Saturday, July 23, 2016

Flash Fiction from DL Shirey

Monocle is for M

The little bell tinkles a half-tone brighter when Maximilian walks in.  He dresses like an English gent, but his is not English.  Nor is he wearing the monocle when he enters the tea shop.  As if flourishing a cape, he strolls with drama, elongated arm swings aside his lengthy strides.  He has no cape, but the finely-tailored suit would look so-much-the-better if he had.  His crisp shirts are monogrammed on the pocket, an M bookended by fleurs-de-lis.  There's even a special pocket in the pocket for the monocle.

Ask him his name and he'll answer it fully, neither Max or Maxi.  Friends may call him M, yet he's never brought a friend to the tea shop.  He leaves with one quite often.

He and I have a standing joke.  It comes after I ask what kind of tea he wants.  "Oolong," he says, rattling off the country of origin he prefers that day.  M knows tea and the perfect steeping time fore each variety, but he loves this little moment.  I'll ask him how many minutes the Shui Xian should steep?  "Ooo. Long."  He says and laughs his one loud ha.

Now the monocle.  It glints from his pocket; the half arch of lens, ringlet and chain, protruding like a tethered sunrise.  M sweeps his manicured pinkie under the slack of chain, then, reeling in his catch, pinches the ringlet at the apex of its arc.  M holds the monocle in brief concentration to read the chalked list of fresh baked goods.  Warm butter cookies are his favorite, and no other sweets seem to tempt him.

Except the ladies.

M sits at the tiny table farthest from the door, and adjusts the fold of the linen napkin.  He moves the teaspoon, cup and saucer to their proper places and waits for the teapots.  Two of them.  At the very peak of steep, he strains leaves by pouring from one pot to the other.  I can see his lips move beneath the pencil-thin mustache, a silent chant to accompany transfer of liquids.  As the stream reduces to a meager trickle, his eyes close with reverence.  To the empty pot he nods thanks, the same to the full.  The sacrament closes with one last embellishment:  M takes the monocle and holds it over the steaming pot of tea.  With a figure-eight motion, which is either a sign of infinity or the most efficient method to fog the lens, he oscillates the eyepiece, and cleans it with his spotless handkerchief.

M twists the monocle into the squint below his bushy brow, and eyes the patrons in the tea shop, lingering on each woman.  I quietly remove the empty pot and place the top on the full one.  M rests his fingertips gently atop the vessel as one might the planchette of a Ouija board.  A pleased grin curls his cheeks, his long lashes flick the monocle.  The tea remains uncupped until one woman meets his eye.

Only then he pours.

DL Shirey has had several fiction and non-fiction pieces published, most recently in Zetetic, Unbound Octavo and The Literary Hatchet.  He writes from Portland, Oregon, where it's now raining, most likely.  You can find more of his writing at

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Twabble by Denny E. Marshall

Undertaker Resting

2 teens sneak into funeral home.  Open caskets.  Never return.  Dead bodies didn't scare them.  The live one with fangs did.

Denny E. Marshall has had art, poetry, and fiction published.  Some recently.  See more at

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Flash Fiction by Michelle Ann King

Eternally Fecund

Every day, it was eggs.  Boiled eggs.  Not scrambled, poached or fried, not even an omelette.  Jerry could have dealt with that, but no.  Every day, she ate boiled eggs.  The pinprick in the rounded end, the fast boil, the perfectly timed three minute simmer.  The unvarying, inviolate quality of sacred ritual.  It made him nervous.

"I like eggs," she said, when he insisted on explanations.  As if anything was that simple.

He became worried about the violence of it:  the crushing of their flecked brown skulls with the back of her teaspoon, the deliberate picking away of their protective shell, the exposure of their soft inner flesh.

"Would you smash my head in like that?" he asked.  "Sprinkle salt on my brains and eat them?"

She gave this some thought while yolk dripped from her lips and nausea tightened in his throat.  "I suppose so," she said, "if I was hungry enough.  We do whatever it takes to stay alive.  And sometimes life demands sacrifices."

Jerry looked away.  He didn't like it when she talked like this.  She never used to.  When he met her she was sweet and golden and pliable, and she looked at him like he was a hero.  She told him her name was Iku.  She said it meant "nurturing" in Japanese.  He thought that was sweet, too.

"I think you were a witch in a previous life," he said.  "Making voodoo dolls, souring milk and cursing your neighbors."

"A previous life," she said, and laughed.  He didn't like it when she laughed at him.  Especially when he couldn't see what was funny.

She didn't answer to Iku anymore, and she didn't treat him like a hero.

She put down her spoon.  "The eggs are symbolic," she said.  "I am consuming possibilities, filling my belly with potential.  By making the egg part of my body.  I am assured of regeneration.  I am eternally fecund."

This is how she talked to him now.  Fecund.  Was he supposed to know what that meant?  The word made him feel more nauseated than the eggs.

"What happened to you?" he asked.

She might have looked sad, but he might have imagined it.  "What always does," she said.

You scare me, he thought.

"I know," she said, and cracked another egg.

Michelle Ann King was born in East London and now lives in Essex.  She writes mostly speculative fiction and has published short stories in over sixty different venues, including Strange Horizons and Interzone.  Her first collection, Transient Tales, is available in ebook and paperback now.  See for details.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Flash Fiction by Brindley Hallam Dennis

Purpose Served

It was a week after the house-clearers had done their job that Chirwell realized he had forgotten to remove Auntie Lenya's tin from under the stairs.

It was a biscuit tin, and once upon a time, in bright colors, had shown the inches-deep ford that carried the main street across a nineteen thirties' English village green.  The colors had long ago faded and the tin was scratched and somewhat dented.  The lid still fitted, with a little persuasion, but the hinges, thin strips of metal cut out of the lid and inserted through slits punched into the body of the tin, had given up the ghost.

It had been part of his fifties childhood.  Hollow-cast toy soldiers made of lead had been billeted there.  Farm animals had been shedded there, briefly, when the wars were over.  Then, pens and pencils, and a pencil sharpener.  It had followed Chirwell to university, and had been rescued from the wreckage of his first marriage, when little else was.  For a short time it had served as a lunchbox.  It had stood on shelves, mantelpieces, and coffee tables--still retaining, to the most sensitive nostrils, a faint tang of "certain substances" that had resided in it during the early eighties.  It had passed into cupboards, and after that to the top of the wardrobe in the spare bedroom.  Finally, it had been buried on the narrow ledge besdie the electricity meter beneath the stairs.  Whey there, you might ask?  There had never been any thought, in Chirwell's mind, of throwing it out.

It's a family heirloom, he told his wife.  I can't just abandon it.  Heirloom wasn't the word she would have used, but she understood.

The house was still empty, and still theirs.  It was just a matter of driving over.  They could make a day of it, take a picnic, visit the park they used to take the kids to.  That was better, surely, than driving four hours, there and back, purely to retrieve an old biscuit tin.

As they drove down the motorway, Chirwell remembered the last time he had looked inside it.  Lifting it down from the wardrobe, which was going to a furniture charity because they were having built-in storage installed.  He had realized from the weight that there was something inside.  He hadn't remembered putting anything in it when it had gone up on the wardrobe.  Something had moved too, like nuts and bolts or screws maybe.  He had laid it on the spare bed and prized the lid off.

It was jewelry.  Not a treasure trove.  Not even what you'd call costume jewelry.  It was just old necklaces and beads, and bangles you'd wear on your wrist, or would have done a couple of decades before, if you'd been his mother.  They weren't worth anything, he was pretty sure of that, but he could remember finding them in a cardboard tray that must have been the bottom of a box that something had come in.  He'd been clearing his mother's house and had taken the tray home and had tipped the contents into the tin.  And sitting on the bed in the spare room with the tin beside him, suddenly the recollection of sitting on the bed in his mother's empty bedroom was so strong he could feel it in his muscles, and he shifted himself into exactly the position he had taken then, twisting his left shoulder forward, and drawing his right leg up slightly, easing himself into the past.

They're not likely to have taken it, he said, meaning the house-clearers, meaning the tin.

They're not even likely to have seen it, his wife said.  And they gave each other one of those looks that married couples have when they're making it up as they go along in front of children, or relatives, or friends.

But the house-clearers were professionals, and they had missed nothing.  The tin was gone.  He rang, of course, but it wasn't listed among the items set aside for auction.  Nobody spoke the word landfill, but that, presumably, was its fate, contents and all.

The memory though, of sitting on the bed with the cardboard tray, didn't go away again.

Brindley Hallam Dennis is an English writer of short stories.  He lives on the edge of England within sight of three mountain tops and a sliver of Solway Firth.  He blogs at and can be found on Vimeo at BHDandMe

Friday, July 15, 2016

Flash Fiction by Dominy Clements

The Moon-Faced Girl

Maddy enjoyed her work in the cosmetics department of a large city department store, but her enthusiasm towards closing time that Saturday was already waning when she spotted a pair of women approaching her station.  She guessed a mother and her moon-faced daughter.

"Helnnhho?" -- oh god, a speech impediment.

"Yes, how can I help you?"

"Itsth my daughter (nngh).  Sthie's getting m-m-marjiennd n wantsth to loo'good."

"Well, congratulations. . ."

Maddy looked at the moon-faced girl, and the moon-face stared back vacantly.  Brisk efficiency was the only solution, so she set to work.

"Ok.  Looking at your complexion and face shape, I'd suggest something subtle--just to lift your color and make you look radiant.  I would avoid bright tints and too much sculpting (or you'll end up looking like a circus clown, she thought to herself). . .Some foundation, a light blush, maybe some eyeliner to enhance your eyes. . ."  Maddy reached down a selection of products ready to close a sale but, seeing a pair of blank looks, her heart sank.  This would take more effort.

"Do you want me to show you?"

Nods of acknowledgment, and Maddy guided the moon-faced girl toward the make-up stool.

It was late in the afternoon, and the store seemed quieter than usual.  Maddy glanced at her watch as she donned her latex gloves, hoping these would be her last of the day.  She took out her selection of brushes.

"Do you have a good make-up kit at home?"

A shake of the moon-faced head was the reply.

"So, you'll need pads and brushes--we have all of those things here . . . Can you see in the mirror?  So this is your foundation . . . Just applying gently to even out your skin tone . . ."

Maddy started work with her soft brushes but the moon-face had a large area to cover.  She had to stifle a giggle, imagining herself having to call in DIY for a wide paintbrush or roller, but soon began to wonder if she would actually be able to finish before closing time.

How could she have underestimated the moon-face?

Maddy worked on and on, but her arms were beginning to ache.  The make-up stool was already at its lowest setting but she was struggling.  Maddy fetched the step on wheels that the cosmeticians use for reaching the higher shelves, but that forehead still seemed to be beyond reach.  With as steady a voice as she could muster, she tried to keep everything as normal and routine as possible.

"Can you see how it goes on?  Just gentle strokes . . ."

It was no good.  Maddy would have to fetch the ladder from the stockroom.  It seemed there was no-one around--nobody she could call for help.  Her footsteps echoed on the shiny floor.  She felt stupid and ridiculous, as if it was her first apprentice day on the job.

The ladder wasn't made for the shiny shop floor and it felt wobbly and unsafe, but Maddy persisted.

"You want to make sure you have a complete covering, otherwise you'll end up blotchy or with your make-up looking like a mask, and we don't want that . . ."

She was still having to reach upwards on that moon-face.  It was a large store, but the space seemed to be shrinking in relationship to the scale of the task at hand.

"So, now you're starting to look radiant already . . ."

The moon-face shimmered, and the neon lights in the department dimmed.  Little flakes of foundation were falling away from the moon-face, making it look rougher and more cratered the closer you looked.  Maddy was a perfectionist and so this was intolerable.

"You might find there is some movement on the skin, so you can tidy up any imperfections with . . . a . . . smaller brush . . . See?"

She worked on.  The shop illuminations around her shrank as the moon-face became ever more dominant.  Maddy felt herself lost in a constellation of gently flickering points of light.

There was no longer any sensation of ground beneath her.  The moon-face was her only place of orientation, but in engulfed her in its magnitude.

"Now, you'll want just a little bit of color . . . to lift . . . the look . . ."

But there was no color, just blinding whites and silvery edges.  Motes of bright dust lay suspended in the air, their reflections competing with ever more distant starlights in their velvet infinity of blackness.

Maddy thought she heard a voice calling from the far distance.

"Don' forget tho do the Thea of Tranquilithy . . ."

Dominy Clements studied composition and flute at the Royal Academy of Music in London from 1983 to 1987, moving to the Netherlands in 1987 to study with Louis Andriessen at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague.  His opera, An Enlightened Disciple of Darkness, was performed at the Nargen Festival in Tallinn in 2013, a work celebrating the life of Bernhard Schmidt (1879-1935), inventor and designer of a lens which revolutionized astronomy in the early 20th century.  He is currently employed as manager Career Deveolpment Office of the Royal Conservatoire, works as a freelance writer, translator and musician, and has had numerous stories published as a writer of fiction.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Flash Fiction by Madeleine McDonald

A Grave Matter

"I got the job, Dad.  I came here to tell her about it."

Dad gave her a hug.  "Of course.  She's part of the family."

They turned to go.  As a small child Lucy had asked him what the mound in the field was, and why the tractors always went round it.

"It's Celtic barrow.  A grave for an important person."  Lucy knew about graves because of visiting Nana in the peaceful churchyard.  She named the person in their barrow Izzy.  As the summers passed, she sprawled in the grass that covered the burial chamber, and confided her secrets to Izzy.

She imagined Izzy no older than herself, asleep in the comforting dark, surrounded by homely belongings.  Lucy kept her most treasured possession on her windowsill, a shard of Celtic pottery she had found in a newly ploughed field.

Dad told her more about the Parisi tribe.  Hundreds of years before the Romans conquered England, the Celtic Parisi arrived from France, settling in the chalk uplands that edged the vale of York and the wetlands that stretched east to the sea.

One day Dad said, "When I'm out here on my own, I feel them keeping me company."

"Like ghosts, you mean?"

He ruffled her hair.  "Nothing so dramatic, petal.  They farmed here, just like me and your mum.  Their kids helped with the harvest, like you and Tom.  They probably grew wheat too."  He gestured at the rippling hills that surrounded the village.  "The Romans called this the breadbasket of the north."

"Did they eat sandwiches like we do?"

Dad considered.  "I don't know.  Maybe.  People will always need to eat, so someone will farm this land in a thousand years' time.  Someone will take a photo from the air and see the outline of our farmhouse.  That means you and me, and Mum, and Tom, we'll still be here, keeping our descendants company."

"So I'll be like Izzy?"

"I reckon so, pet."

Madeleine McDonald is a Scot with a French passport.  She plunders family life for light-hearted newspaper columns, and writes romance novels.  Her third novel, A Shackled Inheritance, set in the turbulent years leading to Britain's abolition of slavery, was recently published by The Wild Rose Press and is available at

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Drabble by Theresa A. Cancro

A Team

Jack was never a joiner, but this day would be different.  He'd left street life behind at the shelter.

Clippers snipped away now, stray hairs fell to the floor.  Smells of crisp uniforms, leather boots and shoe polish swirled nearby.

Throughout training, he'd kept his cool as shots were fired, showed his sharp focus.  Sarge had been impressed.

"Jack!  Over here."  Sergeant George's eyes lit up.  "Come on, boy, let's show 'em what you got!"  Sarge was one super guy.  He patted the German shepherd's back with a firm hand.

They moved together as a team toward the waiting helicopter.

Theresa A. Cancro writes poetry, fiction and nonfiction.  Her work has been published internationally in print and online publications, including Kind of a Hurricane Press anthologies and journals, Lost Paper, Haibun Today, Modern Haiku, The Heron's Nest, A Hundred Gourds, Presence, Shamrock, Chrysanthemum, Cattails, The Artistic Muse, and Leaves of Ink, among others.