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Reflex Fiction Posts

Underground

I had done the journey roughly nine hundred times since I got the job at Waterloo. Almost the entire length of the Bakerloo Line from Harrow & Wealdstone and time enough to immerse myself in my reading.

I was barely aware of the train filling with people as it neared central London, like a bottle pressed into a bowl of water, bubbles escaping to the surface as a few lucky passengers exited at an early stop. Then came Baker Street, Oxford Circus, Piccadilly, and more people squeezed into my carriage; always third from the front of the train, for a swift exit at Waterloo.

In central London, the tide of commuters rushed in and out more erratically, unfortunate tourists swept up among them—changing trains in bafflement, gazing at the coloured pipework of the London Underground map writ far too small.

These days, the tube was much busier, but it held no problem for me despite what happened thirty years earlier. I was glad people couldn’t smoke anymore and I was glad the escalators were now shiny metal, not tarnished wood.

I thought little of the fire. I’d almost forgotten that people could see it when they noticed the uneven skin on my face; the part where no hair grew, where I didn’t need to shave. Occasionally people would stare and the memories would flood back, threatening to engulf me until I was able to breathe again. But that didn’t happen often now.

Then, one day I was on the escalator and it took me right back to King’s Cross. Not literally, of course; I was heading for the Bakerloo Line as usual when I saw her.

It isn’t that I never forget a face—I do, all the time—and I had forgotten this one too until I saw her on the escalator. A kind face. A brave face. Older, thirty years older, but still unmistakeable. It was the face of someone who had been on the same journey as me.

It was the face of the woman who saved me.


Flash Fiction by Mike Blakemore
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An Atheist’s Prayer

Hellion! Demon! Troublemaker! These words follow me, taunt me, lead me to devalue myself. I live up to them and embrace them with contradictory glee. I step forward into the cold stone building with high vaulted ceilings, an atheist in a sea of worshippers wanting to escape their critical gaze. I sit, the service washing over me, not listening, engaging or seeing. I don’t want to hear God’s word. The sacristans pass me on their way out, the priest looking at me, seeing the devil in my soul.

I sit. I wait.

The crowds walk out passing a beggar, desperate for food, without seeing him. I turn from the hypocrites, scowling to myself. Finally alone with God, I stand up and take a slow breath stepping across the uneven blocks of stone feeling the whisper of a breeze touch me, perhaps from a natural wind or a spirit. I don’t think about it until I come to the candles, three of them are lit, symbolising the lives that have been lost, the prayers that had been whispered. I’m completely alone now, feeling even God has abandoned me and donate a coin, hoping the golden disk will bring me peace. I light the candle, watching the wax drip onto the slab below before righting it and fixing it into the holder. Now I’m alone, I can pray and the Lord’s Prayer flows from my lips as I ask God to bless my father who left three years ago. The pain is with me every day and will stay with me every day for the rest of my life.

When I leave, I pull off my leather jacket showing the scant piece of fabric I wear as a top and the tattoos circling my biceps. People stop, stare, talk about me. I throw my jacket over my shoulder with a detached smile. Let them think what they like.


Flash Fiction by Victoria Williams
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Leaves

As she lies there, Cormac’s weekly spelling test goes round and round in her head. Diff-E-rent. He just couldn’t get it this morning, but the test’s today. Not the end of the world; he’s a smart kid. Something sticky glues a strip of auburn hair stubbornly to her mouth. She reaches out her tongue and makes the smallest contact with it on her chapped lip. What will he do when he’s older? An engineer perhaps. He’s more maths-y really; an essay question a tyranny not a freedom to him. A noise; a silence. When the hurly-burly’s done; when the battle’s . . . Then a picture: a tiny piece of driftwood, if she wanted to float. It’s little Isla in her school uniform. There already! And only four. The time she negotiated two Haribos in return for putting her shoes on without a fuss. The little munchkin, she’d seen the look in her mother’s eyes and knew it was a bad day. One of them. She’ll end up some City bigwig won’t she? So headstrong, like her mother, David always said with a wink in her direction. She tried to feel the humour, the warmth of that wink, but it always felt out of reach. It was a feted Japanese movie but without the subtitles. David. Would he still joke about her to Isla after today? Hard to tell.

She thought her eyes were open, looking at Isla, but they weren’t. She tries to open them but the subtitles she cannot read push down and hold them shut. A little—just one eye—but the metal is cold against her face and there are screams. Foxes. People. She got it wrong. Always bloody wrong. The InterCity through train was 8.49; this one was starting to slow down as she stepped off, aiming for a chocolate wrapper on the track, twisting in its own tiny tornado. Inside the train, David tuts and glares at his laptop as the train screeches to a halt and people shunt forward. A bad morning for Sarah is a bad morning. A school run, unplanned. He sighs. Taps. Leaves on the line.


Flash Fiction by J Cammish McKeen
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Speed

Here I am doing sixty-five mph along Highway 46 North Dakota, the straightest road in America. The engine moans, begging to be set free. The road is clear in both directions, temptation goads me on. I resist for a moment, then comply, as the needle approaches seventy. It feels better, but it’s not enough. “Faster,” the engine cries. I press on the gas, slowly the needle creeps up to ninety. The engine is singing now, as I tear a hole in the hot desert air.

As I approach a hundred everything is a blur, I daren’t take my eyes off the road, my hands grip the wheel, sweaty palms and brow. At this speed the road feels like silk, tyres hardly touching the tarmac. I’m flying now, like a bullet, unstoppable. I press harder and my foot is on the floor, the needle touches the limit of the speedometer, a hundred and twenty miles an hour. Exhilaration fills me.

But then reality hits me, like a cold hand on my throat, I struggle for breath. If anything happens at this speed, I’m a dead man. Something as simple as a blowout, a slick of oil and it’s all over. I try to slow down, but my foot is glued to the floor, the muscles in my leg, rigid, unbending.

The world flies past, like I’m falling, never reaching the ground. How to stop? How to let go? I’m terrified now, unable to release the accelerator, death hurtling towards me, like a demon.

“Stop!” I shout, “Please stop!”, but my muscles don’t hear, my mind is intoxicated, drunk, unable to respond. I cry out in my mind, “Help me, I don’t want to die today,” tears running down my cheek. Then, like the touch of a warm hand on my frozen muscles, they begin to melt and I ease off the gas. The needle drops slowly; ninety, seventy, fifty-five, thirty. I pull over and push the door open, falling onto the road. As my face presses against the hard, gritty tarmac, I realise, this was no silk highway, no unstoppable flight. But a close shave with the immutable laws of physics.


Flash Fiction by Robert Stone
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Waiting

Even with a pastel cloud of candy floss obscuring her face, the woman next to me is familiar. Flecks of sugar get caught in the scattered moles on her chin as she chews.

When the music starts, her body tenses.

“It looks fast, but they’ll be okay. Is it your granddaughter you’re waiting for?”

“My daughter.”

I can’t see anyone older than six on the carousel.

“I watched her get on it. But I never saw her get off.”

My skin prickles as I realise who she is.

“I—I’m sorry. I saw her in the paper.”

We all did. Years ago. She was the story of the decade—until she wasn’t.

“She climbed up on that horse, right there. But I never saw her get off.”

The girl with the chestnut hair and moon-blue eyes beamed out from posters and milk cartons for years. Ubiquitous. Then she faded into background news, for everyone but this woman.

“Today’s her birthday”.

“Do you come back every year?”

She turns to me, chewing the now barren wooden stick between yellowed teeth.

“I come back every day.”

She tosses the stick to the floor.

“We’d argued, you know.”

I knew. I’d read every word of the interviews as a teen. Our nation became armchair detectives. Until we remembered our chores, our lives.

“I only put her on to give me five minutes’ peace. You know how children are.”

I think of tantrums, untidy bedrooms and refused meals. As the carousel slows to a stop, I watch the exit gate like a hawk.

My daughter bounds over.

“Mom! Can I ride again?”

I embrace her, tight.

“Of course! I’ll go with you.”

I turn to the woman, inadequate.

“It was nice to meet you.”

I squash my daughter onto my stomach as though I can envelop her back into the safety of my womb. I marvel at the miracle of her hair, feel her warm tummy rising under my hands, inhale her laughter. We pass the woman on the bench over and over, until the last time, when the carousel starts to slow, when I look over and she is gone.


Flash Fiction by Gaynor Jones
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Bodge’s Crossing

“Here, pull over,” says Bodge.

We were on our way to Necker’s to help him stack pallets. I saw the old dear waiting at the kerb. She had a hospital crutch. Her leg was bent into a soft Z and her arm looked like it was being held part way up with invisible string. Fitz pulls over. You do what Bodge says. He slides the window down. There were cars coming both directions.

“Here, love?”

The old dear looks over at Bodge.

“Do you want to cross?”

“I’ll wait,” she says.

“Will ya fuck,” he says hopping out of the car.

He takes her by the good elbow and leads her on to the road. A black Merc gives it both barrels on the horn. Bodge slams a middle finger skyward.

“Save it for yer missus!”

The car behind us has the good sense to flick on the hazards and wait. Old dear safely across, Bodge pats her hand in goodbye. He jogs back to us, blancmange belly jiggling under his Celtic shirt.

He gets in. We say nothing. Bodge was known for knocking seven shades at the least provocation.

“We going to Necker’s or what?” he asks.

Couple of days later we’re at the bonfire. Faces ablaze. Shotgun report of a deodorant can. Me and Bodge are taking a piss. Shoulder to shoulder. Splendour of fireworks muted in the streetlight-scarred night.

“I should have a sister,” says Bodge, a few cans in, spliff dying between ringed fingers.

Our piss crackles to foaming mounds on the grass.

“Mam had a girl that wasn’t right and she gave her up.”

Back at the bonfire, we watch sparks blow to heaven for a few minutes then Bodge slips off home without saying goodbye.


Flash Fiction by Adam Trodd
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She Was a Jam Sticker

The French door opened, creaking, and a cool gush of wind brought my dad from work. His greenish brown, itchy tweed jacket lapel rubbed against my cheek as I reached for his. His Fulton Lavender scent embedded in his clean shaved chubby face followed him to my grandmother’s kitchen, and I trailed behind, skipping over the black tiles of our checkered floor hallway, my pleated grey flannel skirt riding as high as it could, bending to my knees’ command. On the kitchen table, he placed a bottle of yellow egg liqueur my aunt Celina had prepared for us and a small packet wrapped in blue and white paper that read “Le Noir”, a fancy French-style boulangerie from La Plata. And then I saw her face, there she was, veiled, enigmatic, soft, hands crossed on her lap. She was a jam sticker, “La Gioconda,” said my father. She tasted of apples, the best, sweetest, most perfect jam I will ever taste in my life. After that day, every time “La Gioconda” visited my grandma’s kitchen, dinner had a different taste; there was the promise of a full teaspoon of her sinful nectar alongside a small taste of my father’s yellow liqueur in its crystal glass. It felt like taking communion. La Gioconda and I, we were two, reborn as one.


Flash Fiction by Luciana Erregue-Sacchi
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