flash fiction, flashfiction, microfiction, short story, shortstory

Nettles and Gunsmoke

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Doubled over.  Stepping gingerly through the nettles and the low-lying gun smoke.   A chill on the morning, dew darkening the shin-high leaves, the bark.   Straightening up, arching back, pressing knuckles into flannelled kidneys.  A sharp crack and a scarlet, jellied sneeze splashes the nettles.

Don’t lose a contact lens in the forest during hunting season.

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flash fiction, flashfiction, short story, shortstories, shortstory

‘Better The Devil’

This story was featured in Issue 5 of The Lonely Crowd but I think enough time’s passed to share it here now.

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“Long ago, it was, government creeping in through every crack like fog at night.   While most were fast asleep, this woman boiled her blood to fight authority…”

“What’s ’at?” calls a voice at the back.  Daft face, sweet as sherbet, easily found in a room full of rolling eyes.  Someone else slaps their forehead and the sound crosses the hall.

“Government.  ’Nother word for.  Like police.  Like org’nised crime.  Anyway, this woman slapped government’s hands whenever she caught ’em robbing us, and they were always robbing us.  ‘Don’t ever forget!’ she’d tell them.  ‘You’re jus’ our hired help!’  And she’d chew their fists ’til she was spitting out teeth.  She once blew a loose tooth straight through three government, bam bam bam, holes in their chests so big the wind was playin’ ’em like a whistle.  Another time, she took a whole field to keep it safe from stealing, pulled it clean off the earth like a table cloth, folded it up, stuck it under her shirt.  Government was furious, couldn’t work out where it’d gone.  She’d left a trail of earth crumbs, too, but she went back in the dead of night and buried those in the ground… That field’s one of those right outside, only no-one’s sure which.   And did I tell you about the time she marched right up to government’s house with a sloshing can of petrol in each hand?”

There’s a change in the charge of the room.   It’s a good bit, this.   Everyone loves this bit!  What the hell happens in this bit?   Pouring sweat, I fall out through a side door and into the night, where the Devil’s waiting in the shape of a goose.

“You’ve forgotten what comes next, haven’t you?” says the Devil, and we both laugh, me with my hands around his long neck and him sounding like a goose being strangled.  “Rubbish stories!” he laughs through my fingers.  “None of ’em believe…”  I bung his head under my armpit.

The night tar black past the light spilling out the door.  The noise inside roars to the high pointy wooden ceiling and all the way down again.  Fling my hair out my face, I’m back in for more.  A few running about the back plant their cheeks on their bench when they see me on stage again.  My lips and tongue clack – “Do you remember?  Ladies and gentlemen.  Do you remember?!”  I can’t remember.  The Devil’s leaning in through the window, laughing, laughing, beak wide apart, neck rolling in waves.   I lose my thread.

“A, B, C, D…” I’m awful at names.

“She!” shout the pews.

“She!  Yes.  She said, ‘I need help with this, I can’t beat them all alone’, so she set fire to the sea to raise an alarm.  The whole English Channel, whoosh, up in flame, night clouds orange, red and yellow with it.  ‘That’ll get help’, she said.  ‘They’ll see this for sure’. Only problem was, other countries had government too and no-one came.  The fire washed out and the sky went dark and no-one came.”

The sweat’s on me again, like spit on a tooth.  They’re booing.  My telling’s poor tonight.  They’ve heard it better before and they’re restless, feet scraping and stamping on the floorboards, so I stop, though I’ve not left them anywhere good to go away on.  I wave ‘em away.  They pile out the front and I’m off out the side.  I need a splash of moon on my skin while the night’s still fresh.   Grab some air into my lungs.   Goose at my side, we away from the village as fast as old muscles’ll do.

 

After a spell, I kick my heels against the path to try raising sparks, amuse the Devil who’s awful quiet, but I only drag up dust, roll the odd stone.  I don’t mind the dark.  I’ve known this land for decades.  Where the shade’ll pool in daytime, how deep, at what hours.  I used to wobble up here on my bike before any of that lot behind were even born, my wife walking in front.   We’d stop by this paddock here to feed sugar lumps over the fence and laugh at the slobber sliding down our finger.

“What you blubbing for?” asks the Devil, having a go at my ankle with his beak.  I chase him, he runs, our larks stopping my foolery.  I lose his darting among other shapes out here but when I tire of this and move on, he’s back at my side.

The path ‘comes a bridge now, over the motorway.   We stop partway over, same as always.  My wife and I would lean right over, hands on the railing, to see the roofs disappearing under.   The bridge’d tremble when lorries slammed past, push and pulling the air.  Our tops’d fly up off our bodies.  Now it’s dark and still as the rest of everywhere tonight.  Weeds down there where traffic used to be, stretched far as the eye can see, both ways.  I used to tell about my wife losing a fight and being stuck in a cannon, shot through the air to the horizon there, but I know that’s not what happened.  I’d have begged to get shot out the cannon after her, annoyed ’em so much they’d have done it gladly.

Blank on what the point of that story was now!  I turn to ask the Devil but he’s off, flap, flappin’ down the black path to the even blacker trees.  I’m thinking, ‘how slow!’  Thinking, ‘he looks heavy’.  I don’t even notice who steps out to stab me.  They breathe into my face.  Their breath stinks, wet on my face.  “Government!” they spit.  And shove me over the railing.

 

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flash fiction, flashfiction, microfiction, short story, Uncategorized

One-Man-Band On The Run

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I’m a oneman band, when the crowds are tough, a oneman marching band.  I’ve had more coins thrown at me by the afternoon cathedral drunks than dropped into my hat.  I’m an unloved oneman band.

The bass-drum’s my Achilles’ heel.  I’m old school, I don’t think it’s right to perform to backing tapes like seems to be the norm nowadays, but can I keep a beat? Can I fiddle!

I practice at home, foot, pedal, foot, pedal, ’til the neighbours bang on the walls.   They’re better percussionists than me, I should rope them into the act.

The precinct on a Saturday, rain curtaining off the eaves. A couple of Community Support officers look over as they pass, but they don’t seem too interested. Them and everyone else.

Can’t wait to go home today, before I mould.  My harmonica suddenly makes the most godawful squawk when I blow.  I blow harder.

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flashfiction, short story

‘The Visitors’

( Published in the anthology ‘Inside These Tangles, Beauty Lies’ )

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Who are these people and when are they going home?

They say they are friends or relations of my father, that he invited them to visit.   I don’t know when that could have been, though, since the last time I saw him, his boots were dancing on thin air, and I was only big enough to see him sat on someone’s shoulders above the crowd.

My brother and I fled the city and his name, and after weeks of half-starved wandering found this farmhouse, remote, abandoned, on the edge of a stubbled field.  We learned to forage in the woods, catch occasional fish from streams, avoid the things that made us vomit from both ends.  We are neither of us the plumpest of lads but the Lord provides, if you are open to receive his lessons.

These have been terrible times, but we each must steer our souls through this world as best we can. Uncomfortable as it is for my brother and me, sleeping under the kitchen table, I have tried to keep a welcome in my heart for our visitors, though I fear they do not respect us.  Every day they do violence to my charity.

Weeks ago, a cow was brought into the house and led upstairs to much hilarity.   It was soon discovered that the cow was unwilling or able to come back down and had to stay.  Alas, it quickly ceased to amuse as a pet. When finally it starved, they tore the floorboards up for kindle and roasted the carcass, there in the dung-deep middle of what once had been my room.  I offered to be responsible for future fires, while the house still stood.

It is in this pursuit that I am outside now, log chopping.  The woods beyond darken by the moment, and the temperature is falling fast.  My pile is still small.

A piss-pot was flung through an unopened window yesterday, and I can hear their carousing from within.  As my hatchet drops into the damp green wood, I try not to distinguish my brother’s voice amongst them.

I stand with my back to the house as I swing, the raw evening air rushing at me from across the fields.  My feet stamp the ground, though for warmth or readying, reminding my head that I could run, I cannot tell.

Another log cleaves in half for me.

My brother is the only blood I have left not bottled in my veins and this has been a fine and quiet house until now.

I shall not run nor leave him to their spoiling.

I feel the weight in my hand, and wonder if it is my father or my Father who has put it there.

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flashfiction, short story

‘Brockley Hill’

(Shortlisted for Land Rover/GQ/Soho House 2011 short story competition, published in ‘City Stories’ collection. )

city stories

The stars twinkle, smudged, like cat’s eyes in the road.   I’m standing in the doorway, looking out.

“I want to go home”, Jane says behind me, same as every night.   “I want my things.  I don’t want to live in a shitty leaky shed for the rest of our lives.”

“This roof doesn’t leak.”

“It leaks when it’s not even raining.   Please can we go back?  Just to check everything’s alright and pick up a few bits.  We’ll be fine.  Looters don’t come out in bad weather.”

“What bad weather?” I say, but then it starts, suddenly, like someone threw a switch, and I come back inside, and she’s proved right about the roof.

We’re sleeping on the floor of an abandoned pitch and putt shop, just off a roundabout on the way to the M1.  No-one’s used the course in years, and the bunkers are grown over with grass.  I used to come here with my older brother and dad as a kid.   This is one of the places where London stops, becomes lumpy, unused land, stretching out into Middlesex and Herts.    Before the war, there were plans to build a Tube station across from where we are, extend the Northern Line out to Bushey Heath and spread the city further.  All that’s there to show for it now are two brick stumps in the middle of a field, unfinished viaduct arches, covered in graffiti.

I’ve seen campfires out by them at night, but not mentioned them to Jane.  I don’t trust anyone but her now.

When the government finally ran out of money to service the cities, we went to work until there was no work to go to.    Then, days, we’d walk for hours, looking for anywhere still open that sold food.   Negotiating the garbage, knee-high in the streets.  Hurrying home before sunset, and the riots.  Nights, we stayed in our flat, listening to shouts, bangs, car wrecks, trying to guess how close they were.    “We’re in the suburbs,” Jane would tell me.  “How bad can it get?”  When the sheltered housing block next door was burned to the ground in the middle of a blossom-blowing Sunday afternoon, we locked the front door of our flat and set off with whatever we could fit in the boot of our car.

We were carjacked before we’d gone five miles.  There’s never a policeman around when you need one nowadays, not since they stopped getting paid.

The pitch and putt is meant to be a stop-gap measure.  Surely this can’t last forever.   We paid our taxes, did what we were told.  The government owe us.  This is the first world.

Jane, formerly a recruitment consultant, has started trying to catch the rabbits living on the course.   I’ve never seen an office worker move so fast.   For all her efforts, though, our clothes are hanging off us.  I watch her running between the bunkers, and, if I didn’t already know who she was, I wouldn’t recognise her.  I’m not even sure I’d recognise which century she’s from.

This morning, for once, I didn’t start with a shout.  I tried spooning against Jane but she began stirring and muttering obscenities so I disengaged myself and have come outside.   When she gets up, we’ll set off for the flat, but I may as well let her sleep while she’s able.

 A milky mist is filling the air and with the sun behind, it seems lit from within, soft and yellow, so it’s hard to tell how near or far anything is.

 I walk out to the edge of the road, sticking close to the shrubbery to not draw attention from the traffic crawling past.

There’s activity out by the viaduct stumps.  Tent cloth flapping, I think.  Smoke.

I want to see more, so step out, between the cars, crouching low, down by the bumpers.  Why did the chicken cross the road?  Because his wife was having a lie-in and he was hungry and bored.

I’m across the two lanes.  Over the crash barrier, into the field.

The last time another human being who wasn’t Jane spoke to me, they dragged me out my car and beat me half to death, I remind myself.  On the other hand, we’ve not eaten in three days.

I squat with a spiky bush against my back, watching the mist thin.   Wondering if Jane’s up yet.

Thinking of turning back.

Thinking of going forward.

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‘I Am What I Am’

(Winner of the ‘Jukebox Story’ flash fiction contest at North London Lit Fest, April 2014 )

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I am what I am, I am my own special creation.  First editing Nature’s mistype with the white-out of Mum’s make up.  Then tonsorial experiments, sartorial over-elegance, a wiggle added to walk and talk that caught people’s breaths like burrs on a bush.

As the millennium burnt itself out and we tiny competitive stars strove to flare with light, cosmetics moved from powders and grease smears to the sharp-tongued touch of the medical and surgical, kissing my skin, my body opening up.

‘I admire your guts’ gasped a client, mouth inches away from them.  ‘What imagination’, sighed another, atremble.  Credit my clever accountants, I thought.

But the value of investments can go up as well as down.  Past performance is not a guide to future performance.  Gravity tugged.  Cells collapsed.

So in came the implants.

The mechanics.

The bionics.

I am now in the tiresome process of leaving physical form entirely.  Each day, my plastic lungs exhale my voice into microphones while cameras capture, catch what they can.  Lasers nib my profile.

All of these files will eventually corrupt, disintegrate.  Bits and bytes of me’ll drift through the networks, bright plankton in black oceans. I’ll be everywhere.  I can’t wait.

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