Category: Flash fiction

Skin in the Game

Skin in the Game

Flash Fiction

by Graham Mort

It’s a private school. One of those big old houses overlooking the village. I looked it up on the Internet. It was converted in the 1920s when the mill closed down, when the money ran out. Exclusive of course, because that’s the point. Expensive, of course, because that’s the point, too. I had to go on my knees to get the address from Steph. A gothic roofscape, a cricket square with a red-tiled pavilion, rugby pitches, a line of kids arriving back from cross-country, spattered in mud, laughing, their legs red from the cold. The PE teachers jogging behind, joshing with them. Making it look easy. Big thighs and short shorts and fancy trainers in Day-Glo colours. Trying to be cool.  

The sort of school where the kids’ parents turn up at weekend to watch them play rugby or netball. The kind where they buy a house in the village so they can be near their kids for a day or two every three months. Taking them to the tuck shop. Taking them for meals in the Black Bull. Leaving them to wave goodbye at the back-end of their SUV. The girls flinging back blonde hair, the boys furtive at the school gates, the way they are at that age. Poor buggers. Their parents think they know what love is. It’s more than opportunity, isn’t it? It’s something else. 

Some people might struggle a bit with their personalities, but that’s not the same as being an arsehole. Being an arsehole is something that people don’t notice about themselves. It’s seamless, an aura they can’t see. They turn up in your life and they take everything. Because they’re entitled. Because it’s all they know. I’m blowing on my hands at the bus-stop opposite the school gates, a quarter of Bell’s in my pocket, hoping she’ll show. Emily. Emily. That was Steph’s idea, like most things were. A name’s just a name, after all. And she was herself, whatever we called her. Is herself. Beautiful. 

How did it go wrong? Steph and Steve? Steve and Steph? Gradually, I guess. Then, suddenly. Steph caught me picking a lump of mince from the kitchen floor when I was cooking. And I’m not a bad cook, actually. Steve, she said, that’s absolutely disgusting. I can wash it, I said. You can’t wash mince, you idiot, she said. She took the spoon and flicked it into the bin. That’s a waste of food, I was thinking. Like Hector, who ran the estate agent’s she worked for. He liked to get her into a short skirt so she could show the clients around.  

You absolute moron, Steph said, leaning against the kitchen units and laughing. Like they do in films, throwing her head back and actually laughing. She said I hit her after that. OK, I’d had a drink because I like a nip when I’m cooking. Nothing silly. Just a little shot with a dash of water. But I never hit her. I just wouldn’t. That was bullshit. Pushed her maybe, because she was in my way, because she was annoying me. But that was all, believe me. 

Next minute, she’s on the phone to her mum. Like she’d been waiting for an excuse. Then she’s got Emily down in her pyjamas and outdoors coat like a bloody refugee. The victim’s victim. She’s got a suitcase and she’s looking for the car keys. Emily’s crying and, of course, I’m sorry. I’m trying to tell her, I’m sorry. Wondering how things happened so fast.  

That was the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning, as Churchill said about WWII. A year later, after hanging on with my fingernails, I had to sell the house. Steph took me to the cleaners, aided and abetted by Hector. Two years later they were married and Emily was in the first year of a school miles away. Out of the way, where they wanted her. Now she doesn’t want to see me, apparently. That’s bollocks. I’m her dad and Hector is nothing to her. Sod all. 

I had dark thoughts for a long time. About Steph, about Hector. Not about Emily. I missed her. I miss her. Who wouldn’t? I’d held on to my job, just about. My solicitor told me that if I kept to the straight and narrow – whatever that was – I’d be able to see her. No chance of custody of course. She was in a loving home environment with her mother and new partner, after all. Even though they’ve sent her away to a private school. Bullshit. 

I learned to push them back in the end, the thoughts. The dreams that were darker than the thoughts. Rolling a body up in an old carpet and burying it in a cellar. The house in my dream was always the house I grew up in. A terraced house on Rochdale road. One of a thousand. I never knew whose body it was, but you didn’t need to be a genius to guess what games my mind was playing. It got so bad, I even booked an appointment with a councillor, but I never went in the end. Just left a pathetic message on her answerphone.  

There’s a lorry turning into the school now, returning the laundry. Kitchen staff in white uniforms. Jackdaws flying out from those dark gables. Two girls in blue knee-socks pass me, arm in arm. They’re laughing and give me a funny look, turning into the school.  They’re Chinese or Malaysian. Next thing, there’s a guy in a dark suit watching me from the school gates.  

Do I look like I’m waiting for a bus? Probably not because a few have gone past already. I even waved them on. I cross the road. Emily, I say, Emily Paterson? He’s looking at me and looking blank. She’s my daughter? I make my voice go up at the end, so that’s like a question. I don’t care who she is, he says, you need to leave. I’d like to see her. I lean closer and he pretends to wince at my breath. I mean now, he says, flicking back his comb-over and pulling a phone from his pocket. The suit’s shiny at the lapels. And it’s not a phone, it’s one of those walkie talkies. So, he’s security. I hold my hand up and back off. I’m going, I say. You need to make an appointment, he says, relenting just a little. To see my own daughter? He shrugs and a breeze takes the comb-over and blows it off his bald patch. His glasses reflect the sky, twin patches of grey. 

There was a time I’d have taken it further. You bet. But there’s no point, is there? Not now. Next thing I’m on a bus, not pretending to wait for one, watching rain bounce onto the windows. Tomorrow, I’ll call the school and make an appointment. I did try once, but Emily was booked up every weekend. Every weekend? Until when? Yeah, yeah. After Steph’s stories. After Hector, the money-bags twat and his Lexus. The school secretary has a nice voice and that made it worse. Managing my expectations. But tomorrow might be different. Tomorrow might be OK. 

The bus takes me to the railway station, then it’s almost an hour to get home. I doze off, my head rocking against the window. England goes past. Fields with miserable looking ponies, canals with moored barges, new housing estates. Santa and his reindeer picked out in Christmas lights, deserted mills with smashed windows blowing out pigeons. The motorway runs parallel with the railway for a while. A stream of traffic. I wonder what those motorists think about. Snug inside their own lives. Is anyone? 

Maybe not. The train pulls in at Salford and a few people get on carrying luggage, shepherding children. There’s an elderly woman carrying a wedding hat inside a squeaky cellophane bag. She eyes me up as she passes. It’s funny how no one sits next to me, as if they know something. It’s still raining, silver needles darting out of the sky, streetlamps burning yellow. That halo of city lights. The taxi to my flat costs twelve quid. No tip. Sorry pal, that’s all I’ve got.  

I’m knackered now. Pushing myself up the stairs. That faint scent of cat piss. Pushing my key into the lock, shouldering the door open. Fumbling for the light. Shaking out my coat. At least the heating’s come on and the place is warm. I’ll nip out for a pizza later. Before that, I’ll make a brew, catch a bit of football.  

Next thing I know, I’ve fallen asleep on the settee and I’m waking to another Sunday evening. To existence in all its glory. To life in the Northern Powerhouse. We’re right on the border of Lancashire and Yorkshire. The road sign used to say, Lancashire, where everyone matters. On the other side, Yorkshire welcomes careful drivers. That used to make me laugh. Yorkshire where no one gives a fuck, more like. Steph thinks I don’t. But I do. I’ve got skin in the game, after all. Now the ref’s whistle. A free kick. Injury time. Play on.

Rochdale Road Illustration
About the Author

Graham Mort is emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at Lancaster University, and a prolific writer and poet. He has worked internationally in many countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle-East. In poetry, Graham has won a major Eric Gregory Award for his first book of poems as well as prizes in the Arvon and Cheltenham poetry competitions. His latest collection, Black Shiver Moss was published by Seren in 2017. ‘The Prince’ won the Bridport short fiction prize in 2005 and his short story collection, Touch, won the Edge Hill Prize in 2010. A further collection of short stories, Terroir, appeared in 2015 and a new collection, Like Fado and Other Stories, was published by Salt in 2020. Visit Graham’s website. Find Graham on Twitter.


Our Time Is Up For Today

Our Time Is Up For Today

Flash Fiction

by Jan English Leary

At 1:55, I tossed the Amazon boxes out of camera range and clicked the link for my 2:00 therapy Zoom. My face appeared in a small box. I adjusted the ring light so my skin didn’t look red. Always an anxious moment when I’m afraid Dr. Lane won’t log on, meaning I got the time wrong. Or maybe I’d missed the session and would have to pay, and she’d ask if I were sabotaging my therapy. Or maybe she’d forget since I wasn’t worth remembering. No, that was neurotic. I took deep breaths to calm myself. When at 2:00, the rectangle with her face appeared, relief fluttered down my fingers. Dr. Lane wore her reading glasses today and a red silk Japanese duster, her hair newly blown out with gold highlights. Because I work from home on Tuesdays, I wore PJ bottoms and a shirt I’d scavenged from the hamper.

She smiled. “Hello, Sheila. How was your week?”

I mentioned Monica, my passive-aggressive colleague who tries to undermine me, but it’s hard to read the room when I’m not there every day. I like working hybrid but am afraid things are going on without me. I told her I was eating right, making progress each day.

I started seeing Dr. Lane for anxiety but realized my real issues stemmed from abandonment: my parents, my ex, yada, yada. Today, I mentioned my phone call with my mother, not satisfying, as usual, but not awful. I went over standard stuff, Mom, work, my ex, but each week, it felt slightly different. New insights, new wrinkles on old problems, incremental progress. Usually, I doodle while I’m talking. It helps me focus and it is easier not to make constant eye contact, like lying on the couch and staring at the ceiling. 

When I glanced at the screen, I saw her face with an online solitaire game reflected in her glasses. Spider, by the look of it, four suits, not even the easy all-spades version. 

“Go on,” she said. 

I waited to see if the game could be background, but cards moved, spade on spade, heart on heart. Should I say something? Was I so boring she needed a game to get through my session?

I started again. “I’ve had weird dreams where I take risks. In one dream, I was in the park and pulled down a stranger’s mask and kissed him. Then I saw a homeless guy, and we had sex. Then I left. I dreamed of shoplifting, mostly packs of gum or lip balm, but was too easy, but then I started taking more expensive things, more out in the open, closer to the register.”

Piles of cards moved left, right, completed suits jumping to the top row. I paused, but she didn’t look up. So, I continued, confessing to imaginary misdeeds “I got drunk and showed up at work, but no one noticed. I set up an imaginary account and wrote to Bradley’s wife to tell her he and I were having an affair. I have the uncontrollable urge to push a stranger onto the El tracks just as the train is approaching. I pick my victim and make up a story of why he deserves it. I want to break windows and paint on walls, ruin things. Tear up plants, pour acid into the sewer. I shifted funds around at work in small amounts so that no one knows, and I set up an account to withdraw them.” She grimaced then redealt a new game. After a few moves, she redealt again.

I took credit for unsolved murders, mysterious disappearances, abductions, vandalism, cybercrime, sabotage. I borrowed from TV and the movies, from lives more dangerous and edgy than mine. Vibrating, my skin flushed and glowing, I was on a high. 

“Okay, Sheila,” Dr. Lane said, looking at the camera. “Our time is up for today. But good work. Let’s take this up again next week.” She gave me her warmest smile and leaned toward the screen.

“Just one more thing,” I said. “Move the Jack of Hearts onto the Queen.” 

Her face froze, and I pressed the button to exit the meeting, as the blood pulsed in my ears.

solitaire cards
About the Author

Jan English Leary is the author of three books published by Fomite Press: Thicker Than Blood, Skating on the Vertical, and Town and Gown. Her short fiction has appeared in such journals as Long Story Short, Carve, Pleiades, The Long Story, Chariton Review, and others. She lives in Chicago.


Wasteland Dragon

Wasteland Dragon

Flash Fiction

by Huina Zheng

Over a decade ago, in that barren expanse, Ba, a visionary, ventured into the vastness of Northwest China, with Ma by his side. A sower in lands ravaged by wind and sand, he believed life could spring from his toil. I was born in the tranquility following a sandstorm, in the year of the dragon, a zodiac sign considered to bring rainwater and prosperity. It was at the very moment Ba was sweating profusely, working the land, trying to coax life from its fissures. This, he said, was evidence of my tenacity, a deeply rooted fortitude I was meant to inherit.

On our village’s fringe, Ba battled sands, planting hope with every tree, his fear merely the desert’s creep and life’s retreat. Evening winds danced, dust swirling, as he nurtured fragile green under calloused hands. Here, amid windswept sands, it was not easy for green things to grow—everything we owned was covered by wind and sand, the color of Ba’s hope, the color of plants, the color of life.

As a child, Ba would take me to the edge of town, where weathered stones and dried-up riverbeds whispered stories of the past. It was there that I met Xiao Mei, a poet’s daughter, her gaze holding myths’ own sparkle.

Her words stirred dreams within me. Each smile of hers was soft as distant waters. “If you wish, I shall pen your tale.”

Years later, as the world showed its harsh face, turning lush oasis to barren sands, I found solace in Xiao Mei’s haven. The village alarm echoing, I rushed to find Ba, hoe in hand, seeking life in earth’s crevices. Beyond, a silent riverbed spoke of time’s hush.

“We don’t need to leave, do we?” I asked.

His look, steadfast. The hoe rested, embraced by the sands. “With age comes understanding. Persistence, itself, is a wonder.”

What I fear: the storm’s roar, the thirst of the land, Ba’s quest for life in dormant twigs. What I’ve forgotten: those things I wanted from Xiao Mei, how her verses planted hope in my heart, why the earth denies our pleas. When we sat on the parched riverbed, our ears were tuned to the whisper of the wind. All the lands we had ever left or lost were arid streams around my heart, their silence profound. Perseverance felt almost divine.

dragon illustration
About the Author

Huina Zheng, a Distinction M.A. in English Studies holder, works as a college essay coach. She’s also an editor at Bewildering Stories. Her stories have been published in Baltimore Review, Variant Literature, Midway Journal, and others. Her work has received nominations twice for both the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She resides in Guangzhou, China with her husband and daughter.


Gift Horse

Gift Horse

Flash Fiction

by Chrissy Stegman

I had yet to hollow out my skepticism, which clung tenaciously like a persistent ivy of doubt. I struggled with belief. I clammed up. Like anyone hard to reach yet too soft on the inside, I was a pile of cotton balls shielded by a phalanx.

It was difficult to speak to you because you transformed into so many organisms. A small dark-haired boy hoop-rolling, a frail dark-skinned girl picking at the hem of your green flowered dress, a komodo dragon mid-dinner with a monkey in your mouth, a newborn alligator with your egg tooth still attached, then you flashed into a brown bear cub coming out of your stupor of blindness, until finally, you were up in the air as the floss of milkweed. You descended into the palm of my hand as a firefly. I stared at your green blinking body for only a moment. Never idle, you casually changed into a bumble bee as you spoke to me:

“You’re angry with me? I set the world into motion with a single breath and that’s it.” 

You paused then, as you floated adorably, the absurd weight of your fuzzy bee butt bumping above the sudden field of red tulips we were now standing in.

“I’ve remained indifferent to the human versions.”

You zigzagged back and forth when you said ‘versions,’ as if creating true air quotes.

“I never intended life to be this personal. Mayflies mating? Not personal. A drop of water, theoretically, can’t harm you, but many drops, rioting together in a tsunami, have made other decisions—yet those decisions are not personal. Humans with buckets drowning humans? That is personal, surely. But the code I made? It is doing its job. Personal is just a feeling.”

You seemed to turn your bee head though I was certain a bee had no neck as you asked: “Does my explanation help?”

I looked away. I started to feel odd, like my body had been thrust inside live circuitry, but I replied calmly, “No, not really.” 

You quickly transformed into a bluebird, as anxiety settled in my stomach.

You went fluttering about, your wings incredibly blue, impatiently blue, like an alarm sounding the color blue, and then you began hopping on the ground, emerging from the red tulip field to the patio. We were now in my backyard. I saw the white wrought iron table and on it was a tea service. I walked to the table and reached out my hand, which was obnoxious in its tremble and I picked up a cup so I could sip the black tea. 

You whistled at me then, asking if I wanted a beer instead and I tried to hide my pride. 

I smoothly replied, “No, I quit drinking.”

You switched your form again. No longer a bluebird you were now shifting into a larger mass until I saw your head nod into the muzzle of a mottled white Shetland pony. 

You whinnied, “I knew that but I forgot because the world fills my head so fast all the time with everything from the important to the mundane.” You began trotting in merry circles, almost prancing with delight.

I lowered my head and looked inside the empty tea cup, for a moment I wondered if you might manifest there as well. I noticed the cup was plain, white ceramic, like something from IKEA. Then, overcome with curiosity, I asked you my burning question:

“What did you think of Waiting for Godot?

You chuckled for a moment, but the chuckle sounded garbled and frightening because I had never heard a horse giggle before. The hairs on my arms raised in their confusion of false fear. You leaned your plucky horse face too close to my nose and I could see you had carrot pieces in your teeth.

You exaggerated your mouth wide in a horse yawn and said, “I’ll let you know.” 

Your mane caught the last pennies of daylight, turning the white follicles into Gaussian blurs of prismatic rainbows.

I felt myself crying. I didn’t understand why until I realized you had shifted into my dead Grandfather and you were holding his car keys in your hand. I watched as you walked away from me, toward his 1990 Buick station wagon that sat at the edge of the tulip field. You walked just like him. I swear I almost believed. 

You spoke to me with tenderness as you removed his large K-Mart sunglasses, only to reveal another pair of sunglasses beneath those as you whispered, “I know what makes you feel.”

I watched as you opened the driver’s side door, your movements stiff as you slid into the seat behind the wheel. You closed the door, started the engine, and drove into the sunset which you clearly owned. Just before you were blotted out by the light, you rolled down the car window and stuck out your arm to wave my grandfather’s Orioles cap in the air, like a black and orange flag of surrender.

About the Author

Chrissy Stegman is a poet/writer from Baltimore, Maryland. Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Rejection Letters, Gone Lawn, Gargoyle Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic, Poverty House, Stone Circle Review, Fictive Dream, The Voidspace, 5 Minutes, and BULL. She is a 2023 BOTN nominee.




Flash Fiction

by Susannah Rigg

She scrambles his eggs, just how he likes them. Still a little wet, soft, buttery. The toast pops and she lays it on the blue-patterned, china plate. One of her grandma’s, slightly chipped by his over-zealous stacking, she thinks. She touches the imperfection, enjoys the smooth ridge. Balancing the eggs on the toast, she wipes a stray splodge of yolk from the plate. It looks like a restaurant breakfast. That makes her giggle. Only the best for him. 

The radio is tuned to Heart FM, humming out old classic love songs, perfect for a Sunday morning. She thinks of him still sleeping upstairs, making the most of his lie-in after a busy week, his chest rising and falling softly under the cotton sheets. There’s a towel warming for him on the bathroom rack. She left it there after showering quietly.

She pours his coffee over gently heated milk, it mingles into the perfect creamy whip. A half teaspoon of sugar to add a touch of sweetness. Only on the weekends. He is watching his weight, though he doesn’t need to. 

The oven pings. The smell of rosemary — freshly picked and sprinkled over mushrooms and tomatoes —freshens the air, the steam from the oven giving her a glow. She adds the veggies to his plate and sighs, wiping her hands on her flowery apron. 

“Breakfast’s ready,” she calls gently. 

She does this every Sunday, then sits down to eat alone when no one calls back.  

breakfast illustration 2
About the Author

Originally from London, Susannah has lived in Mexico for thirteen years. After over a decade as a travel writer, she now dedicates her time to writing fiction and working as a writing mentor. She is currently querying her first novel, set in modern-day Mexico City. She also runs writing workshops online and in the sleepy beach town where she now lives.




Flash Fiction

by Lorette C. Luzajic

The towers pile light-buzzing screens one on top of the other, like static interference, like flickering binary code. Kate isn’t quite sure what she was expecting from a quantum frequency healing circle, but it wasn’t a bunch of heavily made-up women in capris and little white slippers. 

She sighs and leans back in the cheap lawn chair, but it’s not easy to relax under the assault of fluorescent light tracks overhead. Each glowing tube is amplified by the endless cold glare of the walls. She had assumed that the scalar wave treatment clinic would be more ambient, perhaps, like a yoga studio, with a warm tangle of spider plants and a laughing Buddha statue. The only art on the wall is an illustration of the spiritual body with squiggly rays, but it doesn’t look cosmic at all, more like a chalk outline of a murder victim.

The lone man in the room looks like the serial killers she’s seen interviewed on TV: gaunt and awkward with Coke bottle glasses and sunken eyes. When she glances in his direction, he’s already staring at her, lower lip lax and slippery. She represses a shiver. He must be ill, she thinks. Not a stretch, of course – all of them are sick and desperate, hoping for a miracle potion, or a magic wand, a flicker of transformative biofield energy. For him, it must be cancer. It’s the way his skin barely covers his ribs or even cheekbones; the sporadic, ruddy darkness of him.

She looks away, and her eyes fall on the woman who is sharing. Electric curly hair. The glow of her face reveals she is a true believer.

“We are MADE of light,” the woman says emphatically. “Our bodies know how to heal themselves! But we suppress our own innate wisdom. These flickering photons can reset our frequencies.”

Nods and murmurs flutter up from the circle. For a few moments Kate drifts in the silence. She wonders if she’s finally feeling the energy. There’s a fleeting sense of alignment and a pleasant pressure at the base of her spine. The brochure promised she didn’t need faith: the flickering screens would work whether you believed it or not. Was this the start of the shift from chronic pain to wholeness?

In another moment she knows the warm tingling is a more commonplace matter. She has to pee. Rats. How long can she hold out? There are no phones in the healing space, and nothing so earthly and banal as a clock on the wall. Time is, of course, just a construct. But how can she assess what’s left of the hour, and whether her bladder can hold that long?

Someone else shares a testimony of transformation. This woman had been told she needed a blood transfusion for fatigue resulting from toxic chemotherapy. She started taking iron and B12 to rebuild her blood. She took the Neulasta injection they recommended, too, to help her restore her platelets. And she came to just one hour of energy enhancement before this. When she went to her appointment, they told her she no longer needed the transfusion. 

After the first flicker session, the woman explains, she had visualized her blood cells knitting back together. And then she could feel it happening. Deep inside, she knew she no would no longer need the procedure.

It’s hard to know which course of action was really to thank for her recovery. She wonders how the rays the screens are transmitting can be energizing when desktop and smartphone waves are toxic. The overhead fluorescents are triggering her migraines now. She feels a thin, piercing drill start deep inside her skull and knows it will build into a killer event if she doesn’t relax and find soft natural light soon. 

A woman with big brassy hair and tattooed eyebrows is sharing now. She is as round as a ball and has a shiny nose. She discovered the realm of rainforest shamanism years ago, in university, reading anthropology from Carlos Castaneda. His work opened her eyes to the profound possibilities that ancient cultures understood. 

She was infatuated with Castaneda, the psychedelic guru, during college. She’d devoured everything he said, hook, line and sinker. When it came out later that he’d made it all up, she was gutted, and embarrassed to have been so gullible. Even after the indigenous leaders, genuine shamans of Mexico, corrected the record and accused him of fabrication and appropriation, some people still represented his experiences as truth instead of a hoax. What was objective reality, after all, but one facet of mystery among many? 

She leans back into the lawn chair, tries again to sense waves of love and enlightenment, to feel the positive healing frequencies in her spine instead of just the increasingly necessary signals to urinate. She still wants to believe that the only obstacle between her turning at will into a crow or soaring swallow is the church and state repressing her true nature. Morphine and cortisone and Gabapentin have all failed her, so what is left, if not the hope there are other ways to overcome the constant burning in her nerves? As the migraine starts to flood over her, she closes her eyes again. She imagines herself outside of the pain, floating in the white flashing fields, talking to wild coyotes. 

About the Author

Lorette C. Luzajic reads, writes, publishes, edits, and teaches small fictions and prose poetry. Her work has been published in hundreds of journals, taught in schools and workshops including on Manitoulin Island and in Egypt, and translated into Urdu and Spanish. She was selected for Best Small Fictions 2023 and 2024. She has been nominated several times each for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions, Best of the Net, the Pushcart Prize, and Best American Food Writing. She has been shortlisted for Bath Flash Fiction and The Lascaux Review awards. Her collections include The Rope Artist, The Neon Rosary, Pretty Time Machine and Winter in June. Lorette is the founding editor of The Ekphrastic Review, a journal of literature inspired by art, running for nine years, and the brand new prose poetry journal, The Mackinaw. Lorette is also an award-winning mixed media artist, with collectors in more than 40 countries so far.


No More Gravity

No More Gravity

Flash Fiction

by Calla Smith

The pool lay like a glittering gem below Lina’s balcony. It was almost one o’clock in the afternoon, and everyone else in her building was busy doing something far away from the eagerly becoming turquoise waves. She liked it best like this, just her and the knowledge that there was somewhere she could escape to, a world of silence and the shifting patterns of the sun like diamonds on the tile floor.

 The illusion would be ruined anytime anyone else occupied one of the lawn chairs, bringing their boom boxes and conversation to pollute the fresh air. There were already so many other sounds assaulting her eardrums day in and day out. She needed the silence like a slice of cool relief from time to time to keep going.

The water was waiting for her. She already had a bathing suit and was finishing a cigarette on her balcony. She thought she had to go down now, or it would be too late. If she didn’t make it in the next minute, the window of opportunity would be closed just as it had been so many times before. She thought about how long it would take to find her flip-flops and wait for the elevator as it traveled the 10 stories down to the ground, and the impatience started to grow inside her. Lina snubbed out the cigarette in an ashtray and glanced once again at the paradise below.

She needed to be there now, not in five minutes. Maybe…no, that wasn’t possible, she told herself. But she couldn’t find her shoes, and she could hear the seconds ticking. She couldn’t stop thinking that the rest of her day- maybe even the whole week- would be ruined if she didn’t make it in time. Her life always hung by such a delicate thread. There were always so many rules to be followed, so why shouldn’t she make her own?

She had to get down there right now, and there only seemed to be one way. She could feel her heart ready to break through her rib cage if she didn’t feel the pure, sweet relief of water on her skin and her wet hair fanning out behind her as she dove down. There wasn’t any more time to think about it. She stood on her chair, closed her eyes, and jumped.

The dive seemed to last forever. The wind whistled in her ears as she sped past the apartments below her, the pale faces of her neighbors nothing but a blur. Lina angled her body to hit the water just right, then her hands were slicing through it like a knife, and her heart slowed down again. She skimmed the bottom of the pool, losing speed alone in the aching perfection of those first few seconds before coming up for air. She shouldn’t have survived the plunge, but she had. Lina had made it in time, and the day and the week stretched out like a blank canvas with no more universal rules left to be broken.   

No More Gravity illustration
About the Author

Calla Smith (she/her) lives and writes in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She enjoys reading, cooking, spending time with friends and family, and continuing to discover all the forgotten corners of the city she has come to call home. She has published a collection of flash fiction “What Doesn’t Kill You”, and her work can also be found in several literary journals such as Five on the Fifth, Cosmic Daffodil, and Health & Coffin among others.




Flash Fiction

by Katharina Landfried

“They’re still drooping, but she’ll be better in no time,” Mia says as she sprays water on the fleshy foliage of her newest rescue. Crammed between a broken bamboo and a Dracaena with burnt burgundy leaves, it greedily soaked up all her care.

We stopped bothering with clothes. Since the air conditioning broke months ago and we upped the heating, condensation fogs our only window, hiding our exposed bodies slick with moisture, our pubes pearled with drops. Not that any of the people in the other apartment buildings pay attention to us anyway, most of the windows across are boarded up with blankets or curtains. A body could fall from the highest floor, unnoticed.

“You always manage to nurse them back to health, even the most doomed cases.”

She starts her daily rant: “I just don’t understand how people can throw their plants out like trash. Look at the blossoms on this one,” she says and points to the half-dead Hibiscus in the corner, “it’s beautiful despite the sun-burnt leaves, no?”

I smile and swat away one of the buzzing fruit flies. “Sure is.” The grapefruit orange of its petals bleeds into a yellow, blossoming bright amidst the endless green in this space.

Mia began collecting plants soon after I was released from hospital last time, dragging in any abandoned bundle she found on the sidewalk or hiding in dumpsters near our block. Soon, space ran out and we had to remove most of the furniture. The TV stand was replaced by an overgrown Yucca; a scraggly snake plant and an unkempt fig tree now live where the armchair and couch used to sit.

“You probably won’t be able to save all of them.”

Mia thinks about this for a moment and then nods.

“We should still get the mold removed.” Black clusters bloom in the corners, connecting at the center of the wall, above the metal racks stacked with seedlings.

“Do these peppers look ripe to you? I’m not sure but maybe we could try one.” She turns to walk into the hallway towards the row of pots she dragged there one by one as the living space filled with too much life.

“What? Oh, yeah. They’ve gotten to a nice red.”

Mia giggles and grabs the scissors from the counter, snipping the bent stem above the biggest one. She holds it against the subdued sunlight, turning it in her hand. “They would taste best in a salad, adding some color and sweetness.”

“Sure.” I drag in a breath as if inhaling steam through a towel. “That mold, though… It is spreading quite quickly. Maybe we could get someone to come by next week?”

“Radishes! We should put some radishes in the salad as well,” Mia says before disappearing into the bathroom, ducking between hanging baskets that hold the cherry tomatoes. Their vines release an earthy smell with every swing, flooding the apartment with it.

I sigh. “It’s not healthy, you know? Breathing in the spores.”

“You’re being dramatic. Let’s just wait a bit longer and maybe it goes away on its own,” she calls through the open door, a faint snapping sound accompanying her words. “Anyhow, we’ll be moving soon after the wedding, so it doesn’t really matter.”

The wedding. She hadn’t brought it up for a while, but it seems she’s still hopeful it will happen. “I told you we don’t need to get married.”

“What are you talking about?” She returns with her arms crossed in front of her chest, radishes rolling from side to side, skin sprinkled with soil. “You said we shouldn’t rush it, that’s all.”

“No, I said we should just stay together like now, no need to get the government involved in things.”

Mia chuckles. “It’s not about that, it’s about making a commitment, strengthening our bond and all that.”

Selfishly, I allowed her to take me in and nurture every part of me, but I never meant for her to grow roots in barren soil.

“What about the Persian cucumbers?”

Her eyes grow wide, regaining their sparkle. “They might be a little sour still, but let’s add one.”

This time, she closes the bathroom door behind her.

I stand, peeling away from the plastic covering the upholstery of the last remaining chair. Fertilizer crumbles press into the soles of my feet, scatter across tiles when my toes flick them. With both hands, I clasp the handle and pull on it with all my weight until the window squelches open.

The autumn air bathes me in ice. I lift my dripping curls so it can reach my neck with its cold claws. Filling my lungs without effort for the first time in a long time, I lift a leg onto the ledge, close my eyes, and let myself fall.

In the seconds it takes my head to hit the concrete below, I pray that Mia will find another, less hopeless, rescue.

monstera 2
About the Author

Katharina Landfried, born and raised in the deep south of Germany, has always had a fascination with the uncanny. Shortlisted for the Fractured Lit Legends, Myths, & Allegories Prize and published in the Flashes of Nightmare anthology by Wicked Shadow Press, her writing explores the darker and disturbing aspects of the human experience. Katharina was recently awarded a Distinction for her Master’s in Creative Writing at Hull University. When she’s not writing, she’s busy entertaining her cats or watching the latest horror movies.


The Brayhead

The Brayhead

Flash Fiction

by Justine Sweeney

‘Abandon! Abandon!’ Captain paces a stretch of starboard deck. ‘We’re hit.’ 

I count heads. Thirty-eight. All here. First lifeboat launched. 

Second raft. ‘Come on, Captain, get in!’ 

‘Yes, Boyle. Right.’ 

Captain climbs in behind me and we push off into thick darkness with a smooth splash. Quick – get away from the creaking vessel, smoke, and heat. Count again – Geordie, Higgins, Bobcat, Monroe, the three Larne boys. Did I see Wells on the other raft? Stretch fingers. Keep circulation going. Hands freezing cold, fingertips like ice. Keep arms moving, keep oars going. Pull. Pull. Pull. Plunging in sync, eight paddles glide back, then surface, gasping for air. 

No sign of that German sub now. They’ll not see us, we’ve no lamps on and we’re nearly out of the liner’s burning shadow. They’ll be celebrating they took our steamer down, but they’ll not care to come after us in a dinghy, will they? 

‘Did we radio for help?’ Monroe shouts. ‘Do they know we’re torpedoed? Are they coming for us?’ 

I can’t answer him. I was down in the belly stoking the fires when we were struck. Fell back, thumped against a coal pile. Did they get through on the radio? 

‘Help’s coming,’ Captain tells us, ‘they know we’re here.’ 

But is help coming? Is it? Who did we radio to? Are any boats even nearby? 

Can barely see my own hands. Grey faces all around me. Bright eyes reflecting flames. I start to laugh. Can’t stop. Thinking of Matheson an hour ago, loading shells into our mounted gun. Hoy – firing in the direction of the U-boat until all our ammo was done. What good is one three-pound gun and two gunners on a two-hundred-foot Merchant Navy steamer? Ha! No use at all. Germans not interested in us they said. Ha! We should have had more guns. 

Blazing up rightly now. Stern underwater. Sinking fast, she’s heavy. Full of farm machinery. Cattle. All them Irish calves thought they were going to Canada! Crates of linen – thousands of them. Linen from the mill. Sarah-Jane, are you in the mill now? In the Spinning Room? 

Atlantic water spills in and the dinghy is one-third filled. Frozen fingers. Can hardly hold the paddle. There she goes! Our ship’s tip slips under. Such blackness. Can’t even see the water but it slaps against the canvas and tosses us along. A whistle blows. That’ll be the other raft. We huddle in. Who’s that whimpering? Monroe. What are you crying for, Monroe? Sure, we got off the sinking boat. Help’s coming. And it’s warmer now. I can’t feel the cold in my legs and arms anymore. It’s hard to ignore Monroe sobbing. I’ll close my eyes for a minute, the rocking is making me sleepy. Sarah-Jane, stop crying – I’m fine, help is coming. There you are, Sarah-Jane, that smile.  

About the Author

Justine is a writer and IT professional from Belfast. Recently she’s had short fiction published in The Dublin Review, and she was longlisted in the Bath Flash Fiction Award 2024. She has an MA in Creative Writing and is working on her first novel.


The Real Thing

The Real Thing

Flash Fiction

by Jeanette Russo

Kazuko sits down at the kitchen table opposite her husband Nick.  

‘Nice day,’ she says. 

His eyes remain fixed on his newspaper. He always checks the obituaries before reading anything else.  He is a great believer in “paying your respects”. That’s what good Italians do.    

‘Did anyone die?’ she asks.  

‘Nobody we know.’  

First thing each day he collects the Hudson Daily from the mailbox. Then he prepares his instant coffee. He doesn’t understand how she can drink the real thing. She doesn’t understand why he doesn’t understand.  

‘Look at date,’ she says. 


‘Look at date on paper.’  

He brings it closer to his face. ‘Oh, yeah. Hmm. Happy First day of Fall.’  

‘Today our—Today is our 25th Wedding Anniversary,’ she says. 

‘Oh, yeah. It is.’ His eyes remain on the page. ‘You want to do something? Let’s go to Cascades and grab a sandwich. We can get one of those tuna melts you like?’  

‘Cascades? I prefer stay home and make own sandwich. Anyway, I do not wish anyone to know we celebrate anniversary in luncheonette,’ she says.    

‘Well, it’s just another day anyway, isn’t it.’   

He stands abruptly.    

She flinches.    

He walks around to the other side of the counter, fills his cup with tap water and places it into the microwave to boil for another instant coffee. ‘What do you care what other people think anyway?’

‘You are right. Stupid of me to mention.’

He keeps his back to her while he waits for the machine to ding. Then he scoops in a heaping spoon of instant Folger’s and two sugar cubes, stirring so vigorously it spills. He leaves it the mess and returns to his paper.  

‘Look at this. They’re building a new Mount Carmel Church right near here. In Stottville.’

‘That’s nice.’ She couldn’t care less about that church. She couldn’t care less about anything in their town. She has no friends here. Never had.    

‘You be happy Nick?’ Her body stiffens as the wrong words spill out, but it is too late.  

‘Jesus Christ. You’ve been here for more than twenty-five years. Come on. Say it,’ he shouts. ‘Are – you- happy – Nick. Is that what you want to ask me? Say it!’  

Her eyes remain fixed on her hands as she folds an unfolds a paper napkin into an origami crane. Her lips move, repeating the phrase to herself. 

He gets up and goes to the cupboard, he takes a glass and a bottle of Jack Daniels. He returns to his chair, pours himself a double and lights up a Lucky Strike that he keeps in the drawer for emergencies.

‘You smoke again?’

‘I didn’t forget our anniversary. What’s to celebrate? You know, maybe… if you had tried to learn to speak English better…’ 

She stands up and closes the window behind him so the neighbours don’t hear. Then, she crosses the kitchen and pours herself a cup of coffee. On the fridge is a photo, faded with age. They are in Tokyo in their favourite restaurant celebrating their engagement. Cheek to cheek. Drunken smiles. A couple mad about each other.

She turns to look at him. Funny. That smile, she hadn’t seen it in years. She takes the photo down, crumples it in her hand and slips it into the pocket of her robe.  

She leaves her coffee and instead, takes a glass from the cupboard. She sits down in front of him and reaches for the bottle of Jack.    

‘What the hell are you doing?’    

‘I like drink too. I celebrate that I survive twenty-five years with you.’  

Folger's Coffee tin
About the Author

Jeanette is an American writer of Japanese descent living in Majorca, Spain. She has previously lived in the UK, Brussels, and Paris which has… blah blah. She has just completed an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on her first novel based on the life of her mother, a Japanese war bride, as well as a flash fiction collection.