The Cloud Forest – Michael Bloor

Two days after our landing party left the ship, we entered the clouds that we had seen from the shore. It was a relief at first: we mariners are generally ill-shod and not great walkers. We had grumbled as we’d sweated up that barren, rocky valley under the blazing sun, so it was sweet to step at last under trees and walk on the soft moss that lay over everything. But the relief did not last. The trees of the cloud forest seemed strange-looking, not like the oaks and pines of home: more than anything, they looked like giant heathers. The thick mist that hung everywhere in the forest was confusing: we could not navigate by the stars or the sun, and had to cut marks on the tree trunks or the mossy boulders in order to know our return route to the ship. Every hour of our march, the lieutenant called a halt and commanded Hando, the trumpeter, to blow a blast, whereupon the lieutenant would read a paper proclaiming that the island was now the property of the Emperor and the islanders were now his subjects. A futile procedure since the mist and the trees deadened all sound, and the natives who had first gathered on the shore, when our ship sailed into the bay, had quickly dispersed and had not been seen since. Still, we were glad of the brief rests.

There was discontent over the water supplies. The lieutenant insisted that we retain what was left of the drinking water that we had brought with us, saying we would need it for the return journey to the ship. There was no running water in the forest, but water could be squeezed from the dripping moss. Men grumbled that the moss tainted the water. Some men secretly continued to drink from their leather water bottles. The lieutenant noticed my brother, Odd, drinking from his water bottle: he hit him with the flat of his sword and then deliberately pierced Odd’s bottle.

On the evening of the third day, we came across one of our mossy marks on a large boulder: proof, it seemed, that we had walked in a circle. The lieutenant claimed it was a natural mark, made by a falling branch or a bird (we had seen no animals). Then Odd found a mark on a nearby tree and swore that he had made the mark himself yesterday. The lieutenant swore in return and drew his sword. Odd turned to run, and the lieutenant hacked him down. As the lieutenant stood over Odd, I ran the slayer through with my pike. The bosun carried an arquebus, but by the time it was loaded I had fled into the mist and the quiet trees.

*      *      *

I had escaped naval justice, but my case was not a happy one: I couldn’t return to the ship and so had to stay in this strange heathen place. Food was my immediate difficulty: none of the plants and shrubs in the cloud forest were familiar to me, so I had to proceed by trial and error. I made many errors and grew weak with hunger. Some berries I found had tasted sweet but proved poisonous. With my pike and knife, I had previously cut branches as a makeshift shelter from the constant dripping moisture. I lay there retching, and moving in and out of consciousness.

How long I lay there I do not know. Perhaps I would have died there, but I wakened to find myself bound and carried in a kind of litter. I was a prisoner of the elusive natives. When they saw that I was conscious, they fed me on a nutritious paste (made from the roots of sapling trees, I later discovered). Afterwards I slept, until we came to a halt among some huts on the edge of the cloud forest. My new life had begun.

The natives call themselves the Ku (which simply means ‘the people’ in their language). They are not unkind, though I am subject to some teasing. The teasing has its roots in what they see as my clumsiness and my ignorance: for example, I have no skill in constructing the marvellous nets they use for both trapping birds and for fishing, and I have only slowly learnt to recognise the edible leaves, roots and berries which form an important part of their diet. Initially, I had hoped that some prestige might attach to my ownership of the pike and my sailor’s knife, but the Ku have no concept of private property. None of their women have welcomed me to their bed. When I was younger, I used to help with the fishing and with maintaining the two cisterns where they store the rainwater that falls in their brief wet season. Nowadays, I’m only fit for gathering firewood.

Whenever I stepped beyond the cloud forest, I used to scan the horizon for a sail – another thing I was teased about. Now, after thirty seven years, a ship lies again at anchor in the bay. They tell me the Emperor is overthrown and the Sun Palace is a ruin used for storing dung. They offer me free passage, but I find I am content here with the Ku in the gentle cloud forest.


Michael Bloor is a retired sociologist living in Dunblane, Scotland, who has discovered the exhilarations of short fiction, with more than fifty pieces published in The Cabinet of Heed, Everyday Fiction, The Copperfield Review, Litro Online, Firewords, Moonpark Review, The Sea Letter, The Drabble and elsewhere.

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The Hole in the Wall – James Burr

Maybe it was because I had recently become a Buddhist, not just to impress the hippy yoga-bunny next door, I hasten to add – I really had been trying my best to eschew material possessions and to seek some kind of spiritual enlightenment that would be an added bonus to my getting in her knickers – but it was when I was nearing the end of my Master’s studies when the ATM refused to give me any money.

There was nothing unusual about that, of course. As a postgrad student, whether I would actually get any cash or an “Insufficient funds” message was pretty much a form of gambling, and I would often feel a slight thrill of expectation as the machine took my card and then pondered my request. But no, this time was different. After I had inserted my card and entered my PIN, the message “What thesis do you require? appeared on the grubby screen. At first, hungover and distracted, I had simply assumed it had asked what service I required, and I instinctively stabbed at the lower bottom button for cash, out of muscle memory. But when nothing happened and I re-examined the screen, scraping away the mottled flecks of dried vomit from the glass, I could see two simple options next to the uppermost button – Masters on the left and Doctorates on the right.

Confused, I pushed the button next to Masters and a further list of options appeared – “A deconstructionist critique of J.K. Rowling.” “An analysis of semiotics in Love Island.” “The works of Philip.K.Dick as postmodern predictor of intersectionality.” This final choice instantly grabbed my attention as this was in fact the subject of my own Master’s thesis which, truth to be told, I had been struggling with. Or I would have been struggling with had I bothered to start writing it at all. Slowly, I pushed the button next to that option and the machine whirred and the sound of motors and wheels and flipping paper came from within. Then my card was slowly released and, when I pulled it from the slot, the machine started printing off reams of paper, whirring and clicking as sheet after sheet was spat out. I grabbed a sheet at random and there indeed was in in-depth analysis of the works of Dick through a postmodernist lens.

While this was unusual to say the least, I was more glad to be relieved of worry about the impending dissertation deadline than I was about the nonsense of a ATM in the centre of a provincial University town proffering expertly written literary analyses for free. After returning home and checking that the machine hadn’t inserted too much idiotic Marxist analysis into the thesis, I spent the rest of the day getting it bound before submitting it early. After all, I wanted to be free of the worry of academic deadlines and get back to my main focus; drinking and pulling first year girls in Trixie’s, the tacky nightclub where there was more beer on the floor than in its patrons.

But in the following days I often stopped by the ATM to watch the queues of people stood disinterestedly in line before it, one after the other inserting their cards and taking their cash, no-one seemingly being offered postmodernist literary analyses. Once I stood there for a full hour, looking to see how the ATM could have done what it did. Was there some kind of trapdoor in the front where a miniature literature professor could have gained entry or hidden cameras beaming images to some control room somewhere where a team of academics examined users’ faces on flickering screens and doled out pertinent literary analyses? But instead, people simply stood in line like supplicants, only for their devotion to the machine in the wall to be rewarded with cash, nothing else, just crisp bank notes which were quickly gathered and then pocketed by the grateful flock.

So even after what had happened I was still a little surprised when the next time I used the ATM, after inserting my card, the simple message, “Do you want the truth?” appeared on the grimy screen, underneath it the options, Varnished or Unvarnished. But after I pressed the latter button and the machine whirred and then spat forth its slip of paper I read its message with a sense of profound awe as I saw the reality of It All.

The machine simply gave people what they wanted –advice, literary theses, existential Enlightenment; it was just dumb luck and limited perspective that meant that what most people who queued for an audience with it were interested in was money. So once I had seen the Truth, I sat on the pavement in supplication next to the machine, its disciple – no, its Apostle, giving it a voice beyond what could be expressed on the screen. And as pilgrims line up before it seeking a boon, I encourage them to seek more, to give up their devotion to worldly things, to expect more than just cold, hard cash, for they will receive it. I have been here so long now my sodden clothes are rotting off my body but still I urge the users of the machine to give away their money, even a pound, even a pound will do.

They glimpse at me with disgust before cold eyes stare ahead and they try their best to ignore me.


James Burr has had a couple of one-minute stage-pieces staged by SLAMX in London in February and had many short stories published in journals and anthologies, including Bizarro Central, Horror Sleaze Trash, decomP, Suspect Thoughts, Darkness Rising, Raw Edge, Ellipsis and Ideomancer. His first collection of short stories, Ugly Stories for Beautiful People was published in 2007 and his second collection will be published by Nihilism Revised in the summer.”

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The Visitor – Denny Jace

At 1am I’m in your bed.

You awake and we lock eyes. Panic clamps your vocal cords squeezing out a strangled howl. You fall to the floor, drag yourself backwards getting tangled in the curtain. It wraps tightly around you, a paisley print sari, a futile protective shield. A slice of light from the lamppost outside casts your shadow on to the ceiling, it quivers, grows and turns inside out… who’s the monster now?

At 2am you’re hiding.

Crouched behind the chair that wears your best jacket; on your haunches clutching the empty tweed sleeves. I hear your rapid shallow breath; a fist of fear squeezes your lungs wringing out wispy smoke trails, the warmth of life evaporating in the room’s icy chill. I roll onto my side, a domino effect; you adopt the brace position …what are you afraid of? What do think I will do?

At 3am terror twists your mind.

You are the third wise monkey, sitting at the foot of the bed; knees pulled to chest, shoulders hunched, hands clamped across your mouth …are you holding in a scream?

At 4am I beckon to you.

My palms upturned, fingers curled, pulling you closer, inviting you in. You accept and lay next to me and the mattress vibrates as fear rattles your bones. My presence here has made the bedding damp with cold; I watch the goosepimples race across your throat.

Face to face, heads on pillows, you are petrified still, not even a blink. And then you whisper, to me, your voice no louder than the beat of the butterfly’s wings; “What do you want?”

“To rest:” I tell you, my breath blowing icy barbs that sting your cheeks.

Your hand reaches for my face, that need to feel if I am real. Under your fingers I crumble to dust and ash that swirls and scatters, a former life, now dirty fairy dust.

At 5am I’ve found another resting place.

I pour myself through an open window and hover above the floor. The bed is tiny, but my bedfellow wears a huge smile and Winnie the Pooh pyjamas. He gurgles with joy, so happy to see me! I could be his new playmate, or perhaps his imaginary friend for years to come.

I levitate and swirl then blow icy kisses on his rosy cheeks; he chuckles for more, chunky arms reaching high above him.

I think I will be happy here.


Denny Jace has been writing since June 2019 She writes Flash Fiction and Short Stories and is building up to her first novel. She lives in Shropshire with her husband and two (grown up) children. Most of her days are spent reading her stories to Maude and Stanley, her two faithful dogs. Her stories have been highly commended, Winner of Retreat West Micro Flash Fiction 2020 and published in Ellipsis Zine. Twitter @dennyjace

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Loons – Ron. Lavalette

He works the phone all morning, calling to remind his clients to take their pills and drink lots of water, and to reassure them that the voices aren’t real. Some of them he calls and calls again, hoping that on his third or fifth or eighth attempt they’ll give in, pick up, and maybe even recognize his voice, hear and heed his advice.

By noon he’s pretty toasted from the effort, buys himself a burger and a Coke and goes down to sit in the shade beside the lake, contemplate its smooth surface like it’s a giant crystal ball, and try to divine what comes next. The only other beings he encounters are a few ragged gulls scavenging the shoreline for scraps and a pair of loons forty or fifty feet out, bobbing and diving for whatever it is loons dive for. He watches them for the longest time, thinking about how quiet it must be just below the surface. He wonders why they come back up at all.

He can hear the snarl of a revved engine on the bank far off to his left, somewhere out of sight. He can’t tell if it’s a chainsaw or a dirtbike, only that it’s small and angry sounding. It echoes across the water and comes back at him almost a full second later, only slightly smaller but just as angry. When he can’t stand it anymore, he heads on back to the office.

When he gets to his desk, the phone is ringing, but he can’t bring himself to pick it up. There’s a meeting going on in the conference room; he can hear voices through the wall.


Ron. Lavalette lives on Vermont’s Canadian border. His poetry, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction has been very widely published in both print and pixel forms. His first chapbook, Fallen Away (Finishing Line Press), is now available at all standard outlets. A reasonable sample of his work can be found at EGGS OVER TOKYO.

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Stump – John Brantingham

You’re over at Drew’s house with Cyndi and your wife, during one of his I-might-just-be-the-wealthiest-man-in-town parties complete with a string quartet and catering staff and the most expensive booze you’ve ever seen which is why you’ve had your share and Cyndi’s too because what the hell, she’s too young to drink. You’re about to head for the bar to get started on your wife’s share when you notice Cyndi, glaring at Drew’s coffee table.

“What’s up?” you ask her.

“Can you believe this?”

“The table?”

“Yeah, look at it.” The middle section of a giant tree that someone put legs on and shellacked until it was smooth like marble.

“It’s a table made from a tree cookie,” you say.

“Yeah, a sequoia tree cookie.” You cock your head at it. It’s a big table, but it’s not sequoia sized. It’s not even redwood sized. Cyndi’s at that age when everything is an injustice that she must rail against, and you like that about her. She’s a good person and all of that, but on the other hand, she’s also kind of wearing you out with cause after cause.

On the other hand, you know that Drew’s always had kind of a thing for your wife, so you say, “Son-of-a-bitch, you’re right.”

“I don’t believe it. I thought these trees were protected.”

“Go grab your mother. We’re leaving in protest.”

Cyndi heads off looking for your wife while you slip over to grab one more drink. Drew comes up behind you and grabs you by the arm. “I wanted to show you something,” he says. He takes you into his study, which has been locked all afternoon, closes the door behind him, locks it.

“What’s going on?”

“I just bought something at auction the other day, that I think you’d get but maybe not everyone else would. You know about the Boer War, right?”

“I wrote my dissertation on it. I teach a couple of seminars.”

“Yeah, I thought so. Check this out. It came back to England with a colonel. He reportedly bought it during the campaign.” He hefts something that looks a bit like a tree stump and places it on his desk in front of you. “The man is supposed to have known Churchill.”

“Which one?” You ask, but his face scrunches. Then your face scrunches. You can feel it. “What is it?”

“Look closely. He turned it ironically enough into a footstool.”

You stare at the gray thing for a while until you understand. It’s the foot of an elephant, hacked off and preserved somehow. Once you understand you lose yourself a little. All you can do is stare. “You have a lot of money, do you Drew?”


“There is a point at which a man might have too much money.” You realize that you’re still at that age when so many things are injustices that you must rail against, and you like that about yourself, but it can be exhausting.

“What are you talking about?”

Cyndi and her mom come through the door on their quest to find you, and you turn to Drew, who is goggling at your wife and say, “Listen Drew, we’re leaving now, and until you can find some way to act like a human being and get that stump out of here, we’re not coming back.”


“Seriously, man, what the fuck is wrong with you?”

And as you walk out your daughter beams at you for the first time in a long time and it makes you want to storm out, which you do, as well as anyone can storm and also stop off by the bar for one more glass of the good stuff.


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Today We Printed Out The Internet – Paul Thompson

Today we printed out the Internet.

All of it.

Boredom is the main obstacle. Paper jams welcome, our printer stopping on random pages, gasping for respite. Occasional network issues keep our minds sharp. And the trucks outside, delivering paper to our door, as we stack and carry into the warehouse.

Otherwise it is the mundane, the churn of the printer barrel, its friction melodic. We compose accompanying ukulele chords, playing our song during long periods of self-doubt. The information we print is sometimes distracting, sometimes worthwhile, infrequently enriching. Content we never knew of, its existence beyond imagination.

We abandon our plan for governance, the physicality overwhelming. Our original intention to create a structure, a manual index. Prototypes still on our walls, built with string and pins and photos, all now hopeless. Instead we have chaos – information random, back to its anarchic conception. We print, and stack, and store as we find it, building towers of content. Archways of A4, avenues of ink.

We try not to think of the trees, or the transport footprint, or the excess. Instead we focus on the greater good. How every individual, or society, or civilisation needs a backup. The inevitable collapse of infrastructure, and a world thankful for our save state. Everything recycled.

Our first query is from an old man who wears medals on his jacket. He walks with a limp and a small dog. He compliments our efforts, peering into our back-yard Internet. Paper blocking the horizon, changing perspective. A forest cut down and reassembled new.

Can I use your Internet, he says, The local library is closed.

He is a writer, researching bacteria types for a new poetry collection. We draw him a map from our collective memory. The information is to the west, far beyond the recent paper monoliths, sheets fluttering like the snow. He takes a compass and a flare gun, declining our offer of a guide, before vanishing into the web.

Buoyed by our good deed, we double our efforts. The final million pages, a period of reflection. Holding individual sheets up to what remains of the sun. Observing gaps in the fonts. Touching our favourite words. Smelling the ink. Consuming both the form and content. Leaving our fingerprint on every piece of information ever created. The printer thin and worn down, operating beyond its design. Stray pages on the carpet, information trampled and lost forever.

Late in the day, a query comes from the old man’s daughter, concerned by his disappearance. Several hours and billions of pages have passed.

He is easily distracted, she says.

We assume shared responsibility, having been equally distracted by our nearness to completion. Could we have boxed him in? Does he still wander without direction? His daughter demands to search with us, but we persuade her to stay. The landscape is organic and collapsing, shifting sheets forming curves and slopes. Instead, she will stay to maintain the printer, and wait for our return,

In our bag we pack a map and compass, and a box of matches, in case of emergency. Before leaving we document our efforts and intention, for the scenario we do not return. Upload our story to the web, hoping it will print out before the cartridge r


Paul Thompson lives and works in Sheffield. His stories have appeared in Okay Donkey, Spelk Fiction, Ellipsis Zine and The Cabinet of Heed.

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Forever Moor – Damon Garn

Crawling. Right hand digging into the dirt. He pulls, shoulders straining. Then his left hand, fingernails tearing on a rock. He pulls himself forward again. A sharp branch sears his ruined foot like a branding iron. He bites his lip against a scream. He is crawling away from the dark. Crawling.

Panting. His lungs fill. But not enough. Never enough. The exhale whistles and bubbles like an old teapot. Breath smells of blood.

Sprawling. Face laying in the soil. One eye pressed closed against the ground. One eye open, tear-filled and wide. He sees decayed leaves and a horse’s skull. He lays there too long. Too long.

Listening. The air presses itself around him. The beginning ends. His ears pull in the sounds of the terror-filled darkness approaching.

Is that it?

Can he hear it?

No. A beautiful silence. A sweet silence. A silence he can live in.

Remembering. A fool to come out here alone. The brochure had advised against it. The locals had shuddered and shuttered themselves in before full dark. His new bride laughed at him as he carried her into their room. Dared him to be a man for her.

Moving. Has to keep moving.

*      *      *

Crawling. Left hand digging into the dirt. He pulls, shoulders straining. Then his right hand, digging like an undertaker’s shovel. He pulls himself forward again. Another desperate handspan closer to nowhere. He bites his lip against a sob. He crawls through the dark. Crawling.

Panting. His chest rises just a little less than last time. Never enough. A bubble fills his mouth like a sail. Pops, and smells of blood.

Sprawling. Face laying in the soil. He twists, there on the ground. Something primitive urges him to look up into the night. One eye closed, blood-crusted and dead. He sees the starry sky and a mourning moon. He lays there too long. Too long.

Burning. His foot is burning. The frantic mind-voice urges him to look. The logical mind-voice warns him to not. Stomach roils at the sight of twisted white bone. Red life-blood. Pink muscle. Green pus. Black rot. Clear venom.

Scratching. His nails leave a bloody track on stone. A big stone. A huge stone. A standing stone. A stone standing with its fellows in a circle of lintels and the living night. A darkness is approaching.

Is this it?

Can he see it?

No. Beautiful stones. Deadly stones. A sight he can live with.

Remembering. A fool to come out here alone. His gut had cautioned against it. The locals had locked their eyes on their doors and locked their doors behind them. His new bride laughed at him as he stepped into the night. Dared him to be a man for her.

Moving. Something else is moving on the Forever Moor.

*      *      *

Crawling. Talons digging into the dirt. It crawls, straining toward him. His shoulders ache with his petrified stillness. It pulls itself forward again. The cold standing stone holds him like a dead lover. The dark crawls closer. Crawling.

Panting. His lungs pulling in their last sweet air. Not nearly enough. Not nearly enough again. The inhale gurgles and crackles like an empty percolator. Breath smells of blood.

Sprawling. Face laying in the soil. Mouth pressed open against the ground. He tastes sweet sticky moss. A line of spit tangles back in his hair. He lays there too long. Too long.

Listening. The fog rolls in and slams shut above his head. The end begins. His ears pull in the sound of the hate-filled darkness approaching.

Is that it?

Can he believe it?

No. A long quiet. A quivering quiet. A quiet he can’t live in.

Remembering. A fool to come out here alone. The moor itself had warned against it. The locals had made the sign against evil and he’d signed away his soul. His demonic bride laughed at him as she stepped out of the night. Dared him to die like a man for her.

Moving. Finally stops moving.


Damon Garn lives in Colorado Springs, CO with his wife and two children. He enjoys hiking, writing, and annoying his neighbors with mediocre guitar playing. He writes in the fantasy/sci-fi/steampunk realms, experimenting in flash fiction, short stories, and a novel. Follow Damon on Twitter: dmgwrites or at

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Alison’s Ex is a B*tch – Nadia de Castro

Alison wanted to order champagne which to Frances seemed a little over the top for the occasion. The occasion? Meeting Vivienne, Alison’s ex.

In the two years Frances and Alison had been together, she had heard a lot about Vivienne; the stories were usually followed by words like b*tch or c*nt. Frances couldn’t understand how Alison had stayed with her for half a decade, and above all continued to be friends after, but she had gotten used to the follow-up to the b*tch/c*nt stories which were always redemption ones; justifying why Vivienne had done what she had done, saying how great she was really, how when Alison needed her she had always been there… Frances suspected Alison had some form of Stockholm Syndrome.

When they had discussed the reasons to move to London “We’ll be close to Vivienne!” was always in the pros for some reason. They had some minor arguments about it, and on more than a handful of occasions, Frances had found it unavoidable to ask if Alison still had feelings for her. Alison laughed out loud every time as an answer. Well, she must’ve thought that was an answer because she’d never say anything after. It didn’t feel like an answer to Frances, but what could she do? Their relationship seemed just one big fight away from perfection, which Frances thought any relationship should have to pass the test of seriousness. The big fight did happen, eventually; it wasn’t about Vivienne so Frances took that as an answer and married Alison quickly after.

They had been sitting at the restaurant for half an hour. Vivienne was late. Charming. Frances hadn’t considered the restaurant was going to be this fancy; she had only put a coat over her favourite jogging bottoms which the Maitre Di scoffed at. She felt utterly embarrassed and couldn’t believe they had left the dog home alone for this.

When Vivienne finally appeared, she was wearing a white dress that seemed tailor-made to her incredible body, she might as well have been a Hollywood star; frosty, decadent, shameless. They got up to say hello, well Alison did, she just followed. Vivienne kissed Alison’s cheek and then hers. She smelled so good, the b*tch. The first words she said to Frances: “I read somewhere sweats are the new black!” The c*nt.

Vivienne then turned to the waiter and asked him to send her hellos to Antonin, who Frances later learned was the chef, and then she ordered a whiskey, neat (so now they’d have to drink the £90 champagne bottle just between the two of them. Great. Frances hated champagne as much as she hated Vivienne). Also, who orders whiskey to drink at dinner?

After the tiny starters, before the ‘Pork Jowl with Langoustine’, Alison got up to use the loo leaving her alone with Vivienne. Trying not to look up at her, Frances noticed the pattern on the marble table looked like a vagina and she thought of mentioning it to Vivienne but it didn’t seem like she’d laugh. Vivienne asked Frances what kind of art she liked, Frances wanted to answer, to seem just as cultured, but the only painting she could think of now was the portrait of her dog that she had gotten from a painter at Leicester Square years earlier when she never thought she’d come to live in London.

Vivienne quickly realised Frances was lost and said: “That was a stupid question, the last thing I want to talk about now is art!” and she changed the conversation to: “Alison sent me a picture of your dog. She seems lovely. Next time we’ll meet at mine so you can bring her” followed by: “Have you spotted the vulva on the marble? I’m yet to find a table here that hasn’t got one.”

And all Frances could do was laugh. So they laughed together and toasted to vulvas. Suddenly Frances felt better in her own skin than she’d ever felt before. When Alison joined them it looked like she had been gone three decades and Vivienne and Frances had been friends that long.

As the night continued she couldn’t take her eyes off Vivienne, they all kept laughing together; Vivienne was doing this thing where it seemed her and Frances had lots of inside jokes. How was she doing this? They’d only met an hour earlier.

After the cheese selection, the petit fours and the Port digestif, Vivienne asked for the cheque and paid for dinner—as an apology for being late—and somehow it didn’t feel awkward.

Saying their goodbyes, outside the restaurant, this time Frances offered her cheek willingly and kissed hers back. She did smell wonderful; Jasmin and spices; daring, refined, erotic. Then Vivienne got in her Porsche and they waved her goodbye. She waved them back with the promise they’d meet again soon and then drove off into the London night to the sound of Kim Carnes “Betty Davis Eyes”.

This woman had broken her wife’s heart and here Frances was, thinking she would probably let her break hers too.


Nadia de Castro has written and directed short films (fewer than she thought she would) and designs logos for a living. She is inspired by women’s lives, cultural clashes and tv shows about lawyers. She lives in London with her wife and their dying plants.

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In Moustache – Darren John Travers

Late afternoon on a searing July day in the year nine hundred and thirty-one, wearing a long saffron-coloured tunic close-fitting at the torso and loose around the forearms and knees, the King of Munster atop the Rock of Cashel, Lorcan mac Coinlígáin, stood before his bedchamber window overlooking miles of rolling pastureland and scrutinising his clammy upper-lip in a piece of polished bronze.

More than anything in the world he detested days like this. Days so muggy they revealed the curse God inflicted upon him, namely sweat glands without restraint. Hours could pass as he tweaked and twisted his thick moustache, growing incensed by its refusal to sit exactly how he liked it. A symmetrical horseshoe widening at the corners of his mouth and falling into two blonde horns precisely one thumbnail’s length below either side of his chin. A look so interwoven with his identity that he had taken to locking himself inside when it could not be achieved, forcing aides to knock on his enormous oak door, sending eerie booms, like overhead thunder, reverberating around the lofty space and a hateful shiver down his spine.

‘What can be so important,’ he snarled, opening the hatch he had installed, low enough to reach yet high enough for him to remain hidden, ‘that you insist on interrupting me while engaged in work of the utmost importance?’

‘I carry news of another raid, my King,’ the breathy voice responded. ‘Every day now they advance closer – Lismore the latest. Fourteen men slain, eleven of their women abducted.’

‘Tell me something, Óengus,’ the king replied, fanning himself with the bronze and throwing a beam of light around the room.

‘My King?’

‘Is there a waterway in Lismore suited to longship sailing connecting them to the sea?’

‘Uh, I believe so.’

‘I may be mistaken, but from my window I see no evidence of a waterway with similar capabilities in the area. Has it managed to elude me these forty-four years?’

‘No, my King, but it has been said that they are growing more brazen on foot, that it is only a matter of time before they overrun the middle country. We must be prepared.’

As the king emitted a series of contemptuous groans, a pattering of goathide sandals on stone floor could be heard in the great hall, followed by an exchange of mutterings between their owner and Óengus.

‘Fool! Those fleshy oafs could not walk a thousand paces on foot –’

‘My King, a boy here carrying a message for you.’

‘Give it,’ he whispered with an exhale as if surrendering to a deep melancholy, and a hand came through the hatch offering a folded piece of vellum. He opened it carelessly and, with his left hand flattening the sides of his moustache, read

Lest beef swiftly restore our brains and brawn,
Lest lodgings are bestowed at the first yawn,
Lest ale is proffered for forty to swill,
Satire will befall the King Coinlígáin

‘Why do you punish me, Lord!’

‘What is it?’ Óengus inquired. ‘Oh, God! The Vikings approach?’


‘What could be worse?!’

The king scrunched up the vellum and threw it through the opening in the door.


As Óengus investigated further with the messenger, the king moved to the window to look down on the marketplace in the foreground. With disgust, he saw a large gathering of outsiders conversing, laughing, plotting amongst the town traders and their livestock. The formidable figure of his cousin Cellachán alongside them. His attention naturally fell on one of them dressed in a multi-coloured cloak, the likes of which he had only ever seen on the High King of Ireland. A servant holding a gold branch above his head followed him wherever he went. The king squinted, attempting to discern some of his features, but, besides a solid constitution, he was too far away.

‘Apparently the newly elected Chief Poet of Ireland is among them,’ Óengus called through the hatch, sensing the king to have moved away. ‘They travel with a retinue of forty poets and servants. Their demands must be met; the law grants them the right to satire.’

‘And? There is nothing here to satirize.’

‘Of course not. But you know how crafty these poets can be. If they contrive to spoil your good name, it can bring shame upon the Eóganachta and, God forbid, invoke facial blisters and even death upon you personally.’

The king held the mirror to his face and examined his narrow freckled jaw, his tall forehead streaming with sweat beads, and his strained close-set eyes.

‘Nonsense! Give them bare barley loaf and water. If they must stay the night, run whatever vermin occupy those ramshackle guesthouses behind the stables out and let them rest there.’

‘But the boy here says the Chief Poet expects to dine with you in full banquet inside the castle walls. I urge you to do as they please.’

‘The offer is already too generous. Now go!’

‘Yes, my King.’

Not ten minutes later, Óengus returned.

‘I have spoken with the Chief myself. She is already making enquiries about you with the townspeople, and threatens a public show of satire before vespers if you do not comply.’


‘I am as surprised as you are. Uallach ingen Muinecháin, the first Woman-Poet of Ireland in a thousand years. I am told she was the top student in all twelve years of study, without exception, excelling in oration, memory, chants, and composition.’ He paused for a response and, when none came, added, ‘You know how unethical these poets can be.’

The king, lying face down on his four-poster bed with eyes closed and arms by his sides, mumbled an unintelligible demand into his pillow.

‘Pardon?’ Óengus asked.

He raised his head.

‘No accommodation!’

‘But –’


And for two hours he stayed in the same position, awake but still, until a burgeoning furore outside coaxed him to the window. Through the small diamond panes, he spied Uallach standing on a makeshift stage chanting with her arms aloft. In front of her, her adoring audience of a hundred or so, made up of her entourage, the market traders, and what looked like most of the town, were matching her every word. Enraged, but unable to make out what they are saying, he smashed one of the panes with his mirror and heard

The Magic King of Munster,
Why is he unseen?
The Magic King of Munster,
Because his armpits gleam!
The Magic King of Munster,
His face soon a-rash?
The Magic King of Munster,
Imprisoned in moustache!

sung on a continuous loop.

‘That’s what they call poetry nowadays, is it?’ he asked through gritted teeth, pacing back and forth before slamming open the hatch. ‘Óengus!’

Moments later, Óengus’ voice appeared.

‘My King?’

‘Those Vikings, what do they do with the women they abduct?’

‘Uh, the reports say they are put on the ships and never seen again.’

‘Well then, tonight in Cashel we are going to have a Viking raid of our own.’

‘My King?’

‘Send some of our most trusted into the surrounding lands under order to pick up as many brawny wayfarers as they can find, the dimmer the better. Tell them we are arranging a mock Viking raid, or something, to test and improve the town’s defences. If they refuse, offer whatever amount of food and shelter it takes for them to agree – we can banish them as soon as the job is done. In the meantime, fashion costumes for them to wear. It hardly matters what. The halfwits of this town would not know a Viking from a washed-up seal. As soon as we have fifteen or so, choreograph the attack. Ideally only the Woman-Poet and one or two others for appearance should be taken. So describe to them in detail her distinctive clothing.’ The king paused his lecture to listen to the town chanting below. Then, pinching his earlobe until he could take the pain no longer, ended it with, ‘If some of the men decide to play the hero, killing them would not be the worst thing.’

‘You must reconsider!’ Óengus ventured.


‘I mean, I beg you respectfully, my King, to rethink this course of action.’

‘If you question me once more, it will be your life you are begging for.’

‘So…what do you want done with the women we capture?’

‘Discreetly bring the poet to me. She too will know how it feels to be encroached upon. And make any others disappear.’ He closed the hatch before Óengus could pique him further.

Darkness fell. And, though the public performances at the king’s expense had subsided, sporadic bursts of laughter down in the marketplace told him the poets were far from moving on to the next town. Delirious, he waited five hours for his plan to unfold, pondering what these leeches could possibly have to laugh about and repeatedly checking his reflection for signs of facial blisters only to revile himself each time for doing so.

Once the first screams cried out below, he leapt to the window and, with a candle illuminating his black grin, listened to them race through the town like sinister waves branching off in different directions before coming to an abrupt end. He put his ear to the broken pane – not a conversation in the still night – and brooded until three assertive knocks at the door, unlike Óengus’, made him flinch. Uneasy, he approached the hatch.

‘I am with Uallach, my King,’ Óengus’ nervous voice announced.

‘Who else accompanies you?’

‘Uh, just your cousin Cellachán, who spearheaded the operation without fault.’

‘Are you present, Cellachán?’

‘I am, Lorcan,’ a gruff voice replied.

‘Before I open up, lift up this Woman-Poet so I can see her.’

The top of Uallach ingen Muinecháin’s head appeared above the bottom ledge of the ill-lit hatch, peering unperturbed and, as the king suspected, smiling down at him.

‘No need,’ she said. ‘Now let us proceed.’ Her voice’s commanding downward inflection in stark but somehow compatible contrast with its pacific tone.

‘Good Jesus!’

‘Not the Good Jesus, just a humble poet on a sultry night awaiting the King of Munster to open his door and fulfil an invite.’

‘An invite?! Well…well…you are mistaken there!’

‘Well, forgive me. I was escorted to your chamber on another’s decree?’

‘Uh, no, but…’

‘But nerves have dealt you a change of heart. Yet only regret will beat if we now part.’

‘This is not…!’

Uallach turned from him and said, ‘King Coinlígáin is ready.’

‘My King, are you opening up?’ Óengus asked from behind her.

‘I did not say…! All right. I will open the door marginally. Only the poet may enter.’ He closed the hatch, lifted open the iron latch, and pulled back the door.

Uallach half entered and stopped, her visible eye locked on him.

‘Believe me when I say, in reality your tash possesses a majesty no words can convey.’ She offered him her hand. The king, acting on a curious impulse to get her into the light where he could see her better, took it. A brief lapse in concentration that allowed Cellachán and two accompanying Eóganachta to slip in behind Uallach and tackle him to the ground, sending his mirror clanging across the floor.

Carried off the Rock of Cashel for the last time, and concealing the bottom half of his flushed face, Lorcan mac Coinlígáin heard rejoicing from townspeople who stayed up for the deposition. And the celestial voice of the Chief Poet of Ireland declaim

Narcissus high on the Rock,
A man so foul, yet enabled to be king
I guess the only true shock:
I got that close, and did so without puking!


Following a stint as a scriptwriter in London, Darren John Travers returned to his home county of Kildare, Ireland to focus on his literary career. Darren is currently at work on his first collection of short stories.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 35 Contents Link

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Handy – Michael Grant Smith

Four hours ago I reported him missing. On my mountain the temperature drops uncomfortably when the sun goes down, even in the summer. Professionals, volunteers, and busybodies gather around their four-by-fours and ATVs, sip black coffee from plastic cups wrapped in paper napkins, look at the ground while they chitchat. They know not to stare at me. I keep myself together, wrapped in a blanket provided by the paramedics.

Sheriff’s deputy moseys over, takes off his hat, shines his cow eyes in my direction. Are you okay, he says, your fella had his share of history and oftentimes folks just up and go. I’m fine, I say, right now I’m thinking about everything he’s done for me.

* * *

Grace’s house rested on pilings embedded in the mountainside. Beyond a gate, down alternating flagstone landings and stairs, huddled a guest cottage converted into a rental. This crumbling stone heap, cool and dank as a grotto, seduced William with its promise of solitude. Grace’s bootlegger ancestors established the willow- and aspen-shaded compound, but the toxic byproducts of lead-soldered copper still pipes demolished the illicit empire and scattered her family.

Grace stayed on her side of the gate and William kept to his until the afternoon she asked him to come up and destroy the wasp nests behind her shutters. He’d fired up his chainsaw and there she was in the blue haze, waving a can of insect spray, her words smothered by noise. William killed the engine. “Show me,” he said.

Afterwards, a task almost daily. Split a cord of firewood. Drag the wrought iron bench across her deck to catch more sun. Move the bench back to get out of the sun. Clear deadfall and rocks from the eighth-mile-long zigzag driveway. Reattach the bowl of the birdbath in her neglected herb garden. Grace would loiter, arms crossed, pretending not to watch William work, a cigarette drooping from her lips.

The afternoon he accidentally plunged a screwdriver through the web of skin between his thumb and forefinger, she didn’t blink, or ask if he was okay. Rusty bloodstains dappled the deck boards.

Rumors shrouded the mountain; stories about Grace’s groin-punchingly generous annuity, funds whose existence defied all of the government’s attempts at seizure. Despite the supposed wealth, Grace and her property wore gray every day.

* * *

I don’t believe in bad luck. A hurtful situation happens on its own and no one can control it. What you call “good luck” applies to positive outcomes, not beginnings. I mean, if you fall down an old abandoned well, you have a chance. Broken ankle, cracked ribs, peed yourself, the whole deal; just wait and rescuers will race your shock or hypothermia and probably win. You can slide your truck off the logging road and be pinned unconscious at the bottom of a ravine, but your phone broadcasts the location, plus or minus one yard. You’re not unlucky until you’re dead.

* * *

“How did you learn to do so much stuff?” Grace asked William one unusually muggy morning.

Brine flowed down his forehead and left shiny dots on Grace’s mower. He abandoned his struggle with the carburetor adjustment screw.

“From doing. Nobody ever taught me anything. I just figure it out.”

“So, is that the way you became a chef?” She stared at him now. “You couldn’t make a peanut butter sandwich and then one day you just…cooked?”

Her eyes belonged to fish nestled in shaved ice. William couldn’t recall telling her about his career in the restaurant business.

“Nope. You’ve busted me. I graduated from L’Academie de Cuisine in Maryland. An exception to the rule, I guess.”

“You went to a fancy-sounding school. Was it hard?”

“Not really. Instructors just yell at you and lecture how to make soup stock from leftover hotdog water.”

William grinned. Grace responded with cough spasms instead of laughter.

* * *

Search parties and heroes and satellites are fine but don’t go far enough. They won’t find you if someone smashes the back of your head, ties you with clothesline, and holds you beneath the cold lake water until your insides fill with what’s outside. Soon, soon, buoyancy must surrender to piled-up rotten logs. No matter if the lake drains, not this year, could be later in the future, when the mud goes all sky-bleached and split open, a hiker finds your scattered bones, and the particulars of your ending will still baffle the experts. For just long enough, as I imagine it.

* * *

“I don’t have any skills,” she said when the coughing fit passed.

“You’re better than you think you are. All human beings possess at least one talent — a capability they’ve learned, or a gift.”

“Me? Nothing worth much. Maybe I’m an expert at watching TV. It’s all I do.”

“Okay, okay.” He gathered his hand tools. “Listen, you can borrow my mower. You have hardly any grass to worry about.”

Grace dropped a smouldering butt onto the flagstone, swivelled her sandal, and left a black smudge. She drew another cigarette from the threadbare, floral-printed pouch she carried everywhere.

“Why’d you quit being a chef? Didn’t want to do it anymore?”

“Wasn’t my decision. We don’t always get to choose, right?”

“Yeah. Why are you so nice to me?”

His toolbox weighed a thousand pounds. “So many questions.” He bit his lip and shrugged. “Hey, we’re neighbors and I’m just a decent guy.”

William trudged downhill toward the shed behind his cottage. With his free hand he wiped sweat from his eyes. Two-shower days were the part of early retirement no one mentioned. They didn’t warn him about the giant mosquitoes up here, either. He’d resumed shaving, which he also didn’t anticipate.

He rolled out his mower and inserted a dump can nozzle. He’d get his landlady going again even though she’d never offer to repay him: no discount on his rent, no cash, no gas, not a glass of iced tea. A man of his means, subsidizing a woman of hers. William chuckled. He’d end up mowing her yard.

He made a farty-motorboat sound with his mouth and shook his head. You don’t sear flank or brisket and serve them as if they’re tenderloin. Tough cuts go low and slow. He glanced back up at Grace’s house and she’d not left her spot beneath a scraggly weeping willow. He smirked. Hungry people, forever the same. She stooped to pick up something from the ground before turning away. The cicadas hushed and dampness fled the air.

* * *

On the way from the shed to his cottage, William looked up at me. Did he smile or was it a frown? Do facial expressions reveal a person’s thoughts? Lots of emotions are lies. People tell you to have a nice day; they imagine they’re suggesting a great idea you were too stupid to stumble upon on your own. As if you’re the only one who has a say in it. Desire for money or influence runs deep. Above all, flesh wants flesh.

He disappeared inside the cottage. I tried to poke my thoughts past the walls, the roof. Doesn’t always work when I want it to. This time the day turned bright with truth. My lungs stopped; nothing rattled in or out. Feet and hands went numb, quick-frozen. Within seconds the high-pitched tone in my ears quieted and I could breathe again. On the ground lay my grandmother’s cigarette pouch. I grabbed it and lit a smoke. I suspected I knew where her old picnic basket was put up and I had to find it before lunch.

* * *

Crisscrossed lights, a cat’s cradle of beams; half of them point upward, as if the searchers expect to find my tenant atop one of these trees and he’s a songbird or a Christmas angel. Flashlight tag was one of my favorite childhood games. No matter where I hid or how fast I ran, the other kids lit me up and I was “it.” One night I broke my eldest stepbrother’s nose — I used both hands to swing our big black aluminum flashlight. Later my stepmother told me if nobody’d pulled me off of David I could’ve pounded his nasal bones through his brain. What he said or did to provoke me, I can’t recall, unlike the sound his face made as I smashed it into tomato soup and croutons.

The sheriff is here now, the Old Man himself, talks on his two-way for a minute, listens, and hobbles over to me. Puts on his mask of concern. He’s another phony. I light a cigarette. Sheriff removes his hat and begins a speech about staying strong, and when the sun’s up and the fog burns off we’ll get the chopper from Telluride in here to cover more territory. Be patient, he says, although it can’t be easy for you. Were the two of you close? I tell him thanks, you and your team are trying so hard. I won’t give up, I say.


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Sliver – Purnima Bala

The longest hour of the night, just like every night, she waits for the siren. They all do, positioned behind crumbling walls, peering from windows, their ears grasping every whisper, every little shuffle of fidgety feet, every loose brick trickling dust through the walls. She can see them. Smell their anticipation. Taste their fear, their desperation. Every emotion mingling with her own and settling into a bitter bile at the base of her throat. Any moment now, someone mutters behind her. Her face spreads out into a grin.

Only a madman would look forward to a night like this—didn’t her father say that once, years ago, teeth grinding down on tobacco as he waited for the same sound, the same signal? Or was it that woman who’d taught her to wield a knife? It’s hard for her to tell these days, hard to think, memories blurry, wavering, fading in and out, almost as if she’s not really there, not real at all. But what is real, she wonders, in a world where the sky could erupt, the air could fizzle, walls of water take over every inch of space? What is real when you could lose all sense of security, go from stability in the below-ground districts to the open outdoors where nothing truly remains, when these could be your final footsteps, your last attempts to see another’s smile—wretched as it may be—or feel another’s warmth one last time? Everything. Nothing. Both. Either.

The horn blares then, echoing through the streets, and she darts outside, body covered with odd materials that smell of smoke—doesn’t everything smell like smoke these days?—grimy and hole-ridden but layered just enough to protect her from the harsh winds and goggles over her eyes. The sights are the same. Layers upon layers of crumbling buildings and twisted trees, most of their branches rotten, weeping, while some stand gnarled and tall in rebellion against the churning sky, surrounded by flowering weeds and tentacles of fungi that branch out across the road, small blips of colour in the eerie dark. Scattered lamps line the streets, flickering on and off as she passes, shadows around them rising and falling. Nothing remains still tonight.

She navigates the towers of litter with practised ease, looking for things that might be of material worth—old parts, a spot of ore, an abandoned automaton or intelligence unit somewhere in the wasteland, maybe even a person, lost, the bounty on whose body would see her through the next rains—anything that she can use to bargain at the haggle booths, the only part of the below-ground that she, and so many others, are permitted into. Food. Medicines. Skin protection. Limb upgrades. Not that she can afford anything more than she sorely requires. Not anymore.

How many cycles does she have to go through before her hands no longer have to search, scavenge, seek, before her nerves no longer remain on end? How many more nights does she have to spend, rummaging around in piles of dirt and sewage, old backyards filled with junk, poison, bones, only to be spat on the next day when standing in line at a haggling booth?

It doesn’t seem worth it, the stone in her chest, heavy and cold. The voices of the people she’s lost, their ghosts lingering in the night, people who’d braved the open land when the sun was out, when each breath of unfiltered air was a threat, wanting a few tokens to feed their families or hoping to luck out and find a job working on one of the lowest, most exclusive city levels. But they ended up with lost limbs, their insides eaten up slowly, or felt their eyes fizzle until there was nothing left but hollow sockets. That’s just how it goes in this damned existence. Every action is a bargain for survival, and, sooner or later, the cost is a life. Each day as hopeless as sprinkling salt over withered daisies and hoping they’ll grow back.

But. But but but.

There’s always a but, isn’t there? Something to make her eyes flutter open, lungs expand and contract even as they burn each day; a desperate fervour, a yearning for hope. And this time it’s a sliver, a streak of moonlight, there, just there around the bend where the street turns into a rabble of stones, peeking out from shards of glass, glimmering and fading, drawing her eyes to the dusky skies, over the once-busy walkline where cottage homes and restaurants used to sit, silhouetted against the horizon, to where the ocean looms, dangerous and erratic. She walks towards it, darting around scuffles over food and tokens, ignoring the calls of her friends, everything distant, distant.

Oh, but the waves. They rumble and crash, rising and falling in a desynchronised orchestra, at times soft, offering reprieve in hushed whispers, other times deafening, wanting to claim and claim, smoke almost rising from its crests and dips. Mesmerising. Haunting. How many people had she let go to its depths? All lost, lost because of shrinking hills, stagnant soil, strangers’ greed, a system that broke and crumbled, leaving her, and so many others, scrambling in the dust.

Here I am, she mutters, lips twitching. Still alive, as promised.

She stands there just for a moment—just for a moment, she tells herself, against the tick-tick-tick of her mental clock, counting down the seconds till dawn—surrounded by the smell of decaying fish and deformed gunk, plastic bottles and wrappers and cigarette buds and loose teeth scattered about, every wave pushing items onto the shore; a silver-soaked graveyard. The only beauty she knows. She tugs a conch out of the sand, and a giggle bursts from her lips.

She sells seashells on the seashore. See, Ma? I can say it now.

She flicks a piece of plastic out of its ridge and presses it against her tin-foiled ear, harder and harder and harder, until she can hear the ocean’s screams.


Purnima Bala is a writer, editor, and artist whose short fiction has appeared in Ellipsis Zine, MoonPark Review, The Sea Letter Magazine, and Emerge ’19 Anthology and is forthcoming in other journals. In her free time, she reads and edits for Periwinkle Magazine and tweets @purnimabala.

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 35 Contents Link

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Togetherness – Áine Ní Ceallaigh

The pain is too slow. Would we heal faster, if we hurt sooner?

We were the kind of couple that would make you sick – always together, holding hands, staring at each other, kissing in public. We got to a point of forming a telepathic link – finishing each other’s sentences, calling at the same time, making tea not asked for yet, and many more symptoms we hadn’t noticed in time. We called it love and hid away from the world.

We had to make adjustments – moved our bed to a wall, so we would get up on the same side, we bought a bigger bathtub, and a large blanket to cover four feet and sometimes also my face when a movie was scary.

‘Me too,’ I said and took a sip from my love-hearts mug. He added a bit of sugar and stirred my tea.

‘You’re welcome,’ he replied out loud to the ‘thank you’ in my head.

Then, bit by bit, it started getting uncomfortable. I was hangover every Sunday, he got cramps every month. We blamed the atmospheric pressure, something we ate, or bad sleep. Friends grew strange and rare, they didn’t get us anyway. We were just fine all alone together with our three feet under the blankie eating popcorn with caramel.

One winter’s night, when he dreamed about piloting a jumbo jet, a little thought appeared. I buried it in the darkest corner of our mind, where it should have died, but it grew instead, tingling and itching. I took it out sometimes when he couldn’t see it.

‘What’s wrong?’ He asked for the first time in years.

‘Nothing,’ for the first time I lied.

Making love was effortless as we had grown into each other. It was a distraction, but not a very good one, more like masturbation. That small idea only got stronger, turned into a secret and cast a shadow even on our bath time. The blanket was too heavy, bed too soft, water too wet.

On the last day, when only his left elbow and a few toes were sticking out of me, we went to a doctor.

‘Can you cut him out? I want to be free.’

When we say forever, you know, we don’t mean it.


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Little Tiger – John McMenemie

I was ten years old when Grandma died. She’d been ill for a long time. All my memories of her were tainted by her illness. I think I probably remember her as an illness more than a person. When you’re young, things like illness and disease are hard to process. Death, by comparison, was quite straightforward to me.

Mum had been upset, obviously, and Dad said that Grandma was better off now, and that it was a relief for everyone, but he never said things like that when mum was around, only to me. He always spoke differently to me when we were alone, like I was an adult, or at least older than I was. He was right though, it was a relief. Mum didn’t have to go to the home every day, and she wasn’t worried sick about Grandma’s health anymore, and it seemed she was lighter somehow, especially after the funeral.

They didn’t take me or Sammy to the the funeral because they said we were too young, and Barbara came round from next door and looked after us. She’d promised us a late night staying up watching TV, but mum and dad returned at 8 and Barb went back home with twenty quid and a half drunk bottle of wine. Dad said we could stay up til 9, he said it would be good for Mum.

Dad went straight to the lounge, it’s yellowy, corner uplights reflecting off the drinks cabinet, which was a tall, dark, glass fronted monstrosity from the 1970s, filled with cut glass tumblers and sharp looking wine glasses. The top shelf, well out of reach from curious young fingers, was filled with mysterious potions labelled “highland cream” and “rum liqueur.”

He liked this expensive malt whiskey that smelt like TCP, and he poured both himself and Mum one, but she just wanted a cup of tea. She looked like she’d walked through a doorway into a familiar room which was somehow now alien to her. She was in the kitchen and seemed a bit dizzy, doing odd things like opening the cupboards to count the cups, and checking the flour was still in date, and making sure the spoons were still in the spoon section in the cutlery drawer.

Dad drank both the drinks and poured himself another one, and told us not to worry about mum, and that it was time for bed anyway, so I took Sammy and we said goodnight and went upstairs. The walls in that old house were so thin, they may as well have been paper. As we climbed the stairs we heard mum sobbing and Dad’s deep slurring voice, calming her as it often calmed us after we’d had a nightmare or a bump on the head. When we reached the landing, Sammy, she was six at the time, grabbed my hand and pointed up at the picture at the top of the stairs. The hallway light flickered quickly for a moment. The picture was a watercolour of Towan Beach in Cornwall, where we’d all spent many summer holidays with Grandma and Grandad. The flickering wasn’t down to a faulty bulb.

“Look, Mike, a butterfly!” whispered Sammy. And sure enough, sitting on top of the frame was a small orange butterfly, with black and white stripes on its wings.

Sammy said it looked like a tiger. She tried to get closer to it but she was too small, and asked me to pick her up for a better look. She was so excited, her voice got louder and she began to squeal. The butterfly quickly flittered away, and landed behind us on the banister.

“Quick Mike, lets go!” Squealed Sammy, and we switched position over to the rail, but those striped wings flicked the light again and we lost sight of the little tiger for a moment.

“Wheresit gone?” Cried Sammy, and we looked around with an elevating panic. It had flown back onto the picture frame, and we jolted round again with whispering shouts of “there it is… wow…look at it…”

Then we heard the kitchen door open. Dad gruffly shouted, “What’s going on up there? I thought I told you to go to sleep.”

“A butterfly daddy,” said Sammy. “Come quick it’s a butterfly”

“It’s not a butterfly, Sammy,” he said. “It’s January. It’s too cold for butterflies.”

But I retorted immediately: “Dad, it is a butterfly, it really is, come and see.”

We heard Mum mutter something and dad sighing “they think they’ve seen a butterfly,” and a brief pause followed by “Yeah, that’s what I said.”

“Let’s see what all the fuss is about then.” he said, clunking his glass down on the Formica. I heard him mumble, “Probably just a moth”.

Sammy was so happy, “look Daddy here look a butterfly”

Dad walked halfway up the stairs and followed Sammy’s pointing finger with his eye and then looked at me and raised his left eyebrow. We were right.

“Bloody hell! It’s a red admiral!” He exclaimed, like it was a present he’d almost given up hoping for. “Where did that come from?” And then he called to Mum, “Jackie, come and have a look at this, the kids have found a red admiral!”

Possibly frightened by all the commotion, the bug flitted around the landing, from banister to wall, picture to picture, eventually settling on an ornament of a sheepdog which sat on the narrow shelf above the stairs. Sammy was squealing like a delighted mongoose. Dad told us both to calm down, and said that we should feed it something.

“Now, What do they like to eat?” He asked us, but we didn’t know. I offered nectar as an answer and Dad gave me an impressed look, but then he asked Sammy if she remembered the zoo from last summer, and the butterfly house, and the big blue butterfly that was sitting on a piece of fruit. Sammy said yes, she did remember, it had been hot and sticky in the butterfly house and the big blue butterfly was sitting on a banana, and the banana was black and yucky, but the butterfly didn’t care.

Dad asked Mum to bring some pieces of banana, but she said she didn’t want bits of fruit lying around the house that might attract mice. Well, this made Sammy squeal even more, because she wanted a mouse, and she started crawling around the landing making squeaky mouse noises.

Dad quickly picked her up and squeezed her quiet.

“Shhhh, don’t frighten it,” he whispered.

Sammy shushed.

He gently called down for Mum to bring the banana, but she was already at the foot of the stairs with one, sliced but unpeeled, laid out on a plate like it was for the queen.

“It’s not a red admiral though.” she said. “Red admirals are blacker. This is something else.”

“Jackie, it’s a red admiral, why do you always have to shoot me down?”

They exchanged a stern, silent interaction, which I could sense reciprocated the never spoken phrase, “Not in front of the kids.”

Mum handed him the plate of banana.

“Just don’t get it on the carpet” she said. Dad acknowledged this with a subtle hand gesture that meant “alright alright…” He knew the anger that messing up the house would elicit. Often in the past he’d walked in with muddy hands or oily boots. Once he tramped varnish into the living room carpet and mum didn’t speak to him for two days. He’d learned to be careful.

He placed the chunks of banana around the tops of the pictures and we all sat on the stairs waiting for the little creature to move. It stayed absolutely where it was, twitching it’s antennae every now and then. Dad told us to be patient, and Sammy yawned.

“Well, whatever it is, where the bloody hell did it come from?” Dad asked again, to nobody in particular. Nobody said anything.

“It’s too cold for butterflies” he repeated. “Nobody round here keeps butterflies, do they?”

Mum shook her head indistinctly.

“Maybe it was living in the loft” said Dad, “and it woke up early.”

Mum was silent. Her eyes were fixed on the little beast, which quickly flicked itself onto a chunk of banana.

“Ohh it likes that,” said dad, and we watched for a few minutes. Banana had been a good idea.

Mum didn’t take her eyes off it.

“It’s mum.” She said, quietly. “It’s mum saying goodbye.”

Dad nudged me and rolled his eyes.

“Stephen don’t.” Mum said sharply. Dad held his hands out like a clock at 5:35.

“What? I didn’t do anything.”

“Just because I didn’t see you do it,” she said, “doesn’t mean you didn’t. Stop it.”

He let out a deep sigh and apologised.

“Come on now guys,” he said to Sammy and me. “Time for bed.”

My room was directly above the kitchen. I could hear the low thunking of glass on wood, chair legs scraping the floor tiles, voices hushed and intimate. I switched off my lamp – I could hear better in the dark. I heard dad say, “OK Jackie, it could be.”

Mum was upset with him. She accused him of not understanding, for rejecting her views, not just that night but regularly. She was sobbing again, and I heard dad comfort her, I imagined him holding her, stroking her hair, kissing her forehead.

I didn’t hear anything else other than two or three more clunks of those heavy bottomed glasses. I fell asleep to the gently fading sounds of nighttime murmurs and shuffling.

Next morning I woke up before Sammy and ran out to the hallway. The chunks of banana had been cleared away, the picture frames had been dusted. There was no butterfly. Mum and Dad were downstairs in the lounge. Mum looked better, her eyes weren’t puffy anymore and her shoulders were relaxed. She was holding a picture of Grandma and Grandad from 40 years ago, just after Mum was born. They were sat on a beach, Grandad with his trouser legs rolled up, still wearing black socks and polished shoes. Grandma was very beautiful in a matching pale blue chiffon trouser suit. Her hair was short. They both looked very happy. Grandma was holding a baby girl – mum, I guessed. She was in a short legged baby grow and a floppy white hat. On the baby grow was a print of a very smiley caterpillar. A piece of paper in the bottom right corner of the photo had some writing on it. “On Towan Beach. June ‘81”

“Where’s the butterfly?” I asked.

Dad got up and led me into the kitchen.

“We let it go, Mike.”

“But it’s cold outside!”

“I know, but we couldn’t keep it. It’ll be alright.”

“Sammy will be upset”

“She’ll be fine, Mike”

“Do you think it was grandma like mum does?” I asked him. He turned to the back door, opened it, stepped out onto the patio. He was disappearing off to the shed, as usual.

“I don’t know son. It could have been. Your mum says some funny things sometimes. All I’m saying is that your grandma didn’t like bananas.”


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Home With The Nibbles – Steve Lodge

Piril Quench, child star of the 1960’s, was well known by people who knew him well. His claim to fame came at the age of 9 when he was chosen for the role of Georgie Nibbles in that exciting early 1960’s TV serial (today, it would be called a soap), “Home With The Nibbles.” Georgie’s catchphrase was “I fink the ‘amster’s dead.” This always yielded the reply from the rest of the family. “We ‘aven’t got an ‘amster.” Georgie’s catchphrase was ground-breaking at the time, but now, of course, is a bit lame.

This serial about a typical London family from The East End, starred Sunny Muldaur as the implausibly lovely Sally Nibbles, her with the exquisite hair, and Cliff Yeast as her husband, Tony.

This show went on to spawn 3 other successful TV series, the very popular “Knackers Yard” as well as “Do You Mind Awfully?” and “It’s Just Scrap, Jack.”

After the Nibbles had been deemed to have run its course (2 seasons), the TV companies plucked various characters from the original show for “Knackers Yard.” The Dad, Tony, the eldest boy, Loxley and his girlfriend, Crimson, the uncle, Les and his wife, Blossom and their next door neighbour, the West End singer, Peggy Slant and her husband/manager, Jack, along with Loxley’s mate, Grovesy. Loxley’s brother, Darryl, only appeared in one episode of the original series as he was in prison, but he is referred to throughout the entire series and “Knackers Yard” and “It’s Just Scrap, Jack.” Sadly, Georgie Nibbles, was one of the characters not retained for the splinter series. Piril’s star began to wane.

It says a lot about the skill of the writers and the actors that what started out as a fun, family show turned very dark and post-watershed in “Knackers Yard” and became very late night viewing in “It’s Just Scrap, Jack.”

Grovesy was shot in an early episode of “Knackers Yard” and Blossom ran off with the milkman, Dirk O’Keefe, whose head later turns up on wasteland behind prefabricated houses near the Yard. The rest of him was rumoured to be in the foundations of the Hendricks to Silvertown flyover. Blossom appeared again only at the very end of the last episode of “Knackers Yard,” when we assume it is her hand appearing through the open window of Les’ office at the Yard, stabbing him with the family’s ornate dagger, last seen when Blossom takes it as she leaves their home for the last time with Dirk waiting outside in his milkfloat.

Auntie Doreen down the road and Mr Syed in the newsagents in Flockhart Street see them racing off at 10 mph in the milkfloat.

Other characters in “Knackers Yard” are the 2 doctors at the Flockhart Street surgery, Dr Youssuf and Dr Fish, Sid the bookie and Jedidiah (Jed) the café owner, plus Ollie the Onion and Jack Scrap. Also the police are regularly represented by Inspector Pepper Titus and Sergeant Withers.

After 2 seasons, “Knackers Yard,” too, began to run out of steam, despite a couple of very successful storylines. Attempts to sell the series Stateside foundered due to the Americans finding Cockney English hard to understand.

“Do You Mind Awfully?” is still going today, although it has morphed now into a quiz/current affairs/comedy panel show and none of the Nibbles cast are involved anymore.

The last “Knackers Yard” episode closes with Inspector Pepper Titus and her Sergeant, Bob Withers, looking around the office for clues as a CSI member examines Les’ body. This is also the first scene in “It’s Just Scrap, Jack.” This ran for 2 seasons also.

The “Knackers Yard” episodes were particularly well written, mainly by the husband and wife writing team, Spyros and Minty Agathocleus. Storylines tended to concentrate on only 2 or 3 ex-characters from the “Home With The Nibbles” show and their interaction with the newer “Knackers Yard” characters.

Classic lines from the show include:-

LOXLEY: ‘ang on, if they shot ‘is head off, ‘ow do we know it was Dad?

LES: ‘e was the only person I ever knew who ‘ad the tattoo of a fish riding a bike on ‘is chest.


LES: I lost a pile last night on the boxing.

JED: But I fort you said Sid ‘ad all the fights fixed.

LES: The next fing I’m going to fix is Sid. Permanently this time. I’ve given that clown too many chances.

JED: Sweet. I know you’ll make it look good.

LES: I’m an artist.

Here are some classic lines from the original “Home With The Nibbles.”

SALLY: Tony, you are a lazy toe-rag. Just ‘cos they shot you in the arm, ‘ow long are you going to sit at ‘ome all day on the sofa, waiting for television to be invented?


LES: They ‘ad jugglers, ventriloquists, trapeze and everyfing over there. It was like being down the end of the pier or a circus or somefing. It was so noisy, I couldn’t ‘ear meself coughing up blood. Didn’t need to use a silencer on the gun, neither.

As mentioned earlier, throughout the series’ the son, Darryl is only seen once. He is in prison, serving a very long stretch. It is never mentioned why but in the episode where the family visit him, his Mum, Sally, asks her husband Tony (Darryl’s Dad) to get Darryl to tell him where the money is hidden. In that episode, Piril Quench as Georgie is presented with his finest scene. It is a touching moment when, at the end of the visit, he hands Darryl the GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card from the family’s Monopoly set, saying “Use it, Darryl. We miss you.”

It would be a long time before Piril made it back onto TV, as co-host with Garry Arrogant of an outdoorsy, adventure series. Sadly, with only Garry On Camping and Garry On Cruising filmed, Piril lost his long battle with drink and passed away on 4 April this year at the age of 46.


Steve Lodge is a wandering minstrel from London now based in Singapore. He has written a number of published short stories, plays, skits, poems and lyrics. He acts and is a regular on the Singapore Improv and Stand-up comedy circuit.

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Menu Choices – Josephine Galvin

Which would you prefer for tomorrow?

You are smiling vaguely and don’t appear to have heard so I translate for you.

Soup or orange juice?

Your smile broadens and meets mine. I wonder if your remembering those boarding house meals of my childhood. The plain typed menu card with the OR in capitals. Long before you took me pubs for Sunday lunch, longer before I treated you to restaurants with seafood and fancy terrines. Blackpool., remember? It was the same choice every night. Isn’t one a drink? I had asked you baffled by the restriction. Have the soup, you advised, its more filling…

Soup please, thank you.

Pasta bake, chicken Korma or ham sandwich. Wow that’s an improvement. It’s been some kind of derivation of hot pot for the last three days. Certainly, better than our landlady’s kitchens could cater for.

That was meat, a soft veg and some boiled potatoes. Tinned, I Think. I was a thin child…

He’ll have the Korma. That’s really nice, thank you.

I smile, and thank them again. We are learning to be grateful. We are too vulnerable to be otherwise.

Breakfast? why we have to go through this routine. He’s not been able to eat breakfast for the last week. At home I would have put warm milk on mushed up Weetabix. But we are not at home.

All boxes ticked she moves to the next bed and begins the same routine again.

Would you like anything now? I indicate the tea cooling in the beaker, the room temperature yoghurt salvaged from lunch. It’s a rhetorical question.

I watch your eyes closing and I’ll sit a while looking at the entirety of a past in which you have always been present. The long legs, that walked so quickly alongside the child running to keep up, are swollen today. It’s a sign apparently but I don’t know this until afterwards.

And tomorrow, at five o clock, your tea time, when family members have come and gone and cried in the special room they keep for viewing and probably just before they move your body to somewhere I can’t access anymore, I’ll think about that chicken Korma we chose for tonight and wonder what happens to it now.


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For Once in a Lifetime – Joy Manné


10. One Ending

Nancy held her father’s wrinkled hand and sang to him, songs they used to sing together, nursery rhymes and pop songs, all those years ago, her voice sweet, her mouth close to his ear, in the background the machines accompanying his groans and gasps with gurgles and gags.

Later, in the silence after a life ends, Nancy’s heart squeezed with painful longing for her younger brother who had declined to come. Nancy’s boy, as she’d called him when he was born, no longer hers.

In the furthest corner of the palliative care room, face and chair turned away, Nancy’s mother, accompanied by a nurse.

Nancy’s mother. A dumpy, grey-haired woman, wearing by choice a blue shirt dress like a nurse’s uniform that covered her knees, and she covered her knees too with her wrinkled hands, and held onto them, rocking and wailing.

9. Shredding Before an Ending

Her mother’s harsh, high-pitched voice shredded Nancy’s heart, shredded the heart too of Emily, Nancy’s daughter, standing close to Nancy and holding her hand; even seemed to shred the leaves of the wisteria showing its pretty face over the window ledge.

Shredded the air in the room.

‘You want me dead. You want my house. You want my treasures. What did I do to deserve a daughter like you?’

‘Mommy,’ Nancy said, tears stranding her cheeks, ‘We, agreed. You can’t live here anymore. You can’t take care of yourself. You’ve chosen where to go.’

‘Granny,’ Emily said, tears stranding her pretty, child’s face too.

‘You can’t take everything with you, Mommy. I only want things you can’t take. I want your things to remind me of you, of how you loved me, of how you were before you became ill. I don’t want them thrown away.’

Shredded, suddenly, too, the lostness in the frail old woman.

‘Nancy, darling,” she said, stepping forwards, her arms reaching out toward her daughter, her voice strong, stable, her expression now proud and generous.

The old lady’s blue eyes fell upon the child and she opened her arms wider.

‘Emily. Emily.’

Not yet near enough yet to embrace them, the old woman blinked and squinted as if dust had blown into her eyes.

“I know what you’re after, Nancy,” she shrieked, dropping her arms.

8. Little Brother

Nancy’s heart sings a song of painful longing for her younger brother who declines to visit.

She called him ‘Nancy’s boy’ when he was born because she loved him so dearly. Nancy’s boy now no longer hers.

At home, at school, in college they called her brother ‘Nancy-boy.’

Determined to become a ballet dancer, he practiced behind closed doors and as soon as he could, went far away where he could have lessons without being called names.

A success on the public stage, he never came back.



7. Another Kind of Ending

He wasn’t going shame himself by paying a private detective. He told Nancy he’d be playing bowls with his workmates and borrowed a friend’s car.

What he hated most was that she’d let her lover park in a lover’s car park in a woodland, and they had left the door of the car open for all to see.

He watched them through binoculars and took pictures.

Later, ashamed of himself, he took refuge in silence and impotence.

6. Imaginings

The door of the motel room was flimsy. Nancy recognised her husband’s voice and the voice of the woman with him. They’d been easy enough to find. ‘Do you have a Mr and Mrs Smith registered?’

Nancy had to rent a room to enter the building. Still holding the key, she returned to her car and drove off

All the things I imagined, Nancy thought. Entering old age together, developing tenderness, protectiveness, finding new qualities in each other as we matured, as we retired, as our physical beauty waned, as our bodies became used and weakened, as we had more time to explore each other, and together, to explore the world.

Refreshing our love.

5. Stagnation

Their children gone, their own jobs safe until retirement, depleted by predictability, Nancy booked a flight with a group of singles to a beach resort and tennis lessons. She’d always longed to learn tennis.

She packed her bag and opened the front door.

Painted faithfully by her imagination, his trusting face rose before her.

She closed the door and remained.



4. New Eyes

Back from college with new experiences, looking at parents with different eyes, knowing more about other people’s parents, looking at the closed door, beginning to wonder what goes on behind it, to really wonder, not like a kid, but like a woman who’s had sex, and often, and experimentally, and tried a few recreationals, as the euphemism calls them, and tried threesomes, and parties.

Nancy saw her parents with new eyes.

3. Nancy-boy

‘Nancy and Nancy-boy will now open the dancing.’

It’s Nancy’s parents 10th wedding anniversary. The hall is full of relations and friends.

Nancy cringes. She loves her little brother, and no one’s ever called him that to his face, or in front of her, not out loud, but their parents called him that when they thought their children were too young to understand.

‘Nancy-boy,’ not ‘Nancy’s boy’ as Nancy called her beloved younger brother from the beginning.

‘Nancy-boy,’ mumbling their fears and prejudices behind closed doors.

Especially their father.

Just because Nancy’s brother loved dancing, and danced well, and by contrast, Nancy had two left feet.

2. Another Beginning

Nancy’s older than her brother.

Her mother believed birth was for women: a doula to help with the delivery, birth at home, Nancy allowed to come in or out of the room as she chose, Nancy’s father sent away, favouring the custom in African tribes, where women gather for a birth and men may not approach until all is over.

Nancy’s mother didn’t understand that a little girl needs her father at a time like that, when it’s her own mother giving birth; when she’s made a participant in the pain of childbirth, when she can no longer have her mother the way she did before.

A little girl needs her father when a new baby comes, when she must learn to share her parents—when that new baby is the dear little brother that both of her parents had always longed for—for themselves.

1. A Beginning

It feels like a doorway. Nancy pushes against it with her head.

It won’t give way.

Something pushes against her from behind, like a door closing, pushing her out.

It’s a doorway she wants to get out of.

Or she wants to go back the way she came.

But there’s no returning.

Nancy’s ending won’t come for a long, long time.


Joy Manné links flash fictions into short stories, writing in parts: solos, duets, choruses; different views of the whole experienced by different characters as the story builds, arcs and reaches its ending. She also writes classical flash. She won the 2015 Geneva Writers Group prize for Non-Fiction and was one of three finalists in the Arkansas International 2017 Emerging Writer’s Prize in Fiction. She has also published children’s books.

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The Well Fed Peacock – Reshma Ruia

Neel’s marriage began unravelling like a spool of thread the day he brought home a peacock. It started like this: waiting to catch the bus home Neel saw a flash of turquoise. He looked up and down. It was the usual snarl of evening traffic on a hot, humid Delhi night, mopeds belched fumes, cars sounded their klaxons and harassed women hurried home, balancing babies and groceries. Lurking behind a large dusty hibiscus bush, he found a peacock pecking at a scattering of peanuts. In years to come when Neel had left Delhi and settled in his ancestral village by the sea, when his hair had turned silver and his back bent double with age, he still liked to tell who ever would stop to listen about the day he fell in love with a peacock.

The peacock lifted his eyes that were as blue as Lord Shiva’s neck and looked at him, unblinking, brave and trusting. Neel knew then that the bird would fill the heart- shaped hole in his life and be his companion in sickness and old age. God had not granted him children, but bestowed on him this gift instead as a consolation prize. How could he leave the bird alone in the thick smog of the Delhi night? It was bad enough in daytime, with rogue boys pulling at your pockets, their wheedling voices demanding food, shelter, money and even your life, if you had one to spare. Neel imagined the bird’s inert body with its exposed pink belly lying across the highway, each feather plucked by greedy hands that fashioned it into clumsy crescent shaped fans to sell to open-mouthed tourists salivating over the Taj Mahal.

‘I will look after you,’ Neel promised the bird. The peacock edged closer and pressed his stomach to his waist. Neel felt his insides clench like a fist. This is what love must feel like he thought running a tender hand across the peacock’s back, which felt scaly like the back of the pomfret his wife fried occasionally as a special treat. The thought of the pomfret deep-fried with mustard seeds and ginger made his stomach rumble. The peacock, as though reading his mind, flicked out its tongue and smacked its beak.

‘Let’s go home and eat,’ Neel told the bird. He carefully loosened his striped orange tie, untied the knot and pulled the polyester ends together carefully until he’d formed a kind of lasso, the type used by John Wayne in cowboy movies. Carefully, he edged forward, eyes intent on the shimmering silk of the peacock’s neck. One careful flick and the deed was done. The peacock was captive and was his. Kindly, but with a firm hand Neel guided the peacock home through the belch of evening traffic. Cars pulled up, excited children yelled and pointed stubby fingers at the bird. An old nun standing at the traffic lights crossed herself as she saw him walk past. Neel smiled at her. ‘My new love. The apple of my lonely eye.’ He threw this confession into the air like a bouquet, waiting to see who would catch it. But the city was busy and tired and didn’t care.

‘We have a new family member and he’s very hungry,’ Neel shouted to his wife, Geeta, pausing at the front door to remove his shoes.

‘Who has come? Is it your brother…’ his wife’s called out from the kitchen. ‘Tell him to sit. We’re having fish for dinner.’

‘Come and greet him,’ Neel shouted back. Bending down, so his mouth was next to the peacock’s head, he whispered.

‘Don’t worry. She is a kind woman. She will be like a mother to you.’ The peacock’s feathers quivered and he made a loud rasping sound, spitting out a small dead snake. Neel hastily pushed the snake with his foot under the sofa.

There they stood, Neel and the peacock in the front room, the bird clumsily wedged between the coffee table and the brown sofa. The bird kept making loud guttural sounds and began jabbing the crochet tablecloth.

Geeta came in and seeing the bird, screamed aloud.

‘What monster is this? Don’t you know it’s bad luck to keep a peacock? Have you gone mad! Get rid of him quick or he’ll end up in a ditch, ‘she said, one arm on her ample hip, the other swinging the Japanese knife she used to skin the pomfret gills. Her eyes bulged and blazed as she stared at the peacock.

‘He’s not leaving and there’s nothing you can do about it,’ Neel murmured. He thought of his life- the endless beige coloured days commuting to work and the nights, punctuated only by his wife’s bickering that fell steady like the monsoon rain.

‘I can compete with a woman, but I don’t hold a chance against this bloody bird,’ Geeta wailed, her heavy hipped frame leaning against the doorpost. ‘We have barely enough money to pay the bills or buy a car and there you are bringing home another belly to feed?’ She paused and spat in the peacock’s direction.

But Neel’s mind was made up. The peacock was here to stay.

‘Find a place in your heart for him please,’ he pleaded with his wife as they sat down to dinner. Neel tore little flakes of his fish and gave it to the peacock. The bird kept opening his beak and soon Neel’s pomfret was gone.

‘Our bird here has a healthy appetite,’ he grinned. ‘Make sure you feed him well.’ He told his wife.

An idea bubbled inside Geeta’s head as she slept. The next morning she beamed at her husband. ‘Don’t you worry, Neel. I will look after him,’ she said stroking the peacock’s crest.

She was going to feed the peacock until he became fat and slothful and lost the glint and gloss of his feathers. She would tempt him with sweets, cakes and sugary smiles. Neel would soon fall out of love with the bird just as he had with her.

The following day she pawned her wedding jewellery and bought sacks of flour, tubs of butter, cream, and kilos of demerara sugar and pistachio nuts. She was going to fatten the bird to death.

Every evening, Neel would rush home from work, quickly change into his shorts and take the peacock for a stroll in the public gardens. He bathed the peacock’s feet in the fountains and obliged passers-by who wanted a selfie. When the nights were too hot and clammy, he coaxed the bird up a flight of stairs to the roof, where he pointed out the stars and sang him lullabies. A local newspaper carried a special feature on him, titled, ‘One Man and his Peacock.’ Neel had the article framed and he showed it to his boss.

Meanwhile in the kitchen his wife bent double over the hob, prepared dishes swimming in butter, nuts and cream.

‘How come we’ve suddenly got so much wonderful food?’ Neel asked her, as she cajoled another mouthful into the peacock’s open beak.

Geeta patted his hand. ‘My uncle passed away and he left me a little inheritance. We can have as much fish and rice, as we like. We want our bird to be well-fed don’t we?’ She fed the peacock pancakes for breakfast, beef burritos for lunch and biryani for dinner.

Months passed and the peacock’s feathers gradually turned dull and his belly rotund. His eyes were heavy lidded with sloth. At night, he belched and kept Neel awake. On weekends, he refused to come out of the kitchen. Neel wept with worry. He checked the bird’s pulse and massaged his neck with coconut oil. The bird grunted in pain and bit Neel’s hand.

‘What’s wrong with my love,’ Neel asked the vet who pressed his stethoscope to the peacock’s heart. The vet shook his head and drew up a list of ailments. All the rich food had damaged the bird’s heart, liver and kidneys.

Neel’s peacock died on the first harvest moon of autumn. The next day Neel packed his bags and left home. His wife never saw him again.


Reshma Ruia is a novelist, short story writer and poet based in Manchester. Her first novel Something Black in the Lentil Soup was described in the Sunday Times as “a gem of straight-faced comedy”. Her second novel manuscript, A Mouthful of Silence, was shortlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize. Her poetry collection, ‘A Dinner Party in the Home Counties,’ won the 2019 Word Masala Award. Her work has appeared in British and international anthologies and magazines such as Fictive Dream, Lost Balloon, The Nottingham Review and the Mechanics Institute Review and commissioned for BBC Radio 4. She is the co-founder of The Whole Kahani, a collective of British writers of South Asian origin.

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40 Doses – Adrian Belmes

In the balmy June of 1979, the drive-in is on fire. The smoke rises high over the Guadalupe River, but the kids on the blanket in the park across the way hardly notice. George Jr. is too busy hiking up Mary Allen’s skirt to care about the indistinct whiff of asbestos and lead in the air. It’s June; of course there’s a fire. Just last week, the dropouts from Tivy High lit up a garbage can in the Calvary Temple parking lot. Ma says it’s Satan. George Jr. knows it’s the boredom. The summer’s only started and there’s not a fucking thing to do.

Two days before, George takes Mary to the movies. He doesn’t have to beg Pa for the keys this time, so he’s feeling big as he pulls onto Gilmer Street, stops at the corner of 4th, and honks twice for the yellow house on the left. Mr. Allen eyes him through the blinds and Mary bounces out the door. She’s been waiting. They don’t kiss until George Jr. rounds the corner back down towards the 1350 block of Junction Highway, where the Bolero Drive-in’s been in Kerrville longer than he’s been on God’s tan-and-taupe-colored Earth.

Like any good boy from the vacuous heart of central Texas, George Jr. pays for his date. He counts out six dollars and two cents in change to Betty Stotts in the ticket booth. She counts it back, peels off two little pink tickets from the roll in the office, and rips them in half, keeping the numbers and handing back the stubs. It’s a stupid little process, she knows, but that’s just how it goes. Betty’s been there two decades at least. Ever since the kids skipped town, there’s not been a thing for her to do but ask Howard Hiegel up the road for a job. He’s a good neighbor, Mr. Hiegel.

Betty likes the movies well enough. The variety is nice, if the quality isn’t. Sometimes, she’ll sneak Mr. Stotts into the booth and they’ll do it like the kids, not watching at all but letting the sound drown them. Betty likes the booth. It’s cozy, but big enough for two. Her Buick doesn’t have the room for fun like that, but there’s an awful lot of seat in George Sr.’s dear old F100. After he parks the truck in the lot, all George Jr. can remember is the title card, the popcorn grease, and the thick musk of Mary Allen’s flower-printed Penny panties on the dashboard.

The projector is warming up on the 16th of June in 1979 and Betty’s thinking about calling Mr. Stotts. It’s the same damn cheap flick as before, something about a bear and a river. The toxic waste in the Ossipee makes him a killer, but Betty doesn’t know what an Ossipee is. She doesn’t know that Randy Woolls is watching her and thinking about rivers too. He’s been driving along the Guadlupe’s edge since Medina, just following the road as best he can on 40 doses of Valium.

It’s not the most Randy’s ever taken, but it’s the first time he’s taken it liquid. Two nights ago as George Jr. pulls Mary Allen’s Penny’s off her thighs in the front seat of his Ford pickup, Randy Woolls breaks the lock off a door in Hondo. What he wants is pills, but all that small-town drugstore has is vials. Maybe that’s why he miscalculates. In Medina, Randy’s digging a needle into his arm and hoping he’s missing the muscle. There’s hardly a viable line in the grey and skinny flesh of his bicep. It burns all the way down. In Kerrville, Randy sweeps crushed cans of Coors off the floor with his feet as he leaves his Chrysler in a ditch off McFarland, lurching across two intersections to the 1350 block of Junction Highway.

Randy’s stumbling through the sodium lights. Betty’s still thinking about calling Mr. Stotts when he hits her over the head with a tire iron. There’s some debate about the origin, but the jury later figures Randy found it somewhere in the lot. With so many cars passing through, it seems likely that something should fall out of a boot in the bustle and nobody should notice. The shock of the impact strikes Betty dumb, just long enough to push her into the little closet at the back of the booth, knocking rolls and rolls of tickets off the shelf. Randy Lynn Woolls cuts her throat when she screams. He’s never killed before and, even now, he doesn’t think he’s killing. He still doesn’t think he’s killing when he stabs her nine times and throws his lighter in.

Betty’s alive when she sees the rolls of pink tickets catch fire and the plastic start to melt. In all, it takes minutes, just enough for the light to change on the intersection of Main and Junction Highway. The cars are turning right into the lot again, so Randy closes the door and opens the register. In court, he claims he doesn’t remember this part, but George Jr.’s got both hands firmly on the wheel in the drive-in. Maybe he thinks it strange that Betty’s out for the night, but he can’t smell the smoke as Randy Lynn Woolls takes his two cents and six dollars, peels off two pink tickets, and hands back the stubs. He’s got other things on his mind.

George Jr. circles twice. The night is packed. He smells the popcorn and thinks about Penny panties. He’s burning, but Mary Allen is nervous with 400 spots tight in the carpark. You really wanna watch this again, George? Why don’t we get some fresh air? By the time George pulls out, the booth gets too hot for Randy to stay. He empties the register, takes the keys to Betty’s beater off the counter, and shuts the door. The movie’s just getting started as the parking Buick swerves and clips the bumper of the fleeing Ford. George Sr. asks about it later, but tonight, George Jr. zips back onto Junction Highway. Mary Allen gets all the sky in Laura Hays Park as Betty burns in the Bolero. The kindling’s mighty good.

Mr. Hiegel doesn’t see the fire for another ten minutes. He sees Betty’s Buick first, and that ain’t Betty in the driver’s seat. It’s Randy that’s kicking his feet onto the dash and counting the bills and change. His hands can hardly grip the paper as it goes tumbling into the cracks. Later, the court tells him it was 600 dollars and he marvels at the sum. It couldn’t have been that good a movie, not that he was watching. Mr. Hiegel’s watching the ticket booth. Twenty minutes after Betty dies, he calls it in. He’s a good neighbor.

By the time George Jr. takes his face out of Mary Allen’s Penny’s in the park long enough to see the squad car lights and big red engine come down Junction Highway, the column of ash that’s been pouring out the ticket booth has irreparably damaged the screen of the Bolero drive-in. It never quite gets repaired, and every actor in every film that’s ever shown after looks a little grey in the face. Nobody notices that night, but they do the day after when the whole thing hits the papers. Randy Lynn Woolls, too gutted to move under the influence of drugs and beer, is still sitting in the car when he’s arrested. On 40 doses of Valium, your honor, there’s no way Mr. Woolls knew what he was doing.

In the August of 1989, Randy’s on the table and the technician can’t find a vein. An addict all his life, he’s got no trouble pointing out a thin line of blue on the back of his palm. When the plunger gets pulled, it burns all the way down. Nobody’s crying when they close the Bolero that year. There’s just no interest in drive-ins anymore.


Adrian Belmes is a reasonably depressed Ukrainian Jew residing in San Diego. He is the EIC of Badlung Press and has been previously published in Riggwelter, X-R-A-Y, and elsewhere. His chapbook, “this town and everyone in it”, was published by Ghost City Press. You can find him at

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 35 Contents Link

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A Great Fire – Anthony David Vernon

Oak crackles, evergreens blacken, a great fire consumes a forest. Scurrying upon some high branch a bird collects droplets of water from fruit dropping them from its beak onto the fire.

A panther approaches the bird, “You know you cannot extinguish this fire with droplets of water.”

The bird replies, “This I know but I do what I can.”

A gator slouching along a bank sees the fire and takes action, wiggling through water to the fire. The gator uses his open jaw as a shovel heaving water onto the fire.

The panther approaches the gator, “You know you cannot extinguish this fire with mouthfuls of water.”

The gator responds, “Just trying to do something.”

The bird and the gator continued their efforts in vain for hours until a great rain came and extinguished the great fire.

The panther once more approached the bird, “See, what was the point of your efforts, when you knew you could not extinguish the fire? You should have left it be.”

The bird rebuttals, “Rain may come, rain may not show, all I know is that I am that which I can control.”

The panther once more approaches the gator, “Why did you do something when doing nothing would have also led to the fire being extinguished? No flame lasts forever.”

The gator answers, “Sure, I could spend all my time biding along this bank and watch the world through my slits pass by as gentle breezes do. Or I could swim rapidly through the freshwater before me. The choice is my own. Yet I cannot decide to swim or bide based on what will or may come. All my slits see is what is now.”

The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 35 Contents Link

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The Woman in the Wedding Cake Tree – Martha Higgins

Janice is astounded as a woman perches precariously on the top tier of the wedding cake tree in her back garden. The woman stores her books, clothes and high heels on the two bottom tiers in neat bundles. Her long dark hair falls onto the white blossoms and her silky blood red dress drapes over the tree. Janice peeps from a corner of the kitchen window as the woman picks some blossoms nonchalantly and throws them on the ground. Janice’s eyes widen, she loves that tree, she and Adam bought it together after their honeymoon on a July day when joyfulness seemed so easy.

The woman puts blossoms in her mouth savouring them slowly. Janice creeps around the walls of rooms peeping out the windows hoping the woman doesn’t see her daily wanderings where she touches or picks up all the things she and Adam bought together. The house smells differently since he left, that slightly spicy man smell is gone with him and Janice’s body is drooping with terror and grief.

In the evenings the woman in the tree wears silky soft grey pyjamas, her toenails are painted red and she stretches out precariously on a branch and arches her feet salaciously.

Janice tearfully calls Adam.

Jan, you need to pull yourself together, what the hell are you talking about? Look, we each have our own lives to live now. You know we agreed all this. You need to stop getting ridiculous ideas.

Janice listens miserably, wondering how she got to be an annoying stranger to him.

Look, I need to go, Mia and I are going out to dinner, just do you best, ok?

Janice’s voice wobbles with unformed sobs.

I’m afraid of that woman in the tree.

Oh for God’s sake, stop being so bloody crazy Jan, nobody could put up with you.

Janice drops the phone and falls to her knees clutching her stomach as her body feels like it is breaking apart in the middle. She sobs until the singing from the garden catches her attention. She creeps to the window and sees the woman back again and singing softly to herself. She sees Janice and holds up a sign; “SLIDE SHOW AT 7PM”

Curiosity pushes Janice to sit at a corner of the kitchen window before 7pm. The woman sways slightly as she kneels on a branch holding a group of large cards. She smiles kindly at Janice for the first time as she slowly holds up one card and then another.

1. Adam and Mia in a sunbeam, looking lovingly at each other

2. Adam and Mia’s tangled limbs in Adam’s car

3. A new house with a chandelier in every room

4. The Eiffel Tower looms over Adam and Mia on a Bateaux Mouches on the river Seine

5. At a party, Adam is drinking copiously and telling jokes, Mia sits there uncomfortable and irrelevant

6. Adam stands under a chandelier berating Mia and then storms out of the house in disgust

7. Adam arrives home with flowers

8. Adam is choosing clothes for Mia to wear

9. Mia sits crying at the kitchen table and Adam tells her she must learn lessons for her own good

10. Mia sits alone in the kitchen at midnight, Adam hasn’t come home

Janice slides to the floor and sits staring at the kitchen wall, at some stage she pulls a cushion off a kitchen chair and lays her head on it on the floor. She wakes cold and achy; robotically she gets up to look out the window. The blossoms strewn on the ground are the only signs of the recent occupation of the tree.

Slowly she begins to pack up all Adam’s things that he carelessly left behind. She then cleans the house, wiping down all the surfaces carefully. In the evening she puts a large green bin bag with Adam’s things on the front doorstep and ties it tightly. Then she sits at the kitchen table and speaks softly.

It’s ok, Janice, it’s ok.


The Cabinet Of Heed Issue 35 Contents Link

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