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six words flash magazine

Issue 1: May 2012


Could you

The curious incident of sixwords and Mark Haddon

write a story in just 70 characters? We can.

W W W. S I X W O R D S . C O. U K


Hello and Welcome to the first issue of sixwords magazine! sixwords is here to celebrate the very best in flash fiction (defined as under 500 words) and in micro fiction (under 70 characters in length). When we started, we weren't sure how many great flashers there were out there. We soon found out. With submissions from across the globe, the ten flashes, and seven one-liners within these pages are some of the best you will find. the authors may be names you already know, but will definitely be names to look out for in future. The sixwords Editor

Issue 1: Contents On the Moors

Den Cartlidge

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Deborah Alma

Page 6

Infant Spring

M.A. Crossan

Page 8


Peter Domican

Page 10

The Single Line Quarterly


Page 12

Cold Friction

Andy Cashmore

Page 14

The Curious Incident of Mark Haddon and sixwords

Page 17

The Number 93

Laura Huntley

Page 18


Tony Williams

Page 20

Purple Ink

Jane Boyd

Page 22

The Doll

Julie Balloo

Page 24

Many Sweets

Aiden Clarkson

Page 26


On the Moors ‘You can’t wash up in your best trousers,’ Mum said, leaning on the chair for support. ‘Go upstairs and put something more suitable on.’ Dad sighed and made a lot of noise climbing the stairs. He made more noise coming back down. He was wearing his swimming trunks when he returned to the sink. The memory comes out of nowhere. It’s just after dawn. The sun looks green and yellow as it creeps through the forest. The woodland path had a gentle gradient but the moorland path, up to the Old Man, is steeper and greasy with dew. The Old Man is the tallest hill round here and it’s wearing a grey hat today. When I reach the summit the sun becomes a weak silver globe. I lean on the trig point and look at the mist swirling in ghostly ribbons above and below. There’s a skylark tumbling nearby. I can hear it, but I can’t see it. I think about the special cushion on Mum’s chair.‘ Mum is sick,’ Dad said, ‘so we’re going to have to do all the things she used to do around the house. If we get anything wrong, don’t try to hide it. Make a joke out of it. Be silly. Don’t hide a mistake, promote it!’ Mouse was confused. She didn’t understand. I was older and at school. When Dad did silly things, like dancing to Tom Jones in the kitchen, I knew it was my job to laugh first.

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It starts to rain a little on the Old Man’s summit. I take the path back down onto the moors. The path goes up and down, like a slide made from stone and moss and dew. I stop and close my eyes before I enter the forest. A silver tongue of stream is gurgling below. Behind the stream, where the pine has concentrated its forces and boots cannot reach, a raven is laughing. The curlew, flying overhead, hears him too and replies with a mournful wail. A red grouse, swimming in the heather on my right, concludes the concert with a long sarcastic cackle. I think about Dad’s silly jokes and stupid voices again. When Mouse finally understood what he was trying to do, she joined in and made everyone laugh. The last time we spoke to each other was at Dad’s funeral, three years ago. The forest is dark. A young stag crosses the path and bolts when he sees me. A couple with matching red waterproofs are climbing out of their car when I return to the visitor centre. The rain is turning heavy. I’m glad to get out of it. I switch on the car radio and dig my phone out of the glove compartment. I scroll through the address pages until I find Mouse’s number. I hope she hasn’t changed it. © Den Cartlidge 2012 Den Cartlidge is a refugee from the world of financial services and currently an MA student on Keele University's Creative Writing course. He lives in Leek in the Staffordshire Moorlands. This is his first attempt at flash fiction.

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Complacency And so it happened that, after a week-end of James Bond films and the Grand Prix, George found that he couldn’t lift himself from the sofa. ‘Don’t worry love! Stay there. See how you are in the morning.’ I stretched out my legs against the cool of the white linen sheets, slept more deeply than I had for years. In the morning, we found that his legs had started to be absorbed into the terracotta loose-covers. ‘No problem, lovie!. I’ll see if some dry cleaning stuff will fetch you out.’ George looked panicky about being left, but was reassured by being able to use a specimen bottle. And with a fried egg and bacon sandwich and the remote control, his equilibrium was restored. I felt that I ought to get back to him at lunchtime, to get him something to eat and a colostomy bag. When I saw him I noticed that his arms too, were becoming one with the upholstery. I didn’t want to alarm him unnecessarily, so decided not to mention it. ‘We’re doing alright pet. Don’t you think?’ George smiled and nodded, unable to speak. His eyes wandered over my shoulder, unable to resist the charms of David Dickinson and The Great Antique Hunt. The next morning George was difficult to find at all in the depths of the sofa. I knew he was still there, as I could sense his dissatisfaction when I attempted to turn off the TV. I could just make out his eyes in the Aztec pattern on the cotton. That was the day I found my first lover. Will had been doing some work in the garden. He was suntanned, fit and wore his shades even on cloudy days. He was about ten years younger and was very appreciative of my generosity with tea, cakes and cleavage-enhancing bras. Even with those shades, I could feel the direction of his gaze. He grinned, ‘I haven’t seen your old man about for a few days?’ ‘No, he’s gone.’ ‘Gone?’ ‘Yes. He left me.’. I wasn’t ready to explain that he’d been absorbed into the sofa. ‘Would you like to come inside and have a piece of cake? It’s my birthday.’

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Will put down his power tool and dusted down his tight jeans, following me in. I cut the cake, made some tea. ‘How about a birthday kiss?’ he asked. I reached out my hand to his raspberry lips and smoothed away the crumbs there. Moving round the kitchen table I took off his sunglasses, kissing him softly, full on the mouth. He tasted sweetly of Victoria sponge. I took him by the hand, led him into the living room. The television loudly proclaimed some American woman’s anger at her cheating man. I pushed Will back into the sofa, unbuttoning his jeans, pulling up my skirt. ‘Let me turn that off,’ he said. ‘No leave it!’ I could see George’s eyes widen with anxiety behind Will’s back. He even, briefly, looked at me. © Deborah Alma 2012 Deborah Alma studied Creative Writing at Birmingham University and is studying for an MA at Keele. She worked for the publisher Random House until she had her 2 children and has had many careers since; antique dealer, estate agent, dinner lady, till operator, teaching assistant and poetry workshop leader for children and people with dementia. She is also Emergency Poet in her 1960’s ambulance.

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INFANT SPRING Mum said my eyes are treacle brown. My hair, melon blonde. Dad said I sound like dessert. My name is Fern Brook. I'm ten. Last autumn I fell in love with a girl I saw in a garden. Her name is Audrey Summers. She has green eyes and white hair. My friend, Jacob, said her eyes are blue. But they're green. I looked in winter. When it was dull and rainy. And in springtime. When the sun was on her. Audrey was like an angel then. It's Audrey's birthday today. She turned eleven. I've planned something special. My wish to make her happy. Mum hugged me on the doorstep. "Look at you, Fern. All grown up." She tugged my cheek like I was six. “Mum, I have to hurry." "You remind me of your grandmother." Her fingers forked my hair. "So sentimental." "I need to go." "It's a lovely day for a birthday." Dad called from the garden. "Heard you're on a mission, sweet bird." "You don't think it's stupid?" "It's very brave."

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"Think so?" "I know so." At the park I sat under the old willow. A lifetime friend. Sandals removed, I stretched my toes in the warm grass. A butterfly rested on a petal. Orange wings set like a sail. I thought of Audrey and was afraid. Not of Audrey, her mother. I had never talked to her before. Always, I went out of my way to avoid her. Too shy, I guess. Couldn't avoid her today though. Not on Audrey's birthday. I'd need to meet her mother then. I didn't dwell long in the park. Just time enough to think. Standing outside Audrey's gate I felt funny in my stomach. Same feeling I get when playing on the swing too long. Or when mum dips a hill in the car. I opened the gate and walked the gravel path. Audrey's mother was with her. She saw me and I went straight to her. Precisely as planned in my mind. "Hi. I'm Audrey's friend." Her mother looked glad. "I've seen you with her. You always run away." "I'm sorry. I won't run again." "Please don't. Don't ever run." "I won't." "You promise?" "Promise." "Thank you." "I brought Audrey a present." Crouching, her mother cupped my cheek. "You better give it to her then." I turned to Audrey and knelt. "Happy birthday." I adored her smile. Her sunshine sweetness. Audrey summertime. I showed her the crystal dome. When shaken a dolphin leapt in rose water. A brass plate is on the oak base. Our names are inscribed there. "May I read it?" her mother asked. "I'd like that." "It's beautiful." She shook the dome and admired the dolphin. Then she read the words aloud. "Audrey and Fern. Friends forever." Her mother smiled when she cried. Audrey's headstone is cream marble. Shaped like fairy wings. Her photo is above her name. Gilded in glass. Her eyes are definitely green


Š M A Crossan 2012

MA Crossan lives in the west coast of Scotland. He has written enough stories to fill a dozen books. And perhaps a dozen stories that could fill one good book. Shortlisted for 2011 Bridport Short Story Prize. First novel is written. Three years of labour. A literary post apocalyptic story. Northern gothic.

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18 19 went last night, you know.' 'Sorry to hear it 18. Is there any one left on your side now? 'No one within shouting distance. You're the only one I can see and hear now. How are the others?' 'They're OK, holding in there for the time being.' 'Pass them my regards, will you?' 'I will. It's a cruel thing, this ageing business.' ‘It certainly is. I just hope I go before you. I just don't want to be here on my own.' It's hard to imagine all those years ago, there were thousands of us here. You could hardly move.'

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'Aye, and we were long too. What did The Man call us?' 'A mullet. He used to spray us to keep us in shape, remember? He used to spend quality time with us. Now it's a quick pass over with the clippers. Even those buggers on the back and sides don't get any attention now and they've not lost many at all, just gone white, most of 'em. Bastards.' 'Still we had some good times, eh?' 'The best 18, the best.'

Š Peter Domican 2012 Peter Domican is a flash fiction writer with several published stories. He can be found on and @petedomican

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Cold Friction Those halls were cold. The walls were smooth like ice blocks. The floors would have squeaked if anyone wore shoes but everyone wore socks. The only heat came from the electric spark between the fibres of cotton and the friction on the waxed floor. Those halls were built for dragged feet. The windows were closed to keep the cold in. Sunlight came through the white bars and left zebra stripes on the floor. There was a green field beyond the bars which no one noticed. There was no world outside. There had only ever been a cold world. Her room was cold. There was a firm mattress and an underweight cushion. There was a white desk. She could run her finger across it and feel the table tug her knuckle so the ball and socket strained. She could make noise by doing this. There was a white chair bolted to the floor. The walls were painted grey. The ceilings were high. On the bed was a brown teddy bear named Toon, the only thing she had been allowed to keep. She had gone insane in the spring. She woke up and everything was quiet. Her mother’s voice had become background noise and her father’s shouting no longer filled her chest with a hole. She was insane because that was just fine. She didn’t speak to anyone. The doctors’ sentences were long words glued loosely with a monotone voice. Any interruption would have collapsed the structure of their intelligence. As for her roommates, their tongue of stuttering, spitting and wailing was an incomprehensible language she didn’t want to learn. She would be out of here soon enough though. That’s what Toon told her.

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‘Why am I still here?’ she mumbled. She sat on her bed k with her chin resting on her knees. Toon stared from the opposite end of the bed with its empty black eyes. ‘They’re trying to get inside your head.’ She pressed her head into her knees. ‘But why? I did what you said.’ Her eyes stung. Her chin was raised up so her face, coloured like a blood blister, was inches from the bear’s. ‘You scare them.’ ‘I don’t want to scare them. I want them to leave me alone.’ Toon tightened its grip on her chin. ‘You’ve got to keep the world out. They want to hurt you.’ ‘But they say they want to help me. I think they want to help me.’ Toon slapped her with his soft paw. ‘Have you not listened to me? They’re evil. Everyone is evil.’ She rubbed her cheek slowly. ‘But-‘ ‘Don’t you dare doubt me. I’m all you have. I should just leave you alone.’ Her eyes flared. ‘No. No. I don’t want to be alone.’ Toon let go of her face; her forehead fell back to her knees. ‘No, don’t go.’ She lifted her head sharply. At the end of the bed was her teddy bear staring with its black eyes. She shivered. It was a cold world. © Andy Cashmore 2012 Andy Cashmore is studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham.

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Need help writing your next submission for sixwords issue 2? Flashing is great. We advocate doing it at least every day. However, we also know that good flashing takes time and skill, and particularly if you are used to being more verbose, finding the required level of brief brilliance can be a challenge. That’s why sixwords has teamed up with literary consultancy Cornerstones to offer a free appraisal of a flash piece you are working on, for help and pointers on your writing craft. If you think you might just ever so slightly not quite be perfect, send your piece to the usual submissions address ( with Help Me Cornerstones in the subject line. Cornerstones will select one lucky soul to receive a free critique– the only catch being that it will be printed in issue 2 so that everyone else can learn something too! Deadline for submissions is Friday 13th July. Now go. Write. Now.

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The curious incident of...

… and sixwords magazine All of the stories in sixwords are great. That’s a given. But when we started publicising the magazine, we also fell over brilliant novelist Mark Haddon on Twitter. We were absolutely not stalking him at all. Anyway, through a mixture of cheek and persistence, we managed to get a flash from the great man himself, using only 50 words. And we think it’s pretty good. 10 storeys Two hundred kilos of explosives. Some grey councillor pushes the button and the whole shitty block comes down. For a couple of seconds smoke clings to the ghost of the building and I see the kids we once were running down corridors of air not believing they will ever fall.

© Mark Haddon 2012

PS. He also has a new book out. It’s called The Red House. He didn’t ask us to tell you that, but we thought niceness should be repaid

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‘Very brown, your horse,’ he says one day, on the way back from the stables. ‘Shiny brown, deep brown, very very deep brown like a really well polished table.’ Chestnuts

‘That’s it!’ she says, and then

Carol has never been able to make

wishes she hadn’t broken cover.

any of the men in her life under-

They’re quiet for a while.

stand about horses. They tend to think of it as a hobby, like tennis, or just ignore it. The one time she

‘Or like a conker,’ he says, having thought about it. ‘I could stare at a conker for hours.’

tried to explain about the aching, She feels a bit sick. This is it. She the guy thought she wanted to gives it a go. ‘That’s how I am with have sex with a horse. Or possibly horses. Staring at them. The sheen on a horse. Either way, he was preof the brown. But’ – challenging pared to think about it. But that him – ‘not just the look of them. isn’t it at all. There’s the smell. And the feel of So now, with Rob, she’s cautious. She drops a few hints, and leaves it at that. She makes out that he wouldn’t understand. Reverse psychology.

them, the feeling you have on your hand and in your heart when you stroke a horse’s skin. Not so much the head, but the rump or the flank.’

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He frowns slightly, or is that the

like they should. Or the smell of

evening sunlight making him

pockets. I’m sure conkers have a

squint? She’s put him off, she

distinctive smell. Even if I can’t

thinks. He’s quiet, turning the car

think of it.’

down the narrow lanes. Then he pulls up in front of a five-bar gate. He strokes his stubbly chin. She waits. ‘Well,’ he says, faltering at first.

They laugh. ‘Do you –’ she doesn’t know why she’s saying this, except she wonders if he’s a nutcase, ‘do you mean in a sexual way? Would you

‘That’s like a conker too. The feel

like to roll conkers down my naked

of it in your hand. Smooth, and


then the velvetiness of the light bit. The hardness, the not-quite-a-ball digging in your palm. Or in your pocket, digging in to your thigh. A pocket full of conkers is as big a

He looks at her. Neither of them knows where this is going. But – that look they give each other, eyebrows rising. They’re not thinking about horses at all.

treasure as I’ve ever owned.’ © Tony Williams 2012 She’s smiling foolishly. ‘And the smell?’

Tony Williams’s flash collection All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten is forthcom-

‘Oh...’ He gestures, confidently ing from Salt.

now. ‘The smell of leather? They don’t smell of leather, but I feel

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Purple Ink The following Monday she walked in the sun and popped into the golden stone church by the mini roundabout. Sitting down near the back, she bowed her head whilst the clerk tottered up and down the wooden floor in her high heels. It was difficult to concentrate and she ended up praying for the man in the corner with his head bowed instead of for herself.

On the Monday she managed to shower and clean her teeth before breakfast and the kids behaved well, bringing her a cup of tea. The older boy even sat on the bed next to her and gave her a big hug. She smiled until they left for school, then she cried. It was the first time for so long.

The next day she was dressed before they awoke and, when she saw the two boys asleep in their twin beds, her throat ached so much that she had to take several shaky breaths before waking them.

When she emerged into the soft sunlight, the air was cleaner and the colours were brighter than they had been before. She smiled and made a plan to buy a notebook for her ideas and a pen with purple ink Š Jane Boyd 2012

That afternoon, she stopped the car to watch the starlings flocking over the woods and wondered why it made her weep. Linda would say it was joy - an emotion for a change, but she wondered if it might be the desire to be free like those birds.

On the Saturday she stayed in bed with the covers over her head and the curtains closed. Gary begged her to get up, saying he couldn’t cope without her help, but she was too far away and the shower was up a steep hill.

Jane Boyd has written a lot of stuff over the years, but most of it remains in the 'Work in Progress' file under her desk. Her children's book, A Very Busy Day for William, won a competition a few years back and so she felt it might be a good idea to study writing. Since then she's got an OCN and a BA in Creative Writing. Now she's doing a Creative Writing MA at Keele and afterwards, if she can persuade herself to stop studying and chatting on Facebook for long enough, intends to finish her novel and hawk it around the publishers with her fingers crossed and a dreamy look on her face(book profile picture). She writes in bed surrounded by plumped up cushions and fluffy cats. Her husband is sick of waking up with a book stuck to his backside and her children are covered in paper cuts. She collects blank Post It Notes.

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The Doll My Great Aunt Phyllida never married or had children. She wasn’t lonely however as she’d always lived with a variety of loyal canine companions who took the roles of partner, friend and surrogate child.

‘Look after my Max, ‘ she pleaded, ‘See he goes to a good home, no children mind, he can’t abide noisy brats at his age.’

I nodded and made all the right sounds, I didn’t want her to worry at this time.

My aunt closed her eyes and remained quite still but just when I thought I’d have to call a nurse, she spoke again.

‘Peaceful..If you give in….cold..I know! You shouldn’t have taken it, it’s was meant for me, and you will give it back!’

A tear rolled down her cheek and she opened her eyes and stared straight ahead then let out a small gasp and that was it.

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Weeks after the funeral, while clearing out her house I found a dusty old suitcase under her bed containing a variety of old lady belongings. Embroidered hankies, odd screw in earrings, knotted gold chains and an assortment of fading black and white photos. I was drawn to one photograph, circa early 1930’s. Two little girls sat in a faraway garden during a long gone pre war summer. One child was easily identified as a small Aunt Phyllida, her severe features and prickly personality evident even then, but who was the other? A pretty little thing with fair ringlets and a broad smile, nestling in her arms - a doll, the little girl beamed like a mother with a newborn in contrast little Phyllida sneered, though seated together they were both slightly turning away from each other, I had the feeling that as soon as the photographer had his shot the children stood up and sprang as far apart from each other as possible.

I then came upon a silk bundle at the bottom of the case which I carefully unwrapped, inside was a little porcelain doll with stringy yellow hair and a missing eye, her white pinafore greying and torn, but I recognised her. Alongside the forgotten toy was a folded newspaper cutting. It announced the tragic drowning of little Audrey Roper aged only eight. The accompanying news story picture confirmed Audrey as the other child in the old photo. I looked at it again this time more intently. Now I could quite clearly see the child version of my old aunt as she posed for a photo so long ago, there she was captured in time and glaring bitterly at her little friend, seething quietly and perhaps wishing her great harm. Š Julie Balloo 2012 Julie is a former stand up comic and current comedy radio and theatre writer. She has written quite a lot of Flash Fiction, published online and in print as well as several short stories. She’s also had plays produced on the London Fringe, the Edinburgh Fringe, Off off Broadway and in Melbourne.

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Many Sweets They lived in a large, draughty terraced house in the old part of town, near the park. They had a brambled plot at the allotment. She worked in the Humanities and Social Sciences department at the university. He worked at a marketing agency and died in the second week of August. She had to explain permanent absence to their twin daughters. They were seven years old, broad-faced, dark-haired girls. They looked like their mother. When Halloween arrived she asked a friend to take the girls trickor-treating. The friend also worked at the university. She had daughters of her own and was happy to do it. In the first half-year of widowhood people were quite willing to help. A problem arose: all the possible Halloween costumes struck her as disgusting. I will not, she thought, dress them up as something ugly. In the end she decided to make them into little matching policewomen. On Halloween evening she fed them lukewarm lasagne and persuaded them into their costumes. She gave them plastic bags for their sweets. She drove very carefully and they were quiet in the back seat of her little red car. It was dark. She parked outside her friend’s house. It took her almost a minute to convince the girls to get out. By then the friend was holding her front door open, leaning into the brisk evening air. ‘Will you come in?’ ‘Five minutes,’ she said. She put her hands in the pockets of her jacket to make it certain. Inside, in the close and cosy lounge, a television burbled mercilessly. She marvelled politely at her friend’s daughters’ costumes. One witch and two princesses. Then she went home and worried. She sat in the kitchen and slowly drank a pint of iced water. No trick-or-treaters came. If they had she wouldn’t have been able to give them anything. Eventually, the bell. She opened the door. Their faces had been painted. Their skin was milk-white. They had black rings under their eyes and lines of red running from the corners of their mouths. They turned

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to wave at the car that had dropped them off. It had already driven away. ‘Come on,’ she said, ‘come in.’ They went into the sitting room. ‘We’re vampire police,’ said one daughter. ‘Can you put the fire on? I’m cold.’ She sat down on the sofa. I’ll send her an email, she thought. I do not appreciate my daughters returning to me as ghosts. The girls emptied their plastic bags onto the floorboards. ‘I’m a ghost vampire policewoman,’ said the other daughter. They hadn’t received many sweets. She took her shoes off and cried for a long time. When one of the girls tried to comfort her she pushed her away with a foot. It wasn’t really a kick. The girls cried as well. © Aiden Clarkson 2012 Aiden Clarkson lives in Manchester and studies at Keele University's Writing School. You can talk to him on Twitter: @aidenclarkson

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Issue Two: Out Friday 7th September 2012 Send your 500 word pieces or single line stories to by Friday 13th July. Lucky for some. We look forward to reading you. @SixWordsMag /


SixWords magazine: Issue 1  

A picture can tell a thousand words. A story can paint a picture in half that. Prepare to be amazed, titillated, intrigued, amused and reduc...