Issue 1 Has Arrived!

It’s happened! The twelve stories that feature in our very first issue have just been published on this blog and simultaneously on our Twitter page; please do have a read of them, we are proud to present some fantastic new short fiction.

The stories are all featured on this site; scroll down to see them individually. You can also search for stories by category in the sidebar. The stories are also collected under the Issue 1 Category

 

Issue 1 is also available as a free PDF file for you to download or read online. You can access the PDF file here. Happy reading and enormous thanks to all our contributors.

Margaret

MacMaster’s Bad Lump

By Barbara Jamison McAskill

MacMaster is still up. Square-shouldered and bearded, heavy booted and reeking of loneliness. He’s had a few. Yawning, he sprawls as if thrown into his chair. Bad Lump pulls his head into his neck with the sting of MacMaster’s breath. Bear paw hands fold over the cat’s cringing fur. Clock ticking. Small ribs squirm for relief from their captor. MacMaster steadies his gaze at the small creature.

A spark from the Rayburn dive bombs the lino. MacMaster belts the oven door shut with a thud from his heavy boot then returns his gaze to the still-squirming ball of fur and nails.

” So…Bad Lump…caught any vermin today? Mmm? There’s a touch of the serial killer in you, this much I know.” He bends over tighter, whispering softly now.

Poor you, no friends to play with tonight…I know how you feel. We’re two of a kind me and you…oh yes indeed…”

MacMaster slurps a kiss on Bad Lump’s nose. “You’re not a bad sort really…you’re the only lump who cares for me…”

Fuming with frustration, bones crushed, tail wagging furiously, Bad Lump tenses, prepares his escape. Nails dig deeper into hairy flesh, ears flattened, a whistle of a hiss leaks from his yellow-brown teeth. MacMaster senses the declining mood. He holds the cat up, mid-air, underneath the armpits, free from claws. Tail licked between his legs, Bad Lump knows what’s coming next: “Go on then! You’re just like the rest! Gut-bucket!”

Rupert is waiting in the wings. There’s work to be done; the hunt is on. Overweight and stumpy, he leaves belly prints in the mud. He’s in bad nick. Serrated ears, asthmatic and dusty, he joins his friend. The two little stink bombs head for their hideout at the back of the tall woods. There they go. Fur and badness. Creeping in and ducking out. Slinking through wire mesh. There, a well-padded graveyard littered with half-soaked heads, a crunch of wings and teenie bones: a stinking banquet, by day a garrison of fat round shiny blue black bottled flies. Garishly, hovering, ghoulishly savouring the stench of rotten luck.

The sound of  MacMaster snore rips the air for half a mile. As he snores, the little punks leave behind the debris scattered and splattered, slashed to ribbons. Another score on their hit list. Scissor-teethed, death-breath, needle claws. A pair of whiskered slayers is afoot. Aided and abetted, low-riding, the small murderers inch toward their prey, intent on a hideous act of cruelty.

Afterwards, they return home, gingerly, limping hind-quarters, thrashed by an out-of-towner, a backpacker, day ticket stray. This is the field of conflict. Creature-hood.

 


Author Bio: Barbara Jamison MacAskill is an artist based in the Highlands of Scotland. Barbara also provided the stunning artwork that adorns our PDF magazine for issue 1.

COWardly

By Shannon Bell

The cow watched me and chewed its cud.

“Stupid fuckin’ animal.” I gave it the finger.

“You’re lumpy as fuck,” it said. “Tragically lost in the void between younger and older, yet to figure out which tribe owes you a badge.”

That’s not possible. A talking cow? And how could a creature renowned for been dumb see straight to my core, voicing feelings I kept hidden in the basement of my soul?

I stormed across the paddock. The cow laughed as I walked away.

###

I looked at the ‘Free Meat Tonight’ sign in the window, stepped into my restaurant, and checked that every person had a platter of thick, juicy steaks in front of them.

“I’m lumpy as fuck,” I said into the microphone. “Tragically lost in the void between younger and older, yet to figure out which tribe owes me a badge.” They all stared at me, confusion written on every face. “It’s ‘all the meat you can eat’ night, so dig in.”

The cow wasn’t laughing now. Oh no. Right now, most of the cow was steaming on plates in front of my diners.

I popped one of its eyes into my mouth and chewed with relish. Its heart and brain were placed before me, swimming in a rich sauce. Yes, it was rude to do it in a room full of customers, but I licked the bowl clean.

A long, low “moo” ripped up my throat, bolted past my lips and echoed through the restaurant. Heads turned, followed by gasps and screams.

Furry ears and blunt horns protruded from my head. A large, pendulous udder bulged out from my stomach and I felt my feet thickening into hooves. My nostrils flared, large and wet and dripping bovine snot onto the tablecloth.

The cow laughed, its mirth ringing through my mind.


Author Bio: Shannon Bell is addicted to words. You will find him madly writing away in the spare time he has available between holding down a full-time job, being part of a dysfunctional family and looking after his attention seeking dog. His stories have been published in three issues of Dark Edifice magazine, two Short & Twisted anthologies and three issues of 101 Fiction. You can follow Shannon at @ShannonBell1967.

Reunion

By Keren Heenan

Time is thick, achingly thick, but just for a moment, and then it rolls greyly on. They are released and their eyes shift away from each other. Mother and son and twenty years of trapped time bristling between them; busy with its rumblings and churnings, its hurts and hot, sharp words, its bitter hate-filled silences and regrets. All things unforgiven festering under false new skin.

She adjusts her glasses, as if they’ve let her down, shown her something unbidden – how small, how soft and clean he’d once been, all the world in front of him then. But she won’t turn, can’t turn. The back of his head across the crowded square, she knows this will drive the knife further into her chest. Your father is dead now, and I’m not long for this world the doctor says. She thinks the words, loudly, clearly, but can’t and won’t turn, and her feet take her further away, settling in to the rhythm after that pause, that brief hover of one foot as their eyes met across the heads of school children jostling and cursing and play-punching each other.

He wipes the back of his hand against his mouth, flings his wrist aside as if to dispense with it. Sinks one hand palm out into the back pocket of his jeans, something violent and obscene snaking into his skull, something on old legs and brittle as glass. He can’t believe it’s the same handbag. Remembers the brass clip at the top, can still feel the metal between his fingers as he unclips it, muting the sounds of the snap! Eyes on her back as she bends to the fridge or the bench, preparing another meal he won’t bother eating. The last one ever, thrown at his back as he leaves, no longer bothering to mute the snapped metal clip, no longer bothering to look aghast as another piece of jewellery goes missing, and through the red mist of his mind he takes her thin form and flings her against the wall not bothering to see if she rises. You have a grandson, and his mother keeps asking about you; who are you, where are you. He thinks the words, loudly, clearly, but can’t and won’t turn, and his feet roll on in their soft white sneakers, heel-toeing away from her half turned body, school kids shouldering her out of the way, bustling past with backpacks knocking her handbag. His feet find their rhythm as he rolls along.

When the hand on her shoulder comes, it’s electric.


Author Bio: Keren Heenan has been awarded in a number of short story competitions, and has been published in Australian journals and anthologies, and in Fish Anthology (Ire) and Aesthetica Annual (UK). Follow Keren on Twitter @keren_heenan

 

Mother’s Day

By Gill Siddle

Eileen’s youngest wasn’t coming home this year; she was away at university, one of the good ones. Eileen didn’t mind, not really.

Eileen’s world was red brick and cobbled. She’d grown up two streets over and had moved into this house, bursting with pride, shortly after her wedding. She had raised four children, now grown and gone. Encroaching modernity had never stopped her doing things the proper way, the hard way but these days there was less to do and her hands felt idle.

A card and a gift arrived, postmarked from the sandstone university town that felt further away than it was. A simple card with a heartfelt message, nice. The gift was luxury hand cream. Eileen stared down at it in her silent living room. She climbed the narrow, steep, thickly carpeted stairs and put it in the bathroom cabinet. At dinner, she gently laughed off the gift as frivolous and unnecessary but a nice thought. Her husband silently nodded while he worked the beef stew around his mouth, an image unchanged for forty years.

As she cleaned her teeth that night, she moved the cream further back into the mirrored cabinet. Guests may see it, she thought, they might think she was showy. She dried her hands and looked at them. The story of forty domestic years was in her skin.

She lay awake. Sleep would not descend. Thoughts of her children frayed the edges of her mind. Where does it all go? Are the years, the work, to be smoothed away? Gently, subconsciously, her hands wrung each other under the heavy blanket. Her husband slept soundly, loudly. She rose and crept to the bathroom.

Under the harsh strip light, she opened the cabinet and took out the hand cream. She unscrewed its gold lid and filled her palm with the white perfumed lotion. She placed both hands together and squeezed, causing the viscous liquid to squelch between her fingers, some blobbed onto the pink rug. She repeated the action. She trailed the cream up her arms, dampening her nightdress. She filled her palm again and again. She smeared it on her face, layer after layer, until the heavy perfume stung her eyes. When the tube was empty she looked in the mirror. She was grotesque. Two sad eyes stared, marooned in the gelatinous mire. Silently, she took the hand towel from the rail and wiped it all off. She put the empty tube and the towel in the bin. She went to bed and slept.


Author Bio: I don’t really have an author bio as I’m not an author but I do have a blog. It’s called Escape Grey and charts what happens when you quit your job and your flat in search of a life that fits. So far this adventure has, amongst other things, reignited a love of literature and language and has seen me pick up some editing work. It has been the experience of editing that has inspired me to pick up the metaphorical pen in recent weeks. I’m on twitter and Facebook too: www.facebook.com/Escape-Grey
@gilliansiddle

So Long Sunshine

By Paul Alex Gray

We sit on the floor of my soon-to-be old room. My legs crossed with one hand keeping the tip of my skirt down. Marc’s leaning back, smug smile slathered to his face and I think he’s playing the unblinking game again. We hear the moving van drive off.

“Manitoba eh?” he asks.

He always thinks he’s so funny.

The window is open and I wonder if I should close it. We took down the blinds and dad insisted on putting back the old curtains that apparently hung there when we first moved in. They move lazily half translucent and casting tiny pieces of dust. I watch them glow and shine in the light.

“Let’s ditch this place,” says Marc. “In fact, let’s never come back.”

He guides me out into the hall, that first wooden board at the top squeaking like always.
We pass by my Mom, checking empty cupboards. Everything echoes a little too much.

“Just a few more minutes, Sarah”, she says.

Marc leads me to the porch. All the furniture is gone and I can see more of the bushes where we once found a hundred thousand ladybugs – or so it seemed. My skin tingles in the sun. I could be lying out back, baking slowly.

“Hope you packed your snowshoes,” Marc says.

“Honestly,” I reply, wanting to say more but feeling all out of breath.

Dad’s got the car all set up, ready to go, all four doors wide open. Knowing Dad, there will be a full tank of gas, a couple of juice boxes and snacks ready to go. He looks up at me, then down, then does a double take then turns back again. I’m sure I’m freaking him out now. He moves back around, busying himself with something in the car. Marc lets go of my hand and I grab it back.

“I’ll write you,” I blurt out “I’ll call you, when I get there.”

He smiles, and it looks like he’s about to say something profound.

“Oh, wait!” he says, dashing off.

Mom comes out and shuts the door behind her. She moves down the steps and out to the car. The light flickers through the trees. Things are going too fast. Dad starts the car.

“Let’s go,” he says, but softly and without any urgency.

I stare up the street, past letterboxes and bikes laying out on lawns and kids up the street throwing water balloons.

“You don’t want to forget this.”

Marc hands me the baseball. The one we both claimed we caught and somehow always seemed to end up back at his place. I take it, squinting in the light, turning the ball in my hands. The surface feels raw and the stitches flow like a story, round and round.
Marc squeezes my hand and I think I should kiss him. The wind is picking up. It rises and races through the trees and it makes the leaves shout in whispers I cannot understand.

_________________________________________________________________

Author Bio: Paul Alex Gray enjoys writing speculative fiction that cuts a jagged line to a magical real world. His work has been published in 365 Tomorrows, 101 Words and Devolution Z. An Aussie now living in Canada with his wife and two children, Paul spends his days working in the software industry. Follow him on Twitter @paulalexgray.

Games

By Margaret McGoverne

The end of school was in sight. After the holidays, I was off to university. But for now, I had to do games. We had no money for sports equipment. Games were a distraction for me, I was a disappointment to sports; I had asthma, I was clever, I was weedy. I couldn’t sprint; a plodder. The PE teachers disdained me. But I loved cross country running, bounding over brooks and swerving to avoid nettles. I surrendered to the dirty pleasure of the run.
In the playground stood the games hut; musty, crusty socks, lost shirts and football boots. Each week I walked, shamefaced, to borrow a hockey stick. The gym mistress, a powerfully built Australian with a jutting chin and a tanned neck, always barked the same question;

“Why haven’t you got a hockey stick? It’s a compulsory piece of kit!”

More than a hundred sticks hung from hooks on the wall of the hut, leaver-bequests and lost property. Without looking, I would grab the nearest one. My kit was stuffed in my school bag; gym top washed and bleached to a buttery cream. I didn’t have hockey boots; I wore black plimsolls. Cheaper.

I ironed my gym kit the night before PE in my bedroom. My father was visiting, drunk again, and angry with me for locking him out the night before. He had banged on the front door, glaring through the letterbox.

“If you don’t let me in I’ll….”

Tonight he told me I was no longer his daughter; he would have nothing to do with me any more.

“Suits me!” I shouted, retreating to my bedroom to play records. I wrapped myself in scraps of beautiful words and music, a comfort blanket of art. I would escape to university, and never come back. I dreamt of taking my mother away, but she would never break her ties with him. They loved to hate each other.

My father would cadge when jobs were scarce. With his drinking, jobs were always scarce. He had just been in hospital; his lungs were bad, but he continued to smoke. It was a raw, cold spring, my birthday. I asked for a hockey stick but there was no money to spare. Inside my card, an IOU. Next week, mum promised.

Thursday morning; hockey today. I had a plan: I would hide in the school toilets with a book for an hour. My mother’s scream brought me to the kitchen; my father, face down on the floor, still and cold had bequeathed me nothing but bad temper, and relief.

###

Thursday. My first day back at school. He was cremated, dead and gone from the earth in seven days. Family travelled from far and wide for the funeral, all promised to stay in touch. An uncle pressed money into my hand, “Buy yourself a treat lassie; some records, something nice to wear.” I bought a hockey stick.

This Thursday, I was equipped. Joining the queue to board the bus, the games mistress brayed, “Where were you last week? Hockey season’s over! Leave that stick behind. Where’s your running shoes?”

I ran in my plimsolls, ruining them. It was alright. I was a plodder but that was alright too; I would finish the race. I was in it for the distance.


Author Bio: Margaret McGoverne is currently writing her first full length novel, while being distracted by short stories, flash fiction and her blog about all things writing.