We want you to be completely super-satisfied with anything that you buy from our site, so we work very hard to make sure that the whole process is as simple and straightforward as can be, from choosing and ordering your items through to delivery and returns. And don’t forget, if your query’s not answered in these FAQs, you can contact us 24/7

How do I return an item?

We’ve got the return process down to 3 simple steps. We’ll even print out the return label for you and notify you when your refund has credited. Check out our easy 3-step return process.

Do you do exchanges?

We refund the cash, so that’s even better right?

But what if the product was a gift and I don’t have the receipt?

No problemo! So long as everything checks out, we’ll issue you a gift voucher for the item’s current sale value. You just explain all that as part of that one handy 3-step return process we’re all so proud of round here.

But the sale value might be less than what the purchaser originally paid?

Sure, but without the receipt we can’t know for sure, right? And you got it for free, so maybe don’t be too greedy? In any case, we can only go with the current price of the item, which is what consumer law says too. And don’t forget, if the price has gone up in the interim, you could end up with more than what was originally paid. It’s like a lottery you can’t lose!

Is there a time limit on returns?

Yes — it’s almost always six months, unless otherwise clearly stated in the product description and pre-purchase information. This is in line with statutory consumer requirements in most territories. We’d love to extend this period — especially when people write to us about things like wedding dresses and other big-ticket items, don’t ask — but for reasons of fairness and consistency, we just can’t make any exceptions. Really sorry. And hey, there are plenty more fish in the sea, right?

Are there some items that can be returned?

Yes, there are a few. Perishable items can’t be returned, for obvious reasons, ditto clothes and jewellery that have been tried on. Basically if someone’s rubbed a bit of themselves on an item, well that’s just icky for the next person, right? Also, items where the packaging seal has been broken can only be refunded if the item is actually defective. In other words, if you decide you’ve gone off Fleetwood Mac before that Rumours CD arrives, you need to send it back unwrapped so we can sell it on again. Thunder only happens when it rains, amiright?

I was excited really about my purchase, but now it’s here I feel sort of flat. There’s nothing actually wrong with it, it’s more me.

Hmm, that’s a tricky one. We’re more ecommerce people than philosophers — and shifting stuff is obviously a big part of our raison d’ — but it sounds to me like you’ve got that sort of ‘hollowed out by desire’ feeling? You know, where the wanting of something doesn’t quite match up to the having of it? Maybe because the thing wasn’t worth wanting in the first place (not that all our products aren’t absolutely top-notch), or because you’re wanting the wrong things? Or maybe ‘wanting’ in itself is the wrong thing to be focusing on, especially if by ‘wanting’ we mean merely acquiring? Not really our domain, this (and don’t tell anyone we passed this on), but you might be interested in this Marxist critique of consumerism. Bit heavy on the jargon, but talks a lot of sense.

I have a suspicion that I care more about things (purchases) than about people. And I’m not even sure I care that much about things.

Well, quite. Did you check out that link yet? You could try watching It’s a Wonderful Life, but tbh the hell bit always seems more realistic than the heavenly bit, so maybe best not. Might tip you over the edge. Maybe try something reading something on the Buddhist side? There’s some interesting titles over in our Mind Body Spirit section. How are you sleeping with all this worry? Check out these lovely new Egyptian cotton duvet sets, with cover designs inspired by the Impressionists. Not really answering your question, we know, but they really are pretty and very reasonably priced too.

I sort of feel that I like the act of shopping — you know, the choosing and the anticipating and the waiting for my package to arrive — but not the outcome. Once the stuff arrives, I just feel a sense of self-loathing at my own shallowness, and guilt that I’m wasting my money on stuff I don’t need? (Especially like books or comics or stuff I accidentally forget to tell my partner about, because I know she’ll say we can’t afford them. And she’s right, we can’t really. Especially as we want to have a kid once I graduate. I mean, am I even serious about us??)

Wow. OK. Quite a lot to unpack there. We’re not trained shrinks or anything, but it sounds to us like maybe shopping has become a kind of moral distraction for you? A way of evading something you don’t want to face, maybe? Life can be hard, and the really satisfying stuff (like having a baby or making a relationship work) can take years of effort and compromise. No wonder a quick toot on the old retail crack-pipe seems such a welcome diversion! I guess the question you really have to try and answer is: What do I really care about? Where am I heading? Is it a direction I can really get behind? The good news is that if you do decide to get your shit together in an existential sort of way and you want to get your money back — providing the goods are within the statutory 6-month limit — we have a handy 3-step returns process! Then again, if that all feels a bit heavy to deal with right now, you could always check out our 3-for-2 deals on tablet and iphone accessories! Massive savings till Friday!

Don’t you ever question what you’re doing? What it’s all about?

Sure, but we’ll all got a job to do, right? Mouths to feed, and all that. In my spare time I actually compose music, you know.

Wow, that must be really rewarding! I had no idea.

Nor do I really. I’m only a chatbot.


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DAN BROTZEL’s short stories have been recognised in several competitions and anthologies. He was runner-up in the Flash500 short story competition 2017, and was also shortlisted for the Sunderland University/Waterstones Short Story Award 2016, the Wimbledon BookFest prize 2016, and the 2017 Fish short story and Retreat West flash competitions. He wrote sketches for Dead Ringers (BBC Radio 4), won Carillon Press’ Absurd Writing competition (2014), and has also made two appearances in Christopher Fielden’s To Hull and Back comic-writing anthology (2015, 2016).
A journalist and former slush-pile reader, he is also a book reviewer for the Press Association.


Image: Creative Magic via Pixabay


even on my worst days – linda m. crate

the sky is
and burping up
silver moons;
and somber white lilies

no one will tell me
why the sky
is grieving
perhaps they don’t know
which death is being mourned—

i wonder where the butterflies
and honeybees have gone
now that the flowers
are coming back
to life

every day i walk to and from work
i am smelling the fragrance
of spring,
and i miss the mighty golden
guardian the sun;

for he could cut through my blinds
make me smile
remembering my life isn’t so bad
in the grand scheme of things
even on my worst days.


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Image: Bruno Müller via Pixabay

Origami – A J Nicol

First he made a plane, but it flew out the window. The ship sailed to Paris and the dinosaur ate a neighbour. So he folded a bird from red tissue paper and placed it in a cage.

The next day he found an egg. He sold it for fifty dollars.

Each day another egg, another sale, and on it went.

But the bird faded to pink.

Crying, he propped open the cage door and the bird flew out the window.

Many years have passed and still, each day, he finds an egg in the cage. And sometimes a red feather.


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AJ NICOL lives in Australia. She likes to write short stuff. Twitter @manicol1


Image: milansari7 via Pixabay


Come In With Me – Sal Page

I’ve got this fantastic idea for a new eatery. All the other restaurateurs will wish they’d come up with an idea so great. They’ll be green with envy. Overcooked peas green. Yuck.

What are the messiest foods you can think of? Never mind. I’m thinking baked camembert served with caramelised onion chutney and French bread. Sounds good, yeah? Messy though. Also spaghetti ‘n’ meatballs à la Lady and the Tramp, barbecued chicken wings smothered in hot sauce, sticky toffee pudding with ice cream & gooey chocolate fudge cake. Given time I’ll think of some more. All for sharing. Sharing for two.

And, wait for it – oh my god, I’m brilliant – we’ll serve it all in those trays that go across baths. They usually just have soap and a loofah in. I’ll get them specially made. The guests go through to their private room, get undressed and climb into the bath, which would be all ready with bubble bath in the perfectly just-hot-enough water. A choice of temperatures and bubble bath brands would be on the menu.

It’ll be a totally unique restaurant. Food in the Bath. Should I move to Bath to open it up? Nah, it’ll be fine here in Dudley. It’ll put Dudley on the map. Yes, I know it is strictly speaking on the map already but you know what I mean.

Couples, yes. And we could provide rooms for afterwards. A bedroom en-suite to the bathroom. Now there’s a selling point. Basically, we’ll be a hotel too. Why not? But not necessarily couples though. We could do singles nights. Guests would get paired up by the fact they’d chosen the same dish or the same kind of bath stuff.

I can’t do this on my own, you know. I’m hoping you’ll come in with me. What? No, not in a bath. I mean invest; help set it all up, be front of house while I’m in the kitchen preparing and cooking the food.

Er … unless you want to. Actually, what better way to test the idea. Come round to my place later. I’ll do the baked camembert one. Got to be the messiest, eh? We’d tear pieces from the baguette, break through the rind and dip into the cheese. All warm, oozy and gooey in the centre, with a taste like delicious old socks. We’d twist the bread fast to keep the unctuous liquid cheese from dripping off down chins and onto chests or breasts. There would be flakes of baguette crust on the mounds of bubbles around us, splats of cheese on the tiles. We’d eat fast, giving each cheesy bread-morsel a quick dab of the sweet chutney before popping it in. Talking. Laughing. Eating. Drinking. Getting messy.

And then sealing the deal on our new venture. What shall we call the restaurant? Bath Night? The Tub? Bath Time? We can discuss that later. In the bath.

So, what do you think? Are you with me? Hey, come back. What did I say?


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SAL PAGE’s stories appear online & in over a dozen print anthologies. She won the Calderdale Prize in 2011 & Greenacre Writers Competition in 2013. When not distracted by writing, reading and performing flash and short stories, she’s tackling her third novel, Priscilla Parkin: Reluctant Celebrity Chef. A nursery cook, she lives by the sea in Morecambe, UK. When not writing, and also while writing, she can be found watching sitcoms, listening to Squeeze & on Twitter as @SalnPage


Image: Petra D via Pixabay


At The School Dance – John Grey

I felt like a one-man show in a gallery,
fearful for how much lack of interest I’d created.
I’d been sometime working on my looks
with the aid of a bathroom mirror,
half-analytical, half-hopeful
in the process of primping

I was very young,
hardly a master in these matters.
and no artisan
when it came to the particulars of romance.

I was like the promulgation
of various unproven theories
crossed with a living lecture on self-doubt.
I tried various methods of
decomposition of my own self
and reconstruction into something
I figured the other sex would appreciate.
I didn’t so much emerge
as step into the witness box.

Employing a somewhat dim courage
and the habitual words and gestures of my friends,
I finally asked one modestly appealing girl for a dance.
Her answer was of undeviating typicality,
non-judgmental applicability,
and resembled something like “yes.”


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JOHN GREY is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Examined Life Journal, Evening Street Review and Columbia Review with work upcoming in Leading Edge, Poetry East and Midwest Quarterly.


Image: Bernard-Verougstraete via Pixabay


Circles – Cavin Bryce

Every time I go to the dentist they tell me that I need to brush twice a day. I tell them that I do, and they say I must be doing it wrong. Circles, they say, brush in circles. Then they poke at my gums with a metal prick and when blood is drawn they shake their head and try to sell me some ridiculous toothbrush that’s supposed to be super effective, thus making life for us stupid folk who can’t comprehend how to brush their teeth much easier.

“I’m not buying a three hundred dollar toothbrush,” I would say, “I have a perfectly good one that I got for eighty-five cents back at home.”

That was before they got a new dental assistant. Rachelle. See, since I’m so bad at brushing my teeth I go to the dentist once a month for a cleaning. I hated everybody at that office until I met Rachelle but I don’t feel bad about it because I’m sure they hated me too. It was a symbiotic relationship. They took my money, I caused them frustration. Give and take. It’s all about giving and taking.

I was propped back in a chair that I’m sure cost several thousand dollars with this plastic torture device stretching my mouth open so far that it felt like my cheeks would tear. I had these goofy orange shades on so that the UV lights they use wouldn’t blind me and my thinning hair was dangling loosely wherever it pleased. In she walked, a blonde lady carrying the energy of a metropolis condensed in her five foot frame.

“I’m Rachelle,” she said, “i’ll be performing your cleaning today.” And I said, “hnggguhshhhhullop,” because the plastic device had slammed my tongue into the recesses of my throat. This made her laugh, and that laugh did more for my well-being than any visit to the dentist ever had. Even through the orange tint, even though she was upside down on account of my position on the chair, I could tell that her teeth were perfect. She was perfect. I could also tell that she was pregnant, but I didn’t mind. I just wanted to make her laugh again– wasn’t looking for a date or anything like that.

She started pricking around with that hooked monstrosity and I could taste the copper hints of blood immediately. She frowned and leaned over me, her hair tickling my cheeks, “you’ve got bad gums,” she said. I shrugged my shoulders and mustered a “whalchugondo?” She shook her head, still smiling but trying to be serious. “Look down,” she said. And I did. When my mouth was full of water and needed draining, she knew, and I didn’t have to drown in my own saliva like so many times before. It was a wonderful connection.

After all the poking and brushing and flossing and special dental protectant hardened by UV lights were over with she sorted underneath a cabinet behind us, pulled out a familiar box.

“This is the-” but she couldn’t finish because I raised my finger to my lips in a shhhhh, no more, signal.

“It really would help you know.”

“Would it?” I asked. “Would it prevent all of my worldly problems, for just $300?” I smirked in a way that told her I was being an ass, but a reasonable ass. It was a smirk that said, “I can’t afford this, why do you think I won’t buy it? Why do you think I rely on the company dental insurance so much, why can’t they pay for it?”

“What do you do?”

“This and that. Mostly nothing.”

“Mostly nothing?”

“I sell things. Over the phone. It’s very lucrative, very. . . prestigious. Almost like being a king, or a lawyer.”

She put one hand on her barely bulging womb and put the other on my shoulder. Of course I bought the toothbrush. Only a fool wouldn’t have. As I walked out of the door I turned to the back of the office where she was introducing herself to some other schmuck and I yelled past the receptionist, “I’ll see you next month Rachelle!”

That night I unwrapped the toothbrush from it’s box. The body was huge, at least nine inches long. It felt like a sturdy weapon in my hand. The goofy part was the head, which was roughly the size of my thumb nail. It was a laughable piece of technology. An expensive, laughable piece of technology.

I wet my mouth. Wet the brush. Applied the toothpaste. Wet the brush again. But when I turned the thing on it vibrated so intensely that the toothpaste immediately flew from the tiny bristles and splattered around my sink and mirror. After a couple tries I figured that I should turn it on inside of my mouth so that it would just splatter toothpaste all over my teeth, and not the bathroom. As soon as I pressed the large button to activate the vibrating brush it tore a hole in the roof of my mouth. It sure hurt a lot, this hole, but there wasn’t any blood. When I cocked my head in the mirror to look at it all I saw was a perfect circle, perfect blackness. I went to bed without brushing my teeth. I had a new fancy toothbrush after all, how much damage could one night do?

I woke up to a light tap tap on the inside of my teeth and rushed to the bathroom to see if maybe one of them was loosened by my visit. I pulled down on a brass cord and turned on the single, auburn light. When I opened my mouth a tiny man fell over across my bottom teeth. I could see him in the reflection of the mirror and he was wearing a tiny navy cap with a white shirt.

“Whew,” his tiny voice echoed in the empty room, “your breath smells man, what’s up with that?” Alarmed, but not scared, I lowered my mouth to the sink so that he could climb out.

“You’ve got to brush in circles,” the little man said, “in circles.”

Over the next couple of hours I questioned the little man. All he knew was that he had emerged in this world through the hole in my mouth. “I was nowhere,” he told me, strutting across the top of a Sport Illustrated, “and then, BAM, I was dangling from your mouth.” He was pretty cool, this little man. I gave him a thimble of beer and we talked about nothing. When we got tired I made him a little bed out of some cotton balls and cloth, put it on the nightstand next to my bed. But he didn’t want it, he wanted to sleep in my mouth cave. “It’s where I feel most at home,” he told me, “after all, I was born there.”

The next day at work I was on the phone with a customer, trying to sell him this new scooter even though he had never owned a scooter in his life. I was only able to do this because some shady charity he donated to, or possibly an organization whose petition he signed, sold us his phone number and email address. Today it was a scooter. Next week it will be flat top grill. Or kitchen sponges. Sometimes making cold calls made me feel guilty but then I would think who knows, maybe someday somebody will want a scooter or a flat top grill. I mean, I would buy them if I could afford it. The guy on the phone, Chuck, he didn’t want a scooter.

“You fucking fuck,” he seethed, “I am at work, do you know what work is?” And before I could tell him that I was at work and selling him a scooter was my job I felt a little tap tap on my teeth. I opened my mouth and the little man started, “Chuck, your name’s chuck right? How are you today Chuck?” And Chuck told the little man that he was having a really hard day, that his boss was cutting people left and right, and he didn’t appreciate the cold call one bit. Not one bit. “Look, Chuck, I’m sorry. Everybody has to make a living right? This is what I gotta do in order to eat, to feed myself.” I could hear Chuck sigh into the phone. “Hey, hey, hey, it’s alright. I know you’re frustrated okay? I get it. I’m going to let you go now. And hey, Chuck, if you ever need a scooter you just go ahead and give us a call.” Thumbs up.

The little man was smooth, he was understanding. I thanked him and he crawled back up into his cozy little mouth hole. Later that afternoon, I got a call from Chuck. Turns out his step daughter was starting college soon and she wanted a moped. When I told him we were selling manual scooters, “. . .like for kids,”as I put it, he said, “Well you know a birthday will come up sooner or later right? Nieces and nephews and all that.” So he bought two and I thanked him. I thanked the little man. At night I let the him out of my mouth so that I could brush my teeth.

Circles,” the little man emulated the proper motion, standing on my shoulder, “yes! Circles, just like that.” I slept better that night than ever before, knowing my little man was tucked away, safe and cozy, in my very clean mouth.

Three more weeks passed. Work was a breeze with the little man there to help me. I bought him a barbie house, complete with plastic kitchen set and a plastic car, but he still refused to move out of my mouth. The night before my next dentist appointment I told him all about Rachelle, about her laugh and her perfect teeth. We chatted like two kids at a sleep over.

“She sounds lovely,” he said. And I told him that he didn’t know the half of it, but that he would see. “Just be cool,” I warned him playfully, “stay out of site.”

The following morning I walked into the dentist office, waved at the angry clerk who thrusted papers at me to sign. I sat in the waiting room with the mini fridge full of little water bottles. I drank some shitty coffee, ate some stale cookies. I smiled wide sat up straight, ready to see Rachelle. When they finally called my name I shot right up, walked myself back to the office. I sat myself down in my regular chair, popped on my orange tinted shades.

When she rounded the corner into the room Rachelle says, “Hey! Oh my gosh finally. I can’t believe it’s been a month already.”

“Right? I really hate that my gums haven’t bled for four whole weeks.” Smile but no laugh. “You’re so goofy,” she said, “now open up.” I did and she took a look at my teeth, pricked them with the metal hook. That time there was no copper. No blood.

“Wow! Your teeth look much better. I guess it was worth it for that stupid $300 brush, huh?”

“Yeah, yeah. It’s been a huge help. Circles, you have got to brush in circles.” I felt a light tap tap against my teeth and cleared my throat, signaling the little man to get back in his hole. He must have been proud of me, of us. I imagined the taps as a thumbs up and told myself that I would apologize to him later.

Upon further inspection she found that despite all of our efforts, the little man and mine, I needed a root canal. I had never had a root canal before but I wasn’t worried. The little man and I were undefeatable together. I signed paperwork, arranged a ride, and took some pills that were supposed to make me stupid high so that I wouldn’t feel anything. When I came to, Rachelle was standing above me.

“All done!” she said.

I looked around the room, still very groggy. “It wasn’t so bad, right?” I nodded. My tongue flicked up and felt rough stitching where the tiny man’s hole had been. I stood up, and, alarmed, Rachelle put her hands on my shoulders to lower me back down. “Woah, woah, woah, relax. Relax, okay?” But I couldn’t relax. I flicked my tongue back over the stitching.

“Thishez?” I was able to mutter.

“Yeah, there was this peculiar hole in the roof of your mouth so I sewed it shut before your root canal. Don’t worry, I won’t charge you for it.” She winked.

I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. Calm tears started running down my face. She wiped them from my eyes and said, real delicately (because she could sense I was in pain), “would you want to see a movie sometime?” And I would have said yes if I could think about anything besides my little man hiding from the needle as it slowly stitched him back further and further until he was trapped. My ride showed up and Rachelle led me outside. She asked me if I was okay and I just got in the car, didn’t even look at her. When my cousin drove off I could see her in the rearview mirror, one hand on her bulging womb, a confused expression on her face.

When I got home I dug a razor blade out of my junk drawer and tried to sever the stitching. Laceration after laceration. There was no cavern. There was no little man. No tap tap. Just blood.

I never did call Rachelle, because when I thought of her smile I also thought about how she sewed me shut and locked my man away. I don’t even go to the dentist anymore, there’s no need. Whenever I brush my teeth I can still hear the little man, “Circles,” he says, “you have to brush in circles.”


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Image: emyzario via Pixabay


The Moment Before Drowning – Donna L Greenwood

Though her daggered words are aimed with perfect precision, they do not penetrate the black waves that are slowly engulfing me.

“I’m sorry, Jake, but you’ve only got yourself to blame.”

I nod my head slowly, for the water is heavy. Yes, I do only have myself to blame.

“I mean, for God’s sake, you’d try the patience of a saint, you really would.”

It’s the truth. I would try the patience of a saint.

“Jake, you exhaust me. I’ve had it with constantly trying to appease you. I am so tired of your moods and never knowing what dark shit you’re going to come out with next. You wallow in it, Jake. You just give in and luxuriate in your own misery.”

She’s right. I do wallow in it. Some days the mud of my mood is a viscous embrace.

“Jake.” Her voice has softened and she is by my side. I’m sat by the window. Outside the rain is drenching the streets whilst inside I am quietly submerging. She puts her hand on mine.

“I never wanted it to come to this, but I can’t stay here and watch you self-destruct.”

I look into her grey, seawater eyes. Doesn’t she know that I would peel off every inch of my skin for her? I want to tell her that I will die without her, but I am afraid the water will rush into my mouth.

“For God’s sake, Jake, haven’t you got anything to say to me?”

I want to tell her about the moment before drowning. I want explain how the drowning person doesn’t inhale water until they’re about to lose consciousness and then, when they finally breathe in the water, it floods the lungs and stops any oxygen getting to the blood. The drowning person becomes exhausted, depleted. I want to tell her that the very act of drowning makes it impossible not to drown. I try to speak but she has already turned away. She picks up her packed case and walks out of the door. I listen to the murky clatter of her stilettos gradually fading away.

Silence wraps itself around me and gently pulls me down to a place where I am comforted by the weight of the dark water which has filled this room where I used to hold her. I set my mouth in a hard, thin line and hold my breath, but I know it won’t be long before the involuntary drowning impulse kicks in and I will open my mouth and inhale the room, and the furniture and the shoes that she has forgotten. I will breathe in all that is too much and too big and eventually my airways will close and my lungs will die and I will drop like a stone into the fathomless black.


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DONNA L GREENWOOD lives in Lancashire, England. She writes flash fiction and poetry and her work can be found in Formercactus, Anti-Heroin Chic, Occulum, Hypnopomp, The Fiction Pool and on her blog
She can be contacted on Twitter @DonnaLouise67


Image: geralt via Pixabay

The Pickle Jar – Rebecca Field

The day I left, I took the pickle jar with me.

It seemed ridiculous at the time, but I wanted to hurt him. I wanted him to find out and be angry when I was too far away to care. I imagined him searching in the backs of the kitchen cupboards, slamming the doors and cursing me under his breath, finding nothing but expired cans of corned beef and black-eyed peas. I knew how much he loved those pickles; how the particular brand he coveted could only be obtained from that one store on the other side of the city. No other brands would ever do. Lord knows I had tried over the years.

I’d tried substituting other brands into his empty jar while he was out at work, hiding the evidence under a stack of dirty diapers in the trash, but he would always work it out. He would crack open a beer, flop back in his chair and ask for his pickles with his special fork, the one he brought from his mother’s house when we got our first place together. Other men might bring furniture or books or a dodgy record collection into a relationship. He brought a pickle fork and a stack of porn magazines. I should have seen the warning signs back then I guess. But I made my bed and was blind to what lay under it.

So I would make myself busy in the kitchen, washing the dishes and rearranging the contents of the refrigerator, hoping that this time he wouldn’t notice, telling myself there was no way he’d be able to tell any different, that they looked exactly the same. He would eat them one by one, chewing thoughtfully with a look as sour as pickling liquor on his face and I knew it was just a matter of time before he would blow. I was fed up with sweeping up broken glass, mopping up the stinking vinegar puddles and picking up the slug-like pickles in my fingers from the corners of rooms where they had skittered away from his wrath. And I was fed up with him: his moods, his demands, his eyes that drilled into my back while I pretended to get on with whatever I was doing, pretended that I was happy. How had we ended up in this place? I didn’t know if anything would ever change unless he died or I died or we won the state lottery or something.

Don’t get me wrong. Nobody can say I didn’t try. Sometimes I did get the right pickles. Then he would smile and say, ‘Thanks honey, you’re too good to me!’ For a moment I would catch a glimpse of the man I fell in love with. But then he would add, ‘Listen. Make sure you always get this kind. I don’t like the others.’ Like I didn’t know that already. If I told him how hard it was to get them, he just frowned at me like I was speaking a foreign language and spoke in tones of increasing volume about him working hard to keep a roof over our heads and did I think he was asking for the earth? Did I think it was easy working the hours he did? Was I not able to manage a simple task like getting in the groceries while I only had one child to look after? I knew better than to get into an argument about it. The issue was non-negotiable, like so many others.

Getting to the store in his old neighbourhood involved a three-and-a-half-hour round trip; two buses each way with Haley Junior in his stroller or on my lap, whining and grizzling because he couldn’t sleep and his pacifier had rolled down the aisle and been trapped underfoot by a woman with legs like an elephant and a face like fury, or because he had a fever and I’d run out of his medicine, or his diaper was aggravating his skin or for the million other reasons that babies cry.

I would pray all the way there that they would have them in stock, and if they did I would load six large jars into my cart, as many as I could carry on my back, knowing they would buy me only a couple of weeks’ grace before I’d have to make the same lousy trip all over again.

That day in Brianna’s car on the way back from the mall I got the idea in my head. It was one of those unbearable days when it felt as if the air itself was oppressing me. Running into her in the drugstore had been a real piece of good fortune. I think she offered me a lift home out of pity, and on account of us being friends once before, but I had no pride left at that stage so was happy to take her up on it. Haley Junior fell straight to sleep in the back and I settled down to stare at nothing through the window. Brianna knew better than to probe about my home life. She smiled and put on the radio.

When the car rolled to a stop on the highway intersection, I saw the pickles. The half-empty jar sat on the concrete barrier in the centre of the junction, like maybe a construction worker had left them there after his lunch break, or they’d just been spirited there by a pickle-loving fairy. They weren’t his brand, but the incongruous setting of those miniature cucumbers got me thinking. I got to thinking that the pickles were a symbol of our whole crummy relationship, and how I was just trapped in it, surrounded on all sides by traffic passing me by but with nowhere to go.

When Brianna dropped me off I asked if she could give me and Haley a lift the following Monday over the state line to my sister’s. I said I could give her some money for gas. He always gave me money for shopping on Mondays. She looked a little awkward but then said yes. So that was it; decision made. I told her I was going for a visit. That wasn’t a lie, I just wasn’t planning on coming back. He could find someone else to buy his damn pickles.


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REBECCA FIELD lives in Derbyshire and rarely eats pickles. She has been published online at Literally Stories, 101 Words, Flash Fiction Magazine and Spelk. She can be found on Twitter at @RebeccaFwrites


Image: Jenő Szabó via Pixabay


The Writer – Christine A Brooks

I have poured the wine, skipped
The water,
Smoked the weed, and turned up the tunes in my headphones
Jackson Brown, Willie Nelson and – Miles Davis.

I have opened the window to my soul, my empty space and let the cold in.
With the draft, the monsters come. At first, just a breeze, a whisper and a damp breath on
My warm neck.

I stare at their invited but unwelcome faceless faces,
See their hole
And grab hold of their hand.


Sometimes, it is me dragging them to the place of no return
Other times they grab hold of my warmth with their death grip, pulling me down the
Gravel-y path
Upright and unafraid
Towards the end where I trust they will push me,
Holding on to the last thread of my essence
Giving me a glimpse of the place that I cannot return from
So, I can face the abyss long enough to hear Its cry, Its
Reasons, and Its story.

I trust the monsters to show me the face of Hell and Heaven
To let me take notes and return to tell Their tale.
Their story is interesting, so I return more often than I should, the sirens call and I answer
Over and Over, and over again
Until the day I do not return


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Image: Chris Martin via Pixabay

The Persistence of Mem(Roy) – Garrett Rowlan

Carrying the town’s three clocks taken from the town square, the marketplace, and the church, we three walked single file. I was in the middle. Roy, taking the front, held his clock almost contemptuously in one hand. The young people don’t understand the old ways—but then, neither did I, really.

“I can see cleaning the clocks,” Roy said. “But I don’t pretend it’s some holy thing.”

“Think of it as preventative maintenance,” I said, “freeing the clocks of grime, the mechanized anomalies, and synchronizing them.”

He half-turned to speak. “And what’s that going to do, again?”

“We think,” I said, emphasizing the doubts we all have, “that if the clocks are washed our thoughts and actions won’t be overwhelmed by the past that paralyzes us, persists in our thoughts.”

“Or the past that disappears,” Bones said. He shuffled forward, the grinding of his joints sounded like shaken dice.

“You old guys have lived too long,” Roy added. “That’s all. Old people forget or live in fantasy. No hocus-pocus about washing the clocks is going to cure that.”

“No cure for time,” Bones said, stopping and wiping his brow. He had issues with forgetting. The grimy clock he held ticked over his chest like a mechanical heart.

Roy shook his head. Perhaps he was right. Bones and I were aging and using a suspicious mythology to help alleviate the unpleasant truths about our bodies and our minds. Can it hurt, I almost asked Roy, to make a ritualistic patina from a janitorial duty?

We went through town. It was a collection of huts set on irregular streets, graded so that resistance to your foot came at odd moments, sending a juddering sensation up to your knees or causing you to lurch. People had tried, through photographs of the same street taken on different occasions, to prove that the terrain actually changed from day to day, though the research proved inconclusive. The uneven terrain and the town’s three clocks, two running forward, one back, none in sync, made it a place where we made arrangements by the sun and shadows rather than by the high-mounted, treacherous numerals.

Looking back, I saw the town’s few ramshackle buildings, and in one of them I saw the old man’s bearded face as he watched from a window.

This was his idea. I had come to him with my problem. Greeting me from a hovel of piled books, dirty dishes, and pictures hung crookedly, he sat in a plush chair whose worn-out springs offered little resistance to even his wizened form, giving the impression of a diver about to be swallowed by a giant clam. He was the town’s grey eminence and could even remember that distant time when the clocks all ran forward and told the same time. He knew of course that the clocks were no longer in sync, but he didn’t know of our crisis, particular among old people, the flood of false memories and a paralyzing nostalgia. It had become not uncommon to find someone standing slack-jawed on a street corner in an attitude that, in happier times, had belonged to a drug addict. Some were overwhelmed with memories. Others, like Bones, felt their memories threatened by a quicksand of oblivion. My problem was causation. I felt every act weighed down by those that came before it, a deterministic chain that led to one thing and one thing only, stripping the present of all spontaneity.

“Am I doing something as a free act or as a pre-determined one?” I asked, as I explained my problem. “I don’t know.”

“I see.”

“My actions,” I tried to clarify, “do not provide the comfort of familiarity but the onus of a pre-determined repetition. The simplest acts seem wearisome and dubious.”

The old man had raised the molting wing of an eyebrow. “Dubious?”

“Am I making a free choice or only one determined by proceeding acts?” I reached out to the table that separated us. “When I pick up this jar, for example, and I take a drink—”

His hand restrained me. With an expression between a smile and a grimace, he said, “I have difficultly getting and going to the bathroom, and so I sometimes…” He indicated the jar, which indeed didn’t have the smell of low-quality beer, which I had first mistaken it for.

I finished without visual aids. When I was done, he leaned back and his brown eyes glistened with cataracts and mucus as a draught of memory brought the smallest smile. “They called it the curse of déjà vu,” he said, “back in the days when the past first overwhelmed the present. If I were you, I’d do what they did then.”

“What did they do then?”

“The dowsing of the clocks, that’s what they called it.”

“Can you say that again?”

Mnemonic rheum filling his eyes, he told me a theory that had made the rounds when he was young. It was the idea that this town didn’t exist on its own but within the mind of an artist, someone with a sense of the visual and a flair for eccentricity, both of which fused in the imagining of this town and the clocks that existed both as things-in-themselves and as metaphors.

“Metaphors for what?”

“For time and memory,” he said, as if that were obvious. Seeing my difficulty with this approach, he added, “Memories accumulate. It’s what they do. Eventually, there gets to be a storage problem, a filing problem. Something about the washing of the clocks eases this issue. At least, that’s what they did, back in the day. The elders believed that the clocks not only marked time, they accumulated it. They are ratcheted to our memories.”

“Is that why the one in the town square runs backward because memories go both ways, forward and back in time?”

“I’ve heard that theory,” he said.

“And this, this dowsing of the clocks, it works?”

“It worked that time,” he said. He reached into his pocket and produced a small fob watch with a tarnished gold casing. “If you go, throw this one in too.”

“I didn’t know anyone owned their own watch, I thought it was illegal.”

“I’m old and don’t care. Anyway, it doesn’t work.”

Now I touched the watch in my coat pocket as we left town and neared a flat obsidian slab whose original purpose, whether religious, civic, or business, had been long abandoned. In the middle of the slab a single, leafless, dry stalk, looking more like a twisted coat hanger than anything vegetative, stuck out. We passed it and neared the brownish beach under a pale wash of sky, colored an improbable mango. Beyond, the wave-less waters didn’t move, except for the gentle scouring motion of underwater currents. A soft wind blew from no discernible direction. We reached the shore.

“I suppose we have to chant something,” Roy said, with a smirk that was beginning to irritate me.

“No,” I said, “we let the tide do the work.”

“This is the part I don’t understand,” Bones said. “We’re not really washing the clocks.”

“It’s what the old man said, let the water do the work.”

We let the clocks slide into the water. They sunk and rolled over in unison, and the times they displayed—12:30, 6:55, 8:02—seemed to match the odd architecture and street grading of our town. Sinking, the clocks lost their shape, became flaccid as rubber shower mats. As they did we saw them do a gentle dance, a synchronized sway as they turned below the water, some shedding their numerals as they moved to the rhythm of underwater currents. As if to reflect its agitation, the still water stirred and small wavelets turned over at our feet.

Something happened inside me, or maybe outside: I felt causation somehow detach itself from my perception of the world. Spontaneity returned, I sensed, the lockstep of cause-and-effect broken. Every act was unique, particular, sui generis. Meanwhile, the clocks moved like a small school of fish, turning with the current. Even Roy lost his cynicism, watching this display.

“Man, I feel like jumping in with them,” he said.

I told him what the old man had said. “We’re supposed to stay out of the water while this is happening. The waters become toxic while the clocks are swimming.”

Roy rolled his eyes. “And what’s going to happen if we do go in?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “That was the warning the old man gave me. When the clocks return to us then, and only then, is it safe to go into the water.”

Slowly the clocks moved like shy children in our direction. “They are coming back,” I said, “just like the old man said they would. Wait for them. Stay out of the water. When they reach the shore, we’re supposed to dry them and stretch them.”

I remembered the fob watch. I pulled it out of my pocket.

“What’s that?” Bones said.

“It belonged to the old man.”

“That’s a beauty,” he said. “Wait—”

I tossed it a couple of yards. It splashed, and I waited for it to duplicate the gentle, undulating motion of the other clocks, but instead it dropped and didn’t rise from the shoreline’s soft sand, covered by shallow water. It glinted as the sand began to cover it.

“Well,” I said, “he expected it to sink. I’ll just have to tell him it did.”

“You tell him that,” Roy said. He stepped into the water. Reaching down, he plucked the gold watch and returned to us. The silent watch ticked loudly. “I thought you said it didn’t work. It works.” He opened the watch and a little water spilled out. He showed me the moving second-hand. “I got a watch,” he added. “I got my own watch. I got my own time right here. None of those damn clocks that don’t work right will ever apply to me. I got my own time. I don’t need to look to the center of town.” He closed the casing.

The drooping clocks beached and waited. They were supposed to be air-dried and later stretched, according to the old man. We draped them over our arms and returned to the single obsidian slab and the stick-like branch growing from it. A soft wind blew. Looking back, I saw how it obliterated the footsteps we had left behind. I stepped up on the flat obsidian surface and draped a clock over the spindly, single branch. A few falling drops evaporated on the surface.

“I don’t feel very good,” we heard Roy say. “I don’t feel like myself.”

His face had swollen and seemed to be consuming the rest of his body, while the clock he carried had settled on his forehead like some cursed shroud, forcing him down to the sand. As he fought, futilely, looking like a man stuck in a large bag, the fob watch flew from him and landed on the sand. A jeweled icing of ants appeared on its surface. Seeing them on the casing, I thought I saw time and memory consumed before my eyes.

And Roy: Roy was now a folded dock lying on the sand, only that prominent nose and eyelashes identified that flaccid timepiece as our young companion. Well, I thought, he was kind of an ass.

“He lived on my street,” Bones said. “I remember that now.”

It was all we could summon by way of eulogy.

“We’re supposed to let them hang until they’re dried all the way through.”

We walked away. I took a last look back and saw Roy persisting as a face on the sand, supporting a clock. Over him draped one clock with two others nearby and the fob watch crowned with ants. Damn, I thought, that would make one weird picture.


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GARRETT ROWLAN is a retired sub teacher from Los Angeles. His novel, To Die, To Sleep is published by James Ward Kirk and is at Amazon. A second novel, The Vampire Circus, will be published soon.


Image: geralt via Pixabay



Same Old Love – Cathal Gunning

The plane dipped and tilted, “beginning its descent” according to the tinny echo of the co-pilot’s voice. A roar growled in Danielle’s ears. Pressure building. Across the stretch of the lake below, ice spread; a solid film attempting to coat its surface, falling short in the centre. From the impossible height of her plane seat, the ice was the same iridescent rainbow oil-slick colour that topped her cold cup of coffee.

Erica had told her something about the pull of the dairy industry, about how our bodies weren’t meant to process milk. Over the peaks of mountains outside, mottled blue shades and streaks of pure white, Danielle could see why white supremacists were obsessed with milk as a symbol. Fucking Twitter poisons our brains.

Erica had said everyone’s born lactose intolerant, that milk never settles in the stomach. It wasn’t a comforting thought. Before her, Iceland would have been beautiful. After her it was snow, and ice, and jealousy of whatever place got to have her. Mountains as white as milk, a stomach that never settled.

Three months earlier in a too early hour of the morning, Danielle sat up and smoked shared cigarettes until she’d the confidence to go in for the shift and spent the night sucking on an almost anonymous tit as if it were a teat; less sexual and more urgent, starved for sustenance. That was Anne-Marie(?), the last woman she was with before she met Erica. Anne-Marie (something like that), a since-all-but-forgotten closet case tragedy who she’d shared a 5am taxi and bungalow with post-Porterhouse.

Fucking Erica had an urgency, but it wasn’t the same; an urgency of its own, not just different but incomparable. Just the thought of fucking Erica had more passion and impact, more physical ache, than actually fucking anyone else could ever have hoped to.

Sean’s friend Angela was lovely, as was the farewell drink she bought Danielle, and the comforting numbness it brought with it. Lovely, like messages from friends wishing well, like the last meal Danielle had with her family before leaving for the plane. Everything was lovely since Erica, and nothing was beautiful but Erica, splitting the two words into the universal and the specific. Body and soul. Nothing else would ever be beautiful again.

Same old love.


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CATHAL GUNNING (24)- Editor @ ‘Cold Coffee Stand’, Adbusters Media Foundation. Poetry in The Rose Magazine, Lagan Online; Fiction in Tales From the Forest, The Honest Ulsterman, The Runt, Snakes of Various Consistency, The HCE Review, The Occulum, and the collection ‘From the Candystore to the Galtymore’.
Debut novel ‘Innocents’ published 2017 (Solstice). Short-listed for Maeve Binchy Travel Award and Hennessy New Irish Writing.


Image: Volkmar Gubsch via Pixabay


Plant Food – Stella Turner

It happened very quickly. It was summer I think. But it might have been spring when the Purple Rain fell. At first Sadie thought it was magical, a nice shade, think she used the word hue. The animals weren’t very keen. It was later I turned vegetarian. I’d always liked a lamb’s leg for Sunday lunch not many farmers in these parts that didn’t eat meat.

Sadie would go out and dance in it. I don’t like getting wet. Sadie would laugh and say whenever did you see a rusty man? She started to say things like I was good enough to eat and would bite my arm hard when I gave her a hug. I had to shoot her dead the day she came at me in the barn with a meat cleaver. It was the one we used to cut the pigs up with. Once they’d hung for a while in the outhouse.

I buried her in the back garden with a cross around her neck and a stake through her heart just in case. She feeds a patch of wild flowers. It looks really pretty. The rain is back to normal no purple tinges but I make sure me and the animals stay indoors if rain is forecast. You never can tell these days what’s what. I eat porridge mostly and let the animals die when nature decides. Haven’t seen the neighbours for months, the flowers look good though, on the side of the adjoining hills. Really pretty I tell myself.


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Image: Foto-Rabe via Pixabay



Set – G J Hart

In dreams he dreams
of cities hung with rails
slick as caramel wicks,
towers of sparks and waggons
burdened with the coals
of notions beneath craquelure
swollen as almond –

to a crackle that accuses
and in a flicker


desires himself still –
the piped steel
and packed fridge
and walls that pen
of flies open
beside a lamp
with moths.

And each morning his phone
calcines and heart softens
across a voice
gummed with questions:

are we prepped,
are we set?

He’d sent out waggons shaking
with lakes and meadows –
testers just testers

As he listens he slices
a segment of nail,
tongues its bowl.


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GJ HART currently lives and works in London and has had stories published in The Molotov Cocktail, The Jersey Devil Press, The Harpoon Review and others. He can be found arguing with himself over @gj_hart.


Image: Aida Khubaeva via Pixabay



Star-Crossed Destiny – Sudha Balagopal

King Lot enters the gloomy nursery, picks up his newborn. Behind him, he hears the nurse mutter, “This accursed child killed our queen.”

Outside, in the gallery, he pauses in front of his wife’s portrait. The artist spent months capturing the queen’s dewy skin, the mole on her lip, that come-hither look. The king opens his mouth, cannot utter her name.

He rocks the whimpering baby on a swing in the garden. Discreet attendants, dressed in mourning, hover at a distance.

The king leans close to the baby and whispers, “Darling Destiny, thank you for freeing me!”

*      *      *

At Destiny’s elite boarding school, students receive goodies from home.

“My mother has blue eyes and golden hair,” she says, hoping to make friends, wishing they’ll share.

Her classmates cover their mouths and giggle, for the princess has brown eyes, olive skin, dark hair.

“My mother talks to me all the time,” Destiny says.

No one listens. They’re opening gift boxes, reading cards that say, “I love you.”

While they eat their treats, Destiny cuddles with her flaxen-haired doll under the blanket. She presses a button on the doll’s hand, hears a mechanical voice say, “Hello, my dear!” Over and over.

She imagines it’s her mother’s speaking.

*      *      *

Craving anonymity, Destiny opts to spend fall semester of college with a host family. They accept her as a dentist’s daughter, offer hearty stews and the resonance of a foreign tongue.

She doesn’t complain when her skin roughens, when farm dirt discolors her nails. She enjoys wearing overalls, establishes a camaraderie with the produce pickers.

Pedro makes her heart ache with love. He showers her with attention, is hurt when she denies him a photo. From him, she learns the taste of a commoner’s saliva.

But his bed is uncomfortable. She overturns the mattress, finds the pebble—loses her temper with her trust.

She flings the rock. It hits Pedro’s forehead. His turn to ache.

*      *      *

The astrologer tells Destiny, “Your stars are crossed.” He cannot find her a royal match.

“You’re not looking hard enough,” she says.

She dismisses him and asks for a palmist instead, the best in the land.

The bespectacled palmist is lean, serious. Her palm fits snugly in his hands. He peers at her heart line, her life line and her fate line. His warm breath caresses her finger’s tips as he studies the whorls and patterns. “Your Highness will marry,” he declares. “And soon.”

A month later, the princess marries the palmist.

*      *      *

Guests rise as King Lot and his daughter, Destiny, enter the cathedral’s decorated aisle. His fingers tremble on her arm.

“You can do this,” she tells him, waving a hand to acknowledge the crowd.

At the altar, a handsome man awaits them, his gaze transmitting love.

“I’m not giving you away,” Destiny says in her father’s ear. “I’m embracing a new era.”

The king smiles at the groom, soon his consort.


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SUDHA BALAGOPAL’s recent fiction appears in New Flash Fiction Review, New World Writing, rkvry quarterly literary journal, Jellyfish Review and Lost Balloon among other journals. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn and two short story collections, There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories. More at


Image: Mira DeShazer via Pixabay


A Kind Of Dance – Cath Barton

When I was a child I was lowered by rope from the cliff tops of my island to gather the eggs of puffin, gannet and fulmar. The birds were angry about this thieving, but I flapped as much as they did so as to drive them off. Sometimes the eggs would tumble from my basket. The rocks far below would be smeared then with the vivid yellow of my guilt and I would be beaten by my father, afterwards, for my carelessness. I knew no other life, at that time. We none of us do, as children. I would run and hide in small secret places, and retreat into the cave-safety of my mind.

It became too difficult for us to find enough food to survive on the island, and when I was still not fully grown I was evacuated to the mainland, along with all the others. I have been told I was one of the last 36 residents, but the number means nothing to me. I did not know anyone on the island outside my immediate family and afterwards I found that I could not be with more than three or four people at a time; it proved impossible for me to breathe where more were gathered together. Finding I needed unfettered space around me I decided to remain alone.

My chosen companion in this life was a cat. He asked for no more than regular food and rewarded me with sweet purrs and by twining his body, once, twice, thrice between my legs, in a kind of dance. We had between us an understanding that the birds were entitled to their lives as much as he and I. They lived in the gardens around our house fearing nothing from either me or my cat.

I planned that after my death I would return to my childhood home on the island and make my way as the wild creatures do. Without the burden of the human body it would, I knew, be easy to do that. I had already started practicing. Sometimes in the crepuscular morning hours, before other people were awake, I would leave my own body and enter that of a bird, where I sang his song, quite softly, before he himself was ready for the new day. I thought of it as an exchange, a dance between us equivalent to the one in which I engaged with my cat. I learned to do this first with robin, thrush and blackbird, birds whose songs I studied meticulously, listening, singing and listening again, over and over. I was able to sing these songs as well as any. But these are birds of garden and field. They do not fly far from home and, most particularly, they do not fly over the seas.

I learned much as well from swallow, swift and house martin, not least the way to swoop fast and low. But these birds travel south in winter, to climes unfamiliar to me. The hot sands would not have been a suitable place for me. I knew that my home would always be in the north lands. My next and final lessons were with the owl family, the ghostlike creatures of night and the half light. I sallied forth in the twilight hours, learning their ways. Then came the final transformation. How it took place I cannot say, for no human knows the moment of his death.

Should you go to my island – there are boats now that take people on circular trips, though you cannot land – you will see that the cliffs are once more covered with puffin, gannet and fulmar nests, their eggs safe from human predation. The noise will be prodigious, as they guard their chicks from skua and snowy owl. Watch out for the approach of one of those majestic birds. They are there, I can assure you. You might, if your eyes are sharp, even see me.


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CATH BARTON is an English writer who lives in Wales. Her novella The Plankton Collector will be published in September 2018 by New Welsh Review. Cath is on the 2018 Literature Wales Mentoring programme, working on a collection of short stories inspired by the work of Hieronymus Bosch. @CathBarton1


Image: jo vanel via Pixabay




The Cow And The Dog (a Fable) – Michael Grant Smith

The cow and the dog were best friends. They had been close for longer than the other animals could remember. Even the wise old mare was unable to recall a time before this great camaraderie.

“I am pleased to see such harmony visit our farm,” she said, one sunny day, “but just the same, the relationship is unusual. No good can come of it.”

The donkey made no comment and continued feeding. He cared only for fodder and pulling his little cart. The cat did not speak — she believed herself invisible and did not wish to reveal her position. The chickens scrabbled and hopped around the dry-lot in front of the stock barn. They didn’t say anything because they are incredibly small-minded and stupid.

“My friend and I are right here,” the cow said to the horse, “and we can hear you talk about us!”

The dog, as was his common inclination, rolled in the dirt, saying nothing but twisting around from time to time to bite his own tail. He didn’t care what the other animals thought. It made no sense to him: why chew on words as if speech were rawhide or gristle? He was on good terms with the mare, whose buggy he loved to follow down the road while he barked at the wheels. But the cow was the dog’s very special friend.

“What of it?” the young rooster said to the cow. His plumage gleamed, an open jewelry box in the sun. “Even if your wet-nosed companion doesn’t mind being called a fool, both of you are fools nonetheless!”

With that, the rooster half-flew, half-fell a full three feet from his perch and landed square on top of several chickens. He clawed and flapped and poked at them to show the cow and dog he was serious. The chickens squawked in a tornado of feathers, but within minutes continued to browse around again. Resisting the urge to crow, the rooster raised his wings one at a time and preened. He strutted around the small empty space he had cleared within the midst of the other poultry.

“A bond such as yours — cow and dog, indeed!” said the rooster. “It’s unnatural!”

The cow meant no harm to anyone in the world; this made her even more sensitive to the rooster’s harsh remarks. She blinked a couple of times and took a step back. Her bell clanked once and became still. For his part, the dog sat and scratched at fleas until his eyes bugged and his tags jingled like sleigh bells. He satisfied his itch and gazed with adoration at the cow. His tongue lolled while his tail beat the dust.

The rooster was not finished making his point. He rushed over to the cow, stopped just in front of the beast, and began to peck and claw at the ground. His wings spread wide as if he were a very plump, practically flightless eagle.

Startled, the cow backed up again, but this time landed her big rump in the water trough. The other animals laughed at her shock and embarrassment. They didn’t mean to, but it was so sudden and unexpected. Even the old mare let out a choked guffaw.

“Unnatural! Unnatural! Unnatural!” shrieked the rooster, bouncing up and down. He beat his wings and almost touched the cow, who writhed and bucked in her attempts to free herself. She moaned and mooed.

“Unnatural!” the rooster screamed. “Un-na-tur-al! Un-na-tur — ”

Silence. The rooster’s head was inside the dog’s jaws. Clamping down harder, the dog played tug-of-war and gave a powerful shake. One, two, three times. He dropped the lifeless bird to the ground. For several seconds or maybe minutes, none of the other animals moved, including the chickens.

Freed from the rooster, and lately the trough, the cow bowed her head and cast her soft brown eyes toward her friend. Without saying anything, the cow and dog ambled out of the dry-lot and into the pasture. The cow grazed timothy and clover while the dog flushed rabbits, real and imagined, from beneath piles of deadfall. The barn cat flowed from shadow to shadow as she headed towards the back porch and a dish of cream. The donkey dozed in the afternoon sun, dreaming of his cheerful little cart.

“It is so much better when we help each other,” the old mare said to no one in particular. The chickens ate their own poop and a lot of small pebbles. “Friendship is worth the effort it takes.”


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MICHAEL GRANT SMITH wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing has appeared in elimae, Ghost Parachute, Longshot Island, The Airgonaut, formercactus, Riggwelter, and others. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. To learn too much about Michael, please visit and @MGSatMGScom.


Image: Daniel Borker via Pixabay


Road Trip – Clare O’Brien

Remember? It was raining hard that night.
The slow pulse of passing cars, alive
in the wet light, drew liquid shapes
on blacked-out windows; our sentences swam
in an aquarium of air.

New York was jumping but the traffic crawled.
You stretched out, liquid in the shadows.
I kept my counsel as the hours flowed.
Behind the glass the sky oozed darkness,
bleeding like bruised fruit.

Afterwards, awkwardly, we touched. I froze,
But you melted me with a helpless shrug.
On the glistening sidewalk, you turned to ask
if you’d see me before I caught my plane.
Your smile was sad. I’m here, you said.


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CLARE O’BRIEN lives on the north-west coast of Scotland. Her fiction and poetry has most recently appeared in Fearless Femme, The London Reader, Northwords Now, Biggar Science Festival’s The Powers Of Nature anthology and was longlisted for TSS Publishing’s Flash400 2018. Her day job is archivist and researcher, and she is also working on her first novel, a dystopian fiction called Light Switch. Follow her on Twitter at @clareobrien.


Image: Igor Schubin via Pixabay


The Skins We Shed – Liz Jones

A One-Day Travelcard, an Oyster. A packet of gum, each. Crisp packets. Beer bottles. A Mars Bar wrapper fluttering after the last tube. Two condoms.

Train tickets, plane tickets, pizza boxes, fish and chip paper. Ribbons and cellophane from flowers. Gift wrap, carrier bags. Labels cut out of fancy underwear, careful not to nick the silk. Condoms, different kinds. Tissues, vodka bottles. More condoms, the kind you decide you prefer.

Bin bags of stuff not looked at in two years. Bin bags full of rubbish. Bin bags of things you outgrew, things that won’t belong together. Too many bin bags to put out for the bin men. You sneak out after dark and share them round the new neighbours’ piles, laughing. Wine bottles. Condoms.

Pieces of cardboard longer than you are, with the round dents of casters. Bubble wrap that leaves your hands dry and squeaky. Other people’s discarded furniture. Scraped paint, surprisingly heavy. An old bath. A toilet. Lampshades and mildewed curtains. A cache of old tights.

A pregnancy test, then another. Tampons and booze bottles. Condoms again.

A car that seized up for lack of oil – whose job was that? – towed away for scrap. The plastic off the seats of a new one, why not? Phone boxes, TV boxes, computer boxes. Boxes from kitchen appliances. Boxes ten times the size of the things that came in them. Polystyrene worms that stick to the wall. Little white balls, hail indoors. Condoms. Containers for cleaning products, shampoo, medicines. Two CD collections, you’ve gone digital. Dry cleaning wrappers. Cleansing wipes, cotton buds. All of the plaster chipped off a wall to reveal the stone beneath. Better wine bottles, real corks. Gadgets no longer desired. Garden waste, a whole new bin. Vacuum cleaner emptyings. Things with no name.

A pregnancy test, then another. One more for luck. Champagne bottle, vitamins. New kinds of packaging: pushchair, car seat, cot, electric mobile, baby gym, twenty-seven miniature sleepsuits, monitor.

Nappies. Nappies and nappies and nappies, on and on. So many nappies. Baby wipes, make everything clean. Containers from formula milk. Condoms, not as many. Too many bin bags to put out for the bin men. You sneak out after dark and share them round the neighbours’ piles, silently.

A pregnancy test, then another. One more for luck. Champagne bottle, vitamins. This time it’s a boy so the packaging’s blue. Nappies nappies nappies nappies.

Property pages, printouts. Bin bags of stuff not looked at in four years. You don’t bother to conceal the bin bags this time, nobody cares.

Enough sheets of cardboard to contain a whole kitchen, because they did. Old cabinets piled in a skip. The skip is taken, who knows where?

Boxes come faster and faster, never fast enough. Ticket stubs pushed deep and hidden. Shirts that smell wrong. Receipts that don’t add up. Wine bottles overflowing. No condoms, not here.

Dead umbrellas, dead pushchairs, dead highchairs, dead baby bouncers, dead coathangers. All the spindly, insubstantial things left behind when we’re gone.


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LIZ JONES writes novels and short stories, and is currently studying part-time for an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. She also works as a freelance editor of non-fiction. She lives in Somerset with her family. Find her on Twitter: @ljedit


Image: Noel Bauza via Pixabay




Knocking – Bayveen O’Connell

The day they knocked the flats I stood in the gravel by the side of the road with cars sloshing by and rain trickling down inside the neck of my leather jacket. Batty Nancy from No.1 was still alive, wheezing through her teeth and leaning on my shoulder in spite of the Zimmer frame in front of her.

“Oh now,” she tutted, “and not a day too quick neither.”

I thought of the stairway and all the up of the groceries and the down of the rubbish. Rummaging in my pocket for smokes, I tilted the box at Batty.

“It’s terminal,” she muttered.

“Then you might as well,” I said.

“Ta, Vinny,” she said, snatching one up.

We took damp puffs as the crane jerked to life like a stop-motion T-Rex.

“Sheila was your mother?” It was more of a splutter than a question.

“She was,” I patted her back.

The crane trundled into position and the ball chain started to swing.

“If I was in there now,” she started again with a whistle, “it’d be a quick one.”

I kept staring at the wrecking ball gathering speed and launching towards the third block. As the globe made to hit the concrete and the rusted railings, Batty took a fit of coughing. I held her shoulders as they shook:

“Ah mind yourself Ba- Nancy,” I said.

But she croaked and rasped like there was something trying to escape.

“Go-” she coughed, “Go-”

“What is it?” I asked.

She got her breath and straightened, still clinging to her cigarette.

“There’s enough ghosts in there without me joining them.”

I stiffened, watching the ball crash against the fourth floor and the cracks ripple outwards.

“Look! Look there, can’t you see him? Vinny, up there outside your door,” Batty laboured, digging her fingers into my arm and letting go of her smoke, “your old pal Barry, isn’t it? The wee lad, he’s knocking, see him?”

As the bottom floors started to drop and fall to the rubble beneath, I saw a wisp of something on the fifth storey outside no.47. Over the crash of debris I heard the rap of shaking knuckles in my ear, the same rap, rap, rap that I had once ignored.


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BAYVEEN O’CONNELL is based in Dublin. Her short stories and flash have appeared in Molotov Cocktail, Tales from the Forest, The Bohemyth, Rag Queen Periodical, Nilvx, Drabblez Magazine and others. She loves all things strange and dark.


Image:  ulleo via Pixabay



The First Step – Tomas Marcantonio

I stand in front of a room full of strangers in a suit that I bought on sale from Hennies. It’s a good fit at the shoulders but the sleeves fall short, swinging three inches above my wrists. The shirt’s wet beneath the armpits so I can’t take the jacket off; a paddling pool for my pit hairs. I keep looking at the graph behind me for answers but it’s pointing down and I’m riding it like a slide.

The mouth’s running dry and I’m swallowing rocks. Tongue’s getting caught in the rough slide against the roof of my mouth; might as well be against a brick wall. If only I could suck up that armpit moisture and get it where I need it. I’d lick it up like a cat at a bowl of milk.

I take a look at the faces around the table. One’s watching me with big bored eyes; she clips off my fingernails and stirs them into her tea. Another’s leaning back in his chair, clicking the clicker of his ballpoint pen with a thumb; with every click I lose half an inch in height. I must be around five foot four now, my feet disappearing into the carpet. If you went down to the office below you’d see my cheap brogues pierced through the ceiling and the trousers creased around my ankles. The third suit’s picking lice out of my hair with his eyes; he nibbles them between his front teeth and swallows them with a sour expression.

I run out of words. They’re somewhere there in my head, whole battalions of them. I organised them into ranks last night after I turned out the light, dealing them like a croupier into slick piles of complex and compound sentences, rhetoric and metaphors, even a couple of snappy one-liners. Now the army has fallen apart, a parade of ants dispersed by the first drop of rain. The words retreat to the depths of my brain, bouncing off the walls and disturbing all the wrong kinds of lobes.

I thank the suits for their time and they stand up. They each shake me by the hand and the prints from my fingertips fall in ribbons to the floor. I bend to pick them up but the suits tell me not to bother. They’ll let me know, they say, and show me the door. I nod and leave my things with them, including the six inches I lost beneath the floorboards.

I poddle back to my cubicle and assess the damage; close my eyes and plug myself into the socket beneath the desk. I’m down to three percent, a flashing red light, but Burns comes over to check how it went. I make some monkey noises at him, all I can muster at low battery, and he somersaults some consolation witticisms at me. I unplug myself from the wall and force my eyes open. He props his backside up onto my desk and takes a sharpener to the skin on the back of my hand; it collects on the carpet like dandruff. I thank Burns and he leaves. I’ll lick the flakes of skin up off the floor later.

*      *      *

I don’t have time for a full recharge before the dinner, so I throw shots of tequila into my mouth while I’m showering. Jung-mi says I need to wear my best tie; she wants to show me off to her friends. I ask her if I should bring my unicycle and juggling balls as well and she says I might as well. I change into a fresh shirt and take another three shots before I leave. One of them stings the raw skin on the back of my hand; another gives me an inch boost in height; the third one builds up a black bubble around my head. It’s a bubble of ink that I can only see through if I squint.

I’m late to the restaurant and everyone’s already sat around the table. I can’t look directly at them; seven pairs of eyes painting red sniper dots all over my face. Jung-mi gets up and kisses me on the cheek and holds me out in her palm for everyone to look at. I gurn for them and they all clap and ask if I’ve brought my unicycle. I tell them I forgot it and sit down; my eyelashes fall out one by one and feather down into the bowl of soup that’s already cold in front of me.

They start a parlour game while we’re waiting for the mains. Coming round in a circle; think fast, be witty, here’s a knife at your throat to make sure you do. My tequila bubble’s thinning and the heart’s pounding again like a silverback thumping his feet against my chest. My tongue’s drying out again and when I run it over my teeth they pop out from the gums. I swallow them one by one like pieces of hard corn.

It’s my turn. Eyes on me, Ol’ Dew Face. I stand up and excuse myself, hobble to the bathroom with my face burning. Jung-mi follows me, takes me by the hand.

‘You okay?’

I look at her through what’s left of the film of ink around my head. The room’s spinning, building up like a tornado hurtling through my chest and I just want to get out.

‘Breathe,’ she says, moving her hands up to my cheeks. ‘Just look at me, only me. Breathe. Deep, slow.’

I do what she says.

‘I’ve got a problem,’ I say.

She nods. She holds my face in her hands and looks into my eyes and just nods. I’ve said it out loud, at last.


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TOMAS MARCANTONIO is a fiction writer from Brighton, England. He has been published in various journals and anthologies, most recently Ellipsis Zine, Firefly Magazine, Storgy, and The Fiction Pool. Tomas is currently based in Busan, South Korea, where he teaches English and writes whenever he can escape the classroom.


Image: Manuchi via Pixabay



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