Category Archives: Featured

Place: Karen Jones

Nature Walk

It was nature walk day and we were excited even though it’s just the path next to the school and the chapel and even though it only goes through two fields and even though we’ve done it loads of times it was still better than singing hymns or doing ‘rithmatic or sewing and we were half way up the path with Miss McKinlay shouting at us to watch out for broken glass the bad boys had left when they’d hid in the woods for their carry out and the Buckfast labels floated in puddles and green glass glinted in the sun that snuck through trees and that’s when Andy did it and he shouted at us all to “LOOK!” and he’d taken out his willie and was waggling it at us and the boys laughed and the girls pretend-covered their eyes and screamed but peeked through fingers. All except Bernadette. Bernadette didn’t scream or cover her eyes. Bernadette stared at him. And Miss McKinlay skelped Bernadette across the back of the head and shouted at her to cover her eyes like a good girl and told Andy he was for it and she’d be taking him to the heidie and his parents would be telt what he’d done and he’d finish the walk right next to her and behave himself. Bernadette kept staring. Never at Andy’s willie. She stared right into his eyes. And Andy stared back and when he got dragged past her he went to laugh in her face but her eyes stopped him and he dropped his head and looked embarrassed and Miss McKinlay went to say something to Bernadette but then she never and Bernadette sighed and walked back towards school so Miss McKinlay screamed at her to wait ‘cause she was in charge and we were GOING TO FINISH THIS BLOODY WALK but Bernadette just kept walking and we all followed her and we asked Bernadette if we could be in her gang now but she didn’t answer ‘cause she doesn’t need a gang and that was Miss McKinlay’s last day at the teaching which is what Bernadette says she wants to do when she grows up and we all know she will ‘cause she’s Bernadette.

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Karen Jones is a prose writer from Glasgow. She loves competitions and has been long/short-listed in Commonwealth Short Story Competition, Bath Flash Fiction, Bath Short Story, To Hull and Back, TSS 400, HISSAC and won prizes in Mslexia, Flash 500, Words With Jam and Ink Tears. Her work appears in numerous ezines and anthologies. Her story Small Mercies is in Best Small Fictions 2019 and BIFFY50. She is an editor for the next BIFFY50.

Steven John – Senior Fiction & Special Features Editor

Place: Michael Loveday

Snuffed Candles

Samantha feared, in guilty moments, that she loved the lakes more than she loved her father. Today, on their usual monthly circuit, her father hobbled slowly, clutching his stick, and she looped her arm through his. Over the expanse of water, boats tacked in an embittered breeze. The lakes looked dispiritingly grimy: Rickmansworth in February wasn’t known for hospitality. Long ago, she’d given up on winter visits from friends. The short days were devoted to work at the Regus offices and helping her father. Still, she loved strolling through the canalside fields, or drinking in the views of Stockers Lake, where clumps of trees sprouted wildly from the water and squabbling geese massed on the pontoons.

A walk with her father ought to feel like a noble pursuit; a slice of walnut cake a deserved reward. But her father, as he picked cake crumbs from his teeth, was drowning in the details of his last hospital visit. She already knew its disappointments – she’d been there, sobbing alongside him. Recently, her father, who’d taken pride in writing novels, was misplacing strands of conversations, repeating himself, exhausting her. It worried her what lay ahead.

She played truant from his story, kept thinking of Monday’s return to an ecosystem of staplers and filing cabinets. Life had a habit of cornering you in an uncomfortable place, refusing to relax its grip. Here she was, holed up in this fussy Home Counties town, maintaining a watchful eye as the years performed their slow erosion, her mother long gone, and her own ambitions to be a big nose lawyer in London long fizzled out like snuffed candles.

She swam to the surface – her father had found an ending to his story. He wanted a second circuit of the water. She helped him from his chair and accompanied him back to the lake. Gaunt trees huddled beside the shoreline. Swans picked over mulch and honked at a child who was hurling small chunks of cheese.

A vintage thunderstorm was looming in the distance. Most of the sailboats had packed up now, hunkering down for the impending frenzy.

“Look!” Her father pointed at a grey heron by the riverbank. It picked its feet slowly over the grass. “It’s an old man from a black and white movie.”

She laughed. He seemed pleased. “It’s a tailcoated barrister,” he added.

“Go on.”

“He’s nearing retirement. The days run slower now. But he feels no pity for himself.”

The heron lifted from the bank. After a few sluggish flaps of its wings, it climbed, easy and elegant and effortless. She closed her eyes, blessed the grace of its wings as it glided overhead, blessed her father’s words. And she willed the moment to last. The heron would linger for a minute, then soon, like so much else, would be gone.

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Michael Loveday’s novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. He is working on a miscellaneous flash collection on the theme of ‘secrets’. He also writes poetry, with a pamphlet He Said / She Said published by HappenStance Press (2011). He teaches an online course in the novella-in-flash: https://novella-in-flash.com/ Find him on Twitter here: @pagechatter.

Senior Fiction & Features Editor – Steven John

Place: Emma Kernahan

Milk Teeth

We got together, once the babies were born. In the usual place. This was where we would come to drink coffee and tell each other all the things we did not know about ourselves until that moment. That we brimmed with love until it sloshed from us, ran down the sides. That we had lived our whole lives just to see the curve of a tiny top lip. That we were capable of murder.​

‘Oh, definitely the murder thing,’ Sarah nodded, holding the baby with one hand and rummaging in her bag with the other. ‘It’s one of those things that​ just comes naturally.’

I hoisted my own baby across my waist, felt the pull of stitches, imagined the wound in my stomach puckering with disapproval. I patted her nappy through layers of soft cloth. It made a satisfying ‘thwock’.

If someone ever came to take our children away, we would kill them. That was easy enough.

‘Smash their head, ‘ Sarah said, and paused to think. ‘Or a good throat punch. But you’d need the element of surprise and, ideally, an electric hand-saw.’ Sarah was a jogger.

‘A bag over the head and a pen through the eye,’ I agreed, moving my hot drink away from the edge of the table.

I unclipped my bra, peeled it away from my breast and watched as my daughter shook her head greedily over the dried blood that was still stuck to my nipple. ‘Rooting’, the midwife called it, as if babies were woodland pigs. As if it were a team effort.

‘Life is so precious,’ I thought, hunched over, jaw clenched, my milk chattering through me like a stream of tiny, white teeth.

I swirled the very darkest hair at the base of her skull. I thought about intruders, and the pressure points behind their ears. My nails – and hers – so soft the ends peel away like​ orange pith, no need for scissors. Not that there was anything sharp left in the bathroom now, but like all mothers I was good at improvising and could definitely bite someone in the neck. Or anywhere gushy and arterial, really. Perhaps there would be a moment of tension beneath my lips before I broke the skin. If it was quiet enough, maybe I would hear the tiniest of pops. I stroked a small, protruding heel, cold and hard like a blister, and reached over, spearing a piece of cake with my fork. To be fair, I was still hazy on the logistics, but when it came to biting someone to death I assumed it would just come naturally.

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Emma Kernahan lives in Stroud, Gloucestershire and writes short stories and flash fiction.  She also blogs as Crappy Living. Her work can be found in places such as Ellipsis Zine, The Occulum, Writers’ HQ, The F Word and McSweeney’s.  Last year she won the Gloucestershire Writers Network Prose Prize and was recently shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award. She spends far too much time on Twitter @crappyliving

Place: Claire Polders

Retracing

It’s easy to disappear in the dampness of this town. Twelve moons ago, my mother wandered through a murky labyrinth of streets and bridges, crossing canal after canal—like I do now—leaving no footsteps. Cold air snakes across her face and her loneliness swells. She slips into a ruined palazzo like the fog at night and climbs the marble staircase. Music invites her to dance through the infinite ballrooms as the woman she once was. She twirls and forgets, shedding mass. She twirls and levitates. She is like smoke, like a cloud of perfume, vanishing into a dreamscape no mortal eye can see.

I blink. A cruise ship docks and its travelers inundate the streets. My mother stands tall like a rock that lets the water flow around her. She is annoyed, repulsed, and then, listening to an inexplicable murmur in her blood, jealous. The lion of Saint Mark closes its eyes. She imagines being mindless—no responsibilities, no decisions—and changes herself into a nameless piece of driftwood. She bobs along with the tourist flood, gaining a freedom she never knew existed. She buys, she sighs, she crosses the ramp. And when the monster ship cruises out of the harbor, she is gone.

One night, the alarm for the Aqua Alta sounds. I stand on the grand piazza as the water gurgles up from the drains and laps against my boots. The lagoon overflows, reaching for unbalanced life passing on the quays. She watches her reflection in the wrinkled surface and sees her dreams fly like birds from her hands. The silt-streaked houses are silent; their windows, dead. She descends the quay’s stone steps until the water whirls itself around her like a rope. Her heart sinks. The gondola floating by is as black as a coffin. I’ve read that people come to this dark, furtive town to become ghosts upon the sands of the sea.

What was I in her life, a ripple or a wave? What will happen to the memories she kept like tarnished secrets in her chest? Can she float into tomorrow without a body? Where is the weight of my future? Can I accept loss without knowing how it came into being? Is there a foundation that will prevent me from tumbling down? Why did I ever think that salt is the essence of tears?

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Claire Polders grew up in the Netherlands and currently roams the world. “Retracing” was inspired by her monthlong stay in Venice. She’s the author of four novels in Dutch and co-author of one novel for younger readers (A Whale in Paris, Atheneum / Simon&Schuster, 2018). Her short prose is published wherever it is appreciated. Read more of her work online at www.clairepolders.com

Place: Francine Witte

Mandy Wants to Touch the Horizon

“It’s there. I can see it,” she says.

She is all floaty wings and bathing cap as she stands on the shore line. The salty lip of the surf at her feet.

Right nearby, Harry looks happy. Sprawled out on the stripey lounge chair, magazine open on his lap.

“It doesn’t exist,” he reminds her. The cubes in his iced tea clinking as they melt. They have had this discussion before. Maybe not about the horizon. Maybe it was more about the perfect marriage. He continues thumbing through his magazine, 50 Most Beautiful issue.

“There’s a sailboat sitting right on it,” she insists. “And look how the sea meets the sky.”

“The horizon is just an illusion,” Harry says. He is fixed now on a moviestarmillionairemogul. “You think you can touch it, but it only moves farther away.”

“Like happiness,” she says. She remembers the dead anniversaries. The broiled chickens drowning in the pan.

Harry is almost listening. Lost now on page 24, Miss Montana. Something about the mermaid swirl of her hair, the faraway look in her eyes.

A group of children pat wet sand into a plastic pail. Their giggles sailing into the air like missed opportunities.

Mandy puts her toe in the ocean. She slathers on a coat of sunscreen and inhales as hard as she can. If she leaves now, she can reach the horizon by sundown. Before darkness takes over and blends it all into one thing.

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Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbook, one full-length collection, and the forthcoming, Theory of Flesh from Kelsay Books. Her flash fiction has appeared in numerous journals, anthologized in the most recent New Micro (W.W. Norton) and her novella-in-flash, The Way of the Wind is forthcoming from Ad Hoc Fiction, as well as a full-length collection of flash fiction, Dressed All Wrong for This which is forthcoming from Blue Light Press. She lives in New York City, USA.

Steven John – Senior Fiction & Features Editor