Bus Station by Mark Renney

Flash Fiction

The Bus Station has become the focus of my latest route. This place, where people congregate and prepare to leave and where they arrive, is now the centre of the trail I have forged here in the City.

I have tried not to stray too far from the Station but this has proved difficult. I need thrust and momentum and my route must allow for this. It has to be big enough and wide enough so that I can keep moving and push myself forward. But wherever I am in the City I am aware of the quickest and most direct way back to the bus terminal. I am always ready in case of an emergency but what that emergency might be I have no idea. But it feels good to have somewhere to head toward and I have tried and tested all of these tributaries, all of the shortcuts.

It is cold and wet tonight. I may perhaps linger a little and wait out the storm, but as I make my way through the terminal, I realise that, yet again, I am pushing against the tide of travellers. They don’t see me and, cocooned in their heavy winter coats, heads down and hunched over their phones, they are hardly aware of each other.

Once clear, I glance back but only fleetingly and there they are, huddled beneath the inadequate plexiglass and I don’t stop.  No, I keep going.

There is a window in the early hours when the Bus Station is deserted. The rush hour crowd is long gone and it is a chance for the others, for those who don’t leave, to step in from out of the rain and take shelter. It is our turn to wait.

I walk across the forecourt and the turning area directly in front of the Station. The lights have dropped to an energy saving low level but I spot the young man instantly. He is standing beside a plate glass screen and beneath one of the ‘Stop’ signs. The first buses won’t arrive for at least four or five hours and he is either incredibly late or extremely early.

The man is jittery and anxious and he stares intently at the timetable attached to the pole. He could move into the waiting area and join the others, slumped on the benches and huddled in the corners with their blankets and their dogs and their cans of Special Brew but of course he doesn’t.

I understand it. I feel his fear. It rises in me unbidden, something out of the past that has been buried down deep. It is only a memory but I can taste it again and I want to spit it out and tell the man to fuck off. He raises his head and just momentarily our eyes meet and he flinches. I push past him and join the others, letting him be.

The Bus Station is no longer a beacon, a light I can head toward at night or a place where I can just fleetingly expose myself to a little daytime bustle or I can step into from out of the cold and warm my hands on a polystyrene cup of weak but scalding hot tea

The Station’s usefulness for me is fast fading and yet I am here all of the time now. I stalk its environs and it is hardly ever out of my sight and never clear of my mind. I am haunted by it or more accurately I am the one who haunts the Station. I am an ethereal presence, hovering above the ground, a waft of smoke with no reflection in the glass. But if they looked, if the rush hour regulars really, really looked and not just when they arrive but also when they leave, if they looked back from the windows of their buses, they would see me standing here, still waiting.


Mark Renney lives in the UK. He has had work published in various small press publications, Zines and on-line journals including The Interpreter’s House, Still, Yellow Mama, Unbroken Journal, Weird Mask, RaWNervZ and 365 Tomorrows. Blog: The Brokedown Pamphlet https://markrenney1.Wordpress.com

Happily married by Tim Frank

Flash Fiction, Punk Noir Magazine

Her schoolfriend texts, he’s an old man and he’s using you.

He’s my baby, she says, as prisms of light glance off her diamond ring onto the cloud white wallpaper.

Her friend says, look at it this way. If he had no money and you were ugly, what then?

That thought hangs in the air as he slides up beside her in their honeymoon bed. She admires the infinity pool outside and the vineyard beyond. He feels her up, then moves his hands towards her throat.

She swallows, then smiles.

There’s no way out. She doesn’t want one.

Tim Frank’s short stories have been published in Bourbon Penn, Eunoia Review, Maudlin House and elsewhere. He is the associate fiction editor for Able Muse Literary Journal. 

Dealings by Sean O’Leary

Flash Fiction

Terrence is midway up the drug dealer’s food chain and he’s explaining all things medical to Justin. Justin is a bottom feeder dealer.  He scrapes by supporting his heroin habit by selling dime bag deals and Terrence, in his Elizabeth Bay one bedroom apartment, is about to tell Justin a little of the history of heroin, then he’ll get to the health risks and also tell him how much money he needs to bring back to Terrence or dire consequences will occur. Here goes:

“Now, Justin (as he puts down twenty small foil packages in front of him) did I tell you about where heroin comes from, how all this started. Well, have you heard of the Opium Poppy?”

“Yeah, I heard about it, a little not much. Can I shoot up first?”

He asks breaking out in a terrible yellow sweat.

“Off you go, Justin and don’t nod off, not yet.”

Justin hops it to the bathroom, takes off his thin leather belt, rips the filter out of a cigarette and gets his spoon, heats the touch of water with a purple lighter, stirs the heroin in with the orange plastic end of his syringe, takes up the heroin through the filter into the syringe and blasts it into his arm and he’s done. Not wobbly, just right, and then, whoops, throws up in the toilet but he’s right as rein after that. Comes back to the lounge room and Terrence continues,

“As I was saying heroin comes from the Opium poppy and that’s twenty deals in front of you for sixty dollars a deal. Take ten now and come back for the other ten. That’s sixty dollars a half and that makes $600 (and Justin nods).

“Most commonly the Opium Poppy is harvested in Asia and the Middle East and sent to all parts of the world so scumbags like your good self can get addicted. Opium can also be used as a legit medicine but you don’t care about that. Now take the ten foil packets and put them in your lumber jacket pocket and just go to your usual friends.”

Justin keeps nodding, smiling.

“The immediate effects of heroin are, and you know this Justin, (Justin picks up ten foil deals), are that it causes a rush of intense pleasure and well being, some pain relief perhaps if you’ve been hanging out and…”

“Can I go now?” Justin asks.

“In a minute. I’m going to tell you where you may end up. Your breathing, blood pressure and pulse become slower, eyes dilute, the mouth dries out and you get a little sleepy, perhaps. And when things get serious and you take higher doses (Justin just wants to leave and sell the deals sold so he can go home and veg). Please listen, Justin.”

Terrence stands up and kicks him playfully and Justin feigns interest like a punch drunk boxer feigns a right cross, badly…. But Terrence continues,

“The effects I mentioned before increase, but last not as long, more hits are needed. The ability to concentrate is impaired, breathing becomes shallow, you go ‘on the nod’ sleepy, have more nausea and vomiting, with sweating, itching of your balls and of the scabs left by the needles and increased urinary output also. And now, just a little longer, Justin. Overdose: A high dose of heroin can kill. The signs are bad. Breathing becomes very slow, body temperature drops and your heartbeat will become irregular. (Justin sits and sweats). And that’s your future my friend, off you go. $600 or I’ll cut your balls off.”

And Terrence thinks he let him off easy because he didn’t mention HIV, Hepatitis and impure heroin. But heroin is non-toxic to the body causing little or no damage to body tissue or organs, so that’s good for young, Justin. Incredibly addictive though and he’s already putting higher and higher doses into his body. But Justin will get or he already has constipation and loss of sex drive. Loss of sex drive in one so young is awful but he can still get it up, at least that’s what he told Terrence. And then comes the time when he can no longer deliver the goods for Terrence and he goes out on his own getting the bad heroin mixed with sugar or caffeine or the too strong dose that kills him on the spot. Not much of a career choice Terrence thinks, but fuck that, he has work to do and more bottom feeders to supply.


Sean O’Leary has published two short story collections, ‘My Town’ and ‘Walking’. His novella ‘Drifting’ was the winner of the ‘Great Novella Search 2016’ and published in September 2017. He has published over thirty individual short stories and been shortlisted for the Booranga Fiction Prize twice. His short story ‘Fremantle’ was shortlisted for the Daylesford ‘Word in Winter Award’ in 2019. His crime novella ‘The Heat’ was published in August 2019. ‘Crime Double Feature Neo Noir’ featuring his novella ‘Preston Noir’ was published in January 2021. ‘Wonderland,’ his collection of short crime stories was published in the UK though Close to the Bone Publishers on May 28th, 2021.  All books are on Amazon. His interviews with crime fiction writers are on the Crime Time website. He has schizophrenia, likes to walk a lot, travel and write like a demon.

Gig Economy by Michael Grant Smith

Flash Fiction

On my way home from a job I stop at the 24-hour supermarket. Essentials only, I tell myself. The cashier pushes my brioche across the scanner and says, “Whoa, this bread is really soft!”

Checkout kid is tall and gangly. Invisible hands squeeze either side of his baby-face. Cheeks, lips, and eyes puff out and bulge. His eyeglasses catch the bloodless fluorescent lights and flash a semaphore I haven’t the skill or desire to decipher.

I bare my teeth in a smile and hate him for talking about my food. He can’t control his word-hole: 

“My mom buys the healthy kind. It’s different than yours. I didn’t know bread could be so soft.”

I want to escape to my unlit apartment. Delete from memory tonight’s assignment. Let vodka replace my bodily fluids.

Other customers shuffle nearby and dome cameras pimple the ceiling. I reflect on why I strive to be forgettable — to the extent of not appearing as if it’s an effort — when in the end I’m noticed anyway. Simply because I had a hankering for a smoked turkey and fucking gruyere sandwich with a sprinkle of capers. We’re past where accepting the kid’s compliment is the best way out of this. I give my cap’s visor a tug.

“Yes, the loaf is nice,” I whisper. “Maybe I’ll use it for a pillow.” 

The woman in line behind me sighs; her stale carbon dioxide tickles the nape of my neck. Just to piss her off I dangle my debit card inches from the reader. The cashier bags my bread as if he’s transporting a captive finch.

“Your bread is as fluffy as one of those thirty dollar pillows.” His voice cracks. “Thirty dollars for a pillow!”

This is a “respectable” neighborhood so posting a security guard at the front door probably hadn’t occurred to the store manager. After the ruckus settles I’ll shop at the all-night bodega six blocks west of here. Longer walk, mediocre selection, but the proprietor’s blind tabby who sleeps on top of the lottery machine recognizes me by my scent, and boy do I love cats.

Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing appears in elimae, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, MoonPark Review, Okay Donkey, trampset, Tiny Molecules, and elsewhere. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. For more Michael, please visit www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.

Everytime I Eat Vegetables it makes me think of you by J.R. Handfield

Flash Fiction

I’m so glad we get to do this. Fuck, it’s hard to meet people at our age, y’know? Old punks like me never quite learned how to outgrow that life. We’re still wearing our patched jackets, can’t hear a fuckin’ thing because we never wore earplugs back in the day so we just feel like we’re yelling all the time, y’know?  

 

But yeah, I’m glad I found you. Must have been a hell of a surprise to see me, right? Like, blast from the past n’shit?  Glad we can put it all behind us. Feels good, feels right…

 

 

Oh, this place? It looks worse than it is. We’re in Astoria. Close enough to the city without paying city premiums, y’know? Yeah, it’s still pricey, and I know they kicked out all the quote-unquote “un-desirables” so it’s more appealing. “Up and coming,” that’s the words they use for the fuckin’ kombucha bars and craft brewery shit, right?  

 

Been here for a little while now. This apartment ain’t mine, but I wish it were. I could do a lot for this dump. Gentrify the whole fuckin’ area but leave some rat nests behind anyway, right? Hipsters don’t give a shit as long as they can do their yoga next door to a Whole Foods and grab a Starbucks on the way to work. They don’t have to come down this far to see how the rest of us live. Big fuckin’ city and they stay within three blocks of home. In-fuckin’-credible.

 

Whatever, it’s nice enough and the neighborhood ain’t too loud, not much else a guy can ask for given the situation. I mean, there’s a community garden right around the corner from here. Reminds me of you and the asparagus. Remember the asparagus? 

 

 

Yeah, yeah, Astoria. It’s a little on the bougie side n’shit, but whatever. It’s nice, it’s quiet, you can just sit there with your coffee and relax, no one’s shootin’ up at your front stoop… No one bugs me here unless I want them to bug me. Neighbors keep to themselves. All that good shit. Nice and anonymous for once.

 

Anything’s better than that shithole up the L.I.E., though, lemme tell ya. Fuuuckin’ aye, that place. Huntington, Long Island, a piss-poor excuse for a town. That’s where I come from. You know the types from those small towns. Them working class people who know the value of a day’s work, but don’t know enough to get out of their own way, escape their past? A bunch of people who know what they know and it’s all they’ll know, salt of the earth types?

 

 

Ever been in a small town? Like, actually lived in one? Yeah, yeah, everyone knows who you are and shit, which is a blessing for some but a motherfucking curse if you ever do anything bad that catches someone’s attention. Yeah, maybe you get to relive your fuckin’ glory days every year at homecoming if it went well for you, but for the rest of us sad sacks? It’s like that old Irish joke, you know? “They don’t call McGregor the pier builder, but if y’fuck one goat…” 

 

 

Nonononono FUCK no, I didn’t fuck any goats, I see what you were thinking. I’m just saying that a guy could get a reputation for whatever the hell they get up to if they ain’t careful. 

 

I could have stayed there, y’know. It would have been easy shit, too. Work at my old man’s shop, take over the house when they got old and died, married some local girl – hey, like, that’s hard too, y’know? Relationships? Especially in a place with the same people you grew up with and then you don’t get that first impression, right? Like, Suzie from second grade got hot when she got older but she also saw you piss yourself at recess, so that ain’t workin’, right?   It’s not the same as being called the goat fucker, for sure, but it’s still some shit. Reminds me of that kid we all called “Boner” back in the day…

 

Hell, though, Huntington. Lots of old shit in Huntington. Old shit, old people, old blood, old money. All that Bernie Sanders shit about the middle class and “da one puhssent,” that’s Huntington’s other side of the tracks for ya. You know, the rich folks, and then the rest of us. The fact that they had to mingle with us little people in the schools was bad enough for them, so they up and build their own fuckin’ neighborhood instead of catching a case of the poors or whatever. Then you end up with the Romeo and Juliet bullshit where you don’t want your kind hanging out with THOSE people. 

 

It ain’t a race thing with them, either, it’s all about money. Rich folks don’t trust the poor ones because they think the poor are gonna steal from ‘em, the poor folk don’t trust the rich ones because they think the rich already stole from ‘em. 

 

Was that my life? Nah. I mean, yeah, I met a girl from there, and it wasn’t one that saw me piss myself, either. But it didn’t work out. It was just bad news for everyone involved. Fuckin’ hell.

 

 

Man, now you got me all pissed off about her again. She’s fuckin’ dead to me, I didn’t need to relive that shit. All she fuckin’ did was big time me over and over with her stupid fuckin’ friends. I’m better than that bitch, and now she knows it. 

 

She fuckin’ knows, because I made sure of it.

 

 

I’m sorry, you don’t give a shit about any of this. Here I am, making you listen to my life story like I’m some fuckin’ martyr. Yeah, things went batshit with the girl and I got my ass out of Huntington before people started askin’ around. Moved into the city right after nine-eleven when rent was dirt cheap in Midtown ‘cause of the terrorists. Moved out of the city after that stupid power outage in oh-three, because fuck that shit. 

 

Man, remember, like, all the day traders n’shit walking down the Brooklyn Bridge like a bunch of fuckin’ rats off a sinkin’ ship after the blackout. If you lived in the city on nine-eleven then stayed around after that squirrel bit the wires and shut down the whole fuckin’ east coast, man, props. But I’ll always remember the girl I was seein’ at the time. She lived in one of those super old buildings that retain heat like a motherfucker, so she decided to come to my place to ride it out. 

 

By then, I was already lookin’ for a way out of that relationship because she was just fucked in the head. Power outage made it pretty easy since everyone was partying in the streets and shit, so the last fight we ever had stayed between us, y’know what I’m sayin’? When you blast music in the alleys, that sound? It bounces all around and hides pretty much any screamin’ someone might do, and that awkward silence afterward when there’s only one person left after ya’ have at it, all huffin’ and puffin’ and tryin’ to catch their breath like a buncha fuckin’ cage fighters? Yeah, that ended when the lights turned back on and the fireworks started goin’ off. Absolutely brings ya back…

 

 

Anyway, that whole episode got me out of the city right quick, and right after that blackout was when we first met, right? Down in New Hyde Park? 

 

 

Yeah, yeah, I see it in your eyes, NOW you remember. When I first saw you, man… a fuckin’ vision. You were – you are, you STILL are – the most beautiful chick I’ve ever seen. I’ll never forget it. You were at that old produce shop, Horn of Plenty or some shit, and, like, yeah, I saw you right over near the asparagus, and I go “hey, you know what they say about asparagus, right?” and you go “uh, no,” and I go “yeah, it’s an aphrodesiac and you’re fuckin’ gorgeous” and you laughed your ass off. 

 

Man, to this day no one’s laughed at my jokes the way you laughed at mine. To this day, every time I eat vegetables it makes me think of you. Asparagus, broccoli, lettuce and shit, you name it. If a fuckin’ rabbit eats it, it puts a smile on my face and a rise in my jeans, y’know what I mean?

 

 

We were great together! I know, I know, I got a little crazy at the end there. You shouldn’t have had to remember that, I’m sorry. But so many women just give up on me so quick, then I have to take care of it and clean up the mess they made, I just got real excited that you were stickin’ around. 

 

You didn’t have to go, you know. 

 

I told you not to go. 

 

I told you it’d work out. 

 

You didn’t listen, though. You never fuckin’ listened…

 

 

Whatever, I’m here now, so it’s okay. After you got away from me, I kinda laid low for a while. Moved back closer to the city, did some odd jobs here and there for a few years. Saw a doctor, what a fuckin’ quack he was. Put me on some thorazine or some shit, all because he said I was hearin’ things like some sorta psycho. But fine, listen to the good doctor, try to get right, all that shit. All the pills did were keep me up all night and gimme whiskey dick. I finally said fuck that shit, and moved out here to Astoria. Finally settled down and found a place when the stock market went to shit. Not that I was invested or nothin’ like that, but it’s when I realized for good that the big city, that big city people, they ain’t for me. 

 

Like, I’m almost forty, right? And now I’m the old guy at the rock clubs and I’m still fuckin’ alone, and no one wants to be near you. It’s enough to give a guy a fuckin’ complex. I met this one girl, she was a banker with Bears Stearn or whatever the fuck it was called. Hot shit, that one. She’d show up at the punk shows in her business casuals, pencil skirt with a shiny low-cut top and heels, it was fuckin’ wild. She got fuckin’ sloshed one night and took me back to her place. We had quite the evening. Very memorable. Well, for me anyway… I’d say it was probably a nightmare for her but she ain’t around to tell anybody about it, right?

 

 

What’s that look for? Oh, because I slit her fuckin’ throat? 

 

 

I wouldn’t touch your throat, honey. Don’t worry. I have other plans for you. A very special evening planned for you and me. Y’see, because after I slit that banker’s fuckin’ throat, I had to go hide out again. The fuckin’ internet, man, it’s impossible to get ridda anyone without the tweets and the Facebooks and stuff just spreading your shit everywhere these days. Growing up, it was easier. You either got on Unsolved Mysteries because it was a weird murder with bigfoot or some shit, America’s Most Wanted if it was a kid you killed, COPS if you were high on meth. Today, like… you remember those two guys that set off the bombs up in Boston at the race? Now we’ve got fuckin’ internet detectives out there trying to piece shit together with camera footage. It’s why we don’t have aliens visiting us anymore, y’know, ‘cause we all got cameras now and we’re livestreaming shit twenty-four-seven.

 

But yeah, banker bitch goes missing and within hours there’s a “Find Becky” on Facebook. Then some website called reddit has a forum or some shit about the her, and some asshole is like “hey, doesn’t this sound just like that murder in Midtown during the blackout” and the next thing you know they’re talkin’ about me like I’m the fuckin’ Zodiac. Like, I’m honored, but fuck, man, I woulda covered my tracks better.

 

 

Why are you crying, babe? Listen, I’m done now. I was angry then, and then you escaped, and I took it out on some people, but now we’re together. Like we should be. Like we’re meant to be. Peanut butter and jelly.  Or, like, salad dressing and lettuce, right? ‘Cause of the vegetables. My grandmother, she liked asparagus on toast. That’s weird, right?

 

Ehhh, you don’t give a fuck about any of this. You just wanna get outta here. I get that, I do.  Ain’t the first time you’ve wanted that, but it’ll be the last, ‘cause you ain’t fuckin’ leaving this time.

 

 

No one can hear you, darlin’. That’s why I gagged you before you woke up, instead of waiting like last time. I remembered last time. That’s why I went with zip ties on the chair instead of the duct tape. Yeah, and if you haven’t noticed yet, the chair is one of them metal folding ones, so you won’t be able to slam around and break it.

 

Fuck, I miss that chair. That was a good fuckin’ chair you wrecked.

 

 

Oh, you like this? I found this fuckin’ knife at some yard sale about a week ago. Didn’t expect I’d get to use it so soon. 

 

Hey, y’know what this reminds me of? Remember when you and I watched Reservoir Dogs that one time, the part with that song where he dances and then cuts off that motherfucker’s ear? Yeah, classic fuckin’ scene, am I right? And it’s like we could reenact it right here if we wanted. Tie your hair up all nice, take the knife, have a nice little keepsake of our time together. Maybe I can put it in a little green bag, too! Get it? Like the other song in the movie?

 

 

No?

 

Okay, fuck it, whatever. It was great seeing you, and I’m truly sorry it had to end this way. You could have stayed, you know. We could have avoided all of this shit. Instead, now my last memory of you is gonna be you bleedin’ out on this tarp in the middle of some abandoned apartment near the community garden. Fuckin’ poetic, right?

 

Man, I’m gonna miss Astoria. Dunno where I’ll end up next, quite honestly. Maybe Jersey? I dunno, but I do know that I’ll remember this night fondly. 

 

Maybe I’ll start a garden at my next spot. Grow some asparagus to remember you by…

J.R. Handfield (@jrhandfield on Twitter) lives in Central Massachusetts with his wife, his son, and his cat; not necessarily in that order.  He is a co-editor of ProleSCARYet: Tales of Horror and Class Warfare, and his work can be found in multiple Hundred Word Horror anthologies from Ghost Orchid Press.

Elemental by Alex Ruby

Flash Fiction

This is a true-crime, CNF, micro-series story based on the real-life murder of Shaun Ouillette that occurred in 1986. If you’re interested, here is a link to an article about this tragic story: https://www.freedommag.org/english/vol36i1/page03.htm

I. Mother Earth

A lock of his matted hair clings to the lid of a mason jar where she used to store his fallen

buttons. Coffee drips as she twists the metal cap releasing Shaun’s scent––cinnamon and soil.

She rations each note for fear it will escape, disappear down the stairs and trail out the door likehe did that day, into the bones of winter.

They picked him because they thought no one would miss him. Right after Christmas

dinner, his first friend promised they’d build a fort among snow-shredded elms, two forests deep, where echoes scream in silence. But instead of boards and twine, he brought a baseball bat.

She’ll never know why her boy’s coat and gloves went missing. Did he get excited digging? Overheat moving rocks for the foundation? Or were they taken? So he’d freeze.

She still sets his place for breakfast, burnt eggs and scraped toast, and bakes trays of

cookies that she leaves by an open window, praying the sweetness sails with the wind signaling his way home.

Like a wildfire, grief lashes, devours her meal. She chews, but only tastes the dirt that

unfroze beneath him months later, swallows melted mud, and wipes his ashen crumbs from her mouth. She closes the jar. The smell chokes her anyway.

II. Incandescence

I wanted to be Fire, pure combustion, scorching the neighbor’s trash, sheds, cars, souls.

The one that requires brittle tinder to quench its fury––like the type that eats in silence, alone, cries after science class, yearns for his old friends and doesn’t make new ones––the kind that other students call “strange;” the one who would be least missed. 

I’ve got bottle rockets. I know the perfect place. Shaun couldn’t believe his luck, tripped

over his shoelaces, crisp eagerness rushing deeper into the woods chasing my promises of

sparklers, snowball fights, and forts. He didn’t mind the cold, even before I ignited the fireworks.

His head titled back, mouth open, in awe of sparks in the evening sky. 

Snap, crackle, pop.

I should have left the bat in the snow, wiped it clean, hurled it in the lake. They’ll call it a

“curiosity killing,” that I wanted to know what it felt like, planned it for months. It’s true, I

needed the thrill, to breathe. But it would take time to find him and Fire dies without air.

Before layers of sleet erased him, I brought others to revel in the opus I’d created at the foot of dead oaks.

Then we went for pizza.

They couldn’t stop seeing Shaun in his nightmares. So, they told, and the red stain on the

butt of the bat handle, the trophy beside my bed, is how they muted my flare. It wasn’t me. It was the abuse, the Devil, the Ritalin. I’d tried to warn them––left a note for the teacher about my urges. They upped my dosage. Not my fault.

For thirty years, I’ve lingered in penance, the purgatory of a cold cell, but don’t they

understand? I can never be sorry for my nature.

III. aqua pura

heaven tastes like fresh pearls of snow, the voices of a hundred searchers call your name,

the crunch of leaves, wet boots breaching icy puddles, look behind the rock, under the pile of oak branches and dead fronds, the weight of frozen water drives your head deeper into frigid drifts, they think you ran away, slipped through the ice, broke from the teasing, they won’t know for months that you fell for his promises, the last thing you saw, a flare of his red hair, fire in the sky, you begged him to help, your arm reached to block his blows, but he hit you again, pounded you forever into the dirt and ether, then brought his friends to bathe in the remainder, listen now, the breeze soothes, their voices are a patter of drizzle on a shimmering lake, you are Water, flowing home.

Alex Ruby is a former lawyer currently working on a thriller and a cozy mystery novel and hoping to complete her MFA in June 2023. She’s published a story about a rancid book club in Daily Drunk Magazine and a cat fiction piece in the upcoming charity anthology Like Sunshine After Rain. She’s a pet rescue mom who digs cruising DC on her e-bike and new roller skates and reading stories from the slush pile at Flash Fiction Magazine and Uncharted Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @AlexRWriter. 

Anaesthesia by Courtenay Gray

Flash Fiction

Graze me like she grazed the palm of your hand with the kitchen knife — stigmata, no treatment needed. Having seen your fair share of vomit, you should know how it pools so far and wide that each step is like walking through a minefield. Sitting across from me with your book of Rimbaud poems and the leftover pizza.

Death is a gratuitous sunburn. If you strip it all back, the vermillion jelly beneath moves all on its own. My fury pounds from my heart to my teeth — a philosopher’s wet dream. I’ve lost a lot of people, some I never really had, but losing you destroyed the fabric of my reality. Little did I know that you’d been keeping the devil close, letting her sleep in your bed.

An angel should have replaced the demons that poisoned your life, but you left me here to fend for myself in spite of all you knew. I want to absolve myself of all knowledge of you — the way your voice took on that heavy drawl, caramelised satin. I am not for this world, it’s too self-absorbed and blind to the suffering. I’ll sit in the tub, to stare at the razor covered in sandalwood shower gel, and I’ll think about how it glides when wet — how it drags when dry.

Courtenay S. Gray is a writer from the North of England. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize (2020), and she has been shortlisted for the Literary Lancashire Award (2021). Courtenay was previously the Associate Editor for Thorn Literary Magazine. Twitter: @courtenaywrites

Aunt Betsy x2 by Marc Isaac Potter

Flash Fiction

…   It is less scary, and that makes it more frightening.  No one knows why.  My brethren are without reason.   I could have asked for something else, a soufflé, a baloney sandwich, or a piano – none would have been granted, not out of disrespect, but because such a subterranean family simply could not provide such things, so I did not request them.   …  They offered me a biscuit – quite good if you both close your eyes and also imagine that your surgical dentist is close by.

 

Aunt Betsy never hit me.  …  There were times when her husband – whom we were required to call “grandfather” – confusing everyone and everything since we already had quite a large slew of Grandfathers and grandfatherly types as well.  …   Under my breath, I called him Grandfather Betsy.    

 

Extremely crowded, that is it.   Elbows like rabbits at an Easter bunny convention.

 

Grandfather Betsy swung his belt in a different way than some of the other grandfathers.  His swing of the belt was more vicious, more like rape; a child of 11 years should not know that … should not be that familiar with rape.    Grandfather Betsy had of course been running for an important county office.  Days after that particular beating …  I cannot say that bad breath saved the election, Grandpa did give a local fishermen crew an extra week’s pay to stand near the opposing candidate.   That man’s campaign soon caved, however, we do not know to what that caving shall be counted.   Grandfather Betsy won by an avalanche and then some.

 

And now of course everything is even more impossible.    Our sheep, goats, dogs, and mouser cats attempt to sleep, they attempt to avoid his newfound arrogance.  The sheep tell me they dream of endless sleep, the longest sleep ever known, in a rich, vibrant, lush brown desert.  

Marc Isaac Potter aka Marc Isaax Potter  (they/them) …is a differently-abled writer living in the SF Bay Area.  Marc’s interests include blogging by email and Zen.  Since 2001, Marc has produced a TV Talk show at the Community Access level; the show is called In Our Community. His Twitter handle is @marcisaacpotter.

Ode to Tony Brogues by Lucy Goldring

Flash Fiction

           ‘Have I told you how much I’m in love?’ Tony Brogues is shoulder-nudging Fay, sending cider slopping over her pint glass. His bare knees are pressed together, swaying coyly like a little girl’s. I tune in to Tony’s industrial jangle: the coins, keys and Zippos churning in his pockets. 

The three of us are sitting round a small battered table in the raised corner of The Black Lion. It used to be the stage and feels insecure and spongy under our feet. Moving the stage has sorted the problem of the audience obstructing the door. Now the regulars – punks of all stripes and assorted misanthropes – block the bar instead.

‘Once or twice,’ says Fay kindly, wiping her dripping hand on her duffle coat. In contrast to Tony, we’re both wearing coats. The pub will warm up later. A pint of Thatchers and a roll-up will fix everything meanwhile. She smiles at me as Tony hides behind splayed fingers, fingers tanned from a lifetime of avoiding office work. Faux-bashful is a Brogues speciality. There’s also the strong sideline in comically-horrified. 

‘It just feels… special. Know what I mean?’

From his ankles up, Tony is a typical Gen X anarcho-punk. There’s a handful of them around. His close-sheared blond hair is fringed by a row of matted dreads at his nape, recalling the tasselled dhurrie in my last houseshare. Tony’s all-season uniform is a black band t-shirt, featuring some beautifully apocalyptic imagery, coupled with loose-fitting combat shorts. Below the shorts, Tony is heavily inked. A tattoo of a pyrocumulus mushroom covers his entire left calf. 

And then there are the shoes: tan leather Brogues. An anomaly. Tony used to be in the Northern Soul scene and still keeps the faith with his record collection… and his shoes. You can hear all about it should you carelessly refer to him as a punk (‘I’m a fucking mod.’). It’s an emotive subject. 

Tony is the lead singer of crusty punk band God Lobber, whose other members include my boyfriend. He is also the provider of the band’s transportation – the all-important Man with Van. Said van is equal parts taupe paintwork to dents, scrapes and defamatory graffiti. 

It’s late morning. We, the other band members and W.A.G.s, are hanging around Southampton, hungover and fragile. We’re waiting for a lift back to London. After locating Tony’s van, we yank open the door to find him sprawled on the floor. He looks like he’s been stashed there in a hurry. The only sign of life is Tony’s hand twitching on his mobile phone and the distant twitter of a Sunday morning DJ. 

‘How’s it going, Tony?’ the bassist enquires. 

‘My phone says, ‘not charging’,’ is all he can muster. 

Tony wears an expression of gentle bewilderment. The Ketamine is ebbing away, leaving him high and dry. Without his taupe metal casing, he seems vulnerable and we like dubious voyeurs. We slide the door closed and leave him to wrestle with the foibles of technology. 

An hour later an irritable Brogues walks into the pub where we’ve been killing time. He downs a pint of shandy and announces it’s time to leave. The drive back is fast and bone-jangling: less like the angular riffs of The Jam blaring from the stereo, more like a God Lobber set. 

 

Yes, Fay and I know about the new girlfriend. Tony’s been swooning around for a couple of weeks. Amber is half Tony’s age but mature enough for the both of them. She has a large, beautiful face framed by a mane of golden dreadlocks. People mistake her insecurity for standoffishness.

Amber does a good trade in antique jewellery. Tony works too but it can sometimes end in conflict. When Tony leaves a job, his hatred of The Man is rekindled (‘Coz I dared to have an independent fucking thought. Know what I mean?’). Listening to him talk about Amber is refreshing, endearing.  

But Amber likes to watch QI with a nice cup of Earl Grey, content in her own company, and Tony prefers Special Brew and noisy guitars amongst the hordes. Recently, at a punk weekender, he decided it would be liberating to crap on a hill. Unfortunately he misjudged the incline and toppled over – in his own faeces. More worryingly, when Tony relayed the story two days’ later, it was clear there’d been no opportunity for a wash. 

Amber spends her days handling objects of beauty, and her nights handling Tony. They plan to set up house and buy a Goldador. I wonder how it’s going to pan out. 

*

A few tumultuous years roll by. Everything changes. All the couples surrounding the band split, followed by the band itself. One member of God Lobber is on the run. The remaining ones aren’t speaking. Sometimes I see Amber walking the Goldador. I hear she and Tony are trialling joint custody. I wonder if the back and forth unsettles the dog and try to feel lucky that my son seems okay with a similar arrangement.  

A new love comforts and delights – lets the light in again – but I’m in a state of agitation as we work out the logistics of being together. Parental worry and work stress are wrenching me in opposite directions. Something has to give before I crack into pieces.

This when I start seeing Brogues everywhere – one day befriending refugees at a bus stop, the next, galloping across the cinema screen to a chorus of tutting, a can of lager and middle finger raised in reply. Even as I anticipate him, he surprises me, looming out of implausible corners, always on some mission. 

Brogues becomes emblematic of my flux: the painful memories barely over my shoulder, the need for something akin to closure. When he appears in the guise of the delivery guy for my office block, it starts to feel like a cosmic prank. Colleagues are enjoying chats with this charming punk-mod-postman but I struggle with our new context. I struggle with this denial of my need to compartmentalise. And I struggle, still, with conflicting identities: forever the fish flopping from one shallow pond to the next. 

 

You are doing your swimming routine. It’s reserved for the band’s ponderous, instrumental bits when you have nothing to do. The rest of God Lobber do not care for the swim-miming – it detracts from lyrics about greedy capitalist fucks – but you are in your element (water, apparently). You part the crowd with a gentle fanning breaststroke, a daft grin plastered across your face. The guitarists scowl into your back, but you are oblivious, egged on by the God Lobber hardcore. 

 

 

*

 

Tony Brogues – the Peter Pan of mod-punk – it’s been ages, but I still see you: black tattoos on tan skin, dad socks rising up from brown leather shoes, that mischievous bloody grin.

 

You: the anarchist jester and perpetual flirt – a nudge and a giggle like it’s Carry On Punking. 

You: the best traits of all The Young Ones – but especially Rick and Vyvyan – rolled into one improbable hybrid. 

You: the sometime agitator, spitting your boozed-fuelled vitriol into the chaos-hungry crowd. 

 

That steady pivot from enthusing to bellyaching; the failed exorcism of some tightly-held gripe looped in perpetuity: no, you are not bowing down to any-fucking-one

 

And here: here you are pointing out that I look unwell (I was). 

And here again: hinting that I should break away, reclaim myself before I erode to nothing (I did). 

 

Tony Brogues you may be the only one of your kind – and certainly you’ll be the last.

 

And, Tony, thanks, I really do know what you mean now.

Lucy Goldring is a Northerner hiding in Bristol. She has been shortlisted by the National Flash Fiction Day (NFFD), Flash 500 and Retreat West and won Lunate Fiction’s monthly flash competition in 2020. Lucy was nominated for Best Small Fictions 2020 by both NFFD and 100 Word Story. Tweets @livingallover

One thing after another by Richard Barr

Flash Fiction, Punk Noir Magazine

It’s just one thing after another, and once you get over the last thing you got over, thinking you’d never survive it – but you did! – here comes the next thing. And you think to yourself, once more, how am I going to come out the other end of this – but you will…you will and you do!

Yet there are those occasions, you’re met by a set of circumstances, an occurrence perhaps, and you just drop everything you’re carrying, just let it all fall, clattering, to the floor. Because in that very moment, it is, suddenly, the whole of your world, and those things you’re nestling in the crook of your arm don’t matter anymore. You must relieve yourself of them, because what you need now are empty hands and unburdened arms. Your body, just your body and you to meet this new thing.

And it’s only then it dawns on you, that unlike in times before, this time this thing is something you don’t understand. Are unable to get a handle on. You cannot counter it because you aren’t equipped to.

So then maybe you are relieved in a way. Let the fates take you and yours as they will. You do not have to fight this one, because you are utterly unable to, and so you do take some

comfort in laying down your sword without even having to wield it this time.

Knowing that those times before, when you exhausted yourself fighting this one, or facing down that one, will not be this time. This time you have surrendered before the battle flag’s even been raised. This time you will lay down and let them –it – roll over you, and all you can hope for now is that your long-expected humbling will be met with grace, and that your suffering will be fleeting and, somehow, mercifully exacted.

You always said, in the midst of your conflicts, and sometimes when it looked like total loss was inevitable, you always said that ‘the person that refuses to laugh at themselves, forfeits their right to laugh at another’. One may be forgiven for thinking a statement like that was issued to save face, to try and repackage the whole thing as a farce to take the bad look of the fact that, in the end, you might be required to fall on your sword. But that never happened;  victory was always snatched from the jaws of defeat. So often, actually, that people got to talking, accusing you of, from the very start, always having a card up your sleeve, only stretching proceedings out for dramatic effect.

But now, as you pick through the ruins of this, your complete demise, you, with reluctance, ultimately come up empty, without consolation. And yet an all-encompassing sense of peace and resolution reaches out to you, through all the murk.

Because just like that, you realise this is yet another thing you have met – met and overcome: your routing, at last.

Richard Barr’s had several stories published in the last few years, including in Lancaster University’s The Luminary and The Big Issue. More recently he’s been published in The Honest Ulsterman, Litro Magazine, New Critique, Misery Tourism, Sonder Magazine, Headstuff and Bristol Noir, with work upcoming in Terror House Magazine.