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Reflex Fiction Posts

Baby Steps

The first time they help him up out of bed, his head spins and he is sure he will fall. How long has it been? Weeks, maybe months horizontal.

His knees buckle and he feels two arms grab him, hears the rustle of a starched uniform and the soft fall of non-marking soles.

“Take it slowly, mate. It’s been a while.”

How long? he wants to ask, but it will take breath, and his feels thin and in short supply.

The androgynously named occupational therapist (Alex? Jordan? His memory is as shaky as his legs) helps him into a wheelchair. They cruise through the corridors and service lifts to a room that looks a bit like a dance studio. One wall is mirrored and a waist-high handrail runs the length of it. The other walls are dotted with motivational posters. He crinkles his nose at a nauseating quote and she smiles.

“Maybe don’t reach for the stars just yet,” she says as she helps him stand. Again he wobbles, and she grabs him under the arms with expert timing. He’s taller than her, or would be if he could stand up straight. His limbs are spindly now, stomach hollow, collarbones sharp. He avoids his reflection in the mirror, wonders whether his girlfriend was telling the truth in that text message. Was she really not allowed to see him on the ward?

The therapist wants him to visualise, focus, breathe, and other things he can’t do. They don’t even get to the walking bit before he is slumped back in the wheelchair, fists balled in frustration.

“What do you want to do? Maybe try again tomorrow?”

He doesn’t want to try again tomorrow. He wants to try again all those weeks or months ago. He wants to stop that flash of light, the crunch of metal on metal and bone on bone. He wants to hand the keys to a friend and sit in the passenger seat. He wants to have six less drinks. He wants to listen to someone who told him it probably wasn’t a good idea to go out that night.

“Tomorrow . . . yeah, maybe.”


Flash Fiction by Alicia Bakewell
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Unscheduled

We sit side by side on the couch with our coffee. We watch some nothing on TV this time every morning, which is what is scheduled to play, and what we’re scheduled to watch.

This station is off. This station is dead air. Sometimes, instead of the rough, gray, chalky static, they broadcast the classic American Anthem sign off routine, or the movie theater countdown from five to zero, or the colorful screech bar display of a system fail, or a Morse code number station. We sit side by side, doing what we’re scheduled to.

Sometimes, I think about touching you, but that’s not scheduled. I am scheduled to gaze and smile at you while sitting on the couch with my coffee, watch some nothing on TV, side by side with you.

Sometimes my eyes lose focus, and I think you are crying. But then, I look back at our screen, and see it was a trick of the light. Soon, I don’t bother to turn my head: I can clearly see us both reflected in its dusty glass. Sometimes, I think about reaching across the few inches that separate my hand from yours, but that is not in our schedule.

Then, as though it were another program, we hear it. But the bird inside the TV is not on a program tuned to this station. Neither of us have time to say it but we know. This sound is not in our TV. It is a clear, brilliant window that has suddenly opened inside of each of us.

We are both afraid to move too fast, lest it be frightened and fly away. Tears roll down your face. I bridge the inches-wide gap between my hand and yours.

Then our bird comes bursting out of the machine, beating itself in frantic circles, cutting itself on the hot glass tubes and wiring.

Nothing we can do can stop it. So we don’t try. And before we can think of anything, it stops.

It had yellow green and blue feathers. Now it only has red.

We both look away, because we cannot look at it, or the broken screen, or each other, anymore.


Flash Fiction by Genelle Chaconas
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The Visit

“It’s happened again.” Mum’s I-told-you-so voice at the other end of the phone. There’s almost a note of triumph.

“Dad?”

“There’s been another visit and he’s upped sticks and gone. No thought about leaving me on my own.”

“The aliens, is it?”

“Who else?”

“I’ll be right over, Mum.”

I grab the overnight bag I keep handy these days, hop straight into the Mini and head for the motorway on-ramp. Not again, I’m thinking. I push the button on the dashboard that dials my sister’s number.

“It’s just a ploy to get us out there more often,” says Brenna. We take it in turns. The phone call comes; one of us rushes over; everything seems to settle for a few weeks. Then Mum’ll ring again.

“I don’t know. It happens just as often if we go fortnightly or weekly. There’s no pattern. What did the psychologist say?”

“The same thing the neurologist said; the same thing the psychiatric nurse said. No sign of dementia, no other signs of psychosis.” Brenna’s sigh drifts through the dashboard and settles in the car’s interior like a winter fog. “I’ve given up trying to explain it to her.”

“What’s the point, right?”

“Maybe if she hadn’t been in hospital with pneumonia,” says Brenna. “And had to miss the funeral.”

I lower the window to see if the incoming breeze might dissipate our shared despondency. “Why aliens, though?”

“I know!” Now I can hear the smile in Brenna’s voice and it lifts me. “Do you think they’re green and sporting antennae or slim and silver with huge eyes?” she asks.

“Flitting through the universe in a giant teapot. Anyway, who’s to say it’s not better like this?” I say. “Her way of coping.”

“Give her my love. Tell her I’ll be over next weekend.”

Our family home is only half an hour away. She’s stood in the front garden like a sun dial. Face upturned, looking hard at the sky.

“I miss him, you know,” she says.

“We all do, Mum. We all do.”


Flash Fiction by Janis Freegard
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A Sense of Adventure

I watch it squirm and struggle between my fingers. Watch its legs wriggle and kick at the smoky air. I can see my eyes in its polished black shell, flames quiver within them like leaves in a breeze. I drag myself away from the fire as it licks at my exposed arms. My grip still tight around the body of the beetle.

“Do you think this is what she had in mind?” he says.

I look across the fire. He sits cross legged next to a larger man wearing nothing but tanned trousers. They pass a leather pouch between them, liquid sloshing around inside. A woman nearby beats a tune on a leather drum as others dressed in bright patterned cloth dance around us.

“I’m not sure.” I reply. “Probably not.” And I stare at the creature trying to force its way out of my hands, just as I’d stared at its cousin when she’d told me.

Sat at the kitchen table, half a glass of Chardonnay being sipped at, one bottle already finished. She insisted that I sat down. So, I did.

“His name’s Pablo,” she’d said. And, with that I watched the black beetle scurry up the wall behind her as if knowing what was coming and wanting out. It crawled through a crack in the wall and disappeared. I knew how it felt.

Escarabajo ciervo.” The man holding the drink smiles, nods.

“Sorry?” I say. I can’t speak the lingo so I look to my partner, “What did he say?”

“Stag beetle,” he says, trying not to laugh as my face scrunches up.

It writhes faster, fiercer as it tries one last time to escape. I lift it up and feel its legs prickle and itch my lips. I take a deep breath and bite down. Its gooey warmth fills my mouth as I crunch its shell between my teeth. It stops trying to escape, no longer capable. I swallow.

“Will she still say I’m not adventurous enough?”


Flash Fiction by Joel Rawlin
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Dancing Like Gene Kelly

Feet moving graceful as birds skimming still waters, he whirled and swooped, bending Mother backward. She laughed, lips parted, mouth open, light tangoing down her black curls.

He woke. He could no more have moved than stopped the sun. He could not even raise his hand to wipe sleep from his eyes.

Mother sat by his side, watching, waiting. Her hair was grey, her face lined as a skinned week-old apple.

“Vanquished Dreams wants to publish your story, ‘Dancing Like Gene Kelly.’”

Father smiled. It was a good story, his story. The story of a man, who danced all night, fluid as water, unfettered as imagination, only to awaken in a frozen body.

He’d never danced like Gene Kelly, never danced at all. His whole life he’d been plagued by illness like a tree infested with heart rot. It might lie dormant for a while, but it was entwined in his bones and blossomed forth with the depressing regularity of winter. Finally it had hardened the liquid in his joints, leaving him a spine of solid bone

“What are they paying?”

“No pay . . . and one other thing, they want to cut the end.”

“What?”

“They want to cut the end, where you wake up and realize you’re paralyzed.”

“But that’s the whole point of the story.”

She shrugged.

“I won’t do it,” he said. “There’s no point in a story about a man dreaming he’s dancing. What makes it a story is that it’s the dream of a cripple . . . a man who can’t even . . . ” He blinked.

She wiped away the hard yellow crystals in the corners of his sleep-crusted eyes.

“I know,” she said. “But you should do it, just to publish again.”

“No,” he said, “without the end it’s nothing.”

She laid the contract on the table and pulled out a pen.

“What are you doing?”

“One last publication.”

“It’s not the last. I still have stories in me.”

She shrugged. The pen wasn’t working.

“I don’t want to die.”

She shook the pen and tried again. This time it worked.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, closing the door softly behind her.


Flash Fiction by E E King
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Brush Strokes

The moment the cop places his gun on the asphalt and holds out his hands, I know how this will end.

It’s eight thirty: rush hour. His squad car is parked behind my pickup on the other side of the bridge, both engines ping-pinging as they cool in the morning air. He takes a couple of steps towards me—slow, bent-legged, and I have to stop myself from laughing. Poor guy, he looks so silly creeping across the road like a cartoon villain. You’re okay, fella, he tells me. Everything’s all right. Soothes me as if I were a skittish horse. There’s really no need; I’m calm now.

On either side of us, the traffic on the bridge has stopped at a respectable distance, close enough for people to watch, but not so close that they’re part of the action. They climb out of their cars, rest flabby arms on opened doors, and glance at their wrists. I guess they’ve seen it all before: the desperate man perched on the railing like a modern-day gargoyle; the rookie cop edging towards him, talking, talking. I lift my baby daughter from the folds of my coat and am rewarded with a scream from one of the watchers. Now, it’s real.

The cop freezes, mid-creep, and reaches for the radio on his duty-belt.

“Take it easy,” he says.

I nestle my wife’s killer into the crook of my arm and take it easy. Behind me, vacuum tugs at my clothes, begging for matter, and I shift my position on the railing to another cry from the crowd.

Everything was planned so carefully—from the toys in the nursery to her place of education—we painted her future with the greatest care. And as the fierce brush strokes of our youth succumbed to an older, wiser hand, she was to become our masterpiece. But then, as my wife would say, art isn’t made for the artist.

I hold my baby out at arm’s length and the cop snatches her from me. “She has to paint,” I say, and flip over the rail like a scuba diver. I see sun and water, sun and water.


Flash Fiction by Jon Edward
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Eyebrows

Blanche knocks over her makeup case and an eyebrow pencil rolls out. Or, what’s left of it, a red stub barely longer than its matching cap, with a black tip inside. She swiped it from her parents’ dresser twenty years ago, after Momma killed herself. Each time Blanche buys a new beauty case, the first thing she transfers from the old one is this little red pencil. She pushes it down to the bottom, where no one else can see it.

Back then, when no one knew anyone who went to a salon to do their eyebrows, Blanche’s mother used to pencil in her brows twice a day. She would lean in towards the bathroom mirror, her rounded stomach pushed up against the sink, her head tilted down, to see past her glasses. Jet black curves, standing out against Momma’s deep brown skin. Twice a day, morning and night.

“Why do you draw your eyebrows before going to bed?” Blanche asked her mother one night. She stood close to her, watching their reflections in the mirror, so close that Momma’s elbow brushed the top of Blanche’s braids.

“Because I want to be beautiful in my sleep” Momma replied. “What would happen if I had an important dream and didn’t have my eyebrows on, hmm?” Blanche nodded solemnly at the thought, leaning her ear against her mother’s hip and listening for signs of life inside her belly. Did the baby inside already know how to talk?

After the new baby grew into a beautiful little girl and then died, Momma sometimes forgot to pencil in her brows, leaving the delicate arcs over her huge, black eyes exposed. Blanche would look down, embarrassed by the sight of her mother’s grief, undressed.

Momma’s face was bare when they pulled her out of the water. In the last moments alone with her body, Blanche took the brow pencil out of her pocket and drew.

Blanche picks up the stub, now, holds it flat against her cheek, then rolls it against the side of her growing belly. Then she shoves it back into the makeup case, where no one else can see it.


Flash Fiction by Charmaine Wilkerson
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