Category Archives: Featured

Place: Frankie McMillan

The Winter Swimming of my Grandmother

People see my grandmother walk down the road with a towel over her shoulder. The local pig hunters, burly men in thick plaid jackets and fur lined boots shake their heads in disbelief. They think she’s going for a dip somewhere. They imagine the brief frenzied plunge of an old woman.

‘Don’t tell them where I go,’ she says.

My grandmother swims naked. She swims serious. She swims the lake, from the bank right over to the reeds on the other side. Her pink woolen hat bobbing above the water.

My aunty insists upon the hat. She’s read up about hypothermia.

‘I don’t want to have to pull you dead from the water,’ she says.

Ask my grandmother if she feels the cold and she laughs. She says the strange thing is that when she climbs out of the water her bare skin is flushed and tingly. As if she’s been spanked.

She begins to stay in the water for longer.

Snow piles up on the woodshed roof. When my grandmother walks to the lake in her rubber boots she leaves behind a mushy trail of watery drift.

My aunt gets up before her, sneaks down to the water with a thermometer.

Who knows what will happen when the ice is too thick to break. Who knows if the pig hunters silently watch my grandmother swim, small brave animal that she is. And who knows what makes the women in our family go against the tide, strike out with such singular force.

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Frankie McMillan’s publications by Canterbury University Press include, There are no horses in heaven, My Mother and the Hungarians and other small fictions, Bonsai: best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand, ( co edited with  M Elvy and  J Norcliffe) and The Father of Octopus Wrestling and other small fictions. She has won numerous national awards and residencies and is currently working on a novella. She lives partly in the city, partly in the Parapara bush, Golden Bay.

Senior Fiction & Features Editor – Steven John

Place: Sandra Arnold

The Seventh Son

When my mother’s new boyfriend moved in I kept out of his way by hiding in the garden of a derelict house. The garden was full of trees, but the one I loved most was a hundred year old macrocarpa called Septimus. The lightning that killed the other six macrocarpas had sliced off one of Septimus’s branches, leaving a gaping hole. This was enlarged over the years by birds, small animals, wind and rain, until it extended down the entire length of the trunk ending in a deep hollow beneath the roots.

When things got bad at home I’d hide in the hollow among the bones, until the boyfriend gave up looking for me. After Septimus signalled the all-clear I’d climb onto a branch and watch the swallows dive and dart while Septimus told me his stories. By the time I returned home the boyfriend and my mother were too drunk to notice.

Septimus told me about birds he’d given a home to, boys he’d flung off branches for stealing eggs, robbers who’d hidden jewels in his hollow trunk. When they returned to retrieve the stash they found the hollow was deeper than they’d realised. Some gave up, but some climbed in and slithered down to the bottom. When they tried to climb back out they got tangled up in roots.

Most people avoided walking past the garden at dusk because they said the noise of the wind in the trees didn’t sound like wind in the trees. The boyfriend said only morons believed that. I told him nobody could accuse him of having an imagination. After that little confrontation I fled to the garden. When Septimus saw my bruised eyes and bleeding nose, he drew his breath from the depths of the earth and held me close. He sang of kererū and tūī and bellbirds and bees and moonlight and possums and the smell of rain.

When his song ended he outlined his plan. All I had to do was to sit on the fork between two branches. When the boyfriend came looking for me he would shine his torch around the garden. He would see me sitting in the tree and yell at me to get down. He hated to be ignored. He would leap over the fence and start climbing the tree. In the shadows he wouldn’t see the hole. Septimus said he would do the rest.

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Sandra Arnold lives in New Zealand. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing and is the author of five books. Her most recent, a novel, ‘The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell,’(Mākaro Press, NZ) was published in August, and a flash fiction collection, ‘Soul Etchings’ (Retreat West Books, UK) published in June. Her awards include finalist in the 2018 Mslexia Flash Fiction Competition and the 2018 University of Sunderland Short Story Award.www.sandraarnold.co.nz

Senior Fiction & Features Editor – Steven John

Place: Sheree Shatsky

Front Porch Swing

My guess is most Southerners have a story about a front porch swing and mine is likely similar to most, only to add that it is truly impossible to fight or argue when one’s vestibular system is engaged in full kinetic motion. My brothers and I as known combatants found ourselves exiled out to the porch more often than not, ordered to reach a truce before even thinking about stepping one foot back inside the house.  We beat a path to the swing, slapping our fannies down hard on the cypress slats, elbowing our way past each other with comic situational camaraderie. Whoosh!  Off we flew, back and forth, pumping our legs in harmonious precision.  Soaring over the edge of the kelly green porch, our sneakers grazed the goliath flower heads of the magnificent hydrangea bush, the blooms purple one year, blue the next, botanicals blessed with an oh my Lord fragrance as fresh as the robes of angels plucking harps in the early sun of a new day.  The rugged steel chains clicked and clacked against the hardware securing the swing to the roof beam and us from certain death as we swooped like an Alabama metronome against the heat of the summer day.

Miss Juanita screeched our way from the yard next door, her shrill fundamentalist voice washing over us in a dull ache. What do you youngins’ think you’re doing, that swing’s gonna break free and rocket you kids straight to Kingdom Come, you mark my words, you mark ‘em right now!  The window out front reflects kids on a mission, three sets of feet swinging high, slicing through the muggy marmalade air as easy as you please.  Kingdom Come, here we come, Kingdom Come, here we come, make sure we’re home before dinner is done, we chant and sing and rejoice, bound for glory on a swing and a prayer.

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Sheree Shatsky writes short fiction believing much can be conveyed with a few wild words. She was selected as an AWP Writer to Writer mentee for flash fiction Spring 2018. Recent work has appeared in Moon Park Review, Flash Flood, Crack the Spine, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, KYSO Flash, Fictive Dream and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine with work forthcoming in Funny Pearls. Read more at www.shereeshatsky.com. Sheree tweets @talktomememe.

Senior Fiction & Features Editor – Steven John

Archival Brilliance — 1

Flashes from the Past 

by Al Kratz, NFFR Fiction Editor

It’s like finding a $20 bill in an old pair of jeans.

It’s like scrolling through your photos on Facebook, seeing yourself doing something you forgot you ever did.

It’s like going back home to the old neighborhood, simultaneously appreciating how different and similar everything looks.

The archive has brilliance.

You have to look at it.


There have been 16 issues at New Flash Fiction Review. The first was in the summer of 2014. Diving back into it, one of my favorites is In the Shape Of  by Matthew Fogarty. In three quick paragraphs, Matthew manages to explore both the small and the universal. The natural world and the human world. Nothing is directly happening more than a description of the clouds, of the changing of seasons, of weather, and yet everything is happening. This flash does it all. It’s a definitive example of brilliance. Matthew is so good at giving human qualities to inhuman objects and in turn understanding them both in new ways.

“And I wonder if that’s how it happened, those months of the mountains of snow, which to the clouds must have looked awful familiar. Like they held the snow once but never thought of it in that way and then looking down at the great piles of it, like looking into a mirror, like they’d let pieces of themselves fall without realizing. That the snow rose so high it almost came back: it must have been heartbreaking. The way sometimes you fill up with tears, but you dam them. And the new-formed lake of it all erodes your insides, corrodes, rusts, until you can’t well it any longer.”

There’s really no limit to what this piece does and what I could say about it. It’s brilliant.


When reading the active submission queue, one of my favorite things is to come across stories that cover previously well covered, potentially cliché, scenarios and completely blow away these negative connotations. I imagine that was the reaction of the New Flash editors when they came across Pamela Painter’s Their Closet. This is a story about an imminent loss of a spouse that finds a small and completely honest yet unconventional human exchange. Who is going to get the closet? This unspoken exchange between wife and husband. Not only thinking about the closet, but the husband knowing the wife so well, he knows that’s what she’s thinking about in this big moment. He knows it’s the closet.

“It was the worst moment of her life, except the moment of his death. Stricken she turned to him, to his thin face against the white pillow, his tattered hair, and without considering for a second telling him the truth, she lied.”

Not only a great example of archival brilliance, but really a statement about the brilliance of flash fiction. A world this big compressed in a story this small. So good.


Second person point of view stories can be polarizing. You strongly like or dislike them. Or wait, that’s me. I either love them or I hate them. We read a lot of them in the queue and I have fun trying to find what makes them succeed or fail. Waxing or Waning by Sara Freligh is an example of second person brilliance. It accomplishes the intimacy required by the perspective without disorienting the reader, always bringing them to this collective you. The writer, the reader, all of us can be this you. It’s subtle, never forced. The perspective is mixed with equally toned imagery and flash that accomplishes a large amount in a small space. The writer’s construct disappearing as the reader gets immersed in the world.

“You are driving on the lake road toward Canada when an orange moon presents itself to you, plump and juicy as ripe fruit.

Suddenly you’re hungry. You roll down your window and pick the moon from its dark branch leaved with stars.”

I’ve never driven on a lake road toward Canada, but I could. I believe this. I’m right there. It’s brilliant.


These three stand together as a fine reading list for flash fiction studies. They are built on common key components: An authoritative voice that commands the story, immediately earns trust, and lives up to the promises they make. They bring a fresh new perspective, small or large, made up of truth and beauty. Compression. Nothing wasted. Everything brilliant.

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Al Kratz is a fiction editor at New Flash Fiction Review, and writes reviews for Alternating Current. His flash fiction was awarded at the Bath Flash Fiction Award in the spring of 2016 and fall of 2017. His novella-in-flash was shortlisted at Bath in 2018. Recent work of his has been published by Hobart, Bending Genres, Reflex, and Bull.

Place: Sudha Balagopal

Saguaro Cacti Hold up Their Arms

I ride the 120 miles of desert road―Phoenix to Tucson―on Amy’s bike. Pink tassels hang from the handlebars of her woman’s bike. My palms rest where hers had.

If she saw me now, she’d hiss, “You’re a spectacle, Dad. Get yourself a guy’s bike!”

I want to tell her, “I won’t pedal any other.”

At the thirty mile mark from home, my legs push through cement, my quadriceps are on fire. A highway sign indicates ninety more miles.

Yesterday, Roberto called from Tucson. Talking to him involved silence from my side, a flurry of words from his.

“I’m going to monitor your progress,” he said. “I’ll wait for you at the finish line.”

I shivered; it was ninety degrees outside.

“I’m looking forward to meeting you,” he said. “Video chatting isn’t the same, right?”

Roberto is Amy’s age, frail, with narrow shoulders and pale complexion. “Amy and I didn’t know each other at university,” he said. “I’m a history major, and she, you know, math.”

I can’t respond. Some days, I want to befriend Roberto; other days, I want to slam the computer shut so I don’t have to see his gaunt face. His shirt sleeves flap over thin arms; his cheeks have hollow indentations. Even his hair is listless, lank, in need of nourishment.

As a five-year-old, Amy asked me to braid her unruly mass of hair. She squealed as I struggled with the de-tangling, the brushing and the tying. My hugs comforted her until, at twelve, she slid away from me. When she turned sixteen, she preferred to enrol with a driving school. I paid the fees without complaint, the ache in my chest lingering for months.

My throat as dry as sandpaper, I gulp water from Amy’s pink plastic container. Past Casa Grande, a text pings from the pack strapped to the bike. I know who it is.

Roberto mails me cards with flowers and hearts. He writes poetry on custom stationery. He’s had treats delivered to my address―apples and strawberries dipped in chocolate. 

Amy rode this bike on two of her triathlons, and that last one hundred and twenty mile ride she didn’t complete.

The desert is not kind; it’s searing, it’s blinding, it’s arid. At Picacho Peak, my legs have gone as soft as cooked noodles. I clutch the handlebars, repeat the mantra, “Amy did this route. I can, too.”

On either side of me, saguaro cacti hold up their arms, cheer me on. When I see fast-food restaurants and gas stations on the outskirts, a blip of energy erupts. Tucson is near.

But am I ready?

The last mile to the hospital is agony.

Roberto rises from his wheel chair, an ethereal ghost floating toward me. He opens his arms.

“I’m so grateful . . .” His voice cracks.

Until they found Amy’s driver’s license, I didn’t know.

Hot, sweaty, exhausted, I place an ear on Roberto’s chest, listen to the steady thump, thump, thump of my daughter’s heart.   

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Sudha Balagopal’s recent short fiction appears in JMWW Journal, Meniscus, Bending Genres, Jellyfish Review and The Nottingham Review among other journals. She is the author of a novel, “A New Dawn.” Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fictions and is listed in the Wigleaf Top 50. 2019. More at www.sudhabalagopal.com

Fiction & Features Editor – Steven John