|The Sharp End!
The Best Of The Sharpest
Stories So Far!
Fabulous Flash Fiction For
In the daylight he seems ordinary, skin hangover grey. He watches me push the last of my things into
the bag, glances at his watch, chews a nail. From outside the apartment window comes the throb of the
He has three more days.
I lean forward, unzip a side pocket, check for passport and tickets. My bra strap chafes my sunburn.
He stares at the floor. ‘It was a laugh, wasn’t it?’
I nod. Under my fingertips is the card I wrote last night – my contact details, and some nonsense about
I leave it in the bag.
Ella Mae packed more thriftily than before – taking only the essentials. So family portraits and the
meager record collection (Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby and Judy Garland) – all being left – as well as the
dented tin box on the kitchen shelf, behind the flour bags.
For this journey, purging the family of its belongings served two purposes – practicality for certain – but
this was a swan song too – adieu to her most shattered affection. So on the eve before the Sumpter
family’s migration, Ella Mae tottered to and fro on the barnyard floor. She squeezed her knees against
her breasts, eyeing the pale gray box she’d snuck from the kitchen. Through the dust and mire, the sun’
s red-yellow rays danced atop the metal, conspicuous on the crispy straw where she’d placed it. Ella
Mae swayed the whole night through; at dawn, she jutted out her slender, matronly neck and crept back
into the house. Then kneaded dough for pancakes – made of only flour and water – for her children
needed breakfast – a grueling journey lie ahead.
Ella Mae did not look back as they pulled away; she knew the abandoned box looked awkward in the
With airy spirits and wide eyes, the Sumpters bucked along craggy roads, heading west for work and
seeking refuge from their indigence. They stopped for the night just east of Topeka. Weary and
shamed by his failures, Ella Mae’s husband set up camp and the girls readied for bed. Ella Mae gasped
in horror when she saw her youngest daughter nestled in the bedroll – gripping the marred metal box.
Ella Mae met her husband’s eyes, just before he darted them downward and busied himself with kindling
and canopy stakes.
“Where did you get that?” Her heart flailed in her stomach and ears and little Lorna jerked in fright. Ella
Mae wrenched away the box and ambled from the family. She had to compose herself – the pitch in her
voice wasn’t dignified – so she wandered up the road in search of a place to brood. She held the box at
But soon enough, she clutched its bowed corners into her chest and slumped into the chalky dirt,
weeping next to a sprawling Cottonwood. She moaned – the lamentation split the night and echoed in
her bridegroom’s ears. He kneeled by the dying fire, head in hands. “I curse you God, it didn’t have to
be this way.”
Ella Mae peered into the vast Kansas sky and at long last, whispered the smoldering truth… and with all
her might, thrashed the box against the tree’s thick trunk ‘til the tiny bones scattered on the ground.
With great poise, Ella Mae crouched beside her husband and lifted his chin with her lanky index finger,
“You’re a broken man,” she spoke coolly, “and you killed my baby boy.” She stood tall, shadowing her
beloved, and swept her cotton frock with both palms.
“Now, let’s tend to that fire shall we.”
© Chad V Broughman
The two strangers walked down the middle of the once-busy street in a once-prosperous city, eyeing
with disbelief the devastation before them. Everywhere they looked chaos reigned supreme: buildings
were smoldering; cars were smashed to pieces as though some invisible fist from the sky had slammed
down on top of them. The smell of death lingered in the air. Garbage and trashcans were haphazardly
strewn about. Newspapers skipped along the ground in the breeze. Broken glass shards were
embedded in telephone poles. There were no birds in the sky. A dog could be seen scurrying about in
the distance. She reckoned it was quite possibly the only other living creature in their universe.
“Well,” she said.
They stopped. She looked into the man’s eyes. Then she reached out and took his hand and held it in
“I’d say you and I are going to have to start things over. What’s your name again?”
No one expected the Apocalypse to appear in the guise of a handsome, twenty-something Avant-garde
composer. It was his symphony’s first and last performance. The score washed over the city’s elite like a
mysterious tsunami of sound. They marveled in it. They were drowned by it. Then the night sky caught
© Phil Temples
I suppose there was nothing extraordinary about today, except that it was, in fact, extraordinarily
extra ordinary. The clock next to my bed had rung at 6:53, alerting me to the start of my day. My shower
was nowhere near warm and my toaster burnt my bagel. The city traffic had bustled around me as I
raced to pick up my boss’s coffee, and still make it to the office on time. The printer jammed, right on
schedule; I needed to print eighteen copies of this month’s figures for our meeting. I failed yet again, to
make it through lunch without spilling something on my lap. I waved goodbye to our secretary, wishing
her a good night, before hurrying home to catch the seven o’clock news. “No, I suppose nothing
I pull my snuggie closer against the chill of the empty apartment. The answering machine refused to light
up with a new message. Glancing over at the tiny, wan candle flickering above the lumpy cupcake, I
watch as the wax trickles to the frosting. I close my eyes and make a wish. “Happy Birthday.”
© Isabella Oullette
My Life Unfolds; 3 Flashes
I was born in the Bronx. Our building was destined to become a burned-out tenement populated by
rats, crack heads, meth heads, and severed heads. We fled to the suburbs.
In New Jersey, the kids aped their parents’ status preoccupations: the right jeans, the right madras shirt.
In the Plymouth Park Candy Store, Shapiro humiliated Steven C. because he was wearing green socks.
The aerospace industry moved west. So did we. In southern Cal you could surf and smoke pot, but the
air was not breathable.
In Berkeley, the streets were lined with cars and their windows fed me my reflection, distorted. I got fat
In Humboldt County, the redwoods and the rocky coast renewed my ugly soul. I worked in a sawmill and
got pneumonia four times. I found a wife and baby, but not a decent job.
In the Florida panhandle, I learned to drawl, say “y’all,” eat catfish and collards, cozy up with Jack
Daniels, but the warm air was full of race hate. It was tangled in the Spanish Moss.
My wife took me by the hand and pulled me as far away as she could get, to the end of the road: Key
West. Our housed teemed with cockroaches, lizards and our kids friends, Caribes, Cubans, Conchs, but
even in “Paradise,” bosses were unremitting assholes.
We retired to the family farm, and lived on a dirt road among fields of corn and soybeans. We swam in
frigid Lake Michigan. I never suspected I would love being a Midwestern farmer, but the corrupt
commissioners and greedy corporate fucks plunked an outdoor turbine factory in our midst, called it a
“wind farm,” as if that made it agricultural. The spinning, flutter, and subsonic vibration made us sick.
We sold the farm, beat an exit. Our kids had made a bed for us in Denver. Downtown shone to the east,
snow-covered mountains to the west. I rescue abused dogs and walk them in the park . Blacks and
Mexicans approach and I say “Friend… friend.” The walkers smile. The dogs don’t growl. They know a
treat’s coming if they’re friendly to all.
My Parents in Old Age
My ninety-year old father dreams of women, their long limbs in his bed, of drinking tequila in a little
Mexican town where he and his lady buy a photo of Jesus whose eyes move from side to side. My father
puts it on the dresser next to the cigarette burns, and Jesus watches him and his lady hump for hours.
My ninety-year-old father dreams of a world without nuclear power, without any power at all. He lives in
the woods with his lady. They gather nuts and berries, and sometimes find a fish in a free-running
stream. Sometimes he takes his little green boat and rows to Japan, where the Pacific is not radiated
with nuclear run-off , but is clean and hums with the songs of fishes. One school of carp tries to make it
as an a capella group, but they suck, and they know it. They laugh at themselves, almost choke with
laughter . My father laughs uncontrollably and falls out of the boat into the pleasantly warm water and
awakes, to find he’s peed the bed again.
The eighty- six-year-old gymnast tumbles and twirls, spins on the pommel horse. Grey hair loosens from
her bun. She flies in a big dismount. Her knees have never seen arthritis. Her granddaughters are
coming up, scorpions in a jar, stinging each other to death.
Everyone is in awe of everything.
Throughout history, the Ice Men emerged from glaciers to silently, secretly aid the human race.
Kabbalistic figures, in league with the sixteen wise men of each generation, they guided us. Now they
anguish and collapse into slush. The Ice Men are hospitalized with heat stroke.
The planet is percolating, our madness too. The Ice Men are puddles. The puddles are steaming. The
So Greta Sasaki finally moved out of hottest Fukushima, away from its failed, puking nukes. I wasn’t
close to her, don’t want to be close to her. I get nervous when she moves toward me, arms wide, with a
smile unnaturally bright, like the ladies who painted radium on watch dials and licked their brushes to
keep them pointy. The land of the rising sun licked her up, but good. I don’t want to love her. Don’t want
to be inside her. No means no.
© Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois
Trish Callaghan feared the worst. The intimacy between Trish and her husband, Brian, seemed to be
dying a long, slow death. Desperate, hands on hips, she announced her intention to purchase a slinky
dominatrix outfit at the local costume shop.
“Make sure to pick up some dried prunes while you’re out,” he said.
© Marian Brooks
A small tow-haired boy shrieks with delight as he races towards the sea. No more than five years
old, and lathe-thin in his baggy shorts, he zigzags down the crowded beach.
I want to watch him scramble between rock pools; parting fronds of seaweed to reveal tiny crabs and the
blood red tentacles of sea anemones. I want him to feel the silky softness of a donkey's ear squeezed
between chocolatey fingers, and taste the sweet crunch of his first wafer cornet.
His mother leans heavily on the railings, the nub-end of a cigarette nipped tightly between thin lips. She
flicks it across the pavement, yelling at him as he disappears down the beach. A voice to topple
sandcastles; rasping the sand into submission
“Get back ‘ere now, we’re goin’ for chips!”
He slithers to a halt and turns towards the direction of her voice, hope and excitement draining from his
face. He glances at the sea and then back up the beach, weighing the risks. She shouts again, and his
skinny frame slumps in defeat.
As he walks back up to the road, she grabs his bucket of treasured shells and empties them onto the
“And you can forget bringing that load o’ junk wi’ you ‘n’ all.”
My heart flips over, just like when the flight attendant announces the charity collection. I always know it's
coming: the sentence that rips my heart out every time.
“Some of these children have never seen the sea.”
© Mandy Huggins
The Time is Snow
Snow, snow. The river knows the taste of snow. Gut in the snow. See now. Practical matters; in the
hole, down the wars, in the time of war. Just think of it. First time’s always the best, for anything. The
truck mowed down the asphalt on the Interstate. In the windshield. There’s no need to stop. I mean there’
s no need to stop. Push the brake. The green light on the dash tells you you keep on drivin’. With
freepass. In the muck; the mud is dry as a herd in the field. The herd slowly moved across the field
lowing low. He raised the shotgun. It’s hard it’s damned hard. Nervy aren’t you. Just drip the feeling lions
share. Heartly comes in the flying fish. Praying the Fishlist. How the mods and rockers rock and how the
field in the park plays down. In the frying pan in to the place I must type it I must—you’re mother’s a
psycho. I sit eating the stuff down and you really gagged up the salad honey. It’s almost eight o’clock.
The clock is striking eight but it’s fast. It’s not eight. It’s almost eight. The white lines flow by. One two
three four five six seven eight. Picky picky picky picky. Do the plates. Do the plates, Steck. Shoes off,
Steck. Wild he goes. The pour is drying off the game. The pour is drying. Time to do the pour. Hoover
dam. Inside Hoover dam. Dry the game of the neck of the Berliner.
I sit eating the stuff down. You really gagged up the salad honey. Stun me. Yeah yeah. Use the stun
gun. Pow! I sit eating the stuff down. What’d that salad go down the wrong pipe honey?
© Jim Meirose
The Great Homeopathic Sandwich Bar
‘I just bought this homeopathic cheese sandwich from your stall.’
‘I wish it had been,’
‘I wish it had been very good. I thought that being as it was from your Great Homeopathic Sandwich Bar
that it might be very good indeed.’
‘Oh but I’m sure it was sir, all of our sandwiches are extraordinarily good for the whole self. In fact, I’m
sure I served you earlier and there now appears to be a much healthier glow about your face.’
'There was nothing in it!'
'There certainly was, sir. I myself made the cheese sandwiches this morning, with the finest organic
goat's cheese. I get it from the farm, sir. Very good it is too.'
'So why didn't you put any in my sandwich?'
'So what happened to it? Was it stolen by mice?'
'No sir, this is The Great Homeopathic Sandwich Bar. Your sandwich holds a very powerful memory of
the goat's cheese I mentioned. Highly recommended for the lactose intolerant in the general population.'
'Yes sir. Memory is a powerful thing, as is the molecular memory of your sandwich filling.'
'It is not a sandwich filling if it is not filling the sandwich.'
'I understand sir. Would you like something with a stronger memory, something with much more culinary
'Well, yes, I would, thank you.'
'There you go sir.'
'Wait a minute. That's just a paper plate.'
'Our best homeopathic sandwich sir.'
'I want my hundred dollars back!'
'But sir, you have had your sandwich.'
'Give me a refund, now!'
'Sorry sir, we cannot give a refund on an entirely eaten sandwich. Would you like some cake?'
© Byron Jones
Just a Passing Thought
Michael, I saw old Mrs. Kravitz this morning. I said hello, but she just mumbled something and
went back inside. I feel so bad after reading about that poor old couple.
That's just her way, hon. She's a cantankerous old—
Yeah, Mom. She's just a mean old witch always muttering and spitting from her toothless, gummy mouth.
Tristan, enough! And Michael, you shouldn't encourage him. Here, I’ve got dinner. Gyros, from this new
place downtown. She’s not the most agreeable person, but—
But nothing! Don’t you remember Goldie’s getting so sick. She poisoned him. Said he was always
digging up her flowers. Weeds more like.
Now Tristan, we’ve discussed this. Goldie’s got a very sensitive stomach, and it doesn’t help that he eats
garbage. I’m not particularly fond of the old woman either, but I don’t think she’d poison a dog. Honey,
these beef gyros are delicious—not dried out like Niko’s—and the tzatziki’s just right.
You know, I remember last fall when her husband was so sick—I didn’t know he had died—and I stopped
by with that expensive Thanksgiving flower arrangement. She didn’t even open the storm door. But
before she closed the front door, I caught a glimpse of the oxygen and other supplies lined up in the
hallway. I was so embarrassed.
Look Mom, don’t let this guilt thing make you crazy. She’s not worth it.
He’s right, Beth. We’ve had our disagreements, but she’s never met us half-way.
Like the permanent shadow on her Florida room?
Come on, I thought we agreed that if the city approved our building plan, we weren’t obligated— I mean
is too close to the property line anyway, and besides, like I told her, she could always put in skylights.
Michael, you didn't?
Why not? Obviously, it was before the foundation went in. The developer asked me to come along and
try one last time to get her to sell, so we could build out instead of up, remember? Her husband was
there. The only time I ever saw him. But he was asleep in his wheelchair, covered in tubes and didn’t
Good god, Michael! I can’t believe you—
Mom! You can’t be serious. How can you even think of taking her side? Don’t you remember when we
first moved in, I offered to mow her lawn? She just snorted and slammed—not shut, but slammed—the
door? And how about the time she screamed at Catherine for parking on her driveway. “Get the hell off
my property,” she said. Remember? And Goldie. She did hit him once. I saw it.
Well, I think both sides have their grievances, but like I said before, we've tried to be good neighbours.
Sometimes it just doesn’t work out. But it's not our fault. I mean if she were to die like that old couple—
God forbid, of course—no one could blame us.
I know. You're right. But I just can't help wondering how that old couple could have been there for 12
days. Oh my god! Look at the time! Gotta go. Michael dear, your dry cleaning’s in the walk-in. Give me
a call when your plane lands, OK? Tristan honey, I’ll be late, so please don’t forget to walk Goldie before
you go out tonight. Love yah!
© Peter McMillan
It’s January and, even with amber sunglasses, everything looks gray. Maple trees, fooled by the
warm weather, experiment, launch tiny shoots to branches. They will not survive.
Jenna is leaving now while the tulip bulbs sleep. A majestic blue spruce observes in the background of
the garden, unaffected. African Violets will bloom unseen and unappreciated by the current occupant of
the house. They’re already in the car with the Boston Ferns, waiting. In spring, she will miss the lilacs
and the cornflowers, blue as his eyes.
Her new garden faces north. Jenna will encourage impatiens and hosta to grow in the shade. She plans
to force some white daffodils to make her bloom inside this winter.
© Marian Brooks
Little Eva and Workers’ Playtime
Little Eva has eaten a hearty lunch of warm buttered bread and beef stew. It is late in October
and the work shed is unheated so when she left it she was chilled to the bone; now, however, just a half
an hour later, the stew has stuck to her ribs and her normally pale and freckled cheeks are tingling and
flushed from the fire. She is curled up tight by the big stone hearth, full of day dreams and pleasantly
drowsy. Somewhere in the distance a radio plays a haunting and wistful tune.
At first it feels good to be sheltered from the cold, tucked up safe and warm in the kitchen but, as time
goes by, there is little to think about and nothing at all to do. Eva grows restless and, more and more,
her thoughts turn to the business of the work shed. Toasting her toes is all well and good but nothing is
being accomplished. Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today.
Eva’s mother is a simple soul who is full of homespun wisdom. Eva has probably heard this saying once
a day every day of her life. It is true that today she hasn’t ‘put it off’ but she hasn’t pushed on with
things either. She suffers a pang of when she thinks how quickly the sun will sink down to its rest.
Nevertheless, several minutes pass by before Eva makes up her mind. She is staring moodily into the
flames when something seems to snap in her head. She scrambles to her feet, fumbles with her buttons,
and tugs hard at the edges of her beret, pulling them down as far as they will go to cover the tips of her
ears. Finally, she stands at the open door gulping down great gasps of cold air before she picks a
precarious path between the puddles and the newly churned mud. Her boots weigh heavy with the dark
reddish clay of a landscape that seems to suck her into it. In these conditions, it would be all too easy to
miss her footing and fall.
But Eva is cautious. She moves slowly and gingerly, partly because of the cocoa. The enamel mug is full
to its brim so she holds it out carefully in front of her and, with every step, the dark, steaming liquid
threatens to overflow. Eva owns mittens and two pairs of gloves but she hardly ever wears them. She
wonders how anyone does anything properly hampered by hand-knitted gloves.
When she arrives at the roughly fashioned door of the shed, she pauses for one long, thoughtful
moment. Then she opens the door with a shove from her shoulder and nimbly darts inside. The interior
of the shed it is not only cold; it is also damp and dismal; the only light comes from one small window and
the damp creeps up the walls. And yet this is her favourite place: she is always happy to be here.
Turning, she lays her cheek against the door, taking pleasure in its coarseness. Then she presses
down with all of her weigh until she hears the metal latch click shut.
Eva’s progress from the doorway to the work bench is similarly slow and deliberate. All the time, her
eyes are fixed on the dark, frothy circle of the cocoa and she holds the tender tip of her tongue between
the two pearly rows of her teeth. Until she reaches the bench, she scarcely breathes at all and she sets
the mug down very gently. It is then that her gaze takes in the shape of the figures that wait in the
darkness, their pale, blank faces and their staring eyes, eyes without anger, without fear.
‘Don’t look at me like that,’ she snaps at them, ‘and don’t make a fuss. I’ve got a job to do. It won’t make
any difference if you do.’
And then, with a stride or two, suddenly she towers above them. They are still and silent, an obedient
crocodile, like very young children in school. First in line is a brown-eyed beauty with high, sharp cheek
bones. Her long and glossy hair hangs down her back in a mass of sable curls.
The creature does not flinch as Eva rehearses the sharp, silver jaws of her scissors, opening and
snapping them shut to cut the chilly air. Already stripped of most of her clothes, she stands there
dressed only in her underwear.
‘Snip, snip,’ go Eva’s scissors and the ringlets fall softly to the floor.
After that, comes a waif of a thing, a skinny, shock-headed red-head; her hair is the colour of gleaming
chestnuts and so thick you could wear it like a fur; then a blue-eyed blonde whose schoolgirl pigtails
succumb to one snip of the scissors and a scraggy urchin with huge dull eyes and hair like wire wool.
And then another blonde, sophisticated, somewhat darker: ‘Snip, snip,’ go Eva’s scissors and their silver
jaws flash like small swords.
Finally, all is done. Little Eva is flushed and excited. Locks of all colours and different textures lie
together in a mass on the floor. The newly shorn figures also huddle together, their scalps showing pale
through the stubble. Once they were a crocodile, now a shapeless jostling of limbs.
‘Dirty,’ says Eva and spits, and she remembers her untouched cocoa. It is cooling now and a skin has
formed. It is the colour of the puddles and the mud.
‘Hey, Eva, Little Eva,’ comes the call from the house, ‘your Papa’s home from work and he’s hungry.
Supper’s on the table right this minute so put away those dolls and come inside.’
© Abigail Wyatt
THE KOLACHY CONTEST
Midsummer’s Czech Days is the cultural highlight of the year in Pokorny, Iowa, and Czech Days
begins with a kolachy-eating contest. A kolachy, for those who haven’t had the pleasure, is a five-inch-
round pastry with a jelly filling, not unlike a croissant in texture. One, or two if you’re a lumberjack, will
give you the energy to do what needs to be done.
On this particular day, Delbert Boldt was set to defend his title from last year’s contest, when he had set
the record: twenty-four kolachys in two minutes. How could any one person consume that volume of
pastry in so short a time, you might ask? Granted, Delbert was no average-size mortal, topping the
scales at over three hundred pounds. Still, there must be a limit to what even the largest stomach can
hold. What was his secret?
The contestants’ table was set up on Main Street in front of the Carnegie Library. At nine o’clock in the
morning, it was already seventy-five degrees. There would be no better time for wolfing kolachys.
Five contestants sat at the table, including Delbert’s “little” brother Marvin, two hundred eighty plus
pounds. All of them stared wide-eyed at the piles of pastries before them. One wondered how long they
had fasted. The judges stood on the other side of the table, one per contestant.
At the bell, each worthy grabbed a kolachy, clenching it ham-fisted, and with as few bites as possible,
dispatched it with a mouthful of water. An observer could quickly discern Delbert’s rhythm. Grab and
stuff a slider with his left hand, followed by the squirt bottle of water held with his right, emptying just
enough to lubricate the passage. Each cycle took no more than five seconds.
The other contestants, though game, were no match for Delbert. By the second minute of the contest,
general groans and retching emanated from up and down the table. Delbert, meanwhile, maintained his
unfaltering rhythm like the veteran that he was. When the two-minute bell rang, he had won again, tying
his record from last year. He lifted his arms in victory, but there was no mistaking the pallor of his
complexion, nor the beads of sweat on his forehead. He pushed his chair back and staggered off,
nodding to well-wishers, but too intent in his real purpose to stop and chat.
If you were to grant Delbert the moment of privacy that he craved, you would chalk up his victory to
training, or to an oversize stomach befitting his girth, or perhaps to a mind-over-matter discipline that
befits other athletes of championship caliber. But if instead you were to follow Delbert at a discrete
distance as he exited his stage, you would learn the real secret of his success.
He lumbered some fifty feet to a spot in the alley, behind the library and out of sight of his fans. Then,
just as methodically as he had devoured the twenty-four kolachys, he now followed them with a chaser,
the coup-d’-grace, in the form of his big pointer finger poked down his throat. A moment later, as his
huge form leaned forward, hands on knees, came a bellow like the eruption of Vesuvius, followed by the
remains of those two dozen poor pastries.
Delbert Boldt wiped his mouth with his hand. The color returned to his cheeks and he stood up straight.
The World Champion Kolachy Eater returned to join his fans.
© Norman Westhoff
I was at work in the Radar Dome on Fire Island Air Force Base in Cook Inlet near Anchorage,
Alaska. Brock, another Federal Aviation Administration Technician, and I were engaged in routine
preventative maintenance on the ARSR-1 A, (Air Route Surveillance Radar), inside the gigantic
Fiberglas domed building when it happened.
The movement, a sudden sidewise shift, toppled a row of metal office file cabinets and increased back
and forth oscillations until it was impossible to stand erect.
I stumbled out of the second floor office and fell down two flights of steel stairs to the concrete ground
floor, scraping skin from shins and elbows along the way.
Semi-consciously, I stood up and slammed against the electric-door where I entered the five-digit exit
code and pushed the operate button a split-second before electric power failed.
Brock pushed hard against my back when the door opened. I managed to grab the doorjamb to prevent
us both from falling out onto snow-encrusted gravel.
However, Brock fell past me and sprawled onto the gravel.
He quickly scrambled back against my feet as he yelled, 'Christ!'
Our yellow FAA Dodge Carryall truck, which was parked, ran past, reversed direction and ran back past,
its engine turning first in one direction and then the other, yet not actually running at all. The truck’s
ignition key was secure in my pocket.
'What’s happening?' Brock screamed.
'It's an earthquake!'
The very earth itself was an undulating series of lateral movements with frozen pine trees across the
compound first beating the ground on one side, then beating it on the other in time with the series of
waves of motion.
Several of the trees snapped off shortly after the swaying began, but the vast majority continued to slap
the ground with their tops, causing the snow to fly up in clouds.
A dark blur caught my attention as I detected the movement of a moose trying to run from the trees, but
repeatedly getting struck down by the punishing treetops.
Before I could register a feeling of pity for the moose, our yellow Dodge truck slammed into the open exit
door, knocked the door shut.
Brock’s hold on the door edge was lost and we scrambled to crawl away from the rampaging truck. It was
imperative to be beyond its range of movement before the next transverse cycle. Fortunately, we were
just beyond the bumper when the next run stopped. We continued crawling away from the radar tower,
fearing the huge structure would certainly fall on us next.
But it didn’t fall.
The quake actually was only five minutes in length yet it seemed to be an hour before the earth stopped
moving. Brock and I got in the yellow truck and drove to the FAA housing area, fearing both structures
would surely have collapsed. But the buildings were standing. So were all the family members. Seven
FAA employees and their family members stood in the snow in various forms of attire, including one wife
Brock’s wife was in the bathtub when the earthquake hit. She was thrown out on the floor and departed
the building on her hands and knees without even a towel.
And so began the Great Alaskan Earthquake of March 27, 1964.
© L J N United
Time To Say Goodbye
“Always the same shit with her,” Patrick says slamming the door and nearly spilling his coffee.
Patrick and Brittany, his wife, have now started more mornings than he can count this way. Putting his
briefcase and coffee in place, he starts his car, still fuming and makes his way to work.
“She is the most stubborn woman,” he says pounding his fist against the steering wheel. “I can’t win with
her. Nothing is ever good enough. What the hell does she expect? I used to love her uncontrollable,
passionate love for me, but now all those emotions seem to have manifested into to a wild hate. If I can’t
make her happy, why the hell does she stay? I still love her, God, I still love her,” his anger fails him as
tears form. “I don’t know what to do anymore. It has been months starting the same way every day.”
Patrick looks out the windshield, stuck in the normal morning rush hour traffic, sighs and finally exclaims,
“Maybe it’s just time. Maybe it’s just time to say goodbye.”
She can only scream as Patrick does what he does best and just walks away. “God Patrick,” she yells at
the closed door hurling a sofa pillow at it, “Why can’t you finish one goddamn conversation?”
She falls on to the sofa, knowing that he will not return till some time after work, “I never expected you to
be perfect, that’s what he says I expect. I know that no one is perfect; I just want you to listen to me and
help out around here. But you would have to give a damn about me or anything else besides work for
that.” Tears have already begun to stream down her face. Every morning Patrick leaves her this way,
she feels that a part of her dies each time.
She gets up and walks towards the window. “He is the most stubborn person I know. I used to love him
for his strength and unfailing convictions of love for me, but now I feel that it has all faded away and all
that remains is hate.”
Brittany slowly exhales, wiping away a tear and quietly concludes to herself, “Maybe it’s just time. Maybe
it’s just time to say goodbye.”
© Brandy Hickey
The Girl With The Flame Coloured Hair
They alerted the border and the airport. No one was getting out. The girl with the flame coloured
hair had vanished in to the night. She had to be found. Quickly.
He watched them from his sixth floor flat. The policemen and volunteers, gyrating around like ants and
Seamus went to make tea and turned the radio up to drown the sobbing in the next room.
© Rosalind Smith-Nazilli
Song of The Season
He watches the season's slow passage through secondary glazing. Only the blackbird & the red
berries cheer him. Even with Easter it doesn't thaw. If he ventures out it's only to the distant bird table.
He stops & listens for noise, but there are none: everywhere he can hear has fallen silent. And so he
returns to the cottage & takes to recording an unyielding season. It is a text-based diary with a few
sketches of blackbirds & red berries, & the occasional nature note extracted from fauna & flora volumes.
After ten days nothing is afoot in the garden: no footprints, animal tracks or tinges of green. After twenty
days, he catches himself yielding to the temptation to read out loud his diary. After thirty day of internal
dialogue this is replaced by diary entries chanted at the top of his voice – & so he opens the windows
wide to capture the quietest of village sounds, secure them for his diary, to make his utterances cease;
so he might begin to dumbly sing.
© Bob Hill
In bed at night under the sloping roof it was easy to forget that the pub was downstairs.
Sometimes we would be disturbed by a burst of laughter or loud voices. Men drank whiskey that made
them red in the face. Women drank white lemonade or, if they were Protestants, port. My mother ran
the pub. She didn't approve of drink. My father could take it or leave it. Mostly he took it, bottles of
whiskey that he drank in his bedroom. We kept out of his way when he was on the tear. Once though
when there were customers in, he came staggering down the stairs and stood in the bar shouting. He
has forgotten to put his trousers on. My brother slapped him and my mother flinched, her face red as if
the handprint was on her cheek not his. At night if you pulled the blankets tight over your head you
could almost forget everything.
© Anne Byrne
Originaldot Thoughtdot Dotcom
"No! Don't say it!"
"It'll cost ya!"
"It's only words,"
Only words. What words? Can't say I'm afraid. I haven't booked them out in the particular order. Need to
look ahead you see. Spontaneous quotation costs money, thoughtful recitation is much better value.
Now we all have to be on Lifebooked©, U2meAndEverything© and Banter+plus©, in order to carry on
normal day to day tasks the smartipants have monetised everything we say to each other.
U-SayWePay© looked like a great idea. A winner's circle. But now it costs me a $ a day to call my dog
I should have called her 'An undergoing stomach, to bear up against what should ensue' for a $ a
month, which, I think, would suit her better, shortened to Anunder of course. The Bard is a bargain
these days, and the dog desperately needs to go on a diet.
"Call her stomach!"
"Why? Can't you-?"
"I said that dog would cost you money."
© Byron Jones
A True Valentine’s Day Love Story
Once upon a time, many long years ago, in the west central Texas County of Haskell, in the little
village of Rule, there lived a beautiful young woman named Irene, who still lived at home with her
Mother, Father, and younger brothers; which at that time was the custom for all proper young ladies.
One day when the family was attending a church service in Rule, a tall handsome gentleman saw Irene,
and admired her so much that he told his friend who was with him, that if he could get married, that she
was the woman he would choose; even though he was quite a bit older than the young woman he
admired so fervently.
As a young adult, he had made the decision, that he would not marry, because he had a very serious
medical condition affecting his legs and he had been told by Doctors at the time that his condition was
not curable and that eventually, his legs would have to be amputated. He felt that he couldn’t burden a
woman with his ongoing problem and the eventual loss of his legs. This was at the turn of the century;
well before antibiotics had been discovered, and before other important techniques had been
developed, that might possibly have resulted in a different outcome. Jim had even travelled to Hot
Springs, Arkansas trying to find help and had exhausted every possibility to be cured. He had owned a
general store in a tiny community near Anson in Jones County, called Truby; but he had recently sold
his store and moved to Rule where he lived with his married sister and her family, so that she could help
him care for his legs that were becoming increasingly difficult to treat and had to be medicated and re-
wrapped every day.
During those years, after Jim moved to Rule, Irene and Jim saw one another from time to time and yes,
they fell deeply in love and were married; by then, he was forty and she was thirty years old. On March
13, 1910, they had a beautiful morning wedding at Irene’s parents lovely home that was situated, back
from the road, on what now is the highway on the east side just outside of Rule. They had a morning
wedding on that particular day, so that Irene could travel to Dallas with Jim, for a previously arranged
appointment. On their wedding day, along with their brother in law, G.W. Wilson, they travelled to
Haskell from Rule, and boarded a train headed for Dallas to have one of his legs amputated.
After they returned from Dallas they made their home in Haskell where, on a sled pulled by a horse, he
farmed his small portion of land; and he planted and cared for one of Haskell’s largest and most
beautiful vegetable gardens. Within the very first year of Irene and Jim’s wedding, his boast was; that he
married the loveliest young woman in the county, had a leg amputated, ran for election and had won,
and they had a baby boy. All within one year!
It was several years later, soon after the last child was born, when Jim’s second leg had to be
amputated. He never complained, but lived happily ever after with the love of his life, Irene, and their
five wonderful children; that years earlier, he thought he’d never have. Jim and Irene’s lives happily
accommodated whatever inconveniences they encountered, as they, throughout the years lived and
loved serving this community and their church; “The First Baptist”, where Jim was a Deacon. Their five
children too, spent their entire lives here in Haskell contributing to and enriching this town with their
talents and love for Haskell, its citizens, and their families.
Jim and Irene; lives well lived, with considerations and difficulties; yes, but lived fully with happiness, joy,
and gratitude for all life’s many blessings: they lived a truly happy ever after, Valentine’s Day love story.
© Linda Lane – Bloise 02/14/2011
“Nothing like imminent death to focus your mind, huh?”; His face was matter-of-fact.
“If you don't do, what you could do, life won't stand still but it won't go the way you could have taken it,”
“You're right. How long do I have?”
“Eight minutes. Then it's time to die.”
“That's time enough, isn't it? I mean, to write this nanotale?”
“That it is. I see that you have already begun by typing our dialogue. Good start. Now carry it to its
destination. The clock is ticking,” His eyes were serene.
“Is there nothing I can do to postpone the inevitable?”
“You are wasting precious time. The inevitable will happen. That is why it is called the inevitable. The
inevitable has happened, is happening and will continue to happen. Causality binds you, just as it sets
you free.” How equanimous his voice was! I wish I shared his equanimity.
“Is there life after death?”
“You will find out in another four minutes. You would be wise to make the most of the remaining four
minutes of your life before death.” He was not one to beat around the bush.
“Is there a god or gods?” I had to ask.
“What you should be asking is what is behind those eyes and between those ears of yours,” he was as
tranquil as ever.
“My brain, of course!” This time I was on familiar territory. After all, I had been studying the brain for
most of my life.
“Dig deeper,” he advised.
“I know what you are getting at. You want me to answer whether the mind is real or whether the material
world of the brain and body, plants and planets, shoes and stars and so on are real. Well, evidence
shows that the mind is what the brain does. The mind is a process, not an entity. The mind and the brain
are one. They are two sides of the same coin. I once had part of my skull removed and I was looking at
my brain in the mirror – “
“I know all that. Remember, I know all you know and more. What you need to realise is the implication of
the mindbrain unity. You have minutes left and I don’t even need a watch to tell you that,” his voice was
“Yes, but time is an illusion created by change. At the speed of light, time does not slow down, change
slows down. In fact, change stops at the speed of light. The dance of life, the dance of change, the
dance of particles - all comes to a standstill at the speed of light. Change does not occur over time –
time is a perceptual illusion created by change!”
“Yes, I know all that, too. You are still missing the ultimate implication of the mindbrain unity. Two
minutes to death,” he was not going to postpone the inevitable.
“I am racking my brain here! What is it? Can’t you just tell me?”
“The doors of enlightenment must be opened from within,” he met my gaze.
“Do I have an immortal soul or spirit or essence which is separate from the mindbrain unity and thus able
to survive death?”
“You will know in one minute,” he was just so tranquil.
“Look, I am an agnostic. As far as I know, I have lived an ethical life. I know that I am part of a whole. I
know about the circle of life. I have done my best to live a whole-centred and balanced life - a life of
compassion, a life of virtue, a life of fairness. I don’t know all the answers. I don’t even know all the
questions! Stop playing games with me. I am dying here!”
“Actually, you are living here. From conception, all living things are dying. Death is the ultimate
experience life has to offer. Death completes life. All you have said is true. You have done all you could
have done. The inevitable has happened, is happening and will continue to happen. This is the truth. I
will enter this tale on your behalf. Time to die. It’s a good death. Sweet dreams,” said he, who is also I.
© Sazib Bhuiyan
The crystalline features of the substance dance a golden jig beneath the hot glare of the earth
Refractions of light glisten across a sea of beige as might a beacon of salvation to someone haplessly
floundering in a torrid ocean of despair.
From across the barren land a bedraggled boy walks wearily toward the point of interest. He scuttles
barefoot down a dune into the small valley below then raises his drooped head to survey his
surroundings. He comes to a jolting halt and gasps in wonderment when he realises what he has
happened upon. Invigorated to an exuberance of action he utters successive yells of joy while
haphazardly sprinting then scrambling across the hot sands.
Such is his excitement that he is no longer concerned that his resources of energy are almost
exhausted. He knows that this find is more valuable than anything he could have hoped for and fully
understands that its discovery portends greater fortune for his people; perhaps not always, but for the
time being, at least.
What’s more; he will be hailed as a hero- the saviour of the village!
A blurred shimmer of awed expression is reflected to his widened eyes as he crawls forward and places
reverent kisses upon the precious surface. He simultaneously laughs and weeps in his relief as he holds
it in his trembling, dirt encrusted hands and mutters prayers of adulation to the creator of such divine
The boy kisses it over and over again before resting blissfully at its side- spent from the effort of the
day. He rolls onto his back and smiles at the azure skies until his strength returns then he stands slowly
and turns the way back home. Then he will tell his people that they have been delivered from the
In another lifetime, thousands of miles away in a far more temperate climate, a man sips still water from a
plastic bottle while browsing over words written for his study assignment. The essay entitled ‘Life
Chances’ is displayed upon the laptop, which sits upon the coffee table within the bedsit the man has
lived in for the last year and a half.
In these moments he is considering whether or not the closing lines of the work are of a profound
enough nature to aptly conclude the 1,977 that preceded them.
For all his fluency, English is not his first language- nor is England his country. He arrived here as a
teenager and although he has familiarised himself well with the language over the four years since
arriving, he is doubtful of his ability to articulate thoughts and ideas in foreign script.
If all goes well the Diploma in Social Care will be his first qualification since being granted refugee status
in the host country. It will, in fact, be his first qualification of any description; education is not a necessity
in the lives of slave children working the diamond mines.
Determined to give it his all he reads the words aloud to better gauge their effectiveness.
‘In times and places of deprivation the value of a thing is defined in relation to need.
In times and places of prosperity the value of a thing is defined in relation to desire.’
He smiles in satisfaction at the way the words sounded then takes a drink of water. He swallows then
sighs, his eyes closing appreciatively in time, as the trickling liquid soothes his throat.
The man’s reverent expression may belie the resurfacing memories of harder times, but you may guess
the truth of a traumatic past were you to see him hold the bottle to eye level and silently mouth his
© Lee Whensley
The insight of Anne Darrow
For a moment Anne Darrow saw everything clearly. At precisely 12 seconds past 6.07 am she
understood more about New York then in her whole life up to that point, living in shabby apartments,
wandering narrow streets and eking out a living acting and dancing in Vaudeville shows. This particular
second saw her falling from the tallest building in the world. A second before she had been clinging to
the rungs of a metal staircase and a second later she was safe in the giant palm of the gorilla. But for
this second, this single moment in her life, Anne Darrow was precisely 378 metres above the fastest
growing city in the world. Time stood still, and she stared at the scene below her:
The city grid dominated her view. It was like a web stretching outwards pinned to convenient but
coincidental anchor points, changing direction as geography dictated, trapping random flotsam in its
rigid structure. All Miss Darrow had experienced before were busy streets crammed with people, taxis
and trams. Now she understood this grid, not just as streets but as a vast ordering device, something at
once controlling and confining but allowing unlimited expansion.
She next experienced the verticality of Manhattan. From the ground, when wondering these long
avenues, her gaze was often consumed by brightly lit shop fronts, ornate canopies, each new building
outdoing the other in ornament, height and size. From above, however, architecture didn’t matter, it was
the effect of the whole that struck her more. All these new towers felt like a tide ebbing and flowing,
endless change sweeping away the past and remorselessly pushing forward. Central Park seemed to
be the only still spot in this wild ocean of buildings. Anne Darrow could see it now, covered in snow.
From the air: just an expanse of open space, losing its mystery, its sense of wild and untamed nature.
She couldn’t see her neighbourhood, but she assumed Brooklyn must just be a speck in the distance.
She had never before thought of the expanse of New York, only the fragments that she experienced in
her daily routine of survival. From the ground, there was no such place as the City, it was just
thousands of small places made up of apartments over shops, cafes and bars, warehouses, back lots…
up here, the pieces disappeared into a single identity. She felt like the character in a picture of a
watercolour she had once seen in a library book, a picture of the Creator bending over holding a giant
set of compasses, drawing out some eternal and perfect plan for humanity. Up here, it was as if the city
was indeed perfect and eternal, erasing the turmoil that was happening beneath her right now. So many
friends out of work; racketeering and extortion everywhere; so much pain and anger, but also love and
sorrow, dreams and hope… suddenly her decent was arrested. She was now lying in the palm of the
giant gorilla. In just one second everything had changed for her. Anne Darrow would no longer be the
passive individual controlled by the authorities of this city. It was her city, it couldn’t exist without her and
the tens of thousands of other inhabitants who had come here seeking refuge, come here, not just to
survive, but with dreams and hope for a better future.
© Sarah Allan 8 January 2011
Judith closes her eyes and tries to concentrate. Praying isn’t easy. She doesn’t know where to
start and there are too many distractions. The baby is grizzling; not crying yet but you can tell he is
working up to it. His mother shushes and croons him still but the child is picking up her fear. Two seats
away to Judith’s left, a man is coughing his lungs up. He smells of aftershave, peppermint, stale sweat
and smoke. Judith doesn’t know him at all but the stink of him is making her feel murderous. Would God
make allowances? Perhaps she should ask.
Judith knows that Father Andrew is just three rows in front of her. She is not so much listening as
allowing herself to drift with the current of his voice. The words are familiar bit the tone is wrong; it is
making her uneasy. Finally, she gives into temptation and opens her eyes.
What Judith sees is that Father Andrews has forgotten what he is saying. His mouth keeps moving but
the rest of his face is all horror and disbelief. Judith follows the line of his gaze; it is fixed on a point
some thirty feet away. Two dark fins are bearing down on the starboard side of the boat.
‘Let us pray,’ says Father Andrews. ‘The Lord Jesus will surely provide for us.’
The swell of a wave catches the inflatable. Judith closes her eyes.
© Abi Wyatt
"There could be life on that blue planet," they said. "We should investigate."
"Don't be ridiculous," I said. "You're not thinking straight. It's got water and an oxygen atmosphere."
But, they insisted on a vote. Seven hundred thousand billion agreed with me. That put paid to their
© Joe Miller
Joey's First Steps
Joey took his first steps today. He looked like a little drunk duck. He was so proud. I picked up the
phone to tell you but your voicemail cut in.
‘Hi, it’s me. If that’s you, leave me a message.’
My eyes prickled with tears. I didn’t leave a message.
© Linda Davies
Gerald, Chewing Carpet
As sleep retreats before the certainty of another presence, you turn on the light and, showing off,
to your obvious delight, Church Bells, as I kneel upon the bed; my eye meets his, a pin prick of fright. A
long-tailed softness, quick as thought, now hides among the things your sister bought. His time at large
will never let us rest, but at running and hiding he’s sublime. We lose our space to his insistent quest,
and as we do, find comfort in unexpected time.
© Peter Forester
A Murder for Harry
Like many 10 year olds my nephew Harry likes the scary stuff. I didn’t make this story up for him; it’
s true, it happened in the 1960’s.
My Aunt Alice worked as a cleaner for her cousin who owned a number of properties in Birmingham.
After finishing work she would walk the three miles back to her home in Smethwick where she lived with
her husband Len. One afternoon there was a sharp knock on their door. The man in the grey overcoat
on Alice’s doorstep introduced himself as a detective from the local police station. He was offered a cup
of tea, (Alice made the best cup of tea in the world), and he settled in an armchair to ask, ‘a few
questions to help us with our enquiries’.
He was interested in a particular day when Alice had been working at a flat in a house in Edgbaston. On
that day, he asked, had she noticed anyone acting suspiciously near the house? Had she noticed the
large white painted stones that lined the path? Had any of them been moved on the day she cleaned the
flat? There were many questions but not once did Alice ask the obvious question that you or I would
The detective finished his tea and thanked Alice for her help. Uncle Len showed him to the door and
asked if the detective could tell him the reason for his many questions?
Uncle Len learned how, as Alice had cleaned the flat, as she vacuumed and dusted the furniture in the
bedroom, as she walked home to make tea for Uncle Len, as Alice did all the ordinary things on that
extra-ordinary day, a woman who she didn’t know, and now, could never know, was lying dead in a
wardrobe in the house in Edgbaston.
The woman was as cold as a stone. As cold, in fact, as one of the large white stones, which had been
taken from it’s place on the path, raised up and brought down hard onto her head.
Alice never went back to her cleaning job. She never gave up making the best tea ever and being my
very favourite aunt.
© Gill Evans
The fisherman promised to show her his creels. The boy asked to come too. The first contained a
large fish. It lay there, flapping, dying. Crying, the boy pleaded for it to be returned. The fisherman
looked bemused; the boy’s mother, unamused. Years later, the’ boy’ realised that without her presence,
the fish might have lived.
© Joe Miller
Elena comes from a place in Kent called Tunbridge Wells, where she studied graphics. Upon
finishing her degree she made the decision to move to the big smoke to start her career and for general
adventure. After a few days settling in at Clapham she decides to explore some of the famous cultural
delights of London. Drinking in Brick Lane she sees a flyer for an art exhibition that was taking place
somewhere close by. It was a “guerrilla” exhibition that was held in an old Woolworths. This was more
than a shop floor, you could explore all around. Going into one of the offices she comes across a wallet
on the floor. She picks up the wallet and hands it to one of the people working in the gallery. The
woman then explains that this is in fact one of the pieces of art.
If the 3rd of July falls on Friday, the city of Cairo, Georgia, throws a big bean party. Tonnes and
tonnes of broad beans are poured on the grass of Davis Park, and the Grady County Fire Department
waters the huge mass of broad beans until the park becomes a sort of gigantic soup, which locals call
the Egyptian Syrup. During this celebration, to dive in the broad bean soup and to almost drown in it is
considered a bringer of luck. To actually drown in it is an unequivocal sign of bad luck.
© Jaume Muñoz
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