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Reflex Fiction Posts

I Paint Red

The murmuring intensifies. My fingers reach for the paintbrush, close around the solid wooden stick. You’re so stupid. Do you remember that time you … I tighten my grasp and dip the brush into the grey, find the rough texture of the wall. The Houses of Parliament, the skirting board their foundations. Big Ben climbing the side of the window. The intricate strokes of the clock face. The radiator rippled with the murky Thames. Everything we saw from our perch on the London Eye. When I used to be able to get out.

Nobody likes you. Do you know they laugh at you behind your … Paint paint. I plunge the brush into the green. Blades of grass in the foreground. My strokes thicken. My hand quickens.

Nobody needs you, it would be best if you just … Paint paint. I stab into the red. The colours merge above the cityscape. The vivid hues of a sky on fire. Day fades into night. Crimson droplets trickle down. The tang of iron lingers in the air. I cover every surface. And when I am finished, I will whitewash and start again. Though the hint of red will always remain.


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Flash Fiction by Sally Doherty
Picture: red table by richi choraria under CC0 1.0
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He Regularly Swam on Christmas Day, but Never Before so Far From Shore

He was sixteen and hungover the first time he swam on Christmas day. There were fourteen at dinner that day, all squeezed around the table, the usual table with the foldy picnic table added at the end. Aunt Mabel, actually Great Great Aunt Mabel, asked if he had a girlfriend. His grandfather, as usual, told him not to bother with women, his grandmother, as usual, drained her sherry and explained that she didn’t like to drink.

He came to venerate those last days before Father Time began ticking names off his list, but that was later; when his brother suggested they swim in the sea he was glad to escape.

Stripping on the pier, running, leaping and then the now now now, an eternal split second above the brown blue grey of winter water and the topsy-turvy of in the sea and the touch of the seaweed, air sacs like globes of brown pearl worlds, and then the hollering and the stone stairs slimy with green and for hours afterwards the cold still there, deep inside, like a secret. Such joy: giant and tiny in time.

The years that followed hit hard; nothing quite worked out right, his novel seemed lost in seventeen hundred hours of pub talk, he was drunk at work and then he had no work. Suddenly though, everything came right again: success, even love. His novel published, he woke this Christmas with his wife beside him, a fleck of paint on her forehead. Though fast asleep her nose wrinkled like it does when she is looking for the perfect word for something she’s seen.

And suddenly he couldn’t stand the now now now of happiness with time waiting like a vulture and so here he is, almost too far from land, almost too long in such a cold sea. Will he turn to shore? Yes, yes, don’t worry, he will.


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Flash Fiction by Conor Houghton
Picture: man swimming by mali maeder under CC0 1.0
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Trigger Fish

The trigger fish was stout and pouted in patrolling circles above the nest. It was some distance away so I did not need to extend my leg, raise my flipper. Not yet, anyway.

The rain fell onto the surface of the sea where the blue lightened. My tank was behind me in the sand, another test complete. Stretch and lose the umbilical cord. I listened to my lungs, breathing lightly to control my position on the bed. The bubbles sought the air beyond and carried away my sickness.

We drank too much the night before, the two of us not together. He left me for her and I had not seen him until the dazzled orange and yellows of fresh juice on the beach. He grinned and told me what he had done whilst I sat alone, waiting and sedated. Motorbikes and shrill pounding in a bar with plastic tables. The exotic blur of his imagined self. I massaged him, retching on the speedboat and holding down the pill. I claimed him back for me. I needed his adventure.

In the water we were buddies. I followed him always and even more in the deadly clarity of bleached colour and underwater curiosity. The boat rested above us, the tombstone seen from the grave. I watched him powering downwards with strong legs and away, the better to observe the nest. He was lost in living. He had left me again, as I knew he would.

The rain punctured the balloon above, stabbing at the skin. I reached behind and strapped my life to my back. I breathed deeply and stared at the puckered fish. It was circling with caution, protecting itself. I extended my leg and raised my flipper.


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Flash Fiction by E J Saleby
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Elementary

Helen had worked with kids all her life. First the high schoolers, until they discovered Adderall and varsity sports. Then she was sent to the middle school, where her superiors thought she might be able to manage better.

The students liked her well enough. Before Christmas, they put cutouts of snowflakes on her door under ‘Guidance Counselor’, even though they were torn down before the vacation. Helen met with them every day. She felt more comfortable with them than with her co-workers, who told her to relax and take more days off.

After work, she typically visited her mother, helped her brother with his laundry or housecleaning, and poured over bills alone at the dining room table.

Fridays were the worst. Her cat had been missing for four months, but she still left open cans of food on the back step. Some nights she would go out into her backyard, crack the can open, and whistle mindlessly at the woods behind her house, the house that she had not paid off yet and wouldn’t for another thirty years, according to the stack of papers on her dining room table.

In her head, she planned out the work she had for the following week. On Monday she was going to meet with a young girl whose family had just moved to town. New students were always nervous.

‘Don’t put too much pressure on yourself,’ Helen would say, smiling and handing the girl her class schedule. ‘You don’t have to have everything figured out just yet.’


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Flash Fiction by Nicole Cohen
Picture: ABC chalkboard by Pixabay under CC0 1.0
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Don’t Make Him Cry

Like drones, men pour out from government-provided duplexes. Dressed in identical dark blue coveralls and heavy black boots they trudge to work. At three years old I could not distinguish my father from this crowd.

One day a stranger came home for lunch. I thought he was there to fix the electrical or plumbing or make a random repair as countless other men in blue coveralls had before. His 6’1” frame towered against the counter near the sink. He conversed professionally, courteously with my mother while I ate tomato soup at the table.

When finished, I walked toward the visitor to deposit my dirty dishes in the sink. He pressed in on me and requested a hug. No coverall clad man ever asked me for a hug before.

‘No,’ I said, stepping away from the foreigner.

His face melted. The look plastered in his skin reminded me of sad Charlie Chaplain, whom I was familiar with from my favorite children’s program. I felt a twinge of pity for him but still did not want to hug this alien.

‘Oh no. You made him cry,’ Mom said, appealing to that innate sense of compassion all children possess.

I did not want to make anyone cry, not even this intimidating outsider. I walked forward, arms extended. I expected him to lean down and give me a quick hug. Instead, he locked me in a tight embrace, pinning my hands to my side, and picked me up. He planted a wet scratchy kiss on my cheek.

A gritty prickling sensation crept over my skin. Inside, it felt like someone rubbed dirt and coarse gravel all over. My epithelial burned. Cold wet dribble lingered on my face, outlining the spot his lips touched. I shuddered uncontrollably.

When I hit the ground, I dashed to the sink, dropped my bowl and sprinted upstairs to my room, attempting to avoid further unwanted physical interaction with the strange man claiming to be my father.

My dad remembers this incident too. He speaks of it as if my three-year-old self purposefully and maliciously endeavored to wound him. His words seek to punish and shame; instead, they ignite an infestation of hard-shelled scuttling insects beneath my flesh that writhe and tear and sting and repel me from him all over again.


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Flash Fiction by J C McKinley
Picture: work boots by Pixabay under CC0 1.0
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Minor Celebrity

Drunk on the circle line, I see an advert for life insurance and it reminds me, predictably, of death. I look down to the window and my reflection inspires more empty brooding. Finally, I pull out my Updike and he tells me of the ‘ghastly blank’ I can look forward to in elderly dreams, when my mind is no longer stiffened by careless aspirations. I lock in for four more stops of the good stuff and think strangely of my primary school’s sports cup. There was a boy there ten years before me, his name still screaming legacy, who had won the trophy three years in a row. I had seen Scott Musgrove etched in semi-permanence – 1994–97 – on the thin metal sheet and vowed to do the same.

Coming out of the tube at Westminster, I am aroused by the prospect of nursing out every last drop of my brooding with a view from the bridge. Blinking lights and the sprawl of other lives – sure to get me going nicely. Then coming out I see a streak of grey hair and Ed Miliband walks in front of me. In a second, I extend my hand, ‘It’s an honour to meet you,’ I say (is it?) ‘Keep doing what you’re doing!’ I add (what exactly is he doing?) He barely replies and is down the escalator.

Up the stairs and outside, I message my friends and skim the memory of his handshake for something remarkable. Nothing comes. Still, it turns out he holds about the level of clout it requires to sober me up. The bridge feels only like a bridge and on the final bus home, all I can think about is telling my mum about Ed. Updike lays shut in my pocket and Scott Musgrove struggles on somewhere: thinking about his mortgage and entertaining himself at the weekends as a Sunday League footballer.


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Flash Fiction by Jamie Cameron
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It’s Not so Different Driving Pigs

It’s just a job and it’s just the job I have and it’s not so different driving pigs. It’s just like driving salt or washing machines or old mattresses with their springs sticking out like your ex-wife’s hair in the morning.

It’s a bit like driving timber because the cars behind keep the same distance. Fearing a spurt of slurry on their bonnet I s’pose, but that’s better than some humongous log shaking loose from its fastenings and smashing through your windscreen, missing you and your ex-wife but mangling the car you’ve packed so carefully for a holiday you were going to ruin with bickering anyway.

And concrete. It’s just like driving concrete because the pigs are fat and soft and move like thick liquid, ’specially when you’re braking hard and they all slide forwards like a whole wet building at your back, pushing you up and out of your seat until you’re just praying you don’t hit the car in front as your ex-wife’ll take pleasure in you having an accident, whether it’s a fender bender or a pileup with twenty dead and they’re all from the same school.

It’s pretty much like driving chickens or cows or sheep because you get those needly looks when you’re doing steady sixty and a coachload of tourists overtakes at sixty-one and it’s a whole year before the road can breathe again. And they’re ogling because that man driving the pig lorry is doing all that horrible stuff they’ve seen on TV like piping minced-up piglets into their mothers’ stomachs because we’re a cruel cruel species and yum-yum. And they’re moving as slow as the queue for the dole you’ve took because your ex-wife can’t stand the smell of you when you get home from work because look at the state of you, you’re turning into a pig you are, Christ can you believe the stink, pigs why of all things pigs.

No, it’s not so different driving pigs.


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Flash Fiction by Nicholas Petty
Picture: pig by Matthias Zomer under CC0 1.0
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