epilogue – Issue Five

And beyond
there is a space of darkened clouds
that lighten not with lightning strikes
where days are reconsidered
in such twisted ways
to appear so straightened there
and free
from destructive lie or taunt, beware.

Nestle close to The Cabinet, dear,
It and the space around
breathes clear and pure and true.
Embracing you.
A break from storms, that scream and whisper,
untwisting twisting voices of the mist misleading.
That is what It’s heeding.


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Parliamentary Statistics – John Holland

The number of frogs and toads (order Anura) elected as Members of Parliament in UK General Elections from the Reform Act of 1832 to 1900.

NB Estimated numbers only

29 January 1833 – 0

19 February 1835 – 0

15 November 1837 – 0

19 August 1841 – 0

9 August 1847 – 0

4 November 1852 – 1

30 April 1857 – 0

31 May 1859 – 0

11 July 1865 – 0

10 December 1885 – 0

5 August 1886 – 0

4 August 1892 – 1

12 August 1895 – 0

3 December 1900 – 0


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John Holland is a prize-winning author from Gloucestershire in the UK, and the organiser of the regular event Stroud Short Stories. Website – http://www.johnhollandwrites.com


Image: Henry Barraud [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How To Write Well. Or Not. – Mary Thompson

Take magnesium and munch cheese for lucid dreaming. Absorb ‘From Where you Dream’ by Robert Olen Butler. Enter dreamspace. Dreamstorm. Read inspiring material before bed – stuff like Amelia Gray’s freaky story about couple who lock girl in elevator and feed her through hatch, or watch thriller like Rosemary’s Baby – disturbing shit that fucks with your psyche, or see Dystopian Sci-fi like Black Mirror. At 10 switch off gogglebox and retreat to bedroom.

At 2 am wake up. See cat with looming eyes staring down from Rapunzel tree especially designed for indoor cats that you put on credit card last week as felt bad for not letting her outside. Hear loud, wailing miaow. Switch on light and watch as she paws wall. Why is she pawing wall? Can cats see spirits? Who can she see? Wonder who lived here back in the day. After Google Search discover was jugglers and clowns. Feel momentarily happy that flat housed artistic types. Hope creativity rubbed off on you.

Insomnia’s a symptom of periwhatsit. How the fuck are you that old? Want to write a line of story but cat is on you and trapping arm and has blissful look on face like she’s found nirvana. Feel jealous. Wish you could find nirvana. Can’t move her so will story to stay in head till morning. It is morning though. 4.30 am. Two and a quarter hours before need to get up and it’s light. Think it might be moon. It’s not moon. Wish hadn’t taken three sleeping pills as still can’t sleep. Heath Ledger died from too many sleeping pills. Have sudden pain in chest. Should cancel work but won’t get paid and still paying for Smeg-like fridge. How can anyone afford Smeg? If write best seller will buy Smeg. Bet Fifty Shades woman has Smeg, or two. Must have two as millionaire. How the fuck is she millionaire? Need to write. Left it too late.

Message on Facebook. Just check it then sleep. And advert. For medication. Perimenopause. HOW DO THEY KNOW? “Vagiprob.” Side effects – breast cancer 0.006 percent chance, ovarian cancer 0.0000025 percent chance. Hmm. If get that will be awful but will sleep and then dream and then write stories, good ones hopefully and if write good stories, won’t matter if die young as will be fulfilled. Like Amy Winehouse, Bob Marley, Michael Hutchance. Died young but fulfilled.

Need to hear someone with calm voice. David Attenborough. Yes, if watch a few Blue Planets will sleep. Did you know 75 percent of the world is water? All those fish, whales and things nonchalantly swimming along and eating. Did you know blue whales eat krill and have tails as big as dinosaurs? Don’t need purpose and are massive. Why do you even want to write? Can just take baths and eat like they do.

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Mary Thompson lives in London, where she works as a freelance teacher. Her short stories and flash fiction have been long-listed and shortlisted in publications and competitions including Flash 500, Fish Short Memoir Competition, Writing Magazine, Retreat West and Reflex Fiction, and are forthcoming at Ellipsis Zine. Follow her @MaryRuth69


Image: Batut15 via pixabay


Dilemma of Knowledge – John Walls

So I find myself sitting on a park bench. I am staring at my phone. And I cannot decide what to do. I have information. Where it came from doesn’t matter. What I do with it could seriously change things. For the better, for some. For the worse for others.

I have the knowledge I need to delve deep into his life. At least, I think I do. A whole notebook full of the keys to his electronic life. And a memory stick. Modernity! Where it has taken us all? There is a startling vulnerability built into how we keep our information now.

Time was, some things were recorded on paper, but a lot of important stuff stayed in memory. Inside your head. And things said… well, they were not matters of record so much as the source of debate. Who said what and when.

E-mail, messenger, texts, recorded phone conversations. Videos, cameras, surveillance, spyware, hacking. The modern age has given us all this. Power to check on one another. The one thing that rather tenuously protects us is a series of codes, behind which we can hide. But if something happens to allow a break-in to the vault of secrets we all carry, what then? It’s like opening a cellar door, or someone pulling back the curtains to expose you, naked before the world.

What am I to do with this? The bastard tore me apart. He took my life, and turned it inside out. And left me in a dark, dark place, teeming with tormenting spiders and their repulsive cobwebs. I was trapped. No confidantes, no freedom to expose myself to the glare of others’ sympathy. I hid it. I just lived in the trap. Stuck, and waiting for the bite that would numb me, like a fly in a web. But it never came. I was not to be consumed. I was a plaything. Fun to torture. No final blow of release for me. I was to be preserved for his entertainment. Only the power of close friends and the courage to expose my plight allowed me to be where I am today.

Alone; or single, anyway. I have good friends, and my children, all grown adults and we remain close. And I am happy. But now. Now. What will I do? Revenge is sweet, they say. A dish best served cold.

There may be nothing there. I might look, but find nothing. Who am I kidding? He was always a creature of habit. There will be a minefield of deadly weapons I will find, if I open all these doors. I have all the keys. Facebook. Instagram. E-mail accounts. A copy of his hard drive. Best of all, if you like… I could access his bank accounts. All four of his accounts.

He left me in penury. Why would I not hit back? I could send him lower than I ever was. Would I enjoy it? This is so tempting, I think I will burst. On the other hand, am I better in ignorance? Where ignorance is bliss, tis a folly to be wise! There may be stuff I’d rather not know.

And I stare at my phone. Smartphone. More power in this slender device than I have ever held in my hand before. I couldn’t do more damage with a Kalashnikov, or a box of hand-grenades.

And I stare at my phone. And I stare at the notebook. And I stare at the memory stick. And I stare at a squirrel, and the dog-walkers. And I stare at the autumn leaves strew all over the grass. And it starts to rain. And I stare at the phone.

And I stare, and I think; and I stare, and I stare….


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Image: Lubo Minar on Unsplash

Retrospective Downer – Dan Brotzel

Great sesh, me old mates.
Sweet-talk the fans.
Cool pad, Tom.
Speaking of Cougars, Julia
The old man with cancer
The fans and the curious (5% discount)

The old man with cancer was pretty cool.
Chuck it all in? We’re here for you. Darling
No need to worry about briefing the tradespeople! We do feel your pain, darling
We all do, darling (5% off) (cancer is cool)
Thinly disguised mature sex goddess
(not my words, darling)

Terrible pain, darling.
Collective shock, a feeling of inadequacy (pilates! the pool!)
An abyss of anxiety beneath your mask of self-control
(But let’s not beat ourselves up) (cheap cancer for the fans)

Just wanted to get that off my chest.
Your incredibly brave, flat-screen TV
Oak-effect laminate flooring transubstantiates pain into art
None of the trauma diminished, I’m sure (darling)

You are our friend (I am an actor)
Badger reset: liberal blinkers off please!

With our pilates and our real ale (and our erotic prints)
We will slay the demons that stain our memories.
Were you a bird then, mate? (I don’t want to pry) (I am an actor)
We all have issues, genderfluid

You seemed bored, and frankly so was I.
Eternal gnosis ffs! I was only looking for the loo.
We feel your pain. (Though I was a teensy bit peeved)
Cancer is 5% off.

Okay, gotta go.

Please note: to be the intended recipient of this message is prohibited.


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Dan’s short stories have been recognised in several competitions and anthologies. He was runner-up in the Flash500 short story competition 2017, and was also shortlisted for the Sunderland University/Waterstones Short Story Award 2016, the Wimbledon BookFest prize 2016, and the 2017 Fish short story and Retreat West flash competitions. He wrote sketches for Dead Ringers (BBC Radio 4), won Carillon Press’ Absurd Writing competition (2014), and has also made two appearances in Christopher Fielden’s To Hull and Back comic-writing anthology (2015, 2016).
A journalist and former slush-pile reader, he is also a book reviewer for the Press Association.


Image: Andrew Neel on Unsplash

The Slide – Michael Chin

I’ve never been the kind of person to eat fast food. Geri cooked real dinners and I brown bagged my lunches. Sure, we took the kids out for burgers now and then, but it was a treat, not a way of life.

There’s a kid running around at knee-level who looks a little bit like Jeff when he was a boy. Same bushy hair, albeit a shade lighter brown. He wears a red and yellow striped shirt, as if he were McDonald’s branded. His mother puts a hand on his shoulder and I think she’ll tell him to quit running because he’s going to knock into someone and send their food flying, but instead, she tells him not to play there, but to head to the play area. So, he runs away from his mother’s side, in line to order, and past the glass door that another grown up is conveniently holding open. The kid doesn’t even say thank you, and the next second he’s climbing the ladder up to the big twisty slide that feeds into the ball pit. Probably for the best. Out of my way, at least, so if someone spills his coffee it’ll be on that side of the restaurant where you ought to expect such things.

Still, I worry about the boy. When Jeff and Susy were little, you could afford to let kids run and play on their own, but nowadays it’s all over the news about missing children. Not just strangers scooping up kids, but teachers, or preachers, or soccer coaches. You can’t trust anyone, and this woman sends her boy off to play unattended.

I reach the counter ahead of her. Order my usual medium cup of coffee with two creamers, yogurt parfait and a copy of USA Today. Splurge a little and get a hash brown, too.

The kid who takes my order asks if I’d like two, because they’re two for a dollar, as if he’s never seen me, as if I’ve never been here at breakfast time before and don’t know the hash browns are two for a dollar. His forehead is greasy and littered with dots of pimples. I remember when Jeff wanted to work a fast food gig in high school and I wouldn’t let him, fully aware he’d end up just like this kid. Stand around it long enough and all that fry grease seeps in through your pores. And what do these kids eat on their lunch breaks? More McDonald’s, of course. More grease and salt and fat. “One’ll do.” I try to say it easy. I know the kid’s doing his job, but you’ve gotta be firm or they’ll give you the two hash browns and charge you the dollar and say that’s what they heard you say, and it’s an argument. If there’s one thing worse than being in a McDonald’s first thing in the morning, it’s lowering yourself into an argument with one of the employees.

I started coming after I moved to be closer to Jeff and he and Kate had their first born. It’s what Geri would have wanted—what she would have insisted we do. No sense in staying put and withering away alone when there was family to be around. Small town living was good. Quieter. I got to be buddies with my next door neighbor Louis and we watched football games together on Sundays, and he’s the one who got me going to McDonald’s for breakfast where all his friends hung out. An old crowd, but what was I if not old? After Louis had his stroke and it was clear Jeff and the family were too busy to see me more than once a week, I needed some sort of social outlet, didn’t I? So I kept coming.

“Look who finally showed up.” Big Carl always reeks of cigarettes and always gets a full breakfast. It’s a miracle he’s lived this long, well into his retirement. Today he eats hot cakes, slathered in butter and syrup, and two sausage patties, also in syrup, from a Styrofoam container. He’s got a large coffee, a large orange juice, and glass of water to take his pills. Most of them

have pills, and it’s a point of pride for me that I don’t. “We were starting to think maybe you’d croaked.”

Big Carl says this, regardless of the time, whenever someone’s the last to show up. You’d think that we had a job to do, a schedule to keep. As if it weren’t one of the few luxuries of getting older that we don’t have to go anywhere at any specific time, or go at all if we don’t want to. I check my watch and it’s 8:45. That’s a good time to show, after most of the folks rushing to get to work. I’m not in their way. They’re not in mine.

Lenny squints at my tray. He squints at everything, including his newspaper. I’ve seen him wear glasses a couple times, but for whatever reason, the skinny bastard doesn’t want to make a habit of it. He points a liver spotted finger. “You know those hash browns are two for a dollar.”

Big Carl—he calls himself that, it’s not just a descriptor—likes to think he holds court, talking over the rest of us and giving people a hard time as he sees fit, but the gravitational pull of our little group of eight or nine oldsters revolves around Lucinda, sitting next to him today. She’s the only woman in our group, and I think she likes the attention. She eats a Fruit and Yogurt Parfait and sips from a hot tea. She skips over the news section of the paper and goes straight for the crossword puzzle.

“You hear what Obama said today?” Lenny folds over his paper and holds it close to his face. “He says there are no Islamic terrorists. Give me a break.”

“That’s not what he said,” Carl corrects him. “Not exactly. Remember, he’s a Democrat. He’ll never say anything in absolutes.”

Dee Dee—one of the workers—goes into the play area. She’s good with kids. I’ve seen her carry out trays of Happy Meals to them. She’s the one on birthday party duty in that play

area. A nice girl. A pretty girl, too. In the old days, we would have called her double-Ds, even though that’s not empirically true, because it would be a convenient nickname for a pretty girl.

Dee Dee’s always nice to me. She always smiles, and she winked at me the other day when I got caught holding the door open for one kid and it turned into being a stream of four of them, followed by the mother pinning a cell phone between her shoulder and the side of her head, the handle of a car seat over her elbow, a fifth kiddo asleep in there. I was annoyed, but Dee Dee winked and it made it feel funny, like it was all some big joke and when you look at life that way, you can’t stay mad, even if a part of you thinks you ought to.

It bothers me sometimes that Dee Dee is so friendly with me, in a way I don’t think she’d be with a younger man. It signals that I’m old enough to be harmless, and it’s not good being that ancient. Old people and children—before you’re a teenage jerk, after you cross the threshold so the idea of dating you would have to be a joke. People see an innocence there and it isn’t right.

I do like that Dee Dee’s in the PlayPlace with the little boy who looks like Jeff, though, because it’ll mean that someone’s looking out for him. From where I’m sitting, I can see the top of the slide and I haven’t seen him climb back up there, which has me worried he’s gone missing. Maybe his mother came in with the food already and made him sit down. Or maybe he’s still tuckered out in the early morning, I guess.

“There’s going to be a fish fry at the Lion’s Club Friday.” When Gary pauses, he curls his tongue out over his upper lip. He’s not as big as big Carl, but he’s plump. The kind of man who’s spent a lifetime eating McDonald’s cheeseburgers. He always finds something about food in the paper. If it’s not a fish fry, it’s a church bake sale, or a new restaurant opening, or a comment about a grocery store ad. Always hungry, always looking ahead to his next meal, even

when he’s got a jiggly fried egg patty on an English muffin right in front of him. “Twelve dollars, all you can eat. Not bad.”

Lucinda puts a hand on his arm and moves it away like she’s swatting him in slow motion. He looks at her. Hopeful. He’s got the spot of honor on the other side of her today and it’s probably the first touch he’s had from a woman in years. He never talks about a wife—current, ex, or deceased.

“Didn’t the doctor tell you to watch your cholesterol?” she says.

“Doctors say a lot of things.” He tears at the newspaper. Doesn’t even crease it first to get a straight edge, just tears at it all ragged. “What’s the point of being old if you can’t indulge yourself?” He stuffs the scrap in his pocket for later.

“I remember going to the senior prom at the Lion’s Club,” Big Carl says. “They’ve still got that same crystal chandelier, but it doesn’t shine the way it used to. I remember the way it looked that night. 1952. It sparkled. Valerie—the girl I took—she said it looked like we were dancing under the stars.” He eats a big bite of a hot cake that didn’t cut all the way so the piece adjacent to it hangs loose from his fork, then his lips before he sucks it in.. “I remember she smelled like roses.”

Here in McDonald’s, everything smells of eggs and butter. The coffee’s burnt. All of these oldsters have a history with all of the local haunts—I bet every one of them has a Lion’s Club story like that, and I always feel like a jerk nodding along without anything to contribute, like I’m behind because I haven’t lived in this Podunk town my whole life. Try talking to them about a restaurant in Boston or Chicago, they look at you like you’re from Mars.

Jeff shouldn’t have moved here. This is a place for old-timers and people who think small. Young people—smart, vibrant young people ought to live in big cities, especially at this

age. That’s the mistake I made, too young, and that’s why he got brought up in a town like this. Shouldn’t one generation learn from the mistakes of the one before it? Want more? Live better?

The running boy’s mother wanders unsteadily back toward PlayPlace, balancing a tray. So she wasn’t there before, and she didn’t get the boy who looks like Jeff away from the slide. So where is he?

“I heard the liberals are going to try to take all of our guns away. Don’t they get it?” Lenny said. “Take the guns out of our hands and the only people who’ve got them are the terrorists. They think it’s bad what happened in Orlando. What if the Muslims knew no one had guns anywhere?”

It’s the same small town conservative talk I heard when I was a younger man, and I don’t know if it’s more or less frustrating for the familiarity, for the fact that all of them probably grew up hearing it until they repeated it.

Oscar joins us. He’s a wiry old man with big tufts of white hair that he doesn’t comb or maybe there’s only so much a comb can do against hair like that. He sets his whole tray on the garbage can like he does everyday, leans over, and pours some of his coffee down into the trash. Often as not, he gets some of it on himself. He says it’s because they always give too much and Big Carl’s told him he should just ask them not to fill it up all the way, but he never does and inevitably, toward the end of our morning routine, one of the workers retrieves the bag and has to be extra careful because the bottom’s filled with coffee. Sometimes the bag breaks, so the coffee and whatever other garbage juices it mixes up with leak little drops across the floor.

“Gun control’s not the same as taking away guns, Lenny,” Big Carl blows on his coffee. He drinks it with the lid off so it isn’t so hot so long, but I always eye it, sure he’s going to spill it all over the place. “Call me a moderate on this one. I think some control is OK. But I do also

think there’s a problem when people who don’t understand the fundamentals of how a gun operates are the ones calling the shots. I heard a man on the news the other day, talking about how the size of the clips was one of the issues, because why would anyone need a clip with so many bullets. I sincerely don’t think this man knew the difference between a clip and a magazine.”

The mother in PlayPlace is looking all around. She doesn’t see the boy. She talks to Dee Dee for a moment. Dee Dee smiles at her, too, and I think for a second maybe that speaks better of her perception of me—that I’m not so much harmless as just any customer, and she smiles at customers. But that’s not right either, because this is a middle-aged woman. A mother. And Dee Dee puts us in the same category. Mother and grandpa, the both of us not to be concerned about.

But the mother looks concerned. She realizes her mistake, surely, in sending the boy off on his own and now he could be anywhere. I imagine a stubbly-faced man in a black ski cap waiting at the bottom of the slide with his arms open wide to greet whatever child might come to him.

“You need screening to get a gun. There ought to be screening for making gun laws, too. A written test, at least,” Big Carl says.

I take a bite of my hash brown to keep from talking because I don’t feel like engaging today, and half expect Big Carl is trying to engage me. If people like him paid attention to what was happening under their noses half as much as they concerned themselves with their obtuse takes on world affairs, maybe they’d contribute something to society. I promise myself, right then and there, that as soon as Jeff’s kid graduates high school, I’m out this Podunk town. No sense sticking around after that, at least if I’m in decent health. Maybe I’ll be one of those old-timers who drives around in an RV. I always thought it was silly and I’ve never driven anything

like that—never anything bigger than a twelve-foot moving truck—but how bad could it be? Maybe I could finish off my bucket list—finally get around to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon like I always thought I would.

“There’s not that much screening necessary to get a gun,” Lucinda says. “And I don’t see what knowing how a gun works has to do with that part.”

“Ha!” I can’t help myself from barking out a laugh. Lucinda usually doesn’t weigh in on political discussion. The only time I remember her pointing out something from the newspaper was a cute strip from the funny pages about explaining death to kids. I thought it was really sad and kind of beautiful, and a hint that Lucinda had more going on upstairs than most of us to appreciate a thing like that. All Big Carl could say in response was, geez that’s depressing, Lu and I think half of it was just to get a rise out of her because she doesn’t like being called Lu and she’s told us that dozens of times. He flirts like a grade schooler, and you’d think he’d have some more dignity than that.

But today, when Lucinda brings up the obvious flaw in these Republican geezers’ chatter, she’s the one beyond reproach. Big Carl will give her a hard time but he’ll never engage her in a real argument where she tries to pick apart what she says, and now, though the lot of them might descend on me in her place, I’m also under Lucinda’s protection because anything they say about me as a goddamn liberal would apply to her, too, and maybe they wouldn’t care if I got up and left, but they’d be damned fools to let the only lady in their crew slip away.

But I laugh in the same instant that Oscar shows up and he jumps and the lid’s still loose on his coffee and there’s still enough in there for it to spill over the brim onto his hand and onto his sleeve and he screams like he’s been electrocuted. He almost loses his balance—he really might’ve if Gary didn’t get a hand on his back first.

Oscar’s looking all around himself, really in a state and Lenny takes what’s left of the coffee cup from him to set it down and helps guide him toward his seat, before he rouses. “I gotta get more coffee.”

“I’ll get it Oscar,” I say. “It’s my fault for startling you. This cup’s on me.”

“You’ve got to pour out a little.” He talks like he’s straining—his voice is always soft and tired like that. Like he already spoke his allotment of words for his life and he’s running on fumes. “Not a lot. Just a few sips so it’s not sloshing.”

I’ve sat next to Oscar enough times to know how much coffee he wants—about three-quarters of a cup—so I tell him I’ve got it and walk around him, feeling nimble. Decrepitude is a relative thing and maybe I’m still relatively spry, relatively far from death.

“Get the poor guy napkins, too,” Big Carl hollers.

On my way to the counter, when I’m about to get in line, I look over at PlayPlace again and there’s no sign of the mother. Things have gone from bad to worse. She must not have spotted little Jeff and gone on some sort of frenzied search. And just then I see a darker spot in the slide. A round, tucked up shadow where the slide turns from a red to a yellow segment around a bend.

The boy’s stuck. I look for help but there’s a long line. Long enough that Dee Dee is back behind the counter, not in PlayPlace, bagging and bringing food to drive thru, or putting it on trays at the counter—how does she keep track of what goes where? She’s too busy to be bothered, and the rest of the workers won’t take the time to listen to me. Not if I’m doing anything besides placing an order.

So, it’s up to me.

I walk into PlayPlace. Pause as two kids run by, fortunately not to the slide, just running to run. What’s with all of these kids? Is it some sort of holiday? I make my way to the exit of the ball pit and crouch down. I haven’t been on all fours in a long time, but I’m feeling strong. Like today, I can rescue little Jeff and deliver him to his mother. Get back to our table and the guys will all want to pat me on my back. Maybe Lucinda will want to kiss me on my cheek, and I’ll take it, if just for the status symbol among the rest of the oldsters. Even Big Carl will have to admit that what I did was pretty great. Maybe Dee Dee will look at me and see the younger man I once was. Think I’m dashing. Ask me to tell her stories from when I was her age, besides saying I’ve got free coffee for life.

I peer up into the slide. I can’t see past the curve, and don’t know why I thought I would be able to. The slide smells the same as the trays after they’ve just wiped them down with their cleaner—when some of the workers slap the liner down too soon and start reusing them right away because it’s busy, and the cleaning fluid seeps right through. They’re not patient enough. No one is these days.

“Jeff?” I call up to him. No answer. This is scarier. Maybe he’s not only stuck, but hurt. Maybe he tried to stand up in the slide and hit his head and knocked himself out. I ease my shoulders in. It’s a tight fit. Tighter than I thought. They must make these slides smaller than they used. I begin my slow crawl up. No need to rush. Just have to get up to see if the boy’s all right. I see myself tugging gently on his leg to get him loose if he needs it, then the two of us can slide back down, easy-peasy.

But the climb is hard. Harder than I could have imagined, the space too tight, the angle too steep. I slide back, involuntarily, but only a little. Only a little until I’m wedged in tight. I can’t crawl forward, can’t crawl back. I might be stuck here forever.

But it’s warm here. There are worse places to be stuck. And someone will come along sooner or later. People must have seen me go in, right? They must have thought I was crazy. They’ll come help me. And then someone better equipped—someone younger and slimmer—can take my place and reach Jeff and deliver him, too. Let them be the heroes. Young people need that sort of thing more, anyway.

My eyes are heavy. I didn’t get to drink much of my coffee and I’m paying for it now.

Help will come soon.

So in the meantime, I breathe in and breathe out. I rest my eyes.


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Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and his hybrid chapbook, The Leo Burke Finish, is available now from Gimmick Press. He has previously published with journals including The Normal School and Hobart. Find him online at miketchin.com and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.


Image: vonpics

Burnt Umber – Amanda Saint

I smear fake tan from top to toe after I’m finished with my home spa experience, which was nothing like the real thing. The cream is a lurid salmon shade as I squeeze it from the tube into my gloved hand. I hope it doesn’t look like that on my skin. Tonight I need to look amazing. It smells of burnt biscuits, transporting me straight back to Nanna’s kitchen. She always burned everything then blamed me.

Even when that boy at school set my hair on fire in physics class, she said, ‘I bet it was your fault. You said the wrong thing as usual.’

I can still hear that blue flame roaring in my ears. Smell my hair scorching.

Once the tan cream has dried I sit at my dressing table taking tiny sips of neat peach liqueur. Thick, oily, only vaguely reminiscent of the real thing, it coats my tongue and teeth. I smile at myself in the mirror. Nobody to tell me I’m doing anything wrong now Nanna has gone. I don’t miss her.

When I am perfectly made up, so that not a single freckle can be seen, I start on my marmalade hair. It’s been seven years since it burned and it’s finally back to the length it was before it happened. Another sign. I curl it and pin it so just a few ringlets frame my face.

Finally, I step into my dress. Burnt umber satin, skimming over my barely there curves.

This will be the place. I know it. Tonight is the opening night and I can feel it. This is where I’ll find him. All those other places weren’t right for me. But the name, it’s a sign. The sun is setting as the cab approaches the club. There’s a queue outside. A whole line filled with potential flame-haired partners. This is our place. The neon light over the door flashes “Tangerine” in red, then orange, then red again, telling the world that we are welcome here.

As I walk to the VIP entrance a man near the front of the queue catches my eye. He stares as I sashay past and just before the door closes behind me, I glance back. Give the barest hint of a smile.

Much later, he finds me on the dancefloor, presses past me then sways a few paces away, never breaking eye contact. He moves closer, grabs my hand. We dance for just a few moments before he pulls me towards the stairs.

He slams the loo door behind us, pushing me up against the sink, sliding my dress up my thighs. Breath is all I can hear as I reach for his flies. He’s not wearing underwear so I see straight away. My dreams shatter once again. He’s not really one of us.

As the cab pulls away, blue light washes over the inside of the car and the blare of the fire engine’s sirens throbs in my ears.


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Bio: Amanda Saint is a novelist and short story writer. Her stories have been long and shortlisted for, and won, various prizes and been published in anthologies and literary journals. She runs Retreat West, which provides creative writing retreats, courses and competitions, and has just launched Retreat West Books indie press.


Image: Steve Allison on Unsplash

Conveyance – Sheila Scott

So, let’s walk through what happens next. The first thing to remember…

Are you just going to sit there stifling giggles? May I remind you that time is of the essence here. Take a look in the mirror. Your host is on the brink and trust me, you do not want to be left hanging. And the time will come when you’ll be helping your own progeny through, so you might want to listen up instead of pratting about.

Thank you.

Oh for Christ sake, show some control. I look like this because I’ve borrowed Great Aunt Marjory. Marjory. Had a real soft spot for your host back in the day, expired ages back…and there we go, yes: the one with the fluff-covered caramels. So get over it and listen up because this is Lesson One.

I can use Marjory because each of our host bodies are surrounded by the imprints of ‘loved ones’ that have gone before. Yes, it is a nauseating expression. Anyway, these memory traces provide a breach making it easier for us to communicate. And they carry an energy residue too, which is always useful.

Mind you, this connection can, at times, permeate the consciousness of the host and create a visual impression. No matter how faint, you can guarantee they’ll get over-excited about ‘seeing’ ex-Uncle so-and-so or a dearly departed spouse. Occasionally, it’s just some random trace linked to location rather than family; cue even more confusion when your host starts babbling on about the old woman at the bedside or the young soldier in the doorway.

Mostly though, there’s no visible projection. If you’re feeling bored, you can have a bit of fun using the trace self to move shit around. Just screw with them a bit.

But it’s best not to waste too much energy.

You’ve got good mileage out of this one. I know we weigh just a handful of grams but, Lesson Two, our time in residence always destroys them. You’ll find some tolerate us longer than others, so point of failure can be really unpredictable. If you get a particularly susceptible one, it’s an early bath. Hmm? It’s a football reference. Yeah, I forgot your host was a science nerd.

Anyway, in contrast, some seem infinitely capable of housing us whatever they do. You know the medical saying “some mend because of treatment, some regardless of treatment and some despite”? Well, I’ve had the odd one that did everything they could to destroy the vehicle and it just got stronger. Go figure.

Watch though; they can wear down by stealth too. This current lot have a real penchant for creating diseases, or enduring habits such as drugs, smoking or alcohol. Yeah, you’d think, but it’s not as fun as it sounds. In fact, it can be a total pisser, especially if you’re getting really comfortable. We put so much into substitution it’s maddening if they then go and move the goalposts. Huh? Yeah, football again.

Still, you wouldn’t believe the changes I’ve seen. Today’s models last so much longer with all the new medications, surgeries, even transplants to combat the inevitable decline. Yeah transplants can be awkward. An extended lease is helpful and small parts like a pancreas or a cornea don’t generally cause any issues, but hearts are a completely different matter. With them there’s always the risk of importing a remnant of the previous occupant and no-one wants a turf war.

Soooo, Lesson Three. Geography of…

Would you leave that drip stand alone and pay attention.

Thank you, Now, where was I? Oh yeah, geography of re-entry is important. No not that way. Where is your mind at? Actual geography, countries and the like. You won the lottery this time with a first station in what they call the ‘developed’ world. Yes, that one is genuinely funny. Being located here means you’ve benefited from all the wealth this half cheerfully misappropriate from the other ‘developing’ cohort. Exactly how they get away with it is something we would embrace, if it wasn’t all falling apart so spectacularly. Point is, things might not be so cushty next time.

Talking of their divisive ways, wars can be tricky. Cue Lesson Four. When this lot go barking and start running at each other with weapons it creates a flitting clusterfuck. Floods the market with millions of us simultaneously scouting for new homes. We’ve had some real corkers: trench warfare in the First World War; challenging times to find a new host.

Science alert. Ha, now you’re listening. Apparently these conflagrations could actually be our fault. Recent research suggests that as we’ve devoured their husks, fragments of our DNA have leached into their fibre and the more they absorb us, the less human they become.

Thought you’d like that.

Similarly, we can develop a temporary affinity for our vehicles but that’s just sentimental hooey, a kind of meta-version of the way hosts develop attachments. Throughout my cycles, I’ve been at countless thank you parties for the corpses of others. Fashions change, as do regional customs, with all sorts of chants and rituals, but it always comes down to the same thing: bury or burn.

That said, I have seen some outliers: one got sent off on an ice flow, whilst another was burned, crushed then tossed in the river. And there was one group with a particular penchant for pointy brick edifices…

But I digress. Ergo, Lesson Five, if you get a say, burning offers the quickest escape. Burying isn’t that much slower but you have to get out before one of their embalmers pickles the exit routes.

Regardless, transition will take a lot of effort. So here’s the trick. Just before the carapace goes down, withdraw all your energy from the extremities and concentrate yourself into the core. Pull yourself together as the humans say.

Don’t science nerds do funny?

Yes, time is pressing. At last, you’re catching on. Okay, Lesson Six. If you remember nothing else, remember this. It’s easier if you behave like an imploding star. Push all your energy out with a concerted heave and the rebound will make the final contracture so much easier. Ironically, this surge fleetingly revitalises the host so they appear to rally just before snuffing it. This often gives a bit of false hope to their nearest and dearest but so what? It’s a mother of a process and we live in a throwaway society.

But then you’re out and, Lesson Seven, it’s time to start shopping around. Admittedly selection can be hard when all you have to go on is a ball of cells. That’s why some of us wait till they’re a bit more formed. Then at the very least you know whether it’s male or female. Gender can make a world of difference in what you have to put up with, believe me.

And be careful. Host development is a complex process and the massive rush of energy as we take up residence can send things awry. I’ve melted a few genes

across the ages, I can tell you. Too much enthusiasm and you’ll be looking for a new home before you’ve even got started.

But when all goes to plan and you’ve relocated, you can just sit back and enjoy it. The early days are my favourite, everything is so fresh and full and giving.

You might not remember it yet, but re-entry is a blast.


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Sheila Scott is part writer / part scientist, but most enjoys turning idle thoughts into narratives and illustrative doodles. Based in Glasgow and an MLitt graduate, she’s had work published in Causeway and Qmunicate, has an intermittently hyperactive Twitter account (@MAHenry20), and is currently working on a short story collection.


Image: Free-Photos via Pixabay

Kidnapped! – Anurag Bakhshi

I woke up to find that I could not see a thing.

No, I had not been blinded, not as yet anyways, but it was pitch dark, with just a tiny beam of light coming through a hole on the roof of the small box in which I was imprisoned.

I checked my hands and feet, thankfully, they were still free, but as for the rest of me, while I could move around, there wasn’t any place I could go to beyond the four walls of my claustrophobic prison.

Clearly, unequivocally, irrevocably, I was doomed!

And to think that just this morning, I had been fighting with my mother on what to have for breakfast, and beating up my brother for ratting on me. The latter is what had led to me ending up in this dark hole, come to think of it.

Our father had caught me hitting my idiot of a younger brother, and had grounded me on what seemed to be a brilliantly sunny Sunday. I grumbled, muttered, and protested vociferously, but he just refused to listen to my side of the story. I grudgingly went to my room and stood facing the wall, cursing the inequitable nature of this world, and of family dynamics!

But not for long.

I heard my father go out to get weekly provisions, and a neighbour come in to chit-chat with Mom, and I knew that this was my golden opportunity. I crawled slowly towards the main entrance, taking each step with utmost care so as to avoid making any sound whatsoever. Getting caught trying to escape punishment would only result in a harsher punishment, something which I was not too keen to experience.

After what seemed to be an eternity, I reached the main entrance of our house, and then…I was off, running as fast as my legs would carry me. And it was while running at that breakneck speed that I had bumped into him, the kidnapper. He saw me, and his eyes widened with excitement. He was much bigger than I am, and so, I could do nothing at all when he picked me up and dropped me in this prison, sliding the door shut as I slowly lost consciousness.

But now I had regained my senses, and knew that I was doomed, clearly, unequivocally, irrevocably.

But then, I thought of my poor mother wondering where I had disappeared, searching desperately for me, all the time blaming my father for having been the cause of this tragedy. And then I thought of my father, whose guilt would keep gnawing at him from inside till he became a shell of his former self. And then, finally, I thought of my younger brother, gloating on becoming the sole heir to the family fortune.

And this shifted something deep inside me. I was no longer reconciled to my fate, I would stand, and I would take it head-on!

I first tentatively checked the walls of my prison for any weak points, but there were none.

I did not get disheartened. I tried running and hitting the walls with the full force of my body, and it was then that I realized that the prison was not as solid as I had initially thought it to be. The ground, as well as the walls, had moved slightly when I hit the wall.

My chest swelled with hope then, for I knew what I had to do. I targeted the wall hitting which was leading to the most displacement, and started running and banging into it…again…and again…and again….till finally….the entire prison, just toppled over what seemed to be very high cliff.

I was scared out of my wits as I fell along with the prison, but the fear was combined with exhilaration, for even if I died in the process, I had succeeded in doing something to fight my captor and foil his plans.

The prison hit the ground with such great impact that the door slid open. I could see light now, after God knows how long. I jumped out of the prison, and ran with full strength towards my home. Strangely enough, the entrance to my home was not as far as I had thought it to be. Bit I did not spend too much time over it, and just slid in at great speed, panting heavily.

The first person I saw on reaching home was my brother, and for the first time in my life, I was so happy on seeing him that I hugged him. My parents looked at each other like I had finally gone completely crazy, but I didn’t care, I had just narrowly escaped death, or worse. I was home now, and I was never going to leave.

And in his room, 5-year old Sunny started bawling. His parents rushed in to see what had happened. His eyes full of tears, Sunny told them, “I had put a small cockroach in this matchbox to take him for our Summer Camp Show and Tell tomorrow. I had kept the matchbox on the table, but I just came back from the bathroom and saw that the matchbox was lying open on the floor, and the cockroach ran and went into that small hole in the wall. What am I going to tell Miss D’Souza?”

His mother looked at his father, and said, “How many times do I have to tell you to call someone and get that hole repaired? It seems as if an entire family of cockroaches lives down there!”


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Image: Steve Buissinne


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