Yon be Da Pickleman – Jim Meirose

Yon be da pickleman rocking her boat dry. Got out and told him.



Prongies? May ketch the prongies?


Will. Have ketched the prongies.

Doc. Hey Doc. I need help done gone ketched da prongies.

Why? That’s why I’m here. Ask why I to you not backwards my way Doc. I think I need a new you.

What? Nut-cake. Here. Eat on my nutcake.

Why those?

Cause these.

Why these?

Cause them.

Why them?

Cause dose udder.

Why does udder?

Cause you da pickle-man. Pickle-man scritchie-scratchie his ones. What I told ya knackie. His ones. Those. So what you can’t see dem, dey’re dare. Yuppie noodles by gosh yuk, they dere.

Why? I should not know.

Why the sun, eh? Why the moon? Eh? Why? The stars eh? And so forth. And on. Downhill it all rolls. All quick and slick. This way and that.

She rocked her boat all up got out and told him. What she tell him? Pickygrin? She tell him dis. Litbubby. She told him dat. Prongies? She told him which way dat. Soul. Souls. No soul and no souls. Cause dose udder. My brain. What I told ya big knackie. Crown me. All quick and slick. Crown me right now. The stars eh? Not already crowned me, no. Pickygrin? Not later crown me promise me, no. Pickle-man scritchie-scratchie his onesies his twosies and—his threesies anon. Why them? You been told. Cause dose udder. And why dat so so? Ha. Cause you da pickle-man.

Pickle-man scritchie-scratchie his ones?


Cause you da pickle-man.



Contents Drawer Issue 13

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The Barfly – D S Maolalai

there was a spot
on the inside my wineglass
and the spot was yellow
and the spot
was a hornet. I fished her out
on the bent end of a spoon – no, not dead,
but drunk enough to be so –
and placed her on my table
with another glass sealing her in.

the legs were moving,
the body
looked large as a thumb,
the stinger glistening sharp
and deadly as cholera. her body
was segmented
and her wings
clung flat to her back.

I read my book a while,
drank some wine,
as she came slowly back from sleep.
the head moved
briefly. then a
twitch. I’m used to flies
which die in my winebottles,
but a hornet
was a new
and interesting sight. I wondered
did she intend her drunkenness
or did she
fall into it
as many do,
trying to hurt me,
and now
could not get out.

she rolled over from her side,
bad as a sunday morning,
and began to shake,
buzzing angrily at the glass.
I picked it up
to give her some air
but she couldn’t get aloft,
just stumbled
drunk on the tabletop,
yellow stripes
livid on the wood.

I thought of winos on the roadways,
sitting outside
supermarkets, sipping cider
and eating cans of cold soup.
I thought of litterbins
busy with insects, and pity,
and all the other things. I thought of myself
shaking in the morning
and wondered idly
if insects can have hangovers.

then I brought the glass down again,
and bottom first
and felt the wetness of the crush
and the relief
that my own hangover
would go unwitnessed.


DS Maolalai recently returned to Ireland after four years away, now spending his days working maintenance dispatch for a bank and his nights looking out the window and wishing he had a view. His first collection, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden, was published in 2016 by the Encircle Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.


Contents Drawer Issue 13


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Uncle Sam, Bastard – M S Clements

My Uncle Sam is a bastard. An utter bastard. He turns up, unannounced, demands bed and supper while Nan flies around the house like a clichéd thing possessed. Nothing is too much bother when it comes to our Uncle Sammy.

Christmas is the worst. There we are, helping out as best as we can. Wrapping presents in last year’s paper. Cassie ironing out the creases and Jason getting Sellotape on every available surface. Some not so available. He won’t stick it to his head anymore. Of course, it isn’t real Sellotape, we just call it that. It’s the cheap stuff, the one where you can never find the end and, if by some miracle you do, then you get a one centimetre triangle. A patchwork quilt of the gift wrap variety. No doubt, somewhere in Shoreditch, a hipster nods his head, thinks it would be a great USP for the shop; patchwork wrapping, so responsible, so sustainable. Jason does it because there’s nothing else to do.

Nan lived alone until we arrived, dishevelled and lost. Mum says the court order means we won’t be disturbed. I never met Grandad. Grandad wanted to discover himself. He discovered himself at the bottom of a lake after the husband discovered him under the bed. Mum used to say of her father, ‘That man was so dim he’d use a chocolate teapot for the tea.’ All in all, not having that grandad is a blessing. One gift less to wrap. There’s a picture of him on the sideboard, a bit blurred and very dusty. It not in a frame, just propped up against one of Nan’s china cats. The one with the scary eyes and chipped ear. That wasn’t my fault, it just fell. Grandad is standing in a park with Sam, a bandstand behind them. They are grinning, and Sam has an ice-cream. ‘Lucky bastard.’ Mum says, moving the picture so she can wipe the dust off the cat. Mum doesn’t eat ice-cream now. It makes her sad.

November is the month for fasting. Nan makes out it is some sort of religious obligation. A bit like Lent, except without the fish. A month of baked beans. Our house fumigated by the stench of five stomachs, each reacting badly to the sudden pulse rich diet. We pray fervently every night to be allowed to survive the night time gassing from our siblings, just so we can get to December and Operation Reduced Basket. Nan, being the senior member of the family gets the choicest of picks, Waitrose. Mum and I do Sainsbury’s, Cassie, Tesco and Jason gets Lidl. The attack always begins precisely one hour before closing. Not in Cassie’s case though. Tesco is a twenty-four hour store, so she does the nine at night slot. We stalk the staff who are armed with the reducing gun, hovering just close enough to pounce on the smoky bacon but not so close to be considered a nuisance. Cassie works her charms on the lad in the fish department. We do well there.

Nan’s old freezer, the one she liberated from the forgetful neighbour, is switched on, and cooking begins. All day, the oven has to earn it’s keep. No shelf left empty. Nan turns down the thermostat, ‘No point heating the house twice.’ We cram into the kitchen, fearing frostbite on the trips to the loo. The previous month’s malodour replaced with spices and the mouth-watering aroma of sheer pleasure. I can feel the calories piling on just taking in a deep breath. There will be enough to eat. And that’s the point, enough for two adults and three children to eat. It’s not like Nan wouldn’t ring and check if Uncle Sam intended to visit. She would, and he’d say ‘Nah, not this year, Mum. Got an invite to Dave’s. He’s got a party going at the villa. It will be fun. Maybe next year, I’ll let you know.’ He never does, the bastard. He just stands there in the doorway, grinning inanely. A silhouetted bulk blocking out the winter morning. In one hand is bag of washing, in the other a bottle of cheap whisky. Barrelling his way past, he hands the washing to Nan and the whisky to mum on his way to the sitting room, ‘Got you a present, Sis. Hey, Jason get some glasses, would you?’ Not sure he ever notices that Mum and Nan don’t drink.

He lies across the sofa and tell us about his trips. We sit on the itchy carpet, our legs entwined, trying to find meagre space for our ever growing limbs. Uncle Sam drives a coach for a tour company. Best job in the world, he says. Tells us we should travel, see the world, just like him. Go to all those European cities, Prague, Rome, Venice and Barcelona.

‘What was the Sagrada Familia like?’ asks Cassie, expecting a vicarious tour.

‘Nah, didn’t do it. They charge you to go in, it’s not even finished. Bloody cheek.’ He then told her about the girl on the beach that wanted to practise her English. The bars and restaurants she took him to and the nightclubs where they danced. He laughs, ‘There’s always an opportunity for a free meal and a bed for a handsome chap like me.’ I wonder if they need opticians in those foreign cities.

Upstairs, Mum moves a mattress into our room. Her own bedroom commandeered for the prodigal son. Cassie irons out the creases on the best bed linen, while Jason fetches another bowl of crisps.

We open our presents, carefully. That paper could stand another year. A book on art for Cassie, a model plane kit for Jason. I get a Spirograph. Mum spotted it in Oxfam back in the summer. I kiss her and pretend to be thrilled. We all get new underwear, the annual tradition. Nan apologises throughout the performance of gift opening, ‘Sorry, Son. I would have got you a present if I had known you were coming.’

She opens her purse and pulls out a little piece of paper. Her treasure, replaced each week. Blush pink and fingers crossed, a row of numbers that never changes, 17, Mum’s birthday, 25, 16, 08, Cassie, Jason and me, 28, Uncle Sam and 12, the day Grandad died. She hands it to Uncle Sam, ‘Here, take this, it might be lucky.’

‘No, Mum. The lottery is a tax on the poor and stupid. You keep it.’

She replaces it back into her empty purse, ‘One day.’ she said, ‘One day.’

We squeeze around the table, Uncle Sam’s plate barely big enough for the portions piled high. Nan gives us the side plates, it makes our portions look generous. We clear our plates and watch Uncle Sam as he boasts about his life, his mate Dave is going to give him a promotion. More money, more holidays, ‘There’s no such thing as luck, kids. Just right time, right place.’ Uncle Sam strikes me as someone who’d buy that chocolate teapot. His father’s son. His plate finally wiped clean, he drinks another glass of whisky and take out his smokes.

Two days of disruption, silence in the sitting room so he can watch his stale comedies in peace. Cassie shivers under a pile of blankets in the bedroom, admiring distant works of art. Jason reads the instructions for his model aeroplane. He won’t start it now, not while Uncle Sam is in the house, not after last time. I sit crossed legged and stare at him while he gobbles my chocolate raisins. Mrs Cordwell gave a bag to everyone in the class. Nan cooks and cleans. Mum cries. And then he’s gone. No more Uncle Sam. Peace and austerity reigning over our house once more.

When the police arrive, we hide at the top of the stairs. We wait, the door to the sitting room shut. Jason lays on the floor, his ear to an upturned glass. ‘It’s Uncle Sam. He’s dead. A coach rolled backwards and squished him flat.’ I don’t think that’s the policeman’s words, but that’s what happened all the same.

Uncle Sam is front page news. He’d have been so chuffed. Dave’s to blame, apparently. Skimped on maintenance to pay for his villa in Spain. Forgot about the European Arrest Warrant too.

A quiet man from the tour company visits. He sits in the sitting room and drinks tea. Nan offers him cake and listens to the prepared speech of condolence. They do not want a fight in court, compensation is available. Dave’s case is still pending.

The lawyer explains about the life insurance and the compensation scheme. Nan continues to tap his hand and offers him another slice of cherry cake. Reduced to 29 pence, the night before. Waitrose no less.

‘He died doing what he loved. Just wrong time, wrong place.’ she said, before biting into her generous portion of cake.

November will be fast free this year, and our letters to Santa will not be burnt and forgotten. I will eat chocolate raisins until my tummy hurts and remember that lucky bastard, Sam.


M S Clements is a former Spanish teacher of Anglo-Spanish heritage. She is in the process of completing her first novel, The Third Magpie. A dystopian love story set against a backdrop of xenophobia and misogyny. She lives on a building site with her family and assorted builders in rural Buckinghamshire.


Contents Drawer Issue 13


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Golden Prospects – Sarah Tinsley

The snip tap of the scissors played around his head. Too much off the top. Kayley wouldn’t let him lean into her hand when she touched his hair. Jab didn’t say anything. Just hunkered down under the flap plastic gown in the hope he’d be a smaller target for the blades. No time for small talk.

It was busy. Rows of them, sat like they’re at a show they’ve paid for but don’t want to watch. That careful look, when you stare at yourself, only just above one eye, so you don’t look self-indulgent. On his left was a right one, voice so low it’s coming out of his shoes, a careful crease down the arms of his shirt. Corduroy trousers. That sort.

No time to sit and chat, it’s the cut that’s got to do the job, send him on his way. Just keep looking at that spot above the left eyebrow, circle scar from chicken pox where he scratched his face even though Mum slapped his hands away and dabbed pink powder lotion on.

Mr. Corduroy was crowing, ever so pleased with the snip cut on his head. Jab was already up, out of the chair, shoulders in coat before he finished handing over the wrinkled fiver with a nod. The man at the desk, he tipped his head back, looked down at Jab like he knew, could see the thing that’s waiting there for him, lined up like the tip of a domino. A perfect tap in the right place and he’ll be set, pick up a House Special on his way home, set himself down on the floor in front of the sofa so she can settle her hand in his new haircut.

He let the gusts of people take him down the road. Coming out in little bursts, rushing out of Poundland like they’d get found out, clutching the shivering plastic bags to their sides, all full of Tunnock’s caramel wafers and some tat the kids might like, keep them away from the Xbox for another five minutes.

Jab had a higher purpose. There above the offy, Carl was waiting. In his hands were mounds of grey-green papery slips, squash them together and you’ve got no rent worries for the next six months. There for the taking. Practically his already. He tucked hands in pockets, felt something slippy, soft, like the money was already there.

Around the corner, he stopped. Pulled it out. Just a few steps away from the blue door his future lay behind. It was a yellow tie. The colour ached his eyes, something green in it, a slice of gold that had gone rotten. All shiny, like a snakeskin. It fell onto the floor, coiled up, a bright splatter on the pavement.

Mr. Corduroy. Jab could see him, rummaging in his pockets, all bent out of shape about his lost tie, maybe one that Mrs. Corduroy got him last birthday, in one of them presentation boxes, ready wrapped and smart as anything.

Jab looked back up the street. Busier now, suited types filling up the spaces in between the mummy shoppers, heading home from work, or going to the All Bar One to sink a few before facing the gauntlet of dinner at home.

If he went back now, tried to give it back, he’d be late. Plus, there was no telling whether Mr. Corduroy would still be there. He’d probably taken his uncreased sleeves home, no doubt there was a pile of fancy things like this he could hang around his neck. He wouldn’t miss this one.

Jab leaned down, picked it back up. A little dark spot down one end, that wouldn’t notice. He flopped it round his neck, let the material rub over the rough bit, when you get little hairs back there and it itches like buggery.

This could give him an edge. Carl would be impressed, the lengths he’d gone to, to look the part. He slip-tied the knot – they had a blue one with red stripes on at school – flopped down the soft collar of his polo shirt. A dark shadow of himself in the blackened windows of the old newsagent’s. Reliable, his reflection said. Boasted of how he could carry things off without a hitch.

He made his entrance, didn’t even bother to knock.

‘Here, Jabber thinks he’s an estate agent.’ That little one in the corner, ratty face and fingers. Not the entrance Jab was hoping for.

‘Nothing wrong with making an effort, you want to show a bit more respect, like, not turning any heads in your dowdy rags there, are you?’ The words tumbled out, like they always did. Rat Face was always with Carl, it wasn’t good to criticise.

‘Easy now.’ Carl was sat at the dining table, flap-up baseball cap tipped just to the side. Jab had tried to wear his like that, preened and flicked in the mirror until Kayley snatched it off his head, told him to go downstairs, the baby was napping.

‘I’m here.’ Jab stepped forward. Silence ticked out. It was better to say less, but the words bubbled out. ‘I’m here ‘cos of what you said was going down, and how you needed someone reliable, and I turned up to the Saturday job I had every week even when I got tanked the night before, and when we did our drama project I was always first to rehearsals.’

‘Easy.’ Carl put a hand up. ‘No need to explain.’ He turned, rummaged in a rucksack on the floor. ‘Here we are.’ In one hand, a thick envelope. In the other, a small brown package, about the size of a large special fried rice.

‘No problem.’ A delivery. Jab took both, no hand fumbling, envelope in the pocket and parcel swinging from one hand.

‘Address.’ Little slip of paper, jagged at the top where it’s pulled off the pad like Mum’s shopping lists.

‘Safe.’ Jab swiped the words with his eyes, his route growing out in lines over the roads – walk to station, get tube, bus, short walk. He could be home by eight.

He strutted out past the ratty one, that slippery slither down his front a marker of success. No questions asked.

Jab entered the crush going into the station – commuter crowd scrabbling and paper flick reading, that smell of print that you couldn’t get off your fingers. He took one off the pile, another mask for his mission. Beep tap on the reader, seamless, sliding through the crowds.

A follower. Hood up, face with shadows drawn on, looked like the ratty man. Scampering through the barriers over there, looking away as if Jab wouldn’t notice. Do the double, on the train then back off. This guy with the pointed nose would be on his way, snuffling through the window while Jab went back out, got the 259 from outside.

On the platform, crowds were lining up, clustered round the sweet spot where the train comes in and whoosh, doors open like they’ve been expecting you. Jab kept walking, up to the end, like he wanted that rattling bit where he could get a seat. Sniffling behind came rat face. Got to time it just right.

Dirt scent breeze from the coming train, eyeglare of headlights coming out through the tunnel. Rattle and click, thump and the train was there, squealing as it stopped. Jab waited, let the leavers get off.

He stepped in, kept to the line between in and out, quick check to see the back of ratty man further down, leaning on the pole next to a straight suit woman. Robot voice telling them what to do, everyone stood there like sheep. Not him, he was different.

There it was. The beep. Right at the end of it he snicked off, just before the gulp of the closing door. Perfect. Now he could carry on, get his work done.

Something wrong. He stepped away but his body didn’t move, something anchoring it back to the train. He pulled again, jerking free, only this time it hurt. A sharp pain round his neck. The tie. The bloody motherfucking tie had caught in the doors and there he was, suspended from it, parcel still swinging from one hand and that knot. Too tight, tied too well. He pulled, again, the doors were about to open and ratty man would find him.

It locked round his throat. Squeezing. He tugged too hard. Scrambling for breath, red panic heat rising up his neck, itch at the back from the little hairs and thank you Mr. Corduroy for your gift. He was going to get something for Mini Jab, a tiny cap to wear like his dad but now he’d strangle himself on a slip custard tie.

The doors burst open. Jab slumped down, air like water pouring into his lungs and he grabbed at the knot, peanut small, jerking it open to free his neck. A hand on his arm, scrabbling down and pulling the parcel out of his hand.

‘You should stick to selling houses.’ The rat’s claws were in his pocket, slipping the money out, off through a brick-round tunnel and Jab was alone.

‘Stand clear of the doors.’

He found the bench and sat, unwrapping the tie knot and staring down at his hands, all covered with a stink of failure.


Sarah Tinsley is a writer, teacher, runner and drummer who lives in London. Prone to musing over gender issues and eating cheese, she has an MA in Creative Writing from City University and won the International Segora Short Story prize in 2016. Her short fiction, reviews and blogs have been published on a variety of platforms and you can find her on Twitter @sarahertinsley and find her blog at http://sarahtinsley.com


Contents Drawer Issue 13


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Things My Mother Left Me With – Rebecca Field

A fear of cotton-wool. I don’t know where she got it from, but she passed it on to me at the age of six. I brought home a Christmas decoration I had made in school – a paper cone made into a Santa Claus figure, with a hand-drawn face, googly eyes and a cotton-wool beard stuck down with PVA glue. She started to hyperventilate when she saw it and carried it to the dustbin at arm’s length. I remember crying and her telling me it wasn’t my fault, though I didn’t believe her. She helped me to make another with a beard made from scrunched up pieces of tissue paper, but it wasn’t the same. I still can’t look at the stuff without wanting to cry.

A love of proper green pesto, freshly made and bashed up together in the pestle and mortar. She wouldn’t entertain the shop-bought stuff, said it tasted fake. We grew the basil from seed in plastic pots on the kitchen window sill. She showed me how to pick the young leaves from the top so more would grow. We ate it with pasta, on pizza, in sandwiches. Now I grow the herbs by myself, but Dad won’t eat the pesto anymore.

A photographic memory for numbers. Phone numbers, car registration plates, passport numbers – she knew them all. I thought this was normal so I learned them too. I memorised the value of pi to fifty decimal places with some spare time in my maths exam, knowing she would have been proud of me. I run through the numbers in my head when I’m trying to sleep.

The emerald earrings Dad gave her for their tenth wedding anniversary. She said they suited me better than her. I keep them in their box, buried at the back of my underwear drawer where he won’t look. I do all the washing now. I hold them up to my ears in the mirror and imagine I am a married woman going out to dinner, like they used to do.

A box of handbags and shoes she said I could grow into. Clutch bags with elaborate clasps and embroidery, in shades of peacock green and scarlet, leather shoes so narrow and delicate, my feet are already growing too large for them. There are imprints of her toes inside some of them. I wonder if she realised I would never be able to wear them, that I had inherited Dad’s feet and not hers.

Her scent on the winter coat at the back of the hallway cupboard. There is barely a trace of it left now, so I take it out only when I need it most. I hold it in my arms like a sleeping child, breathing deeply into its lining. Dad doesn’t know we still have it. He threw out the rest of her clothes when it became clear she was never coming back.

A father who looks a bit like mine used to.

A deep shame whenever anyone asks me how I lost my mother.

A guilt that grows each day, that I should have seen it coming and stopped her somehow.

Hope that maybe one day, Dad will believe me when I tell him I won’t leave him too, and let me look for her.

Rebecca Field lives in Derbyshire and works in healthcare. She has been published online at Literally Stories, 101 Words, Flash Fiction Magazine, Spelk and The Cabinet of Heed. She has a highly commended microfiction in the 2018 National Flash Fiction anthology, and can be found on Twitter at @RebeccaFwrites

Contents Drawer Issue 13

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The Landlord – Tabitha Burns

A thin brown envelope means one of two things: you’ve lucked out or your luck’s out. No guesses as to which kind this is, so close to payday. Over two hundred quid I owe them. Oh look, they’ve ‘automatically readjusted future payments’ — how bleeding benevolent of them.

My stomach drops at the date. New payments start today, which means my money is not going to add up: bank balance minus council tax does not equal rent. Grab your coat Carol, you’re pulling a fast one. If I hurry, maybe I can spirit my money away, out of the digital dimension and into my purse, consequences be damned.

Good God, this stairwell is as hot as hell. It needs flushing with fresh air, but the windows are jammed shut as per. I asked the landlord once, ‘How come they’re all stuck then? Should we be worried?’

He shrugged and gave me his deflective stock answer, ‘What do you want me to say?’

I used to wonder why nobody answered him. Then he said it to me. Somehow it knocks all the words out of you, except the few he wants.

Out on the street it’s as cold as old bones. I jog around the corner to see a long line coiling away from the cash machine and I join the back of the queue. It will be fine, they probably haven’t taken the payment yet. Even if they have, it’s only twenty quid — there has to be someone who can spot me. Maybe Penny, although she might resent it, given that the choice I’m trying to outrun is the one she signed up for.

She seemed nervous, showing me round her new place. I admired the floor-to-ceiling windows framing the slow, skeletal cranes and the crying gulls across the wharf. I ran my hand over the sleek white worktops and turned the shining taps on and off. And then, surprising us both, I asked, ‘Was it worth it?’

Look lively, Carol! I’m at the front of the queue, hoorah. Ah, they have taken it. How proactive of them. How splendidly dynamic. Pity they weren’t this organised when they were calculating my tax in the first place. Right. I think it’s time to pay the landlord a little visit.

I stand outside the building for a few moments, enjoying the brisk wind against my skin, and then I slip inside. There is no reason for it to be so stuffy in here. But then I suppose there’s no reason for the unholy stink under my sink either, or the maggots in the meter box, or the scrape of wings in the walls at night.

Still, this isn’t the worst place I’ve ever lived. Must be why I don’t mind him as much as the neighbours. ‘He’s the devil,’ they hissed, when they saw me dragging boxes through the front door. By then it was too late, I’d already given him the deposit. Apparently he gives deposits back, which is more than most landlords will do for you, but only after ten days, as is the legal requirement. Your new place will need the deposit when you move in, so what are you going to do, save up? In this city? You’re the snake choking on its own tail.

My thighs are aching by the time I reach his door. He would have to live on the top floor, wouldn’t he? King of the damned castle. The gnarled bronze handle feels like a clawed hand in mine. I give it a stiff knock and the door opens swiftly, white light cutting a slice out of the shadows at my feet. And there he is, filling the doorframe in his light blue shirt and dark jeans, looking just like the ordinary bloke he isn’t.

I start talking before he can get inside my head. I tell him my bank is being a nightmare, I’ll need to pay my rent tomorrow instead. He just stares. I stare back. His mouth slides into a smile and I know what’s coming before he speaks the words.

‘What do you want me to say?’

He’s taunting me, coaxing out the answer he is sure I am ready to give. I clamp my hand to my mouth and shake my head. I take the stairs two at a time, followed by the sound of hooves until I spin round to see that the stairwell is empty and still, save for a cloud of condensation blooming across the small window.

Back in my flat, I catch my breath. I need to think on my feet, keep my head above water — easier said than done in this city.

I call Penny, who else? She’s happy to hear from me, says nobody visits her since she signed for the flat, says even the cat hisses at her. I tell her she’s being paranoid and promise to visit soon. Then I close my eyes and ask her for the money.

‘Just until I get paid,’ I promise, but she doesn’t need convincing. I hear her starting up her laptop and tip-tapping it across to me. She’s an angel. Surely that will save her, when it comes to it.

I force myself back up the stairs. He is waiting in front of his open door. I tell him it’s all sorted, the money should be landing in his account right about now. I apologise for the mix-up. He shrugs, as if my rent is the least important thing in the world.

As I’m walking away, I hear his footsteps following mine and I realise he still expects me to say it; he thinks my soul is as good as his. But I’m already down the stairs, wincing at the sound of hooves I know aren’t really there. I dart inside my flat and slam the door behind me — home at last. Despite everything I do feel safe in here, once the front door is locked. Like I said, I’ve lived in worse places.



Contents Drawer Issue 13


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Another One Bites the Dust – Frank McHugh

Nothing fills the space between them

So now he comes face to face with her,
no longer dead and an expectant look
in her pale pale eyes.

Through slanting sun shafts the dust fairies
grow in number and size
until the stairwell fills with moths

which cluster to shape
the words on his breath and
more appear as he opens his mouth.

He knows they must come
but that does nothing to temper
the dry delicate horror of it.

Moth words fill the space between them

Gently palpating each letter as the outpouring slows,
spitting out the last moth stuck to his withering lips,
he reads the hovering words,

‘Do not confront me with my failures,
I have not forgotten them.’

Not even his own. Borrowed, old, moth-eaten
cloth words smelling gently of burnt hair
Waving a weak hand through them

the words disperse, the beloved also fades,
the motes rearrange themselves,
drift through the sunslats
then appear to disappear.


Frank McHugh is from the west coast of Scotland. He teaches and writes poetry in both Scots and English, as well as songs, short fiction and plays. His poetry has been published in Acumen Poetry, New Writing Scotland, The Glasgow Review of Books, SurVision, Bonnie’s Crew and The Runt. One of his poems was named as highly commended at the Imprint Writing awards 2016.


Contents Drawer Issue 13


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The Use In Words – David Hayward

I’ve lost count of the winters I have seen, more than fifty, less than seventy, always longer than the summers, which seem to pass so quick as hardly to count. But, whatever the count, my fingers ache in the morning and my hips crack when I kneel. Sometimes my vision is blurred and other times I see bright lights were there should be none. More often than not, at the end of the long day’s toil, I cough and there is blood in my spit.

I can hardly remember what I ate for breakfast but my memory of my youth is as sharp as a knife. I was cursed to be the third son, a blessing to my mother, a burden to my father with his two older boys to feed and divide his land between. One winter morning, with the promise of snow in the air, my father said, “Amos, come with me in the wagon,” and bade me say farewell to my mother. At the time, I did not wonder why she wept.

For two days we traveled through the barley fields and down the stone road that runs straight as an arrow from north to south. All that time, my father barely said a word. But still I did not worry though I remembered my mother’s tears. On the third day, we climbed a path up a steep hill, past jagged rocks and thorn bushes, and through the Abbey’s iron gates.

Three monks in black tunics perched on a bench under a birch tree. My father, still silent, unloaded from the wagon ten sacks of flour and a vat of honey. The monks opened one of the sacks, sifted through the flour, and then tasted the honey. They nodded their agreement.

“Amos,” my father said, “you’re to stay here. But I will be back for you, never fear.”

Little did I know that my life had been measured in flour and honey. The monks shaved my head, gave me a novice’s tunic and taught me to pray. Days passed to weeks and then to months. Still my father did not return. Soon my sorrow turned to rage. Blackened eyes and cracked skulls were how I measured my value. I kicked and punched my way through each day until the other novices shied away from me as they would from a biting dog.

One evening, some of the other boys stole a bottle of ale. Chattering like sparrows, they drank their fill but like the fools they were they did not hide the evidence of their crime. When the Novice Master found the empty bottle, he came to each of us and demanded we tell him the truth. I did not care for my fellows but I would not betray them. I stayed silent and received a blow from the Brother’s fist as reward for my misplaced loyalty.

The Novice Master went to the next boy, Dondas, a red-haired Mercian, and asked him who had stolen the ale. The boy pointed a treacherous finger at me. “Amos, the wild one, he is the thief.”

I have fought, and I have lied but I have never been a thief. I threw myself at Dondas and punched him until his nose was smashed flat. Uncaring of his shrieks and the cudgel blows raining down on my back, I bent his arm until it snapped like a rotten stick. It took five of them to pull me off him. His arm was almost broke in two. I’m not proud of it now but then I was filled with such savage joy that I howled like a wolf.

The monks chained me up and dragged me to the punishment block. They whipped me until the wood ran wet with my blood and strips of flesh hung from my back. Sometimes now in my sleep I hear a distant screaming and when I wake I wonder if it was me or Dondas.

I don’t know how long I was unconscious but when my I opened my eyes I was lying on the stone floor of a cell with a thousand bees stinging at my back. Each morning for the first few weeks of my imprisonment, a monk shouted from the other side of the locked door, “Do you repent?” I did not answer. Growing tired of my stubbornness, they left me alone. Perhaps they thought the quiet would drive me mad. But it did not. Silence became my comfort.

Months passed before I saw or heard anyone. Then the door to my cell opened and two monks entered. One was short and fat, the other tall and thin, as if the first had been stretched on a rack. “Do you repent?” the tall one said. My choice was either to say, yes, and make of myself a liar like my father or Dondas, or say, no, and be left to moulder in my cell. So better not to speak at all. What’s the use in words if all they do is lie and cheat.

Confounded by my mute response, the monks huddled in conclave while I slumped against the wall, my legs barely strong enough to hold up my skin and bones. Perhaps they wearied of my torture or more likely they could ill-afford to feed a mouth that did not earn its keep, because they led me from the cell to the monastery garden.

Jeremiah was waiting for us at the gate. He seemed old even then with his lined face and white beard. But despite his age, he was as broad-shouldered as an ox and with his rake in one hand and scythe in the other he looked to me like some ancient spirit.

The monks explained that I was to be his responsibility and he could do with me as he wished. Jeremiah ignored them. He never had time for fools. “Will you work hard?” he said. I did not answer. “Good,” he said and that was that.

The old man started me on the simplest tasks, repairing the garden walls with the flat stones from the river and making trellises for the summer vines. He never cared that I didn’t speak as long as I could make my signs and draw with a stick in the soil. After I had proved myself, he gave me my own patch. First thing I ever had for my own.

Not a day goes by when I don’t hear Old Jeremiah’s voice in the gate’s rusty grate or a spade’s thud in the soil and think of him watching over us from his place beneath the verge. I still wonder what he saw in me. I like to think that he looked beneath my anger and saw the boy beneath who deserved so much better.

And so I became a planter of seeds, a grower of vegetables, a tiller of the soil. The years passed and the anger that had been my blood’s vigour faded until all that remained was the certainty of the seasons’ path, one to next, and the honest journey from the sowing to the scythe’s sharp reap and in the end the fire’s cold ashes.

Now when I catch sight of my reflection in a pail of water, I do not see the angry boy I was but Old Amos with his grey beard and wrinkled face, a garden monk who wants no more than to be buried with his seeds in a bed of soil.

The boy and I first met on a cold day in early March. When I saw him, standing just inside the garden walls, icy shivers ran through my body. It was as if my past had returned but turned the other way round so I was Jeremiah, even though he was long dead, and the boy was me, though we looked nothing alike. Where I had been barrel chested with a man’s growth of beard, he was smooth skinned and skinny as a reed.

“Who’s the youngster?” Brother Bartholomew said as he raked the soil.

“He’s one of the novices,” James replied. “An orphan. Can’t read or write so they’ve sent him to us. Give him pots to mend and wood to cut.”

With my fingers, I said no. Even then I could tell the boy was special. As I walked over to him, it was his eyes that caught me first. Two empty holes you could fall into and never find their end. When the boy spoke, his voice was so quiet I could barely hear him.

I gave him my own trowel and a bag of mustard seeds. Off he went, simple as that, and got on with it. He kept going past sunset, on his hands and knees, sowing all those tiny seeds. He wouldn’t have stopped if I hadn’t taken the bag from him and told him to go get his dinner. The next day he was in the garden earlier than any of us, planting those mustard seeds like there was nothing more important in the world, and maybe he was right about that.

The boy had a knack for the garden. None of us needed to tell him what do do. He knew what distance apart the seeds should go; how deep to bury them; how much to water them. It was plain to see that someone had taught him. But he never talked about his past and what had happened to make his eyes so empty.

It wasn’t just that he knew what to do. Everything he did turned out right. His mustard seeds grew into flowers with perfect golden petals. He knew vegetables better than me, and I’d been growing them for more than twice his life. It all came so easy to him. There was neither mildew nor canker on his plantings and where he dug his trowel there were no stones. Even the grass softened for his feet so you’d hardly know he’d walked upon it.

And the garden paid the boy back for all his work. The sun turned his face a rich dark brown. He was never going to be the biggest but his shoulders filled out so at least it looked like he wore his tunic rather than it wore him. Once or twice, when his plants first bloomed or as he watched the sun set over the garden wall, I’d see a smile ghost past his lips. It made me happy to see the boy do well. I was proud of him. That’s what it was.

I once knew a monk called Esau though his birth name was Aesir. With his blond hair and sharp features, he looked different from the rest of us though he hardly spoke about his home. One day I asked him where he was from and he told me he had been born in a far away land of ice and snow. When he was a boy, he had taken his father’s boat to fish for herring. A storm came and blew him so far out to sea that he could not find his way back. Weeks later, he landed on a foam swept beach and found that he had been blown across the grey sea.

I’ve never met anyone who talked as much as Aesir. And he was always contrarily minded. You might say to him, “Aesir, have you ever seen such a beautiful sunrise?” And he would reply, “The sun does not rise, it falls from the bottom of the earth.” And then he would argue that rise was fall and fall was rise until I scarcely knew anymore what the world was about. He’s dead now like all the friends I ever had.

Perhaps it was Aesir who sent the storm that summer’s afternoon. It came so quick we had no time to prepare. Day turned to night as tall clouds like warring giants so dark as to be near enough black covered the sun with their sack-cloth. Torrents of rain lashed our backs and thunder claps battered our ears. We dashed through the garden, slipping and sliding as we tied down the saplings and wrapped burlap around the vines.

In a flash of light, I saw the boy a few paces away from me. He was looking up at the storm. I could have sworn he saw something up there because he nodded as if greeting a friend. A fork of lightning crashed down. A giant hand picked me up and flung me back down. The world turned black. Deaf and blind as a worm, I crawled in the mud.

When the glare passed from my eyes, I saw the boy lying unmoving, his tunic singed, the rain pelting on his back. I ran to him and turned his head so he wouldn’t drown. He didn’t move. My heart stopped. I put my cheek to his mouth. There was no breath. I took his wrist. He had no pulse. I buried my face in the crook of his neck. The boy was gone.

For the first time in many years, words ripped from my throat. “Why did you take him?” I shouted at the sky. “The boy was nothing but good. Why?” I railed at the clouds. Why?” I cried at the thunder. “Why?” My whisper lost in the wind. Tears soaked the rain from my beard. The boy I wished I’d been. The son I wished I’d had. Gone. I understood then that everyone has a son but I had found mine too late. Now there was nothing left for me but old memories and dead friends.

I felt a warm glow on the back of my neck. A bright light spilled from the sky. I held the boy’s head and breathed my old life into him. An animal howled, angry and mournful, a wolf, its leg bitten through by a rusty trap, its cub wandering lost in the forest. A howl so loud it ate the dying storm and rippled through the earth, coursed up my legs and into my chest, through my lungs, and poured out of me and into him. The boy’s eyes opened, blue as the sky, filled with a deep and ancient knowing.

Contents Drawer Issue 13


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The Origins of Floodtown Museum – Ray Ball

At the beginning of March, the children splashed to school. They wore galoshes and raincoats. The parents of younger children walked them to bus stops under big umbrellas that brightened the gray sky with patches of blue and yellow and pink flamingos.

It rained without pause all month. The city government held an emergency election, and a special bond and new tax passed by a wide margin. Consultants and contractors came in and advised. Construction teams racked up the overtime hours building new adjustable height bridges, boats of a variety of sizes and capacities, and an ark-like structure to house the new consolidated school for kindergarteners to high school seniors. Nautical knots became part of the required curriculum.

May brought no flowers, just more rain. Every so often it dwindled to a drizzle or petered out entirely. Occasionally, the sun poked through for a few dazzling minutes before the deluge began again.

Over the summer most of the kids swam and swam. They rowed some boats. They pedaled others. A few steered their way to friend’s houses. By September most had powerful shoulders, strong legs, deep lung capacities. Elisa got a new contraption that could turn the wheels of her wheelchair into water skis of sorts and back.

Eventually, all this felt pretty normal – although sometimes the good citizens of the town complained about how their skin felt perpetually pruned. Kids sometimes whined about having to eat fish or algae salad for dinner again. Some less-well-endowed guys liked to gun their boat engines for the thrill of it as they navigated through town. Pet owners took their dogs to a little raised island of earth. Engineers had designed it to lift an inch or so each day. The dogs ran around the soggy fake turf and did their business. The poor puppers who hated water cringed and whimpered until they got home.

When the new school year started, to some extent the kids did pair off. Taylor with Jayden. Camilla with John. Andy with María. Mike with Tom. Elisa with Sean. At recess, the younger kids swam or practiced rowing. The high schoolers planned an under-the-sea homecoming dance. The seniors and a few juniors who were in the know did it ironically, of course. The football team had disbanded, but the swim teams were crushing it.

All was well.

One day, merpeople would visit the local history museum. They would see the artifacts – the photos, the memes, the pants from back when their ancestors had legs.


Ray Ball, PhD, is the author of two history books, and her creative work has recently appeared in Cirque, L’Éphémère Review, and Okay Donkey. You can find her in the classroom, the archives, or on Twitter @ProfessorBall

Contents Drawer Issue 13


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Damn Plumage – Richard Kemp

Each morning after night shift I take a bus to the end of my street. I pull the keys from my pocket soon as I hear the hiss of the doors closing, and walk, twirling the keyring round on my finger. Once home, I fix a bowl of cereal and eat it on the front lawn, while coffee brews on the stove, waiting for the painter who drags a dead blackbird.

He always walks by before I drink the last dregs of milk straight from the bowl, the bird tied to his belt with string, his steps shuffling, him crumpled in paint-speckled overalls. We both nod as he ambles past and crosses the road to enter the alley leading to the meadow. The alley is dusty, with rocks poking out like dropped teeth. The bird occasionally gets caught on one. String tightens until the bird makes a brief return to flight before landing in the dirt. I wait until the painter is just a dot against the green grass, then I know my coffee is ready.

Once, when it was raining, he told me the bird had been cursed to spend its death dragged on the ground. Habitually dressed in a pin-stripe suit and fine shoes when alive, he sought favour with the rich and powerful. Chased objects, prizes and social standing. The other birds accused him of vanity, said he shamed them with his yearning to be counted as something more than he was. So, they cursed him. Cursed him to spend his eternal slumber chasing man as he had done in life.

Once, when it was sunny, I asked him if his curse was to pull a dead blackbird behind him for all his days, he said he hadn’t thought of it like that before.

Sometimes I think I should get a better job. More money, sociable hours, then I think of the blackbird in its suit and shoes. I think of the dreams it had and the reward it chased.

I look at the ground.

Contents Drawer Issue 13


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Three Questions – Ann E Wallace

Hold my hands and
concentrate on three
questions to be
answered, faith placed
in cutting the deck
tripled, laid neatly,
the magic a blur,
the drawn faces a mystery,
I hold onto her words
as fate, the stories conjured,
laid out card by card
in a cross upon the table

Love, fortune, health,
what else does anyone ever
question, the intersecting
trinity of desires that only
the foolhardy or brave
dare to ask within the quiet,
knowing the answers
held in her warm palms
and soft, low voice
will not be what one
asked to hear.

Ann E. Wallace writes of life with illness, motherhood, and other everyday realities. Her work has recently appeared in a variety of journals, including The Capra Review, Juniper, The Literary Nest, Rogue Agent, as well as in Issue Ten of The Cabinet of Heed. She lives in Jersey City, NJ where she teaches English at New Jersey City University. She is online at AnnWallacePhd.com and on Twitter @annwlace409.

Contents Drawer Issue 13


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Fortune – Steve Campbell

Leaning on the counter, Nate selects five numbers from the sixty that are printed on the front of the slim polymer slip. The same five numbers he’s played every week for the last three years. Once his DNA and fingerprint are verified, his numbers are covered with an electric-blue cross and the Fortune slogan that spans the top of the ticket, ‘Only Winners Have Tickets’, animates to read ‘Two Credits To Play’.

“Fortune and a double caffeine,” he requests from the shop screen that covers the wall in front of him.

“Confirmation required. Age-restricted products. Insert Fortune ticket,” announces the screen. It displays his order in large, bold letters.

Nate feeds his ticket into the game slot below the screen and waits for his selected numbers and personal information to be verified. While waiting for the ticket to pop back out, he daydreams about what he’ll do with the winnings. He’ll quit his job, buy a larger apartment — one with enough rooms for the kids to stop over — and take a month-long vacation. Maybe even six months. He’ll find a beach as far away from this city (and his ex-wife) as he possibly can. He won’t even tell her he’s gone. He’ll send her an anonymous e-card with the message, “Glad you’re not here!”

He’s still smiling to himself when his ticket pops back out.

“Ticket verified. Good luck, Nate Foster,” announces the screen.

Nate takes a quick glance to ensure that his ticket now displays his chosen numbers, then stuffs it into his wallet and waves his watch over the payment reader.

“Age verified. Purchase accepted,” the screen responds as a can of coffee clunks into the collection tray.

By the time he’s made the short walk across the city to State Bank Tower, the can is empty and the caffeine is beginning to clear his head. It can’t help ease his annoyance at the number of people waiting to get through the reception, though. His shoulders slump and he skulks over to join the shortest line of workers shuffling towards the security barriers.

“Good morning, Nate,” the receptionist greets him when he reaches the barrier.

Nate doesn’t reply but uses this sliver of time, like he does every morning, to scan the receptionist’s features. It’s his daily attempt to unearth a facial twitch, a mistimed blink, or anything else that would mark her out as not being human. As usual, he finds nothing. There are rumours that all receptionists, security and cleaning staff at State Bank are substitute workers, or ‘subs’ as they are more commonly known — machines doing the work of humans — but he’s never actually uncovered one. He and his colleagues often joke that their line manager is a sub, because he has the personality shop screen. Nate’s known him for a few years now, and is aware that his awkward personality is down to poor social skills, rather than the possibility that he might actually be a machine.

Once his identity has been confirmed, the receptionist is authorised to allow Nate to pass through the barrier. She smiles at him as it opens.

“Have a productive day, Mr. Foster. The time is 42 past 8. You have less than 18 minutes to get to your workstation. State Bank advises that you undertake some light stretching to improve your posture before commencing your shift.”

* * *

The clock hanging on the office wall next to the TV screen displays 5 past 19. The TV is on but the sound has been turned down. The blinds that cover the adjacent wall of glass aren’t closed to block out any earlier evening sunlight; they are there to provide privacy. Three smartly dressed occupants — two women and a man — tap on terminal keyboards and tablets. None of them pay attention to the TV screen, until a tall man enters the room and turns up the volume. The typing stops and the three look up in unison.

“…week’s winning Fortune numbers. Good luck to everyone who took part. If you missed out, don’t forget you can play again next week and remember, ‘Only winners have tickets’. We’ll see you same time, same place, next week, but for now here are those winning numbers again…”

The screen freezes on the five numbers and, dropping the remote control onto the desk, the tall man turns his back to the screen and claps his hands together loudly.

“Okay. people. Who’s our winner this week?”

“Nate Foster. A 39-year-old divorcee,” replies one of the women.

“Details?” asks the tall man.

“He lives alone in a city-centre apartment. He has a menial desk job at State Bank with a below-average income and just over 10 thousand credits of debt.”

“The prize fund has been confirmed at 47 million,” adds the man.

“Good, good. Publicity?” asks the tall man.

“None. His ticket confirms that he’s declined publicity,” replies the woman.

“Okay. Perfect. Do we let this win go through?” asks the tall man.

“All information indicates that this win is ideal for retention,” replies the second woman.

“Excellent,” says the tall man. “Any objections?”

The three people look at one another then shake their heads. The tall man claps his hand together again, cutting through the silence. “Good, good. We know what to do. Let’s prepare the penthouse and give Mr. Foster the news.”

* * *

“What?! No. You’re joking? No. Seriously?”

The tall man smiles as he brings a finger up to his lips, mouthing shhh. He glances up and down the corridor, and without waiting to be invited in, he steps inside Nate’s apartment. He places an arm around Nate’s shoulder and guides him into the living area. They’re closely followed by a woman in a suit.

“I can assure you this isn’t a joke,” says the tall man in a smooth, calm voice as he walks Nate to the sofa. “Why don’t you take a seat and Catherine will get us all a drink?” The tall man waves the woman into the kitchen area as Nate sits down. “Tea? Coffee?” he asks.

“Er, coffee,” Nate replies, and adds to the woman in the kitchen, “the top cupboard. The mugs are in the top cupboard. By the sink.”

“I’m sorry that we’ve had to wake you so early. We needed to be discreet. Our records show that you’ve declined publicity in the event of a win. That is correct, isn’t it?”

Nate nods. His brow is furrowed as he watches the woman open and close his kitchen cupboards.

The tall man claps his hands together.

“Okay, Mr. Foster. Before we go on, I’ll need to see that winning ticket. We need confirmation that you are in fact Nate Foster. I’m sure you understand.”

“Oh, yes. Of course. I mean, it’s in my wallet. I’ll go and get it.”

Nate is unsteady on his feet as he heads towards the bedroom to collect his wallet. He scrubs his face with his hands to clear away the grogginess, in the hope that he can make some sense of the situation. It’s 35 past 5 and he has two immaculately dressed people in his apartment. They’ve just explained that he’s won 47 million credits on the Fortune lottery. The tall man is casually wanders around as if he owns the place, while the woman makes coffee in Nate’s kitchen. This is all far too surreal. The alarm will wake him up any minute now, he’s sure of it.

His hand shakes as he picks up his wallet from the bedside table. He pulls out the ticket and across the front, in place of his chosen numbers, is the message: ‘Please contact Fortune immediately – 555-FORTUNE.’

“This is nuts,” he mutters as he hands over his ticket to the tall man. The man gives both sides a quick scan and, appearing to be satisfied, he hands it back.

“That all seems in order. Obviously, it will need to be verified.”

“Er… of course,” replies Nate glancing over the ticket.

“I know it’s a bit of a shock, but that’s perfectly normal,” says the tall man. “It can take weeks for it to really sink in. You’re actually handling it pretty well, considering. We’ve seen all sorts of reactions from winners over the years. One woman vomited so badly that…”

The tall man stops and reaches into his pocket. “I’m sorry, where are my manners?” He pulls out a white identity card. The title Direction of Fortune Assimilation is prominent next to the tall man’s photograph. He smiles as he hands the card over to Nate.

“I’m Isaac Stewart and I’m here to change your life.”

* * *

Nate picks up the champagne flute from the edge of the bath and takes a sip. He closes his eyes and holds the alcohol in his mouth for a few seconds, savouring it before swallowing.

He has been in this penthouse for the past two days. Isaac and Catherine had him driven straight here, wherever here was, after breaking the news to him about his Fortune win. He hadn’t taken much notice of his surrounds during the journey because of the barrage of questions and information that had been thrown at him, but having looked out at the view when he arrived, landmarks and buildings suggested that he was somewhere within the financial district.

Nate nudges the tap with his toe, adding a little more hot water to his bath. The warm surge creeps up his legs to caress his back and he takes another sip of champagne to counteract the warmth. This is the life.

During the tour of the apartment, Isaac explained that if there were anything that Nate needed, anything at all, he only needed to ask. In response, Nate blurted out that he wanted a roll-top bath. He hadn’t realised he wanted one until the words came tumbling out of his mouth. Before he’d had chance to backtrack, a Fortune representative had already begun making enquiries. The bath was plumbed in within the hour and it is doing wonders for his back right now.

Alongside the luxury came an almost endless number of formalities, all of which had to be completed before any winnings could be officially transferred. Nate was reminded that this was ‘all covered in the Terms and Conditions’, which Fortune were more than happy to provide a duplicate copy of, if required.

His ticket is currently being scrutinised for signs of tampering or counterfeiting and it will be returned to him as soon as it had been cleared. Apparently, most winners like to frame their tickets as a memento of their win.

Nate had lost count of the amount of times his signature has been provided for verification; he’s written it with a pen, without a pen, and even blindfolded. He’s also taken part in numerous informal interviews. Every conceivable piece of personal information has been requested. And has been supplied. He’s confirmed his date of birth, his first school, the names of his childhood sweethearts, and parents’ places of birth. All of this information will be collated to verify his identity. Isaac and his team have taken photographs of Nate from numerous angles and checked these against his passport, driver’s license, and CCTV footage.

The Fortune team apologised for the inconvenience but explained that there had been numerous instances of people masquerading as winners. They explained that there had been hundreds of attempts by criminals to get their hands on the winnings.

As Nate had declined publicity, his whereabouts would remain a secret for the time being. He was advised not to contact anyone while everything was being prepared for his new life. The press could be very intrusive and were always hungry for a Fortune exclusive, so it was better to be safe than sorry.

Although the continuous questioning and exile within this hotel room have been inconvenient, Fortune has been extremely helpful and always on hand to answer questions or concerns. They’ve kept him updated every few hours, right up until about an hour ago, when they confirmed that the flights for his holiday had been booked. He is set to fly out tomorrow morning.

Nate had often wondered how winners managed to remain hidden from the public eye, and it turned out that it was due to the meticulous planning of the Assimilation Team at Fortune. Along with taking care of his day-to-day needs and concerns, their job was to provide a cover story for the first few days after his win. They contacted his employer the morning they’d arrived at his apartment and explained that there had been an unexpected death in the family. This, they said, would give him a few days of freedom and time to plan what he wanted to do next. Nate has no intention of going back to work, but at least he now has a few days grace and, more importantly, he isn’t drawing attention to himself by not being at work. The team will contact State Bank at the end of the week to officially hand in Nate’s notice due to stress. The team has reassured him that they deal with HR departments on an almost weekly basis and Nate has nothing to worry about.

Nate’s fingers and toes start to wrinkle, so he reluctantly climbs out of the bath and wraps himself in a bathrobe. Strolling through into the bedroom, he feels oddly at home in his surroundings. He turns on the TV to add background noise to the stillness of the penthouse, but immediately turns it back off. The noise is jarring. He realises that he needs this peace and quiet.

It is early evening outside — 45 past 8 — and almost curfew. Nate watches the lights flick on within city apartments while the street-level lights begin to diminish as the sun sets. He realises this is the last time he’ll see this sun setting. From now on, every day will end with a sunset free of pollution, drones, and skyscrapers.

Moving back across the room, the plush carpet pushing up between his toes, Nate sits down on the edge of the bed. The effects of the hot bath and alcohol nudge him towards sleep. He’ll dream of breathing in sea mist that rolled in across an unspoilt beach, as water laps at his feet.

* * *

The blinds are open to reveal the penthouse bedroom through the wall of one-way glass. Isaac and his team watch the bathroom door open and Nate walk into the room wrapped in a bathrobe.

Isaac looks at the tablet in his hand and swipes through several pages before asking, “Do we have any issues to report with the sub?”

“All the information suggests it has been absorbed and it is behaving perfectly. There was one minor hiccup initially. But the cover story held; his colleagues put the odd behaviour down to the bereavement,” replies the man. “There are no other problems, and it is integrating perfectly. Work productivity has been set at the same, pre-swap-out levels.”

“All transactions regarding Fortune games have been removed from Nate’s bank account and his ticket has been erased,” adds one of the women.

“Good, good. Before we do this, does anyone have any concerns?” Isaac turns to look across the faces of his team.

No one speaks.

Isaac turns back and watches Nate for a moment longer before tapping the tablet. He stands unmoved for the time it takes the room to fill with gas and leave Nate slumped on the bed.

“Vitals?” he asks over his shoulder.

“I have confirmed flatlines,” replies one of the women.

“Good, good. Let’s take a break and start the clean up when we get back.” Isaac turns his back to the windows and taps the tablet to close the blinds, hiding the penthouse from view. On the way out of the office, he picks up Nate’s ticket from his desk, which is blank apart from the Fortune slogan across the top: ‘Only winners have tickets’.

Contents Drawer Issue 13


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The Man from Paris – Denis J Underwood

The man from Paris stood at the cliff’s edge, shielding his eyes. Bone white ships dotted the gleaming Mediterranean. His brother had brought him here to look down at the sea before the hunters guided their horses inland.

The man from Paris knew little about Algeria. He did not read books to prepare for his trip. What he did know, his younger brother had written in letters, and his brother had only written twice: once in 1932 after settling in Algeria and a year ago inviting him to visit. So, in August of 1954, the man from Paris boarded a boat in Marseille and his brother picked him up in Algiers. There he saw the crowded market, the Mauresque women with their heads covered. Aren’t they hot? he wondered. A rough road along the coast brought them to the town of Novi where their first stop was the viticulture coop.

This, the man from Paris thought was an opportunity for his brother to brag about his vineyards, his lands, his success. They drank local red wine which the man from Paris thought satisfactory, but mostly bland, and his brother introduced him to men of the village, the Pieds-noir.

After three days of enjoying the comfort of his brother’s home, the man from Paris prepared for the hunt. He lifted his rifle, submitting it to his brother for inspection.

“Will this do?” He wanted his brother to acknowledge the quality; this was a fine, expensive rifle. He had borrowed it from a friend.

“Did you clean it?”

“Yes, in Paris.”

“Clean it again.”

The man from Paris shrugged, wrapped the rifle in a cloth and then placed it in his pack.

“You ready to face a boar?” his brother asked.

“Of course.”

“Ever killed one?”

“In Provence.”

“Little, right?”

“No, big.”

His brother’s face alighted with a knowing smirk, the one he’d always flashed after detecting one of his lies.

“Babies compared to these,” his brother said.

“They all die the same.”

“Not always.”

*      *      *

The riders crossed hills covered with dried grasses and scrub brush. Ahead of the horses, dogs darted in and out of shadows. After a lunch of sliced sausage, crusty bread, dried figs, and Medjool dates, the hunters pulled rifles from their packs and trudged off, following the dogs and the Arab men with their long sticks.

The man from Paris started next to his brother, the two slowly drifting apart. The other hunters fanned out. Soon, he was on his own, advancing toward the ridge where he would wait for boar chased toward his station. At the crest, he stopped and surveyed the land, his canvas hunting jacket wet with sweat. Soon he heard barking coming from the valley below.

The barking steadily became louder and then a boar shot out of the tall grass beneath some trees.

Could something so big really move so fast?

The boar rushed up the slope toward him, its snout plunging through the thick underbrush.

The baying dogs were not far behind.

The man from Paris shouldered his rifle, leaned forward and aimed. He sighted the boar slightly above the head. The rifle barrel jerked up and down with each of his breaths.
He fired and the shot went high. The boar was almost to him. He pulled the trigger again and the rifle jammed.

He had once been a wonderful hunter of birds. But birds were very different than this. More of a sweeping motion with the weapon and if you missed, it really didn’t matter.

That had been long ago, before he’d moved to Paris. He braced himself holding the hot rifle barrel with both hands. He tried to time it right, swinging the butt down. He missed, and the boar slammed into him, its massive head and neck lifting him off his feet.

When he came to, he felt as if he were submerged in warm water. Two men were with him. He could hear his brother shouting. One man tore off the man from Paris’ blood soaked pants. The other man pressed his hands into the crease between his leg and groin. Blood spurted in long strings from between the man’s fingers. There were other wounds but those were nothing compared to the mess between his legs.

The men continued to press the wound. One told him not to worry, “Ça va, c’est rien!”

Then he overheard them whispering about how a tourniquet wouldn’t work.

“We’ll make it to the village,” his brother said. The man from Paris knew better. They had ridden over two hours. The tusk hit his artery. He was thinking so clearly now.

“Don’t leave me here,” he said.

“Of course we won’t leave you.”

*      *      *

They hefted him, belly down, onto his horse. The man from Paris’ head bounced off the horse’s side as it went. One man jogged along, propping him up. The horse’s flank, slick with blood, glistened in the sun.

The man from Paris’ whole body felt heavy. He strained to lift his head and look out across the land. He felt the horse’s power and it seemed limitless compared to his own waning strength. His brother came alongside to talk in his ear.

“Take me back to France,” the man from Paris said. “Promise.”

His brother nodded, acknowledging he understood what was expected.

When the man from Paris could no longer lift his head, he watched the trail beneath him. The long, dried grasses flicked back and forth and the dust whorled away from the horse’s hooves. He watched this as long as he could, waiting for the sea.


Denis J. Underwood’s stories have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Identity Theory, Gravel Magazine, The First Line, and elsewhere. His chapbook, Carolina, was published by Wind River Press. Grave Matters, a feature film he co-wrote and co-produced, has been in post-production a few years too many. The project was featured on the Sundance Channel’s 24 Frames News.


Contents Drawer Issue 13


Image: Denis J Underwood

Adonis Blue – Debbie Taggio

Brilliant sapphire-blue wings beat in eight motion, tinkling against the glass, instinct searching for escape. Leo slipped an old envelope under the rim, and placed the butterfly on an evergreen that shivered in the breeze. Flitting, fluttering, kissing a buttercup with a quiver of air, brushing a four-leaf clover with the fringes of its wings, never settling, always on the move – onto the next thing.

Leo promised himself it would be different this time, he wouldn’t allow the rust of routine to corrode his heart or wrap its oxidised arms around his windpipe. Screams and laughter of children on lunchtime break carried on the wind, sharp little daggers of sound piercing his ear drums. He’d never wanted children, never wanted to be caught in the Venus fly trap of parenthood, told Sarah as much, now he’d become the butterfly in the glass, knocking against the sides of his own cell.

The butterfly skitted across the yard, pursuing its mate, relentless in the chase. Leo recalled the first time he’d seen Sarah, burrowed in a corner of the working men’s club, the wide-eyed rabbit hiding in her hole. He was drawn to the quiet ones, they were such a contrast to the pawing and pinching he was used to. Leo peered around the curtain, assessing that night’s crowd, he spotted her sheltering amongst the usual assortment of thick-waisted bodies, wearing too-tight clothes, their flesh bulging like splitting sausages, and brides’ up for a last hurrah before years of disappointment and comfort eating morphed them into their mothers.

Leo’s mother had been disappointed; by love and life. His father married his mother in a whirlwind of suppressed passion, took her virginity, and left four months later, the morning after she’d given him the happy news. Leo recalled the venom with which she’d told him the story of his father’s adored three outside children; she spat out words like sharp little arrows, to sting and wound.

She no longer remembered a son, calling Leo by his father’s name, he fended off her amorous advances like a child fighting a frisky dog. Leo’s deftness in batting off horny women deserted him when dealing with his own mother, embarrassment erupted into shame, shame and anger, ending with her pleading, don’t leave me, please, stay, stay, and nurses running into the room to calm her with soothing baby talk; soft voices comforting a hard voiced woman.

Growing up, her astringency seeped into his pores, dissolving his flesh like acid. She gorged on the bitter taste of life, reopening old wounds, picking over bones as he tried to recycle his broken pieces. You’ll never amount to anything, you’re just like your father – her cultish mantra only stopping when she’d forgotten who he was, forgotten who she was.

Mantra turned prophecy.

Leo had no perceptible talents, he was a late-twenties slacker hopping from low-paid job to low-paid job, so when he saw an advert pasted to a wall above the urinals in the working mens’ club promising, all the money and women you could ever want, he applied. He welcomed hot wine breath tickling his ears and sardine women jostling to get their hands on his be-thonged body. Gyrating, grinding hips, blink-of-an-eye flashes teased, enticed, enthralled, and fingertips slid between the furrows of his baby-oiled chest. The women intoxicated by a heady mix of twofer offers on jugs of Sangria and Leo’s brooding intensity felt it in their hearts, and felt it in their parts.

The butterfly passed over the clover as Leo nipped its stem between thumb and forefinger, his mother would’ve called it a shamrock and crossed herself for good measure. He wished he’d had a buttercup childhood of golden reflected light, of well-done stars and head ruffles, but his metamorphosis from boy to man had created a cold blooded butterfly, tasting with his feet before walking away.

Leo stuck a post-it to the dining room table, I’m sorry, he wrote, and as the corner curled towards the light, it revealed a carbon-copy apology etched into the soft teak wood where he placed the four-leaf clover.


Debbie Taggio has had pieces of flash fiction published in The Drabble and as part of National Flash Fiction Day and is a finalist in The Edinburgh International Flash Fiction Awards, the winner of which will be announced at an awards dinner on 29th September 2018. Debbie has also started an MA in creative writing at Birmingham City University.


Contents Drawer Issue 13


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Who throws a shoe? Who? – Olivia Fitzsimons

The child’s rubbery raggedy black trainer that lies in the middle of the country road and we all drive around to avoid. Why do we do that? Swerving out of the way like the imprint of the tiny body it belonged to is still attached. I want to stop and pick it up and put it in the car. Find its match. Cradle it.

Or the brown battered boot left on the motorway, beached in an almost step out of the way move – did they describe the owner on the news that I don’t listen to, now that I have children of a certain age, who soak up information, and ask the uncomfortable questions,

“Why did they jump?”

“Where are their parents?”

“Is that boy dead on the beach?”

Then there’s a slipper in town, that reminds me of someone who got chased, lost in mid-scarper. Or maybe it was just popped-out-to-get-milk-hung-over and there’s the ex with the new girlfriend looking like a magazine cover, love island contoured and everything. Just my luck.

The black high heel, patent, sitting fragile perfect. Crows strut around it studying their shimmering reflection as they circle in and out in a vindictive dance. What would you say to the one that got away? Why do you never come back for your shoes? Are you all Cinderella’s, glass slippers left behind in the rush back. Did the dappled gravel road knock you off balance as you ran away?

In New Orleans I once saw a perfect pair of Mary Jane’s set against a lamp post, waiting to be reclaimed, while water still sat in the levies. Discarded sofas floated away between buildings, above people huddled inside hiding, unable to forget the wrath of the waves. I hope you swam away like a mermaid. I hope you smiled despite the debris settled soft on your city. You placed your shoes at a street altar. I hope when I return they are gone, and your shoeless feet still dance on the sidewalk, prayers answered, hearts raised and all that was lost recovered.


OLIVIA FITZSIMONS lives in County Wicklow, Ireland. Her flash fiction has appeared/forthcoming in the Honest Ulsterman, Crannog, Boyne Berries, Cabinet of Heed, Solidalgo, Cease Cows, FlashBack Fiction and Deracine. Shortlisted for the Sunday Business Post/ Penguin Short Story Prize 2017. Long listed for the Fish Short Story Prize 2018. Shortlisted for the Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize in 2017. She was selected as a mentee for the WORDS Ireland/Wicklow Co Co National Mentoring Programme 2018. @oneflawediris


Contents Drawer Issue 13


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Streakers – Barry Peters

Maybe I should have stripped
with my friends in the midnight
moonlight on the 12th fairway
of that public golf course,

tossed aside cut-offs and doobie
brothers t-shirt, unpeeled striped
tube socks, chucked high-top
converse and – debauchery! —

bound down the bermuda
barefoot, naked in the garden,
in sober joy, one final romp
before the dawn of adulthood.

Instead, I remained in the sand
trap fully dressed, enmeshed
in envy, watching their white
backs and bottoms, alabaster

in the mythical night.
Decades later, translucence:
if I could have unwedged
myself from that bunker,

maybe now I’d be the kind
of man who could find courage,
somewhere, even in the safety
of the righteous mob.


Barry Peters is a writer and teacher in Durham, NC, USA. Recent/forthcoming: Best New Poets 2018, Baltimore Review, Connecticut River Review, Miramar, Rattle, The Southampton Review, Sport Literate.


Contents Drawer Issue 13


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The Species Assimilation Unit – Mike Fox

Elijah grasped his fork tentatively and aimed it at his plate. Instead it scraped a jagged line in the varnish of the table top.

‘Oh Christ,’ he said. The joints in his chair groaned beneath his substantial bottom as he squirmed with humiliation.

‘Don’t worry, it could have happened to any of us,’ Ravi murmured reassuringly.

‘But it doesn’t happen to you,’ Elijah insisted . He peered mournfully at the tip of his trunk as though it had betrayed him. ‘Those opposable thumbs might just as well have been designed for a knife and fork. Proboscides have had millennia to develop fine motor skills, and frankly we aren’t up to it.’

‘We all have our challenges,’ Ravi said wearily. Suddenly his eyes showed only dismay. ‘At this very moment I can hardly restrain myself from shinning up that lamp stand and picking out the light bulb. And the cameras caught me last time so I’m on my final warning. I tried to explain that my ancestors had been doing much the same thing since before recorded history, but they said that was irrelevant.’

‘I realise it’s hard for everyone,’ said Elijah, ‘but no-one enjoys my table manners. The other day I got over-excited at a bowl of lettuce and sucked up the entire table cloth. On my first work placement too. I knew it was over in that instant. You must admit that an elephant’s trunk is poorly designed for most domestic applications.’

‘I can see it must be frustrating,’ Ravi conceded. ‘And I can see that as primates we’re rather more like them than most animals. But that in itself can create confusion. To be honest I think Darwin muddied the waters, and then the whole DNA thing made it worse.’ He reached absently for a banana, but forgot to peel it before taking a bite.

They all lapsed into silence with the exception of Abeo, a tiger just out of cubhood, who was purring involuntarily over the thought of cream with his pudding. He stopped when Johnson the wallaby gave him a gentle dig in the ribs.

‘Thanks, friend,’ he said. ‘It’s a difficult habit to break.’

They had all made strenuous efforts to get here, trotting, leaping or flying over hundreds of dusty or snow-frozen miles before braving seas in the flimsiest of vessels. For most of them this had been the worst part, although Olaf the polar bear had managed to stow himself in the rear of a refrigeration lorry, and so found the ferry crossing rather to his taste. But now, collectively, they asked themselves if it had been worth the effort.

Most of them had heard of the Species Assimilation Unit, but few had anticipated any particular problem in passing through. Elijah, for instance, possessed an advanced diploma in industrial haulage, as well as a proven record of delivery to inaccessible areas. Despite the climate, he’d expected to be a hit in the Western Isles. Ravi simply knew he could do better than most picking fruit in Kent. After all, he’d built a career from pretty well identical activities. Admittedly it might be tricky not to nibble a percentage, but surely his speed and agility would make up for that? Olaf, meanwhile, had envisaged a secure future as a lifeguard in Cornwall. Who else, he reasoned, would want the winter shift?

None of them, however, had reckoned on the criteria. The six-phase English grammar test was proving particularly humiliating. Before leaving their birthplace not a soul amongst them had felt prompted to learn parts of speech, let alone gerunds: why bother when often as not a roar or a bark or even a grunt would suffice? And as for the ‘evidence of allegiance’, neither had they thought to brush up on Tudor history, or nuances of characterisation in The Old Curiosity Shop. It was one stumbling block after another.

‘The inquisitors have no empathy,’ said Johnson bitterly. ‘Marsupials bounce. That’s what we do. No-one back home called it hyperactive attention disorder.’

‘You’re right,’ Elijah agreed. ‘They’re no more than speciphobes.’

There was a moody silence, then Ayo the zebra spoke up. ‘Still guys, we just have to face it – it’s one size fits all here. We’ll only be allowed to stay if we give them what they want.’

The silence became resentful. Ayo had proved a hit with the children in the nearby llama sanctuary and was confident a contract would follow. And it didn’t help that he kept banging on about how delicious he found the grass there.

Nocturnus, a western screech owl, kept his own counsel. For one thing everyone cringed visibly at the sound of his voice. For another, he had more or less been guaranteed a permanent position after a night security placement, having inadvertently foiled a burglary simply by exercising his vocal chords. He was pleased, naturally, but sensitive to the feelings of those still jumping through ever diminishing hoops.

The Unit was an implacable building, designed as if its whole purpose was to confound. Cameras perched everywhere, with ineligibility lurking in even the most mundane activity. Table manners, toilet habits, sleeping arrangements, even the viability with which you negotiated the stairs: all were under surveillance; all could be your downfall.

And, they unanimously agreed, the dress code stank. ‘Who needs a bloody onesie when you’ve been dressed in fur from birth?’ Olaf, referring to the standard compulsory issue overall, asked no-one in particular. He missed the Arctic air, and the muggy climate of Kent tended to inflame his rhetoric.

‘Or indeed feathers,’ murmured Nocturnus.

‘Or a decent hide,’ put in Johnson.

It wasn’t the same for everyone, though. Racehorses seeking entry met no hurdles, at least metaphorically. But then they were thoroughbreds. Not only that, they were actively encouraged to propagate – as if there weren’t enough of them already.

It just wasn’t fair.

They were forced to admit, though, that the south-east coast was getting uncomfortably crowded. Everyone seemed to head for it now. It existed in one of the few strips of climate that could still support multiple life forms, and had managed to remain neutral while wars broke out all around. And so the unit came into being. Someone, somewhere, had eventually recognised that every diaspora needs a destination. And now there were diasporas everywhere.

But there had to be terms and conditions. After all, these animals were aliens: they brought their own culture, their own way of doing things. Indigenous liberals argued that they could fit in by doing the jobs no-one else wanted, and, as refugees, they bought into this willingly. The problem was getting to grips with the mechanics of ‘fitting in’.

And the mentality of the inquisitors was contagious. It was difficult not to become critical of one another. More than once Elijah sensed a raised eyebrow as he squeezed his bulk in stages through an internal door frame. And Johnson’s habit of hopping around upstairs provoked overt criticism when the impact of his lower limbs made items fall off tables and shelves. Bickering had begun to break out, and open displays of disapproval grew more frequent.

Eventually Olaf spoke up. ‘Guys,’ he said, laying a huge paw on the table. ‘We’ve got to stop this. If we don’t we’ll be lost – I mean, who else is going to support us through the process? And if we don’t get through how can our wives and children hope to follow us?’

At that every animal began to weep silently.

‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ Olaf said, wiping a tear of his own. ‘I know the whole thing’s emotive. But I have an idea I’d like to put before you.’

‘Please do,’ Nocturnus sniffed. ‘I think we all feel in need of inspiration.’

‘Well,’ Olaf said, smoothing the fur on his chest, ‘it’s this. I’ve been doing some unofficial research at my placement, and I’ve overheard some interesting snippets. As a result I think I’m beginning to get a feel for how they do things here.’

The animals leaned forward attentively.

‘To make our position stronger I propose we form a cartel – apparently that’s what it’s called. I heard them talking about it yesterday. It works this way: first you compile a ‘skill package’ – and think of all the specialist skills we have between us – then you aim it a specific market, then you develop a thing called a “tender”, which just means a quote for a specified contract, and finally you quote lower than anyone else, and then you’re in. If it goes well it will mean we all get accepted at the same time.’

‘But mightn’t that make us a tad unpopular with the locals?’ Elijah asked. As an elephant his basic nature was conciliatory, at least where humans were concerned.

‘What choice do we have?’ Olaf asked. ‘It’s obvious their tactic is to pick us off one by one. But if we stand together and offer them something they realise they want, surely they’ll grab our paws off?’

‘Or claws,’ said Nocturnus.

Olaf inclined his head graciously. ‘Indeed,’ he said. ‘The best strategy, I’ve come to realise, is to appeal to their baser instincts. God knows there’s enough of them.’

‘What would we call ourselves?’ Johnson asked.

‘I’ve been giving that some thought too. It seems they like something vaguely positive, as long as it doesn’t actually mean anything. I propose “Beastly Solutions”. We can set up a training agency.’

Elijah waved his trunk triumphantly. ‘You’re a genius,’ he said. ‘That’s exactly what we’re designed to provide.’

There was a general clamour of approval.

Olaf had studied the speech patterns of the managers at his placement. ‘At the end of the day the reality is I think we’ve agreed a way forward,’ he concluded.

After that, each evening when they returned from their placements they sat together at the table and brainstormed. Olaf acted as chair, and between them they listed a formidable range of training modules they could feel confident of delivering:

hardcore fishing (‘seal methodology and beyond’), unmechanised lifting and handling (‘polar and equatorial applications available on request’), voice training for the timid (‘roar your way to confidence’), flight for beginners (‘including altitude reconnaissance and freestyle perching – no equipment needed’), and finally diet and terrain (‘addressing the vegan/carnivore debate – is it you or the landscape?’).

‘God knows, I feel empowered,’ breathed Johnson when Olaf read this back to them. ‘You’re right – when they hear this they’ll snatch our paws off.’

‘Or claws,’ said Nocturnus.

Olaf beamed at them. ‘There’s a very approachable personal assistant at my placement,’ he said. ‘She’s taken to stroking my fur. I’m sure she’ll type this up for us. After that all we have to do is submit it to the inquisitors.’

The following day, as hoped, he brought back to the Unit a neatly typed sheaf of A4 in a ring binder. The animals examined it and glowed with a sense of achievement. They all agreed that Olaf should have the honour of presenting it.

‘We enter this as equal partners, but you should be first amongst us,’ said Nocturnus.

‘Hear! Hear!’ the others concurred warmly.

They slept soundly that night, but were woken abruptly in the early hours by loud and repetitive thuds against the reinforced glass of their bedroom windows. Johnson, with a single bound, was first to check what was happening.

‘Christ, mates,’ he said, ‘it’s bloody vigilantes chucking things!’

Outside stood a spiteful-looking mob in dark anoraks and hoods. They held banners saying ‘Human Rights, Animal Wrongs’ and ‘Jobs for the Boys – and we mean Boys’.

Olaf came to the window. He put his paw on Johnson’s sloping shoulder and peered out over his head. ‘You have to wonder who monitors these cameras,’ he said. ‘Someone’s trying to stop us before we even get started.’

‘Best stay out of sight,’ said Elijah. ‘If they see you it will only inflame them.’

So they huddled together by the far wall waiting for the angry sounds to abate. After about an hour they heard the wail of police sirens.

‘Thank God, they’ve come to save us,’ said Nocturnus. Within a minute they heard a series of violent thumps and then the rending of wood, followed by heavy footfall up the stairs. A large police officer, with a face like a slab of steak, burst into the room.

‘Here they are,’ he shouted behind him, and quickly the room filled with his clones.

Olaf stood to address them. He clasped his paws together and spoke from the heart. ‘Thank you so much for coming to help us officers,’ he said. ‘We are in your debt.’

‘Help you?’ Steak-face exclaimed. ‘We’ve come to arrest you. Bloody agitators.’

The stunned animals hadn’t foreseen this. Their time in the unit had made them placatory, and as the police rushed towards them they put up no fight. They were handcuffed and chained and led through the protesters, who spat and swore at them, while the police looked only towards their vehicles. Within half an hour they found themselves in locked cages through which, at least, they were able to see one another.

‘This must be a mistake,’ said Nocturnus. ‘They can’t realise what’s really happened.’

Olaf looked deeply crestfallen. ‘I’m so sorry, my brothers,’ he said. ‘I led you into this. The whole thing is down to my folly.’

‘Don’t be…..’ Johnson began, but at that moment a tranquiliser dart whistled into Olaf’s side. His eyes clouded and he collapsed to the ground. More police appeared with a hoist, and he was loaded onto a cart. He managed to lift a weakened paw in farewell as he was hauled away.

Nocturnus began to weep in heartrending screeches, and quickly the others joined him. But one by one they fell silent as their captors returned, shot them with darts from close range, and dragged their bodies off.

They woke sometime later on a concrete loading bay by the sea, in what smelled like morning air, slumped together again in one enormous cage. A cargo boat stood alongside, and before they could gather themselves an official of some sort thrust a rough bundle of papers through the bars.

‘These are your deportation orders,’ he said. ‘You’re going to Bremerhaven – perhaps they’ll like you better there.’

As they were taking this in, the jib of a huge crane lowered towards the cage. A small group of dock workers came forward to attach it, and the animals were lifted onto the deck of the boat. Almost immediately the vessel raised anchor, and as it started to pull away Olaf looked back at the shore and began to sing quietly. It was a song he had learnt as a cub from his mother. The others, who knew the song because they had learnt it from their own mothers, gradually joined him, until they were all singing.

The dock workers stood silently at the quayside, looking out and listening to these strangely affecting cadences as they faded slowly into the sea. They realised something in those disparate voices, lifting in unison, was unusual, and found themselves leaning towards the water, as if to make sense of the dying notes. But, though they strained forward as the boat shrank into the horizon, the only sound that reached them from the far and growing distance, was the keening call of wild animals.

Mike Fox’s stories have appeared in, or been accepted for publication by, The London Journal of Fiction, Popshot, Confingo, Into the Void, Fictive Dream, The Nottingham Review, Structo, Prole, Fairlight Books, Riggwelter, Communion, Pixel Heart and Footnote. His story The Homing Instinct, first published in Confingo, was included in Best British Short Stories 2018 (Salt). Another story, The Violet Eye, has recently been published by Nightjar Press as a limited-edition chapbook. Contact Mike at: wwwpolyscribe.co.uk

Contents Drawer Issue 13


Image via Pixabay

It’s the Little Things – Helen French

We moved to this village despite the warnings that the locals would never accept us. We moved because I fell in love with my house, with its thatched roof, small orchard and a river running through the grounds.

The neighbours are set far apart from one another. You could murder someone without being heard. But I’m not worried about murder.

I’m worried about getting home.

Tonight I had one too many drinks at the local pub, in a stupid attempt to fit in and perhaps it worked because most of those drinks were bought for me. Everyone was surprisingly generous.

But the problem now is that I can’t find my house. It’s as if it’s been stolen from the earth and I am doomed to spend the rest of my days searching country lanes, desperately looking for it.

I’ve left my phone at the pub – or it’s been stolen – so there’s no point calling anyone for help. I plod onwards.

Then I run.

Where the hell has it gone?

I find it at the edge of town, between a bridge I’ve never seen before and a huge oak tree that I don’t remember. But it is the building I know and love.

I know, because we replaced the door numbers when we moved in: 74. The flat bronze digits are shiny and new and exactly as I placed them.

But my key doesn’t fit in the door.

There’s no spare key under the mat, even though I put one there two weeks ago and have not moved it since.

I knock on the windows but my husband is in London on a work do and won’t be back until the early hours.

Nevertheless, a light goes on upstairs and I’m happy because someone is home! David must’ve come back early.

All the rest of the lights pop on like a firework show. Yes! I think, before realising it’s not possible for one man to switch them on so quickly.

Many footsteps dash down the stairs, but no one answers the door.

I run around to the side of the house and press my face against the window to the utility room.

Oh. Oh! There are tiny people in there, no bigger than knee-high, each holding even smaller knives.

I shout: “Get out of my house! I’ll call the police!”

The funny thing is, we’ve got double glazing, but I can hear the little things sharpening those knives. One of them looks a bit like Mr Avery from the pub, only smaller.

And is that Karen, the bartender? They’re all grinning with jagged teeth that look like they would be good for pulling meat apart.

I want to run but when I turn around the landscape has changed again. There are no roads at all.

I’m tired. I must be seeing things.

I look back through the window. Some of the things that I’m seeing… they see me.

They laugh. They hold up their knives. And the windows shatter.

Helen French is a writer, book hoarder, TV-soaker-upper, digital project executive and biased parent who grew up in Merseyside and now lives in Hertfordshire, UK. Her short fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Factor Four and Flash Fiction Online. You can find her on Twitter at @helenfrench.

Contents Drawer Issue 13


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Velociraptors Are Just Big Chickens – David Alexander

‘Woah!’ said Ryan’s dad. ‘Look at the size of it.’ He stretched his arms out wide. ‘The biggest animal to ever walk the planet’.

It was bigger than Ryan had thought it would be, taking up three rooms, its tail poking into one and its head into another. But his dad was wrong. ‘It’s not the biggest animal ever,’ Ryan said, walking over to read the signs at the Diplodocus’s feet.

‘What was then?’ his dad said.

‘Argentinosaurus, probably.’

His dad looked up at the dinosaur’s pelvis, wide as a car. ‘Must’ve been pretty big.’

Ryan walked on to the next sign.

‘Still, no match for a Velociraptor.’ His dad said, digging his fingers like pretend claws into Ryan’s shoulders. ‘That’s the dinosaur you’d be, isn’t it.’

Ryan walked out of his dad’s grip. He noticed wasn’t wearing his wedding ring anymore. ‘No. They were too small,’ said Ryan.

‘What were?’

‘Velociraptors. They were only big chickens, really.’

‘So just like you then,’ his dad said. Ryan walked on. His dad didn’t understand. It would take a lot of strength, some courage, to overcome something this big.

‘So which one would you be then? This one?’ his dad asked.

‘No. Probably a T-rex.’

‘How come?’

Ryan shrugged. ‘The T-rex looked after their young.’

He moved round to the dinosaur’s front end and took his camera from his bag. He took one more picture and looked through all the ones he had taken that day on the camera’s little display. There were people, all shrunk by the huge skeleton, milling around and taking their own pictures; there was an elderly couple leaning on each other, a family trying to keep their kids in one place; people everywhere, but Ryan’s dad was nowhere to be seen. Ryan put his camera in his rucksack and put it on his back. Ryan walked over to the big, wooden doorway as the steady stream of visitors came and went.

When you think about it, big things fell all the time. One-hundred and fifty million years ago, this giant walked the earth. Hundreds, thousands, millions of them. They dominated every part of the planet for millennia, but then something happened. The Earth was rocked, and the dinosaur’s time was over. In one moment, giants were defeated.

Ryan stood by the door and waited, thinking how smaller things got the more you looked at them.

David Alexander has completed the English & Creative Writing BA at Newman University and begins Bath Spa’s Fiction Writing MA this September. David runs a monthly writing group and also created Newman’s creative writing magazine Newmag. His work can be found in (b)OINK and Ellipsis Zine.

Contents Drawer Issue 13


Image via Pixabay

Rural Delusion – James D. Reed

Typical day on the New Bastion Gazette paper route. Storm threatening. I go over the interstate bridge where I encounter a fucking wall of water. No time for the plastic bags I’m supposed to wrap the paper with: sixteen pages of rural news and gossip and junk brochures. On Sundays, the funnies and Lloyd’s Hardware tabloid. (Lloyd’s ponying up for this week’s pressrun.)

On these inclement days, I off-hand the rubber-banded newspaper into the customer’s mailbox instead of the tubes the Gazette wants people to attach to the post. I do this as a personal courtesy because the tubes often leak or are, worse, stupidly mounted cantilevered upward towards the clouds. Some customers will run out in the middle of a rain squall looking for the paper and in their hillbilly panic, notice it ain’t in the tube. Won’t bother to look in the mailbox. I get an ignorant note about a missing paper that isn’t missing at all. Some even phone Bob Tuttle, the circulation manger-cum-copy editor-cum managing editor-cum ad buyer-cum photographer, to complain; I catch Tuttle’s wrath that grates like a yapping Chihuahua.

The answer: face this like any other production-line job. Put in your hours. At the end of the shift, go home, uncork a beer and fire up a blunt.

After two months the customer stops have yet to become automatic. I grab a few extra copies and still come up short some days, long on others. I can’t count anymore: numerous doobies while adrift over township roads delivering the woeful local news.

I use my own vehicle on this route. The old Civic has developed sonic warps and squeals like its from outer space. Like I’m hauling an alien around with me, maybe a squirrel nesting in the engine compartment that, any minute now, is going to be yanked into the fan belt and eviscerated. There’s a floppy noise coming from a front tire. If I end the route this afternoon without this car collapsing on its springs I’ll consider myself blessed. But being paid to take a daily fifty-mile loop over county roads isn’t all bad, especially with herbal accompaniment. Rolling up the newspaper as well as the joints.

My loop consists of one-hundred twenty-six bucolic folk waiting on the daily delivery. Today’s Gazette’s all torn to shit from some mishap in Production. Upper right-hand corner of entire print run shredded. Tuttle tells us carriers to hand them out anyway, who gives a rat’s ass. I can’t understand how this rag operates. The feature stories are AP downloads. The balance is local chin-wagging, police briefs, farm reports. And a host of local ads, like from Mollie Albright’s daycare center, her father’s funeral parlor, bars and churches. The Gazette has you covered cradle to grave with a boilermaker in between.

Tuttle remarks that most folks read the paper for the obituaries. News of the recently deceased fills one entire spread each Sunday. New Bastion’s population adjusts downwards as they float away like fly husks. Last month, three of my customers passed, all old farts, during a two-week period, and I thought the Civic must be harboring a curse. I get paid by the route count, so these cancellations cut into my pocketbook. But nobody’s croaked recently, so things are brightening out here in the Ohio boonies.

I duel with school buses and farm implements on narrow roads, some less than fifteen feet wide. I edge gingerly onto the berm to let oncoming traffic by. Local yokels have this system worked out fine. If you lurch into the ditch, the other guy stays on the road and gets to wave at you. If you stay on the road and the other driver hits the ditch, you get to wave at him. But the person in the ditch under no circumstance waves back. It’s not a salute; it’s not even a wave of recognition. It’s a nonverbal salaam that nonetheless says “Hello there, moving object!” An entire pastoral ritual. Seems to be, as D.F. Wallace might say, the “broom of the system”.

My entire clientele is invisible; some sort of pooky-dooky result of weed ingestion. I never see them; they cannot see me. Cars and rusted trucks straddle graveled lanes leading back to farm houses so far from the roads I travel that if there were actual people at the windows I couldn’t see them from this distance. Laundry flapping bird-like on lines strung between barn and one particular house every Wednesday—wash day for the unseeable McBee’s—conveys to me merely an outline of the size, shape, reliability of the family who wear these jeans and dainty underthings. And socks. So many socks on the McBee clothesline; how many feet does this translate to? I need an inkling of family size just to calm my drug-besotted curiosity.

Thanksgiving Day: concealed folks leave pie slices in the mailbox. Sometimes a small square envelope like you might use to send a Christmas card. Tucked inside by indiscernible hands, a crisp five-dollar bill which, it seems to me, has been requested purposely the last time my generous customer was in town at the bank. A wrinkled fiver will not do. And neither will a thankyou note from me because who would I address it to? I have only an account on my call sheet. There is no face attached to it; no data of eyes blue or green, cleft of chin, age of possessor. The person does not exist even though she extends a cling-wrapped blueberry pie wedge and a bank note to me on occasion.

And so, I come by daily and drop the paper into the tube and drive to the next stop where the tube is absent, or facing skyward, and, then, simply sidearm an arching pitch over the roof of the Civic, propelling the missive onto the driveway; and I continue down the pike, unglimpsed, never seen by people I am unsure are really behind the windows in this, my rural delusion.


James D. Reed’s stories have been published by Midwestern Gothic, Big Pulp Magazine, and The Nebraska Review, among others.; and in many online venues including Fast Forward Festival, Golden Key, 4th Floor, Forever Onward! Review, and Long Story Short. Jim and his wife live on a farm near Collinsville, Ohio.


Contents Drawer Issue 13


Image via Pixabay

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