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Reflex Fiction Posts

The Exchange

Every week she tells me, you are not to look, you are not to draw attention and if I catch you looking then, so help me God, but you will feel the palm of my hand.

He’s sitting down in his usual spot between the pharmacy and the Indian Palace. I think, don’t look, don’t look, but someone has dropped pakora sauce and it has pooled near his feet. A polystyrene island slides along the top of the orange puddle as it creeps towards the drain.

The ridge of his spine rests against the brickwork but there’s a current that runs through his wracked body. His limbs fizzle and snap as he nods along to something uptempo inside his head, as he fixes his eyes on the face of each passer-by, follows them in a one hundred and eighty degree arc. They angle their chins at the shop windows above him.

I see him see me and he stops pulsing. Toffee stretches the teeth from my gums and I shrivel, expecting the sting of her hand, but her head is turned towards the road. His face is all ripples and twitches. He rocks his heels forwards, flattening his burst trainers against the ground. The tang of pakora sauce and bitter-hop sweat is in my nose.

I think, stay still, please stay still and quiet. If he moves, she’ll know I looked. I meet his eyes, stare straight into them with my silent plea. He could choose to betray me at any moment; he could pitch himself forwards and lunge at me, take me hostage in a bony cage of limbs. I try not to blink.

When I’m right beside him, his bristly jowls sag and he brings his palms together into a slack bowl. I keep walking, but when I’m far enough beyond him and suspicion, I take a toffee from my pocket and drop it with a backswing of my arm. The wind scuttles it along the pavement behind me.

I wait ten seconds before I dare to look back. He’s wearing that big wicked grin again as he slips the toffee into his pocket.

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Flash Fiction by Elaine Dillon
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The Artist’s Model

Emilie fine-tunes his pulse with every brush stroke. His figure on the chaise longue, mere game plan.

Mid-afternoon, early spring. Sunbeams insinuate dusty nooks despite the well-swept wooden floor. Tins of brushes rattle slightly, victims to a sturdy breeze from the skylight. The wide sash windows facing west remain calmly open. The walls, camouflaged by sprawling canvases, some hung some stacked, a tall mirror, an antique wardrobe stashed with throws, cushions, drapes. But our eyes are ever drawn to the centrepiece.

Emilie carefully fleshes skin onto his cheeks, layers background shadows, dancing shafts of light, delineates the provenance of each hair follicle on his loins. Rising from the once blank canvas a superb being comes to life.

For Emilie, it is like falling in love. Discovering contours, rhythms, nuances, in an unfolding of self-expression. Emilie does not believe in love at first sight.

She favours the earthiness of oils, their calibrated flow, their stickiness potential, their textural capacity. Their grainy smell and the sharp turpentine stench of day’s work done.

When the model moves, he does not change. This proves to Emilie that her developing creation is the real thing, its model a mere shadow.

I only come into the light when I paint, thinks Emilie.

It’s getting dark, and Emilie hates painting without natural light. It skews her palette, brazens hushed tones so that the next day they are not in harmony. That’s the way to create monsters, chimeras neither of day nor night.

Dusk falls and the young man rises at her command. She doesn’t know his name, or maybe she’s simply forgotten. It’s immaterial. He’s a good model. Gustav recommended him, and Gustav knows what she requires.

She closes the windows against the chill night air but opens a fanlight. Washes the brushes, cleans the palette. Hangs her apron, unties her hair. Grabs a shawl and leaves for Gustav’s.

Gustav favours artificial light and, also unlike Emilie, has one single muse. He pays handsomely. Night work suits her and she tolerates his attachment.

One day, he often jests, I will sit for you. Emilie smiles as if humouring a small child.

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Flash Fiction by Susan Carol
Picture: color paint by Daian Gan under CC0 1.0
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Collapsing Isosceles

“Oh yer—it’s totally uneven! Look at her right eyelid, there’s a weird extra fold.”

Real beauties, these best friends of mine—the female one, and the male one that I love. She’s all caramel locks and Julia Roberts smiles. He’s tall, tanned and spaniel-eyed.

Aged twelve, we had formed the perfect isosceles. I held it together at the bottom: solid and strong. They flirted at the apex; slanting out like a well-made tipi.

But at fifteen, my asymmetry surfaces—and delights. Scrutiny nutrifies their beauty-bond. They’re standing hip-to-hip at the top of the kitchen, perfect cheeks propped against the pine effect worktop. I give it the am-I-bothereds from the knee-high pew below.

Our configuration is at breaking point. I know they want to parallelise… get horizontal.

So they do. Twice. But the earth doesn’t move, if she’s honest: too ‘fumbly’ during; too needy after. She calls it off, casual as that.

Three heartbreaks later, he chooses me—it’s like coming home, he says—and for six years he settles.

Now she’s back. Humbled by heartbreaks of her own. Kept us on the radar—easy nowadays. Couldn’t believe her two school besties had got together. He’s different, isn’t he? So confident.

They’re aligning their elbows on my dead uncle’s table. Watching them talk is exhausting: an echo chamber of conceit. I’m reflected a thousand different ways, not one of them flattering.

Something shatters out of earshot. Maybe my heart or maybe just our mirrored bedroom wardrobe (he knows his best angles).

Who am I to come between them? Let them snap into one perfect line. I’m already spinning off, a twirling baton blurred against the blue—

He’s exquisite, my new beau; a real gargoyle. For months we’ve swapped wonky grins on the 8.03. I can’t wait to embrace my ugly side.

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Flash Fiction by Lucy Goldring
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The Bell Witch

The empty sugar bowl. The cracked milk pitcher. The sticky mess of sweet. The pudding, the offering, no one can eat.

Because the witch, she concocts it. She steals it from the cane, the cow.

She bites my neck until I taste blood, running and pooling in my belly like cider.

I’m made drunk with fear.

She cackles with the crows in the sky, swirling.

She wrenches my burning ears until they pop off.

Mama! I squeal.

You naughty! Ring that bell again and just watch—I’ll let her get you.

I drape the mirror with a quilt before sleep. I’m cold in the attic, even with the warm chimney bricks. The pale wallpaper is peeled back in jagged triangles, like missing eye teeth.

I doze and a weight gathers against me. I open my eyes to see a black cat on my chest. She exhales, I inhale. Her breath is rank, rotten mice caught in a snap in the walls of the attic. She says, My sweet, and her voice sours into a crow’s—mocking, biting, bitching, bleeding.

Mama, I whisper.


I am dead and Mama weeps.

But I see her, the witch.

She transforms me.

I am feline. Avian.

I peck at Mama’s crying eyes.

And then I sleep.

When I wake, Mama’s here.

She says, You naughty. I told you, you naughty.

What else could I be?

Be a girl. Be alive.

But I rang the bell.

I know. You naughty.

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Flash Fiction by Courtney Harler
Picture: black cat by Pixabay under CC0 1.0
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Toby picks up the squirrel by its bushy tail.

“Daddy,” he says. “Look!”

The squirrel has been flattened by a vehicle, its body papyrus thin, mummified with mud and muck, dried gore smearing its grey fur. Death’s bloody signature. Its eyes are crow-plucked and long teeth show in a macabre smile.

My son dangles the dead animal from his delicate fingers, appalled by his find.

“Should we bury it?” he asks, as if something of the squirrel has passed to him, some sequestering, survival instinct. The hiding of things underground.

“Put it down,” I say.

He lays it on the floor, reverently. I walk over, pull out a small bottle of sanitising gel and wash his hands. I scrub and scrub and scrub.

“Daddy,” he says, “you’re hurting me.”

I stop.

Birds shrill in the leafless trees.

“Let’s go home,” I say.

He jumps in frozen puddles, kicks stones, searches for sticks which turn into knightly swords. We battle demons.

I teach him that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. I point to the last of the day’s lengthening light cresting the church. I tell Toby that his name means God is good.

At home, we slip out of autumnal clothing and into pyjamas, dressing gowns, and slippers. I make Toby a hot chocolate which he fills with marshmallows.

Later, I tuck him up into bed and kiss him goodnight.

“School tomorrow,” I say.

My son exhales, a grown-up exhaustion.

Downstairs I wash the mugs, wipe down the table, sort the dirty clothes into light and dark, write a Monday to-do list, and then collapse in front of the TV, letting the bright, squawking images silence my thoughts.

It is late when at last I climb the stairs. As I reach the landing, Toby opens the door of his bedroom and stares at me sleepily, his eyes like half-moons.

“Did Mummy look like that?” he asks.

He yawns in response to my unprepared pause.

“We should have buried it,” he says.

He shuts the door, disappearing from view, leaving me alone with his verdict and the softening sound of his footsteps.

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Flash Fiction by Rupert Dastur
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Some Other Place

Alibi; from the Latin meaning elsewhere. That’s exactly what I need now; to have been elsewhere, some other place.

Where I shouldn’t have been was Seabank Road, where he lives, lived, used to live. Not there. Absolutely not there, or anywhere between there and the coast road heading south through the sand dunes. Those unmapped marginal spaces, soft, unstable, shifting, shiftless, dry as bones. Not quite land, not yet, just a bit of the sea that the tide doesn’t reach anymore. The sand comes pouring over the top of your shoes, into your mouth, your ears, your nose; you could drown in it. I know that now. Somewhere out there is where I was conceived, in some dip, my feckless dam with her knickers off, amongst tufts of marram, tough as hawsers, sharp as stilettos.

A local boy you might say.

Further inland the sand gives way to marshland, sour and flat, and after that, the county properly begins with honest-to-goodness black earth that you can put a spade in. There, you could dig a grave, deep and plumb. But not in the dunes. Even with a spade I couldn’t have made a good fist of it. It’s all dry as bones.

So I scooped out a bit of a hollow and rolled him in. Then I scooped the dry, dry sea over him, scooping and shovelling with my arms and my cupped hands and scuffing with the sides of my feet. And I wept like a squonk, yet my tears didn’t wet the sand or trickle into my mouth but dried instantly on my hot skin. I hated leaving him there, but what else could I do? We had gone on my push-bike, me standing up on the pedals and panting. Him behind on the seat with nowhere to put his feet, just sticking them out either side, and the hem of his dress flapping, and his arms tight around my waist, and both laughing, laughing with a pocketful of lust and an onshore breeze in our faces.

But sand shifts. Sands shift. Now it’s just a matter of time.

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Flash Fiction by Jupiter Jones
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Da Vinci Would Be Chuffed

My hero product is continental.

Butter, that is. Until the advent of my tiny masterpieces, chiselled minutely onto each pliable block, I’d always pick the supermarket bargain. Now I’m a connoisseur. Everything counts: colour, density and texture.

I’ve experimented widely. Salted versus unsalted, organic and even goat. But the best is European, its raw, unpasteurized cream delivering the palest hue.

It’s the perfect ivory canvas.

My knife dives in, sharp-tipped.

We all have hobbies, right?

Mine began with a few scratches whilst I was bored at breakfast (the kids were staying over at their mum’s). I doodled with a toothpick on butter, instead of paper and a pen.

(I’m a graphic designer. Got an A* Art ‘A’ level. I can sketch a bit.)

First time, a stick man, morphed into a witty self-portrait.

Second time, a cartoon dog for Joe, capturing its canine swish.

Third time, a copy of Tilly’s doll, including her cute dress.

Then—what can I say? Obsession set in. Sounds daft, but I copied a Warhol. The Marilyn Monroe one, with her strong lips and wavy hair.

The slick silhouette on dairy worked a treat.

Then it was a short hop to the classics, down the centuries. I started with twentieth-century abstracts, Picasso and Mondrian, finished with seventeenth-century Vermeer. (Girl With a Pearl Earring was a particular success.) Now it’s sizzling June. I have to stand with arms outstretched into the fridge, to stop my canvas melting.

With Mona Lisa I’ve reached a pinnacle. Da Vinci would be chuffed. Like all artists, I tinker to finesse it, unsure whether I’ll ever be done.

Sunday night I order a takeaway—I’m too busy crafting to shop.

I get food poisoning.

(The kids are in Greece holidaying with their mum.)

I’ve been two days in bed, sick as a parrot. Mrs P from next door lets herself in. Stands in my bedroom, hands on hips, all concerned.

“Cuppa?” she asks.

Mrs P returns triumphant, announces: “Tea and toast!”

I gaze aghast at the creamy globules spread with love.

Watch helpless as one-eighth of Mona’s face dissolves.

She’s smiling though.

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Flash Fiction by Judith Wilson
Picture: Butter by Carey Tilden under CC BY 2.0
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