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Tag: Long-Listed

Morris Greene

Wallace was running with his hands in the air when he was shot. Dropped to his knees with the weight of a feedbag, his palms still facing the Wyoming sky talking to God, when another bullet opened up his ribcage. A man had barged in on Wallace’s family sitting around the supper table, and interrupted Alma, the eldest child, saying grace —us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from—. Neither the children nor his wife had known the true account of how Wallace had so recently come upon a small fortune; just last week he, himself, had burst through that front door with parcels wrapped in brown paper, a calico dress for his wife, books for Alma, candy for the twins. His wife knew they hardly had enough to eat and were about to default on another bank payment. Wallace held the dress up against her frame and danced her around the kitchen until her shoulders relaxed. He kissed her cheek loudly in a clownish way and had said: Don’t worry. McAlister let me in on a business proposition that can’t lose. The back of Wallace’s shirt was soaked through with sweat.

Now Wallace’s wife was left with three screaming girls, a body to bury, and more debt than she’d ever known. She retched out there in the yard when the man who shot her husband slowed his horse to canter beside her:

“Ma’am, I’m sorry you and your family had to see it like this. My name is Morris Greene and I am sorry for your loss.”

Though he went to this trouble, he never bothered to remove his hat when he consoled the widows. His bowler and shirt were black, his pants the same colour as the dust that lifted off the roads. Greene’s horse made a noise that rumbled over the sound of Alma, now hysterical, reciting grace over and over at the top of her lungs. The three daughters in a twisted huddle halfway between their mother and the porch: the Wallace clan making an archipelago of crumpled bodies over his spent and meagre parcel of land.


Flash Fiction by Nadia Ragbar
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Permanent Jewellery

New day. Second bus. Down straight and narrow roads. Good of Uncle Terry to sort me out. Good of his mate too. Fucking job centre.

Induction begins. Probation period. Shoes trape in mud. Room smells of citrus fruit fighting stale boots. Piles of invoices everywhere. Trapped from the draft by a watch. Sarah tells us the don’ts. Prettiest girl I’ve seen in thirteen months and three weeks.

Told to move slabs first. Yes, sir. Got to start somewhere. Heavy. Like giant monuments from the past. Arms creak under the weight. Used to being inside.

“Pint afterwards?” Would love to, but can’t. Got to be home by seven. They laugh. Ha-ha. Old me would’ve lumped him. New me now.

Second day. On time. Shoulders as stiff as prison bars. Hot. Wearing shorts this time. Planning pay cheque now. Trainers, phone. Give Mum some too. Proper son.

Sarah brings daughter in. Earrings stretch her lobes. Red with the burden. Daughter talks. Asks why I’ve got a watch on my leg. Sentence lingers. Sarah puts finger to her mouth.

Slabs brand my hands. But keeping up. Until load dropped. Support went. Bits of rubble everywhere. Uncle’s mate comes out. Has one of those eyebrow piercings. Fucker goes up and down when he twitches. Like a dumbbell. Bet he thought good idea at eighteen. Things are.

He stares me out. Checks out my jewellery. My permanent jewellery. My blank anklet.

“No second chance with them,” he says. Lad writes ‘damaged goods’ on the bag. Rest goes on the scrap heap.

Ten minutes later, “Office”. Door closes. Customer visit. Terry should have said. Nothing personal. It never is.


Flash Fiction by Paul Croucher
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The Photographer

It’s late afternoon.

Pa brings her in, wrapped in a blanket as though she might catch cold.

We prop her in the velvet chair, polished black bootees dangling unnaturally from beneath her white cotton frock. The head brace holds her straight, but a blonde curl falls forward over her face. Mama tucks it back.

“It’s for my locket,” she says quietly. “I have nothing else.”

I nod.

“Perhaps a garden?” I say, pulling down a canvas. “A rose arbour.”

Mama’s white kerchief dabs, in sharp relief against the black.

“What was her name?” I ask.

“Elsie.”

“She’s beautiful.” But already the beauty is beginning to fade, the rictus to set in. The forced eyes, staring out at me, are too unsettling. The rag doll pose all wrong, so wrong.

I have something else in mind. A prop rock, a painted background of cliffs with a waterfall. One of my own artistic endeavours. Pa lays her on her side on the rock, a small pale hand under her chin. I position a live fern by her shoulder as though it is springing naturally from the craggy stone. She is transfigured. An exhausted woodland fairy who has fallen asleep to the sound of the cascade.

I take the picture.

“Thank you,” says Mama. “We’ll come back, after the funeral.”

“What was it?” I ask.

Pa swoops up the little girl’s body into his arms as though to swing her around, twirl her into frantic giggles.

“The scarlet fever. She’s our last. We never got a chance, with the others. We couldn’t afford it anyway.”

I show them out, into the diseased streets.

In the back room, Arthur is playing on the rag rug with his toy soldiers and Mary feeds the baby at her breast.

“How much?” she says. She’s hungry. The baby is hungry. Despite the outbreak, business has been slow.


Flash Fiction by Julie Evans
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Replenished

The agent has a liverish complexion, perplexing eyebrows and fag-breath; she drives an old, mustard-coloured Renault that almost matches her skin. I can tell that she hates her job.

“Mr and Mrs T— are quite frail, so be gentle.”

Her words indicate concern, her expression boredom. She knocks, and the door swings open immediately.

The old man’s hand is calloused, his grip still firm. He sizes me up and blurts out that his wife has Alzheimer’s and he can’t cope. I commiserate, sincerely; tell him I would be a cash buyer, insincerely. He shows me round as the agent clucks over Mrs T— while checking her phone.

The house is stifling, a testament to bad taste and sentiment. The boiler is obsolete; the photos faded and the bathroom mouldy-black.

I coo.

The garden tells of skilful industry, abandoned; the shed is cobwebbed but full of treasures.

“Can’t do it no more. I’m going blind . . .” His words curdle and I do some sympathy. As he peers outside to hide tears, I pocket a pretty miniature spirit level and say, “Do you mind if I have another wander round? The layout’s not quite fixed in my head.”

“Take your time. But I’d better . . .” He gestures towards his wife’s room and shuffles off. A complicated folding ruler and a pair of ebony-and-brass dividers disappear inside my coat.

In the bedroom, I snap the heads from two ceramic spaniels, remove the light bulbs, flip back cheap duvets and slice down the centres of their mattresses with my scalpel (10A Swann Morton blade). I put the plug in the kitchen sink and turn on the tap. He’ll think he did it, initially.

Satisfied, I re-join them.

The agent looks relieved; dementia has its limitations. Promising an early response, we leave. She lights up and inhales suicidally.

“What did you think? Potential?”

I step towards her, baring my teeth. Clutching her bag to her stomach she shrinks back, and I walk.

She gives me the finger as her car speeds past, but doesn’t stop. Very wise.

I feed my trophies to the nearest drain and jog to the station, replenished.


Flash Fiction by Robert Mason
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Grandma’s Christmas Cake

“Oh, I love the smell of this cupboard . . .”

James ignored his sister, Amanda ‘hash-tag-don’t-call-me-Mandy’, and continued to study his phone at the kitchen table. There was nothing from Naomi. This had an end of the world feel about it.

Mandy had her head in the cupboard. “. . . one sniff and you can tell Christmas is coming.” She was breathing extravagantly. “When the cake is ready, I will offer you a slice, of course . . .”

He groaned but Mandy droned on, “and you will refuse of course . . .” She plonked herself down. “. . . because you no longer believe in The Cake.”

It was an accusation. Patience reached a Naomi inspired limit. “Mandy, hate to have to destroy your childhood—but I’ll explain. Grandma died in the old house, long before we moved here. This is a new house. That cupboard was factory built probably earlier this year—way after Grandma died. Get it?”

She looked at him, said nothing. The awesome thing about Mandy—was that she could handle silence like a knife, own it and keep it sharp. “Nothing from Naomi then?”

His non-existent reply floundered in a fish-caught gasp for words.

She said, “Just so you don’t forget what is real and what is not, I will fix that for you, big brother, right now.” She tra-la-la’d and danced out of the kitchen.

James went to the cupboard, opened it and with eyes closed drew a deep breath. Frustration mellowed on the outgoing breath. A hint of orange peel and the mixed up want-more taste of grandma’s Christmas cake churned with the yearning for a hug from her.

In one breath childhood was a place he didn’t want to leave but next he wanted to run away into the rest of his life.

Then as if by Mandy-magic, his mobile rang. When he put the phone down he had a date with Naomi, tomorrow.

Somehow, everything was alright again.

He went back to the cupboard opened the door and was met by the faint smell of antiseptic, nothing more.


Flash Fiction by Ian J Burton
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The English Teacher

Todd stood at the front of his class, looking out over the loosely formed rows of desks, searching for a glimmer of interest among the students who looked miserably toward the open door or slouched in their chairs, their feet sticking out into the aisles. One young woman sat twirling her hair in an absentminded way that infuriated him. A boy from the frat house kept nodding off, then waking with a start that made the others around him giggle. Even had they read the assignment for today, which he was sure they had not, he was convinced they would never be able to see the symbolism of the light at the end of the dock. Or anything else, for that matter. He wondered what it would take. Even his retarded brother put forth more effort than this. He imagined bringing his gun to class, holding them hostage until they learned something. Half of them are scared of him anyway. The rest just think he’s crazy. The way he rages on about particular passages, sometimes standing on his chair to make a point, gesturing wildly, once killing a wasp barehanded for emphasis. If they only knew how trapped he felt.


Flash Fiction by Marcie McGuire
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This is How You Mourn Your Father

1. Post the news and watch the all-day buzz and shudder of your phone.

2. Pull on a teeshirt fresh from the dryer, that sharp clean smell.

3. Search for a last-minute flight that doesn’t cost the earth.

4. Write down who he was in the world, the bald and simple facts.

5. The ring of your boot heels in the airport parking garage.

6. Buy a paper on the concourse. Relish the heft and flow of the words you chose.

7. Note the rainbow edge of clouds below the plane. Something he taught you, the refraction of light.

8. The inverted stillness of the house. His watch and glasses, the trailing vacuum of his socks.

9. Zip up your black dress. His Hawaiian shirts, his bow ties and cigars, his fragrant whisky breath. The recliner breaking when you climbed in with him one too many times.

10. Watch the casket slide away. Wait for the bait and switch, his face around the curtain, grinning.

11. Shake hands, lean into one-armed hugs, your glass damp in its napkin. Pick up a deviled egg. Put it down.

12. Watch the PowerPoint loop, boy and dog in black and white, cocksure graduate in gown, groom with bride and cake. Holding a baby you, his beard grasped tight in your seashell fist.

13. That last call when he’d fallen and you asked him to stop drinking and he got mad which pissed you off because how could you not worry and want to keep him safe, but now you know what he knew and can see that drinking was a fraying rope across a chasm, carving weals into his tender human palms.


Flash Fiction by Fiona J Mackintosh
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