WELCOME TO FLASH FICTION AT ITS FLASHIEST
six words flash magazine
Issue 2: September 2012
TEN BRILLIANT NEW PIECES OF FLASH FICTION
JENNY ECLAIR talks pastries and sitcoms
they’ve got BITE!
EVEN MORE amazing 70 character stories W W W. S I X W O R D S . C O. U K
sixwords is very much a labour of love, trying to showcase the best of flash fiction (defined as under 500 words) and micro fiction (under 70 characters in length). In the best way we know how.
Again, we had loads of brilliant submissions, from all corners of the Earth . Thank you to everyone who submitted as, even if you didnâ€™t quite make it in this time, we enjoyed reading all your stories.
Finally, our guest author this time is the lovely Jenny Eclair. Her story, in exactly 500 words, can be found on page 16.
So go, read, and have a happy few minutes in the company of each of the wonderful stories between these covers.
The sixwords Editor
Not the Way to Go
For the love of Christopher
Miss Carlton Regrets
The Single Line Quarterly
The Situation Comedy
Blood in the Milk
The girl who was eaten by her job
A job for life
Not the way to go It wasn‟t the death he had wanted. Then again he hadn‟t really thought about the death he wanted before he died. Really he had only thought of ways he didn‟t want to die; drowning, burning to death, getting crushed by a steamroller. One way he hadn‟t even considered was being shot through his bathroom door with his trousers around his ankles holding onto a brown stained piece of toilet roll. Sadly this was the way he went. In those moments when he was sprawled across the floor with the blood slowly seeping out of his stomach he thought about why this was happening to him. He replayed what had just happened from the wood of the door splintering until the last wipe of his ass. He had coughed. That must have caught the attention of the intruder in his house. Why did he cough? It couldn‟t have been dust because he did everything in his power to keep the place spotless, especially the bathroom. He had been feeling a little ill recently. The weather had been colder and he had been meaning to turn up the thermostat. He had passed it so many times, but he kept forgetting to turn it up from 7°C to 10°C. That could have been the fault for his cough. Then another trail of thought came to mind. Maybe it wasn‟t his fault. There was the girl he had met a couple of nights ago who at the beginning of the night had said she was feeling a little bit fluey.
This was one of the few things he remembered before the rest of the evening was spent staring at her huge boobs in a drunken blur. In his defence they were huge boobs. But did he make out with her in the end? No, he was going to but he hadn‟t. His ex-girlfriend had rang him furious that he hadn‟t told her it was his mum‟s birthday the day before. What business of hers was it? She didn‟t want to be a part of his life anymore, but was still more than happy to keep in contact with his mum. He had gone outside to argue this with her and had his first cigarette in months. Maybe that had bought his old smokers cough back. The only good feeling of lying on the floor with his blood now mixing with the faeces on the toilet paper came from being able to blame his death on his exgirlfriend. Through the hole in the door he could see someone with a balaclava on holding a shotgun down by their side. The person walked towards the front door, stopping at the thermostat and turning the dial up. „Don‟t want to catch a cold now,‟ the person said as the front door slammed close. And with that all the blame on his ex-girlfriend was lost. On a related last thought, he was glad he wouldn‟t crap himself after he passed. Then he died. © Andy Cashmore 2012 Andy is currently studying at English with Creative Writing at University of Birmingham.
Miss Carlton Regrets… "“I’d like to speak to my husband, Miss Carlton,” she says, in that imperious home counties accent. I picture her standing in their Cheam hallway, splashes of colour from the stained glass wavering on her tennis whites.
I place the end of my shorthand pencil into the number 9 and move the dial a hair’s breadth.
“Hello? Hello? Are you still there?” I imagine her pausing, one hand suspended over the floral display on the hall table, a pile of wilting heads discarded on the polished walnut. “I’m afraid Mr Baxter is out.” “But I need to speak to him!” I suppress a smile. “As soon as I see him, I will tell him to call.”
Mrs Baxter releases a plosive breath. “He can reach me at my club.” I am sure to replace my receiver a crucial second before she does.
I toy with placing a call to the Metropole Hotel, to room 313 which I booked only last week; the purchase order carbon rests discreetly in my desk drawer, away from prying eyes. He has already had a difficult morning, what with Frobisher confronting him in that manner, within hearing of the typing pool. My accident was a great distraction; my ankle still throbs painfully. I go back to the tables of figures. Douglas hates them and it is fortunate that I find them so satisfyingly easy.
When he returns from his ‘meeting’ I smell Miss Lester’s perfume on him, the acidic floral I chose for her Christmas present. I have his letters ready for signature, the tables of figures for his afternoon meeting prepared. “You are a marvel, Daphne.” He rests his hand lightly on my shoulder and I notice the lipstick on his collar. “Leave it with me, Mr Baxter,” I say, offering a fresh, Jermyn Street custom-made shirt from my drawer. His eyes mist over. “Daphne, I couldn’t survive here without you.” A week’s wages it cost me, that shirt. I knew it would come in.
I leave the shirt on my bed while I take a bath, wash my stockings and hang them to drip on the rail. I bring cocoa upstairs, place it on the bedside table. I take up Reggie’s photograph and trace his moustache with my finger. “Douglas was RAF as well,” I confide before replacing it with a soft click. I pick up the shirt, inhale its yeasty creases, rub it against my cheek. I fold it precisely, the lipstick stain on top, add the hotel bill and wrap it with care in brown paper. I limp to the bureau for string and a pen then sit on the edge of the bed, massaging my bad ankle just like Mr Frobisher had done. “DC stands for Daft Cow,” Douglas had joked with the typing pool girls. I’d hit the ground with a thud. Mr Frobisher’s eyes were blue, as kind and blue as Reggie’s. I lift the parcel and begin to address it: ‘Mrs Baxter, c/o Cheam Tennis Club…’ © Cathy Lennon 2012 Cathy is based in the north west of England and only discovered ‘flash fiction’ this year. She enjoys the freedom of the short form as an alternative to longer works in progress and has had stories published on 1000words, NFFD and ether (via Raging Aardvark Publishing). A short story is appearing in a print anthology soon. @clenpen
The kid in the red is there again, sitting on the middle swing like a cherry in a hanging basket. Bracing his tatty sneakers against the floor, he scuttles around like a crab in a crap storm, twisting the chains around each other until he’s cradled in a tiny triangle of space. With a quick glance up, he lifts his feet and tucks his knees, letting the swing spin him faster and faster until he’s a flicker against the grey: red, white, red, white, red, red, red, red, red, red. Red like the mailbox when I was his size, red like his hands and cheeks in the cold.
His legs are out now and the swing is jerking as gravity catches him. A little cherry spinning top caught between the apartments; a splash of red against all the blind windows.
He feels wonderfully giddy as his belly pulls in towards his back. He lets his eyes unfocus as the world flies round him. Grey, grey, grey, white, grey, grey, white, grey, white, white. By the time he slows, the man is standing right in front of him, his face white against the darkening afternoon. His mouth is open. There’s something wrong.
© Lorrie Hartshorn 2012
Watch In the drawer lay an array of broken watches. Everything from an old fashioned Casio sports watch to a chunky leather strapped thing with a face as big as a digestive biscuit. They were all broken in the same way, cracks splintered across each face like an intricate spider’s web, thin fractured lines spreading out in all directions.
His favourite was a delicate gold ladies’ watch with a stretchy band instead of a strap. He often took this one out and stared at it, turning it over in his big, meaty hands. Wondering how they’d made the band stretchable, so it could be worn like a bracelet. He’d tried it on himself, but the band wouldn’t stretch wide enough to pull over his knuckles. He hated his hands; the knuckles like pebbles worn smooth by a river, the skin tough and wrinkled like an old work boot. He banged the drawer shut and ambled out of the kitchen. Enough now.
He’d been collecting the watches for a long time. Years. He couldn’t remember how many. The Casio had come from a hitchhiker he’d picked up in a lay-by off the M3. The watch wasn’t old fashioned then. He remembered noticing it as the kid plonked his little rucksack into the foot well. He noticed it because it was on his right wrist. That’s unusual, he’d said to the kid. The kid had misunderstood. Oh no, these are all the rage now, mate. He’d said. He’d called him mate, and for a moment that had made him happy, but then he realised it wasn’t really a term of endearment, just a throwaway phrase. Mate. Pal. Geez. Son. It was the last one that grated the most.
‘No one called him Son anymore. He was no longer someone’s Son. He remembered the startled look on the kid’s face when he pulled into the lorry parking bay. The look turned to fear, then nothing, once he’d squeezed the life out of him. His big meaty hands round his neck. Afterwards, he carefully removed the watch from his wrist. He turned it over in his big meaty hands, curious at the mechanism. Numbers glowed out at him and he suddenly felt afraid. He squeezed the watch tight, until his pebbly knuckles glowed white, until eventually: time stopped. He drove the kid home and took him down to the basement, sat him in the corner. Then he’d gone back upstairs and thrown the watch into one of the kitchen drawers. It had been empty then, except for the delicate gold ladies’ watch with the stretchy bracelet band. His mother had loved that watch. Thank you, she’d said. Son.
The day she died, he’d carefully removed the watch from her limp, wasted wrist. He cried as it felt to the floor, his big meaty hands too clumsy to hold it. The face had smashed to pieces. Cracks splinters across it like an intricate spider’s web.
Time stopped. © SJI Holliday 2012 SJI Holliday writes short stories and occasional book reviews in an attempt to avoid the day job. Currently working on a crime novel. Find out more at www.sjiholliday.com
Introducing Issue 2’s Guest Author:
We like having guest authors in sixwords. It means we get to read exciting new fiction from brilliant authors, and it means our own contributors get to rub shoulders (in a literary sense) with the great and the good. This issue, we have a flash from the wonderful Jenny Éclair, and as you can imagine , her story is sparky, funny and not at all autobiographical in any way whatsoever. Jenny’s latest book, Life, Death and Vanilla Slices is out now and you can catch her in person on her Eclairious tour coming to a working men’s club near you. That’s right, she’s funny, articulate and literarily talented. It’s just not fair.
The Situation Comedy by Jenny Eclair Once upon a time there was a middle- aged woman who had done quite well in show-business. For many years in her twenties she‟d worked at the coal face of the comedy scene, honing her craft gradually getting better and better until she began to enjoy a little bit of success. When I say a little bit of success, I mean she reached a level of professional contentment, not only was she earning money but she was finally being recognised as someone who knew how to do her job, however deep down, she always suspected she wasn‟t really given the credit she was due. Still, it didn‟t matter, the work and the money rolled in, sometimes she did things that she didn‟t really want to do, but the offers she would have liked sometimes refused to land at her feet. She told herself, she would just have to be grateful for what she was given, but sometimes this rankled especially when she saw other performers being given opportunities she would very much have liked herself.
She pretended she wasn‟t bitter, but at night she would seethe, boiling up in her bedclothes, riddled with fury and hormones. Yes, the woman was getting older, the jobs became less frequent and what little she was offered was for less money and lower status. She tried to pretend it didn‟t matter, that everyone was in the same boat, only they weren‟t, other people were getting the jobs she would have liked and the words‟ its not fair‟ began to repeat in the back of her throat like a growl. One day she decided she had had enough, so armed with a very authentic looking gun she marched into the BBC and took the commissioning editor of light entertainment hostage. She was neither vicious nor unfriendly, she made the woman as comfortable as anyone can be tied up to a chair with a gun pointed at her head can be and fed her Lattes‟ and her favourite Pret sandwiches whenever she asked. No one was going to get harmed, as long as her requests were carried out, there was no reason to get silly or cry or beg, all the commissioning editor had to do was summon her eight best writers. This the commissioning editor, in fear of her life, duly did, surely this team could save her? And so they trooped in- Tom, Dick, Sally, Barry, Gary, Hannah, Jonas and Ahmed and the gun wielding woman told them what they must do „I want you to write me a sit com‟ she said, „and I want it to be so good that the commissioning editor will commission it on the spot, and if its not good enough and she doesn‟t commission it then I will shoot whoever is responsible for not making it good enough and we will begin again. Do you understand, now start writing‟. They started writing and a year later The sit com won a BAFTA and everyone lived (happily ever after).
Red Meat Essie pokes her finger into a pool of congealing gravy. White globs of fat have settled on the top. Nick complained earlier when she said about cooking roast lamb. Said it wasn’t good for you. Reminded her what the doctor said about his heart and his blood pressure. He should have been back from the pub over an hour ago. Essie pours another glass of wine and looks out of the window at the storm. Raindrops tap dance on the patio and Stubby Hall is obliterated from view by a white-out. The noise is almost unbearable. Nick still hasn’t sorted the blocked guttering and now water sluices down onto the flat roof of the porch like Niagara Falls. Nick hasn’t taken a coat. She’s eaten her own supper, mopped up the fatty gravy with a slice of claggy white bread and put the plate in the dishwasher. She wonders whether to cut herself a slice of cheesecake or whether she’d better wait so that they can eat dessert together. The storm abates and night sneaks in almost without her noticing. Her Sunday night drama plays out to an accompaniment of dripping water from the guttering. The porch ceiling looks as if it’s about to cave in. Another job for Nick to attend to when he returns.
She’s just about to slide the dried up mess of his roast dinner into the pedal bin, when she hears his key in the door. Nick is wearing different clothes and a tipsy smile. “Just going to pack, then I’ll be out of your hair,” he tells her. “Your supper, Nick. Roast lamb.” “What did I tell you about red meat, Essie?” he shouts from the bedroom. Essie waits. When he reappears, he drops a cheque into her lap. “Rent. Back-dated.” Once he’s gone, she indulges in tears and the rest of the Chardonnay. Her sister’s right. Essie is too needy. And now she needs to look for another lodger
© Jo Derrick 2012 Jo Derrick has been writing seriously since 1990 and has had numerous short stories and articles published in a wide range of publications and many of her short stories have been successful in competitions. She is the editor/publisher of The Yellow Room Magazine, a print journal for women writers. Jo is wrestling with her first novel.
Just I get on the coach in the morning and sit in my usual place next to Emily. The hallowed place. Today she is wearing her pink coat and has painted her nails pink to match. I‟m not allowed to wear nail varnish because mum says it looks cheap. She is wrong. Nothing looks cheap on Emily. Other girls wear nail varnish they got free from a mag but hers is MAC. “So, how was last night?” I ask and flick the Just Seventeen magazine she‟s reading to get her attention.
seat to face her. My thighs are now pressing uncomfortably into the itchy carpet-like material that covers the coach seats. She turns the page of her magazine and keeps reading. She‟s reading an article called “Ten Ways To Keep Him Interested”. There‟s a picture accompanying the article that has a pretty girl walking along the beach. Two men, wearing only pants and bow ties crawl along the sand behind her. She‟s not as pretty as Emily.
“She knows what you did” says a voice from behind. Venomous. Its Reena.
This is bad. Emily‟s silence is a thick and menacing thing that always means something.
Cold fear in my stomach. What did I do?
“Did you go out with him in the end?” I try again, swivelling my body around on the
I sit back in silence and think quickly, trying to work out my defence before the vultures land but not even sure what the charge is.
“She doesn‟t want you to sit next to her today. She‟s not your best friend anymore. She hates you in fact and hates the sight of your fat, pasty face looking at her.” Reena again. Enjoyment palpable. “Yeah, move. Go and sit next to Amma” says Tia and they laugh because no one wants to sit next to Amma. Probably even her parents don‟t like to be near her – the way she smells, the dandruff, the obvious sadness. I get up and walk down the coach past the rows of seats that denote where you are in the pecking order. Emily‟s seat is at the back. Amma‟s right at the front behind Miss Clancy. I sit down next to Amma because it‟s the only free seat and they know that. My body is still a huge thing but I try to squash it into the chair as small as it will go so no one will see me. My head and
heart are thumping in a horrible duet of fear and confusion. “You didn‟t do anything, you know” says Amma. She‟s heard all the way across the coach. “That‟s what they said to me last year too, when they dropped me”. I nod. I‟d forgotten. “You didn‟t do anything then either.” She is right. I didn‟t. I probably laughed with Tia and Reena and carried on reading stupid articles about how to make boys love me. Boys will never love me. I settle down in my seat and get comfortable. © Deborah Brooks 2012 Deborah is a mother of two, working (sporadically) on her first novel. She lives in London and can often be found on twitter @sparebib and @writingparents.
Blood in the Milk Denise allowed her hand to dance in the kettle steam. White noise formed into shapes and shadows as she blinked heavily to regain focus. The two CupSense devices bleeped as she poured water into cups, right hand gripped around each cup in turn. “You‟re fretting. I can tell. You‟re coiled up, aren‟t you?” she asked, head half turned towards the kitchen door towards Rich, who was exactly as she described.
His frame and the doorframe merged into a swash of colour. Denise blinked, hard and deliberate, until Rich‟s form returned “I can carry them,” he offered, as much a statement as question. He glanced towards the sink in which a curled tail, once a red pepper stalk now iced with mould, lay unsalvaged. Rich could only assume Denise had noticed his facial expression, at once pride and concern, as she made her way with tentative steps around the kitchen. Macular degeneration was, sadly, common. Where there had been colour and shape and depth, Denise watched the advance of grey shadows, distortion, and bright lights. “I believed blindness meant the absence of light,” she said, not long after being diagnosed. “It‟s the other way round, you know? There‟s too much light, if anything, even the white of a newspaper can suddenly set me off. I can‟t tell the letters from the gaps.” Rich had been a family friend for years, making the effort to help as anyone close moved away, or else died. He learned when to stay quiet, when to advise, when to teach. On the day Denise had cut her finger trying to make sandwiches, Rich tended to her, dealing with a bleeding finger as much as crying eyes. A plate smashed, a bottle of milk knocked over, drops of blood swirled, vibrant splashes of colour, red into white. “I‟ve done nothing so bad to deserve this,” her voice shuddered through gasps and sighs, arms against her chest, defensive against something she couldn‟t fight. The milk drip-dripped onto the floor. Rich cleaned up, then as he always would do: looking after, taking care. Months turned into difficult, rewarding years. “ I must look like a ghost,” she sighed, her right arm raised to the shapeless colour sitting near to her, hands clasped together, in prayer and in remembrance. “You‟re just a shape, love, come a little closer.” They held hands in the growing light and warmth of the room. Denise moved her head as a kitten dozing, sighing as the onset of sleep brought itself upon her. Rich held onto her hand until the room darkened with time, his breathing inadvertently synchronised with hers, a glass of water on the bedside table. © Lìam Pennington 2012 Liam Pennington is at the action end of 30, an office monkey working for HighVoltage in Manchester and football blog BornOffside. He can be found compressing his thoughts into 140 characters at @doktorb
The Girl Who Was Eaten by Her Job Right back at the beginning the job was just a skinny wee thing. It wasn’t greedy and it wasn’t mean and it only took a little nibble from her out of curiosity. It was just to see what she tasted like, if she even had a taste at all. Well, it turns out she did have a taste. At first the job was satisfied just to find out, just to know the taste. But after a while the job began to crave more. It wanted to experience that tingle of the tongue and the warmth in the belly that had come after the first taste. So the job took another little bite from the girl. She hadn’t really noticed the first bite, the initial taste that got the job started. But she definitely noticed the second one. Not in a particularly horrible way, it was just that she was conscious of the biting now. I say biting, not bite, very deliberately. Because this wasn’t, as you might have guessed, the last bite that the job took. The next few didn’t get too much bigger, they didn’t hurt, they weren’t big scoffing mouthfuls. Only they started to come more and more regularly. Now of course, the girl was starting to be a little bit annoyed by the job. She still liked it though; aside from the biting it was quite a nice job really. But the biting had moved from something that she could brush off, to something that was difficult to ignore. The problem was, that aside from liking the job, which as I mentioned she still did, she needed the job. She was as dependent on it as it was of her, hanging on her back with its teeth in her shoulder.
Eventually it was clear to everybody who came across the two, that the job was slowly eating the girl. She was disappearing just as the job was growing. She carried it around with her even as it got heavier and she got weaker and slight. The girl was just a shadow of her old self, but the job was becoming bolder. The job started to dominate any interactions the girl had with other people, people who weren’t already involved with the job. The sight of this gnashing fattening beast over the girl’s shoulder usually scared these people away. They didn’t really want to get involved with the job; they didn’t want to get sucked in. Eventually the job’s legs, having been wrapped around the girl’s waist, had made it back to the ground. The job’s feet started to tread the girls steps, it started to carry its own weight, as well as hers. The job started walking for itself, it picked the girl up and carried her. After all the time that she’d been carrying the job she felt relief. She relaxed into an exhausted stupor. And she didn’t even notice the job gobbling down the last of her. © Michael Bodle 2012 Full time data monkey, part time surfer, and occasional writer. Not always in that order. Michael lives in Auckland and writes little stories, some of which are posted to www.wifitypewriter.blogspot.com he is @wifitypewriter on twitter
A Job for Life Nurse Violet watches intently as Al‟s trolley is wheeled and clanked out of the ward and into the bowels of echoing hospital corridors. She stands and stares until all she can see is the silhouette of his feet as they turn a corner and Al who lies as still as a statue makes his theatre entrance debut. Marsha clutches her jacket and stares into the distance as the nurse gently smiles and reassuringly puts her hand on her shoulder. „Don‟t worry Mrs. Scott, we‟ll take good care of your husband. Try and get some rest and we‟ll see you after surgery.‟
The heart transplant was a success but Marsha wasn‟t a regular visitor at the hospital. When she did make appearances, she bought him red grapes because she knew he liked only the green ones. She purchased the newspaper for him from the hospital shop and took out the Sports section whenever his team were headlining in a winning feature. Her greatest pleasure came from munching on some of Al‟s favourite confectionaries in great greedy gulps in front of him, dropping a variety of tasty treats into her mouth and licking her lips in slow, deliberate movements, fully aware of his new dietary restrictions whilst he watched and salivated in dismay. Marsha had loved Al once; one sunny afternoon in Vegas, a fortnight after they‟d first met and a month after he‟d won his jackpot. The second Mrs. Scott had banked on many things in life but Al‟s longevity hadn‟t been one of them.
Al always looked forward to visits from his grandchildren though; the old man and the two young boys filled the ward with carefree hilarity during visiting hours when they‟d often huddle together, giggle at silly jokes and sometimes cheat at scrabble. Charlie and Connor would stroke „Grandpa Bert‟s‟ prickly, silver stubble with their seven-year old hands tugging on his dressing gown, each trying to outdo the other with their jovial antics in vying for his attention and smirk at one another as he rambled incessantly to himself. Al didn‟t have many visitors during his final weeks in recovery but had grown fond of nurse Violet who graced the hospital with her sweet smile and kind chestnut eyes and the elderly patient loved to pepper her with compliments. Violet tended to all her patients with genuine affection and Al relished her frequent visits to him; her wide smiles and soothing whispers dared him to believe in true love again. Patients regularly arrived and left the hospital. Some would go back to their busy lives and some to the other side where Violet would always welcome their departed souls. And so it was, during one of Violet‟s last visits to him that Al took her advice and amended his will to leave all his worldly belongings to his grandchildren. A week later he quietly left the hospital, watched by a smiling Violet who had kept her promise to forever take good care of her patients. © Khurshid Khatib 2012 Khurshid Khatib loves writing, particularly articles on ethical issues or transforming personal journeys. Her background is in Pharmaceutical Sciences and Medicinal Chemistry and she has worked as a Pharmaceutical Scientist, Broadcast Assistant and Researcher. She recently started writing fiction and is studying with the Open University on a creative writing course. @KhurshidKhatib
Welcome to issue 2 of sixwords flash fiction magazine