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Reflex Fiction Posts

On Stage

Ellis is adjusting his boots, not because he believes they improve his drumming but ‘cos he’s vain. King is finishing another long message to his girlfriend. I worry about King and his romantic attachments, he’s so vulnerable.

I peep through the curtains, sweat slithering down the small of my back. A few minutes in this suffocating tunnel expands into millions of microseconds. For all the fuss about schedule, they tell us to keep ‘em waiting, heat up the atmosphere. As if our performance itself can’t do that. As if our image requires my mascara to run, my body paint to melt.

King’s phone beeps, shattering my communion with the granularities of time. He deflates as he reads, almost I don’t dare look at him, for fear of feeding off his discomfort, hope to God she hasn’t dumped him. King can’t take rejection, so he picks it every time. Jeez, I’d rather be with King than Ellis. But know I couldn’t satisfy his need for scorning.

Ellis produces a beer, bottle of, from his multi-pocketed leathers. Removes the cap with his teeth, which always makes me squirm. Offers me a swig, though he knows I’ll refuse. Replays every time. Stale, like the rank odours which collude here in this narrow space. Maybe it’s time I got outta here.

“Ready guys?” I command, without the question mark. And on we go.

House chock full, stage awash with electric green and hot white, but something feels wrong, I can’t become the music like I usually can. Then I hear it, kinda delayed, in slow motion audio. One whopping great mother fucker of a bang. Outbursts of screaming. Darkness. Panic.

I hit the floor, an instinctive sort of horizontal bracing position. Don’t see my life flash before me. Feel strangely cheated. Fear snakes along my spine.

A billion nanoseconds later. Brightness returns. I hear the MC reassuring the audience that it was just a faulty timer on one of the finale’s special effects. Just?

Ellis gallantly proffers his arm, helps me to my feet. My eyes search out King. I see him looking lovingly into his phone. Maybe she didn’t dump him after all.

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Flash Fiction by Susan Carol
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Ring O’ Roses

A guard stands outside our door, which is daubed with a vermilion cross. I fear we’ll soon be locked in; we may as well be.

Upstairs my father lies sickening with the early signs; ugly blooms upon his pale skin. Sitting by the fire, my mother endlessly recites prayers. This is her source of strength now, but mine is dwindling. The town’s fate is in the Devil’s grip and we have surely been clawed in.

My mother’s stuffed rags under the doors, sealing in heat and stale air; doing everything she believes will help. A doctor visits but leaves soon after. Too busy to return, he says. Mother becomes wild then and her eyes brim with tears; she begs him for help. I coax her back to the fireside. “I’ll persuade the guard to let me out and I’ll fetch another doctor,” I say as I stroke her arm.

“You must not leave this house, Eliza!” she cries, gripping me with both hands. “Promise me.”

But I have to escape. The herbal scents congest my nose and throat; my head thrums with the beat of Mother’s verses. Each hour, the fire burns hotter, spitting sparks and stealing more air. I daren’t tread near my father’s room; can only imagine his plight. And I do.

At nightfall, our guard’s slumped against a nearby wall; the incriminating jug has tipped from his hand onto the cobbles and lies empty.

If she’s blessed, perhaps my mother’s death can be averted, even though it’s too late for Father. But when I close my eyes, I feel myself falling away, flames setting light to the fingertips which have recently soothed.

Hastening down the street, fighting tension in my limbs, I glimpse an ethereal figure in the shadows of a doorway and I pause, trembling. And as I brush droplets of sweat away, moonlight reveals the hint of a bloom upon my own pale wrist.

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Flash Fiction by Christine Collinson
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Miss Murgatroyd Departs

Ding dong. There are serious delays to all services out of Waterloo.

Ding dong, the witch is dead. That is certain. Uncertainties flash across the departure boards.

We apologise for the delays to services, owing to an electrical fault on the line at Clapham Junction.

Lights, noise, passengers besieging the information kiosks. Jackie and I stand, patiently. We saw the coffin slide away and the curtains close. The eulogy focussed on her energy, her achievements. Not her heart.

Power has now been restored to the line, but disruption will continue throughout the evening.

They say heart rhythm depends on electrical signals. So she had a heart after all, till its electrics got garbled.

The 1920 service to Exeter St Davids will commence at Basingstoke.

How the hell will we get to Basingstoke? We didn’t stay for the wake: had our own special farewell in the pub. Goodbye, Miss Murgatroyd.

Passengers for the Exeter St Davids service should board the 18.35 to Basingstoke, now preparing to depart.

Departure boards flicker and shift. Trains disappear from the display as they trundle out of the station. We run for Platform 16.

Welcome aboard the delayed 18.35 service to Basingstoke, calling at…

A slow train. I’m so tired I can hardly stand, but the crowd in the carriage holds us upright. As we held each other, then.

We shall shortly be arriving into Basingstoke where this service terminates. I’m sorry to tell you that the connecting train has already departed.

There were prayers for the departed. She never had a prayer for us when she took the skin off our knuckles with her ruler. Or locked us in the cleaners’ cupboard.

We apologise for the delays to services this evening. Please make your way to the waiting room on Platform 3 where the next service will depart in an hour’s time.

The waiting room is crowded. Disgusted of Trowbridge is yelling at the woman on the desk. But Jackie and I sit on the floor and smile at each other. Thank you, Miss Murgatroyd.

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Flash Fiction by Jenny Woodhouse
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On Again & Off Again

She liked tulips the most. Simple arrangements. An elastic around the stems. I pulled one from each of eleven pots. One for every year since we’d met. Years apart included. I got back in my car whistling. At that moment she was snatching at her oxygen mask. Row upon row of yellow tea bags dangling between the seatbacks. She secured her own before helping the baffled gentlemen beside her. The highway was backed up all the way to the airport. I tried switching lanes, worried I’d be late, that she’d be left standing outside arrivals, baggage in hand, looking for me. She was sucking cold desperate lungfuls by then. The plane’s nose tipping earthward. A stewardess went tumbling the full length of the aisle. She began to speak goodbyes. The far left lane was blocked. Barrels topped with flashing bulbs. Men in reflective vests leaning on their shovels. I’ll take that job, I thought. No I won’t, I thought. The pilot’s voice crackled beneath passengers’ screams. The words calm, brace, exit row, fire. The left wing snapped off and went flapping away. The light at the end of the exit ramp was red. Me tapping my thumbs atop the steering wheel. Both wings gone now. Sky and ocean vertical beside each other out the tiny window. Was she wailing? What did she wish she had said? I pulled up outside the terminal doors, got out, her tulips in my hand. I’m late, I thought. I did not see her anywhere.

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Flash Fiction by Dan Tremaglio
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If You Are a Ghost

If you are a ghost, you may be tempted to visit me. And if you are tempted, I suggest you visit me at night, so that I can remember you as a bad dream. So that when I wake at dawn, I can think of you as a fleeting apparition.

Not real. Not real. Not real.

Even if you leave my lashes encrusted with evaporated tears, my face smeared with salt. Even if you twist my arms and make raspy burns on my wrists. Even if my throat feels scalded. Even if you jab my feet with needles; even if the red blood’s still clotted on my pink baby toes.

If you are a ghost, you may wish to make yourself known. And if you so wish, I only ask that you maintain that form to which I am accustomed—that gauzy shadow, those strings of hair. Do me the favor of remaining just incorporeal enough, so that I can imagine you away in the day.

Not real. Not real. Not real.

Even if you’re bald and your scant strands hang like muscatel vines in the ancient woods. Even if you manifest by crashing through the window, sparkling my quilts with slivers of glass. Even if I cannot resist you in the last days; even if you consume my soul and I never wake again. Even if I become your ghostly prodigy and we haunt this house and they do not deign to believe.

Not real. Not real. Not real.

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Flash Fiction by Courtney Harler
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Snow Angel

The night it came down, the silence got full; muted light making the world snowglobe-shimmer the other side of the curtains.

I lay rigid with excitement in the bedroom I didn’t like to call mine. Snowfall over the ache between Christmas and new year held some kind of gap together tight.

I dared to tug the curtain and took a glance. It lay, soft virgin white. My tummy did turns that should have been hers. I pulled at the wardrobe door; not quite perfect it rumbled open. Jonny had banged it together from Ikea three summers ago in readiness for her arrival. I had packed it with designer outfits we couldn’t afford.

The snowsuit was there, on the right for winter, still with tags—just in case. But today I scurried for the scissors from the bathroom and cut them fast. I lifted the suit from the rail, glorious paisley swirls in peacock colours. I traced their patterns with the tip of my pointer. Meanwhile across the landing I could detect her breathing. I followed it to her soft curls resting gently against the pillow, placed the suit at the foot of her bed. She would notice as soon as she woke up.

Wellies next. By the front door next to mine; hers designer, mine from the shoe stop in the precinct.

Her snores turned to snozzles and back I crept upstairs. I stumbled to change her. She yielded; one leg, two leg, three arm, four. And we were off.

The mute swan on the pond was the last bird we saw that year.

I led her to the top of the hill. She slid a little once there.

This was the day we played angels in the snow.

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Flash Fiction by Liz Kay
Picture: snow woman by Kristin Vogt under CC0 1.0
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When Holding onto Turns into Letting Go

The drive was fine. The A1 was my new best friend, with its skull-toothed juggernauts clattering and snarling round lazy day trippers. Knowing its best to keep busy, the M62 did its bit, with tangled traffic all the stop-start way. The snow was there for me too, swirling over Saddleworth in gripping dust devils.

The hospital megacity gobbled me up. Round-and-round I went until I found a place, then a space, then some change, then my registration number which had unremembered itself as I fiddled in front of the high-maintenance machine. On foot, it was easy to find the entrance, so my phylactery fingers and thumbs dialled Dad like we’d arranged.

We met at Costa and walked to the ward, small-talking to ease the phase-shift into limbo.

The door swung open and he said, “She’s a bit more settled this morning, but late last night she said, ‘I think I’m going’. I say she said it, but she can’t really talk, just whispers so quiet you have to read her lips, or put your face that close to hers you’re afraid of breaking her with your breath.”

Inside, two pink witches were well bedded in, canting oblivious in broad Boltonian, their Lancashire twang raising no magic.

“Do you wear them incontinence pads, Norma? I used to swear by them, but you can’t get them ont’ NHS, not anymore and they’re dead dear.”

“Nowt’s cheap now, Ada. You can’t get owt for nowt.”

Dad nods them a familiar hello then mouths to me, “They were at it all night. We don’t mind. Your mum gets some peace with her hearing aid turned down.”

Then I spot her, floating tiny over the furthest bed, a hovering mist like dust in a sunbeam—pale particles suspended in the flickering strip light. Shifting, like morning mist before daytime burns it back to cloud, her version of every shared moment, hanging. Drifting. Then she sees me and she’s solid, raises a porous hand to lift mine to her lips, smiling a cat’s eye smile. It’s clear that unsettling smile, so I swallow the salt and bend to kiss her dandelion-clock hair, breathing in.

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Flash Fiction by Jan Kaneen
Picture: snowy road by Sindre Strøm under CC0 1.0
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