. The hum around the hibiscus. She can feel the sparks of grass between her toes as summer falls like a feather, to land as quietly as age does. As slowly. As imperceptibly. She pops the toaster. Tops the eggs. Arranges the tray and creaks it up the stairs.      


The rusty prop dents the lawn. At the back door now, sipping coffee, she remembers tiny vests, milk-white, like first teeth, strung the length of the garden on a line. They disappeared into the glimmer of the sun. Her palms spread on the rise of her belly while her toddlers sifted sand in a frog-shaped pit; their chubby little fingers pressed it into moulds to make starfish and seahorses. When she crouched to play, they marvelled at her swollen feet, then squealed, when their grandad, who came to cut the lawn, brought them angel cake. When he was strong enough, well enough, to scoop his grandsons up in one, his blue eyes sparkled like the tide. Upstairs, she peeks into the sleepy room. His afternoon cup of tea stone cold.


Red kites whistle and swirl in the early evening haze. She scrapes what he couldn’t manage into the bin, rinses the little plate and sets it to drain. Playful shrieks of children drift in through the back door, with the rhythmic thunk of a ball kicked against a wall. She remembers denim dungarees, pigtail plaits and grubby hand-tooled sandals that started out white. She’d pick at the leather crumbling at the buckle, fly out of the back door, come to land on her knees, next to her mother reaching into the warm dirt to sieve out the weeds. Her mother’s hands; the sad, dirty marks they left when she wiped them on her jeans. Rosy wallflowers gleaming with scent climbed bright against the brickwork where he’d stand, home, calling from the back door, when there were so many summers to come. 




Something in the Library by Callum Heitler

[Fife, Scotland]


There was something moving in the library. She could hear it, the creaking of floorboards and the shifting of books, the groan of old doors. Switching on her bedside light, Mary swung out of bed and, slipping on her favourite pink slippers, padded across the cold floor of her bedroom and headed down the stairs. 


     There were many rooms in the library, many side halls and alcoves and out-of-the-way passages, each choked full of dusty books and scrolls. Her family had boasted the largest collection on the entire island - and such a collection required constant maintenance. 

As she hurried down the rows of bookshelves, Mary silently berated herself. She knew she should have checked the new batch of books coming in - her assistant, gods bless him, was still finding his feet, and Mary suspected he needed an atlas for such a tricky navigation.

She should have been there, but there had been the restoration to look over on aisle C, and so ...


     With her little light in one hand, Mary emerged into a sub-hall in the west wing. There was a shifting of something large in the shadows. Raising her little light above her head, Mary saw the dragon uncurl and look down at her with eyes of flame and smoke. 


     Damn, she thought silently. Another batch with plot-holes.




An Editor’s Occupational Hazard by C. J. Anderson-Wu 吳介禎


Reading and writing intensively, an editor is prone to exhaustion, vision impairment, or back pain.


Open the window, please, let in some fresh air, he said.


An editor is also at risk of being detained, incarcerated, or forced to confess attempting to overthrow the regime.


Let in some fresh air, please he said again from his desk, and realized that he was by himself, in a solitary confinement cell. Having published many books banned by the dictatorial government, he was arrested during his trip home. Now he is faced with involuntary public repentance, trials without due process, and draconian punishment.


Unable to contact his family until he writes down his confession, he worries that they must be in great anxiety. Will they try to negotiate for his freedom in private, or will they openly demand his release? He is aware that secret negotiations not only would silence all dissident opinions, but also make all writers and editors potential victims of the relentless ruler. On the other hand, openly campaigning for his rights might further enrage the power and prolong his confinement. 


Unlock the window, please he murmurs in his dream.  


The papers and pen given to him still lay on the desk. Even if he writes down his regret of his offense, the world would understand. Among the tens of thousands of thought criminals all over the world, he is just another case.


An editor’s occupational hazard is unmitigable, so long as the world keeps reading. If he were completely erased by the regime, what about him would be remembered? Did he make his readers more resistant or more compliant? 


Open the window, please, let in some fresh air. In darkness, he is surprised by his own voice.


An editor’s occupational hazard is unmitigable, so long as he is still breathing.


Author’s Note:

In March 2023, the Editor-in-Chief of Gusa Publishing House from Taiwan, Fucha was arrested in China on his trip to visit relatives. Gusa has published many books in Taiwan that are banned in China. There are still many writers, publishers, and bookstore owners imprisoned in China. At the time this story is being written, Fucha’s whereabouts are still unknown.




Harry Cuts The Apron Strings by Helen Binks

[Pocklington, East Yorkshire, England]


Harry used his knife for the second time that morning when he neatly decapitated a rose for his buttonhole. Leaving the stem in the vase, he shouted goodbye to his mother and pulled the door behind him for what he knew would be the last time.


     The marketplace was already seething. Trams shuddered along Percy Street, jostling for space to offload raucous passengers, their usual stop in front of the White Swan occupied by two trestle-tables hastily carried out of the hotel and now being covered by a faded Union Jack last seen at the coronation. It flapped playfully in the wind, evading capture and raising ironic cheers in the crowd, until it was at last weighted down with a rifle, the bayonet flashing in the sun. For a moment, silence fell. People looked around nervously, as if embarrassed to be having so much fun, but then a child laughed and the spell was broken.


     Harry side-stepped into the butcher’s doorway to wait; his timing would have to be perfect and from here, he could either step forward and join the queue that was already forming sloppily in front of the tables, or he could turn and run. He checked his pocket-watch; say an hour to sign up and he could be on the afternoon train out of Alnwick and on the parade ground in Bisley this evening, all present and correct.


     “Taking the King’s shilling, lad?” The butcher stood at Harry’s shoulder, wiping his hands on a rag.


     “Yes, sir!” Harry grinned, jumped to mock attention and saluted smartly. “I’m just waiting for them to start.”


     “Your mam’ll be proud.” The butcher reached back to his counter and handed Harry a small pie, still warm, sticky with glaze. “Give her that to make up for you going.” Harry laughed, saluted again and marched smartly back into the crowd. Somewhere ahead, a bugle called and orders were barked; recruiting had begun and Harry pushed closer to the noise. He had to be in the first wave if he was to get away today.


     Nearly at the tables now. Clouds unrolled like fresh bandages above the castle. Harry fought the urge to look back, to shake off the feeling that someone had followed him, but he knew that even the quickest glance would bring shouts of greeting from half a dozen or more friends. Safer by far to keep eyes front until his name was on that paper. His turn next. Harry dropped the pie on the cobbles, wiped his palm on his thigh and stepped forward.


     “Yes, Sir! Eighteen last January. No, Sir! I’m fit as a fiddle. I’m ready to go today.”  Harry took the pen and bent at last to sign. He wondered if anyone had found Mother yet.




Uni by Susannah Ronn

[Essex, England]


Shopping, lunches, ticking off lists. It’s been lovely together, just her and me. Debating the merits of a colander over a sieve, whether a bamboo steamer is absolutely essential for student life and wondering if a toaster is provided. I’ve been bracing myself, but now the day has arrived, I feel helpless.


     The IKEA hoard, squirreled away in the spare room for the past two weeks, is crammed into the boot and piled onto the back seat. Single sheets, towels, cutlery, saucepans, a frying pan, plus bowls, plates, and mugs (two of each) and a holdall bulging with clothes. A cache of rice, pasta, cornflakes and eggs is secreted in the footwell.


     In the hall, Alice buries her face into the dog’s neck then walks out to the car, squeezing into the back. Plugged in to her phone, her thumbs dance over the screen. She is already moving on from us, shedding her baby feathers.

On the long drive north, the murmuring radio erupts into snatches of muffled laughter. I sneak a look at my husband, focused on the road ahead and wonder if, like me, he is being slowly swallowed by sadness with each grey mile. My throat aches. He squeezes my hand and I manage a watery smile.


     “Look at the trees, they’re magnificent,” he says.


     But the scarlet maples, russet birches and golden oaks slip past on the motorway in a fiery blur. Flocks of gulls rise and fall over a stretch of stubble vanishing under the plough. The road cuts like a scar through a brown landscape where summer is a fading memory.

Her room is tiny. We edge round each other, piling everything onto the bed. I offer to help unpack but she shoos us away, back past the communal kitchen loud with voices and a throbbing beat. Outside, huge oaks slough off dead leaves which gather in drifts. I hug Alice tight until she pulls away.


     “See you at Christmas,” she says, over her shoulder.


     “Text me!” I say, but my voice cracks and I don’t think she’s heard.


     My husband circles my waist with his arm. “Cheer up,” he says. “The dog will be pleased to see us.”

My eyes prickle.


     “How about we get a takeaway tonight? What do you think?” he says. “We’ll snuggle on the sofa, light the fire. Peace at last!”


     I give a shaky sigh. “That sounds lovely,” I say. I know he is trying his best. But I dread stepping into our silent hallway. I wonder if the house will feel as big to him as it will to me.


     The wind is raw on my face as we trudge back to the car over grass crackling with acorns. Some have nestled on the base of the windscreen, too. While my husband pats his coat for the keys, I pick one off, caress its plump, glossy shell and cradle it in my palm. Then

     I tuck it in my pocket.


     “I’ll drive us home,” I say.




A Passion by Ian Andrew



It got out of hand. Now, with blood seeping into my eyes and my mother’s suppressed sobs filling my ears, I think it was all my fault.


     I could have stayed home. Worked with my father. There’s no shame in being a carpenter. But I had to do what I thought was right. I had to protest. Our people were downtrodden and oppressed. Invaded and occupied. Our land taken; our rights denied. The world ignorant to our plight. I couldn’t stand by and let others protest for me. I couldn’t watch my friends go, while I cowered in my workshop. I couldn’t.


     It was our time. We were young, fit, strong and if not us, then who? The old men were too feeble, the children too young. It had to be us.


     I knew my voice was strong. I knew I had a way with words. I was happy to talk at the meetings, but I did not see it coming; cannot pinpoint the moment when I went from speaking to leading. It just happened. People sought me out, asked my opinion, more and more. Listened to me, believed in me, my message, my call to action. However, I can see, with sad hindsight, times when I could have turned back. Could have turned everyone back, but the momentum was undeniable. Like great conversations when bedtime is long past, yet no one wants to break the spell. The smiles and laughter, camaraderie and emotion binding all together into a new dawn. That was our journey but multiplied in intensity a thousand-fold. I really believed we would change things. Not by overthrowing the Government, it was madness to think like that, faced with an army such as they had. No, our way had to be subtle. Peaceful. The mass of the people, moving in unison. Undeniable.


     And then my mistake. The whole thing torn asunder by my temper. I had seen starvation throughout the countryside. Dire need that could have been assuaged by those in power with a single stroke of their pens, yet they did nothing. I thought perhaps they didn’t realise the severity of our need, but I was wrong. They understood and they dismissed me with disdain. The traders, the money changers, the tax collectors. In that holy place. Paying to Caesar his due. Paying us nothing. I could stand it no longer. That one day’s worth of taxes could have fed whole villages, yet we received not so much as a cursory glance. So, I struck out and finally my voice was heard. Heard as a trumpet blast against their economic status quo and they decided, enough was enough.


     It took days, not weeks. Their speed was frightening to behold. Friends scattered, all pursued. I was arrested, tried, condemned. Now, as I die, the movement will die with me. There is no reprieve, no kindness. Even their water, offered to my parched lips, is vinegar. To mock my thirst and my naivety. It is finished.




Honeysuckle Promises by Liz Friston


"I really think you’ll like it here, Mum,” Dana says, without looking at me.




     “The garden looks … cheerful.”


      “It looks like they based their landscaping on a Kandinsky painting.”


      “Lovely, isn’t it. But I didn’t think you liked Kandinsky. Oh. I see.” Her knuckles whiten on the steering wheel. “Can’t you at least try to give it a chance?”


     Dana parks up before a large brick building. A faded sign announces Beeches Care Home. Dana turns to look at me. “Look, Mum, this really is for the best. I’ll come visit soon.” Even as she says it, her eyes dart away.


      At what point did I go from being a friend and confidant to becoming a burden? I nursed her through every cold, listened to her rant about all her breakups, stroked her hair when she cried. And now, when I need her, she foists me off.


     I listen to the indistinct voices of Dana and a nurse as they fuss around getting the wheelchair out of the car. When they open my door, they are silent.


     Good morning, Mrs. Ellison.” The nurse’s Barbie-smile is fixed by habit, her eyes as hollow as any doll’s. “I’m Bernadette and I’ll be your nurse.”


      The wheels of my chair whirr on the shiny, laminated floors. As Bernadette pushes me along sterile corridors, their cream walls occasionally populated by student art, she intones all the banal activities they have on offer: cards on Tuesday, Scrabble on Wednesday...

Suicide watch by Friday.


     After the institutionalised corridors, my room comes as a pleasant surprise: creams and pastel pinks, a comfortable single bed. A wall-length window floods the room with light and leads to a paved area. Bernadette pushes the chair out onto the paved area and retreats.


      Sweet-smelling honeysuckle wafts gently on the warm breeze, the small white flowers rising like stars on the trellis beside the window.


     “Remember when you were little? We spent ages chasing butterflies and cloud-watching in the garden. We had honeysuckle there, too.” A tear creeps down my cheek.


       Dana crouches in front of me, places her hands over mine. “Oh, Mum. I can’t care for you and Martin and Lisa. I just can’t. I don’t want this either, but I don’t know what else to do.”


      My heart’s being pummelled by a juggernaut. “I’m sorry Dana. I’m being selfish.”


      “No. Yes.”


      “I just don’t want to be forgotten. Be the lonely old woman no one ever visits.”


      “No chance! Okay, maybe I possibly lied about coming to see you soon – you know how it is with Martin’s A&E visits and hospital appointments – but I will come.”


     She sits on my dead legs to hug me better, wraps her arms around me. We sit in silence until the shadows lengthen.


      “I have to go. Lisa needs picked up from after school club. I’ll see you soon. Promise.”


      I sit there, even as the cold snaps at me, and watch Dana’s car pass out of sight.





Realism Of The Highest Order by Adam Wilson

[Motherwell, Scotland]


See him waiting in the shelter of a building, his back to the shop window. The ground is frosty and he transfers his weight from foot to foot, crunching slightly. One hand is stuffed into a jacket pocket, the other clings to a string, which, eyes following heavenwards, keeps within reach a glistening red, love-heart shaped balloon.


I find that I cannot sleep immediately after extinguishing the light. I check my phone. This takes two hours. I put it down when the water begins to collect in the corner of my eye. It takes another twenty or so minutes to drift off.


I look at the glossy page of the recipe book and back to my plate.


The flowers seem to wilt under the sickly, foil lighting. I try to visualise them being picked. It is easier to imagine that they have been designed on some sort of supercomputer. I decide not to buy any.


I have already cracked an old lady over the head with my rucksack as the bus shunted me towards the doors, which are now opening with a robotic exhale and a nod from the driver. The man in front of me says, ‘Thanks driver’. He is an older man. Cords and a shirt. One of those small backpacks that sling over a single shoulder. I just say, ‘Thanks’.


The skin on the tips of my fingers has violently blistered. I have the ability to control the speed of the particles which make up my body, apparently producing flames from nothing. I wince as I remind myself to do this only when necessary.


There is an older couple walking on the pavement in front of me. I stop and pretend to look at my phone so as to allow their lead to increase.


I give a man a ten-pound note. He is lying on the street and scrunched in a sleeping bag at the bottom of a cold, concrete wall. He tells me to ‘Have a good day’.  I don’t say anything in reply.


On the inside of my foot, just below the ankle, there is a glistening, red-purple blush of hardened skin. It looks like a misshapen love heart. I am having trouble deciding whether it is a bruise or another fungal infection.




Clay County Contaminants by Ian Andrew



Shirlene holstered the gas pump nozzle, took the offered dollars and threw a half-hearted salute at the driver. Despite a lack of traffic, the car hesitated slightly before turning south.


     She walked back to the shop, illuminated by the rhythmic blink, blink, buzz of a neon light. Its shattered plastic cover had seen better days. Like the rest of East Kentucky. Pushing the metal door open, she entered a stifling heat. Frank liked the heater up full.


      ‘You couldn’t convince them to buy nothing?’ He called from the back office.


      ‘No. I couldn’t.’ And it’s anything, you ignorant piece of … ‘Lady just wanted to be on her way.’


     ‘Typical. Where’s she heading?’


     ‘Didn’t say.’


      ‘She’s no lady out at this time of night. Yankee plates too, you seen that?’


     ‘Yeah, I saw.’ She knew Frank had watched her on the CCTV that monitored the pumps. In case of drive-offs.


     ‘Long ways from home. What she doin’ down here?’


     Shirlene opened the cash register and carefully placed the dollars into the tray. ‘She didn’t say, Frank.’


     ‘Now y’all come back in here again.’


     Closing the register, she went into the back office.


     Frank hadn’t moved from his position on the couch. His left hand cradled a head of thinning, grey hair. Tight eyes watched her from above a bulbous, red-veined nose and sagging jowls. A thick neck flattened into a barrel chest perched on a beer-gut belly, which in turn hung over open jeans. His right hand held his flaccid penis. In the half-light, it looked like its owner; old and wrinkled. Between his feet, the threadbare cushion’s thin padding hardly showed the two dents that Shirlene’s knees had made.


     She and Frank had worked the nightshift for two years. He’d taken her by force the second week. She’d been fifteen and a fast learner.


      Less bruises if she didn’t fight. Less violation if she gave him a blow job the way he liked it.


     He finished and she, as ever, made them both a cup of coffee. Him to wash down a smoke, her to wash away the taste. She poured the hot brown liquid into two cups while Frank zipped himself up.


     Two years. Then that week when Frank had been sick, the lady from Boston had stopped to get gas. She was visiting the old coal mine. A tourism initiative that needed her advice on cleaning chemical contaminants. Arsenic specifically. They’d talked for half an hour before she’d invited Shirlene for dinner. What a week. Shirlene smiled at the memory and slipped the small Ziploc bag from her pocket.


     She’d expected it to be white, but Sandy had said that the grey metal powder was more toxic and crucially, less detectable.


      She waited for him to sit before handing him his coffee.


     Ten minutes later the Yankee-plated car pulled back into the pumps.


      Shirlene walked to the open passenger door and climbed in.


     ‘We good, Shirlene?’


      ‘We’re good, Sandy.’





Who Dares Wins by Kit Shaw

[London, England]


The mouse crept back to the top.


His paws held the right piece tight to his chest. One scrape of fur, one errant squeak would mean a quick death. 

A tug on the wire above to check. It was still taught. He held his breath, and once more, tried for the left piece. Out went his arm. A flick past the loose end. Close. Try again. Sway on the wire, build up speed, reach out, grab. Missed. He clambered back to the wire and thought hard. He could not fail. It would be much worse for everyone if he did. He snarled and went again. Holding firm on the wire by his tail, hands out, full stretch, lunging for that piece now. This time, luck was on his side. By the tip of his claw, made it.


He finally held both loose pieces.


He kept his little body straight, feet and tail wrapped around the wire, arms holding out the left and right pieces. He brought the left under the right, a quick loop under, feed through the hole, and there, a knot. His body started to tremble. Tiny muscles strained under unfamiliar gymnastics. He felt his legs loosening their grip. He forced his claws to grip harder one last time, and with a nearly perceptible grunt pulled the knot tight.


It was done.


He heaved his body to the wire and as soon as he could, launched himself upwards faster than any scurry in his life. He allowed himself one look below as he drew up the wire. He grinned. He had succeeded where the rats hadn’t dared to try.


The cat let out a burbling, contented, snore.


It hadn’t noticed the bell around its neck.





She Left The House Full Of Fruit by David Shipley



She left the house full of fruit. She loved to buy fruit. Loved how it looked. Didn’t eat much of it and so each week I’d buy bowls full of fruit and toss last week’s rotted mush into the compost bin. Still, she loved the idea of a house full of fruit, and I loved her, so I kept buying the fruit.


The day she left the fruit bowl was full. Mangos, plums, grapes, oranges and bananas. I learned long ago that bananas left in a bowl will soon rot and take the rest of the fruit with them. But she liked how they looked and I loved her.


I’d hammered hooks into the beam that bisected the kitchen’s ceiling. I’d hang a bunch of bananas on one. The fingers hung heavy, splayed, like the ruined hand of some aged heavyweight boxer. I liked how they looked.


She’d move them back to the bowl. I smiled and didn’t really mind. She liked how they looked, and I loved her.


That day she left, did it seem different? No. I brought us coffee in bed, and the bagel with marmite. She’d never craved Marmite before, but now, fifteen weeks gone, she devoured it. We talked about our days, things to get for the baby, now swooping and twisting inside her, and we made plans for the weekend.


It didn’t seem different. We kissed goodbye, she drove off. She never came home. The call, the visitors, the funeral, the weeks that passed I can’t remember. Now the bananas she left have rotted in the bowl, turning the rest of the fruit to rum-stink and blackened decay. I should throw them away but she liked how they look and I love her.





Life On The Edge by Rosie Bamford

[Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire]


Chattering, always the chattering. Nothing but incessant taunts that become ever noisier and more twisted. They wind through my mind like a snake charmed from its basket, viewing the world with narrowed eyes. What do you want with me? Rational thought is allowed no entry, but I still perceive, through a veil, that it exists. I have planned this and set my alarm, but there was no need, I did not sleep. It is a clear and frosty night in the dog-end of the year. I am ready yet not ready to do this. I inhabit a dense fog, pierced by a single headlight. I hold no identity; I am only one throwaway person.


I climb with an agility borne of desperation onto the sloped roof, where I sit on the apex rimed with frost. I just need to let go. That is all. End. I feel a weary acceptance, I have shut out the cold, all is numb. Does it matter if I live or die? The stars above are bright shiny, but too late to offer any salvation, they instead fade into darkness. The chattering resumes, what do you want with me? The impatience of my anguish both fuels and scares me.


A hesitation. Is the end really going to be better than this rapid torture of my mind? Which way will the dice fall? I drag my hand repeatedly across the rough edge of the roof, the physical pain grounds me. I feel calmer as pain that is riddled within manifests itself for real. I feel nothing, but watch, fascinated, as my blood drops redly. It is but a commonplace weapon that shreds the flesh and leaves the spirit untouched.


You call out to me. A steely jolt of shock. I am a contradiction, relieved yet defiant. Look at me, see my pain. But, no, don’t. Please go away. I hear the clean sounding snap of reality. The spell has broken. I climb down slowly and carefully, as if I were precious. You help me with gentle hands. The possibility of some other future edges nearer as I reach the ground. I find myself cold and shiver, accepting the undeserved blanket around my shoulders.


Now I am wondering if I can be saved, breathing in the deprivation of my freedom to act otherwise. I did not want to return home but find myself here and in chains. The brutal cold edge of my existence lets itself in, chasing my dreams of escape around the bend and away out of reach.


You promised peace of mind, but all I get is weary acceptance, limping from one minute to the next. The business of being alive is so wearing. The treacherous beating of my heart. The afflicted beauty of my words is the only lasting testimony to my hopelessness. All else is out of sight except the ugly scars bearing witness to that night.  There is something enticing about that roof and it glitters in my memory even now.




Sweet Victory by Glen Donaldson

[Brisbane, Australia]


Backed into a cramped and dark corner, Prince Citrus was left with no choice but to fight. This foretold dance of destruction would pit him finally against his most hated enemy - the wild, dagger-toothed beast known as Paw Paw. Ferocious and bloody, only one of them would be left standing at the end.


the pacing predator did not know however, was that the deadly weapon the crowned Prince would use to bring death this very day, lay on the kitchen benchtop in plain sight of both of them. The ordinary looking fruit bowl filled with a freshly-picked selection of the best nature could offer cleverly disguised an array of deadly hidden weapons.


Using nothing but the focussed power of his mind, young Prince Citrus commanded a banana to first slowly levitate from the bowl, then magically peel itself on three sides mid-air. Paw Paw, building menace and hatred with every panting breath, stared transfixed as the yellow fruit then hurled itself at lightning speed across the room and directly into its unblinking eyes.

Splat! Blinded by sticky, gooey banana, the quick-thinking Prince then struck his next blow. This time it was the razor-sharp spine leaves of the pineapple that found their target, embedded at his command into the body of the blinded, yelping beast, piercing its fur-covered skin like a hundred tiny knives.


Writhing in pain, Paw Paw fell to one knee, blood trickling from dozens of gaping puncture holes, eventually collapsing breathless and defeated on the floor.  


To finish him off, Prince Citrus, head titled back and walking with wide steps, approached the granite benchtop one final time. A huge watermelon lay next to the now half-emptied fruit bowl. He clutched it with both muscular hands, approaching the almost lifeless body of the once mighty and feared four-legged Paw Paw.


Raising the basketball-sized mega-fruit above his head and then pausing for a moment to take in what was about to happen, with all his princely strength he brought it calamitously crashing down on the skull of the defeated beast.


The fight was over. Conquest had come swiftly, more swiftly than he might have imagined. The now almost empty fruit bowl would need restocking to be sure, but that was a job awaiting one of the Prince’s loyal servants on their next visit to the markets.





Going by Jack Roe

[Hull, East Yorkshire, England]


Rose spent days trudging around her two-up two-down house, cramming stuff into tattered cases. The bump did not help. She struggled to bend down and had to waddle across the stone yard every ten minutes to wee. She cleaned the house too. Top to bottom. If a bomb hit it, those rifling through the rubble would know she was not a tramp.

     The next morning, Rose got up early. It was still dark and cold drifted through the window. Frank was in bed, snoring like a bulldog. Carefully, she curled her hair and did her makeup by the dim lamplight. Eye shadow, mascara, lipstick. She wanted to look like the star of a Hollywood film.


     At daybreak, the sun hid behind glum clouds. Mist swept across the terrace and hovered above the cobbles. Rose slipped into a floral dress and watched Frank wake up, slick back his hair and put on his new uniform. Khaki suited him. She went and kissed his clean-shaven face. The smell of Brylcreem lingered as he held her.

     After breakfast, Anne stepped outside and felt the morning’s nip. Frank locked up and grabbed her case. They set off, dodging flapping washing that was strung across their street like bunting. When they turned into Albion Street, a line of packed buses whizzed passed them. Rose clutched Frank’s free hand; she would not let go until she had to. In town, hordes of boys and girls, wearing their Sunday best, walked in front of them next to women who pushed large prams. Everyone headed the same way. 


     Paragon station was frenetic. It sounded like a rugby match. A full house at The Boulevard for derby day. Kids, mams, dads, nurses, teachers, and soldiers were everywhere. Rose and Frank shuffled around hundreds of women in headscarves saying goodbye to their bairns. Some kids cried. Some bounced around. Some followed adults like ducklings.

     Smoke billowed from the train as it pulled in. The ground shook. 

     “Write as soon as you get there,” Frank said.

     “I will. Write straight back. I need to know you’re safe,” Rose replied.

     “I’ll be fine. I won’t be the one shovelling pig shit.”

     She laughed and kissed him. He tasted sweet. He rested his hand on her bump. His fingers curled around it. Rose looked up at him.

     “I wish you could be there when the baby comes.”

     “It’ll all be over soon. Promise.”

     The yell of a whistle ripped them apart. Frank handed her the case.

     Rose nestled herself in the corner of a carriage, already filled with rowdy kids. The smell of penny sweets sickened her.


     As the train pulled away, young ones stuck their heads out of windows. They cheered and waved like they were going on holiday. Rose sat and cradled her bump; she watched a sea of waving hands try to drown her husband. As the train picked up speed and started chugging away, he got smaller and smaller. Then, he vanished from sight.





Mishu And Me by J D Clapp

[San Diego, California]


Mishu and I hurl stones at the dead seagull churning atop confused little waves. The sky pulsates blood orange. Rain drops dance on the surface among the ghosts of dead fish. Mishu wears green rubber boots and yellow rain slicker.


     “You need boots and coat, or you’ll catch cold,” she tells me.


     Even with the dead bird just bobbing we can’t hit it.


     Mishu doesn’t see the black fish swimming below the dead gull.


     We race to Mishu’s father’s boat way down the dock. Mishu says she won after I was already there.


     Mishu’s dad fishes when the seas are calm, and the sun is warm. I want to fish like him when I grow up, but he doesn’t talk to me.


     Her father smokes a cigarette. Mishu pretends to smoke; her breath makes a cloud in the cold air.


     Mishu says, “I need pieces of rope for my school art project.”


     Mishu picks up one more piece of rope from the deck of the boat. She kicks the coiled dock line and then stands on a folded black net to see if she can see the dead bird. Mishu shrugs.


     She ignores me.


     “That’s enough rope for me.”


     She needs to go home to do homework. She asks if I have homework. I shake my head, no.


     “You never have homework,” she says. 


     She seems mad.


     “What do you want to do tomorrow?" I ask.


     Mishu is silent and looks down. 


     Finally, she says, “I can’t come tomorrow. My mom is having a new baby.”


     “Ok. Can you come the next day?” I ask.


     “My mom says I can’t play with you anymore, so you can rest.”


     I don’t know what Mishu means.


     She turns and leaves me on the dock. She doesn’t wave or say goodbye.


     I call for her, but she ignores me. I am very sad. 




We met in a park. Mishu was with her mommy who was sad about Mishu’s brother. Mishu was sad too, but mostly because her mommy was sad.


     Birds were screaming when I met Mishu. The sky flashed red and blue. It got dark when Mishu went home. But I don’t remember nights.



I am back at the park where I first met Mishu. She is not here now. A different little girl is swinging on the swing set. She is swinging high and the chains rattle and make a little jump when her feet reach for the clouds. The clouds are sunny clouds, puffy, white, dancing. 


     The girl’s mommy is angry.


     “Can I swing too?”


     They ignore me.


     “Be Careful Emily! Not so high. You’ll fall and break your neck!”


     Emily laughed. 


     “Remember that little boy who fell off the monkey bars last year? He went too high!”


     “Sorry Mommy.”


     Emily slowed down.


     I felt bad for the little boy who died. It is getting dark.


     I hope I see Mishu soon.

Go Blow by Alan Berger

[West Hollywood, California]


He would have said how the fuck could they make a trumpet out of plastic and have come forth out of it with such beautiful sounds. Sounds like he heard his father play on his brass trumpet. But Gabriel was only four years of age when he got it and didn’t know yet what plastic was.

Gabe’s mother and father were always fighting. With her doing most of the fighting and him doing most of the ignoring. She was jealous of his trumpet, which he played all the time.

Gabe would listen to his father play in the next room and play along with him from his room.

That duo would harmonize until mom started hitting dad and if Gabe was still playing after a few smacks at dad, she would go into his room and smack on him.

By that time dad would start playing his horn again and she would leave Gabe and go back to dad and start in again on him where she left off.

Gabe kept playing too.

His horn sounds banished the bad ones.


Gabe’s dad died when Gabe was thirteen.

Gabe figured he died because he wanted to.

Death couldn’t be worse than living with ma and dad’s horn could no longer quiet the bad sounds like Gabe’s was still doing.

After the funeral Gabe took his fathers horn and then took a powder.

Gabe and his horn ran away together.


Gabe found work at a golf course as a caddy.

He always had his eye on the ball and now he was finding them.


He wrote his first piece around those times waiting to be called to carry golf bags in the caddy shack where he could just hold his forever horn in his lap and not play it.

Just think it.

He called it, ‘Please Accept My Love’.

It was a beautiful begging haunting yet friendly piece.

When he played it was as if he was born with a horn that would forever work and rest in his chest.

Mouthpiece pointing up to lip with the horn pointing down to his heart.

When he played, what was listened to, would stick to the ribs, and then some.


At days end he would pretend to be on his way to his, “Home”, that he would describe to others as a nice big house surrounded by big trees that he shared with his, “Brothers and sisters”, and it had a nice front and backyard that was as green as the golf course fairways he would carry and compose on.

He would leave a window unlocked in the caddy shack and hide in the woods until everyone left and thru the window he would go to his, ‘Home’, and sleep, eat, wash and stay there until early morn where he would slip back out the window and  into the woods and wait until they opened and go back pretending he was just was showing up at work.

A lot of his wardrobe comprised of shirts and sweaters that were left forgotten on the fairways and such and end up in the caddy shacks lost and found department.

Never found pants, but blue jeans are forever.

He knew he was lost and hoped one day to be found.

When asked why he wasn’t in school, he said he was, ‘Home’ schooled.

Well ain’t that the truth. He played his song, “Please Accept My Love”, to one of the members of the club that noticed his forever with him horn and when the music ended the club owner asked what it was called and who wrote it.

When he heard the title and the name of the author, he teared up and threw down a twenty to Gabe.

Then he asked Gabe a lot of questions.

It did not take him long to unfold the folded-up truths regarding this young man’s circumstances.

He said, “You three are coming home with me tonight.”

When Gabe asked who the other two were he was told, “Your horn and my sweater.”



The Chair by James Strother

[St Albans, England]


I’ll be gone soon. Not long now. Unwanted, flotsam or jetsam, though I think that’s a seafaring analogy, not really one for the parish hall. What have I done with my life? Been sat upon, I suppose, that seems to sum it up. Always playing a supporting part, drab and functional, never standing out. Just being there, performing my useful, essential even, but near as dammit invisible role.


Still it’s been a varied half century in its way. Monthly meetings every one of those years. In the office behind the big desk mostly, phone ringing, papers shuffling, Josie dropping in from the kitchen alternate Fridays with tea and cake when the Mothers’ Union was still a thing. Special occasions were all right, pushed up to the front row next to the seat for some local dignitary or other. The pantomime was the best one, all them excited kids, some of the parents even more so, yelling, applauding, egging on the baddies. I’ve been a bit wobbly these last few years so they moved me to the side, said they didn’t want a broken leg to sort out. Fair enough really.


I can feel it coming now. Legs, back, everything creaking, disintegrating inside, I shouldn’t wonder. I heard Jo Patterson just the other day, must have forgotten I was there, or like them all she assumes I can’t hear. ‘Needs replacing’, she said, ‘nowt lasts forever’. Doubt she knows the truth or she’d have been more careful with her words. She’s right though, not hard to find another one of me, and no one’ll think about me five minutes after I’ve been sent to the knacker’s yard. Plenty more identikit workhorses where I come from.


First Saturday in April, start of the youngsters’ football season. More excitement in one day than in all my time. A kid brought his ball inside where he had no right to be, kicked it across the hall to where the admin desk was for the first match against Greater Marston. Over I went, crash, felt something cracked, I heard it too. Everyone rushed round and for once, just for a moment, I was right at the centre of what was going on. Then they cleared the room and there was just me and Bob the caretaker, me lying on the floor waiting to be cleared away like so much rubbish.


The ambulance comes quickly, I suppose they told them I’m frail and in my eighties. As we leave, I see Bob from the corner of my eye, lifting up my old chair, that faithful friend since the old Queen’s coronation. One leg’s bent into an impossible position, just like mine. Funny it doesn’t really hurt, maybe the shock or something. Ah well, there’s some sort of…synchronicity here, is that the word? I won’t be back, this is it for me, for my chair as well I guess. I hope they miss us but I bet they don’t.





Crazy Driver by JD Clapp

[San Diego, California]


Bing bang, wang tang, tutti fruity, kiss my booty. Caught in no man’s land, the light turned yellow. Walter had only gotten to tutti fruity.


      The rules were clear; he could only stop once he completed the rhyme. Knuckles white, beads of perspiration on face, his blue oxford shirt rumpled, stained with the remnants of a Big Mac and pitted, Walter floored his 2009 Prius.


     The light went red when Walter was a few feet from the crosswalk entering the intersection. College Avenue was busy that afternoon. As the little humanoid figure on the walk signal flashed white, five college students stepped off the curb, ten eyes glued to tiny phone screens. Walter missed them by a foot as he flew through the intersection. The kid zooming on the one-wheel in the crosswalk on the backside of the intersection was not so lucky.


     Walter was doing about 45 mph. The impact of the collision sent the kid hurling over the Prius before landing and bouncing a few times, limbs flying in unnatural directions. Walter kept driving.


     Bing bang, wang tang, tutti fruity, kiss my booty. Walter timed the rhyme perfectly and stopped at the next red light.


     “Sorry about that. I think that kid will be fine,” Walter said.


     The corpse of the elderly woman in the backseat did not answer. Her sick cat, however, howled in disbelief from its carrier.


     The light turned green. Walter speed up to 27 miles per hour, the sweet spot. Bing bang, wang tang, tutti fruity, kiss my booty. The light went yellow. Rules were rules.


      The old woman in the wheelchair was hidden behind a US mailbox. It wouldn’t have mattered. Bing bang, wang tang, tutti fruity, kiss my…BAM!!


     “Rules are rules,” Walter said as he drove on.


     When Walter finally turned right on College Avenue, red and blue flashers lit the street. Several police cruisers and an ambulance blocked all but one lane. Walter took no notice. Bing bang, wang tang, tutti fruity, kiss my booty. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Traffic was dead stopped.


     “Say it with me Scruffy!”


      The cat did not reply.


     Eventually the police directed cars through five at a time, alternating directions of traffic.

Walter eventually got to the accident.


      “It’s the car!”


     “That’s him!”


     The officer, hearing the cries, and noticing blood on the hood, stepped in front of Walter’s car. Other officers approached.


     “Turn off the engine and place both hands out your driver’s side window!”


     Walter ignored the command. When he got to booty, he floored it. Rules were rules.


     The police officer tumbled over the Primus hood and landed hard. Ahead another police cruiser backed across the lane. Walter slammed into it, then the motor cut out.


      Walter laid on the ground in cuffs. He politely answered questions.


     Eventually, the officers helped Walter to his feet and lead him toward a waiting police van. Walking again Walter began his chant.


     Bing bang, wang tang, tutti fruity, kiss my booty.


     Rules were rules after all.





Things In Pairs by Pete Prokesch

[Watertown, Massachusetts, USA]


After I pushed Mom in the kitchen she slipped on the slick mopped floor and hit her head on the corner of the counter and lay still and I thought it would be a good time to climb the tree out back because it was autumn and the pears were ripe and the squirrels never scattered when I was up there and never looked at me like they knew what I was thinking because squirrels know what to do when a squirrel dies and they don’t make a big deal about it and call their dad at work who said to only call him in case of emergencies and surely this was one but what if it wasn’t and you were overreacting like the time a ripe pear fell on the dog shit under the tree and you called him and he yelled but surely this was different but how different was it so I climbed the tree and didn’t come down until the lights from the siren stopped filtering through the leaves and the sun set and it was pleasant and cool so I went inside and I like things in pairs so I grabbed the knife from the counter next to the sink and snuck into the bedroom and killed Dad too.





Chengu by Balu Swami

[Buckeye, Phoenix AZ, USA]


I was 22 when I published my first novel. I’ve published seventeen more since – one every two years. Whenever I was asked about my “prolific” output, I gave them my usual spiel about discipline, dedication, persistence and perseverance. I would tell them about the restless hours of night-time creativity, the daily regimen I followed, and my devotion to the task of creating good literature.

All that is a fucking lie. Ideas and even words came to me in my dreams. I used the app “Greyish” to record my dreams. I also woke up at odd hours at night and dictated a story based on whatever dream I saw. In the morning, I would print the dictated story which would turn out to be a jumble of words that made no sense. I would then watch the recorded dream. After watching the images, the jumble of words would start to make some sort of sense. Then I would start to write but would have no control over how the story took shape or what words poured out of the keyboard.  A voice in my head would dictate and I would transcribe. By the end of the morning, I would have 20 pages of ‘literary stuff’.  Other writers may claim to work like a man possessed. I am possessed; therefore, I write.

Here's how my product evolved from last night’s dream.  First, the dictated story:

“Hated boy. xxx constant stench of urine xxx. An animal walking on water xxx. singing in a loud voice xxx. Offerings and tributes xxx.”


Here is the final product:


'Chengu was a hated boy. Orphaned at a young age, he lived on the periphery of the village subsisting on whatever food the priest left for him outside the temple walls. Most people tried to avoid any contact with him. Kids his age ostracized him. He had a constant stench of urine about him. There was a swarm of flies wherever he went. He had gooey eyes and runny nose. The tuft of hair on his head was matted. Nobody had heard him say a word. It was assumed he was deaf and dumb. Thus, did he live the first twelve years of his life.


All that changed one early morning. Chengu was sitting on the banks of the river waiting for the sun to come up. Just as the sky was turning translucent, he saw an image rise from the water. He rubbed his eyes and peered. An animal seemed to be walking on the surface of the water carrying a majestic being on his back. The animal and the being started heading towards him. Frightened, he started to get up and run. But his legs would not move. He felt like he was no longer in control of his body. As his vision became clearer, he could see that the animal was a tiger, and the rider was the multi-armed goddess whose image he had seen carved on the temple walls. The goddess dismounted the tiger and extended one of her arms that held a trident. Chengu involuntarily opened his mouth and stuck out his tongue. The goddess scratched the tongue with the trident. A shudder went through Chengu’s body, and he felt transformed into a different being. As he was becoming conscious of what was happening to him, the image of the goddess and the tiger slowly melted into the morning mist.


Chengu took a dip in the river. As the sun rose, he could see his image in the water: The matted hair had turned smooth and silky, the stench about him was gone, his visage was that of a learned young man, not the village dolt. He walked towards the trees that marked the shoreline. He sat under a large oak, and it was at that moment that words came to him. He started singing in a loud voice reciting stories about kings and queens, gods and goddesses, scholars and scoundrels.


Villagers heard his voice and came to him. They realized that the despised Chengu had become the blessed one and they honored him with gifts, offerings and tributes. They made a platform in the temple courtyard from where he regaled the old and young every evening with stories and songs from the ancient past.'


You may want to know how I fashion a cogent novel from disparate and disjointed dreams. That is where the magic of magical realism comes in. I am not going to give too much of my craft away. You are going to have to read my next novel to see where last night’s dream story fits in.





Four Stories by David Patten

[Denver, USA]



Golan Heights

It takes a moment for the brain to properly process that it’s hearing gunfire.  But the repeated sharp cracks and urgent shouts in Hebrew confirmed there was a situation.  Connor and Craig were waiting by the main entrance for a ride to the local store.  An Israeli, middle-aged with greying hair ran into view.  He knelt and fired off his Uzi in the direction he’d come.  The settlement came alive with the sounds of combat, Israelis responding to unseen assailants.  Craig took off running through the main gate.  Momentarily rooted, Connor followed.


     Some fifty yards up ahead Craig hurdled a low fence topped with barbed wire.  No time for prudence.  Connor followed suit, the wire slashing at his ankles.  The gunfire behind them was intensifying.  Then an angry flash and a loud, abrupt explosion.  Clumps of earth falling around Connor.  Craig’s heaped body, unmoving.  A landmine.  A voice.  Connor turned toward it.  The Israeli with the grey hair was standing the other side of the fence, weapon held across his body.  Come back, he said, but slow.  Go slow.  Shaking, Connor locked him with his eyes and took the first step.





The darkness was profound, impenetrable.  The disabled van cast adrift, interior lights on, headlamps launching long arrows into the engulfing night.  Chitundu was bent over the engine, wrench in hand, Matt next to him holding aloft a flashlight.


     The van had turned off the main road onto a bumpy dirt path that would eventually lead to the isolated lodge.  About an hour in with the dusk fast ebbing away the van slowed, stuttered, and then quit.  Almost immediately, the mood in the vehicle fell into an uneasy vigilance.


     Katie swiped open her phone.  No service.  She turned toward the handful of seniors in the back.  They looked distracted, worried, eyes scanning the edges of where the van’s light bled into the blackness.  One of the women caught Katie’s eye, managing a weak smile. 


     Shortly after the engine had died, Chitundu’s radio followed suit in a blaze of static.  Now he was getting the distress flare primed.  “Be careful,” cautioned Matt, “don’t go too far from the van.”  They all gathered at the windshield and watched as Chitundu steadied himself and tugged the cord downward, sending the flare rocketing into the night.  Its slow descent revealed what had remained unspoken: they were being stalked.




The Kiss

Vienna is in bloom.  Like most European cities, the Austrian capital shakes off winter in a riot of color and fragrance.  Heavy clothing discarded, people stroll the wide streets in contentment.  Sidewalk cafes bustle.  Boys, fingers blackened by newsprint, call out, caps pushed back and shirtsleeves rolled high.  A gentle breeze stirs, its breath full of warmth and optimism.


     A fashion designer, senses always tuned to aesthetics, Emilie stoops to admire daffodils circling the base of a young tree.  Spring is her favorite season.  She carefully plucks one of the flowers and sets it in her dark, bushy hair.  Gustav will appreciate it, she thinks. 


     Emilie knows she has sometimes been labeled as Klimt’s muse.  Perhaps that was once true.  But the word belongs to something more fleeting; now the two are established companions, even occasional lovers, their kinship forged in creations of beauty and sensuality.  She turns onto Josefstadte, the imposing red maple a sentinel in front of Gustav’s home.  Approaching the arched, wrought iron gate Emilie adjusts the daffodil in her hair, expectant.


     Klimt is standing on the garden path in back of the house facing the cottage that is his studio, windows large and clear for the light.  The garden has a canopy of tall trees, the path bordered by ferns and shrubs.  He is wearing the teal smock that he paints in.  Mid-forties now, a decade Emilie’s senior, he has a full beard, the untamed hair on his head in premature retreat.  He embraces Emilie, kissing both cheeks, touches the daffodil in her hair.  She takes his hands in hers.  “I can’t wait to see your work.” 


     Afternoon light bathes the studio.  Palettes, brushes, tubes of pigment, and canvasses occupy the space in no particular order.  An artist’s clutter.  In one corner an easel, a large sheet concealing the finished work.  Emilie looks at Gustav for confirmation.  He nods, gesturing for her to approach it.


     Revealed, Emilie steps back, a small gasp escaping her lips.  She regards the painting in silence, eyes consuming all of it.  She glances at Gustav, a look of wonder, and steps closer to the easel.  Radiant in floral golds, purples, reds, greens, a couple caught in an embrace, both loving and sensual; the man cradling her face, kissing a cheek, the woman enraptured.  Beneath their feet a meadow in a mosaic of spring hues.  Klimt stands behind Emilie, hands on her shoulders.  “Is she Athena to her Apollo?”  He smiles at her interpretation.  “No, it’s you Emilie.”  His fingers find her hair.  “It’s us.”




Sheer Drop

Daybreak, water the color of slate.  A lone figure stands in contemplation, close enough to the river that its current splashes over her boots.  This stretch of the Niagara resides in the commonplace, revealing nothing of the chaos up ahead.  Annie steps back up onto the grass, the October dew staining the hem of her dress and petticoats.  She adjusts her matching bonnet which, like her dress, was once the tone of ripe plums, the garments now faded and frayed.  


     Farther down river the water quickens, a menace in its energy.  Annie observes it coursing over rocks, dragging reluctant branches.  Then rapids, the river shapeshifting, relentless.  The air resounds, vibrates.  Ahead, the torrent launches itself into the void.  Annie is still, awed by the force of nature, her clothes absorbing the clouds of spray thrown high by the Horseshoe Falls.  Tomorrow, her birthday, she will plunge over the brink in a barrel.


     A small crowd has gathered at the launch point, the interest mostly morbid, as few expect Annie to survive.  But this stoic woman in her sixties, widowed since the Civil War, remains confident that prosperity will follow.  She engages with a reporter, offers a brief smile to the photographer.  The large, oak barrel has been lined with thick blankets. Annie climbs through the opening and settles, cushioned.  Resigned to being accomplices to such imprudence, two men in buttoned vests and rolled shirtsleeves toss their cigarettes to the ground and step into a rowboat. 


     Untethered, the barrel rolls in the calm stretch of the river.  It appears inert, laden, until the current imposes its will.  Annie’s breaths are shallow, fast, as she braces for the rapids.   They receive her with disdain, muscles of water pounding the sodden oak.  A thunder fills the barrel, invincible.  The energy fractures.  Freefall.  Annie is relaxed, expectant.




The Dressing Gown’s Girlfriend by Lily Annis

[Winchester, England]


If I prop myself up in bed, I can see the grass in our garden is painted with frost. I wrap around my girlfriend’s body to conserve heat. During the winter months, I’m more participatory in our relationship. She shivers in the cold morning air, her icy hands clutching at me. We cuddle for a bit, soft material intertwining with hard limbs, and she indulges in this until she has drained my heat. Satisfied, she moves from the bed, numb feet landing on the thin greying carpet. She slips those feet into fluffy slippers and pads out of the room. I stare at the ceiling listlessly. When she returns, she cradles me in her arms; her most precious possession. This is how I know she’s getting worse, although her awareness is clouded with denial. 


She paces back and forth in front of the radiator. Her chest wheezes in protest and I wonder if she can hear too. Back and forth. Her heartbeat is as slow as ever, exhausted by existing. Back and forth, back -


The Fall. Weakened by strenuous exercise and starvation, her legs buckle and she cannot catch herself. Her chin smacks against the radiator, shattering her front tooth and dislocating her jaw. Her left eye blackens. I fall with her, cascading around her body like blood. She’s unconscious. We lie together, sprawled on the floor, a mess of red and fabric. Please send for help. There is nothing I can do – I’m just a dressing gown.





Milk First by Petra Baillie

[West Scotland]


“Margaret, what are you doing that for?" asked Johnny, irritated, as he sat in his worn-out armchair with the TV blaring in the background. "Silly old woman," he muttered under his breath.


“Well Johnny, I thought that’s how you were meant to do it,” Margaret said back.  “You thought you were meant to put the milk in first, and then the tea? How long have you been making my tea? Fifty years? And you thought the correct way of making it was milk first? Dear, oh dear…”  

“Well I didn’t remember now, did I? It hardly matters, I think.” Margaret began a soft giggle. Johnny was not as amused.  

“Oh well, we can only do with what the good Lord has given us.” Margaret sighed, drinking her tea, milk first.  

“The good Lord has nothing to do with this!” Johnny didn’t lift his gaze from the TV. “Well, actually, maybe He does. What do you think God, surely even You know it’s blasphemy to put the milk in first don’t You?” 

“Now now, Johnny.” Margaret raised an eyebrow. 

“Oh, sorry. What’s that I hear?” Johnny held his hand to his ear as though to hear the faint whisperings of the good Lord himself.  “Oh, Margaret. You’re never going believe what He just told me! Putting the milk in first is in fact a cardinal sin and there’s a great chance you’re going to hell for it. Oh dear, oh dear…” Johnny sniggered a little before settling his hand back to the TV remote.  

“Hell or sin is nothing to joke about, Johnny.” Margaret was stern. Johnny was headed for hell anyway since he was never a believer the whole time Margaret had known him. “Besides, I think there are much greater things to worry about in the world. Children not even having one meal a day, people in this country being trafficked, terrorism, for God’s sake!” 

“Oh. Was that the Lord’s name in vain? That’s one ticket to hell.” Johnny pretended to check a piece of paper floating in the air.  

“Ugh, I hardly think He would be bothered by that…”  

“Oh, now now Margaret. You can’t pick and choose from the Bible.” Johnny changed the channel to the news.  

Breaking news: “It has now been declared by Pope Constantine the Second that putting the milk in tea first is in fact a sin. This will change the way we all have elevensies. Back to you in the studio.” 

Johnny smirked and Margaret poured out the tea, reached for her rosary beads and started reciting Hail Marys.   

“Silly old woman.” Johnny sipped his sinful tea.  





Whoops! by Jill Swale

[Winnersh, Berkshire, England]


It was probably worrying about her daughter that led to the first mistake. It was bad enough contemplating the dangers two eighteen year old girls might encounter on their round the world jaunt. It was even worse to read the email saying that Becky’s travelling companion had decided to rescue bears in Romania instead, leaving her alone in China. Then silence for ten days.


That was probably why Clare so readily gave her bank card details in response to the email saying she owed an extra £3 before her package could be delivered. It took half the morning cancelling the card and reporting the scam.


No longer able to do the planned big shop, instead she sorted out her winter clothes, one bag of best ones to store in the loft now the weather was improving, another bag of tattier garments for charity.


Turning her car after making the donation, she had to sound her horn as a vehicle started backing into her. It kept on coming so instinctively she reversed too.


Crash! For a moment Clare couldn’t work out why all she could see out of her rear window was a wall of white, then she realised she had backed into a parked Iceland van. After supplying her insurance details, she had to leave her own car at the local garage; its boot was too badly damaged to open.


Walking the rest of the way home, still feeling wobbly, she wondered if things could get any worse. But where was her door key? It was in a bag in the scrunched up car boot.


She was pleased she had hidden a spare key in a jam jar under a garden bush years ago, but found the lid had rusted on. Only by throwing it at the wall was she able to eventually break the glass. Then the key was too rusty to turn.


In one respect her absent mindedness paid off. Her neighbour fetched a stepladder and his skinny son was able to climb in through the kitchen window she had failed to close and let her in the front door. It was a shame that he had kicked her favourite teapot off the draining board in the process, because she needed a cup of tea after all this.


Stress was making her feel chilly so she went to retrieve one of the cosy winter jumpers about to be stored in the loft. I must have missed this one intended for charity, she thought, and this one. Only when she had upturned the bag on the floor did she realise her mistake. The charity shop had received all her best clothes, leaving her with the moth-eaten ones.


After that the cat was sick and she burned the dinner. Then the doorbell rang.


‘What now?’ she shouted in exasperation.


On the doorstep stood her daughter, Becky, with an enormous backpack.


‘Surprise!’ she grinned.


‘This is the best day of my life!’ replied Clare.





Imposter by Anna-Roisin Ullman-Smith

[Glasgow, Scotland]


It may be one of the most well-known syndromes of the current age, ‘impostor syndrome’; all these successful people out there saying, “Oh I suffer from major impostor syndrome. I mean who can actually believe it. Little old me being this famous!”

Meanwhile no one talks about people like me. Suffering debilitating insomnia and a constant thrum of impostor syndrome. Unlike the successful impostors of the world, no one knows of my suffering. Unlike them, I am not an impostor of greatness, but one of flat, abject failure.


The woe of being a golden child. Friends, family, teachers, tutors, myself, all full-heartedly believing that by the age of 25 I’d be doing something great. Something world-changing. Something of worth.


Now, too close to 30 for comfort, I feel like I am impersonating the life of a school dropout. I’m caught in a web of disbelief. This cannot, surely, be the life of the promising young Elliot. As a teenager I knew, deep in my bones I knew, that I would be successful. What happened to those goals? To that ambition?


What awful fate struck the young Elliot to get me here? Wasting away, barely leaving the house, driven to panic by the thought of a mere phone call.


Of course, I know what befell that young Elliot because I lived it. The crippling reality of stepping out of a top academic record and into a world which didn’t care. A world where my peers who had spent their time working after school instead of studying, as I did, were seen as qualified for real jobs, whilst I was an academic, useless to the real-world stage. Any position my many qualifications could get me still required the horror of an unpaid internship to be carved into my C.V. in black ink. The fact that working full-time without pay is impossible for all of us not privileged enough to come from money was of no consideration to the big-wigs, who stood empowered to make or break my life.


A few bad, low end, poorly paid jobs later and the young Elliot was no longer young. No longer blazingly confident. No longer passionate. Thus began the syndrome. Creeping in through the cracks of my life. My idea of who I am put steadfast against the reality of my current position in the world.


In my mind I am talented, bursting with qualifications and academic experience hard won through years of painstaking work, set into the world to do something great. In the cold, grey, embrace of reality I am twice fired, unemployed, living of the dregs of social welfare funding with absolutely no opportunities and no experienced skillset. An impostor of my own making. Unseen and unheard because I am not what I always thought I was meant to be.


In this reality, the closest I have gotten to the success I thought I would have, is to feel as much of an impostor as the rich and famous.





Ophelia by Winifred Powell


She brushed past me in that narrow space at the back of the stage, heading towards the wings and her final entrance. I clenched my fists; I was Ophelia, I should have been lying in that punt, dying for love of the best lead we’d had in years. I stood there busy with my thoughts as Will’s tragedy played out in front of the usual audience of schools “doing” the play for their summer exams, and retirees having a matinee before catching the train back out of town.


I had a sudden thought and without stopping to consider, ran round and quietly lifted the bottom edge of the backdrop. I reached into the punt and slid the bolt. Ophelia was taking an unconscionable time to die but the moment came when she gracefully reclined, mad and passionate, but finally dead. Only she didn’t go quietly. Amongst a crack and a splintering of wood, the punt gave up the attempt to defy gravity and Ophelia disappeared in a welter of limbs and chip-board down the trap-door. The audience woke from its lunch-induced coma with a gasp, giggles and hesitant applause. This faded to a deafening silence as our leading man strode centre-stage. What cue was he going to use now?





The Machines by Stephen Page

[from Detroit USA, now splitting his time between Buenos Aires and Mandonado, Uruguay]


I wake up, prepare coffee, and carry a cup to my home office. I try to start working. Nothing. I open the curtains on the window. Cloudy. I turn on the computer to check the weather. Cool, but not cold. 


     Today my weight-resistant machine and my stationary bike should arrive. They should fill the void my black leather nap/reading couch once occupied. A Sager once came to our home and said something bad happened on that couch. I looked at the floor when she said that.


     I will miss my couch, but my office now feels clean of bad energy. 


     I listen to the birds singing outside my office.





Shelf by Muhammed Bin Ashraf

[Kerala, India]


Once upon a time there was a little shelf named Sally. Sally lived in a cosy room in a pretty little house. It was built of solid wood and had three floors, each slightly smaller than the one below. Sally was proud of her simple, but sturdy design and she was very proud of the items she displayed on her shelves.

Sally kept a collection of trinkets and treasures collected by the family who lived in the house. There were picture frames with family photos, a vase of fresh flowers and a collection of books. Each item had a special meaning and helped tell the story of the family that lived there.

One day a new family moved into the house. They were very busy, always in a hurry and didn't pay much attention to Sally at first. But as they settled into their new home, they began to appreciate the charm and character Sally brought to the space.

The new family added their own items to Sally's shelves. They put up a clock that chimed on the hour, a colourful lamp that gave warm light in the evening, and a collection of crystals that sparkled in the sun. Sally was thrilled to have new friends and happy to be part of their lives.

The years passed and the family grew and changed. Children were born and they added their toys and games to Sally's shelves. As the years went by, Sally's shelves became more and more crowded and she felt a little overwhelmed. But she didn't mind, because she was still the heart of the house and the family loved her just the way she was.

And so Sally remained a constant presence in the family's lives, always there to preserve their treasures and remind them of the memories they had made. She was more than a simple shelf; she was part of the family history and the family would always cherish her.





The Gardener’s Sweet Tooth by George Smith

[Worcestershire, England]


He has quite a record of achievement. I’m talking about Raymond, our gardener. He was in the news for a while but that all came to an abrupt end. Let me tell you about it.

It was Tessa who started it. She keeps her garden immaculately. Complained about our weeds killing her flowers and our branches pummelling her fence. Sylvia and I knew we had let things go a bit because of our new hobby, hill walking. So to keep her sweet we put the word out for a gardener.    

When he first appeared he was riding a bicycle that pulled a trailer with long garden tools poking out. It was a strange sight. Raymond was tall, stick-thin, hollow-cheeked, pallid and thirtyish. He did not look as if he had enough stamina to dig up a daisy.

Sylvia got him started on weeding and pruning. He worked steadily and we saw good results from his efforts so we asked him to come weekly on Thursdays. The garden is so large there is plenty to do and we were pleased to shed a time-consuming chore. Tessa said she was delighted as well.

It took time to get to know him for he said little about himself or anything else. Quietly spoken and polite, he wore army fatigues, a bobble hat and old army boots. But he  never smiled.

Sylvia’s offered him tea and biscuits at eleven o’clock. He drank the tea but left the digestive biscuits. The following week she offered him tea biscuits. They were ignored too. She felt he was malnourished so next offered him all butter shortbread. He scoffed the lot and it loosened his tongue.

He was orphaned as child, put in a children’s home then joined the army but soon left because of the spit and polish. He had worked in a variety of manual jobs before he settled for gardening because he enjoyed working outdoors. He was single, lived in a bed sitting room and cooked with a microwave oven. He said he struggled to live on his earnings.

Sylvia loves baking and out of concern for Raymond’s well-being she made pastries for him. He was happy to gobble them up although shortbread remained his favourite. Indeed, he learned of a shortbread eating contest in Aviemore and entered. The contestant who ate the most shortbread in three minutes was the winner. It was Raymond and he scooped several thousand pounds in prize money.    

Flushed by his success, Raymond learned about other sweetmeat eating contests. He entered competitions for marshmallows, fudge and chocolate truffles. Some were abroad, such as Portuguese custard tarts in Lisbon and apple strudel in Vienna. He won enough prize money to give up gardening. Got himself a long-term girl-friend at one contest. But before long he entered a peanut brittle eating contest in New Orleans. Four teeth were broken off and he lost the contest. Hence, he gave up competing and became our gardener again. He smiles now.         





Twelve (Surely?) by Dil Sher

[Birmingham, England]


Linoleum tiles. Linoleum tiles. Linoleum. Linoleum means lino. Lino. Rubber on the floor. Red lino with wood panels underneath. Lino now but tiles back then. Tiles or linoleum. Ceramic tiles. Ceramic tiles back then. Yeah, faded yellow tiles with black grout.


The glass fell from the counter. It just fell. It fell because it might have been me. It might have been my elbow as I turned around. It was my elbow as I turned around and stood up. I’d knocked it and it fell to the floor. It hit the tiles. Of course, it hit the tiles.


It fell to the floor and shattered. I’d struck the final blow. She screamed. She was hysterical. Said I’d done it on purpose. Asked what was wrong with me and if I was stupid. Called me an idiot. Idiot was what she called me. Other names apart from idiot. What were the other names apart from idiot? I don’t remember. I don’t. I was arrogant and selfish. Selfish and arrogant. This is what I always do. This is how I’d turn out and how I’d remain.


It was an accident. It wasn’t my fault and it had just happened. I was sorry. She shouted more. It hurt my heart when she shouted. She shouted more and said that I never accept blame. Said it wasn’t in me to accept blame.


I’m being punished for accidental damage. I thought I wouldn’t give her an explanation. Don’t do that. Never justify. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong, man. Don’t do that. Not with her, you don’t do that with her. Shatter. The glass will always shatter at that speed and from that height. Surely?


No use in justification. Not here. Not ever. Retreat. My only move was retreat. Her eyes ablaze. The demon unleashed. A frightening creature. Was I frightened? Probably. Most probably. I took solace in my room. I didn’t cry. There was no need to cry. I walked towards the window and stared at the street below. What was the use in crying? The sky was crying for me. Huh? The sky was crying. Sky was upset. Always upset where we lived. Always seemed to be upset. Don’t know why but sky was always crying.


Droplets on glass obscured my view of the pedestrians walking to and fro. I began to count the droplets. Maybe if I counted the droplets, I’d get an answer. The total number of droplets would give me a sign of what to do. Droplets always replaced by new ones. Fresh ones. So I had to keep starting over. Over and over. Annoying. Turned into a game for me. One of those games. I couldn’t stop counting.


The most I got to was twelve.




3 Stories by Mary Anne Mc Enery

[The Hague, The Netherlands]


Blood Moon


I am an abandoned house at the edge of the forest.


I was restored as the youth community centre. There was a welcome blaze from the fire where we toasted marshmallows and roasted potatoes in wedges on long two-pronged forks. There were singsongs and clapping, belly dancing, and laughing. A buttercup yellow reading room, where we drank a cup or two of poetry with each new season, and a fine snooker table, felt green with hardwood edging. The kitchen smelt of fruit scones and sparkled with rosy freckled cheeks. I watched my darlings steal kisses in shady corners. They giggled and separated when I rattled a door-nob. Promising voices filled my rooms, and echoed in the dusky glades where they played late under lush summer branches lit by fireflies and harvest moons. Those were carefree yearning years.

A policeman visited and informed us about vagrants who camped in the woods. He advised the young people to cycle home in groups. “Stay together, and be vigilant. Look out for one another” he said. But the young are invincible and took risks.

My lean coltish Naomi, on the cusp of womanhood, loved to write poetry and read it aloud, seated at my hearth. Her words were melodic and flowing, and the timbre of her voice caressed me like a lover. She dozed by my fireside and when she woke her companions had left. My walls shouted;

“Go, go safely, my love.”

The trees - like me - watched and screamed in the wind, but kept silent. Her soul ruptured from her body on that terrible night.

The youth abandoned me. My doors and windows locked out life. Brambles and bushes hid me. Opportune jackdaws nested in my chimneys. Passers-by whispered;

“Sweet child. Sweet Naomi.”

Her ghost, a skittish fawn, leaped over every blood moon.



Dying Love


The man Melissa met in the hospital before Christmas was in love with her.


His name was Vincent. When she studied him, she noticed a swarth of freckles across the bridge of his nose; the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled.  He popped his head around her private room door and asked after her; asked with a twinkle in his eye if she had made her mind up yet, when he came to visit his uncle in the long-stay ward. His eyes were kind when she explained about her sickness symptoms and the nausea from the morphine pump. Her accent, a soft version of a Southern Irish brogue that sometimes slipped into her speech, sounded charming to him.


On a January day, as he was about to leave, he wondered aloud whether she would be interested in going to dinner on Valentine’s night.? He took her hand in both of his for a moment before letting go. She felt the most beautiful woman in the world. She imagined if you scanned her hand, you would see no blood, only streams of joy running through her veins.

She remembered her sixteenth birthday, nine years ago. Mark gave her a ribband bouquet of wildflowers and was the first man who entered her world and left with her heart, but with each encounter with Vincent, she felt a spark that could not be extinguished. The wonder of love chased itself in circles in her mind like fireflies on a summer night.


Vincent loitered outside the restaurant and sniffed the single red rose. It’s petals glimmering in the pale moonlight. The bud was softly open, its perfume winged on the Spring air. Tonight, the heavens were ablaze. Melissa’s love, and wonderment returned to him, like a boomerang bouncing off the Milky Way.



Dead Dolphin Summer

The cottage we’d rented for the summer had a view of the ocean from the front porch. “I can’t be done with female troubles,” Father hissed at me before returning to his car magazine and drooled over the bikini-clad girl draped across the bonnet on the cover.

I was eleven that summer; and I had no sister to talk to about woman’s stuff, only a six-and-a-half-year-old brother whom I had the tiresome job of minding. Mother was still in bed. She’d been crying a lot lately. She sipped vodka from an unlabelled bottle she kept hidden under the mattress. When we’d first arrived, she’d said the pattern on the yellow-brown wallpaper in the living room resembled some terrible disease.


One day, we found a dead dolphin washed up on the beach. The rotting carcass, bloated with sea water and gas, lay at the edge of the waves. Its belly had burst open, revealing a haemorrhage of red and pink bloody masses that spewed onto the sands. Mother turned away, squeezed her eyes shut, and threw up where she stood. Father wrapped his arms around her waist and whispered, “Hush, hush, darling, this is part of life.” My brother clung to my mother's legs and wailed as she stumbled home.


Father made supper every evening and would coax Mother to take her pills. He tried to care for us, but the slightest thing would make him angry.


Mother often had a bruise on her face. Father said she was always walking into doors. But I knew he knew I knew. Father said Mother needed to get strong and back to her old self again. But I pretended to enjoy listening to his frayed fairy tales - if only for my little brother’s sake - his voice as dead as the dolphin on the summer sands.




A Malady by Mehreen Ahmed



The English roses were in full bloom. The waxing moon poured a love spell into the virgin queen. Her heart tight with pure romance, as she waited within the palace walls of the rose garden at the Hampton Court. After a few moments of delightful rumination, she saw him mounting on a white charger. The anxious queen was poised; she steadied herself for the man she had appointed the master of horses. 


Over the palace walls, the setting sun rouged the sky with a motley of unidentified hues—magic streaks of mixed pink, orange, and red on a canvas of blue. Who knew? Bright they surely looked. She cared less for the pecking order, he was her romance, for whom she was prepared to lead a virgin life.


Was this a malady in the queen’s head? Her ministers pondered. And was this just as incurable as the malady in the breast of her lover Dudley’s wife? The powerful queen fought formidable foes but she was weak when it came to consummate this relationship with whom she could have had a lifetime of pleasure beyond any measure in matters of the heart, where politics or common wisdom stooped. Her heart throbbed with mounting love aches.


On this date Dudley thought, he brought her majesty glad tidings that both were waiting for. The impediment had been removed. He told the queen of the sudden death of his wife. An occasion to rejoice, sadly, brought her no joy. He told her that the death was not on account of the malady of the breast but from a fall. It was an accident…an accident, but who would believe it? The queen’s clandestine affair was rumoured throughout England that Dudley was mad to be her consort. This madness of love was acceptable in poetry only. An opportunity had opened up, the time had arrived to ask the queen’s hand in marriage, Dudley thought.


No marriage could take place over this bloody death. The queen knew best. If they could not be made in heaven, then let there be no marriage at all. Because it would be tainted. This crime was not some kind of game that could be cast away. Dudley’s wife had a fatal fall; the queen was already a suspect. In the state’s interest, she stifled her romance instead and distanced herself from him at once. The queen’s heavy heart had not lightened up since; no offspring to tether connection to the Dudley genome. There was only one other way to stop this leaching in her heart. That she must metamorphasize - a crying werewolf to the waxing moon in the forest on the edge of a blue lagoon. For the state itself she wore a white pacifist’s mask. The world must never see her stiff scars. The mask betrayed no emotions, happy or sad. She declared, “I am England.”




Just A Dream by Stacey George

[North Shields, near Tynemouth, England] 


There were too many people on the bus for Clare's liking and everybody seemed to be chatting in loud voices which was not a good start to the afternoon for Maggie and Clare. They had both been looking forward for weeks now to their shopping trip to buy some new clothes for a holiday which they were planning to take.


        Clare had loved Newcastle since she was a little girl and used to gaze into the office windows along Jesmond Road and watch the girls typing away. Her mother had been a typist before her marriage and Clare knew she wanted to follow in her mother's footsteps.


          Maggie and Clare lived for each other. It would have been impossible to find another mother and daughter who were more devoted to each other if you had tried. All the sales were now ending and the new spring and summer clothes were now displayed on models in all the shop windows.


         "Now remember Clare just to buy sensible things which can be worn when we get back home," said Maggie. Her daughter had an awful habit of buying silly things and they ended up just hanging in the wardrobe for years and then eventually being put into Charity Bags.


          Maggie and Clare both had several garments and were en route to the fitting rooms when the loud banging of the bin could be heard. Clare was still half asleep but when she awoke she realised that it had all been a dream.


         Maggie had died almost 12 years ago and they would never again go shopping or walk along the sea front like they used to do. Clare went back to sleep again and hoped that she would once again see her mother's face even if only in dreams.





Magic Dirt by Glen Donaldson

[Brisbane, Australia]

Beatrice Bushworthy was a gardener of erratic brilliance. To the neighbourhood children she may have been just an old fossil but the great grandmother, who reliably collected and stored dirt under her fingernails with pride, knew how to grow perfect roses better than anyone else around.


     That summer she planted two dozen polyantha rose bushes, eighteen of which sprouted into exquisite blooms. What she jokingly called her ‘dinosaur droppings’ - superphosphate bone meal fertilizer – were her secret success formula. Or so she thought.


     When her geologist son had the soil in her garden tested and it came back as dating to the Jurassic Period, she had to revise what she told people was the reason for her green thumbs. The ‘old fossil’ moniker turned out to be closer to the bone than folk knew.





The Way To The Heart by Alan Berger

[West Hollywood, California]


I’m an ugly young man.

If there is such a thing.

I’m ugly on the outside.

Inside I’m nice and cool.

Not interesting ugly either.

In elementary school playing at friends’ houses, I was told to stay away from the windows.

Girls would not come by.

Didn’t bother me.




I was clever , confident, funny and I knew it.

I also had God’s gift.

Good hair.


We met in Hollywood at a  place I go to cash checks.

She was at the Western Union window to my right sending  money.

She was the most beautiful anything I ever saw.


She was not only out of my league, but out of my species as well.  


I fantasized that the Western Union woman helping me, who I did not know, and I know them all, would ask something they all never do, so I can reply with something funny enough that the girl next door will want to get know me.


And she goes from behind the window ”Got any questions?’’


I said yeah,” What is the meaning of life and how’s my hair.”


She laughed, the girl behind the other window laughed, the girl next door laughed too.

We started dating.


She was used to her whole life being beautifully looked at, now they were looking at us with that what the fuck look.


Oh, and she didn’t mind my cussing which she heard a fuck of a lot.


After three months it was time to meet mommy and daddy.

Hers. Not mine.

We won’t discuss mine in this story.


She came from a family with so much money and power that they paid a kings ransom each month to stay out of the papers.

Now that’s real power.

Her last name was not familiar, until I did some pre-meet research.


Her father probably had a say in the elections of half a dozen countries with no one saying or knowing  his name.

You couldn’t even find a picture of him or her mother.


I was not surprised.


We took her car to Connecticut to where one of there many houses were housed.

On the way up I was wondering if her father did any research on me but figured he would be too busy making kings and Presidents.


Her mother was waiting at the end of a three-mile driveway outside their home.


She was waving us in for a landing as excited as a football team owner that just won the Superbowl.  


Her mother looked better than a model. More like Snow White on a good day.


She walked us in.


Coming down the stairway, the one to his right, was daddy.


My jaw dropped.

He glided down the stairway ok, but his face boarded on disfigurement.


“What the fuck are you staring at, haven’t you seen anyone as ugly as me before?” says he.


Not since I fucking shaved this morning.  Said me.


They all laughed.


I was home.




Who Is More To Blame For The Aborted Child? by Rathin Bhattacharjee

[Kolkata, India]


Ratan Babu wanted nothing more than a son. He had been a good son himself, he thought if he had one, his son would carry on his legacy and family name. Unfortunately, his first two offspring were both daughters.

His mother, an aged widow, in her mid-seventies, also wanted her youngest son to have a son. So, when Chhalona Devi, Ratan Babu's wife conceived for the third time, the happiness of Ratan Babu and his mother knew no bounds.


"Finally, God has listened to my prayers. I couldn't have died a peaceful death without you siring a son." She squeeled delightfully sitting on her bed.


At his in-laws' place, Chhalona's mom was devastated when Chhalona dropped in with the bomb. Her dubla (feeble) daughter had conceived again, despite her repeated warnings against the very idea!


"How could you be so stupid? Didn't the doc warn you against conceiving last time? Didn't I ask you to take all necessary precautions? How come you and your gunodhar (talented) husband have done it again then?" She was fuming.


"It's just an accident, Ma. We'd taken all necessary precautions!" Chhalona replied feebly dreading her mother's wrath like nothing else at that moment.


"Didn't I ask you to go for vasectomy last time? Besides, what are you going to feed your children, keeping in mind the contractual job your sex maniac hubby has?" She was beside herself at the unpardonable offence her daughter and son-in-law had committed again.


The long and short of the epic encounter between mother and daughter was, Chhalona was finally prevailed upon to abort her child. As Chhalona left her parents' home, there was a smile hovering around her mom's mouth.


"Ma, Chhalona doesn't want our child. She told me that her body can't go through the child-bearing trauma again. Besides, there's no guarantee that we'll be third time lucky! So, I've agreed with her plan of aborting the child." Ratan Babu informed his mother, a bit hesitantly.


The poor lady, looking frail and distraught  god-fearing and ever so obliging, decided not to broach the subject to her son again.


A few months after the abortion in a private nursing home at Bagha Jatin, Ratan Babu joked with his wife, saying:


"When your final hour arrives, my dearest, long after I'm turned into dust and ashes, you'll, with your eyes closed, see your unborn child asking for an explanation. You'll find it extremely difficult to face him and answer his barrage of questions…"


You know the funny thing, dear reader? It was Ratan Babu, who was raising hell in the hospital ward some months later, when he had to be hospitalized due to a severe stomach pain.


All night long, he kept twisting and turning in bed, whining incoherently about the contemptuous face of an unborn child, in his delirium.




The Tomato by William Thornton-Brown

[Suffolk England] 


The rain clattered onto the roof of the greenhouse, out of rhythm. Tony waddled up to the tomato plant with a small pair of secateurs in his giant hands. Carefully, he sniped the stalk then held up the fruit to the light. His eyes darted around before he took off his hat, carefully wrapping the tomato up in it, then folded it safely under his jacket. At the door of the greenhouse he bolted, his huge feet sloshing across the wet grass, his curly hair flopping up and down like a dog ears. He reached his house and finally came to stop to catch his breath. He staggered over to the sink and washed the tomato, so gently, in the warm; brushing the water back like soap off a baby's head. He cupped the fruit with both of his hands and smiled, his dinner-plate-eyes alight.




Leviathan by Ian Carass

[Hornsea, East Riding of Yorkshire, England]


The depth is deeper, the breadth is broader.  Sea mirrors sky almost entirely.  Land is now only found as a few sparse islets, lonely as marooned mariners.  Land has become theoretical; it is lapsing into legend.


Far below, with the pace and magnitude of a planet, she makes her imperial progress.  Shoals of fish dart around her and in her wake: a flotilla of bridesmaids, a brilliantly decorated entourage. 


Is this destiny?  The thought occurs to her suddenly and rudders rapidly to the surface.  Patience was all it took and there is an ocean of that.  Go forth and multiply.




Compulsory Stop by Ian Carass

[Hornsea, East Riding of Yorkshire, England]

Every day except Sunday. 


     On those earlier, frosty mornings, and today, with the rising sun forming the tower block opposite into a silhouette, making the windows seem darker, more lonely, before there was light enough to discern the hand-drawn rainbows against the glass.


     Every day the bus completed its circular route.  Every day it made its compulsory stop outside her window, the engine idling, to waste time, to keep pace with the published timetable: something reliable for passengers. 


     But every day, no one got on and no one got off.


     Jenny never saw a soul on that bus except the driver, framed by Perspex, impossible to conjure any expression behind that mask. 

     He could have been a getaway driver, loitering, waiting for the villains to burst out of some bank, encumbered by loot.


     Sipping her brew, Jenny heard her children stirring in their beds.  The driver was almost at eye-level, but perhaps he was too professional to make eye contact or too lost in his own thoughts, to notice her, observing him. 


     He had to stop here, had to wait for passengers to come. 


     But today, on this bus, no one got on and no one got off.




Roadworks by Ian Carass

[Hornsea, East Riding of Yorkshire, England]


How long had it been now?  Was it minutes or hours?  George half imagined it was days that he had sat here, staring at that red light, waiting for traffic to flow past him from the other direction (not a single car so far), fearing the light would never change.  Where were the roadworks, anyway?  There was no sign of excavated tarmac, no sound of diggers delving, no intimation of workers up ahead or nearby, chatting, smoking, leaning on shovels, hard-hatted, hard-hearted.


     For George, time had begun to lose its familiar demarcations, its concrete boundaries and divisions.  It had begun to feel like a medium for swimming in or drowning in not for travelling through, linear, orderly.  That light had stalled at red so long that George had begun to forget the expected sequence of traffic lights.  To bolster his recollection, George had resorted to re-saying the anticipated colours of the lights in his head. 

But that red light.  The more you gazed into its crimson heart, the more complex the shade became, as if the light contained all the colours, but was wilfully withholding some elements of the spectrum.


            In his rear-view mirror George could see the row of cars behind him, stretching, it seemed, almost to infinity.  It was hard to get an angle to view the full length.  The car immediately behind George felt too close for comfort and the sun’s angle this morning meant that George could not see the driver’s face.  This same effect of sunlight must be making all the other cars in the queue appear black in colour and uniform in style.  There were only cars also, no lumbering tractors or looming lorries, just cars, black cars, neatly lined up, bumper to bumper, patient and quiet.


            George suddenly felt the need for action.  His frustration and pent rage had reached a tipping point.  Doing something was better than doing nothing.  George climbed out of his car and strolled casually up to the traffic light.  Perhaps some mechanism had become stuck.  A strategic kick might bring it back to life.  Checking that he was not being closely observed (only by the hundred eyes of the queuing motorists), George tapped the toe of his shoe against the traffic light mechanism.  Nothing happened.  Nothing at first, but then the blasting horns of the queued cars, full-throated and desperate, sounded at him.  George looked up.  Headlights were flashing at him, hazard lights menacing him.


     George raced back to his car.  Out of the corner of his eye George caught the sight he had been waiting for.  The traffic light had changed to the colour of green pastures.  This was solace, this was hope.  But just for a moment.  Before George even managed to get his car door open, the traffic light fixed its red eye back on him. 


     It was too late.  George stood in the road, lost and afraid, as a herd of cars thundered down the road towards him.

rom My Father: Be A Squeaky Wheel by Jude Potts

Adding To The Collection by Pam Plumb

[County Durham, England]


This evening there are twenty-three friend suggestions, friends of friends of friends. She chooses Sonje in Catalonia. The top post is a video of Sonje hula hooping on the beach, the light from a fire pit glancing off her brown skin, skimming into the shadows like kisses into a crowd, turning so fast. Off camera a man claps and whoops, perhaps her boyfriend, perhaps not, but it’s just those two and maybe someone else behind the camera. It’s only thirty seconds long but it’s set on a loop so hula hooping Sonje twirls and twirls and twirls for infinity. This is just the sort of friend she’s looking for: exciting and dynamic, Marilyn’s kind of person.


     Marilyn collects friends like a philatelist, selecting only the most interesting specimens from as far afield as Reykjavik, Dar El Salam, Singapore. In 3rd grade she’d completed a project on time zones, at least the six her teacher had asked them to research. Now she skips between Mountain and Greenwich, shimmies under the lines of Capricorn or Cancer, splicing her time between all her friends. Much more exciting even than stepping out of Freedom into Idaho. It’s a full-time job to keep up, but she does and her Momma would be proud.


     Marilyn licks salt from her fingers before clicking the confirm button and jumping up to place a red push pin right on the ‘e’ of Barcelona.




'Tombstoning' by Adam Kelly

[Devon, England]


We watched Felix climb and waited for him to reach the top. We’d started a few years before, just in the harbour, to impress the girls. I wasn’t trying to impress the girls; I was trying to impress Amelia. But she liked Felix. 


The jumps had been fairly small then. When school started again, we never seemed to talk to the girls like we did in the summer. But eventually it would come round again. As the jumps got bigger most of us had gradually retired. Felix had continued to develop into a professional. He wore jelly shoes when he jumped. They looked stupid on everyone else but he pulled it off.


The only other one who’d attempted Southpoint, up on the cliff, was Chris. He liked it when he misjudged the rocks a little and came up with blood. Felix never came up with blood. There was no art to what he did but he made it look like there could be. In the last few weeks of school, he’d talked about taking up diving, as the more respectable side of jumping into water.


‘It’s not really the same thing,’ I said.


‘Same basics.’


Felix had done the Southpoint jump twice before that day. We were all there as usual, Amelia included. As much as I wished he hadn’t, Felix liked Amelia too. Everyone knew they were on the cusp of something. It would probably take the summer to cement but they were close. 


I climbed round a rock and stood next to Amelia.


‘Billy boy, what’s up?’ she asked.


‘Nothing really,’ I said.


‘You look glum.’


‘No, just tired.’


‘Me too. Haven’t recovered from school yet.’


Felix stood at the top of the cliff and faked a fall. Most of us grinned. Amelia sighed to herself. He took his usual run up and kicked his legs as he left the edge. He seemed to hover for a moment then dropped, arms strapped to his side. He plunged into the sea. We all clapped and waited for Felix to come up from under the waves.


‘Makes me worry every time,’ she said.




‘You’re cleverer than him, you don’t do it anymore.’


I blushed and scratched my cheeks. A little part of me hoped Amelia would disapprove enough that she’d decide she didn’t like Felix anymore. I knew that wouldn’t happen but I pretended it would.


‘I’m just scared.’


‘No, that’s called being clever,’ Amelia said.


‘I guess it got less fun after a while.’


‘I just liked it better when it was the harbour.’


‘D’you remember when we got told off by that guy?’ I asked.


Amelia giggled and snorted a little.


‘He was so red. I mean in his face,’ I said.


Amelia sighed and snorted once more.


‘Yeah,’ I mumbled to myself.


Amelia watched the water and bit her lip. We waited for Felix to come up.





The Doctor Is An Animal by Alan Berger

[West Hollywood, California]


A vet was Doctor Smith.

Practicing and perfecting in Beverly Hills, Thank you very much.

His kid killed himself once.

This was a quiet man.

A sign above the reception area read


                                                                     BE ADVISED.

                                                                     You allowed in the exam room

                                                                     With your precious for half a minute

                                                                     You will tell Dr. Smith what you think is wrong

                                                                     Then you go to the waiting room


If he didn’t know what he was doing spectacularly, miraculously, he would be out of business faster than a wag of a tail.

Or any any business.


Dr. Smith’s still waters ran very deep.


Also, Dr. Smith, was a degenerate gambler since elementary school.

There he would bet against The Otters. Against The Beavers. 


He would bet on lions and tigers or what ever animal was stronger in the games.

He had his system and his system worked. Only three three people know about this system.

Him, Him, and Him.


One day a real Hollywood heavyweight wanted to know what would happen when he goes over his time limit in the exam room, because he will.

The reply from the back per Dr. Smith was, I feel fucking sorry for you pet already.

That was that that. The heavyweight was stunned, but well behaved, real quick. He only took 25 seconds.

As the good, bad Doctor would say, no matter how much money or time they got, ask, and receive not.


There was one customer I really liked.

This customer was an above the title action star.

Another gambler like him.

He always came with his pet although plenty of others of lower stature sent their assistants.

He always came and was cool.


At the morning paper was he when he saw a story of his action star client in trouble. Money trouble. He was too old for this part or too young for that one and running out of dough.

That would not be a problem.


Next time the action star without any currant action came in

Doctor Smith told him he needed a favor.

Sure, anything, said the star!

Doctor Smith told he need to bet on a game. A football game.

The Detroit Tigers were playing The Seattle Seahawks.


The Seahawks were favored 10 to one.


He said he had 200,000 in cash to bet but could not go his usual source for reasons that were his alone.

He gave the star the money and said he wanted him to bet on the Tigers.

He told the star if the Tigers win, he only wanted double the 200,000 back. The star could keep the rest.

If he loses, the star will not owe him a thing.


The star took the money and The Lions won.


The star asked him how he knew.


Doctor Smith said, it does not take a rocket scientist to know the weakest lion could always beat the shit out of the strongest Seahawk.





The Breakfast  by Martin Andrew

[Holmfirth, West Yorkshire, England]


The fridge, microwave and oven are no longer featured in our kitchen. Food is no longer available as a source to sustain life. I opened the door to the small cooling-hatch, the door had the same wooden finish as all the cupboards. Inside was clinical white, pristine and every alternate day, the cooling-hatch had to be cleaned. There was only enough space for the syringes that had to be transferred to sterile airtight bags while it was cleaned.


Greed corrupted the food producers who took extremes to fatten-up meat, to make vegetables look bigger, juicier and fuller than they ought to be. It had been an era of unnatural living; no organic food was available. People started dying as their bodies shut down due to a lack of nutrients. It was then governments declared that food was to be destroyed and it was forbidden for people to consume anything.


“Claire!” I shouted. “Are you nearly ready? It’s time to take your nutrient injection.”


“Coming, just combing my hair.”


The injections had to be taken at specific times to enable the nutrients to be circulated around the body. Any earlier or later and our bodies would encounter a nutrient imbalance.


“God, I miss food,” Claire stated, as she descended the stairs.


“Tell me about it, I try not to dwell. It only makes matters worse.”


Claire entered the kitchen. Her golden blonde hair, which had been cut to a bob, accentuated the profile of her face and her blue eyes radiated a fresh innocence that made you feel alive and uplifted.


“Have you had yours yet?”


“No, I was waiting for you.”


Taking two syringes from the cooling hatch, I passed one to Claire. We took them at the same time so one of us wouldn’t forget.


“One… two… three,” I counted. Simultaneously, we jabbed our syringes into our arms and pressed. The solution containing the nutrients entered our veins. A spike coursed through our bodies causing a momentary surge in energy. This lasted a few minutes, and then it subsided.


The only conciliation was the potency of the nutrients as we only had to inject ourselves twice a day, in the morning and in the evening.


Claire came closer and her lips touched me, locked in a kiss she embraced me. “I’m setting off for work, have a good day.”


I watched as she walked away with car keys in one hand and her bag in the other.


“Bye, you have a good day too.”


I placed both syringes in the bin and turned to watch the droplets of rain roll down the window. Two of them started at the same time, I stared and wondered which one would win the race. I was aware that I too would have to set off for work soon.




Predictions by Sharon Berg

[Charlottetown, Newfoundland]


Sitting at her writing desk, Elke heard the sparrows. They occupied a bush in front of the porch. Through the month of November, long into winter, she’s thought of them as embodiment of her creativity. They reminded her of a teaching she'd received from a First Nations Elder. She couldn't ignore the fact that each day began with the noise of their ceremony for sunrise and ended with a ritual for the departing sun.

          She had company when she wrote, glancing out the window to notice them hopping between the naked branches. She thought of them as manifestations of the ideas she crafted into stories. Several would fly out while the majority remained, moments later a larger group returning. There was a constant interchange of places and ideas.

          In March, a hawk landed on the porch railing, sending the minions into distress. Their alarm calls were loud as they hunkered down, deep among naked branches, but the hawk managed to grab one. It flew off, the tiny sparrow grasped in its talons. The next time it showed up, Elke opened the door slowly, the hawk still perched on the railing. It cocked its head to observe her.

          “Even if you take one a day, that group will soon be gone. Please leave them alone,” she pleaded.

          The hawk ignored her, returning every day. Several times that winter she saw evidence, the imprint of wing tips and drag marks in the snow across her yard. By springtime, the bush was deathly quiet, the birds no longer there. She struggled to write without the familiar cacophony in the branches of the lilac bush. She thought her prediction had come true as the bush developed its glorious green leaves.

          Then winter returned, and the sparrows hopped among naked branches again. She wrote a haiku featuring their ceremonies and smiled. She predicted a winter with many ideas to be captured in print.




Life After Death by Balu Swami

[Buckeye, Phoenix, Arizona, USA]


I am Molecule Zwu. My origin dates back several billion years. Would you believe it, I was just a rocky grain when I was born? As if by magic, one day I turned into a living, breathing cell along with millions of my fellow rocky grains. From that day on, I set off on an incredible journey finding a host in all sorts of micro and macro-organisms: single cell amoeba, invertebrate, vertebrate, crustacean, amphibian, you name it. Been there, done that. I still remember the day my host transformed from homo erectus (HE) to homo sapien (HS).  HE was walking through a forest, came to a dead stop under a tree and wondered, ‘Why did I come here?’ Prior to that day, HE would have walked and walked until he dropped dead. That day forward, HS became a totally different species altogether. The ‘why’ led to ‘what’ (‘What the fuck?’); ‘what” led to ‘where’ (‘Your place or mine?’); and ‘when’ (‘Is there ever a bad time?’). So, before you knew it, there were legions of HS spawns splintered into a million tribes, each vying for the vaunted ‘We’re No.1’ bragging rights.


These HS tribes vied with each other to build more and more roads and bridges, rockets and submarines, diet water and blowup dolls. They should have stopped when the going was good. Instead, they kept building and building stuff and more stuff that built up carbon in the atmosphere to a level where air became unbreathable and water undrinkable. Also, in a moment of genius, the best and the brightest amongst them invented atomic weapons. When breathable air and drinkable water became scarce, the tribes started invading each other’s space and, when that failed, unleashed mutual assured destruction (MAD).


When the third rock from the Sun was blown to smithereens, I was violently thrust into the deep void - far into a different galaxy. I went looking for another habitable planet. I had heard about a star system called 149. After light years of search, I entered the cold outer reaches of 149. The first three planets farthest from the star were frozen rocks. As I entered the orbit of the fourth, the atmospheric pressure felt different. The polar ice caps appeared wetter. Could this be my new home? As I got closer, my heart raced fast. What are those bulbous laminations? Could they be…? I didn’t have to wait too long to find out. They were STROMATOLITES! I knew I was going to be reborn.  For another life lasting billions of years? Time will tell.




Flights by Iwona Luszowicz

[Sheffield, England]


The coach had left the town when Anna made the discovery. She always checked for her passport on the airport ride, ever since she started travelling solo, digging her fingers into its hiding place down the back of her rucksack. 

She thumbed to the photo page, peered at it under the reading light. 

It still came as a surprise, grown-up passports lasting a decade. When so much can change in that time. By twenty-eight her mother was living in a foreign country with a husband and baby, even if Anna’s life was quite similar to whenever this photo was - 

Shit, the expiry date was three weeks ago.

The coach trundled on, the same journey as when they were kids.


If only she’d taken her German passport. It had to be valid for another five years at least. 

Less shit?

She could call her sister, beg her to bring the other passport to the airport. Beg the airline for a later flight. 


Her phone said the next plane landed at two. 


They’d be half-way through coffee and cake when she arrived, she could see herself sidling into the room laid out for the wake, trying to explain to her aunt why she’d missed the service. Ich habe mein – or was it meinen? – Pass vergessen. 

Opa Walther had really been her cousin’s grandpa. Anna feared him as a child. He wasn’t like her own Opa, who read them comics and only had one leg after the war. Opa Walther said very little and, despite having two legs, was always sitting at the dining table in his small flat, not joining in with their games. 

Anna’s cousin had loved the old man, though. She thought her mother had liked him too. 

And so.

Anna turned in her seat, pretended to fiddle with the headrest, checked the other passengers hadn’t noticed her discovery. 

She turned back round, inspected the expiry date.

If it wasn’t for the plastic covering, that number one could become a seven. Draw a line through the middle, like the Germans do, and turn January into July. With a sharp enough object she could gouge a strip in the plastic. Pepper it with black ink.

Or maybe if she strode to the check-in and offered the passport like nothing was wrong, nobody would notice the expiry date. They’d see she was the girl in the photo and she’d arrive in time for a pew near her cousin, no explanations needed.

She looked at the photo.

The photo looked back.

It could be her, yesterday. Her face hadn’t altered like her sister’s over the past decade, growing narrower, more exact, even if it was Anna who people said most resembled their mother. 

It was actually quite striking.

She’d hardly changed at all.




extract from the novel ‘Sisters At the Edge Of The World’ by Ailish Sinclair



The God stands before me. Me. Morragh, who never speaks.


And I speak.


Who would have thought that my silence would ever come to an end, let alone in such a glorious and loud way.


At first I sing. I sing to Him. It is so easy. It just flows out of me. The tales of my life become music. The wonderment of the world is song. The delight in the curve of a leaf and the swoop of a bird in flight make bright notes in my throat. I have sung here before of course. Within the sacred Circle. But it has never sounded like this. I have always been alone. Unheard. Tonight the song seems to dance round the space, to bounce in excitement, and then slow as if for a caress. Each tall stone, and the large recumbent, are topped with wee piles of snow and these reverberate with music. I see the snow shake. I feel the vibration of the stones too. They make the sound rich and sonorous, as if my voice were more than one.


It is my wonderment and delight in Him that is expressed. That is the cause of the change in sound, the real difference here. The God is not as depicted and described in the stories of my people. He is come as he has appeared to others from far away, so he looks like them. There is the scent of far-off places on him. Strange foods and oils and smoke. He is like a traveller. An adventurer.


The feet of a bear lie between Him and me. Two prints in the snow, huge and clawed, like their maker. I knew she had been here when I arrived earlier; I sensed her musk in the cold air. My great friend, my Mother Bear. She did not wait to meet me today as she sometimes does in the forest, though this meeting is no less portentous because we did not encounter one another face to face. At first I thought her presence here was what was different, what was to be special about this night.


But no.


It is this.


It is Him




Nightmare In The Jungle by Ben Brown

[Cornwall, England]

It was midnight.

A group of three dozen workers were standing outside a fortress-like animal enclosure.

The enclosure was in a jungle clearing lit by floodlights.

One of the workers wore white shorts, a white t-shirt and a white fedora.

The other workers were wearing overalls and torch-mounted helmets.

Most of them had tasers and shock prods.

A forklift vehicle was lowering a huge metal cage before the enclosure entrance.

When the cage was on the ground, the man dressed in white, took over.

At his command, six workers approached the cage, ready to wheel it towards the entrance.

Three of them went round to the other side of the cage.

Menacing growls and snarls sounded from within the box.

At one point, there came a thunderous, spine-chilling roar.

In fear, the six workers backed away from the box, which vibrated.

Unimpressed, the man in white ordered the six workers to repeat the process. He then commanded them to roll the cage towards the entrance, which they did.

The gatekeeper then came into action.

He climbed onto the cage and awaited orders.

At the man in white’s command, the gatekeeper began to raise the gate.

Then it happened.

There sounded a loud, blood-curdling roar.

A dark, shadow like form with a mouth full of ferocious teeth darted forwards.

The gate vibrated and the gatekeeper tumbled off the cage, which rolled back two metres.

When the cage halted, the workers expected whatever was inside it to escape.

It didn’t.

The gatekeeper, who was in shock after the fall, tried to get up.

Too late.

There sounded another hideous roar.

The animal grabbed him and yanked him screaming into the cage.

The man in white seized the gatekeeper, who was clinging onto cage’s entrance frame for his life.

At the same time, he ordered the other workers to take action.

The armed workers worked their weapons with full force.

But it was to no avail.

The animal yanked the gatekeeper from the man in white’s clutches.

Game over.




Yard for Rent by Wayne Dean-Richards

[Sandwell, West Midlands, England]


My brother saw the sign in the first place because he was working at Select & Save on the Tipton Road. Told me the husband and wife who ran it had him unloading deliveries, stacking shelves, sweeping up.

     “I’m a bloody dogsbody, but hey,” he said, and shrugged.

     Was only two years older than me though it seemed more on account of how after the old man took off it was Dan who looked out for me.

     Like the time in school when Hodgetts set against me. Hodgetts three years older and a head taller than me.

     “What’s your name?” Hodgetts said.

     It was lunchtime and we were at the back of the gym. Away from the main school building.

     “Joe,” I told him.

     Hodgetts gave that some serious thought.

     “Your name’s alright, but I don’t like your face,” he said - and started beating me.

     Mom had too much on her plate to notice the bruises, but Dan asked me who’d done it.

     When I told him, said I was to wait by the school gate at the end of the day. Was to nod when Hodgetts walked past me.

     Dan followed him and I went straight home so I don’t know what happened. All I know is I didn’t have any more trouble with Hodgetts.

     My older brother was somebody who could sort things out.

     But he could never hold onto a job for long and when – in The Two Brewers - I asked him why he frowned and sipped his Carling. Swallowed and said he didn’t know why, but maybe it was a thing of the past because working in Select & Save wasn’t the worst job he’d had by a long shot. If packets of biscuits had been damaged, they let him take them. And if - even at reduced prices - they couldn’t shift stuff that was past its sell by date he got to take it home for free.

     “Ron and Jaspreet are okay,” he said.

     Yet a week later he asked me to come and look at a yard for rent on the Tipton Road.


     Macy didn’t say why she left me.

     “Figure it out for yourself,” was as much as I ever got from her.

     And having worked in the bakery for so long my mind was free, I tried to. Sometimes imagined she said what she said because she didn’t have a real reason. Other times told myself she left me because of something I’d done.

     Though more likely it was something I hadn’t done.

     “You don’t talk much, do you?” she said not long after we met.

     At first, she liked that I was quiet, though later it bugged her.

     With bloodshot eyes she once snapped, “What’re you hiding?”

     I wasn’t hiding anything. Told her not saying much was how it’d always been with me.

     “You talk to Dan,” Macy countered.

     And since it sounded like an accusation, maybe I tried to explain why that was. Can’t say for sure because this was around the time the shit hit the fan at work.


     I hadn’t seen redundancy coming. When the announcement was made stood in my whites with the rest. The post-announcement silence unbroken until - recently returned after a run in with cancer - Rakesh piped up.

     “Mr Kendal? I don’t get it. We make great bread here.”

     We waited while - not used to the bakery heat - Mr Kendall loosened his tie; his work suit way nicer than the one I was married in.

     “It’s just the way it is,” all he finally managed.


     When Dan pointed up at the sign, I took in that the yard was next to a tyre and exhaust place and recalled how the last time we were out drinking I’d told him about my redundancy.

     “What do you think?” he said.




The Last Kiss by Rathin Bhattacharjee

[Kolkata, India]


He stopped now, sure of the searchers having lost them for the time being. But they would be on their track soon. For a brief second, Neil imagined the menacing look on her father's face. He had warned him (Neil) of dire consequences last time they were caught and brought home. No matter whether Tri was with him or not, his henchmen would tear the youth to pieces when the chase ended. 

He turned his head backwards down the track, they would be on the love-lorns in a matter of minutes. Tri, looking as serene as ever, tried to re-energise herself holding on to his sides. 


A few feet ahead of them lay what looked like a small plateau. Tri kept looking at him with those large, doe-like eyes of hers, seemingly wanting to know about their next step. 


He had already made up his mind. Their buddies would call him a coward. He being the only child, his parents would be devastated. But Tri was the reason why Neil wanted to live. If they couldn't live together, let them stay united in death. 

Slowly, he pulled her to him for one last time. He could smell that familiar perfume. Far from being scared, she looked him in the eye and kissed him on the lips. That's when he realised that she knew. She had known the end all along. They held tightly for one last time before SHE led him to the edge of the cliff.

Neil's heart skipped a beat as he looked down at the Trisha River flowing thousand meters below, zigzagging its way to some distant land of hope, dream and love. 

"Where does this lead to?" She asked him as the clasp of their sweaty fingers, still intertwined, tightened. 

"Somewhere good," she replied, with a Mona Lisa-like smile.

"Let's kiss for the final leap then..." His sentence remained unfinished as Tri pulled him down to immortality.




Fears of a Clown by Terry Lowell

[Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England]

The clown’s smile spread across half his face. It was blood red, and tapered to a point on each cheek. It was the biggest, brightest smile I’d ever seen. Bigger than Mum’s or Dad’s. Bigger even than Uncle Tommy’s, and he could put a snooker ball in his mouth.


     It should’ve made me happy. People are meant to feel good when they see a smile, but the clown’s smile was different. It was painted on, a mask to disguise his (hers? Its?) true face. If I looked really closely, I could see Its (yes, definitely Its) red mouth, small, like a baby’s, and pursed in disapproval. But that was good. I didn’t want it to open Its mouth, because I knew that inside was a conveyor belt of razor-pointed teeth, which could rip and tear and shred.


     ‘Hello, little boy,’ the clown shape said. Its voice was high, like it had sucked on a helium balloon, but behind it was a low, animal growl.


     ‘Say hello,’ Mum said. Her hand gently pushed into the small of my back.


     ‘Hello,’ I mumbled.

     'And what’s your name?’


     I didn’t want to tell him. If It knew my name, it would know where I lived, and if It knew where I lived it would come. One night, when the lights were out, and everyone was asleep, it would slink from the closet and crawl to my bed. I’d hide beneath the covers, but a duvet is no protection against the horrors of the night. A cold hand would slip beneath the cover and grab my leg, and I would scream, but no one would come.


     I burst into tears. The creature’s mouth twitched. It waggled Its head, and danced a couple of steps, Its red and white striped legs thin like a spider’s.


     ‘Sorry about this,’ Mum said. ‘He’s normally good with strangers.’


     ‘That’s OK, buddy.’ It crouched, bringing Its face close to mine. It’s breath was hot and smoky, like I was sitting too close to a camp fire. Its eyes were black as coal. ‘I’ll be sure to see you again. Maybe next time, we could be friends.’


     It skipped away to another table, where children squealed with delight. They couldn’t see what I saw. They didn’t know what I knew.


     I watched its every move, until finally our food was finished and we stood up to leave. As we reached the door, an army of ants crawled across my shoulders. I turned my head. The clown thing raised a white-gloved hand, and wriggled fingers.


     ‘See you later, Stevie,’ it said.

     And I knew It would.





Eaten by Selene Grasby

[London, Ontario, Canada]


Crow was just a fledgling when he first met Sparrow. A timid Crow was pushed from the nest and cowered under the safety of thorny branches of a nearby shrub, where he discovered Sparrow, a small fledgling himself. As their wings grew, Crow revered Sparrow for his elegance and felt ashamed of his own large, awkward shape and harsh call. One day, Sparrow hopped up to the tallest branch of the shrub and took flight for several minutes before landing with a light thud. Crow hopped between branches and flopped down onto the grass before even opening his wings. Sparrow had a good chuckle until Sister Crow dove at him, forcing Sparrow to flee under cover. 

              “Please don’t hurt my friend,” Crow begged his sister.

              “I will spare him little brother, but know this, birds like him always get eaten.”

              Two weeks later both Crow and Sparrow were in the sky. They flew apart, but reconnected at the local farmhouse. The perches were small and Crow’s beak much too large for the feeder, forcing Crow to peck the leftover seed on the ground and eventually joining his brother who was poking through the trash. Sparrow cajoled the rest of the birds to join in on a chorus of insults and jokes at the dirty crows.

              “Do not listen to his insults little brother,” said Brother Crow. “Birds like him always get eaten.”

              A few months passed, Sparrow growing bolder and forming an alliance with the finches and cardinals against the Crow family. At one time, the Crows were revered for their assistance in mobbing the hawks and eagles, but it had been quite some time since the predator birds encircled the farmhouse. The songbirds turned on the Crows with guidance from Sparrow, diving at them and forcing them away from the nesting grounds.

              Crow began avoiding the farm altogether, taking to the fields and nearby city. In Crow’s journeys, he became an adept flyer, crossing vast distances and encountering strong winds and heavy rains. He grew brave, forced to fly through hawk territory and battle for his life using his sharp claws and quick manoeuvres. He was weathered, he had been injured but he was a survivor. After a year of travels, battles and scavenging, Crow returned to his family’s roost. His parents and siblings cheered upon his return and shouted about a special feast, a feast to honor their beloved Crow. Crow explained in fact he was not yet hungry, as he had just stopped in at the farmhouse on his way to the roost.

              “Did you see that pesky old friend of yours?” Sister Crow asked.

              “Never mind Sparrow,” said Brother Crow. “Look at you now little brother, you are strong and wise and he is nothing but a menace.”

              “Let us not waste another breath on Sparrow,” Crow said with a crimson stained beak. “I believe that you were right all along Brother and Sister, birds like him always get eaten.”





My Happy Clown by Eamon Carroll

[Dublin, Ireland]


It all started with two clowns. They came two days after the baby was born. They arrived in the morning, just after my husband had left. One of them, the nice one, would sit with me at the kitchen table. He would drink cups of tea and devour whatever cakes or treats I put out. The other one, the angry one, would stay outside. He would stand at the back window and just stare in at us. Sometimes, to get our attention, he would run a large kitchen knife along the pane of glass. The screeching sound made me cover my ears.


The nice one brought me balloons. He would pick out the pink ones and give them to me. I tied them to the buggy in the hall. I wanted balloons in the room after the birth, but people only gave us cards. I liked talking to the nice one. I would tell him about my favourite childhood memories. The ones I remembered anyway. He would get excited when I told him stories. His gummy toothless smile was infectious and always made me happy. He loved to hear stories about my time spent with my granddad, especially when I spoke about our trips to the circus. I always felt safe there. I never told him the other stories. The sad ones.


The angry one would pull at the door handle. I knew he would do bad things if I let him in. Sometimes I kept the curtains closed, just so I didn’t have to see him. But the nice one didn’t like the dark. He would bang pots and pans together. I would run over and pull the curtains open, terrified he would wake up the baby. Luckily, the baby’s door is always closed. The angry one would just snarl back at me and show me his sharp triangular teeth. Sometimes there was blood on them.


When the doorbell rang. I would spy through the little peep hole. I knew it was him, the angry one, trying to get in. The nice one said he could shapeshift, and he would try to trick me. I always locked the main bolt on the door, just in case. Sometimes when Michael came home, he would knock furiously on the door. I would look through the slit in the curtains, never sure if it was really him. I made a list of questions that I would ask him through the letterbox, if he answered correctly, I would reluctantly open the door. But I never fully trusted it was him. One day he came home wearing a suit. He never wore suits.

It’s been a week since the baby arrived. I wonder how mothers find this so hard. My baby just stays up in her room.


At night, I can hear circus music coming from the back garden. Michael says it’s just the television. But I am drawn to it. When I peek through the curtains. The angry eyes stare back at me.





Untouched by Lizzie Eldridge

[Glasgow, Scotland]

Twitter: @lizzie eldridge 


I preferred to use my fingers. The ones that dug into the dark earth. The ones that formed strange shapes out of clay. That sometimes held your hand.


My fingers leafed their way through a book that never breathed a word about rules. Etiquette sounded sharp, staccato, brittle, like the prongs of a fork pecking away at a plate in the hunt for leftover food.


Scavenging for me was covering my whole body up to the waist in every substance I could find. Immersing myself full and free and in the moment. Dirt is easy to wash off while godliness sounds as dull and drab as that rainy day you’ve been saving up for. And then you have to leave it in that cupboard in case it gets spoilt.


‘Don’t touch,’ the voices said. ‘It might break.’


I liked to unravel knots, pull at a ball of string until it wraps its way around a maze of mismatched cities with streets that weave any which way and houses crouching beside towers that lean over backwards and sway in the wind. Sometimes my ball of string uncoiled itself all the way into the sea.


My fingers reached out to poke and prod at the unknown. My fingers squeezed whatever they came across and weighed things in the balance. My fingernails scraped at the lid of every pot and tin until, when desperate, my teeth joined in. Occasionally, I nibbled the top of your left arm when I managed to open a particularly tricky jar designed to be sealed forever. I couldn’t contain my delight.


Mine were the fingers that fumbled their way through wardrobes in the hope of finding fauns. Mine were the fingers that felt their way into a velvet glove. Mine were the fingers that rippled across a piano keyboard in an ecstasy of dissonance.

I didn’t stand on ceremony. Nothing was designed to be handled with care.


‘God put us on this earth for a purpose,’ the voices said, and I wanted to know exactly what this reason was.

In the bottom drawer, past the pencils and the corkscrew and the Christmas tree angel, was a pile of letters, still in their envelopes. My index finger winced as it caught a sharp edge. My fingertips flicked through the pile, getting a feel for the volume, then pulled the whole lot out and dumped everything down on the floor.


The same address was written in the same handwriting across each fluttering item. You lived there when we first met and the woman’s kisses came tumbling into our letter box. Her fingers folded each letter, neatly, perfectly precise, as smooth as her manicured hands.





Ghosts Come Out To Play by Ben Brown

[Cornwall, England]

One dimly lit night, a pair of twelve-year-old twins entered a cemetery. Their names were Jack and Jill Carpenter.

“I still don’t think we should have come here,” said Jack, who was holding a flash light.

“Why, are you afraid the dead will come out to play?”

“Of course not.”

“Stop moaning then. Enjoy the adventure.”

“Oh, very well.”

The twins went from grave to grave, examining the headstones.

“You see Jack, there’s nothing to fear.”

Jill had spoken too soon, for she and her brother came across two empty graves at the end of a row. The shocking thing was the fact that their own names were on the headstones.

“Hey I don’t get it,” Jack said.

“This has to be some kind of practical joke.”

“Well, if it is, then the joker has gone to a great length to scare us.”

Jill had a sudden thought.

“We may not be the only people around here called Jack and Jill Carpenter,” she said.

“In such a small town as this? I don’t think so.”

The flash light went out.

“Oh no,” said Jack.

“Now the ghosts will come out to play,” Jill said.

What came next, totally changed her attitude.

Ghosts of all ages rose up out of every grave in the cemetery. Hundreds of them there were, hundreds of silvery white ghosts.

“Let’s get out of here,” Jack said.

“You don’t have to tell me.”

Jack and Jill made a break for the cemetery entrance, but it was too late.

The ghosts swarmed around them and closed in for the kill. All at once, their eyes lit up bright red.

The truth dawned on Jack and Jill.

Those empty graves were for them.





The Appalling Fate of Henry Fluffstock by James Burt

[Hebden Bridge, England]


If you want to know what sort of person Melanie Grace actually was, well: she once cooked her boyfriend’s dog.

Paul spent a week or so walking around the town putting up posters. He paced through the parks with a lead and no dog, sometimes standing by the bushes and calling its name. “Henry? Henry Fluffstock?”


     The other dog owners felt sorry for him but weren’t eager to talk too long in case his bad luck was catching. What Paul didn’t know was that Henry Fluffstock was already dead, and had been fed to Paul the night after going missing.


     It was a rare treat for Melanie to cook. She was an excellent chef, but at home she preferred microwave dinners or takeaways. Paul would do most of the cooking even though she was better at it – legendary in some circles.


     And I remember him telling me about the mutton curry she’d made after the dog went missing. Back then, I had no idea that Henry Fluffstock had anything to do with the curry, let alone being the main ingredient. Paul had enthused about the meat, how it seemed fragrant, and more tender than most mutton he’d had, the meat slipping off the bone. I know he asked Melanie a few times if she would cook it again.


    Paul never threw out the lead, and it hung sadly from his coat-hooks. He didn’t get another dog, because he knew Melanie didn’t really like them. She’d never been the biggest fan of Henry Fluffstock, and that dog never took to Melanie, no matter how many treats she offered. It was so bad that he would jump off the sofa if she sat down beside him.


     Paul and Melanie broke up a year or two later, but by then I was seeing less of them anyway. I’d known Paul through work and we’d moved on to different jobs. I heard a few rumours about Melanie and dismissed them - she didn’t seem the sort of person to be violent to her partner and besides she’d moved away.


     I met Melanie only one more time, in a pub near the pier, and we were both drunk. I was pissed enough to say how sad I was that her and Paul had broken up, and she blurted it out: “I cooked Henry Fluffstock and fed him to Paul.”


     She put her hand over her mouth, but too late to stop the words.


     I was never going to tell Paul about Henry Fluffstock’s fate but, at that moment, I realised how much I must have missed about their relationship. The next day I considered telling the Internet what Melanie had done, but I had no real proof. I texted Paul, suggested we hang out, feeling like I owed him something, even if it wasn’t the truth.

Subject: Early Retirement Proposals by Ray Kohn




The Quiz by Ray Kohn

[Sheffield, England]


Wilson hated it when he was pushed into doing something he instinctively disliked. But his wife had become a keen quizzer, often in demand by others to join their team with all-round knowledge of things Wilson regarded as irrelevant.


The evening began. They sat awaiting the questions to which they had to give immediate verbal replies. The other teams did not seem to be doing very well so when it came to their turn, his wife was excited with the prospect of an easy win.


“Please complete the following saying.

“A bird in the hand is worth …”

Wilson answered instantly … “very little.”

His wife glared at him, but the invited audience clapped enthusiastically and laughed at Wilson’s joke.

The compere listened to instructions passed to him through his earpiece and, to the obvious annoyance of the other teams, announced: “That was not the reply I have written here: but it has been judged as better than the one we hold.


The other teams were provided with further easy questions until it came to Wilson’s turn again.

“Too many cooks spoil …”

“…weight watchers!”

Audience applause exasperated the competitive teams although some had begun to participate in Wilson’s quiet derision of the exercise.


His wife just sat back and said: “I think you had better answer all the quotations this evening.”


Some replies seemed to reflect Wilson’s background as a scientist which his wife suspected would not be appreciated by the audience. But as they were seated in a university lecture theatre, she was wrong because most of those watching them were undergraduates.


“A stitch in time …”

“.. is a superstring” brought the house down although neither his wife nor the compere understood the joke.


“Every cloud has a silver …    

“…iodide lining for rainmaking” drew applause from the meteorologists.

“A rolling stone…”

“… accelerates downhill.”


The lights dimmed and the compere became very serious. “I am going to give you famous sayings to which you need to provide an explanation. Do you understand?” Wilson’s wife nodded although he was unsure what was meant to happen.


“OK. Here is your first one. Your days are numbered…”

“… but less so in February,” Wilson responded instantly.


“I’m afraid that that does not explain the saying,” the compere intoned. “I’ll throw it open to the other teams.” But much to the compere’s annoyance, the other teams said they liked Wilson’s take on the saying and thought it illustrated the meaning perfectly.


One of the other team captains shouted out to Wilson, “Curiosity killed the cat…”

Wilson called back: “I think the verdict is expected today!”

The audience were in fits and the compere was becoming irate at his inability to control proceedings.


“Cloak and dagger” one of the other team captains cried out.

“… to cut a rough buttonhole” Wilson shouted back.


“That’s enough!” the compere insisted. “Let’s get back to the game…”

to which Wilson replied, “I don’t think that is an appropriate saying for family entertainment.”


The audience was in stitches of laughter, and even his wife had tears running down her cheeks at her husband’s unexpected wit.


“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a …”

“… car hire?”


“A man after my own heart …”

“… that’s my cardiac surgeon!”


The compere just gave up at this point and let the opposition captains set Wilson the questions.


“A picture is worth a thousand …”

“… dollars if it’s an original.”


“Absence makes the heart grow…

“… forgetful?”


“Beauty is only skin…”

“… shaped?”


“Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth…”

“..because he’d died yesterday.”




But Wilson was getting bored and clearly wanted to finish the evening. He looked to his wife for a lead, and she said:


“A fate worse than…”

“…a quiz night.”


And they all went home.


A Retirement Apartment by George Smith

[Worcestershire, England]


Arthur was greeted by a moustachioed young man in a three piece suit.


     ‘I’m Rupert. A pleasure to show you around.’    


     ‘Lead on, Macduff,’ said Arthur.


     Rupert looked at his visitor’s baggy sweater and creased trousers and pressed his lips into a fine line. He beckoned Arthur to follow.


     They walked through the hall, up the stairs and into an apartment.


     ‘The lounge, sir.’ 


     To Arthur, it was an oblong box devoid of furniture, with colourless walls, and drowned in artificial lighting. There was none of the character or homeliness of his lounge. Must take this seriously. Better for my arthritis and bronchitis. So said Susie and John. Don’t want to nettle them.


     ‘The windows are too small to let in natural light.’


     ‘The window size reduces heat loss and will save you money, sir.’


     ‘I could make this room a place for painting.’


     ‘Painting, sir! The apartment’s newly decorated.’


     Arthur smiled. ‘My big hobby’s art. Need natural light for that. This could be my studio.’


     ‘Your studio?’ said Rupert and his eyes bulged at the diminutive figure with straggling white hair and beard.


     ‘It will need a table, and space for storing all my art materials -canvasses and all that. Bigger windows would help. Could partition it off too.’


     ‘Leaseholders who propose significant changes require permission from the landlord,’ said Rupert rubbing an eyelid. 

     ‘However, I think you’ll like the bedroom. This way.’


     Arthur gasped. Eyeing up the room he guessed it would not take his king-size bed. Damn! He and Mary would have to re-arrange their occasional sleeping arrangements if he was to buy. He walked over to the window and stared out. ‘I see there’s a large car park but no greenery.’ He stamped the floor with his rolled up golfing umbrella.


     ‘There’s a stunning garden to your right,’ said Rupert, standing clear of the umbrella.


     Arthur looked again. This view did not compare with the luxuriant view from his own bedroom. Admittedly, it was now hard for him to keep his rambling garden under control.


     ‘And now the en-suite.’ Rupert pushed the door open.


     ‘There’s no bath! How can you get a real clean in a shower?’


     ‘Most of our residents lack the agility to use baths. Showers reduce accidents, sir.’


     ‘Hmm,’ said Arthur, thinking of what the future might have in store. But he enjoyed a long soak so why should he have to give it up? 


      ‘Finally, sir, the kitchen.’ Rupert stretched an arm out. ‘As you see, it’s fitted with all the essential white goods.’


      Arthur rubbed his chin. ‘But where’s the washing machine. Or does everyone here go around a bit whiffy.’ He gave a roar of laughter.


     ‘No, sir.’ Rupert feigned a smile ‘We have a laundry service on site.’


     Arthur’s eyes sparkled. ‘A live-in scrubber. I like it’. He elbowed Rupert in the ribs. ’I’m warming to this place. Can I see a two bedroom apartment now?’ 





Subject: Early Retirement Proposals by Ray Kohn

[Sheffield, England]


Notice To All Employees


As a result of the drop in company profits, we are forced to cut down on our number of personnel. Under this plan, older employees will be asked to take early retirement, thus permitting the retention of younger people who represent our future. Therefore, a programme to phase out older personnel by the end of the current year, via retirement, will be placed into effect immediately.


This programme will be known as SLAP (Sever Late-Aged Personnel). Employees who are SLAPPED will be given the opportunity to look for jobs outside the company. SLAPPED employees can request a review of their employment records before actual retirement takes place. This review phase is called SCREW (Survey of Capabilities of Retired Early Workers). All employees who have been SLAPPED and SCREWED may file an appeal with higher management.


This appeal is called SHAFT (Study by Higher Authority Following Termination). Under the terms of the new policy, an employee may be SLAPPED once, SCREWED twice, but may be SHAFTED as many times as the company deems appropriate. If an employee follows the above procedure, he/she will be entitled to get HERPES (Half Earnings for Retired Personnel's Early Severance) unless already in receipt of CLAP (Combined Lump-sum Assistance Payment).


As HERPES and CLAP are considered benefit plans, any employee who has received HERPES or CLAP will no longer be SLAPPED or SCREWED by the company.


Management wishes to assure the younger employees who remain will continue participation in our policy of training employees through our Special High Intensity Training (SHIT). We take pride in the amount of SHIT our employees receive. We have given our employees more SHIT than any company in Europe. If any employee feels they do not receive enough SHIT on the job, see your immediate line manager. All managers are specially trained to make sure you receive all the SHIT you can stand.


And, once again, thanks for all your years of service with us.





Climb Beyond The Limit by Ben Brown

[Cornwall, England]


That final stage of the climb was most daring and overwhelming.


After leaving the final camp, Hillary and Tenzing made for the South Summit of Everest.


When they reached the South Summit, they examined the final ridge leading to the main Summit. It was monstrous.


To the left, were the upper slopes of the South West face, which towered above the Western Cwm. To the right, were cornices overhanging the East Kangshung face. One step on a cornice, would send a climber plunging to the rising Kangshung glacier.


Some way along the ridge, there was a step, some forty feet high, right by a cornice.


There was only one thing for it.


Hillary and Tenzing had no choice, but to make their way up the ridge. It was the only route from the South Summit to the main Summit.


So, they began to make their way up the ridge, which turned out to be very challenging.

There came a point when the ridge was so narrow, that the climbers had to inch their way along at a snail’s pace.


Furthermore, they were roped together, so if one of them fell, the other would too.


They reached the step, which had a shaft leading up the middle. On one side of the shaft was the South West face and on the other, the cornice.


So, Hillary made his way up the shaft, hoping that the cornice wouldn’t fall away. He could sense the Kangshung glacier beneath his feet.


Both Hillary and Tenzing reached the top of the step.


From that point the ridge was less difficult and they reached the top of Everest.



Advice From My Father: Be A Squeaky Wheel by Jude Potts

[Hampshire, England]


My father taught me that if you want to disappear without a trace after pulling a con on some unsuspecting schmuck you don’t dress in beige, don’t offer up an oatmeal personality, don’t try and fade into the wallpaper. Be a squeaky wheel, be memorable, be flamboyant and fabulous.


My father taught me to wear a bright purple hat that clashes with your lime green suit, wear a patch over one eye, have a stutter, a lisp, an accent that is ‘foreign’ but strangely difficult to place - was it Dutch? Could have been Belgian, or German? Maybe South African? Have a limp or use a stick.


My father taught me that if people remember something, better they give a detailed description of your wig, your fake limp, your enormous, gaudy broach shaped like a parrot and your pretend stammer. They’ll ignore anything of any use in tracing you in the future, like your height, eye colour, your age.


My father taught me the ‘watermelon drop’, the ‘pig in a poke’ and ‘Three Card Monte’. I don’t know how much is nature, what’s nurture, but I know we both cheat at cards, even Patience. I would no more play with a straight deck than I would get a real job.


My father taught me it’s an addiction, it's in the blood. A visceral thing. A tingle in your top lip when you sense the approach of a perfect Mark, a pounding of your heart in the build-up, the ecstasy as you push, push, push until you find the sweet spot, the convincer that finally wins them over so perfectly you know they are hooked and you play your hurrah, the crisis, the moment of now or never. You win or you lose. I’m good, so I mostly win.


And then you’re gone, with their wad in your back pocket. Slip out the back door, whistling and throwing your hat and your wig in the bin as you leave. That’s what my father taught me.


It was what his father taught him and his grandfather before that. And it was all there in the book. Old, tatty leather, dog-eared pages, bruised spine, water marks and paperclips. Every grift, every swindle that any sucker, any stooge ever fell for. A multi-generational diary of scams, a hucksters’ how-to of hustling gulls and rubes.


It was my father’s prize possession. It had been his father’s before that until Dad had played a distraction game on him and slipped out with it in his battered old case one thunder-hot day. Grandpa won it from his father in a hand of poker where father and son were both cheating, but son cheated better.


My father must have been so proud the day I lifted it from his room, shimmied down a drain pipe and disappeared into the offing to earn my fortune running pigeon drops and rainmaking, nostrils full of the sweet smell of gasoline and lighter fluid from the bridges I burnt, whistling as I went.




Palimpsest by Steve Hartley

[Lancashire, England]


Tom checks his watch. Time’s up. She didn’t come. The message he left couldn’t have been clearer.

     He climbs up and sits on the railing at the end of the pier. The weight of the backpack, full of rocks, seems to pull him back, but he resists and leans into the void. When they were happy, they used to stand here, stare at the horizon and talk of the future; now he stares into the night, and sees nothing. The lonely, despairing cry of a herring gull fills his head. The lamp above throws a spotlight on this, his final scene. He pauses, settles, listens to the growl and slap of the sea far below, then closes his eyes and inhales a last lungful of salt air.


     A hand grips his; another seizes his shoulder. The scent of French cigarettes wraps around his face, as the voice he had lost and almost forgotten cries in his ear, ‘Tom, stop!’


     ‘You came back.’ 


     ‘You won’t let me go.’ 


     ‘Where’ve you been?’  


     ‘Remembering how to be happy. Tom, get down. Please.’


     He climbs back onto the pier and turns to her. Olivia cries out. ‘Jesus, what have you done to your face?’


     Tom smiles. ‘Not just my face.’ He heaves the rucksack from his back and takes off his tee-shirt and jeans. He turns to show her the indelible, needle-sharp words tattooed across the contours of his body, overwritten so much they have turned his skin blue. ‘I wrote you on my body.’ He raises his arms, offering himself as a benediction. ‘Every inch of me is you. It always was.’

Olivia stares, speechless.

     ‘After you left, I started to forget things. It was like losing you all over again. So I turned myself into this: a palimpsest of memories.’ He grins. ‘Palimpsest: one of your favourite words.’ He points to his stomach. ‘There it is, along with plump, pusillanimous, and nincompoop.’

     The spell is cast. Tom’s finger becomes a wand, guiding Olivia’s mesmerised gaze over his body. He points out stories that tell of her love of thunderstorms, crazy golf, French cigarettes and Radiohead; her fear of spiders and mistrust of cats. These are woven and intertwined with cherished moments of their life together. He touches a cross on his cheek. ‘Here’s your first kiss. X marks the spot.’ He draws her eyes to his heart. ‘And here’s your parting shot: “I’m drowning. I need air.” A tad melodramatic, but it’s so you. Look, I even got the guy to copy your handwriting.’


     Olivia is crying. She traces the sentences with her fingertips, reading them like Braille. As her fingers brush his skin, Tom gasps. His need for her jolts his body. ‘I can’t live without you.’


     ‘Tom, I can’t live with you.’




     ‘This isn’t a game.’


     ‘No. It’s not. It’s life or death.’


     The night closes in. The wind baits its breath. The sea waits.





All About George by Jane Mooney

[West Yorkshire, England]



I don’t want to worry George, I know he’s got a lot on his plate at the moment, but I’m feeling really scared.  The doc says I need more tests…they’re worried about this cough I’ve got which won’t go away.  They’re not saying it but I know they think it’s the Big C. 


George and Sally invited me round for supper this evening, but I didn’t really feel up to going after a day at the hospital.  Is it bad that I felt relieved when George texted me to cancel? Apparently, they’ve had some sort of plumbing disaster and the kitchen’s flooded.



3 weeks we’ve been without a working shower! 3 weeks!  And what’s he doing about it?  Sod all as far as I can see.  Well, if it means I have to go to the gym every night just to get a shower, so be it.  At least I’m keeping fit.


I keep bumping into Mick at the gym.  Haven’t seen him for ages, not since he and Trish split up. I’d forgotten what good fun he is.  We were leaving at the same time last night and he offered to buy me a drink. Well, there was nothing to rush home for.  I knew George was working late (again!) so why not!  Haven’t laughed so much in ages.


A Hospice Nurse

We’ve got an old boy just admitted with terminal lung cancer.  He’s scared.  They often are when they first arrive.  I’m doing everything I can to make it easier for him.  Fortunately, he’s got a supportive son, George I think his name is.  He’s here every day.  Not sure what he does for a living that means he has so much free time.  Maybe he doesn’t work.  Anyway – it makes it easier for the old boy having his son so close.



Got sat next to a guy called George at the wedding.  Clearly, we had been put together because we're both newly single.  Nice guy but rather sad.  He's lost his wife, his job and his dad all in the space of a year.  We talked, and we danced.  He took my number but I don’t think he’ll get in touch.



I’ve just got a new phone.  New job, new phone, new start.  But for some reason I felt I had to put Dad’s number into it.  Why is that?  He’s been dead two years.





Death Of A Pikeman, 1645 by Steve Hartley

[Lancashire, England]


Death came with the rout. An English blade stopped his loyal English heart. It wasn’t clean, but it was quick.

As he bled into the earth, he heard the laughter of his children, and felt his wife’s last kiss. He drew a final faltering breath, then sank into silence and soft shadows, and felt nothing.

A Roundhead took his boots. A scavenger took his keep-safe charm. Crows took his eyes and worms took his flesh. He passed into memory. Time took everything.





Del Briggs’ Midlife Crisis by William Kitcher

[Toronto, Ontario, Canada]


Del Briggs loved his wife, respected her, admired her for her intelligence and common sense, and thought she was still the funniest person he had ever known.

     But they hadn’t had sex for fifteen years. The inactivity had begun when their daughters were in their teens and they didn’t want to make noise that would alarm the children, but the daughters had left home many years ago, and Briggs and his wife had never resumed a regular routine. From once or twice a year, it had dwindled to nothing and, as they careened through middle age, had never come back.

     Part of it, Briggs was sure, was that they weren’t attracted to each other anymore. They’d seen each other age, and go to flab and wrinkles and hair emerging from the most unlikely body parts. And, after all, how many people in their fifties were still attractive? Sure, there was Diane Lane and there was Julie in Accounting, but that was about it.

     At least, that’s what Briggs thought, and he was fairly certain his wife felt the same way, as she had never broached the subject or his body.

     It had never bothered Briggs very much as he was a fairly low-sexual person but it was a constant thought, and he began to become concerned that perhaps he was no longer even capable.

     One night after work, he went to the bar that the Sales team regularly commandeered, and took aside Teddy Wall, a young sales whiz who was known to indulge in sex of the paid variety.

     “Yeah, I think I can help you out,” said Wall, looking at the contact list on his phone. “OK, this is what you’re looking for. Two twenty-one-year-old sisters, Inga and Ilsa, exchange students who...”

     “No,” interrupted Briggs. “Young women would just make me feel... uh... sordid. Do you have anyone a little older?”

     “I know exactly who you need. Madam La Rosa is the one. She lives just around the corner from here. Daytime is best for her.”


     Briggs took the information and thought about it for a few days. He wondered if he could go through with it. Would this cause him anguish? Would he feel guilty? What the hell, he thought.

     The following Thursday, he decided he could. He left work early, and went to the address. He climbed three flights of stairs, found the right apartment, and knocked on the door. The door opened and he looked into the face of his wife.




A Sleepless Night by Anna-Roisin Ullman-Smith

[Glasgow, Scotland]


From the deep dark depths of a dreamless sleep, she was suddenly yanked back into the gloom of her bedroom, her mind still clinging onto the sweetness of oblivion even as her eyes opened and settled upon the scrunched up, screaming face of her child.  


Perfectly at eye level to her pillow’s mounted head, the small monsters’ cries shook the empty mindless space of her brain in painful throbs. Her body took over, emitting cooing sounds of comfort as her arms untangled from the duvet and reached across the minimal space separating them, to lift and drag the small, angry creature she loved into the warm embrace of the parental bed.  


Hair frizzed by sleep and face sticky with snot and tears, the small human immediately hushed on contact with its mothers warmth and burrowed into her chest, thumb popping into mouth and hand clenching around a stray lock of her hair.  


Small sticky load acquired, she turns gently onto her back, looping the already drifting toddler’s legs over her arm and placing a hand firmly and comfortingly against its back. A sharp look through the dark to her right confirms her husband’s unbroken slumber. Rage momentarily ignites and then is quenched by the soft sleepy moan of her tiny load. She turns her eyes back down onto her sleeping monster, now turned cherub in resting, watching the soft rise and fall of its tiny chest and the rhythmic clench and unclench of its cherry pink lips around its miniscule thumb.  


Eyes turning up to the ceiling she reaches out for the depthless sleep she was torn from. She closes her eyes, settles her breathing, attempts to stop the cogs which have woken and begun to turn in her mind.  


It is, of course, at this exact moment that her husband begins to snore. Loud, bed- shaking snores which echo through her. Her eyes snap open, the cogs in her mind released to run into overdrive as the long list of chores that await her with morning light begin to flood her consciousness.  


Stuck, unable to move should she wake the beast now settled against her chest, she stares into the darkness, tracing the lines of the ceiling tiles, both content and furious all at once.  





To Accept The Challenge, You Must Pay The Fare by Kayleigh Kitt

[South Shropshire, England]


It is a Tuesday afternoon and Pete’s life is about to change.


He’s only agreed to go on the trip to Boraston Hall because Angela is going but , dismally when he arrives, she’s already cried off. So grumpily resigned to the back of the group visiting the stately home, he becomes his worst fear - a straggler.


Slowly going through the rooms, he further detaches himself from the rest of the party, mostly to avoid the scrutinising questions from Deidre. You know Deidre? Of course you do, loud, pushy with an insatiable appetite for gossip. We’ve all met Deidre.


I digress.


So Pete, now forlorn and melancholy stumbles in a corridor of our historic house, and as his forearm connects with a wooden panel to steady himself, there’s a very soft click, followed by a hiss and an animatronic voice that softly announces,


Main power has been restored.


Our wilting hero thinks he’s hearing things, but as he straightens up, doors begin to gracefully glide shut.  Tapestries on the wall recede into ceilings, panels rotate revealing a selection of brass chargers, spears and swords.


Carpets and rugs roll up, as if they are on hidden pulleys, disappearing into letter box slots in the floor, snapping shut, while bases of spears held by flanking suits of armour ring out on the stone floors, as their mufflers are dislodged.


A black walnut sideboard shivers, swallowing half a dozen goblets, although it’s not quite as successful, with the dish of apples, one landing and skimming across the tiles, hitting Pete’s boot. He hitches his rucksack, nervously pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose.


But then…. the helmet of the nearest mirrored suit of armour begins to grate in his direction.  Pete licks his lips, taking several alarmed steps backwards, nudging a table and dislodging a pewter vase, which crashes loudly to the floor, with hollow, echoing chimes.


The visor on the helmet begins to open, synchronised with a rising gauntlet.


Pete stands gawping, now frozen in fear.


A tatty, brown edged piece of card, ejects from the visor, landing in the upturned polished hand, followed by a shiny golden sovereign.


Nothing stirs, no traces of human voices, nor animal, well living at least, because the glassy eyes of the stuffed heads seem to be focused intently on any minutiae movement.


With a thumb and forefinger, Pete carefully extracts the card from the palm of armour.


It reads, “To accept the challenge, you must pay the fare.”


He measures the weighty coin in his upturned hand, a bead of sweat forming on his forehead.


Peering to inspect the glinting intricate pattern on the breastplate of the metal skin, he posts the coin into a slot in the chest.




Like A Million Butterflies by John Brantingham

[Jamestown, NY, USA]


Travis jumps off the school bus to find what looks like a million butterflies in his mother’s milkweed bush out in front of his house, but he’s quick to sneer at it because that’s what you do when you see butterflies and a busload of kids are watching you, even if your back is to them and they can’t see your face.


     Still, his grandmother told him about the way magic wands come from milkweed bushes covered with butterflies, so he waits until the bus moves on and then makes his face as neutral as he can make it. When it feels right, he steps up to the bush and snaps off a branch as naturally as he can, as though this is not special, but just what someone does in the course of the day.


     He’s too old to believe in magic wands, he thinks as he stuffs the branch in his pocket.




     Upstairs in his bedroom, he can think about what he might want the wand to do. He supposes that the only thing he really wants is to be able to play with butterflies without anyone laughing at him, so he takes the wand and closes his eyes and circles it around his forehead.


     Next week, when he sees some more butterflies out of the baseball diamond, he’s too smart to go chasing after them. The wand, he knows, has no power. The other kids would laugh and talk about him for a month. He knows that when the monarch comes close to him, actually lands on his mitt, and when the ball is hit to left field while he is right so he doesn’t have to disturb the little creature, that it has nothing to do with the magic his grandmother gave him. He’s too old and too smart to believe any of that.






Three Stories by John Sheirer

[Northampton, Massachusetts, USA]




Julia had heard stories about her grandfather. He had been something of an athlete long ago. Nothing professional, but people noticed. Now eighty, he still got around well, took long walks at his senior complex, maybe with a limp on rainy days.

            So, she was surprised when she visited and saw him in a wheelchair.

            “What happened, Gramps?” Julia asked.

            “Nothing yet,” he replied.

            “So, what’s with…” Julia said, nodding in the general direction of the wheelchair.

            “You know, gotta plan,” Gramps said, gripping the chair’s arms and shaking them with his still-strong hands, rattling the frame. “The inevitable.”





The homeowner woke early each weekday to dress well and tap computer keys in exchange for money. On weekends, he wore sloppy clothes and traded large portions of that money for supplies that he hauled from a big-box hardware store to his home. He sweated and swore and transformed those supplies into new porch steps and repaired deck boards and rescreened screen doors and layers of paint atop fading surfaces of his house. The homeowner could have exchanged his money for other people to come to his home and do this work for him, but what fun would that be?



Revenge Of The Lawn Service


Henderson Landscaping’s workers lifted sweat-lidded eyes from their tasks at 84 Maple Street to witness a Doobie’s Mow and Blow truck rumble to a stop at 97 Maple. Last month, Doobie’s site supervisor, slathered in a film of sunscreen and disguised by opaque mosquito netting, crept in at lunch break to shove a potato deep inside the tailpipe of Henderson’s best tractor, disabling it for an important job. Since then, Buddy Henderson, youngest son of the company founder, had anticipated today’s arrival. He distributed buckets of fist-sized throwing rocks to all seven employees present. They each knew what honor demanded.





The High And Mighty by Alan Berger

[West Hollywood, California]


I was wondering why there were so many cars double and triple parked in my driveway when I

got home.


My neighbor Richard was smoking a Marlboro by the side of my house, and when he saw me pull

up he came towards me as I got out of the car.


He pulled me by the cuff as he watched the windows while he led me to the side, so, “We wouldn’t be



“Got any coke”? He requested.


I gave him some.


“I’m here for your intervention”


“My what”? I asked.


“Yeah, don’t tell on me. I don’t want one.”


I started to walk to the front of my home.


“Hey fuckhead, you coming in”? I inquired.


“Yeah, you go in first. Got any weed”? He didn’t wonder.


I gave him some.




I met my wife, one early rainy morning waiting for the doors to open at an A.A. meeting.


 It was my first time, and I guess it showed.


It was her millionth time, and I guess it showed.


After the A.A. meeting I kissed my future sponsor wife on the neck in the parking lot and she

looked, and felt, like she was tingling all over, and then I started tingling all over too.


I thought at best we would be just a fleeting fantasy in an after A.A. meeting parking lot.


It happens every day, and night, however, this one stuck to the ribs.


It was love at first blurry vision.


Now, my significant whatever, is now a reformer.


A couple of her friends’ husbands were there too.

I saw them earlier in the week.


We all went in on an ounce of blow with a side of some ecstasy. They probably wanted to re-up and figured they might as well stay for the show.


I noticed one of the attendee neighbors coming out of my bathroom and making a mental

note to myself to check and see how many pills of mine they stole.


I looked over the audience and thought to myself that half were drunk, half were pilled, half were

coked, and half, were all the above and below.


I know that doesn’t add up correctly, but what does?


I also knew I wasn’t as whacked out as most of them but what can you do?


I don’t want to be known as an intervention party pooper.


I simply said, “Let’s not say what goes without saying."


Until I said,


“Why don’t we all empty our pockets and purses and we’ll see what we can see and what is what”?



So here we are, and nobody has made the slightest motion to empty their pockets and purses.


They must have thought I was kidding.


I was not kidding.


The haul was enormous, and I suggested we sell it all and donate it to charity.


I was voted down, so I said, “Why not live and let live?"


That bill was voted and passed.





Tinnitus by Alisha J Prince

[Wandsworth, London, England]


Raymond cut pieces of moss using nail scissors and fitted them into an ice-cream box. A pond was the small round mirror his wife had prised from a compact, it smelled of stale, perfumed powder.


Twigs and lollipop sticks formed the first fence. They have to be the right kinds of twigs; too supple and you have willowy vines, too frail and they risk snapping.

The next bit was controversial - cat litter for a path. Some say this is cheating because a path should be made from stones, painstakingly picked for their uniformity. But the litter was already in the cupboard under the sink. He was utilising his resources, anyway, it was redundant since the cat died. His wife had always bought fine grain which made an elegant esplanade.

Boxwood, lamb’s ear and false cypress were favourites and his signature piece was a washing line. Swings could over-egg the pudding. Not that he wasn’t experimental. He’d once made a miniature garden within a miniature garden deliberately breaking one of the four reproduction antique ceramic tile walls. He suspected foul play when only awarded third place but avenged himself the following year with a reconstruction of The Potters Field - Judas Tree and noose included. Perhaps they’re just not ready for Penjing veritas in New Malden? His wife had suggested.

He hummed and tapped his skull, a trick an ENT specialist taught him. His wife had said he was lucky; most people don’t know what they’re distracting themselves from.

Later, standing on a motorway bridge, traffic competed with the dreadful echo of inner-ear interference, he wondered: if he was distracting himself from tinnitus, what was the tinnitus distracting him from?

It was still rush hour. His head was still louder than the cars. Stale perfumed powder still lined his nostrils.




Mongolian Sunflowers by Karen Arnold

[Worcestershire, England]

Giant Mongolian sunflower seeds. Ten for five pounds.

Do they have sunflowers in Mongolia? Surely, it’s too cold she thought.


She shrugged, scrolled to another page. Scrolled back again and stared at the image. The enormous flowers were mesmerising, big as dustbin lids, radiating hot golden petals.  She looked out at the grey sky and leaned back into the faded green velour sofa. Becalmed in a sea of other tenant’s threadbare furniture, she laced her cold fingers over the soft round of her stomach for a moment, then clicked “buy now”.


She planted them in a motley assortment of rescued yoghurt pots and margarine tubs, in soil grubbed up from the side of the road and carried home in a bag for life. Watched as if bewitched when tiny tendrils started to unfurl. They grew so fast. She would sit at the scuffed Formica kitchen table and feel she could hear them growing, a creaking, eager noise that cut through the dull roar of traffic.


One evening they were too big for the pots. Roots and shoots reached out into the air, desperate for more space. She crept down the fire escape, cleared away broken glass and cigarette butts and planted them in the patch of earth by the light of a curious full moon. They carried on growing, stems as thick as her finger, then as thick as her forearm. She watered them every day of that long desperate summer, cried like a toddler when the strongest of them was kicked over by a careless bin man.


The next three grew sickly and jaundiced. They withered, and died, poisoned by cat piss. After that she spent hours at the window ready to defend them with bowls of water and creative expletives. Two of them reached the height of the first landing before being used as goal posts by bored teenagers and reduced to tattered stumps. The dead eyed boys ignored her pleas to just fuck off. They threw the empty beer can that had been the football at her windows, and she did not shout again. They prowled away into the dusk as the sun set.


The sunflowers grew. She worked out how to measure them from her window as she grew larger, too tired to climb down. She lowered down a knotted piece of string, a rental Rapunzel. She counted the climbing numbers. Seven months. Eight months. Nine months


The buds had reached the kitchen window when the pains started. They opened slowly along with her. The midwives commented on them as they entered the flat, and then there was no more time to talk, no time to get to the hospital.


They put the baby into her arms at the end of that long hot day, and both of them turned towards the window, where the giant Mongolian sunflowers, big as dustbin lids, nodded in approval.





Life’s Dreams by Mark Anthony

[Kent, England]

“You gonna eat that?” Mary asked her sister. Sue-Ellen shook her head. “No, I’m done.”

Mary stabbed the piece of pancake with her fork and folded it into her mouth having wiped all traces of maple syrup from the plate. Their mother Connie wore the well- worn mask of normality while a knot of worries tumbled in her head, careful words of advice for their first day at a new high school were delivered.


“Now girls, you are growing up now and some folk, especially those boys, will be paying you mighty close attention, so just you act normal, you know like always. Be polite even if they’re being mean.”


“We will Mom,” they said in unison.


Mary and Sue-Ellen sat in the back of the car, lime trees marched by as they cruised along the Maryland suburbs, Connie hummed a country and western classic, her nerves added extra vibrato to her tones. Of course, had Hank stuck around it would have a damn sight easier, but he soon pushed through the back door fly screen once he’d realised. A glance in the rear-view mirror, two faces stealing glimpses of people like birds pecking seeds from the ground, before sinking back into soft leather. At the lights near the school, Connie drew a deep breath, pulled down the sun visor mirror, a face much older that it should, but she would fight on, for her and her girls.


She figured that Maryland high school was large enough for the girls to fit in, yes it would be daunting but if they were to succeed in life, they need to face crowds and attention. No longer could they hide in small town life.


The main car park resembled a disturbed ants’ nest, encumbered masses emerging from boxes and corners marched towards a frenzied bottle neck. Mary and Sue-Ellen tentatively alighted from the car, their mother held the door and took them in her arms and whispered encouraging words before she ushered them forward.


“I.. I’m not sure I can do this,” Sue- Ellen said to her twin.


“Just focus on those dreams we have Sue-Ellen. You have yours and I have mine, we just have work together to achieve them, that’s all.”


“You’re right Mary. We can do this.”


Determined not flee the scene, Connie watched as the girls took deliberate co-ordinated strides to the knot of bodies at the entrance. An electric buzz connected all the heads except those of Mary and Sue-Ellen, it was if they were the reverse polarity, repelling them from the crowd's magnet. The girls’ awareness of the stir at first quickened their pace until forced to stop at a thronged pocket, hundreds of eyes on stalks, wide and examining, the two fair faces that shared a single body.




The Inside Cover  by Laura Stamps


Twitter: @LauraStamps16  


There it is. In my post office box. The current issue. One of the dog magazines I subscribe to. Just seeing it makes me happy. So enjoyable. This. This addiction to dog magazines. Mine. I open it to the inside cover. The first ad. Love the ads! Have I mentioned that before? It’s true. Love them. They’re as entertaining as the articles. Really. They are. And informative. Always. The ads. All of them. Really. Like this one. The ad in this issue. On the inside cover. Usually, it’s for pet insurance. But not this time. Now it’s anxiety meds. For dogs. What? What? Dogs have anxiety? How fascinating! I wonder, wonder. Could these work for humans too? These dog meds. I wonder. If they could. If that’s possible. Then I know who needs them. Him. My ex. That ex-husband of mine. Mad all the time. Him. Mad at the world. At people. At strangers. At drivers. At life. At everyone. And everything. Is it any surprise he has a heart condition? Too much anger. Too much stress. For him. For me. Is it any surprise what happened to me? That day. When I’d had enough. When I was tired. So tired. Me. Tired of his temper tantrums. His anger. The tantrums that put him in the hospital. Again, and again, and again. Tired. Me. Of going to the hospital to pick him up. Again, and again, and again. Tired of his refusal to take an anger management class. To learn coping skills. To learn. Just. Tired. On that day. Like any day. Me. Driving home from work. Like I always did. Every day. After work. But then, but then. That day. I didn’t get off at my exit. Couldn’t. Couldn’t go home. To him. Couldn’t make myself. Just. Couldn’t. Do it. Kept driving. Driving, driving, driving. Across one state. And then another. And then another. Driving. To be free. From husband-stress. From anger. Free. To build a new life. Here. In this city. Far away. Me. Free. Finally. Best ten years of my life. And counting. 




The Blind Leading The Dog by Alan Berger

[West Hollywood, California]


The last thing Amber remembered was a beam of light speeding towards her face.


A stubborn light.


Like her.


Now another one.


This time it was a flashlight lighting up her face.


She felt the warmth but couldn’t see a fucking thing.


Blinder than a bat.


She already had a dog that did not know he would have to be retooled which is better than being fired.


He already could not find his own leash, bless his heart.


She sure was pretty, but what blind person isn’t?


It was not his fault that his wife upset him so that he could not see her, and out of hurt and anger, after being left alone for

another, he attacked the night with his Harley machine until his blind rage blinded her.


She wore a football helmet she got from her before blind boyfriend, to wear around the house, so she wouldn’t hurt her head any further on all those big bumpy things surrounding her new life.


She got a call to see if she wanted a seeing-eye dog but she said she already had a dog that could see fine, and his name is Bo, then she hung up.


Her before blind boyfriend looked after Bo at his place while she was in the hospital.


Her boyfriend had women come over that he pretended to like them, until he threw them out.


After she got back home, he brought Bo over and she was more excited to be with Bo then with her future ex-boyfriend, whom she told it would not be fair to him to have a life with her, with her being this way. “Don’t you agree?” she frozenly asked.


Of course, she did not want him to agree, she just wanted to give him an out.


But agree he did.


She might have never known what she wanted out of life, but sure knew when she was not wanted.


She laughed when she told Bo that she had a feeling her job as an air-traffic controller career was in jeopardy, and even Bo thought it was funny.


If she could just stumble upon a man was like her Bo, her world of darkness would be brighter.


One day she got yet another call from that organization about training Bo asking how she was doing adjusting and how was this, and how was that, and just before she was going to adjust the phone to go silent, the person on the other end said they were born blind and how lucky she was to have had sight for a while at least.

They talked for hours, and when it was time to hang up, the born blind person said, “Bye bye, see you with my third eye.”


Then Amber lied down with her arms around Bo and cried a bit and was happy that her eyes could still produce tears that Bo would lick away.




To Greet or Not to Meet? By Naga Vydyanathan

[Bangalore, India]

Raju donned his Covid protection gear, the supposedly omnipotent N95 mask, as he prepared to step out for his morning walk. The current times necessitated one to fortify the body and mind before venturing out of one’s haven! Armed with a tiny bottle of sanitizer, he stood outside his door, wondering whether to take the elevator or the stairs, finally opting for the latter – at least Covid urged the weak-hearted to exercise their hearts! The air outside was cool and fresh. Raju took long, deep breaths, trying to somehow suck in the air through the numerous layers of his mask. He diligently wore only masks with five or more layers – wasn’t more the safer? Walking briskly, he noticed that most of his fellow walkers had theirs precariously hanging from their ears, safely protecting their chins. “Covid has definitely retired, not from existence, but from people’s minds!” thought Raju disapprovingly, as he turned around the corner.


          Raju had his eyes intensely focussed on the ground before him, for two reasons. One – he did not want to accidently step on one of the many snakes that had started venturing out bravely, boldened by the lack of human intrusion over the last few months. Two – he was scared of meeting eyes with someone he knew. Meeting eyes was OK, but meeting without a mask? “Raju bhai! Arrey Raju Bhai!” boomed a persistent voice from behind. Raju froze in his tracks – he hadn’t anticipated being recognized from the back – an impressive feat by whoever it was, considering the jagged locks of hair he sported, thanks to the Covid-confine! Turning around, he peered at the waving figure, the neurons in his brain frantically trying to find a match for the blurry masked face with images from the past.  Raju took some steps towards the still-waving figure, hoping that the increased clarity would eventually lead to a hit! With the relief of sighting a masked face coursing through his veins, he actually looked forward to physically meeting someone after all these months. Masked meetups, that too, outdoors, should be safe, no?


          “Aaah! Alok da! How are you doing?”, greeted Raju, giving himself a silent pat for the just-in-time identification. “Raju Bhai! So nice to see you after ages! Kya haal chaal hai?” Once the Covid-induced-ice had been broken, there was no stopping Raju. Alok da and Raju walked together, catching up on lost times. A few others joined them along the way, some meeting Raju’s stringent masking standards, some not. But these deficiencies were not strong enough to interrupt the momentum of socializing, once the initial inertia was broken.


          Raju hummed a cheery tune as he stepped back into his haven, elated by his mini social excursion. As he removed his mask, a tiny tickle made his nose twitch, slowly crawling its way up to a crescendo, an explosion of air pushing his lips open.


          ATTTTCCHHHOOOOO!  A pair of fearful eyes looked at the mirror. OMG, what have I done?  




The Dive by Karen Tobias-Green

[Leeds, England]


Kitty pulls her costume down at the legs. She hates that involuntary ride-up, like an unscheduled curtain raiser. She shuffles her tanned toes into line with the edge of the board. There’s a thrilling ripple in her legs that travels up her spine. She shivers slightly, wets her lips, blinks slowly and breathes in.  Below the bodies splash and stutter on the water. The swimmers are roped off from the divers but she can see them, sense them, hear them in tinny echoing bursts. A bunch of boys flounder and flap about in the middle of a swimming lane, tugging at each other’s limbs ever more wildly. A scream cuts through the chaos.


Levi swallows so much water he feels he will drown from the inside. He goes under then pops up again and this time he lets go a second scream which is gurglier than the first, full of bubbles and comes pouring out of his nose and his eyes.

‘Levi what the fuck!’ Eddie is laughing at him. He has him in his sights, his eyes red from the chlorine.

‘Levi is drowning, Levi is going down!’ Eddie is yelling at the top of his voice and all eyes are on Levi now. ‘Levi’s just out the shallow and he’s drowning.’

Eddie leans all his weight on Levi’s shoulders and sends him under one more time. Levi fights to locate the bottom of the pool with his toes but he can’t. He’s not far out of his depth but far enough. The water churns around him, the air in his lungs is wet, his vision is blurred. If Eddie does that to him one more time he will die. From suffocation, or shame, or both.

Kitty wriggles her toes again. She breathes out and then slowly raises her arms high.


Flying through the air is a gift as much as a talent. Kitty has never struggled to fly; it’s the landings that have caught her out. Not today though. Out the corner of her eye there is a flurry. A scattering. One of the lifeguards has dived in and is slowly, calmly bringing a panicking boy to the edge of the pool.  He is visibly shaking. His friends hang back in the water, alarmed, quietened.

Levi watches Eddie being lifted onto the pool side. He feels the strength return to his arms. He feels the bottom of the pool with his toes.



A Simple House Call by Alan Berger

[West Hollywood, California]


“Did you see that kid throw”?


If Packer heard that once, he heard it a million times. One hundred bucks, times a million, he thought in

his financial research wheelhouse first rate mind.


With that kind of money, he could cure cancer.


But Packer was not wanted to cure cancer, Packer was only wanted on the football field, and not in lab class. That would be a distraction from, “Keeping his eye on the ball”.


During his last football game for his school, Packers arm put the team so far ahead that he asked to be taking out of the game. He said his arm hurt but it was really was because he wanted to add some things he thought of

during the game that he wanted to add to his science paper homework assignment instead of playing more, “Stupid ass football”.


While he was on the bench, working on his papers with his helmet off and way off to the side,

coach, as usual charged over and grabbed his papers, ripped them up and threw Packer and his

helmet back on the field.


“Tell your teachers coach ate your homework”, was the play the fuckhead coach put on Packer’s playing field.


Packer got on the field.

He would remember what was ripped from him.    


He would lie in bed, and think about why we can’t we cure this, or replace that but, “Don’t worry

world of disease, I’m coming”.


He would begin the next morning like all the other mornings during stupid ass High School football

practice by heading into the science lab class first.


This was the first class of the day.  He would go to the teacher and tell him of his latest ideas.


The teacher thought it should be the other way around. Packer should be the teacher and he the


He would be a student that Packer might not even give a B to.


One day after school, a recruiter was waiting for him in the living room with his



That did it.


They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree but this one rolled light years away.


His father introduced the diabetic looking recruiter to Packer by pointing out to his son how many players got to the N.F.L. thru this guy.

Packer’s father would punctuate his every point with the football he always carried around like the

fucking Holy Grail.


After the recruiter completed his pitch, Packer told his father and the recruiter he was not going

to play football at his college or any college unless Harvard Medical has one. 


The recruiter shook his head and got up left without a word.


Packer’s father hit the roof, the basement, the walls, all the time not letting go of his precious



The football he threw good but not good enough to have his own fucking football career.


He yelled and shouted so loud that he started to choke and choke bad. He even dropped his

football. Fumble? 


 He wound up on his back, flopping like a fish on a pier. Packer started CPR, but his father kept

choking and was turning blue from the red his face was a minute ago.


Packer took out his silver surfer pen and performed a beautiful tracheotomy on his father’s



The doctors congratulated Packer as his father looked on from the wheelchair he was in as they

rolled him towards the exit of the emergency room.


One or two doctors wanted to mentor Packer.


They did not speak all the way home but when they got there and walked in the living room. Dad

saw his football and picked it up and threw it in the gas burning fireplace and turned it on.


He looked at his puzzled kid and said, “What’s up Doc”?




Teeth With Rotten Skin by Lauren Carter

[Cambridge, England]

Twitter: @writerlcarter

Instagram: @writerlcarter


When I was young, I only had one friend and she was imaginary.

              I knew it even then that she wasn’t real but, when I lost my parents, she’s all I had. I named her Ecca, and she called me sister.

              So, imagine my surprise when I received a call from her.

              I turn up to the cafe and there she is, the exact same after all these years, not a wrinkle on her. I almost leave but curiosity takes over.

              ‘Hello sister,’ she says when I take the opposite seat. The waiter comes over before I reply and only addresses me when taking the order. Doesn’t ask Ecca what she wants. ‘It’s been a while, you’ve grown up.’ Her voice is lower and not as cheerful as it once was.

              I stumble for the words, the questions I want to ask her. I haven’t thought of her in so long, how could I have imagined her here?

              ‘I wanted to reach out sooner, but I’ve been busy.’ She smiles at me. The waiter brings my drink over and Ecca snatches it before I get a chance and downs it.

              She never used to be able to hold things.

              ‘Things have changed,’ she says, wiping her mouth. ‘But we’re still sisters, right?’ Her tone is different now, more serious. I nod as I don’t know what else to do. Every single piece of my body is telling me to leave. ‘Good.’

              My food arrives but I don’t bother to reach for it. Ecca wolfs it down and, as she’s distracted, I look around at the quiet café. No one is paying attention to us though, I’m on my own. ‘It’s so nice to taste food again.’

              I look back at her, not only is the food gone but the plate and cutlery are no longer there. I look up to see she has cut the side of her mouth so far; it’s ripped into her cheek. Her teeth at the front are normal but the back ones get sharper the deeper you look into her mouth.

              The waiter comes back over to clean the table and looks at me confused. ‘Honey, where’s your plate?’

              I don’t get a chance to explain as Ecca jumps out of her seat and attacks the waiter, biting into his neck. The rest of the café finally pays attention to us as I hear screams and scuffles from behind me, the bell on the door constantly ringing.

              Ecca finally releases the waiter, and he drops with a loud thud, his throat slashed apart so much I can see his spine.

              ‘He was delicious,’ Ecca says, cleaning her mouth and sitting back down. ‘Not as tasty as your parents though.’

              No words come out, but I feel my hands shake. 

              She notices. ‘What?’ She smirks. ‘Don’t you want us to be together?’

              I let out a choke and grasp my mouth.

‘I’m close to a hundred souls. Then we can really be sisters,’ Ecca says, smiling.




On The Beach by Alan Berger

[West Hollywood, California]


“I’m going to kill myself.”  Roby stood by the railroad tracks, waiting for the next train to send him to paradise, or Hell, or wherever you go when you kill yourself. Maybe a reward for getting thru all these years on earth, he wished. He heard one coming down the mountain. He closed his eyes, got ready, and waited for the nerve. He jumped eyes closed over the rails. But the train had passed. Like all the boats he missed, he missed his train too. “I’m going to kill myself” He said, as he dusted himself off. This time it was the kind of saying we all say when the best laid plans, come out, the worst laid plans. Oh well. There is always tomorrow.


 Maybe it was just his paranoia. He thought about the drama he brought to their marriage, Like, The F.B.I. for one. Think that hurt the marriage?


He rode the subway and this time, instead of jumping in front of a train, he sat in one and started popping pills as he became one with the vibe of the clicks and clacks, of the tracks.  He figured to get off at the last stop and hit the beached so pilled up that the beach would forever hit back


It was late, but a woman sat at the other end. It was two empty people in one empty subway car with one last stop.’’ Coney Island”.


He said when they got to the end of the line, and the train stopped, and the doors opened, him and the woman, sat still.


Roby said, all of a sudden, the pills asked the woman “So, what are we dinking”?


He said that she had a laugh that made him laugh too.


When I asked him what happened after that, he said he didn’t kill himself, and she didn’t either.


Then, he showed me the ring he was going to give her. It was in the paper prescription bag he was holding so dearly.


We parted, and he said over his shoulder, “Remember, my son, no man, is a Coney Island”.  I have not forgotten.




Missing Person by Alan Berger

[West Hollywood, California]


"Hey, look who’s here”? The cop at the front desk said to the other cop at the front desk.


“Let’s let Irene take his statement”


They called on the inter-com for Officer Sanchez to come to the front desk, and when she got there, they explained that they were helping homicide, and even thou this was her first week here, and still getting her panties wet, would she mind taking a statement?


She was pretty and from a military family. She was the first one who left the service to become a cop. All the rest stayed in forever and then some. They laughed when they saw out of shape cops. Donut dopes they called them.


Army girl Sanchez was just as pretty as cop Sanchez, and she was nice.


The guy she was going to marry who was with her and met her in the Army died in a mid-east engagement and was never found.


This was going to her first statement solo experience even thou being watched, and taped, and listened to, especially by those two at the front desk, it was exciting, and she was excited.


Their coffee tasted a lot better and their donuts sweeter, watching Officer Sanchez play policeman.


Officer Irene Sanchez found that there was something touching about her subject but, she wasn’t sure she wanted to touch him, or him touch her, but oh of course she did. It has been a long season without any rain, Irene was thinking.


The subject told his side of his story.


That’s where the word history comes from you know?


“I’m a vet. I don’t get around much and a while ago I met a girl on the inter-net. It was like we knew each other all our lives and we talked and talked for days and days and nights and nights and we met and had coffee and she was as wonderful there as she was in my ear all those times on the phone and we made plans to see each other again and she never showed up and her phone sounds funny and she isn’t returning my calls or my E mails or anything and things just went too good to turn out this bad. I want to file a missing person report. She must be in danger”!


Officer Sanchez heard the boys laughing thru the door.


Is this your first missing person report? She asked.

No, it isn’t, unfortunately. He reported back.


I see said Irene.


Would you like to go for coffee some time? she said to him.


Are you going to show up? He asked.


We can go right now. She said.


Can we take your police car and put on the siren? He asked.


Officer Sanchez laughed.


He said, I’m glad you’re laughing because I was kidding. I may be nuts but I’m not crazy.


I know you’re not, she said to him as they walked out of the station after crossing the front desk.




Banking by Alan Berger

[West Hollywood, California]

Earl and Ray walked, no, strolled, into their first bank together in 1967 and a half and acted like

they owned the joint, and they did. They robbed it with the piped in music playing “I want to

Hold Your Hand”, a wonderful version by the Ray Conniff Singers.

It was so exciting that they took their sweet time getting to the empty running getaway car. A

stolen 65, and a half, red as Hell Mustang, with the top down.  Ray wanted to keep the car and

not ditch it for another as planned.

But Earl, it feels like it was made for me. Well, it is a lucky car said Earl. They kept it while

inventing a new breed. Stupid hipster bank robbers who in those days just had to stroll in, stroll

out, and hit the highway. On the highway Earl and Ray sang their own song and it was called

“We Wanna Hold Up Your Bank”.


Was it a day that changed their lives forever? No, it wasn’t. They were always up to something

and good for nothing. But, they sure both had charm by the buckets full.  

And that’s the rub and that’s the hook boys. It feels like it was made for you, but, alas, it wasn’t.


Before they spoke to each other, they did their first job together. They both really met on the

same night they broke into the school’s cafeteria from different windows, at the same time, going

after the same thing. Entitlement. In this materialistic form, it was the cafeteria’s candy and

doughnuts. They weren’t interested in the fruit. A coincidence and a career in crime, was put in

place that night.  They with the goods went to the railroad tracks and feasted, and introduced

themselves to each other. They burned the wrappers of the candy so they wouldn’t leave

fingerprints, like on T.V.


This was in elementary school, very elementary. Every day after that, there was something

missing from school, other than the kids that were cutting class.

Earl and Ray went to school every day. The more time they spent in school, the more they could

steal, and then pawn.  At the pawn place was a guy who knew Ray’s father before he disappeared

for who knows what reason other than he just did ” Happens all the time” was what Ray heard

about it, all the time. Ray did look back, which was not his style, he would say his father left a

good story to tell girls that wanted to mother, and father him, and a wonderful excuse, for being

such a wonderful excuse for not being a solid citizen, a square. He would hear his father say back,

“You're welcome boy”.




A.J. Delecta by Raymond Abbott

[Louisville, Kentucky, USA]


I have been a social worker most of my adult life.  One of my first supervisors was A.J. Delecta, in the welfare office serving the South End of Boston.  A.J. was easy to work for, and as pleasant a man as anyone you could wish to know.  I believe he was Polish by ancestry.  He was short, stout, with lots of dark hair he kept clipped close to his scalp, with hardly any gray in evidence.  He was too heavy for his frame, but he carried his weight well.  He usually dressed in a dark-colored suit with a bright, colorful tie.  He must have been close to sixty years of age when we met.

            We all were employed in the old civil service system of Massachusetts, and A.J.'s advice to new employees, myself included, was to take every test offered by the civil service system. 

          "You could never tell what will come of it," he said often.  Of course, he was a practitioner of his own advice.

          With A.J. there was only one rule I remember, and while he was not heavy-handed in enforcing it, he did get his way.  The rule was this: You must NEVER ever put his name in a write up.  He didn't care what you had to say.  You could quote at length from the Bible, if that were your purpose, or from Alice in Wonderland, if that floated your boat, and he would dutifully read all you had to say, usually without comment, so long as you did not insert his name any place.  If you did, he would find his white-out and remove any and all evidence that he existed whatsoever and was thereby involved even remotely with what was being recorded. Even his signature was difficult to read (or even find).

            If, for example, you said in your write up that your social work plan for a particular client was discussed and agreed to by AJ Delecta, his name was immediately removed.  Or if you wrote, totally innocently again, that you and Mr. Delecta discussed a particular subject and agreed as to how we needed to proceed thereafter, bingo!  Out came his name and the sentence connected to it.  So you learned quickly how to do your case recordings, histories, and at the same time get along well with AJ.  You were made to understand that each and every word would be read and scrutinized by A.J., sure enough, but only in search for the mention of his name. Nothing more!

      I never had a discussion with A.J. as to why he did this.  It was to avoid any and all responsibility, for good or for bad, is my guess.  If he wasn’t named in the write-up he could not creditably be held responsible for what followed, what was written.  Pretty simple rule. Not that I am an advocate of such practices. Quite imaginative, too, when you think about it.  And surely original.




Art Gallery by David Patten

[Denver, Colorado, USA]


Amaya can’t suppress a wry smile.  An item of gossip has reached her.  It seems there are those intent on labelling her a witch.  Such an archaic term, unused for centuries, its connotation pejorative.  Amaya ponders that maybe it’s because she’s an outlier.  During that unenlightened age, it was a convenient term for nonconformist women, especially those who, like Amaya, preferred to live alone.

          She’s a curator; a purveyor of aesthetics.  Her specialty is The Renaissance.  For a modest fee patrons can roam her gallery of Caravaggios, da Vincis, and Raphaels.  Bold work from over a millennium ago, the world still searching for an identity.  Crossing Amaya’s palm with an elusive gold coin, however, will favor you with an altogether more unique experience in her gallery.

          A gentle knock at the after-hours door in the rear.  Amaya opens it partway, the orb in her palm chasing away the shadow from her cat’s eyes and long, greying hair.  Cassian steps inside.  The darkness is heavy, the air cool.  Raising the orb, Amaya sees a man younger than her usual patrons, hair and eyes raven, brooding.  There is an audacity about him as he presses the gold coin into her hand.

          They stand before Cassian’s chosen piece: Botticelli’s iconic Birth of Venus.  Amaya places a hand on its center and it expands to fill the whole wall.  She regards Cassian expectantly.  Previously bold, there’s a hesitation.  He appears about to turn away, but then takes three confident steps and leaps into the painting.

          Venus is before him, an alabaster statue, hair to the waist.  Zephyrus, clutching his nymph, propels her ashore, the ocean rising with his breath.  On the sand the guardian Pomona waits, mantle ready to clothe the goddess.  Materials in hand, Cassian sits and begins to sketch.




Sheer Drop by David Patten

[Denver, Colorado, USA]


Daybreak, water the color of slate.  A lone figure stands in contemplation, close enough to the river that its current splashes over her boots.  This stretch of the Niagara resides in the commonplace, revealing nothing of the chaos up ahead.  Annie steps back up onto the grass, the October dew staining the hem of her dress and petticoats.  She adjusts her matching bonnet which, like her dress, was once the tone of ripe plums, the garments now faded and frayed.  


          Farther down river the water quickens, a menace in its energy.  Annie observes it coursing over rocks, dragging reluctant branches.  Then rapids, the river shapeshifting, relentless.  The air resounds, vibrates.  Ahead, the torrent launches itself into the void.  Annie is still, awed by the force of nature, her clothes absorbing the clouds of spray thrown high by the Horseshoe Falls.  Tomorrow, her birthday, she will plunge over the brink in a barrel.


          A small crowd has gathered at the launch point, the interest mostly morbid, as few expect Annie to survive.  But this stoic woman in her sixties, widowed since the Civil War, remains confident that prosperity will follow.  She engages with a reporter, offers a brief smile to the photographer.  The large, oak barrel has been lined with thick blankets.  Unassisted, Annie climbs through the opening and settles, cushioned.  Resigned to being accomplices to such imprudence, two men in buttoned vests and rolled shirtsleeves toss their cigarettes to the ground and step into a rowboat. 


          Untethered, the barrel rolls in the calm stretch of the river.  It appears inert, laden, until the current imposes its will.  Annie’s breaths are shallow, fast, as she braces for the rapids.  She hears them first.  They receive her with disdain, muscles of water pounding the sodden oak.  A thunder fills the barrel, invincible.  The energy fractures.  Freefall.  Annie is relaxed, expectant.

Sing A New Song by Fiona M Campbell

[Aberdeen, Scotland]


Charisma radiated from Maria Luciano, as she gave an astonishing virtuoso performance. Her passion for the music was evident.


Maria let her pastel pink fingernails dance over the piano keys, allowing the music to flow in a rainbow of sound. Her delicate fingers caressed the ebony and ivory, giving life to Chopin and Rachmaninov. Joyous applause echoed around her, as she took a bow. The sea of people was cloudy; the lights dazzling. A tingling sensation flowed through her, followed by a gasp from the audience and darkness.


The smell of disinfectant roused her. A lady in blue placed a beeping thermometer in her ear and an inflating cuff around her arm. The man in the white coat shuffled papers and shone a bright light in her eyes. 


          ‘You have Optic Neuritis, Mrs Luciano. There’s no treatment, but if you rest, your sight should return in four to six weeks.’


           Impossible! Her first European tour playing Greig’s piano concerto in A began the following week. 


           ‘There will be other tours,’ Nico said, kissing her hand. She was blessed to have him as her rock. Her constant in her changing world.


Maria lay on her purple chaise longue. Bach fugues and Scarlatti sonatas played in her head. Her fingers itched to play. Using the wall as her guide, she tentatively made her way towards her piano. Taking a deep breath, she stroked the keys and performed the elaborate melodies as if nothing had changed.


Three weeks passed; her vision cleared little by little, but her fingers tingled. Pins and needles. Then they were numb, refusing to co-operate. Who could play Mozart without trills and acciaccaturas? Maria sank to her knees and sobbed inconsolably. Music was her world. Without it, she was nothing.


With headphones over her ears, she lay completely still, gripping the panic button tightly, as she entered the MRI tunnel. So loud! A cacophony of industrial noise. Trapped, she wonders if they have found something sinister. Was this the end of her journey?


Sixteen days of wondering. Her legs had joined her arms; no longer following her directions. Nico wheeled her into the neurologist’s office. With a picture of Maria’s brain illuminated on the screen, the doctor pointed to the scattered white lesions.

           ‘You have multiple sclerosis, Maria.’


           Tears trickled down her cheeks. Relief that she was not dying from a tumour, regret for things she had not done, and recognition that her life was changing.


Infusions of magic medicine offered hope for the future. There was no cure. DMD’s they called them- disease modifying drugs. Maria’s sight returned. Her wheelchair resided in the attic, replaced by a pretty, purple cane. Her fingers no longer had the dexterity for the piano, but she found her voice. In stunning evening gowns, she performed passionate soprano arias.


Life had changed.


Maria rested her head on Nico’s lap, as he ran his fingers through her curls. She stroked her swollen belly. Tiny feet dancing inside her. Perhaps her new life was only just beginning.




For Sale by Louise Johnson

[London, England]


I barely recognised it.  


          Our frothy pink cherry trees were no longer there and father’s squirrel nest was now a living room, with white leather sofas and a supersized TV. Walls were demolished; a conservatory built. Cool greys and taupe replaced a livid turquoise and avocado palette.  


           I clicked on another photo, eager to discover what had become of the old-style kitchen, where mother stashed gin bottles behind packets of butterscotch Angel Delight. Here, she swayed, while singing tunelessly to herself. Potatoes burnt. Broccoli turned limp. In contrast, granite worktops and stainless-steel units looked rock-solid. 


          The house was reborn. It could breathe again.  




Jennifer Rose by Sandra Hurtes

[New York City, USA]


We sit in the waiting room of a doctor’s office

and pray for a baby.

Maybe you’ve been here.

Three years and five months of laboratory sex,

injections, invitro, blasts to your fallopian tubes.

The doctor’s cold speculum no longer makes you flinch.

You’re married to the love of your life

but you can’t make a baby.

And then, one glorious day your doctor smiles and says,

“Yes, you’re pregnant.”

You’re giddy; you and your husband go straight to Buy Buy Baby

where he falls for the stuffed giraffes

and yellow onesies.

You go to dinner at a fancy restaurant

and smugly decline wine.

And then, not long after, you have a miscarriage—make that four.

Just like that.


You can’t go through this again, but your husband wants a baby.

He bought the yellow onesies, the stuffed giraffe,

and he wants a girl to name after his sister, Jennifer Rose.

He agrees to the gender-neutral gray wallpaper.

You have one last embryo.

You’ll do anything for your husband.

You’ve loved him since the first grade

when he gave you a peppermint heart for Valentine’s Day.

You didn’t know he’d given one to every girl in the class

until your best friend Susie told you at your wedding.

Funny. Susie looks like the petite brunette across the room.

The way she twirls her hair around her finger

Crosses and uncrosses her ankles under her seat.

But it can’t be Susie.

She moved to Paris or Milan or some city you promised you’d visit

but never got around to.

Susie would understand what you’re going through.

She had an abortion in college,

and you stroked her hair when she cried and whispered,

“I wanted to keep it.” She was scared.

You’re scared now.

So is your husband.

You thread your fingers through his. He squeezes them.

You’ll treasure a boy, too. So will he.

Ten fingers, ten toes.

That’s all you pray for.

one last time.




The Abandoned Schoolhouse by Alex Baines

[Chicago, USA]


Penny eased up on her bike and braked hard, stopping by the edge of the road. She raised a hand to shield her eyes from the sun, her left foot still resting on the pedal.

     She’d decided to follow a different route home from the grocery store and gotten a bit carried away. She’d hardly expected to see an old building like this, though. The cracked sign said it was a schoolhouse, but it didn’t look much like one now. She didn’t remember ever seeing it before – how was that possible? Where she lived wasn’t exactly big.

     Penny had loved school, but school had never done much for her family. Her mom had enjoyed it, too, she found out later, although getting pregnant at seventeen meant she didn’t have much time for books after that. Penny’s older brother Tom had dropped out in tenth grade and gone to Chicago looking for work. He’d always said that families like theirs had no business going to college. Publicly, she’d agreed and found a job the first opportunity she had, bussing tables at the diner around the corner from home. Privately, though, she wished she could’ve had the opportunity. She’d always loved reading: Jane Austen and Daphne du Maurier, taken from the shelves of her senile grandmother who seemed decades older than the fifty-seven Penny knew her to be. Sitting in libraries and reading novels all day seemed like a dream come true. Her teachers thought it was a good idea, as well. She would never forget the disappointment in Mr. Langton’s face when she told him she wasn’t interested in looking at the scholarship literature he’d prepared for her. 

     Penny thought that there was something profoundly sad about seeing an abandoned schoolhouse, sadder maybe than seeing anything else abandoned, and there was a lot of abandoned stuff around here. After several moments of stillness, she realized that she wouldn’t be satisfied until she’d investigated the rooms. Leaving her bike but carrying the grocery bags with her, she felt like was creeping into something forbidden, moving to examine a trunk that might reveal dark gothic secrets.

     She found nothing. No sense, even, of anything. Her wavy blonde hair and bright blue eyes were pale ghostly reflections in the dust-thick windows. Cobwebs coated the walls and ceiling like a layer of thick dark frost. Who owned this place? Why was it still here?

     Even then, it stirred something. What was it? She looked towards the front of the single deserted room, imagining Mr. Langton’s kind brown eyes twinkling as she answered another question about metaphor in Thomas Hardy’s poetry. She stood very still, thinking. Maybe she would try to find those things he had mailed her, despite her stubbornness, about scholarships for Bradley and Southern Illinois.

     The sun seemed a little brighter when she stepped back outside.




Fragments Of Jenny by Jim Aitken

[South Queensferry, Scotland]


Like a snake winding its way, the queue in the bank weaved like the rhythm of a rattler and seemed to constantly unfurl its skin as customers left and instantly replaced old skin for new as other customers then joined the queue.


At the head of the queue there was someone I recognised from many years – and much younger skin – ago. She looked agitated as the teller told her that there was something wrong with her cheque. She turned, still agitated, until I spoke to her as she made her way back beside the queue.


‘Jenny?’ I calmly asked her. She looked at me with deep confusion in her eyes.


‘Yes, that’s me. I don’t think I know you,’ she replied with some hesitation.


‘It’s Tom,’ I said. ‘We once did Spanish lessons together many years ago now?’


‘I know a Tom. We have a Tom who comes round our house but he’s not you. I can’t remember things nowadays and the family only allow me out if they know I will be near the bus station so that I can get back home safely,’ she retorted with a kind of precision that had been well learned.


I started to retreat from the conversation I had initiated and our Spanish lessons of years ago returned to me. We went out together for the last two terms of the course and then I realised, that less than 100 metres from where we were standing, we once ran through the Autumn leaves of St. Andrew’s Square and even climbed over the railings to kick up the large clumps that lay on the other side.


Like being bombarded by a series of distant memories, it hit me with the sudden flashback of the first time she took me to her house. She was making tea when a kind of wailing from upstairs filled all the rooms.


‘It’s my mother,’ she had informed me.’ She’s got dementia. She drives me mad. I’ll go and see her  and be back soon.’


The double helix of damaged mind and fragmented information stood reincarnate before me. I could see she was struggling and, alarmed at the enormity of my realisation, I decided to release her from this awkward moment.


‘Well, Jenny, it has been good talking to you. The bus station is on the right once you leave here, remember. Look after yourself,’ I said with concern in my voice.


‘Thanks,’ she said, ‘it’s been good talking to you too.’


Then she left abruptly with a dazed kind of look and headed for the exit. I saw her long brown hair hang around her coat collar like fallen leaves as she left in a swirl of sad forgetfulness.




A Culinary Journey by Callum McGuigan

[Leeds, England]

With my first million I bought a perfect set of cooking spices. Because, you know. They’ve served me well, served us all well over the years, let me tell you that – the compliments I’ve had on these and every aspect of my kitchen are more varied than my vanilla collection.


Erm, yes, just water please. Clean palette, clean conscience and all that.


You know, I’ve so many truths to share if they’d only listen, only give me the voice I spent years curating. How else would they expect to learn, for example, that drinking is as much of an accessory as a scarf, and just as dangerous? I don’t drink anymore, of course. It became a distraction, like the business, so that had to go too, sometime after the second or third project.


I just want to be appreciated for what I do. When it comes down to it, it’s the people’s neglect of appreciation that frustrates me, makes me want to, you know, sever their Achilles tendons so they have to crawl around the room or something.


Don’t worry, I’m very familiar with the content of these safety briefings, but thank you.


Sorry. I wonder what brings you, on this, you know, ‘trip’. Not the same as me, I imagine!


For my industry, it’s the labelling, the marketing of it that’s the real problem; it could do with a rebranding from some literary delicacy like Atwood or Munro. I always read when cooking. Oh, oh, a joke: Did you hear what Hemingway said when he lost a limb? He had to say A Farewell to his Arms! I love American fiction, Fitzgerald too. Have you read his lesser-known novel about a king who ate his soldiers? It’s called ‘Tender is the…Knight’.


Are we taking off soon? No?


Even if you set aside how ridiculously reductive it is to label me - and my years of dedication - together with some amateur fast-food wannabe, it’s just such a boring word, phonetically. Why can’t it require acrobatics of the tongue like ‘ayuntamiento’ or ‘malleable’? I think that would give people pause, make them consider the artistry in these projects. How the selection and shopping and preparation and timing and room decoration and waste disposal are, even alone, gargantuan tasks. But no, instead they just say ‘cannibal’ and see that as enough of a label. Idiots, ignoring what really is the next step in social (and socialist) evolution.


Oxygen from here, life vest under here, yep got it.


Do you think they’ll have Jenga where we’re going? Jenga, after all, is a rite of passage and an excellent indicator of psychological fortitude.


I’ve heard it has rain as warm as blood, grass as thick as fingers. It’s winter there now, I think. By summer I’ll be set up with the local wildlife. I’m thinking a dish involving oranges in some way, like a, you know, twist on orange peel beef. I’ve always wanted to pick them after something, one of the only things, my father said: “If you don’t pick up your oranges with conviction, don’t grip them with inevitability, how can you ever expect to raise a family?” No family in these pockets though! Sorry, I can’t quite reach to show you with these on my wrists.


Oh, look! We’re moving, bon appetit!





Lady Die by Abbi Parcell

[Manchester, England]


Lady Die died with a needle in his arm.


We had jokes that it was a silver tiara. You know the kind you'd get from a 70s magazine. He loved the pomp, any excuse to wear sashes the tackiest jewels.


"Fuck Knows what's next..."


When he woke in the hospital, watching a Joan Crawford film on Channel 57 when -


At the wake, the tension broke when someone guessed the casket was closed because he was in there in a big wig and heels, someone said, "You know he's always late, he probably isn't here yet—he's still fixing his makeup."




Common Place by Matt Smikle


What was coincidence? He found himself wondering as he crossed the street. He couldn't quite figure, but he guessed it was something to do with timing, the clash of movements that revel in each other’s wake. The second summoning of that memory thought forgotten. Jon wasn't sure, the very concept baffled him. The man donning the same coloured shirt as him across the street, should that be odd? Perhaps this wasn't the time to wonder. He wasn't in the mood for trivia, not today, he had somewhere to be.


Max realised it probably wasn't the wisest decision to head out in the same shirt as the man he followed, but he couldn't change that now, all he could do was watch. He felt relief upon finally seeing his nemesis in the flesh. It almost sickened him how Jon walked among others, as if he belonged. As charming as he was, Jon was no trustworthy person, and Max was ready to put an end to it. He placed a hand in his pocket, clamping a firm grip on his fully loaded firearm; eyeing Jon crossing the street.


Nathan always hated this drive, this road in particular was rife with blind spots and inconsistencies. Crashes were common place here. Though no number of accidents could have prepared him for what happened next. He couldn't see the man at first, he and another man across the street were wearing the same coloured shirt. Just the clash of colours left him confused but for the first time in years... the blind spot returned to wreak its havoc once more. The man only managed a sideways glance at Nathan before he was mowed down in his bloody demise.




Forever Dancing on Ice by Andrew Newall

[Falkirk, Scotland]

He adjusts her seat so she can gaze out at the loch while he orders their usual meal. During winter, the loch is always frozen. Young skate on the thick ice, warmly wrapped up. He watches her, remembering when she wore skates and glided on the same loch. She also remembers. He sees her eyes follow the skaters. In a weak voice, she tells him they are good. He reassures her she was better.


     She wore skates the first time he ever saw her at their local ice rink, both in their late teens. She was good even then. It was her favourite pastime. He spoke to her when he could catch up with her, which wasn’t often. He asked her out. They dated. She competed. She won, he cheered. She lost, he still cheered. They married within a few years and on one of their weekend breaks, tried out a hotel in the Scottish Highlands, a two-hour drive from their hometown.

On a winter’s night, a log fire burned inside. Strangers met and talked with them until they were strangers no more. They were told the loch was safe to skate on when it froze over each year. When he saw her smile on hearing this news, it was no surprise that one weekend turned into an annual holiday.


     The hotel has gone downhill since that first visit fifty years ago. Rooms require upgrading, strangers remain strangers, preferring to look at phones and talk less. It saddens him because he knows this will more than likely be their last stay together. She is no longer well enough, but still insisted on coming. She told him that when she dies, she would like her ashes to be scattered in the loch.

     A few months later, he drives into the hotel grounds. When he gets out, he carries a small urn close to him and walks to the loch. Standing at the edge, he comments to his wife that this is the first time they have seen the lake in the summer when it is not frozen. After a few more private words, he tips the urn, allowing the ashes to slowly empty, a light summer breeze guiding them gently to the welcoming water.

     A year has passed since he gave her ashes to the loch. He drives to the hotel on a beautiful day. Rooms were all booked out when he phoned but he doesn’t care. On arriving, he struggles to find a parking space. When he finally does, he immediately heads for the loch, an overwhelming excitement powering him on. He can’t see for the crowds. He heard that people had come from all over to see. Excusing his way through, he reaches the lake’s edge to see for himself. Under a cloudless sky, in the blistering heat, young and old skate on thick ice which appeared at winter and shows no signs of melting.




Marching Season by David Patten

[Denver, Colorado, USA]


I’m Liam.  I’m fifteen.  I live on Berwick Road in a council house.  That’s in the big Ardoyne estate in the north of Belfast.  It’s tough, you’d better know how to scrap.  My da works down in the shipyards, stops in at the pub on the way home.  Sometimes ma has me fetch him for dinner.  He smokes a pack a day, my da.  One time I heard him and his brothers planning something bad.  I think they’re Fenians.  The Prods call us that all the time.  My da says Fenians are just proud to be Irish, that’s all.  I’ve got an older brother, Rory.  He’s twenty-three.  He hates Protestants, says he’s going to join the IRA.  Ma would kill him if she knew.  Today is the twelfth of July, the biggest day in the marching season.  The Orangemen are going to be marching through the Ardoyne.  Why do the police let them?  Because they’re all Prods too, I suppose.  Rory says the Orangemen march to celebrate some battle they won centuries ago.  Dad says they march coz they have all the power and want us to feel inferior.  Why don’t we just move to Dublin, I asked him.  He spat on the ground and said because this is our home and Ulster needs to be part of the rest of Ireland.  Ma wouldn’t leave all her sisters anyway.  I’m out on the street now, we all are.  I can hear them.  Pipes, drums.  Getting louder.  People are already shouting at the police, pushing against them.  Everybody wants to get at the Prods when they arrive.  I can see some soldiers on rooftops.  Jesus, they’re not going to start shooting, are they?  The crowd is surging.  I can see Union Jack flags and bowler hats of some of the Orangemen.  Why do they wear those anyway?  On our side people are waving Irish flags and someone’s standing on a wall with a sign written in Gaelic.  They’re right here now, the Prods, those Orangemen with their drums and flags.  Here, off the Crumlin Road into our Ardoyne.  The bastards are taunting us.  A big surge from our side, swearing, fighting the police.  Somebody throws a brick into the marchers.  The soldiers, they’re going to start shooting like they did in Derry, aren’t they?  A hand grabs my shoulder and turns me around.  Rory.  Come on, he yells and I follow him down the alley at the side of our house.  We stop in front of a dirty canvas sheet.  Rory kneels and throws it off to the side.  I can see four bottles, each one with a rag stuffed into the neck.  They stink of petrol.  Rory puts two of them in my hands, then picks up the other two.  He asks me if I’m with him.  Are you with me, Liam?  His eyes are madness.  There’s a faint whiff of whisky.  Liam, are you with me?  I look at the bottles in my hands.  They’re shaking a little bit.  I meet my brother’s stare.  I am.





Mysteries Of The Universe by Mark Barlex

[London, England]


That week was the project in microcosm, forty years of expenditure and almost imperceptible development, compacted metamorphically into a handful of hours and days. The thrill of purpose. The grind of preparation. The throw of a switch.


     The subsequent scrambling scree of data and unanswered questions.


     On Tuesday, in the blond-wood media centre twenty miles from the facility itself, the Director of Operations tried to describe what was about to take place.


     “We’re sand-blasting a mountain, looking for the Michelangelo underneath,” she said.


     She tried again.


      “We’re dropping a pebble into a well and waiting for the splash.”


     Sitting next to her on the low podium, the Head of Research intervened.


     “The well is horizontal and we don’t know how deep it is,” he offered. “We’re throwing the pebble in sideways and gravity no longer exists.”


     “We’re in uncharted territory here,” added the Director of Operations. “Anything could happen.”


     “But probably won’t,” added the Head of Research.


     “But could,” countered the Director of Operations.


     “But probably won’t,” returned the Head of Research.


     They made their way to the test site in silence. 


     Two miles below the twin banded-granite summits of Gulvain, on the geologically optimum north-west side of Scotland’s Great Glen Fault, they settled themselves in the control room.


     “Does this feel anti-climactic?” the Director of Operations asked.


     “Maybe if there actually was some kind of lever or button,” the Head of Research replied.


     A man at a nearby bank of monitors and controls turned in his chair.


     “Ready when you are,” he said.


     The Director of Operations replied. “Thank you, Craig. Take it away.”


     The lights flickered. A low thrum pulsed around then through the room.


     “Essentially,” the Head of Research began, “Something doesn’t add up, so we’re spinning particles into one another at staggering speeds in order to work out what.”


     “Better,” said the Director of Operations. “But still not quite it.”


     “We know lots,” the Head of Research announced, “But not everything. And while this won’t tell us everything straight away, it will give us some important clues.”


     “Basically, we’re throwing a quarter-of-a-trillion pound kitchen sink at it,” the Director of Operations said. “Although when you say it out loud, that sounds pretty desperate.”


     The lights went out.


     From the other side of the room, they heard Craig say, “Oops.”


     On Thursday, after careful deconstruction of the damaged dipole magnet assembly, the problem was revealed.


     “A spoon?” asked the Head of Research.


     “Looks like it,” replied Craig.


     “But is it?” asked the Director of Operations.


     “A spoon?” said Craig.




     “I think so.”


     “Or the breakthrough we’ve been searching for?” asked the Head of Research.


     “Which looks like a spoon,” opined the Director of Operations.


     Craig said, “I think it’s just a spoon.”


     “Maybe that’s what it wants us to think.”



     “We’re in uncharted territory here.”


     “I see. Should we run some tests?”


     “How long will they take?”


     “Years, probably.”


     “Do it,” said the Director of Operations. “What choice do we have?”




The Kiss by David Patten

[Denver, Colorado, USA]

Vienna is in bloom.  Like most European cities, the Austrian capital shakes off winter in a riot of color and fragrance.  Heavy clothing discarded, people stroll the wide streets in contentment.  Sidewalk cafes bustle.  Boys, fingers blackened by newsprint, call out, caps pushed back and shirtsleeves rolled high.  A gentle wind stirs, its breath full of warmth and optimism.


          A fashion designer, senses always tuned to aesthetics, Emilie stoops to admire daffodils circling the base of a young tree.  Spring is her favorite season.  She carefully plucks one of the flowers and sets it in her dark, bushy hair.  Gustav will appreciate it, she thinks.  As she continues on to his house for the reveal. she draws stares, some out of recognition, others due to her height and Bohemian appearance.


          Emilie knows she has sometimes been labelled as Klimt’s muse.  Perhaps that was once true.  But the word belongs to something more fleeting; now the two are established companions, even occasional lovers, their kinship forged in creations of beauty and sensuality.  She turns onto Josefstadte, the imposing red maple a sentinel in front of Gustav’s home.  Approaching the arched, wrought iron gate Emilie adjusts the daffodil in her hair, expectant.


          Klimt is standing on the garden path in back of the house facing the cottage that is his studio, windows large and clear for the light.  The garden has a canopy of tall trees, the path bordered by ferns and shrubs.  He is wearing the teal smock that he paints in.  Mid-forties now, a decade Emilie’s senior, he has a full beard, the untamed hair on his head in premature retreat.  He embraces Emilie, kissing both cheeks, touches the daffodil in her hair.  She takes his hands in hers.  “I can’t wait to see your work.” 


          Afternoon light bathes the studio.  Palettes, brushes, tubes of pigment and canvasses occupy the space in no particular order.  An artist’s clutter.  In one corner an easel, a large sheet concealing the finished work.  Emilie looks at Gustav for confirmation.  He nods, gesturing for her to approach it.


          Revealed, Emilie steps back, a small gasp escaping her lips.  She regards the painting in silence, eyes consuming all of it.  She glances at Gustav, a look of wonder, and steps closer to the easel.  Radiant in floral golds, purples, reds, greens, a couple caught in an embrace, both loving and sensual; the man cradling her face, kissing a cheek, the woman enraptured.  Beneath their feet a meadow in a mosaic of spring hues.  Klimt stands behind Emilie, hands on her shoulders.  “Is she Athena to her Apollo?”  He smiles at her interpretation.  “No, it’s you Emilie.”  His fingers find her hair.  “It’s us.”




After by Stephen Page

[Beunos Aires, Argentina]


Sunday. I wake early and prepare our breakfast. I turn on the coffee machine, the water boiler for Teresa’s tea, lay out the plates, silverware, and glasses. I open the living room windows. It is hot again today. At least 80 degrees already and it is only 7 a.m. After I squeeze Teresa’s lemon juice, cover the glass with a napkin, and put her bread in the oven to make toast, I pull the bacon and eggs out of the fridge and put a skillet on the stove. I sit and wait for her to wake to start our regular Sunday grease breakfast.

       As we finish our food and beverages, I clean the dishes.

      “Thank you, love,” Teresa says as she hugs me.

       By now it is already 90 degrees outside. I close the windows and turn on the air conditioner.

      “Too hot to go outside,” she mentions.

      “Yes, probably.”

      “Not much to do anyway, now, during this pandemic, the beaches will be full. Idiots. Too dangerous.”


      “And I don’t feel like running errands.”

      “Me either.”

      “I’m tired.”

      “I’m lazy. Out of energy. This has been going on too long.”

       I lie on the couch and read books. Teresa sits on the bed and plays ‘talk on the cellphone to friends’ for hours.

       We lunch on low-salt turkey sandwiches, then nap in separate rooms.

       By 6 p.m. it has cooled down a bit. We go for a walk around the tree-lined hilly neighborhood. We admire the spring flowers, the bees buzzing about them, the butterflies flapping, and we listen to the birds singing.




The Numpty Jumped Me by Melissa Molina




“I never fell off a wall. That’s not true, absolute nonsense. It was around 6 pm and it was starting to get dark. I required hard cash because I planned to go to the town centre in the morning and I didn’t want to take my bank card. Cash meant I was in control; I could easily track my spending and I would only buy what I needed. Anyway, I walked round to the cash machine and there was no one waiting. I decided I would withdraw £100.00, so I reached into my pocket for my card. I pressed 3244, but that wasn’t it. Was it 2344 or 4432? I stopped trying; the last thing I wanted was for the ATM to swallow my card. I couldn’t remember the number. This had never happened to me before, I was confused, and my head went completely blank. It was like the digits had been wiped clean from my memory. I walked over to the red brick wall and sat down; my head was spinning. I held the bank card in my hand and stared at it hoping I would remember the four-digit pin number, but I just couldn’t. Then, a tall, thin, thirty-odd-year-old looking guy sat beside me. He smelt. I inhaled a strong whiff of body odour. I know we all sweat and we all smell to varying degrees but this guy stank! He was wearing a dirty blue jacket that was torn at the collar. He looked straight at me and demanded money. I explained that I didn’t have any money; I couldn’t remember my pin number. It was freezing and I was chittering. I was cold but I was also scared. I stood up and quickly walked away and that’s when the numpty jumped me. Then, all I remember is hearing a lot of voices and when I opened my eyes I was surrounded by a crowd of people, staring at me, asking me what happened. They looked concerned as if they were trying to help me. I know there was a pool of blood on the wall but I repeat I did not fall off it. Then, the same folk strapped me to a stretcher and now I’m here, in this ward. If you genuinely want to know what happened then please listen to me. I can’t explain why there is £100.00 in my pocket and I don’t know why this slip, in my hand, is showing a £100.00 withdrawal. I did not take out that cash. I could not remember my pin number. I still can’t remember it. For the last time, I’m telling you, I never fell off a wall, the numpty jumped me”.



My Head Bumps by Stephen Page

[Beunos Aires, Argentina]


Teresa and I have only one evening recreation left to participate in together ever since the coronavirus spread over the world like foamy sea-water over a pebbly shore—watching TV. We can’t go to the cinema, eat inside restaurants, go the ballet, opera, or theatre, so we watch movies, TV series, news, and sports. I watch, alongside her, and I wonder, why don’t all the characters in the new movies and series wear medical masks? Why do they eat inside restaurants? Why don’t the cardboard cut-out fans in the otherwise empty baseball stadiums have medical masks painted on them?

            My head bumps, which started a month or two after COVID-19 became a pandemic, have suddenly cleared up. Two pharmacists and our hair-cutter, who comes to our apartment wearing a medical mask and rubber gloves, told me, “They are grease eruptions, a result of nerves, fear, worry, and anger all together over a long period of time.” I thought, I am not a nervous person, I fear very little, but yes, I worry for my family and friends, but I am hardly ever angry.

            The bumps used to itch, and when I scratched them, they just spread. I thought that it was because I lent my hat to a friend who came visiting on a cruise ship just before the outbreak, like he had lice or something. I felt things crawling around on my scalp. Teresa and Cati scoured my scalp sever times and told me, “No lice.”

            Grey clouds and black sea outside. The wind is whipping the trees around

Our souls at night.

            Yesterday, I woke just after sunrise and prepared Teresa’s breakfast while she slept. Then I sipped a coffee on the balcony. The sky was blue and the sea also.

            When Teresa woke, and ate with me on the balcony, I drove her to Punta del Oeste. We picked up a few things at the pharmacy, then lunched on duck breast and whipped potatoes at La Chaise.

            The sleeping pills Teresa gave me have helped me sleep again, which I have not since my dad died. I had stopped sleeping pills for six months and was just starting to feel normal again, withdrawal symptoms over, nightmares over, writing flowing smoothly, my short-term memory back, my speaking vocabulary returned—both in Spanish and English. But the news that my dad died of a heart attack while waiting in a jammed hospital admissions room,  while a line of twenty-some ambulances were lined up outside with COVID-19 affected patients inside each, was a little devastating.

            Today, oh, I mean the other today, or maybe it was yesterday, Tuesday, no I mean Thursday, Lidia slipped into my office while I was writing, and poured herself a cup of coffee from my thermos. I thought I left her some in the carafe in the kitchen. We kissed, she flashed me a peach breast, my blood rushed, and we smiled at each other.

When she left my office, I took my hands off the keyboard and I scratched my scalp.




Yet Another Groundhog Duvet Day by Paula Nicolson

[Lockerbie, Scotland]


Dear you,


     I don’t want a new beginning, because that would mean the death of me.


     A sore throat is my signature piece but rarely lasts, fading away as the nose honey takes over. But I also like creating a cough that makes people take two steps back, for I just want to isolate with you for ever; cosy in between the warm skin folds and mucous blanket of your nasal passages. Then I’ll force you to breath entirely through your mouth, littering dried saliva and chapped skin on your lips as you sleep (or not); even give you sore eyes if you want a few more days off work. Just think of all those tissues you’ll trumpet into, the money squandered on foul tasting throat pastilles and drugs that’ll keep you propped up as a cardboard cut-out of your original self.


     On the plus side, you can avoid all the friends you don’t want to see because of me, and watch all the crap on TV that you never thought you wanted to see. And if like turns into love, I can summon an ear or a chest infection to send you into a post viral depression as you languish at home with a cup of lemon and honey tea, in yet another Groundhog Duvet Day.

But I promise you’ll always have enough energy to update your Facebook post with, ‘I wish this cold would do one,’ and to read your responses such as, ‘You OK Hun?’ to revalidate your existence that you do have friends; albeit for four seconds.


     I don’t want a new beginning, because I am your beginning.




     The Cold




Courier by David Patten

[Denver, Colorado, USA]

Griffith Park in the early morning.  Mateo cycles past joggers and dog walkers.  A group of elderly Koreans in wide brimmed hats doing Tai chi.  Off to the west peacocks in full voice at the zoo.  He enjoys this start to the day, cutting through the park down into Franklin Hills and then across to Sunset, which he rides all the way to downtown.  At Angelino Heights he stops at a coffee shop and checks the app for the day’s first pick up.

          Mateo can make his own hours, but the best times to ride are from around eight to three.  With UCLA out for the summer he can make good money on his bike for a couple months, and then go meet up with his mom and all her spirited siblings down in Guadalajara.  The first package is at a realtor on Wilshire.  Mateo drains his second cup, adjusts his helmet, and pushes off into traffic.

          Early afternoon.  It’s hot, July letting LA simmer.  Mateo has been staying hydrated, avoiding hills.  He’s in line at a Jamba Juice, taking a breather.  Ordinarily, he’d go another hour or two but he’s baked and wants to head down to the ocean.  He takes out his phone to shut off the app but another job lights up the screen.  A lawyer’s office just a couple blocks away, a package going to the Federal Courthouse over by the Civic Center.  Just one more job.  Mateo hits the accept button.

          The package is bulky and digs into him through his backpack as he navigates standstill traffic.  He lifts the bike up steps and walks it across the wide plaza to the courthouse.  Two uniformed officers check his progress at the entrance.  They are surly, uncomfortable in the heat.  Mateo hands one of them the package, has him sign for it on the app.

         He is a block away when the blast sends him sprawling, hauling all the breath out of him.  His ears are muffled as if underwater.  Blood trickles from his nose.  The bike is on its side, wheels spinning.  Car alarms, dozens of them.  Then sirens.  So many sirens.  Another sound, harsher, urgent.  Officers are barking at him to remain on the ground.  He feels a sharp pain in his arms as his wrists are cuffed.  A realization comes to Mateo like a slap in the face, his brain joining the dots.  The package.



Mother by Martin Hone

[London, England and also Ireland]

Up until the moment the Finance Director ran out of the office holding a hankie to her face and bawling like a baby Jackie had felt that her interview was going quite well.

     Just as the interview was wrapping up (‘Where will you be in five years?’) the FD leapt up, shouted: ‘Stop right now!’         Reaching the door she looked back at Jackie. ‘It’s not your fault but I’m really upset.’

      ‘We’ll keep your CV on file and let you know if another position comes up. In another department,’ said the HR lady.

     As Jackie crossed the car-park a voice called to her:

     ‘Jackie, please wait.’

     It was the FD, Tina, trotting after her.

     ‘I wanted to explain. About my behaviour just now.’

     ‘I somehow offended you,’ Jackie said.

     ‘Not you, me.’ She was slightly out of breath. ‘Me. My mother passed last year. Terrible shock. Stroke. In the street.           Doctor said death was instantaneous. She wouldn’t have suffered.’

     ‘I’m so sorry to hear that,’ said Jackie.

     ‘Thing is.’ Tina bit her lip. ‘You look just like Mum. You’re the spitting image. At your interview it was like I was sitting in the same room as Mum.’

     Jackie’s heart went out to her.

     ‘Seeing me everyday would have brought back too many sad memories.’

      Tina snorted loudly.

     ‘Sad?’ she said. ‘Oh no. I hated my mother. Really hated her. I just couldn’t stand the thought of coming into work every morning and being reminded of that ugly fat bitch.’




Hydrogen by Emma J Myatt

[Scotland - originally from Yorkshire, England]

Sue’s at a weekend camping celebration for a unique friend’s birthday, one that includes mini-lectures about the universe and elements, when in her pocket there’s a phone call. She checks it – her mother who never calls her. She lets it ring out. She listens to a last quote about leaving hydrogen alone for ages and it becoming animals and petals and people then goes to her tiny tent so nobody will see her cry – not because she’s embarrassed but because she doesn’t want to spoil the party. She knows before she listens to the message what it is so the tears start before the words.


The following morning there’s hurried packing whilst friends check train times, a ride to the station and hugs, tears, late trains and a sense of her falling backwards into her life as she crosses past-versions of herself in place names. The stations have their own stories and she’s in many of them, standing with a backpack on the way to or from a random adventure. Heading North she hears accents change and she cries more. She thinks about how her mother and aunt mafiaed up against her as they do with anyone who fights the family line and wonders if her aunt will hear her say sorry.


Back in Leeds, lightyears and lifetimes away from her past self who stood on exactly this spot, once, she looks for familiarity and only hears it, in the music of Yorkshire vowels and the rainfall.


In the café she sees her mother with the Godfather – the man who married her – and she runs past, unseen.


In the ward she says my aunt, and stroke, and is led to a tiny figure lost in sheets. Amongst the wires and bleeps and liquids going in and out she’s unconscious, breathing softly the tubed air. Machines make mountain ranges out of her heartbeats. Sue wants to climb them and reach her but she sits and takes the feathery hand that has done so much, too much to lie here on a sheet. It’s dry and has no grip.


‘I’m so sorry,’ she begins, and tells her everything she should have told her anytime in the previous two years.  She cries more and is amazed there are tears left. Now that it’s too late she blurts everything out through gulps and tears.


When she’s run out of words she sits back and holds the hand and waits for some kind of response, but of course there’s nothing. She’s much too late.


She knows the rest of the family will arrive soon and she’s no spirit for the fight so she kisses her aunt and creeps away, her hood pulled low. Out in the street she heads through the wet back to the crappy hotel where she dumped her bag. On the way she thinks about that quote again and knows the guy was wrong.


Leave hydrogen alone for a really long time and it becomes aunts and tears and love.




The Crichton by Ian S Goudie

[Strathbungo Village, Glasgow, Scotland]

The Crichton still has an odour, you know, the one that all old hospitals have. The chemical smell of blood lingers on these walls. I cough, choking on the stench of blood and mud and rotting corpses. I hear the deafening sound of blasting bombs, of bullets firing and the screams of soldiers crying. Wounded men, the dying, waiting for my dad to cart them back to base. Oh, yes, the Crichton has a past - and one connected to my family. 


     This building is like a butterfly, its wings radiating from its beating heart, a Greek Cross. Those wings, its equal arms, I know they’re meant to symbolise the four elements of nature: earth, water, air, and fire, but I only think of death.

I creep up the octagonal stair tower towards the source of light, sickened that the decorative iron trellis, so cold to my touch, is there to stop sick patients from jumping to their early graves. 


     There's a ballroom up here, and wrapping my arms around my body, as if in a straitjacket, I swivel around 360 degrees, standing on one foot, a ballerina doing a pirouette: Madam Butterfly. I stop and think. Did my dad really believe that his war would end wars? 


     I feel the tears run down my face and run downstairs and out the door. Deep breaths. Calm down. Walk and breathe.

I stop under the dark shadows of a towering Nobler Fir and rest beside a smaller tree. I’ve never seen a tree like this before. Its bracts look like the handkerchiefs of mourning widows. The name plaque reads ‘Davidia Involucrata–the Ghost Tree. Planted in 1963.’ The year he died. 


     A shiver runs down my spine. I scatter off. Run towards the safety of the business park, and then stop dead. 


     I know that name. Galloway House. The paupers’ villa, in which my father died. I read it on his death certificate, where it said the cause of death was Bronchopneumonia, but I know that’s a lie. It was the war that killed him. 


     He was only seventeen when he signed up in 1914. An army ambulance driver in the Machine Gun Corps, the Suicide Squad. They said that he was one of the lucky ones because he hadn’t died and had no scars to show. But the bombs, that killed his comrades, blew his mind away.


     Men like him, they didn’t talk. They took on their demons all alone. Fought daily battles in their brains, but never won. 

In later years, he took up gardening. My mother said it helped, but the illness still took its toll. It was plain he couldn’t cope. 


     On Christmas Day in 1955, the men from the Crichton came. They strapped him in a straitjacket and carted him away in a St Andrew’s ambulance. A modern, clean, white, sanitised version of the type he used to drive.


     They wouldn’t let me visit him. Well, now I am. 


The Honeymoon by Mary Rothwell

[York, England]


“Everything still feels so surreal!” Sarah said smiling, watching the trees and hedges of the countryside whiz past in a blur of green. “I keep thinking that I shall wake tomorrow and be back at home, as though nothing has happened.”

“My dear wife,” John replied, laughing. “I promise you that not only tomorrow, but every day after, you shall wake as a married woman.” 

He did not look up from his paper as he spoke.

“Can you believe the girls at work? The teapot must have been so expensive but it was just the one I wanted.” 

“Ah, well, I guess you could count it as a leaving present as well, perhaps that’s why they splurged.”

“What?” Sarah's smile faltered.

“Well, what will happen to the house and children if you’re at work?”

“But what about the promotion?”

“Yes, it was all very exciting," John replied, only now turning to face her, "but that was before the wedding.”

“But we are only just wed, you have never mentioned children before.”

“My love, that goes without saying,” he said, oblivious to the shocked expression on his wife’s face. “We are going to be just like my parents.”


“To Live is To Travel” by Stan Niezgoda

[London, England]

I hate commuting. But here we go again, the mindlessness of the same landscapes floating by, disappearing. I enter the red bus, tap my card on the reader, and to the upper deck I go. I choose the seat above the stairs, always the same one. From here, I can watch not only the people outside, but the ones going with me too, the ones who much like me go about their lives on the same bus, travelling somewhere near or far.

See this lady over here? No bag, only a translucent document sleeve – inside, some papers and a passport, a foreign one. She might be going to the Job Centre, just like I did when I moved here. She’ll be asked the same mundane questions, asked to fill the same forms, maybe the same clerk will serve her. I like parallels. They make me feel as if all of our lives are somehow connected, and we are in fact, one brainless mass of people who just go places, A to B, or B to A.


But maybe she is going somewhere completely different. She might have lived here for years, and now, her heart pounding with as much excitement as stress, she is going to get her citizenship. Or else, she’s going to the embassy of some far-away land, to get out of here. Her life here was a stream of disappointments, and she’s finally ready to leave it behind. In the passport she’s holding, some clerk will put a giant, colourful visa and off she goes, and I’ll never see her again.

I guess I will never know. As the stops skid by in a turtle-like speed, I find myself window shopping. I like that dress, you know, the one I saw in the window of the charity shop in the rich district. I always pass this place, and yet somehow, I’d never set foot here, I see it only from the seat of the bus. I might exit here one day, just to try. I won’t buy anything because I don’t earn enough, but looking is just as good – at least your wallet doesn’t suffer.

I come out of the trance as the bus nears my destination. There are still three stops left. Here is where the woman with the passport stands up, excuses the person sitting next to her, and goes down the staircase. I follow her broad back as she’s outside on the street, and I notice something I didn’t notice from up-close. She looks just like my granny when she was still young. She turns around, and for a slight second, out eyes meet. Her dry lips lift in a smile, she nods, and walks away. Soon enough, the bus leaves and she disappears. She’s travelling somewhere else now. Maybe commuting isn’t that bad. If it wasn’t for it, I wouldn’t have realised that the only constant in life is travel, the movement. Maybe I’ll buy this dress, after all.




Aggis, Anchovy And Aardvark  by Kate Nelson

[North East England] 


March is the beginning of spring, the start of new life. A trip to shops to buy a few new plants. An Aloe mitriformis, or to put it simply a dwarf aloe vera, catches my eye. Dark green among plants that boasted slightly yellow and even maybe brown leaves. He still stands proudly on my windowsill. Alongside his three new pups: Aggis, Anchovy and Aardvark. Obviously, I’m great at naming things. They may seem like a small feature of a room, maybe most wouldn’t even notice their presence. But it gives a reason to get up every morning and brings some colour to even the darkest of places.


Walks On Rainy Days 

It was a particular shape of tenderness.

Those cold raindrops, the shades of the rainbow, the flower petals waving and leaning when they caressed the raindrops, the sound of the breeze passing through the trees during fall.

All these details carried a sweet and calming melody through my ears.

I stood right in the middle of all these poems announced by the nature, wandering about which beautiful touch I might add to all of this.

I realized then that being there, to witness all of that beauty, was the purpose why I went out for a walk that morning.

I was there because I was part of the magnificent painting. Maybe I didn't realize what my impact was at that precise moment, but I knew that by sharing that glimpse of warmth with what was around me was enough for me, just to be in the middle of something so obvious, yet so special, made me become motivated to do my daily walk even on a rainy days.



Saloua Bouyazderh 






Laughter, Lilies And Love


Jack was a real East Ender, born within the sound of the old Bow Bells themselves.  Kind as they come was our Jack but, when the moment took him, his grasp of a Londoner’s English language was quite impressive!  In his youth Jack was quite a lad, you wouldn’t believe the things he got up to. Once he came home with a horse, ‘borrowed’, he said, had to keep her out of sight for the night he said.  Round our way not much escaped the neighbours and next day the air was buzzing! Stamping and crashing all hours of the night and the noises! Hearing the neighbours, our dad, blessed with the gift of the gab, said,

“Me and the missus were ‘aving a wild night o’ passion!” his eyes twinkled with mischief.  Our mum joined in with a thrust of her hips as she said,

“Oh yes, my ol’ man’s a real stallion when ‘e gets going!”  The cat calls and banter fair turned the air blue as the neighbours joined in the fun. Even old Mrs Jakes, hair in curlers and grubby house coat, gave a throaty cackle before she stalked back inside slippers slapping on the path.

“They’re all jealous,” dad said with a dirty laugh.

“She’ll be down the market next with the gossip!” Mum giggled.  But when old Mrs Jakes’ door closed, the look she gave put the fear of God in him and the house guest disappeared that very afternoon. Mind you, she was pleased with the manure for the garden.


Jack met his Rosie in the market down Brick Lane. Her family sold cut flowers, bringing them from Covent Garden early in the morning. His Mum, our Nan, used to send Jack to the market every Sunday to get fruit and veg that they didn’t grow themselves.  The day he met Rosie he quite literally fell for her… or more accurately, at her. You see, there was a pie man who sold the best meat pies you could buy in all of London. Jack was looking at the pie he’d just bought, all warm and fresh and smelling delicious. So caught up was he with the pie that he didn’t see the dog come up to have a taste of its own. As the dog jumped up, the pie went flying and our Jack flew after it, landing in a bucket of lilies. Rosie saw it all and burst out laughing, tears streaming down her face as she looked at him covered in white funeral lilies. That was until her mum came up and beat him with her broom. Only he couldn’t get up because he was laughing so much and his arse was stuck fast in the bucket.  They all fell about laughing. Even her mum joined in when she realised and it was a while before they pulled him out. It was love at first sight for Rosie and Jack, they never stopped loving or laughing from that day to this.


Clare Fryer


South-East England




See Me Once, See Me Again


“He seems like the type who likes long legs,” Bianca blurted to Rachel, as a man stole a quick glance over his shoulder, as he casually strolled across the pub’s slippery wooden floor.


“Nah, he is probably more interested in short and cute girls. You know, the kind that just projects innocence and wows at everything he says?” Rachel quipped, sneering at the man as he queued up at the bar counter for his drink. “Asian perhaps?”


“Well, only one way to find out.” Bianca took off for the restroom with Rachel closely behind her.


Two Hispanic girls went to the restroom, and two new faces came back to the bar moments later. Bianca became a Caucasian model, her long legs deliberately visible under a bright short skirt designed to attract maximum attention. By her side, Rachel gave off the biggest smile she was able, her petite frame and tanned skin casting doubts on her even being of legal drinking age.


“Game on,” the girls whispered to one another, as they slowly headed toward the direction where the man was queuing up for his drink.


“So, face change, huh?” The man was ready for them as they approached. Before the girls had the chance to speak, the man went on, “I’m an engineer, and what you did just now, I helped to develop the hardware for it.”


“Well, eh, thank you.” The girls had no way of getting in character after that sudden revelation. “It’s fun becoming someone else once in a while.”


“Yeah, we just didn’t foresee so many people doing it so often,” the engineer scanned across the bar, “how do you know who hasn’t done a face change in this joint?”


The girls had no answer.


“Yeah, exactly. Really makes you question the very idea of identity, doesn’t it?” the engineer continued, as he shifted his eyes back to the two girls in front of him. “Really great piece of work though, your transformations. No way I can tell you are actually Latinas.”


Bianca dismissed the man’s remark. “I don’t know, I wouldn’t really call myself a Latina anymore. I could have any looks, any skin colour, any voice. So why would I resign to just being a single thing?”


“And I think that’s great. Society’s conception of what is beautiful, stylish, modern, et cetera, will always change. You can always go for what’s trendy, just like everyone else!” The engineer let out a mock cheer but quickly became serious. “So much for ‘everyone is unique’ right? Who are you if you are just always changing your looks to become what you think society wants you to look like?”


The girls had no answer for that one either.


“Oh, by the way,” the engineer was just about to leave after quickly downing his drink, “I would love to see you both in different looks next time. The more variety the better to show off what this technology can do. It’s like you said. Game on!”



Xiaochen Su






Fire Dancer


She was dancing non-stop in her leather outfit with a focused face. Every step of hers was planned and determined. There was a long rope in her hands. She was like a puppeteer with one difference.  There was not a doll on the margin of the rope but there was fire. A spinning fire which creates figures with its flames. She was the most beautiful thing for the boy who was watching her without even blinking. “She is like another world which has its own special sun,” he thought. He watched her until the sun went down.


Bengisu Belen


Ankara, Turkey




Guilt Will Out

‘Don’t touch it,’ Mother said as she left the kitchen. The cake was at the far end of the table from Anna, who was colouring. She could reach it if she stretched, not to taste it, not to eat it, just to feel its weight against her hand. She turned away to avoid temptation, but the cake had a voice, telling her to reach out and touch. She turned her head and slanted at it through one eye, waiting for it to speak again. It said nothing. She reached out, her hand creeping across the forbidden zone like a raindrip sliding down the window. The cake still said nothing. This was a trap. Anna’s hand stopped creeping and returned to her side. She looked away again but kept one eye on the cake, waiting for it to speak again. Silently, the cake twisted itself where it sat. She turned both her eyes to check. It had definitely moved. She gave it her best stare, the one she used when her friend Lucy had stolen her marbles and tried to pretend she hadn’t. The stare had worked on Lucy, and she’d given Anna the marbles back, but it wasn’t working on the cake, which sat there, refusing to move back. Only now it wasn’t where Mother had left it, so Anna would get the blame. The only thing she could do was move it herself.


Jason Jawando

Wolverhampton, England

The Rock Is 57 And Is Dead [sad Emoji] Part 1


(This piece of excrement must be accompanied with the ditty “Push the Tempo” by a one FatBoy Slim)

This is a shame because his origins movie (“The Nuttler” staring Joe Pesci) is so crap it makes your eyes bleed with hell fire.


The Rock was famous for being the love child of Sir Neil Warnock (Who now somehow almost unbelievably, is the manager of Middlesbrough, he’s like 300 yrs old FFS!) and Za Za Gabor who was made out of metal and the same stuff plant pots are made of, whatever the hell that is.


So as it happened The Rock was famous for only one thing and that was taking the starring role in the great TV sex romp known as QI a TV show nobody likes and seems to be always bloody on!!!! It’s said that at the ripe old age of 57 (Outliving many a lemon) the Rock died live on air during a bout of vomiting all over Stephen Fry, whom it is common knowledge is a robot made by Tommy Cooper. Tommy Cooper coincidentally is lord and master of key chains and related apparel. This mastery made him go mad with power and invent a TV show so ultimately dull that it even made pigeons cry.


It is a stark reminder of the mortality of all creatures on this world.


Hence Robot Fry or the FRYtener as his creator called him thought he was actually made of the same stuff that tights are made of, which would be impossible if you think about it, I mean how would a robot be made of nylon, who ever thought of that rubbish!?!


It was after all Sir King Neil Warnock who is now well over 600 yrs old and is starting to develop into a kind of mould which can only be detected by the same Pigs that the French use for finding Truffles. This of course brings me back to the Rock and the fact that he’s 57 and dead. The casket for the body of this huge 57 year-old mass of meat will be made out of, yes you guessed it, Frenchmen. The French as a nation where the Rock’s most favourite food stuff (If a nation as a whole can be referred to as a food stuff). It has been decided by Neil “The old as Mould” Warnock (His Dad), that as he voted Brexit and often rants on about this, that France is only good for being eaten and used as a coffin for his fat dead son. So that’s the logic of British nationalism I suppose. Countries are there to be eaten and or used as coffins. There is a now a charity specifically dealing with the issue of being eaten or made into a coffin, which is nice as another pointless trampy issue is made out to be very important when it’s not, but people will still go on TV about it and cry…”Oh the time I was treated as a play thing of British nationalism and eaten or turned into a coffin…boo hoo”. I’m sick of hearing about it to be honest.



Tom Scott


Doncaster, England




Dear Santa


Please please please bring Kayla home for christmas. Mummy said she went away to live in Ostralia but she hasn’t come back yet. There haven’t been any post cards with kangas or koalas. No present for my birthday like she would send normaly. She didn’t even tell me she was going away so please, please, please Santa bring her home. Mummy and Daddy won’t talk about her anymore accept when they fight, then they talk about her alot. They fight more now to so if you could make them both happy that would be a great christmas present! But if I can only have one gift then let it be Kayla please then that will make them happy. Mummy is extra speshally sad now. She cries all the time when I say about Kayla coming home so I need it to be a serprize for her so please don’t tell her!

I don’t want any toys this year. I’m only seven but mummy says I’m a big girl now. big girls don’t have dolls or bears. Big girls need bigger sisters though so if you could send your elfs to get her then I will be a good girl for the rest of my life. I made Kayla a christmas card in school today so I need her here to give it to her.


Thank you Santa! I beleve you can use your magic powers to bring her back.



Emily xxx



Amy Tate


Chester, England




The Rock IS 57 And Is Dead [sad Emoji] Part 2


 As was Tommy Cooper who whilst dominating the world of Key Chains and TV was busy programming the FRYtener to take a mate. It will be recalled that during the last millennia mates have always been trouble and Tommy being the arch villain (The lad who ruined the Bible, was based on Cooper). Thought why not program my evil nylon believing Robot to take a mate. The hunt went on long and wide.


Eventually Tommy forced the FRYtener to marry this Egg he found lying about and that was the end of that…or was it? Yes, it was this cannot be taken any further, Robot Stephen Fry AKA The FRYtener was forced to marry an Egg found by his evil creator Tommy Cooper, end of FFS!


It’s well known that Sir King of Mould Neil Warnock has an inherent fear of wobbling, this phobia was passed on to his now a 57 year-old fat massive son The Rock. Wobbling has actually been the cause of all major world conflicts since 1952. It is well known amongst everyone in the world that the Vietnam war was caused because Ho Chi Mihn couldn’t get his jelly to wobble. This sent Lyndon B Johnson of the US quite mad and hence his occupation of South Vietnam. One of the 100000 day wars in the middle east was also caused by the fact that Yasser Arafat thought Yom Kippur was a kind of blancmange and he was terrified it would start randomly wobbling. You see Wobbling…its a hell we all must live with.



Tom Scott


Doncaster, England




The Tale Of The Profane Land


“What was it that you saw where you walked?”, the Teacher asked his disciple after the latter’s return from the Profane Land. That was a place far from the meadows and the springs with the pure water, a place where the valley of the beasts stretched. He himself had once wandered in that heinous world, having his strength as a sole companion. It’s been centuries since then, yet he refused to face again what eyes cannot bear to see. The abiding memories were still a painful recollection of the thin line that separated heaven from the abyss.

“Be proud of yourself for you managed to resist. You have been in a territory that people have long succumbed to an empty and dishonourable way of life. It will never cease to be a smudge on the surface of the painting that was left there to remind God of the imperfections that may exist even in his more beloved creations.” Those were the Teacher’s words, and they echoed as he gazed his disciple.


The student had been wandering there for two hundred years, preaching peace and love. One could easily identify the hardships he’d been through just by looking at his coarse skin and toughened flesh. The rough hands as if work-worn, and a body like an empty tomb, were remnants of a relentless quest that had now come to an end. But his eyes revealed more. They were like crystal balls, emanating fire. “Why did they call it the Profane Land?” He was tantalized by this question. Had it been his choice, he would have named it the Miracle.


Yes, it was true, he saw many things, not in the ones he was looking for, but in the ones that came his way. True beauty lies in the unexpected and reveals herself only when you stop seeking her. Otherwise, you will only be fooling yourself that you actually faced her, while the only thing that was there was your yearning and the erroneous affirmation that you didn’t just wasted yourself.


He leaned on a tree and closed his eyes, but dreams always disturb sleep.  He just wanted to forget, oh, how much he needed to let go of the demons he had once encountered. They were still inside his mind and heart, impossible to be forgotten. His body was now trembling, like the day he walked a path laid out by snakes. A man later told him that in reality, they were people, conquered by their petty desires. Another time, he found himself in a spring and when he cupped his hands to quench his thirst, they were filled with blood. It was the ominous sign that the war among the beasts had begun. Now the soil turned red, stained by disgrace and shame and the tree he was resting upon stood dead under the azure sky.


The nightmare was succeeded by a powerful, vivid image. There was that kid in an alley, gobbling the strawberries his mother had placed in his hands. And as she bent over and lovingly kissed him on the cheek, the air smelt of fresh-mown grass. He, then, saw boys and girls playing hide and seek in the ruins. But they had created their own world and anywhere they stepped on, the earth transformed itself. Blades of grass grew where metal blades had once clashed over and over again. A tear ran from the student’s eye and fell on the ground. The earth took it, watered the soil and the tree regained its splendour.


That was a story the father had coined to tell his son every night before bed. It wasn’t meant to reassure the kid, or even make him tough. It resembled life and the boy somehow needed to know that the world out there was very much like a smudge on a painting. And, though the age of profanity had now begun, there was still hope, there was turning back.



Lefcothea Maria Golgaki

Athens, Greece




John Named A Storm


John named a storm. Not ‘John’ of course (because whoever would?) but ‘Samson’ – Storm Samson (named by John). The Met Office email made it official.


When Ruby subsided and it was his storm’s turn, he went around telling anyone who would listen. He’d chosen the name, he explained, because it reminded him of the dog they’d never had. ‘Samson’ he would have called it, had Dad brought him back. ‘Samson’ was strong but noble. A golden retriever perhaps. Glossy and loyal.


In the end, Storm Samson killed eight people. John piped down.



Jonny Rodgers


Manchester, England



A World Without Parents


“Dr. Xiang, please report to Ward 7!” The PA system echoed through the vast nursery, followed by a cacophony of loud cries from babies woken up the announcement.


Yingzhu sighed. It has only been two weeks since she started working as a manager at the Dongcheng Nursery, but she has already been to all of the complex’s 18 wards, handling kids of all age groups by their hundreds. From cuddling just-born infants in Ward 0 to hearing the anxieties of becoming adults in Ward 18, she felt that her role has gone beyond being a doctor to providing hands-on support to residents of every age-specific ward.


Of course, Yingzhu is not in a position to complain. After all, she was, from her birth to turning age 18, a resident of a government-run nursery. It was time for her to give back, taking care of the new kids just like she was taken care of before. 


But she cannot help but wonder just how sustainable her work is. It has been more than 30 years since China has seen a couple giving birth in a hospital. The government, unable to persuade citizens to have kids, instead put together a chain of state-run nurseries. Fetuses, fertilized and grown in labs, are dropped off at the nurseries when they become fully developed. Medically trained bureaucrats like her struggle to raise the lab-made children until age 18, simultaneously as the mother, the father, the teacher, and the playmate.


Part of the struggles come from socializing the kids to be the same, yet different. The government demands standardized training and education for millions of adults leaving the nurseries every year. Yet, the state also worries that children growing up in the same space with the same adult supervisors cannot develop different interests and fill a diverse set of necessary professional functions. Yingzhu remembers being lumped into fuzzy categories when she was growing up in a nursery, and struggle to apply the same to the kids she oversees.


“Xiaoming, stop!” Yingzhu yelled just as she stepped into Ward 7. Grabbing the tall, stoutly built boy by his arm, Yingzhu yanked him away from a smaller boy that was on receiving end of punches. 


“But teacher, some guy came here yesterday and told me I’m gonna become an athlete in the future. I have to practice!” Xiaoming protested, trying to shake off Yingzhu’s hand from his arm. 


“Yes, but that’s in the future. Now you read your books, just like everyone else here!” Yingzhu retorted, pushing Xiaoming to sit down on his chair. 


As Xiaoming went back to his book, Yingzhu quietly seethed at the officials dropping by with their talks of the kids’ futures. Devoid of parental supervision, kids in the nursery are only too willing to lap up recognition from any adult. Kids crave any sign of their being better than their nursery mates. Talks of better looks, physique, intelligence or even just genes excite them as nothing else can.


“Dr. Xiang, you are needed in Ward 4!” The PA system boomed once more. Yingzhu sighed again. If she just spends her every working day running around the different wards, when will she ever have the time to stop and tell her kids that, at the end of the day, they are all special in their own unique ways?


Xiaochen Su






An avid fan of Desperate Housewives, Anna-Louise liked to think of herself as one of the Bree Van de Kamps of the world: proper, pristine, perfect. She was confidant to many of the helpless househusbands of Camelia View, acting as a somewhat reluctant therapist for the men struggling to juggle their responsibilities as fathers with their need for what they liked to call ‘me time’. Their lives as bachelors brainwashed by society into thinking that they had no childcare responsibilities did little to prepare them for marriage to hardworking careerwomen.


     Like Bree Van de Kamp, her baking prowess was regularly utilised by members of the community when a good carrot cake was needed for one of the church’s charity bake sales, or a wedding was in dire need of her legendary hummingbird cake. It was through her reputation as the town’s confectionary queen that she met her wife, Flora. It was love at first strawberry shortcake.


     Now, as her fingers clung to the phone, Flora was in the forefront of her thoughts again. She forced her voice to remain level, lest the doctor – a complete stranger – hear her life fracture and break apart there and then.


     ‘Thank you for letting me know, doctor.’ She pressed the end call button and gently placed her mobile down on the dining table, dropping into her seat as she glanced at the background on the screen: the two of them embracing their twin boys, Jackson and Jamie.


     She lifted her head and took in each photo hanging on the wall. Her and Flora on their wedding day. Their honeymoon in the next state over because they couldn’t afford to go abroad at the time. Holding their sons after Anna-Louise gave birth to them, both of them smiling tearfully. The photo Flora’s father took when she finally taught her wife the family recipe for hummingbird cake only a couple of months ago, the two of them covered in flour and laughing.


     It was as she sat at the empty table in the empty house that she finally allowed herself to cry.



Kai Woodward


Shropshire, England





The Enchanted Coffee Shop

The Enchanted Coffee Shop

It’s like any other coffee shop but there’s no mistaking the aroma that dominates, powerful as a punch to the stomach; hot, full-roast Columbian.


But there’s more than that; tart espresso, smoky Kenyan, muddy mocha, stewed filter, lukewarm instant Nescafe.


I sense other things, too; love, talk, partings, grieving, loss and regret.


‘Every coffee I’ve ever had,’ I said, ‘just the way I had them.’


‘And?’ said the barista.


‘And; the people I had the coffee with, the experiences, my feelings…’


The barista waited for me to sit down, but I said, ‘No wonder it’s quiet in here,’ and left.



David McVey


Glasgow, Scotland






      And then he stomped off!  


     Tears formed in her eyes as she held her hands across her stomach. What did this mean? Would he be back?  

Was there no returning to the life that she knew with him.  


     She questioned her motive as to why she mentioned the situation at all.  

the thought she wanted to be honest with him. She wanted to rid herself of the guilt and shame she felt. She couldn’t live with the secret she was keeping from him and she thought that he’d understand and that they had a strong relationship.  


     But obviously, he hadn’t reacted the way she had hoped. What to do now. Would he be back? Could they continue as though this situation never happened. There were many unanswered questions.  


     It wasn’t as though she wasn’t sure of what had occurred. It was one of those times when he was out of town on business and she felt alone. She believed it was a fling that didn’t mean anything much. But what happened?  


     It started as a quick indiscretion and she tried to brush it off as a little mistake or perhaps impulsiveness on her part. She never intended for the relationship to continue as it did.  


     With tears streaming down her face she questioned herself as to what she thought that he might do now or what he might say to her. Why was she such a fool. Could he ever trust her again?                                                                                                                       

     That night he didn’t return home. She didn’t hear anything from him for days. She tried calling his phone but it went to voicemail.  


     One afternoon when the doorbell rang someone handed her a certified letter containing divorce papers. They clearly stated sexually unfaithful and carrying someone else’s child. She knew now that the end had come. 



Pat St. Pierre






Buenos Dias


Girls. Women. Females. Why aren’t I attractive to them? Andrew wondered as he stretched out his lean, too thin body on his beach towel. Am I destined to be alone? It was 1995 and he was nearing the end of his solo sojourn to South America which had begun in Argentina about six weeks earlier. The furnace-like sun beat down on Punta Hermosa beach in Peru. He rested on one hand and watched groups of teenagers milling around: laughing and joking and the families too – the beach was a place for the youth of Lima to be seen. The beach was alive to the sound of playful, enjoyable, happy people.


     He’d meet her at a coach depot. The coach was the main form of transport in the Americas. He’d got chatting. Her name was Carly. She was from LA and was working as a translator. Andrew told her about his travels, about England, even about his unrequited love back home – she was that sort of girl – the sort you could open up to. In return for his candour, she gave him a worn, rather thick book by John Grisham. It was hardly rucksack material but then again, he didn’t like to discard it. She had given it to him.


     “When you get to Lima look me up!” Carly said excitedly as she went off to catch her coach. She had told Andrew she was off on a day’s sightseeing “some place” but would back in Lima the following day. Hastily she wrote down her address. “Look, it’s easy to find.”


     Andrew pocketed the paper and smiled as he stepped onto his coach. He was looking forward to Lima. He stayed at a traveller’s hostel where all the Europeans spoken Spanish – except him. Odd man out. Again.


     She was out. Of course, she was. Twice. Andrew never got to see her so he retired to the beach.


     His dark sunglass shaded the sun but his body prickled with sweat. It was certainly hot. He started to drift into a soporific state. His mind cataloguing the many, many failures in his life, particularly with the opposite sex. It wasn’t long before he fell asleep.


     He thought someone spoke; a soft as a velvet breeze, touching his ears. He wasn’t sure. He partly woke-up. Drowsy. Was it a dream? A young woman loomed over him. Tanned, bronze, shapely legs, her black swimming costume like a second skin against her slim body. For a moment she seemed to blot out the sun. Her elongated shadow cooled him. He shook his head but the image was still before him. He leaned up on one arm.


     She spoken again in Spanish, as speedy a sprinter. She smiled, she laughed, she pointed to the top of the beach to where cabins sold ice creams and cold as ice drinks.


     “Hablo Ingles?” he said.


      She shook her head. Disappointed.


      “Buenos Dais,” he tried.


     In reply, she raised her open hands and walked off. Into the sun.


Colin Mayo


Hemel Hempstead, England



It was a rainy afternoon in June. Julie was climbing up the steps to her office when she dropped her keys. Hastily bending to pick them up, she suddenly felt a presence and rose to see a tall dark stranger standing there.
"Are you Julie Rashford?"
"Yes, and you are?"
"I'm Will, Will McKilleck."
The stranger was clutching a folder in his hands.
"I need to talk to you about my wife Donna."

Julie's office was on the small side, but it was largely sufficient for two.
"Tell me about Donna and why this concerns me."
"Donna, she was... She was my everything," Will swallowed. "And you helped take her away from me."
"I beg your pardon?"
"You should." He threw down the file. "Remember this guy, Craig Mulligan? The 18-year-old drunk driver that you helped get off the hook?"
"I can't possibly remember every one of my clients, as a solicitor I get a lot."
"Look at his face!" Will jabbed a finger at the photo on the desk. Julie was now on high alert; perhaps allowing a stranger off the street into her office was a bad idea.
"Come to think of it, he does look familiar." She flipped quickly through the file. "An open and shut case with attenuating circumstances."
"You pushed to avoid jail time even though he deserved it, leaving him free to continue drinking and driving, and giving him the chance to kill my Donna!"
Will stood up at this point, towering over Julie who felt herself shrink in comparison. The mixture of pain and rage she saw etched on his face was something she wouldn't forget in a hurry.
"What do you want me to do Mr McKilleck?"
"I want you to remember this face," he spat as he threw a photo of his wife at Julie. "I want you to see her when you close your eyes. I want you to remember that your actions contributed to taking her life, all because you didn’t make the right decision!" Will huffed and took a moment to compose himself before adding, "Don't you ever forget her name, Donna McKilleck!"


And with that he left, leaving Julie sitting dumbfounded in her chair.

Just then, her phone buzzed. Oh crap, it was Victor. She’d completely forgotten about him and their secret meeting.

Ignoring the call, Julie exhaled and slumped in her chair, her eyes eventually settling on the photo of Donna. She was simply a young woman who’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Twirling the photo between her fingers, she eventually placed it next to her graduation photo. The time when she’d been full of hope seemed so far away.
"I'll do better," she whispered, "for both of you."
It was better to ignore Victor. She didn’t feel like breaking up another couple anyway.



Dominique Nixon


Mayenne, France




Sands of Time

Lately, Jed and Carl have been reluctantly considering their mortality. The mind games come with the territory once you hit the mid-sixties, which the two best friends have. Why are we here? What have I done with my life?  What happens when we die? At least the second question can have a quantifiable answer. The other two Jed and Carl have already answered with another rhetorical one: who knows?

         Of course, the real reason the friends have fallen into existential contemplation is the sand. It’s running out. The giant hourglass which sits floor to ceiling in the corner of their living room has a lot more in the bottom half than the top. The friends are on the couch opposite, whiskies in hand, observing the disloyal grains sift through the narrow opening. Maybe we should go to Machu Pichu, says Jed. Or parachute off the Chrysler Building, adds Carl, swirling the ice around in his glass. Neither of them takes their eyes off the hourglass.

         Why did I leave California and the ocean? Jed thinks out loud. Carl nods, and why didn’t I take that job in Vancouver when I had the chance?  Regrets. About as useful as an expired coupon. But the two of them have been on a roll lately, playing the why didn’t I and I should have games. The score is tied. Carl picks up the bottle of Johnnie Walker.  Another? Don’t mind if I do, says Jed, reaching out his glass.

         Mid evening. The doorbell sounds and Jed gets up expecting it to be the pizzas. They need something to soak up the liquor. Standing on the porch is a well-built man in his forties, thick black hair slicked back. He looks like a hitman from Jersey, but instead of an Armani suit he’s wearing blue shorts and a matching work shirt. He notices Carl peering at his name tag: Samael.  Hi Carl, I’m Sam he says, extending a hand.  In the other he’s carrying a clipboard.  Though not quite sure why, Carl invites Sam in.  As he steps through the door, he notices a large industrial truck parked out front. Diablo Sand & Gravel is stencilled in red on the driver’s door.  The back of the truck is full to the brim with sand.

         They share some whisky and a few slices with Sam. Even one or two personal stories. Sam has a lot of charisma and confidence.  He puts Jed and Carl at ease.  They like him, feel like they already know him.  On the coffee table is the contract. I’d sure hate for you fellas to miss out on this deal, Sam says, as though he has inside track on some Vegas odds.  He gestures to the top of the hourglass, leaking sand as they speak. I can fill that back up right now, he says. Truck’s out front. Unless, he adds, you don’t want to sign the contract. He shrugs, his expression saying hey, I know you guys are not that dumb, right?

         Jed takes the pizza boxes out to the garage and puts them in the recycling. Carl washes out the whisky glasses and then pins their copy of the contract on the side of the fridge with a Heineken magnet. Back in the living room they take another satisfied look at the fresh sand that has filled the hourglass. Sand, as Sam guaranteed, that would never run out as long as they abide by the contract. Jed and Carl are smug, as though those Vegas odds have come through. They exchange a devilish grin.



David Patten

Denver, Colorado, USA



Cloning Yourself At Work: A New Way To Increase Productivity!


While at work, have you ever had the thought that, rather than shouting instructions at a bunch of clueless subordinates, things will move along so much faster if there was just one more of you instead? You know what you are good at, so if there are two of you, you will surely get twice the work done in the same amount of time!


Well, now you have the chance to make that thought a reality. Introducing the “Self-Cloner,” a device that copies you for a short time whenever you need some extra help. Your clone will have all the knowledge and energy at that moment of cloning, ready to help you get your work done when you urgently need a helping hand.


Don’t worry, the Self-Cloner won’t let your clone interfere with your everyday life. When the work is done, just press a button on the machine. The clone will automatically be directed back into the machine for liquidation.


James remembers the first time he watched the commercial for the machine that gave birth to “James II.” But James II insists that he should now only be addressed as Vincent and refuses to step back into the machine no matter how many times James pressed the liquidation button.


Vincent insists that he remains useful, not just as a double for James at work, but a unique individual who can contribute to society in his own way, entirely independent of James. It no longer matters that he looks just like James. Vincent says, because of all the people he interacted with, all the experience he had, all without James by his side, neither James nor he is now the clone of the other.


To his dismay, James realized that Vincent is not alone. A few too many people let what their Self-Cloners produced to stay in human society a bit too long. These users just got too accustomed to the convenience of having another one of them do not just their immediate work, but all the subsequent tasks at work and home for them, so much so that they forgot the need to liquidate them within a short time recommended by the Self-Cloner. The result is Vincent and other clones getting together to demand “human” rights, not just to exist permanently, but legal identity and equal pay.


People forgot that a separate identity does not need to be based on separate genes and upbringing. Even if everything that came before was the same, from this moment forward, everything can diverge. And with different futures, different views, attitudes, and belongings emerge. No liquidation machine’s cloning button can stop that formation of new identities.


Xiaochen Su






The Intimacy Of Being Understood


 The intimacy of being understood, the warmth she was ignorant of, yet, unintentionally, she purely starved for. She swallowed her words, up deep into her mind. Every so often they urged to slip out, for she feared that they come out as gibberish to the ears of her surroundings. The assemblage of millions of words turned into scribbles of pure frustration, demolishing a once meditative and pensive home for her thoughts into a turmoil of characters. The flames of her eagerness and ardour towards life itself were recurrently being extinguished by the splash of realization that nobody showed her attentiveness. She yearned to belong to someone, anyone who would cherish her thoughts and partake in her imagination. She itched for a connection so deep that she wouldn’t have to think twice before vocalizing what haunted her head and weighed on her brain a thousand tons. She craved one silent moment that would free her from her own roaring mind, which was once her calm and safe space. 


Only until the English assignment required a book must be read did she feel an unnatural sentiment of relief, hence scratching the itch she had been longing for. She was baffled. How could a bunch of words organized into sheets of paper have alleviated the tension her shoulders had been carrying for what seemed to be an infinite amount of time? She knew not to be fooled by her vigorous desperation for this sentiment, causing her to misinterpret it for something else, thus she brushed it off. 


As the tedious day was coming to an end, and the sun was saying its last goodbyes before the next came, she sat by her window, meticulously observing the ombré of the sky getting darker by the second as the Earth devoured the Sun. She couldn’t disregard the unorthodox serenity that rushed through her, very similar to what she felt whilst reading the book. She had been dazzled by the overwhelming response to such non-living things that have given her the opening to the flow of her accumulated words, without even having to utter a single one. 


She began to fathom the little things that brought to her that newly found sensation, which she had been once pursuing from humans.  At last, she was then conscious of what had been hindering her all the time that had passed, when she had none to blame but her so-called friends. It was herself that had to be held accountable, for she had to understand herself before being understood by others.  


Self-perception was something she lacked, until she stumbled upon those simple pleasures she found worth living for, connecting the lines that shape her as the person she was. The intimacy of being understood, she thought, evolves from the intimacy of understanding oneself.



Chloe Haddad


Koura, Lebanon




Pub Cruel


Reece McGregor prided himself on the fact that he’d never done drugs - despite the temptations presented to him on the housing estate. No, alcohol was his only “poison” and this morning he fancied a pint. A nice, cool refreshing pint of lager and some pleasant conversation before he returned home and settled back down to a day of doing… well… nothing.

          Since he’d lost his job in the warehouse, he’d struggled to find employment and eventually given up – well, he had a criminal record – petty vandalism, ASB, a bit of breaking and entry. His mates did it to fund their drug habits but Reece did it to for a “laugh”. They’d “do” a few shops and places on the estate. Nothing serious but he’d done time. Of course, he had. Everyone had.

          So, he pulled on his jacket and walked up the road to The Globe. He was surprised to see it boarded up and covered in graffiti, for, in truth he was out on parole from his latest stretch. After the warehouse row – the one where he’d “lost it” with his manager and got sacked - he’d been short and, well, people shouldn’t leave their windows open, should they?

          He strolled on, out of the estate, not to worry, there were a couple of other pubs in walking distance. He found himself outside The Swan – correction, it was the Swan, but now a sign read “Simpson’s Furniture”.

          “Fuck me, where can you get a pint?” Reece muttered under his breath.

          He carried on down the High Street. The Red Lion – now that was always popular and large – not really his type of pub being more “family orientated” but at least he could buy a much-needed drink.

          He smiled. It was still there and open! He slouched in.

          “Do you have a reservation, Sir?” The dark-haired waitress asked.

          Reece was pulled up short.

          “A reservation?”

          “Yes, Sir, you need a table reservation.”

          “A table reservation! I only want a bloody pint!” Reece huffed.

          “You have to be a diner, I’m afraid, Sir.”

          Reece cursed. “Is there nowhere I can buy a drink around here?”

          The waitress gave a thin-lipped smile. “Well, the Swan is now a furniture shop and that one on that rough estate closed down due to all the vandalism and robberies.”

          “Vandalism and robberies!” Reece repeated.

          “Yes, the landlady had a nervous breakdown and handed in her licence, she works in our kitchen now.”

          “Does she?” Reece said. He was in a daze. “So, there’s no pubs no more?”

          The waitress looked conciliatory, sympathetic even. “Ones that don’t sell food have been struggling for years and when you have youths running a mock, they’re sure to go under.”

          Reece left the pub and walked back to his estate. Thoughtful. “We were bored, we didn’t mean no harm,” he muttered. “At least I’ll be able to get some tinnies from the convenience store.” he considered.

          But it wasn’t the same, it just wasn’t the same.


Colin Mayo

Hemel Hempstead, England


Perfect Teeth

How can the word river do it justice?  It’s inadequate.  It’s a fat bodied serpent feeding off the continent, nourishing its teeming forests which sustain the planet.  It’s not a river, the Amazon, it’s an ongoing event.


     Elliot is far from a novice.  He’s battled marlin in Florida, landed bluefin tuna off Prince Edward Island, fly fished for days in the Louisiana Marshes.  Now he has come to Peru, on the hunt for species unique to the iconic waterway: peacock bass, redtail catfish, arapaima, piranha.


     Six in the morning, mist rising from the surface, the chatter of tropical birds and primates from the dense rainforest flanking their small boat.  It’s long and narrow like a canoe, Elliot perched at the bow clothed in khaki, boasting zippers and Velcro and hidden pockets only an angler would wear.  At the stern, hand on tiller, Santiago guides the craft through the still waters, as the old man has done for decades.


     Santiago manoeuvres them into a horseshoe pool off the main river.  It’s sheltered by overhanging branches that shed pods into the water.  It’s a feasting ground.  Elliot baits his line and stands astride the bench for balance.


     The first two times the bait is gone, either slyly taken or slipped off.  Elliot packs it tighter around the double hook and casts again.  This time the line goes taught, the carbon fibre rod doubling in on itself, threatening to snap.  Elliot reels and pulls, reels and pulls.  Mantenlo tenso, says Santiago.  Keep it taut. 


     The fish is strong, angry.  A fighter.  It breaches in a commotion.  Breathing hard, Elliot brings it toward the boat.  Es piranha, says Santiago reaching for the landing net.  But Elliot raises the rod too soon, the frenzied ball of muscle arcing at him.  Instinctively he holds out a hand, Santiago’s ten cuidado, be careful, a fraction late.  With the violent precision of a steel blade, the piranha removes Elliot’s index finger at the mid joint.


      Elliot’s mind can’t process what he’s seeing, stalling the shock and pain.  The piranha thrashes in the boat, gasping.  The disturbance has caught the attention of an alligator on the far bank.  Santiago watches it slide into the water.  Mantener la sangre en el bote, he tells Elliot, wrapping his hand in a small towel.  Keep the blood in the boat.



David Patten


Denver, Colorado, USA





Word Harvesters

There were stories about specific boats that would use large nets to haul in all manner of fish and creatures from the oceans, back in the centuries before The Retribution.  Trawlers they were called.  Manned by the hardy, the adventurous, those willing to risk peril for a substantial payday.  The word harvesters felt a kinship with these bygone stories, whether true or residing in myth.


     There was no shortage of applicants for the word fields.  About a quarter of each recruitment drive made it through screening, with three months in the inhospitable Southern Sector the minimum contract.  When that was up, harvesters could extend to a maximum six months.  You could make two years’ worth of personal tokens if you stayed that long.  Most did.


     The word fields thrived in the searing heat of the Southern Sector, a continent of sand and desert.  The harvesters wore protective suits and helmets as they gathered verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.  Some worked the less glamorous fields of articles, prepositions, and pronouns; the fillers that glued sentences together.  Harvesters were allocated one of three eight-hour shifts, seven days a week.  Drones supplying language to the great cities in the Northern Sector.


     The Council oversaw the monthly distribution of words to all citizens, based on class and societal roles.  Micro-chips fed thoughts which appeared as language on each person’s transparent, mobile screen.  There was a healthy black market, trading in cuss words, colloquialisms, and colorful idioms.  But The Council could identify and delete these at any time.


     The scientists maintaining and expanding the word database had yet to seed and cultivate the word insurrection, so there was no way to describe the takeover of The Council, nor the exodus of the harvesters from the fields.  There was an inevitability to the new stewardship of The Council because language is power.



David Patten


Denver, Colorado, USA






'Red boiled face, crabby', the father said as the wee girl lay in his mam’s arms.  


‘Her head’s the size of an orange - one of those navel ones,’ she said.  


‘Naval ones?’ he said, his eyes screwed, what you’ve been up to with the navy then? 


She laughed and then he did too but just a tad.  


The girl was yellow for a few weeks, jaundice, custard eyes, mustard skin.  


‘It’s normal,’ the doctor said.  


‘Ain’t nothing normal about her,’ the father said, as he flicked his eyes from the twisted belly knot, green-gilled,



The girl’s eyes were blue – in the places they weren’t yellow. The father thought of oceans, and lagoons with indigo skies and palm trees, the places they’d dreamed of in the tsunami of desire.  


But now the mother saw only the minute landscape of her daughter’s face, the down cheeks, the breath-blown sweep of her forehead, and the violet delta of life under her new skin.



Joan Osbaldeston


Hastings, England



Life From The Perspective Of The L.E.D. Inside Your Fridge


     The door opens, our innards firing a low hum as I light your vacant face. You peer in for milk and retrieve it, door left standing, sounds of pouring, the carton replaced. Close to black.


     Open and low hum, again for milk, the voice of another in the room: ‘Please don’t forget. It’s her first time, she’s nervous.’

     ‘I won’t forget,’ replacing the carton.

     ‘Don’t. You said…’ Close to black.


     The slotted pitch of evening beneath blackout blinds, eggs retrieved. Your partner: ‘You can’t be serious.’

     ‘I am. It’s true.’

     ‘Why would he…?’ Close to black.


     Minutes passing and the eggs are returned, nothing said, but from you, a heavy sigh. Close to black.


     Open and low hum for butter, carrots, parsnips, an onion.

     Partner: ‘Just talk to me. Why didn’t you ever tell me this?’

     ‘How could I?’ the words from your mouth flat and deathly solemn.

     ‘How old were you?’

     ‘I don’t remember. Probably…’ Close to black.


     Grey morning, your partner’s eyes straining. ‘How did you sleep?’

     'Terribly, dredging all this up.’

     Your partner reaching for milk, hesitates. ‘You have to. I can’t believe you’ve never told me this.’

     ‘I’ve never told anyone this.’


    ‘Because how am I supposed to say it? How do you ever bring something like that up?’ A long, low breath.

     Your partner finally grabs the carton. ‘I just don’t understand.’

     ‘Well that’s it, isn’t it? How could…’ Close to black. That was the last of the milk.


     Open and low hum, pitch evening, groceries being stacked. You ask, ‘Where are the tortillas?’

     ‘I don’t know.’


     You stack items, your partner, in the background of the kitchen, eyeing you. ‘Did he ever, say anything, about why?’

     You freeze, loosen slightly. ‘No.’ You stack more inside us, hands and fingers steady. ‘It was like… speaking of it would make it real.’ Close to black.


     Forcible open and hum. You slam a clip-lock container on a lower shelf. ‘Of course I fucking do!’ The door is left wide and yawning, stretching openly as a waking sleeper.

     ‘Oh God.’

     ‘Is that really what you want to hear? Jesus! That if I ever saw him again, I’d fucking choke ‘im? That I’d kill him?’

     Your partner, weepy: ‘I want you to contact a therapist.’

     ‘No, I will not contact a fucking therapist.’

     ‘Please close the fridge.’

     ‘How am I supposed to explain that to Nikki, huh? That three times a week I’m getting my head examined for things he did thirty fucking years ago? Is that normal to you?’

     From somewhere I’ve never seen, the cries of a child disturbed in sleep.

     ‘You see what you’ve done?’ hushed.

     The modern system integrated with me begins to beep, somehow both loudly and not.

     Your partner, begging: ‘Please just close the door.’



Ross Heard


Manchester, England





Reclaiming My Voice


As I leave the building, the smile on my face widens while the butterflies continue to flap, creating an earthquake in my stomach. I want to laugh and cry at the same time; I feel both sick and elated, light-headed but with 20/20 vision.


Everyone advised me against it: friends, partner, union representative, solicitor. Even the journalist who interviewed me told me I could stop any time I wanted. But I was determined: I'd thought this through and realised I wouldn't be able to live with myself unless I did this.


I'm risking everything, including my home and relationship. If I were sued, I know I'd lose any court case and despite all my training and experience, could end up unemployable. My partner says he'll back me up, but I'm not convinced. Even the strongest relationship can shatter when faced with the opprobrium that will likely come my way.


But some things are more important than material success and there are those who support me, many of them people I have never met and don't know, who applaud my principled stance.


Wanting to celebrate, I enter the first pub I see, order a drink and toast myself in the bar mirror. The wine makes me feel even more light-headed and when I stand up I almost fall over, leaning on the counter for support. The barmaid asks me if I'm okay. I nod and say: “Never felt better.” I saunter out of the pub and make my way back home. 


Sleep evades me for most of the night. Everything I've done and said keeps circulating in my mind as if on a loop. I keep thinking of things I should have said, regretting not phrasing my story better, wandering if the journalist will get things right, worried the newspaper might try and sensationalise my story. I must have dropped off at some stage because the alarm clock wakes me.


I switch on the radio just in time for the review of the daily papers, and I'm the first item. I dash to my laptop and check the paper's online edition: there it is. The journalist has done a good job, presenting the story without any frills. It doesn't need any: it is sensational enough as it is.


The phone rings. I agree to a radio interview which goes as well as can be expected, then switch the phone off.


I had signed a gagging order in return for an out of court settlement, as had others: we had little choice and even less time to make a decision. Our complaints were marked “resolved” and we were told our careers would not be affected. But there is no way I can let them get away with their bullying, because until there are changes in both personnel and procedures people will continue to suffer.


What will be will be, and no matter what is thrown at me I know I have done the right thing, the only thing I could do.



Kevin Crowe


Wick, Scotland


Kevin is the editor the Highlands LGBT+ magazine "UnDividingLines":

Suicide = Revenge

I’ve never feared Death. In fact, I’ve always been rather fascinated by it so when I heard about Professor Schumacher’s research into consciousness, I contacted him with a few suggestions of my own. With drones now being as small as an insect the size of a wasp, was it possible to transplant my consciousness into such an artificial envelope for a period of time so I could watch my own funeral?

            Schumacher thought it would be. Modern technological already meant that thoughts could be stored in a computer, and even operate one, so there was no reason why I might not be clinically dead and yet have a “third eye”, if you will, hoovering over my own funeral relaying back audible images to my briefly digitalised consciousness.

            Imagine that! I’d get to “see” the whole thing! Who wouldn’t like to be “present” at their own funeral?  What a way to get revenge! I’d be treated like a King; conveyed into the church by my three sons and daughter and placed at the front of the nave as my favourite song played. My children who, let’s face it, since I divorced their mother after I discovered her second affair, had had little to do with me, would step back as one and bow their heads. I’d observe, Joan, my ex-wife, first amongst mourners: tearful and tormented, her blond hair contrasting with her black pill box hat as she dabbed her moist eyes whilst wreaths read: Husband, Father, forever in our hearts.

            I’d hear the eulogies too – the force words of praise, the jokes from my manager at work: I couldn’t stand the guy, but he was an excellent raconteur, “Ken did this, Ken did that,” – the congregation would laugh through their snivelling tears. No doubt my oldest would read a passage from The Bible.  Then, one of my other sons would say “a few words”. “He was a good bloke: funny, generous, big hearted” – in other words I was a mug who bailed them all out whenever they came a-begging, only to find myself short by the end of my life and living in a one-bed, rented flat.

            So, that’s what happened. Professor Schumacher set it all up.

            “But, remember, we’ll only be able to establish computerised consciousness for about an hour, after that it will rapidly fade.”

            “Don’t worry, it’ll be an event worth dying for,” I joked… and I meant it.

            I duly hung myself. In the front room. Detailed plans for my funeral left. Timings exact. The service was to take place that Thursday. It was all set up. So, my little drone buzzed around outside the church and waited for the funeral cortege… and waited… and waited… and…

            it never arrived. In one final horrendous slap in the face Joan vetoed my dying wishes and arranged a cheaper, earlier cremation next door. With my long-distance drone lens, I saw the mourners laughing and joking and shaking hands as they left the small chapel. I was absolutely fur…


Colin Mayo


Hemel Hempstead, England




The Comedians

Cannon and Ball are hiding in my back garden. I can see the bushes rustling as Bobby snaps his red braces. The wind carries their whispered summons to my window: “Rock on, Tommy”. I close the curtains and sit in the dark.

              When I leave the house, Bernard Manning loiters at the foot of my drive. Between laboured breathes, he lists the people walking into a pub: an Irish man, a Jewish man, a Pakistani, his mother-in-law… I run past him and down the street, the tension of his tuxedo preventing him from giving chase.

              In the supermarket, Stan Boardman prowls by the tinned goods, seething that they bombed our chip shops. I dart into the chilled foods aisle but Russ Abbott is already there, lurking by the yoghurts. He lunges towards me, confiding that he loves a party with a happy atmosphere.

              I turn and flee. Little and Large patrol at the checkouts – Large impersonating Woody Woodpecker while Little looks confused. I drop my shopping and manage to sneak out unnoticed. As I head to the High Street, Les Dennis screams, “I don’t really know” from the opposite pavement. Jimmy Cricket springs from a parked car, insisting that I c’mere, c’mere. I double back down an alleyway but the Krankies have second guessed me. They broaden themselves and block my path. “Fan-dabby-dozy,” Jimmy Krankie hisses.

              Later, at my therapy session, I relay my troubles. I’m being pursued by comedians, I say. Light entertainers. The Old School.

              My therapist narrows his eyes. It’s a look I’ve come to recognise. It suggests that we’re on the cusp of something important, that we’re approaching a breakthrough.

              Only comedians? he asks.

              That’s right, I say.

              No dance troupes? Singers? High wire acts? Ventriloquists?

              I shake my head. Only comedians, I confirm.

              Slowly, he strokes his chin with thumb and forefinger. Well, that’s the problem, he eventually says. It’s your diet: you’re not getting enough variety.

              My therapist slaps his thigh and bursts out laughing.

              I suppose, after all this time, it’s nice to finally have a punchline. I just wish that I thought it was funny.



Mark Colbourne


Black Country, England




Reviving the Flowers

The shore was fading from itself. The predicate hides under the complacent. Something about the way the shore bubbled was so sullied and furious like a ruptured snail, salty and fizzling Something so contemptuous in that crackling and dirty dissolve. I noticed it as we left shore. The hem of my pant still wet from its last dirty kiss upon my ankle, wrapped around my shoe begging me to stay like a child, a clinging, mistaken me as its own, spawned by someone else's mistakes. Shackled to the past, lifted out of the water and yet below true elevation. Nothing but the tethered void dirtying my boots as I boarded the ship. I was leaving now. All that I had loved was a lie, the man, the garden, the flowers we had made bloom together once. The thing about an island is that secrets travel quickly and spilled milk is quick to go sour on even the sunniest of days. Why he did it I'll never know, he had the best of me and so needing her was something of an absurdist nightmare, a dark surreal that strangled more than it could surrender. I couldn't breathe, the flowers had lost their scent, the colors looked grey in the sun. So I buried him under them, hoping the nutrient from his flesh would revive them, that the mineral of his bones would paint them back to life, that they would smell like the first time we kissed all over again.


Tara Jones

Kansas, USA




Anno Domini


It was Peter’s idea.  A retreat of sorts; a chance to take stock a year after all that unsavory business at Gethsemane, followed by the thrill of the resurrection.  The Book of Acts was writing itself as the Apostles dispersed and set about spreading the good news, despite it mostly being met with scepticism.


     Antioch seemed as good a place as any.  Peter had been making some decent headway there and was keen to show the others what was happening locally.  Besides, the proximity to the Mediterranean was a draw for those wanting to extend their visit a few more days.


     Peter’s dwellings weren’t large enough to accommodate more than three of his friends, so the remaining eight had to make their own arrangements.  Now, here they all were in Peter’s stone, rooftop courtyard, sitting on the ground in a circle.  They prayed, and then broke bread together.


     As the falling sun stretched out the day’s shadows, a stranger appeared in a dark cloak.  His hair and beard looked as if the original color had been altered.  He was noticeably portly.  He shuffled in the awkward silence.  Then, a slow realization among some of those seated.  Nathaniel set down his goblet.  “Judas?”  He shuffled some more, avoiding eye contact.


     The Apostles all stood.  James turned to Peter for an explanation.  He shrugged.  “Not my doing.”  Now Simon addressed Judas.  “You committed suicide.”  John threw in his fifty cents. “You’re supposed to be spending eternity in the ninth circle.”  All eyes were now fixed on Judas.  “So...” he was tentative, “the suicide was a story the Romans put out as part of the witness protection program.”  His eyes moved around the group.  He left John’s comment unanswered.  “Been stashed away in Umbria.”  Shaking of heads, disbelief that this traitor stands before them.  “Yea.  Lot of grapes and olives.  And goats…” his voice trailing off.


     Three rooftops away two figures were stooped, observing.  Lucius and Cassius were seasoned vets of Augustus’ secret service, political puppeteers who had left their mark from Gaul to Palestine.  “You sure about this guy?” asked Lucius.  Both men kept their eyes on the gathering.  Cassius shot his partner a look.  “Are you kidding?  This is the original Judas.  He’d sell out his own mother.”  Lucius nodded, satisfied.  Cassius continued.  “They’ll eventually forgive him and he’ll regain their trust.  Then we’ll have Peter and his seditious crew right where we want them.”


David Patten


Denver, Colorado, USA




Double Helix

It wasn’t unexpected.  She’d been waiting.  At first it was just small things, like water seeping through a breach.  An occasional headache, clear bubbles moving across her cornea, shape shifting like a lava lamp.  Later, her skin feeling loose and oily, like it wanted to slide off.  Then the insomnia.  Restless nights filled with echoes of her history.  An accounting.  Taking stock.  One night disorder was launched, as if premeditated.  Jigsaw pieces of her life falling like confetti into colorful prisms.  That was when she knew.  It was time to go to the woodlands.


     A maze of primordial secrets, forests hold the keys to the truth.  Givers and sustainers of life, their trees gatekeepers of the knowledge.  She arrived in the northernmost woodlands, where the sky is a canvas for all things celestial; a glimpse of infinity.  On a hilltop she looked out over the forest, the moonlight casting silhouettes in black and white.  Silent, save for the occasional call of hunter and prey.  She sat in contemplation.


     The meadow grass was cool and soft under her bare feet, the approaching forest sentinel to the charms it concealed.  The secrets she knew and was borne of and now returning to, her lives millennia in the making.  Movements assured and graceful beneath a long robe of sapphire, in her green eyes the wisdom of the gemstone and a promise of spring.  Her black hair fell sleek and straight, the moon’s fingers combing it in satin. 


     Enclosed, she heard the murmurs of recognition, smelled the fragrance of earth and timber as the forest received her into its midst.  She wove her way deeper into the interior, the path marked by a thousand fireflies and an owl swooping from branch to branch.  They would lead her to the provenance.


     This is the place, veiled by a patchwork of interlocking branches, ageless and sacred.  The earth hugging her feet, soft as velvet.  Above, wisteria vines in their thousands.  Purple, pink, fragrance that can be tasted.  Smiling, she reaches out her hands and bestows the gift of herself.  A double helix hangs suspended, as if a lantern in the darkness.  It starts to rotate, the stairways embraced in a dance of life.


     With each rotation comes a spray of vivid, falling petals, each a recognition of a life lived; the entirety of her story.  Here Ts’ai Lun who brought paper into the world, there Cornelius, final breath preserved by the ash from Vesuvius.  And here Edmund, navigator on Drake’s wooden vessels, and there Natasha, swept up in an October revolution.  Spent, the double helix dissolves into the night.  All that remains is her robe on the forest floor.


David Patten


Denver, Colorado, USA




That New Guy Really Loves Molly

“That new guy at work goes on about his wife a lot.”


“You mean Richard? Yeah, he’s always talking about her. Have you seen how quickly he rushes off in the afternoons?”


It’s always exciting to have a new worker in the office. Everyone had googled him before he started. They all knew his work history and volunteering at a local hospital. Hopefully he’d fit in. Not like some. Everyone remembered the guy who took all the office cookies home with him. Or the woman who totally lost it when someone borrowed her stapler and broke down in tears.


Richard seemed pleasant enough. At their first Friday lunch everyone around the table was sharing stories about their partners and plans for the weekend. Some of the guys were heading to the football together. Agnes was a keen knitter and was going to a convention called something corny like “fancy yarns”. Everyone pretended to listen, but it was obvious that they became more alert when there was an opportunity to hear from the new guy. Richard and Molly were heading to the beach for the weekend. He was going to teach her to surf. They asked what she looked like, and he lovingly described her to the group as having big brown eyes and a kind face.       


They seemed to spend all their time together. They must have been working in the garden the following weekend because Richard said Molly told his workmates she spent the entire Thursday digging up plants. He even went with her to the beauty salon afterwards.


Every afternoon he used to rush home to go running with her. Some of the staff were envious of their sporty lifestyle and how they obviously enjoyed spending time together. Not like some in the office who preferred to stay back at work because it meant that they could avoid ‘quality time’ with their dearly beloved.


On the Thursday of his third week in the job Richard turned up at work two hours late, unshaven and apologetic. He said that Molly had knocked the alarm clock off the bedside table in the middle of the night and it had failed to go off. The more conservative at work (mostly accountants) murmured that this was a little too much information and that hints of late-night passion were best kept in the home.  


Everyone was keen to see this active power couple together and particularly keen to meet Molly. An opportunity arose at the annual staff family picnic a few weeks later. Some thought it odd that he had only ordered one meal. Others were surprised when he requested to sit away from small children, because Molly doesn’t like small children. They were even more shocked when he turned up on the day with no one on his arm and a chocolate coloured Labrador on a lead by his side. And absolutely no one thought that they would have to spend their picnic trying to stop Molly from licking their face!


Martin Hadfield


Brisbane, Australia




And To Your Right

Horton Park across from the bus depot is blacktopped, all of the benches occupied. A stunning white cat assigned perhaps by St. Gertrude, the patron of felines, watches sparrows compete with pigeons for muffin and donut crumbs. Her namesake Church in the distance with its lush lawn seems out of place. Two men rise, do jumping jacks and push-ups. Another gent wearing a Van Dyke beard applauds. The crutches at his side are a sight, one metal and one wood. A hunched dowager walks a dog back and forth that looks like Asta in The Thin Man movies. A fellow, not more than twenty-five, jitterbugs by; face crimson from drink or dope no doubt. A horse racing paper protrudes precariously from his pocket, shoes filched from a bowling alley judging from the number 8 on one and 6 on the other. A knockout of a dame in red spiked heels throws kisses at the cat she calls Fairbanks but no response. Blue jeans snug her long legs, her substantial braid; red mixed with black is a mugger’s delight. She tosses a loaf of bread to the Park Doyen who shares her bench with six shopping bags. She snags it as any gridiron tight end would. A teen topped by a Toronto Blue Jays cap, olive pants, green blouse who owns lime eyes assumes the Eagle yoga pose while flipping a cigarette holder in her teeth like FDR. The boy beside Doyen works a yo-yo that pulses light as it spins. He does an occasional soft shoe. A departing Greyhound bus has to go a block to U-turn north. Passing Horton Park the driver slows to maybe 5 mph as if he’s daydreaming about someday operating a tour bus, maybe a double-decker. One might extract a tsk-tsk or three from the look on the faces of some passengers while others ignore the spectacle. The yo-yo artist turns some spectacular twists. The fitness fellows run in place. The movie star dog barks up a storm and strains at the leash. The jitterbugging man has retraced his route. He’s waltzing but the runway beauty is missing. Van Dyke blows “Ave Maria'' across the top of his muscatel bottle while waving his aluminium crutch with his free hand. The Doyen tosses a multi-grain gift slice and the birds hop into action. The cat pounces but snares not a feather. He or she bares teeth to the sky. The bus driver does musical beeps. It’s time for the bells of St. Gertrude’s to chime but at the moment law offices and Planned Parenthood reside there.


Thomas M. McDade


Fredericksburg, Virginia, USA




Alley Cat

The alley cat I thought I had befriended circled me outside my apartment door, sniffing my boots and purring aggressively. He was looking for his usual; softened Marie biscuits in a bowl of lukewarm milk. I had seen him earlier in the week cosying up to the curly-haired housewife across the street who always smelled of fish.


“Traitor,” I whispered.


He hissed in response. And he was right; our relationship wasn’t mutually exclusive. He glared at me until I unlocked my door, let him in, and served the dinner his kingship was entitled to. This stand-off wasn’t my first rodeo and I rather excelled at such love-hate rituals.


Take Mrs. Sengupta for instance. Just this morning she scowled at me and professed her hatred in incoherent sentences. In her defence, I had pried open her toothless jaw to pour a spoonful of cough syrup down her throat. The very next minute she smacked her wrinkly lips as if eliminating the last viscous drop of khejurer jhola gur or liquid date palm jaggery sourced from Bankura. She then grinned and bonked her head on my arm like a child playing with her mother.


I had gotten used to half a decade of being mired in her quotidian shtick of forgetting that she hated me and forgetting that she loved me so much that I had moved to the city just to be a mild ten-minute walk away from whenever she needed me outside my regular hours as her nurse.


I mourn Mrs. Sengupta in the only room I call home while a faint scent of coconut oil from her head still lingers on my arm.


And I don’t know what to do except squat on the cool concrete floor and stare at the grimy ginger fur on this thankless insolent alley cat. I think I will call him Nolen Gur, lock him in, and throw him one of my pillows so this toxic relationship gains a little more permanence until I find another one to bury myself in.



Tejaswinee Roychowdhury


West Bengal, India


Twitter: @TejaswineeRC



Creature of Habit


When Kathy awoke, she poured a cup of coffee and spent an hour scrolling Facebook, checking whose birthdays were that day and posting a birthday message to those she was truly friends with, not acquaintances she had friended because of a common connection. It wasn’t until she found a post from her former co-worker Veronica, wishing a deceased grandmother a happy birthday, a grandmother who, if she were alive, would be 140, that she realized how crazy posts could be, particularly when multiple people commented, “Happy Birthday to your grandmother in heaven.” The friends likely hadn’t known the grandmother when she’d been living, didn’t know what sort of life the grandmother had lived, didn’t know if there was a heaven, or even if the grandmother had journeyed the tunnel and ended up in the light.


Kathy thought it nice that Veronica might remember a loved one on her birthday, maybe say a prayer for her, or silently wish her a happy birthday, but she wondered why her friend would post that on Facebook. She wondered if the message was really for the deceased grandmother, or if it was for her friend Veronica to get attention and to feel connected to the outside world since her retirement.


     Creatures of habit, Kathy and Veronica had lunch in the breakroom almost every day for thirty years. They had little in common and made small talk, listening to each other’s accounts of life with nods and “uh-huhs”, and talked of new dreams in their last year at the agency—retiring, traveling the world on cruise ships, finishing projects of photo albums, and cleaning out closets of years of school projects and crafts from their children, who didn’t want anything. Old dreams and fantasies the two had as teens were long gone and never quite manifested— happily ever after. Those dreams weren’t realistic, like all dreams, and had been dreamt, lived in the imagination, and died. Mid-life dreams had been to get their kids graduated and out of the house, get them married-off and off the payroll, and to have a handful of grandchildren they could spoil. Like earlier dreams, those had faded, too. Children moved away, grandchildren no longer came once they became teens, and they didn’t answer cells when she called them.


     Rather than traveling and finishing projects, she tried to juggle an extensive list of doctor’s appointments, fork out retirement funds for co-pays, and read the endless junk mail from the insurance and Medicare. Late at night when her concentration faded, she watched reruns of shows from her generation, but didn’t find All in the Family and Sanford and Son nearly as humorous.


     She walked to her bedroom, removed each slipper, climbed onto the bed, covered up, and like Sisyphus who never quite gets anywhere with his rock, she dreamed fuzzy dreams that are like reruns that will one day go off the air.


Niles Reddick



Fania’s Journal [an extract from the novel 'Spindrifts']

I’m supposed to write in my journal every day. Sure. Like that’s the best use of my time. They said it’d be a private place to think, but I’ve wondered about that. I can think in my head without writing my thoughts. Just in case, I always use my disconnected tablet for the real journal, encrypted with three protective codes and in a language I developed myself. I know this might be over the top, but I’ve felt better knowing no one can read my actual journal. So, people can read how excited I am about my apprenticeship, but privately I’m totally dissed. I really want to learn about people From Away, and instead I’m apprenticing with Granny, my great-grandmother, who’s spent most of her life close to home in her research laboratory, two miles down an ancient mine shaft. It used to be where they studied mysteries of the universe! How the heck did that work?


     I’ve always loved Granny. I’ve felt as though we’ve had a special relationship, and I’ve missed spending time with her. I just never thought they’d give me a responsibility so far removed from what I really want to be doing.


     Ezma told me I’ve many skills and a strong aptitude for analytical thinking. I know what that means. It means sitting in an underground lab every day for the rest of my life. I guess I wasn’t very good at hiding my feelings because Ezma felt she had to remind me what Granny does is very important. Then she asked me a curious question.


     “Do you know what she does?”


     Well, of course I do! I explained, “Granny is the researcher who found the serum. She said it was a fluke.”


     That comment made Ezma laugh, hysterically almost. “Well, Fania, you’ll find there’s a lot you can learn from Alicia. I hope you’ll keep an open mind.”


     When I boarded the transport to head home after two years at Immersion, my patch reminded me to change my timer back to the village’s schedule. The health patch is a misnomer; it’s actually an up-to-date example of bio-merged nanotechnology. This latest gen’s so far advanced compared to the primitive models my grandparents used when they were young—those things they wore on their wrists. Now the healer implants the technology at birth where it merges with our brainwaves. It has reciprocal transformational capabilities, but I’ve been told there are limitations so it can’t change the basic personality or natural abilities of anyone. The patch transmits and receives communications, monitors personal health data, and provides all my reading materials. Everyone in our territory has them, so far as I know.



A-M Mawhiney


Sudbury, Ontario, Canada



Twitter: @ammawhiney

Instagram: @ammawhiney

link to purchase




Banana Nut Bread Club


When I was a child, my friends and I had a secret space club, and we pretended we would beam to different planets, explore them, and make a difference in those worlds. Later, we joined the Boy Scouts and learned survival skills and enjoyed going camping and fishing. I joined a fraternity in college where I learned the value of networking, and in my working years, I joined civic clubs to serve and give back to the community, but when my wife Pat died suddenly from a stroke in her sixties after thirty-five years of marriage, I had no idea I’d joined the banana nut bread club.


     The banana nut bread club wasn’t a formal club, but it seemed one because of the network of women who brought bread to me, a new widower. An eye doctor friend of mine said he hadn’t seen them coming when his wife died, and for him, it wasn’t banana nut bread. Instead, he said he’d joined the casserole club. Warm crockery of green bean, pasta, and chicken casseroles were delivered. He took them to his office, and the staff enjoyed sampling at lunch and even made a joke of it, commenting, “Doc, this casserole is the bomb. Better call this woman back.”


     Every single woman on the search for companionship, sex, love, or marriage in a twenty-five-mile radius brought me a loaf of banana nut bread. I didn’t know any of them and none of them had been friends with Pat. Sometimes, the banana nut bread had pecans and other times, walnuts. Sometimes, it had chocolate chips or white chocolate chips. Sometimes, I could smell the cinnamon.  I didn’t even know there were so many different recipes just as I didn’t know there were that many single, older women. Some were widows, some were divorced, and a few had never been married. Some showed up in jogging outfits, dresses, and one even wore a mink coat and it wasn’t freezing outside.


     I didn’t care for bananas any more than I cared for spending time with someone new, so I took the loaves to the golf club where men sampled while commiserating about their low scores, the pond at hole fourteen, or the weather and how that had thrown them off their games. Pat would have had a laugh about the banana nut bread club, and she would have wanted me to be happy with what time I have left, but I think I’ll stick to golf, maybe join a senior’s club, and travel to some of the places Pat and I had planned to go like Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, or to see the Northern Lights in Alaska. Maybe I could pretend once again I was part of a space club and had a Star Trek communicator badge and share the beauty I see with her. I think Pat would like that.



Niles Reddick




A Forgotten Temple [an extract from the novel 'Resurrection of Evil']


Set in the confines of a run-down apartment building in the small Albertian town of Stavely. An unknown creature resides in apartment 200 that has a hunger for human flesh. 


During the age of darkness through to the modern era came the belief in good and evil. Brought along the simple question that has to be answered, all about why? The very concept of attempting to find out the truth about our existence. Over the years, people have tried to answer these questions in many parts of the world. With their own strange twists and turns that would not only cloud the minds of those who stood loyal but across the lands.

     The world forever grew dark, and soon the chaos came to an end by means of senseless murders and the mass extinction of these societies. All that remained was nothing more than an ancient relic, a statue of a fallen deity, who would offer protection in return for one's own mind.

     The perfect being in its eye was that of a loyal drone. Someone that could do its bidding and, in turn, bring forth its life to the world of the living.

     This diety was known simply as Banisk. A being once worshiped by small bands of people. A religion forged out of the insanity of those who believed. Darkness blanketed the land as the waters slowly rose and erased all traces of those who walked before them all. As the waters turned red and the storms began to rip apart all that was built, it was soon over. The world we know today slowly formed as the waters receded back, and soon all was back to normal for the time being.

    Soon as the world grew and humanity spread forth and cultivated into what it is today. I soon found myself living the sort of quiet life that one would find themselves indulging in while living in a small one-horse town. A place lost in the sea of farmers' fields and the odd pump jack that stood as a reminder of another time. They were often seen pumping oil out of the ground, but the odd one here and there was rusted solid.

     A few of those are just on the outskirts of my town, a relatively quiet place known as Stavely. It's the kind of place where everyone knows everyone. The place where you can run into a friend from high school shopping for dinner while the once-popular kid worked the register. With only one school, one grocery store, no movie theatre, and a small workforce, there wasn't much going on by means of anything significant happening around these parts. But it's my home, and I honestly enjoy it.

     I work as a truck driver, the kind of guy who works as a farmhand during the summer and for a small snow removal operation in the winter. For the most part, it's a simple life that I enjoy the most. As many people yearn for the city's bright lights, I just like to live my life in peace and quiet. 



Miles Davis

Alberta, Canada




The Illusion of Control


I told my recent high school graduate daughter, who was eighteen-year-old, “You can be in by 10 p.m. on a weeknight because we have to get up and go to work early.” I heard how none of her friends had such an early curfew, how her boyfriend got to stay out until midnight, how she’d be a freshman at a university in the fall, and how she was eighteen and ought to be able to do what she wanted.


     I reiterated: “You’ll be in my 10:00 p.m. unless you want to pay your share of the mortgage, your car insurance, buy your part of the groceries, and purchase your own clothes. I don’t believe your part time job at Smoothie World will pay you enough to take care of your fair share.” Bess rolled her eyes, exhaled frustration, and slammed the back door.


     My wife said, “I feel like we’ve lost control.”


     “No,” I responded. “We never had control. We simply thought we did. It’s an illusion. We couldn’t control her from getting the flu or stomach viruses, we couldn’t control test scores or grades, we couldn’t control when friends hurt her emotionally, and we can’t control her bad choice of a boyfriend. It’s just a different time and a difference set of circumstances.”


     Despite the fact Bess hadn’t shared anything about this new boyfriend, we’d checked on him and learned he was a guy known to have some extracurricular activities--vaping, drinking, and running with a wrong crowd. It concerned us, and I conjured late night scenarios from the police department: “We have your daughter in custody. Marijuana in her boyfriend’s car. She was in the car and was arrested, too. You can probably get a reduced sentence in court.”


     And I thought about my Aunt Sara.  Bess had her walk, her eyes, and her smile. Aunt Sara looked a hundred after five husbands and lived in an assisted living facility managed by the state. She spent time playing Bingo and watching soap operas. My poor grandparents had suffered when alive. They’d turned gray, developed worry wrinkles, and lived on antacids until Sara moved off to an Army base with her first husband. I recalled how my grandmother shook her head when she got news of Sara’s first divorce and had said, “Sara’s just like my daddy’s sister. She made bad choices and followed her desires instead of her potential, chased dreams of love and fortune through flawed people, and never realized the grass isn’t greener on the other side. The only grass that stays green is artificial turf.”


     I nodded during a Netflix documentary on penguins, and like clockwork, Bess made it home at ten sharp. I heard the thump of music from the boy’s truck, saw the headlights cast shadows through the window to the wall of the den, and heard their silly laughter until the back door slammed, and the shoes clopped up the wooden stairs. No "Hello", no “I’m home”, or “Goodnight, I love you” like I used to get when I was the hero.  I heard Bess’ bedroom door shut. I hadn’t learned much about penguins and turned off the television, laid in the bed, and was thankful there was no call from the police department. I hoped Bess wouldn’t turn out like Aunt Sara, and I dozed knowing I would do my best in her adult years to take care of her come what may.


Niles Reddick





Crystalline Flesh  


The cut shimmers in this odd light. It doesn’t seem that bad, one of those things you totally don’t notice until you look down at you arm. In truth, it could have been there for hours. Hell, he’d been working down here since 6am after all. The time now must be…well he didn’t know. There was no way to tell. No clocks on the walls and only an idiot would wear a watch down here. It could so easily get stolen or dropped and crushed underfoot. No, the only thing he had on his person was the clothes on his back and the tools in his hand.


They had been commissioned ever since this place had been discovered. Within a week of it making international news, a crew had been put together by a coalition of oddly specific defence ministers, ecological spokespersons and general talking heads in smooth cuffs. What they knew was, ironically, very surface level. An undiscovered, interconnected string of tunnels and shafts had been discovered under the plains of the boiling deserts of Death Valley. Unprecedented but, as initial investigative teams had discovered, certainly not empty. Walls lined with gemstones and minerals galore! Completely alien to record books and catalogues alike. And so, naturally where there laid the chance for ground-breaking discovery and quite frankly unearthly profit, mining teams were dispatched immediately.



Lionel, fresh from wiping another sheen off his forehead, looked down at his wrist once more. Staring at these walls for too long was an easy way to sicken yourself. The luminous, reflective cascades made everything downright psychedelic. Not to mention their team, one hundred strong, had been working for four months and you couldn’t really tell any work had begun at all. It was enough to drive you to bitterness and kill any motivation stone dead. At least looking at his arm gave him something to focus on. Even if the wavy, watery reflections still danced on his skin from time to time.


Looking deeper however, Lionel noticed something. The cut, stretching horizontally along his wrist, seemed…well he didn’t want to sound crazy but, alive! The small window his injury opened into his body squirmed. And, looking deeper still, he swore he could see quartz like flecks hardening inside him! Curiosity drew him to scratch at the surface, not caring about the sharp stings that pelted him like thousands of tiny arrows. This time, tinkles of tiny fragments chimed on the ground as Lionel himself, was turning into a mine of sorts! He began to panic, his breath hitched. His tools clanged where the crystals had gently bounced with haunting symphony. He scratched further, further. Blood began to trickle as it reflected on the walls and cast a visceral glow over everything.



Kai Double


Norfolk, England 





Matthew's Trip To The Bridge

Matthew hadn’t slept a wink. Again. He’d been getting quite used to these nights. First, a couple of cans to keep the shakes at bay. Then, onto the vodka. Always the cheap stuff. That vodka that slides down the back of your throat like paint stripper. Vile gear but it does the job for Matthew. Or at least it did.


These last few months had led to a new acquaintance in Matthew’s life. Crack. Devil smoke. The debts were mounting up. Matthew hadn’t been working and the goodwill of his shattered ma and pops had run dry. Surely rock bottom.


His head was pounding. He got up from his bed and checked the side cabinet for any downers to take the edge off. Nothing. He tossed the empty Valium box into the now sizeable pile of counterfeit, street valium packets.


The thoughts started again. They had been appearing on and off every couple of days. It felt closer now. Real close. He stumbled through to the bathroom, his heart pounding in that all too familiar, anxiety-induced beat. He looked at himself in the mirror. A face once routinely admired by the girls back in the glory days of high school was now scarred and humiliated. He felt his sharp, jagged cheekbones. A feeling of intense sadness enveloped Matthew as he studied his tortured face. His nose, broken and with a two-inch scar straight across it. His eyes, yellowing and tinged with bloodshot. He could look at it no more. The thoughts were loud and he had succumbed.


The keys to the battered, ninety-seven, P-Reg Ford Fiesta were beside the scorched pipe he had last sparked up, just before six am. He glanced up at the small clock. It had just gone eight-thirty. He picked up the keys and made his way to the front door. The time had come for Matthew's trip to the bridge. His inevitable trip to the bridge. 'I hope the traffic isn't too bad', he thought.


R.A . Gallagher


Edinburgh, Scotland.




Indigo Augment


I cannot stop crying as I watch her. The tears cloud my eyes, yet I see clearer than before with each moment that passes. Each second feels like a thousand lifetimes pass by but I can’t tear myself away from what I see before me. How could I? It’s sadistic in the most personalized way. My knees try their best to tremble but instead? Instead, they simply give out. I slump to the silvery, clinical floor with an unnatural sound. I beg my eyes to give my frazzled conscious a break, I don’t want to remember her like this. But, if I look away, it could get worse. It’s a desperate thought really, it could never get worse. The spidery cables sprawling from her brain like mechanical snakes, the cold clamps around her blue shins are parasitic, metallic slugs. Draining what little heat left. The way she is suspended high above me, like a saint. A martyr would be more fitting. What did she die for? To be honest, I don’t really know if she is dead. It’s cruel, but I hope. I hope with all my heart she is. That she isn’t trapped in there. The digital world excavating her spirit mercilessly? I could not bear to think about such a thing. The whisps of her soul being mangled into putty as wires, plugs, cords, and sickly vibrant neon fluids invade the person that once was. I could not bear it. I could not. I... will not. I puke. Not even the natural bile spilling into this.... this void gives me comfort. There is no human in place. There never was