April 2015: IRON

Allen Forrest, German Expressionism revisited

Allen Forrest, German Expressionism revisited

Artwork by Allen Forrest, who was was born in Canada and bred in the US. He has created cover art and illustrations for literary publications and books. He is the winner of the Leslie Jacoby Honor for Art at San Jose State University’s Reed Magazine and his Bel Red painting series is part of the Bellevue College Foundation’s permanent art collection. Forrest’s expressive drawing and painting style is a mix of avant-garde Expressionism and post-Impressionist elements reminiscent of van Gogh, creating emotion on canvas. Art website (paintings for sale) hereTwitter and Portfolio.

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Heather McQuillan, Fertility

The names, Rockwell and Steel, were engraved, ironically, on a brass plate screwed onto the front door of number 26, an otherwise featureless grey slab of a building. Their usual clientele were caffeine-fuelled women in solid-blocked merino-blend suits and feisty-heeled shoes – the sort who hired fecund foreigners to carry the resultant fetus – so, when a woman in scuffed loafers entered, the receptionist stiffened. There was an entrance via the back fence for her sort.

But Anna rifled through the pocket of her duffel coat to produce a reference from her G.P.

“Health Insurance?” sniffed the receptionist.

With the fee secured, a pale-lidded nurse led Annie into a clinic that glimmered in a High Street café sort of way. She was proffered a white-sheeted bed while either Rockwell or Steele did things to her veins, her ovaries, her womb. Rust-clouded blood was siphoned away in plastic tubes and someone else’s rich red blood transferred from a bag into her arm.

For the briefest moment Annie felt the new life shock her body into a fever.
“She’ll be a strong one, no fear,” said Steele.

Rockwell didn’t bother to feign interest now that his contra-midwife work was done.

“She’ll be perfect,” Annie’s cheeks flushed with a ferric bloom. “Worth every cent of your fee.”

The crow’s feet around Rockwell’s eyes creased when he smiled.

The pale nurse stumbled as she fetched Annie’s felted coat. She offered Annie tea and cake and a spare bag of her rich, red blood.

Heather McQuillan lives in Christchurch and has published two novels and a short story for children with Scholastic NZ. She was awarded the Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2005 and her two books have been selected for the Notable Books List by Storylines NZ. She is a tutor with the School for Young Writers. Her work was long-listed in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition. Most nights Heather goes to sleep hearing the waves on the shore and in the morning she wakes with more stories in her head. Sometimes she sleeps in a caravan by pine trees and wakes up with magpies quardling and the stories all ebbing away.

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D. R. Jones, Bend and Stretch

Since forever, it feels, Mr Torkington has found himself pressed for time, which flies in the face of received wisdom that, long retired, he ought to have time on his hands. Yet, as sure as PM follows AM, it seems there’s the constantly present consideration of Mrs T’s smalls requiring ironing.

Were she alive, time would pass quite differently, Torkington calculates. Can’t turn back the clock, but.

Hour upon hour the 90-year-old ex-horologist endures. He stands, hands sweeping across an imagined lifetime of lingerie, a permanent smile on his dial. Wish-schwock, wish-schwock his iron slides, side to side, leaking steam, ticking and clicking as it cools.

Creasing, steaming, pressing. Camisoles, knickers, handkerchiefs.

When young Griffiths pops by (unheralded!) with an offer to kill a few minutes over lunch, Torkington declines. He nods at the invisible pile of personals, chiming: “Impossible! There are those who care about order and the linear nature of the universe, and those who do not!”

Spinning backwards out the door, Griffiths knows to which temporality he’s been assigned.

“Are you Newtonian or Einsteinian in your experience of time, young man? Servant or master?”

Alarmed, Griffiths scurries to alert the nurse: “Grandfather’s gone permanently cuckoo!”

Which suits Torkington just fine. He’s lately been discouraging invitations with an, “I have no time”, stopping them short with a, “not even for a second”.

Ironing, smoothing, folding. Stockings, nighties, negligees.

Eventually, visitor movements decay, the accumulation of crushed undergarments expands, looped memories of Mrs Torkington accelerate, and

Time.

Stands.

Still.

D. R. Jones lives and works near Puhoi, overlooking the Mahurangi Harbour. This pastoral setting seems conducive to his writing novels, short stories and flash fiction. At present, the second instalment of his genre-defying Anonymous_Author© series is well underway.

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Ruchira Mandal, Blood

The mountain is like a screw, pressing down the land along the spiral of the road that winds round it. Though the window is blocked, I can feel each bend taking us closer to home. I can hear our hearts beating too, over the stuttering of the old engine and the noise of the indifferent crowd.

He is standing away from me, under the watchful eyes of my brothers. The mouth that I used to kiss is bleeding. His blood is my blood, the blood of the grand old sage whose descendants we both are, whose common blood makes us siblings, and our love forbidden. I wonder if they are going to conduct DNA tests at the trial. The thought makes me laugh, in spite of the broken bones that feel like they’re on fire.

He opens his bruised eye, and smiles at me, like he knows what the joke is.

Immediately, my youngest brother bangs his head against the glass window shutter. My uncle’s fingers dig deeper around my wrist, warning me to shut up.

“Haven’t you brought us enough dishonor?”

I want to scream an answer, scream loud enough to topple this bus with its oblivious, complacent crowd but I have no more strength to make myself heard over the engine.

With each turning of the screw, our hearts thump a little louder- a frenzied pumping of iron and oxygen into cells desirous of a little more time.

The bus rolls on towards our final destination.

Ruchira Mandal has sporadically published poetry, fiction and travelogues in The Statesman (an Indian newspaper), First Edition (a magazine briefly published from Wimbourne, Dorset) and a few independent charity anthologies. She has an MA and an M Phil in English literature and is currently pursuing a PhD at Jadavpur University, India. She also teaches English literature in BA honours courses.

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Rebecca Simons, Clear Sky Morning

The sky was clear the day you died – your life’s blood mixed with mine. I remember the colour, so dark, ribbon from my core turning the water pale pink, as it spread out mocking. I knew something was wrong the instant I woke. You were no longer there – your constant niggling, tossing and turning, my companion, the past four months. I thought the warm water might stir you, sooth you – unclench my fearful mind. When my hand rested on the tap I noticed it was pale, the colour of something whose blood no longer flowed – you see, I was already starting to lose the fight. Or maybe I had already lost – your will more iron than mine. I closed my eyes and drew in air, willing it to reach your stubborn lungs,and ran the water deep, so that all of you would be covered, and stepped in ignoring the pain – it needed to be hot because you were cold. But when I lay back the heat did not reach you – I knew that. I thought about the plans we had made and did not, would not, believe you would leave like this – no word, no sign, just gone – but, you did. I turned my head to look out the window at the clear morning sky, and that was when those ribbons came – like octopus arms, reaching out into that hot hot water as my body cramped cold – you, no longer there.

Rebecca Simons has a passion for art, music, culture and understanding what “makes us tick” and enjoys weaving these disciplines into her writing. She was the recipient of the Flash Frontier Summer Writing Award 2013 and nominated for a Pushcart prize in the same year. She blogs here

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Paul Beckman, Zipper
beckman, zipper

Paul Beckman, Zipper

Paul Beckman is an award-winning photographer who specializes in ‘street shooting’ in the US and around the world and underwater photography. He’s had one man shows in Connecticut and California and has been in many juried shows. As in his short story writing, Paul’s photographs show the ‘uncommon’ world around us.

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Helen Moat, Women of Iron

Die natϋrliche Mutter: Es war einmal … Once upon a time there was just you and me. While I grew weak, you grew strong. You made hills of my stomach: a slither-slope of elbow; a ridge of leg; a knoll of foot; a hummock of fist. Sometimes you punched so hard I thought you’d burst through my flesh. And I held out for you, because of the rampion I’d asked Papa to steal from that witch next door.

Die Stiefmutter: Fairy Godmother, healer and miracle-worker; sorceress, wicked stepmother, temptress and child-abductor: I’ve been called them all. Half-truths and lies. I took you from your dying mother, loved you and protected you. I built a tower around you to keep you safe. I didn’t cut your hair in anger, but to save you from yourself and the man who ruined you.

Rapunzel: The weight is gone, my head light; my resolve strong. From the tower I’d seen the forested slopes, the knots of land; the hunters and gatherers – and I longed to be in there. Now with the twins I can hunt for berries and fungi, make snares, trap rabbits and talk to the woodmen. I’ve built a shelter of logs and branches and burned down the tower. I’ll write my own ending: no princes, no miracles, no magic tears; no long golden hair. No happy ever after … Und wenn wir nicht gestorben sind, dann leben wir noch heute. And if we’re not dead, then we’re still alive today.

Helen Moat spent her childhood squished between siblings in her Dad’s Morris Minor, travelling the length and breadth of Ireland. She’s still wandering… and writing about it. She has won, or been placed, in numerous travel writing competitions, and is currently writing the ‘Slow’ Peak District guidebook for Bradt Publishers. More recently, she has discovered the strange and wonderful world of flash fiction – and rather likes the fact that she can create her own micro journeys and encounters. She has been nominated for the Sundress Publications Best of the Net 2014. Helen writes at Double Espresso

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Susan Tepper, Iron-clad

They have this group of three women that come into the café every morning around 10ish. They smile at me and say hello and take a table. This goes on for a long time. Several years. Sometimes one or two of them will engage me in a form of short conversation. They will drop little hints such as: We walk in the park first. They keep their trio conversations low. I rarely over hear despite that the café is tiny and quiet even when it’s full.

One day one of them tells me her name. She formally introduces herself after seeing me for several years practically every morning. Charlene is her name. Her friends seem reluctant to tell their names. I say Hi Charlene and smile and continue eating my breakfast.

A few weeks go by and the second one tells me her name. Alice. Hi Alice, Hi Charlene, I say smiling at all three of them. I go on eating.

Then the third one tells me her name. Teresa. She tells me the same day that Alice tells me. Hi Teresa, I say. Smiling again. All three have found me safe enough to divulge their first names. It’s almost a kind of miracle.

I am approximately their age, and their same socio-economic status. This is a well-off town. All the poor people have been driven away by the rising tax base.

They all look contented now. Iron-clad. As if I were a problem that needed solving.

Susan Tepper is the author of five published books of fiction and poetry. She is Second Place Winner in the ‘story/South Million Writers Award’ for this year, and the recipient of nine Pushcart nominations. Tepper writes a column for Black Heart Magazine and hosts FIZZ a reading series at KGB Bar.
More here.

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Marcus Speh, Thief
Marcus Speh, Thief

Marcus Speh, Thief

Marcus Speh is a lecturer and writer who lives in Berlin. His novel in flash, Gisela, will be published by Folded Word Press in 2015. He occasionally blogs at marcusspeh.com.

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Alex Reece Abbott, The Bridge

The old road bridge rests, a sleeping elephant, spanning the gully where the trains come and go.

Strengthened and renovated with a well-deserved face-lift, shadows dance on her struts and spans in the late afternoon light. Iron pieces bolted into shape, she’s a solid, reliable piece of Edwardian engineering, functional with her own quiet beauty.

Who has she borne before us? The poet Auden? The woman who discovered pulsars? The city’s chocolatiers? Perhaps the Astronomer Royal, or maybe even Frankie – titter ye not.

The traffic she bears comes into the city from the south and leaves for the country villages in the north. Pedestrians and cyclists, cars and vans and trucks and big long buses press for space during a rush-hour that’s far heavier than anything that Mr Handyside could have imagined when he designed her in 1911.

As the night draws down, she’s lit, an animated sculpture showing off her elegant angled girders. None of the graffiti is worthy of her, not witty, nothing even approaching Banksy’s artistic endeavours. She wears only tags and mutant genitalia, black felt pen scrawls on her pale grey skin.

Late some nights, there’s a jumper, someone who’s decided to spend their last minutes with her. She’s a bridge not an end-point, never built for this kind of departure. Look closely as you walk by and you can see where she’s breaking down, where the rust blossoms are forcing the giant Meccano pieces apart, attacking and pitting cast-iron until she spalls, weeping orange tears.

Published in assorted anthologies around the world, Alex Reece Abbott’s work has won some prizes and been short-listed in several competitions, including the Bridport. Her first crime novel Rocking the Boat was long-listed for 2014 CWA Debut Dagger; her second Last of the Lucky Country (Southcoast One) is short-listed for the Northern Crime Competition. Her first novel, The Maori House, was short-liisted for several prizes.

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Matt Cowens, The Iron Wahine

Tariana curled her toes in the black sand and surveyed the ocean. A gun-metal grey sky hung heavy over choppy waves, dwindling to blackness at the horizon. Somewhere in the heart of that darkness hearts raced, small hands clung to worn timber and prayers were uttered.Tariana let out a long, slow karanga to the deep. The echoes of her words came back as empty pings. There was little hope – refugee ships were cloaked with stealth polymers, their battered hulks invisible to sonar.Tariana, one node in a nationwide Intercept Recon Outpost Network, watched the sea for survivors. The time for refugee quotas and arresting boat people had long since passed. Any life, any survivor was a taonga now. All were welcomed, all saved.

Tariana’s thrusters fired before she knew she had seen anything. Her metal toes skimmed the waves dripping iron sand as she barreled toward the ship on the horizon. The tiny, battered bark had survived the long voyage away from peril. Tariana was programmed to make sure no ship failed at the last hurdle. Iron wahine around the coast answered her call as she plunged beneath the waves. Ships were always pursued by kraken; the wahine toa were built to fight them.

Beneath the waves, Tariana began to fight, her body of cogs and motors and hydraulics driven by AI and aroha, pitted against tentacle and hunger. Her sisters were coming, but the kraken were legion.

Above the waves, the refugees prayed.

Matt Cowens is a Kapiti based teacher, author and dad. With his wife, Debbie Cowens, he wrote Mansfield with Monsters (Steam Press, 2012). He has also made card games, written short stories and, while living in Japan, learned to tie a good-looking tie knot.

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Celia Coyne, Wintering

Bitter as a rock, my days are full of dry and dusty waiting. In this time of wintering, we ask little of ourselves. We endure without the indulgence of memory: sunshine, it’s warmth so sweet and reviving, is a moment passed. And where once was love, I see a shuttered eye, and a face drawn up in tundra.

It was nobody’s mistake – no one to blame. More like an accumulation of life’s debris, brought in by a rising tide and dumped on our shore. Rusty metal objects leave a stain on the vanilla sand, to be washed by the sea.

And all we can do now is grow old, slowly.

Meanwhile, the light of stars has been travelling through oceans of time to meet us. But it’s too late. We close the curtains on the miraculous sky. For a moment, I remember you before. And my iron heart still beats, waiting for the thaw.

Celia Coyne has been a writer and editor of non-fiction for over twenty years. She graduated from the Hagley Writers’ Institute with honours in both the first and second year of the course. Her stories have appeared in Takahē, Penduline Press and Fusion, an anthology of speculative fiction, and two of her stories were highly commended in the 2014 NFFD competition. Celia lives in beautiful Christchurch.

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Suzanne Claessen, While the iron, while the fish
Suzanne Claessen, While the iron, while the fish...

Suzanne Claessen, While the iron, while the fish…

Suzanne Claessen is a writer, illustrator and beekeeper. She studied Literature and Museum Studies at the University of Amsterdam, and completed a Master’s in Creative Non-Fiction Writing at the University of Otago. She describes this piece as: “my take on an illustration from a medieval manuscript. It is a monk who drinks wine from the barrell. However, my monk is driven by crazy lust, secrecy and drunken hallucinations. He has almost become a pantomime clown, living in an imaginary space where a fish pours wine like a waterfall out of its mouth. The image captures the moment of temporary insanity that can arise when one finds oneself at the right place, at the right time (strike when the iron is hot).”

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Jeff Taylor, Carnivore

I was twelve when I first enjoyed the taste of raw meat and warm blood.

We were on holiday, camping in the countryside. There were dozens of sheep over the fence and Dad reckoned that the farmer would never miss one. We went into the paddock and chased until we had a plump lamb cornered. It kicked and bucked as we sat on it. I had one arm tight around its neck and gripped its front legs together with my other hand. My brother had the back legs, and between us we managed to get some rope and tie it up. It bleated away like mad and its mother made a couple of dummy runs at us to rescue it, but soon gave up.

I watched dad slaughter it in the firelight using just his pocket knife. He killed it quickly with a swift swipe to the neck and we soon had a leg roasting over the campfire.

I was starving, and devoured the meat in the darkness. It was delicious. Then dad lit the spirit lamp, and I saw that the flesh I was eating was seriously undercooked, in fact practically raw and running with blood. It was still delicious.

Something stirred deep within me that night, and since that day I
demand my meat very rare.

“Practically raw,” I tell the waitress. “More iron that way.”

Sometimes I find myself lingering outside butcher shop windows.

Jeff Taylor is a retired pharmacist living in Hamilton who enjoys writing short stories for both adults and children. He has been writing for about six years and has won three short story contests in the UK (Global Short Stories) and has a children’s story published in Barbara Else’s anthology, Great Mates.

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Eileen Merriman, One Moment

When they came to arrest Coke, Jen was in the back yard hanging out the washing. Coke was sitting in the shed, his cigarette smoke curling under the door. When the car doors started slamming, he walked up behind her and slid his arms around her waist. He kissed the tense lines of her neck and said, be strong, bub. She leaned into the hardness of his chest for a moment, just one moment, and closed her eyes, trying to imprint his musky scent into her sinuses.

She felt Coke’s lips on her ear. He whispered, stand tall. She stood upright, as if her spine had turned to iron. There were four of them, all wearing bulletproof vests. She wanted to tell them Coke was a good man, the first man who’d ever loved her, but when her lips parted her tongue hung heavy in her mouth. Inert.

Coke stepped back and held his arms up, his biceps knotting beneath his tattooed skin. He didn’t look at her as they snapped the handcuffs over his thick wrists. But she looked at him. She looked at his hands – the hands that had held her in the middle of the night, the hands that had caught their babies as they slid out between her thighs, the hands that had crushed a man’s windpipe just days ago. A moment. A lifetime.

As they took him away, she thought, we are all dead.

Lot’s wife turned into salt, and I have turned into lead.

Eileen Merriman is a doctor with a serious addiction to writing. She was recently placed second runner-up in the Sunday Star Times Short Story Competiiton, and was awarded second place in the 2014 Graeme Lay Short Story competition. Her work has previously been published in the Sunday Star Times and Takahē.

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Elizabeth Farris, Irene Iron and the Oxygen Boys

Spleen Episode. Part Two: Haemoglobin.

Irene Iron (actress Dianne Bigelow, 63, unemployed – except for today) wears a cellulite-filled red jumpsuit with Fe on the front. She inches towards Stanley Spleen. He leers. He’s spongy, purple; he bashes her over the head with a foam bat. She hobbles towards Barry Bone Marrow.The director yells, “Cut!”

The announcer records the voice-over, “The Spleen filters the blood, destroying any old red blood cells. The worn-out iron atoms are sent to the bone marrow to be recycled into fresh haemoglobin.”

Dianne takes off the costume and picks up her $345.00 cheque. The director says, “You’re done. Thanks.” He yells towards the make-up room, “Bring in Heidi.”

Heidi Haemoglobin’s jumpsuit looks as if it was spray-painted on. She poses like a bodybuilder, displaying the Hb on her Playboy bunny bust. She’s a confident, well-rehearsed haemoglobin molecule. Barry Bone Marrow takes her in his arms.

“Roll camera.”

Barry reluctantly releases Heidi and four men in white jumpsuits with O2 on their chests surround her. Their exquisite abs show through the spandex. They bond covalently with her and circulate – dancing around the Hidden Secrets of the Body set.

Dianne groans. Oh, to be able to attend a casting call for ingénues. To bond with a man – any man – who still has his original teeth. Or simply to be cast as Lily Lymphocyte, who everyone admires.

She puts the cheque in her handbag. At least now she can make the minimum payment on her Visa card.

Elizabeth Farris is currently completing an MA at the International Institute of Modern Letters. Her short stories are published in Australian and American anthologies. Her stage plays have been performed in the US. She was short-listed for the Manhire Prize for Creative Science Writing in 2009 and was runner-up in the Rodney Writes Competition in 2008.

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D. R. Jones, Corrugated Iron Lung
D R Jones, Actinic Word Sequence

D R Jones, Actinic Word Sequence

Of this work, D. R. Jones tells us: “Actinism is the property of solar radiation that leads to the production of photochemical and photobiological effects.[1] Actinism is derived from the Greek ακτίς, ακτῖνος (a ray or beam)…. and the concept of actinism is applied, for example, in chemical photography and X-ray imaging. In chemical terms, actinism is the property of radiation that lets it be absorbed by a molecule and cause a photochemical reaction as a result. Hence, the word ‘Iron’ is radiated, causing two phrases to combine as a single mutant phrase.”

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Cecelia Fitzgerald, Anemic Again

Dr Johnsen tipped his balding head down, a penetrating stare over the edge of his bifocals, a pinched frown between bushy eyebrows. His face is deeply lined.”Your iron is low….again,” he said in a tired voice. I feel I have offended him personally. That I am somehow sucking the strength from not only my own blood but his as well.

“What is this, the fifth time?” There is a hint of irritation in his voice.

I look down, guiltily examining my uncared for cuticles, slumping ever so slightly in the uncomfortable chair. Shoulders sag, stomach bloats. I am instantly years older. Like a worn out car battery refusing to hold its charge.
I do not have energy to speak.

The doctor swings round. Bored now, his puzzlement and inquiry gone. He types a few words, the printer blinks a pretty blue flashing light. Another prescription we both know will not work.

“This shouldn’t be happening at your age,” he thrusts the script into my hand.
He stands up. The consultation, if you could call it that, is clearly over.

What more is there to say?

I plod down the hall, make a contribution toward his tennis court and trip to Budapest. Part of me is relieved. To have this fatigue verified.

I know the cause – my addiction.

Determined, for the ten thousandth time. I come home and put the chocolate biscuits in the bin, pour the sugar onto the weeds in the lawn. Plan the sodding detox.

Cecilia Fitzgerald lives in Christchurch. She is still awaiting earthquake repairs and remembers vividly striding through the Ashburton Domain, not knowing if she would ever be able to live in her home again, if her family would survive, if she could get bread or petrol, while a voice boomed in her head, “Alright, alright, alright, I will be a writer.”

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P. V. Wolseley, Iron Lady

When I saw that our knives were engraved ‘Sheffield steel’, I put down my Jackie magazine, picked up a knife and ran my finger along the blade.”It was made here,” I said.

“Don’t – you’ll cut yourself,” said Dad, then he came over educational:

“Steel’s an alloy: iron and carbon – makes stronger metal.” From our kitchen window, he pointed out steelworks against the skyline.

“It’s gone to the dogs,’ he said. He didn’t say it was because of Thatcher, but everything was.

*

I’d secretly listen when she spoke. It felt like being slowly fastened in steel cables. She could skewer you to the spot with that cold stare. The very thought of her had me enthralled – caught up in the mystery of an iron-lady alloy. I figured iron must strengthen the alloy, but what about lady? It probably accounted for the skirts and pussycat bows. I’d seen them on ladies of the non-iron variety, who never caused such a stir. Did lady cheapen the alloy? Or was it key to the alchemy? Was the lipstick on her Marilyn mouth decoration or war paint? The female element came up in other alloys: Dad always called Thatcher ‘bloody woman’. So it mattered somehow.

*

Mr Barnes shook a small slag heap of iron filings onto my desk. He showed how they flocked around magnetic poles. ‘Don’t touch,’ he said. So I did, but pierced no mysteries. There might have been some magic at play though: the metal felt just like velvet.

P.V. Wolseley’s first loves were Boy George and My Little Pony. When these childhood crushes came to nothing, she fell in love with art history, which she studied at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London. She then moved to France, where she discovered a passion for English (absence makes the heart grow fonder).

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Steve Charters, Iron Man

My mother kept my father in a cage.

We lived in the middle of nowhere, dark pines close-pressed against the low stone wall encircling our decaying orchard. She forbade me the forest. People died in there. At night I heard the hushing tree-breeze, corrugated crack of iron. Maybe moaning.

The day I knew, Mummy headed to town for a committee meeting.

‘Lunch is glad-wrapped on the table,’ she said, hugging me to her studded jacket. She tore into the forest, grey hair streaming, Harley-whine fading behind her.

She’d given me a ball on my eighth birthday. Maybe I kicked too wildly. The cellar window smashed. The ball went in.

In the cellar half-light: my ball in a puddle of splinters between the fettered ankles of a rusty man: horny nails; muscled, matted chest; curtained glint of green eyes. His voice creaked.
“Hello son.”

“Give me my ball.”

“Get the key. Under her pillow.”

Mummy’s door swings open; face-powder swirls; the huge bedstead athwart crimson shag-pile; black festoons of net draped down. I slide my hand beneath her icy bolster, extract her scented hanky: ‘Tabu’. It enfolds a golden key. I freeze. For from afar I hear, homing, her Harley’s mosquito-whine.

I fit the key, free the fetters, loose the chain. He grabs me, triple-strides the stairs exuding heat and yeast and hawthorn. He squints. When Mummy, shrieking, skids between the gateposts I’m on his shoulders. We clear the wall and disappear into the darkness of the pines.

S.R. Charters grew up in West Auckland. He has won The Macmillan Brown Prize for Writers and been highly commended in the CBA short story competition. He is published in Readers Digest, the HarperCollins anthology Creative Juices and The Rangitawa Collection 2014. He is shortlisted for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and is currently working on a memoir.

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Lucy-Jane Walsh, Iron

Her hair is as thick and coiled as copper wire, tough as steel, the colour of rust. Each morning she warms her rollers, stands to face the mirror, stares at the stranger in the glass.

It took a thousand years to make, the pigment, the ore – small beads extracted from her ancestors, blended together piece by piece. She lifts a roller to her scalp, pulls her hair with an angry tug. Stream rises from the roller, twirls above her head.

You must bring it to the boil, let the air react with the impurities, escape as fumes. Once heated it can be squeezed between two plates, flattened into rods. She moves with practiced ease, feels the heat flow through her locks, electron to electron like the current in a circuit. The hair glows hot beneath the rollers, slowly cools into malleable strips. She molds them into a ball, stiff and solid around her head, puts on her pearls and blue blazer.

“Ready, ma’am?”

She stands in front of the mirror, pats her hair. She can see it if she squints her eyes, a solid figure, hard as a bronze statue – the iron lady.

Lucy-Jane Walsh is a young writer of science fiction. Her stories deal with themes such as infinity, drug use and the manipulation of time. She has had her work published in Takahē and shortlisted in the AUT Short Story Competition and the NZ College Short Story Competition. In 2013, she graduated cum laude from Hagley Writers’ College.

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Kate Mahony, The Brown Shroud

After my father died, my brother brought up the matter of the brown shroud. Our father had wanted to be buried in one.

It was an old Irish custom, Kieran said. “Catholics were buried in brown shrouds.”

“I’ve never heard of it,’ our sister Fiona said. “And he never said anything to me.”

Once the doctor had started administering the morphine I hadn’t heard Dad say much. I had seen him smiling.

Kieran shrugged. “That’s what he asked for.”

My father had an iron will, we all knew that. Even in death.

It was late afternoon and the funeral director would soon arrive to take the body away.

A phone call to the little store in the village confirmed there were no reams of brown cloth available. Summer colours, yes, the owner said. A few metres of buttery yellow for craft work had just come in.

“In that case,” Kieran said with determination, “we’ll use the brown curtains from our place.”

“No,” his wife said firmly. I remembered they were new.

“Was he so religious?” asked a neighbour who’d called in to pay his respects.

I thought of the cursing and swearing, the bottles of whisky – the fist fights. You couldn’t miss the racket if you lived on the same road.

My siblings were quiet.

“He did go to Mass,” I said. But my voice sounded weak.

There was a sudden knock. It was the undertaker.

The next time I saw my father he was wearing a dark blue suit.

Kate Mahony has an MA in Creative Writing from the IIML at Victoria University, Wellington. Her fiction has been published in Best New Zealand Fiction Vol 6, Turbine, Takahē, International Literary Quarterly, Tales for Canterbury, Blackmail Press, Blue Fifth Review, The Island Review and 4th Floor Literary Journal. She was also recently included in Sweet As, Contemporary Short Stories by New Zealanders. Her story, ‘Freedom’, was awarded second place in the 2014 Takahē Short Story Competition.

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Matt Potter, Neat Freak

“Hurry up!” Binoculars swing from Rita-Marie’s neck. “They’re on top of the hill!”

“How far away’s that?” I ask, folding underwear into the suitcase. “Time-wise?”

“Not enough time for this!” Rita-Marie shoves my suitcase to the floor. “Get a backpack!”

I open the wardrobe and pull down the backpack. I’m so unprepared, I think, falling to my knees, scraping my underwear off the floor.

For years I laughed at Rita-Marie and her coffee klatsch cronies. Sipping my cabernet merlot, I watched Intellectual Shakespeare, Peasant Cuisines of France and America’s Next Top Pre-Raphaelite.

And sneered at them devouring Zombie Bingo, Brainfood Apocalypse, and Gonna Eat Ya Cerebellum, Sucka!

“Move it, Austin!!”

And today I find out zombies are real!!

I want to refold my underwear before gently adding shirts and t-shirts and trousers and socks.

Rita-Marie’s eyes bug. “They’re at the end of the driveway!!”

I stuff two t-shirts into the backpack. “How do you kill them? In case we get separated!”

“A shot to the head!” she fires over her shoulder. “Come on!!”

I grab the backpack. Spot the iron on the ironing board standing in the corner. Maybe zombies make allowances for neatness, I think, snatching the iron and shoving it in the backpack. Maybe if they come too close I can give the zombies a shot of steam between the eyes.

Matt Potter is an Australian-born writer who keeps part of his psyche in Berlin. Matt has been published in various places online, his anthology Vestal Aversion was published earlier in 2012 and he is also the founding editor of Pure Slush. Find more of Matt’s work here.

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Allen Forrest, Modern Masters Revisited
Allen Forrest, Modern Masters Revisited

Allen Forrest, Modern Masters Revisited

Allen Forrest’s artwork has appeared in many literary journals and he is featured at the top of the April issue. Art website (paintings for sale) hereTwitter and Portfolio.

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Jane Percival, Red Blood Cell Deficiency

Iron. Apparently your body needs it. A lot of it.I was always tired and my haemoglobin count never went over 110. I definitely wasn’t pregnant and yet my uterus was enlarged. I was diagnosed with fibroids.

I went in for surgery on a Tuesday morning. The plan was to extract my uterus the least invasive way possible. I remember the moment just before I fell asleep. The surgical team were playing Rod Stewart (of all things!).

When I awoke the curtains were pulled tight around my bed and I could hear people talking in subdued tones. I felt groggy and gingerly patted my stomach – it felt tender beneath the large dressing.

The curtains were pulled aside and my gynaecologist stood there, looking serious. Then he looked down at my hand, still resting on my stomach.

“Yes, we had to go in through your abdomen, your uterus was larger than we expected.”

I waited; it was clear he had more to say.

“We… ,” he appeared to be searching for the right words.

“The uterus was an odd shape so we examined it directly after surgery… it wasn’t fibroids. Something was growing inside. But not a baby. We don’t know what it was.”

“Was?”

“Yes. It died. We incinerated it. It was best you didn’t see it.”

*

My iron count is normal.

Every night I have a recurring dream – more of a nightmare.

I am in the throes of labour and give birth to a glistening lamprey.

Jane Percival lives on the Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland, New Zealand. She has always enjoyed writing and has recently taken time out from full-time paid employment to pursue this activity. Lately she has been focusing on speculative fiction.

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Shreyasi Majumdar, Cage

At dawn, she pins her plastic name tag onto her vest. She slips on a pair of jeans, washes down a slice of buttered bread with coffee.

And then she drives. Drives till she has left the calm of night behind her, till the day bursts into her pupils.

She parks her hatchback in one of the regular, cramped parking spaces, ignoring the vacant one with the blue wheelchair painted on it.

She staggers into the cage smiling, waving. As usual, the bars – iron-like, robust – close around her. They’re invisible to people queuing on the outside.

The queue lengthens – a self-reliant file of army ants scrounging for supplies.

She hears every sound in Dolby Digital clarity. A veritable orchestra.

The shuffling of undecided feet; cheese and milk being stacked in perfect order; the scraping of the cash register and beeping of the bar code scanner, punctuated by a noncommittal ‘Hello, how are you today?’ every six minutes or so; trolleys being rolled around; voices demanding loyalty point claims, others returning defective light bulbs.

A giant machine, droning and buzzing, each little cog like her whirring away in its own cubicle.

At 2:00 pm, she places a ‘counter closed’ sign on the conveyor belt and steps outside. The 15-minute break is her ankle monitor; she cannot stray further than the parking lot. She sits on an overturned trolley, crosses her prosthetic legs and lights up a Marlboro, watching the smoke snake up into the boundless Auckland sky.

Shreyasi Majumdar is fairly new to New Zealand, having lived in Mumbai and more recently in Singapore. She has degrees in the Life Sciences and has worked as a writer and editor since 2008. She enjoys reading and writing fiction – particularly short, impactful stories that pack a punch. Her work has also appeared in Shortbread Stories.

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Diane Smale, Black Sand Beach

It’s black because it’s full of iron. My mouth is full. This would have bothered me, but it doesn’t.I was walking. The man who stopped his car in the rain was being kind. He said he would take me to school that morning.

Dig the dry sand up the beach. Can’t swim. Can’t go into the water without Mummy and she’s tired. Make castles with this sand instead, make brother bring back the bucket with water to pour into the sand bucket. Can’t get wet sand so get sand wet. Dig, dig, dig. Need lots for making the biggest castle ever.

Even though there was a dog in there, the car smelled like lemon pledge inside. It was warm and dry. It felt safe. Until it didn’t anymore. Until it wasn’t. But then it was too late anyway.

Flip the bucket, dump the sand. Make more towers. This is already the biggest ever castle. It could be bigger though. Back to digging. Need more sand.

Something scratching. Searching fingers, pulling handfuls away from above me. The poor girl. She’s only three.

Dig, dig—treasure? Maybe a good rock. Like finding good rocks. Good rocks are better than good sticks. Big strange white rockshell that won’t come out. Got a crack and a hole in it. Ask Mummy for help, but she only brushes a little more sand off and doesn’t pull any out at all then she starts screaming. Why tell everyone about my shell? It’s my shell.

D.F. Smale was born and raised in the Waikato, and is currently living and working in Hamilton City and returning to writing after somewhat of a hiatus.

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Sean Crawley, Foundation Song

A gang of noisy miners squawk incessantly as she rests on the collapsing veranda.“What do you think I am, a snake?” she asks the birds.

She stands and walks into the desiccated garden, birds swoop clacking their bony beaks.

“Go and find a cuckoo,” she yells.

She stoops to pick up the iron mattock, the most valuable thing she still owns. A withered beetroot is dying in the cracked earth. The squawking grows. She swings the tool wildly. Humanness and iron scare away the avian flock. She drops to the ground regretful of her actions – already missing the company.

Everything is going away, except for the sea that is. The children were the first to go, how quickly they expired under the brand new purple sky. Men retrieved hidden guns and marched away, taking those who believed an enemy must exist out there somewhere. Now the plants are leaving, back into the ground, once the best, volcanic.

She has felt it before, but today it grabs her whole. The urge to go under, below, deep down into coolness, away from sky, towards the core. The metallic, magnetic core.

At the edge of the house she digs with purpose.

“Look I’m a wombat,” she cries to the empty sky. “Come back and sing to me, sing me goodbye.”

Sean Crawley lives wherever the tides of time, economics and love take him upon the continent of Australia. At present that sees him sitting at an op-shop desk on a hinterland range banging out words to help him make sense of all the craziness.

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Guest Editor Tim Jones on this issue:

In choosing stories to include in this ‘Iron’-themed issue of Flash Frontier, I was looking for good stories that between them covered a range of approaches, genres, and treatments of the theme. I’m someone for whom the single most important element of fiction is narrative: that is, I am looking for stories in which something happens, however slight or however surreal that narrative movement may be, rather than those which are a static depiction of a character or a place. But beyond that, I’m also looking for words that are put together well, memorable images – and I love humour that works!

What fascinates me about flash fiction is how authors engage with the limitations imposed by the form. How much can be pared away and still leave a good story? The discipline of removing unnecessary words, unnecessary characters, unnecessary plot elements is valuable to any writer, and writing flash fiction is a good way to practise it that stands the writer in good stead if and when attempting longer works.

I hope this issue appeals. There’s iron in the blood, iron in bridges, even iron (cheekily) as an acronym. Rust never sleeps.

Tim Jones is a poet and author of both literary fiction and science fiction who was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. He has had three poetry collections, two short story collections and one novel published. His most recent poetry collection, Men Briefly Explained, appeared from IP in 2011. His most recent short story collection is Transported (Vintage, 2008). 

Tim has also edited two poetry anthologies. With Mark Pirie, he co-edited the anthology Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand (IP, 2009).Voyagers was included in the NZ Listener‘s “100 Best Books of the Year” list in 2009 and won a Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Collected Work in 2010. His latest book, co-edited with P. S. Cottier, is The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry (IP, 2014).

Tim blogs, less often than he should, at timjonesbooks.blogspot.com, and is an occasional book reviewer for Landfall Review Online and the NZ Herald. He is on Twitter here.

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Please also see this month’s feature in anticipation of National Flash Fiction Day.

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Coming in June: shadow stories and a focus on New Zealand flash.