Artwork by DR Jones, whose words and images can be found in this issue. Of this piece, Jones tells us: “This is inspired by Tool’s song, 46 & 2, and its theme of Jungian theory of ‘the shadow’ as the catalyst for change.” DR Jones is also the creative mind behind the National Flash Fiction Day banner and logo, which his Auckland-based design firm, Designlab, generously donated to the flash community.
~ ~ ~
It was a very nervous voice in the male choir. Karl’s voice slid up and down as he stole glances at the boy standing next to him. Dark eyes, like espresso, that he wanted to fall into. Smooth, warm skin,like caramel. If he stood just a little closer, he could touch the delicate angle of Universe’s jaw with his tongue. And then –
Universe Lau slid onto a top G, the glassy note filling Karl’s chest.Karl, distracted, reached for a C and slid straight off the other side, crashing into a B flat. Universe winced. Karl fell silent,listening as Universe’s notes soared into orbit.
Afterwards, the boys stood outside the school hall as they waited to be picked up.
Karl looked at their shadows falling in front of them and shifted, so they merged together. He said, “Why did your parents call you Universe?”
Universe said, “Are you tone deaf?”
A blue van pulled into the car park, four pairs of miniature arms waving out of the windows. It looked like a mutant beetle.
“Wow,” Karl said. “Big family.”
Universe’s mouth twitched. “You should hear what they called my sisters,” he said, as he walked away.
“I like your name,” Karl called after him.
His words glanced off Universe’s back. They fell into his shadow, now long and thin and singular.
The van door slammed shut. His Universe left. Karl lay on his back and waved his limbs around, a mutant beetle falling into a black hole.
Eileen Merriman writes flash fiction, short stories and novels. Her work has previously been published in The Sunday Star Times, Takahē and Headland, and is forthcoming at Blue Five Notebook. Last year she was awarded second runner-up in the Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition. Eileen is also the winner of the 2015 Winter Writing Award here at Flash Frontier. Congratulations, Eileen!
~ ~ ~
I’ve flushed her with harsh whites to expose the evil in her face, but she still hides her intentions. She reveals quite clearly that she has a secret.
She’s stark, barefoot, walking in imaginary stilettos. Her fingers extend, flex, and twitch arhythmically, hinting at some sort of brain malfunction. Her expression is uncaring, but not careless.
When she’s on stage my eyes are drawn to her. When she’s not on stage I’m anxious.
The script calls her ‘Murderess #3′, but that’s sterile. The mental ward whites and the dark-circle eye makeup make me think ‘Needle Teeth’. ‘Spine Cutter’. ‘Cadaver Thief’. Even #1 and #2 show a rabid type of deference. I imagine she’s spent significant time taking advice from erratically changing silhouettes formed in light that only reluctantly sneaked in under a locked, heavily reinforced, door.
When the control room door is unlocked I feel vulnerable. When it’s locked I feel trapped.
Three distinct and distorted negatives extend from her feet across the stage. Each exposes a different facet of her character as they move in perfect concert, taking turns mimicking different parts of her frame. They’ve inherited the perfect combination and balance of our skills.
I can see her dancer’s strength that underpins the psychosis, and the grace that allows the staccato to be felt. She uses angular postures, unnatural but not obviously so, as a theatrical tensioning ratchet.
When the audience smiles as they exit, I feel satisfied. When they don’t, I feel delighted.
Doug Dautel is a husband and daddy who is consistently intrigued and infuriated by how much delight and discontent assembling 250 words can cause. He lives in Auckland.
~ ~ ~
The world seemed silent without my husband’s snoring and his fat cheeks moving in and out like bellows. He was dead.
I got out of bed and opened the curtains. Somebody’s dog was pooing on our front lawn. The overhead sun glistened on Widow Sweeney’s red wheelbarrow as she pushed it along the footpath towards the supermarket.
I put on my gardening clothes.
The backyard was full of docks with tap-roots like baseball bats, hard to fork out in the heat.
I rested for a while in the shade of a mutant rhubarb, its leaves resembling African elephants’ ears, then returned to the now stifling bedroom
He’d always stunk but never this badly.
I sat across the room from him. So many memories. If you squeezed them together, they’d make a fine nugget of shit.
I fell asleep then I woke up.
I strolled onto the deck. The sun was low. My shadow walked ahead of me down the steps into the garden and rested its head on the compost bin. Wisps of shade appeared, formed into patches of darkness, joined up and my head disappeared.
I visited Widow Sweeney and asked to borrow her wheelbarrow ‘to cart something rotten to the compost bin.’
“Sounds a bit shady to me,” she said, winking. ”You can’t have the new red one, case you get caught. You can use the old blue bugger.”
“That rusty old thing!”
“If it was good enough for my Harry…” she said.
Bruce Costello is a New Zealander. After studying foreign languages and literature in the late sixties, he spent a few years selling used cars. Then he worked as a radio creative writer for fourteen years, before training in psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy and spending 24 years in private practice. In 2010, he semi-retired and took up writing for fun and to avoid housework. Since then, he’s had over seventy stories accepted by mainstream magazines and literary journals in seven countries. He still does housework.
~ ~ ~
Jess O’Brien’s work explores themes of dreams and memories, from the deepest realms of the subconscious to day-dream narratives pulled from popular culture. The lines blur between the conscious and the subconscious mind – the real and the make-believe.
…….What is memory, but a recollection, a reminiscing of sorts, a remembrance.
The objects in her photographs recall childhood memories of cautionary tales and fables, mixed in with the mundane of the everyday. Symbolism runs deep within these objects – multi-layered and imbued with the complex rich history of collected stories mirroring real life.There’s a strong nod to the Victorian fascination of the macabre, and to the modern-day theories of The Psyche from Jung. A play on light and dark creates a sense of unease, throwing shadows to accentuate the story book nature of her tales.
Jess is inspired by her love of all things make-believe: a child’s mask has a tale to tell; the doll house speaks of the fears and worries of yesteryear. Notions of what is real and what is constructed blend in the recollection of the truth.
…….“Yesterday is but today’s memory, and tomorrow is today’s dream.”
Jess O’Brien studied at Wellington School of Design, majoring in photography. It is her desire to fill the rest of her time making pictures to illustrate her day-dreams.
~ ~ ~
You put your head on my shoulder and fell asleep instantly. What you didn’t know was that I could already see the end. I found my heart halved, a beautiful cross section of everything I could be. I could pretend my arteries were galaxies, I could call the flow of blood simply spaces without light. I could pretend my flesh was spinning into planets and I could see solar systems long gone, but I couldn’t see you. I whispered your name, said, wake up, wake up. You looked up at me, eyes all dazed, and asked what was wrong. I swallowed but couldn’t get the words out. My hands were stained with blood and you were looking at me like I was beautiful. When the world finally cleared back into shadows, you were asleep again. I stayed awake for a long time.
Emma Shi was a runner up in the 2015 North & South Short, Short Story Competition and the winner of the 2013 National Schools Poetry Award. She is currently studying at Victoria University of Wellington.
~ ~ ~
“Take this,” he says and passes me a needle.
I turn his palm to the light. The skin is thickly ridged with calluses, lines of grease worn into the whorls of his fingertips. His fingernails are short. I have never seen him cut them.
“There.” A shadow lies where the sliver of wood has pierced its way through the hardened skin and embedded itself deep.
I begin to dig, peeling back the layers.
“This here,” he says, pointing with his free hand. “That dark patch. It’s a piece of coal from when I worked in the mines.”
I laugh. A coal miner father.
The needle moves, following the seam into flesh a soft shade of pink. His hand jumps.
“Sorry.” I tighten my grip.
“This finger.” He taps the little finger of his left hand against the table and it sings a wooden song. “That’s the one I broke playing hockey.”
“Sit still – I’ve nearly got it.” The point burrows, chasing the splinter deeper. I angle the tip and there it is.
“Here.” I move the splinter from needle to tip of finger and hold it up to him triumphantly. “It’s tiny. I don’t know what you were complaining about.”
He grins and kisses my cheek.
I take the splinter to the open window. Outside the air is cool, a light breeze chattering the few remaining leaves on the old walnut tree. The splinter waits a moment and takes flight.
Rachel Smith has been writing short fiction for many years, and more recently flash fiction. She has recently embarked on a new career as a freelance journalist and enjoys writing in all its forms. Her work has been previously published in JAAM and Takahē, and she was long-listed in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition.
~ ~ ~
The paddles of our ancient whakapapa waka silently dip and pull, ploughing through the waves, leaving not a trace, prow pointing towards the future carrying the past through this timeless ocean.
I heard the crew chanting karakia, whenever my mother spoke. I saw the beads of sweat upon the paddlers’ brows when I looked into her eyes. She gave me a glimpse of the strength she carried, the strength that allowed Mum to be herself.
I came to know the strength my mother carried. She passed this knowledge to me when she died.
This knowledge carried our whakapapa, and gave me the strength to be myself and stand in my turakawaewae, my standing place.
Whakapapa knowledge connects me to all aspects of this world, the secrets that once were hidden from me, now guide me to the myriad of worlds beyond and further, as I knowingly dip and pull, dip and pull.
When you see me you don’t see the hundreds who came before me and who are with me still. You don’t’ see me dip and pull bringing my whakapapa waka into the 21st Century, bringing all those past Centuries with me, bringing all the bones and blood that tell me who I am, and teach me how to stand. All you see is me standing.
Teoti Jardine is of Māori, Irish and Scottish descent with Waitaha, Kāti Māmoe and Kāi Tahu tribal affiliations. He spent twenty years overseas living in Canada, Italy and the UK where he worked as a nurse, a potter and a deckhand. Since his retirement two years ago he has been writing full-time. He’s had poems published in Te Pānui Rūnaka, Christchurch Press and London Grip. He lives with his dog Amie at his friend Bert McConnell’s place near Oxford in North Canterbury and is a member of the Canterbury Poets Collective committee.
~ ~ ~
Esther held up her right hand towards the sun and opened her fingers. The sunlight streamed between the silhouetted gaps. She squinted, made her eyes almost out of focus, but the light, like v-shaped daggers, still blinded her.
“What are you doing, Es?” Jonathon said.
Esther spun round, arm outstretched, her spread-fingered hand a mask blocking his face.
“I’m looking at negative spaces.”
Jonathon walked closer. He pulled down her hand, bent forward as if he was a shy child, and kissed each of the fingers in turn. Esther opened her eyes wider, then flung her arms around his neck and hugged him. He was muscle and bone, warm skin, soft beard. Solid. Real.
“Let’s go in,” Jonathon said.
“Soon. When the sun goes behind the cloud.”
They sat, not speaking, on top of a low bank splattered with red poppies while shadows folded over the garden.
Jonathon held Esther’s hand so tightly she winced and he loosened his grip.
But she must not hold her hand towards the light like that again.
Jonathon shivered, reminded of a picture he’d seen as a child. An Aztec priest, or was it a Mayan, blood flowing down his arm, held up a still pulsing heart, an offering to the Sun God.
Jane Swan is newsletter editor for the Waitaki Writers’ Group. Successes include two Radio New Zealand stories and others published in local and daily newspapers, Alfie Dog Ltd and Essentially Food. She has also been highly commended in the Heartland Short Story Competition and short-listed in the Sunday Star Times competition. Jane’s Flash Frontier story ‘Eat Beetroot’ (April 2014) will appear in September in Best Small Fictions 2015.
~ ~ ~
He was an ordinary man. Even his name, David Smith, was ordinary. He was my eldest cousin. My mother said he was a beautiful child. I don’t remember.
I remember an older David. He was leaning against the fridge in my mother’s kitchen. He said “Yes, Aunty. No, Aunty,” nothing else. I remember his fingernails; they were bitten to the quick.
Later there was a girlfriend. Her home was up the Whanganui River. There was a wedding. David stood to speak. Not a word came out. The hall was cleared, the band played, young guys brawled, we danced and we sang. That was a wedding!
Their first baby was born, then their second. The years slipped away. News of David filtered down through the family grapevine. David is getting headaches. David has a brain tumour. They operate. David dies. The young widow’s family arrive. They bring their huge cooking pots.
Our ordinary man’s life casts long shadows.
The house is crowded. The table is laden. This is the hakari. There is a murmur of voices. Suddenly a cry of anguish silences the room. Hearts race. A little sparrow of a woman leans, wraithlike, framed in the doorway. Granny has come from her home up the river to wail her ancient cry of mourning for our man of few words. We breathe slow and deep.
Beverley Teague has been a member of a writing group for almost three years, attracted to the group because of her interest in writing poetry. Flash fiction is her most recent discovery, her newest challenge.
~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~
Into the light of night they come, these familiar strangers with faces known, yet not.
A definite nose, a smile, the way a lock falls across a forehead…
…..Patrick Murphy, in the year of the Potato Famine, with a regiment of Irish Fencibles.
…..Jonah Russ, from rural Somerset, landing in New Zealand without a shilling to bless him.
…..John Davies, a good looking Welshman, without any history.
…..Lucy Murcott, spinster with two children, no father registered, and a place in Nelson named after her.
…..Esau Russ, twin and stablehand, shot dead over the naming of a foal.
…..Job’s wife, Elizabeth, mother of ten and survivor of a great sea journey, dying from a slip on the verandah.
…..A baby stillborn on Christmas Day, buried under an apple tree.
…..John Wright, sentenced to death in England for stealing four sheep to feed a family of twelve.
Children lost to chicken pox and typhus, buried at sea. Carpenters, bricklayers, farmers, women in bonnets and gloves. Grandmothers – fathers – and greats, such ancestral shadows, gently turning over my clothes as I sleep…
Jan FitzGerald has been published in mainstream NZ literary journals since the 1970s and in Poetry Australia, The London Magazine, Acumen (UK), Orbis (UK) and others. Her latest poetry book is entitled On a day like this (Steele Roberts, NZ). Jan works in Napier as a full-time artist. For more see her website, Painting Poets.
~ ~ ~
Lissy’s mother kisses her forehead, leaves wetness, leaves warmth, leaves her side. “Sleep tight. Lights out. Love you.” The bedroom plunges into darkness and the door clicks shut.
Lissy fears night as she fears nonexistence. Nine years old, she’s yet to discover nighttime is merely earth’s shadow falling across us, and that shadows, like ignorance, lack substance. To her, the dark’s recesses shelter those things which shame her, those things which cause her, in daylight, to be the person she doesn’t comprehend.
Who am I? Who is everyone else? Are they the same as me: confused, afraid, bad? Why did I steal money from Mr Tattersall’s desk? Maybe he doesn’t know. No. He knows. And he knows I know he knows.
Lissy imagines the worst thing someone like him would do to someone like her.
Eventually Mother will find out. Then Father.
She weeps. She drifts. She dreams.
Beyond her dreams are more. Silly dreams that are serious, too, in that strange way dreams can be: small anxieties casting long shadows; night’s cover suffocating her with the menace of forsaken dawn. Beneath the pall of sleep Lissy peers through her own shadow and sees nothing above it. It has devoured its caster, is liminal.
The next morning, Mother, conscious her daughter’s had a restless night judging by the sounds that strayed through the walls, tries to infuse a lightness. She sings, “Rise and shine!” and opens the curtains, only to cast Lissy in the grey of a sunless day.
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.
~ ~ ~
A low sun prints our shadows on the land. Our cracked feet strike the ochre clay; on the red skyline everything burns. Amid the tree-skeletons knots of men feed the plague-fires. We cannot see them; we smell their smoke and hear the clash of axes.
My father’s hide-bound feet stumble then halt at a charcoaled trunk-spike – needle-less now. He guzzles at the goatskin while I kneel and tie another time his ankle thongs. He prods me on.
We know the aching contour of these hills. Ahead stickmen fire a tree; we lift our heads and squint the cinder-spiral screwing up and hear our valley shouting back its burning. Our land has gone to desolation.
To reach the western coast, the dying sea, we pass along a dead creek’s drought-dried bed. I breathe the dust and scrape my knees across the stones, dragging the old-man’s weight behind, long bones buckled in a leather bag. His heels kick petulantly at the crusted ruts. Then cease.
Each slow crawl scrapes my palms and burns my breath.
I want to quit this burden now but struggle onwards through the heat yearning for the sea’s cool embrace, to float his bones out free upon the rocking salt forever. Heartbeats pulse my ears, blowflies drink my eyes. This huge heat flays me.
Alone in the burnt-out wreckage of a world my scream is shrill and wordless. The ground splits. All sounds cease in the still aftermath. I topple with my bundle of bones sideways into silence.
S R Charters grew up in West Auckland. He has won The Macmillan Brown Prize for Writers and been highly commended in the annual CBA short story competition. He is published in Readers Digest and the HarperCollins anthology Creative Juices and The Rangitawa Collection 2014. He is short-listed for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize and is currently working on a memoir.
~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~
He stares into the gloom, trying to make out things in the shadows. Yes, this is a place he has known. Somewhere he has been before? Wooden stakes. For tomatoes, he knows those. Yes. He likes tomatoes. Doesn’t he? It must be time to plant them soon. Those things? Ah, garden tools. Long handles, short handles. What was each one for again?
A stack of tins. That’s right, paint. Yes, he remembers painting a roof once. Corrugated iron. Scraping the rust off first. The sun blasting. It had been so hot.
Spiders’ webs everywhere. Dust.
A child’s wooden rocking horse, bright colours, but broken. Something comes back – a fair-haired girl, small, with freckles, rocking, laughing. His daughter?
All these tools. Hanging, a place for everything and everything in its place, he laughs to himself. Saws, chisels, screwdrivers, spanners. Not a bad set of tools, he recalled claiming proudly to anyone once who’d listen. A hammer – ah, nailing down that wooden deck. The miss-hit, the sharp pain. He looks at his thumbnail, still yellowed and thickened to remind him forever.
There’s a noise from the doorway. “What are you doing in here? This should be locked.” It’s that bossy woman. His keeper.
He stumbles as he tries to move backwards towards the door, anxious to appease her. His walker catches on a pile of sacks and the grumpy woman moves to help.
Why is she crying?
“Come on, Dad,” she whispers. “Your lunch is ready.”
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 latest anthology, Great Mates.
~ ~ ~
It was dark when I reached the North Shore suburb, but not really dark, with advertisements in moving lights, bumper-to-bumper vehicles and green-orange-red at every intersection. To escape the headlights of a car on my tail, I left-turned into an unnamed street that curved and twisted until it descended to an unlit blind end. With little space to turn, the car swung forwards, backwards, forwards and eased its way uphill.
I stopped under a street sign. Nearby houses had a murky look.
“Where are you?” my friend asked, as my unreliable mobile phone crackled.
“Never heard of it.”
“It’s nowhere on my map. Not in the Index.”
“Follow the road until you reach some shops. Then call me back. My GPS will
Silence. I regretted my own lack of GPS.
Shadows detached themselves from patches of darkness, forming a group that
stepped on to the road and moved towards me, shoulder to shoulder, numbers
increasing. I pushed the button that locks all four car-doors.
When I tried to rev the motor, I could hear nothing. I thrust both fists down hard on the horn. The discordant blast shocked me. Sudden light from a front porch sent a wide stripe across grass to the roadway. Shadows retreated to trees and bushes. My car slid into gear, made a U-turn, accelerated back along the road. I looked for traffic and feared I would never find the suburban centre, never again receive its flashy embrace.
Mother of two adult children and grandmother of one grandson, Dell Panny lives with her husband in Ashhurst. Her most recent publication is Let the Writer Stand: the work of Vincent O’Sullivan. Her first book, I Have What I Gave: the Fiction of Janet Frame, has appeared in four editions. She is currently working on her own stories.
~ ~ ~
He drew on his cigarette, flicked ash on my floor. “Is it true – about you and him?” I nodded. Pete’s mouth became pinched. Oh no, here we go.
“After all he’s done. How could you?”
I sipped my wine, thought he deserved an explanation.
“He’s changed, Pete. That was years ago.”
Pete ground his cigarette in the ashtray, stared at me all the while, trying to make me feel guilty. Well, not anymore. I was over his moods, his inability to grasp life, his blaming everybody but himself.
“You’ve got a short memory.” His voice was peevish.
“No, I’ve just moved on – we all have to at some point.”
“What’s he got that I haven’t?” I almost laughed at his jutting under-lip and scowling brow.
“He’s generous, charming, funny and…” I hesitated then thought to hell with it. “He’s great in the sack.” Pete glared at me.
“Don’t be cruel, Pete; I don’t want to remember you like this.”
As he left, I noticed his shadow capering ahead of him. Some things never change, I thought, then brightened at the sound of a tooting horn.
I slid into the seat beside him.
“Was that Pete taking off in a huff?”
“Yes,” I said, “that was the man-child. He’s toast.”
I rested my head on his shoulder and stroked the curve of steel protruding from his cuff. “Now can we talk about us?”
Céline Gibson currently resides in Oamaru, North Otago, and shares her home with a cat and a bagpiper. Her most preferred genre is stage/screenplay writing followed by flash-fiction then short-story; recreation is naughty limericks. Céline is also co-producer and co-presenter of Writers’ Block – a Plains FM radio show for writers, about writers. Céline has been published nationally and internationally in both online and paperback form.
~ ~ ~
After fifty-three years together, our every movement now is laborious. Each morning, we assemble our routine into columns. We make lists and string words together with persuasive glue. Oftentimes a sequence will circle back upon itself and is repeated without interruption. Fragments of thoughts are gathered together and celebrated. Or scorned, for no reason.
The clocks remain unwound. Their hands have stopped mid-tick.
Two days ago, he was found down the street, clutching the stop sign, weeping. There was no explanation for this. His last traces have scattered and a handful of dust is all that remains.
I turn off the television and switch on the radio. I stand and extend my hand. He takes it. I position the other on my hip and he grasps the fabric of my dress. He’s fifteen again with slicked-back hair and his father’s tweed suit. He’s an awkward young man at his first school dance. I squeeze his hand to ease the tension.
Toe to toe, I step forward with my left foot, forcing him to step back with his right. The gap between us disappears. We shuffle to one side, then feet together. I step backwards. He stops. I look towards the ground and his eyes follow. The music continues without our consent.
Thomas, I whisper. His eyes meet mine. His name still has meaning.
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.
~ ~ ~
In the dingy dressing room, Antony and his daughter Penelope prepare for the last performance at the Eclipse Theatre.
“Uncork the unguents, please, Penny love.” Antony’s arthritic attempts are feeble but loud within the tiny but tidy space.
Blind from birth, Penelope travels darkness as artfully as her father does the garishly lit stage. She massages the herbal balm across his stiffly knotted knuckles. She knows the crowds are sparser these days. She hears the bored stillness, the scattered coughs and the meagre applause. She steadies herself for the request to come.
Gripping his daughter’s scented fingers, the grey-whiskered showman beseeches again. “You know the characters. You know the grand themes. A pretty face with graceful gestures may be the remedy to revive us.”
Since a child, Penelope has memorised her father’s storybook hands with her own and in the privacy of moonlight through her curtainless bedroom window she nightly creates wondrous worlds and incredible creatures against the bare concrete wall.
“Our swan song, then,” Antony sighs and flexes weary wrists, which crack like brittle winter sticks.
With a tinny fanfare, the dusty velvet curtain shudders open. The buzzing spotlight shines against the muted backdrop. But it’s Penelope as the Principessa Umbra who silences the fidgety jaded audience with a final shadow tale about a lonely proud man and his faithful quiet daughter and the band of gaudy vaudeville entertainers who linger as ghosts within a forgotten theatre on a sleepy side street off of Luna and Sol.
Patrick Pink grew up in Chicago, Illinois and lived significant amounts of his life in Michigan, Texas and Germany before settling in New Zealand. His story ‘Affirmation’ was highly commended in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition, and he is the winner of the Flash Frontier 2014 Summer Writing Award. His work can be found in a variety of magazines, including Chelsea Station Magazine Headland: Issue 2 and the upcoming anthology, Wilde Stories 2015: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction
~ ~ ~
~ ~ ~
The Japanese teapot sits outside, on the end of the terrace, at my brother’s place.
I can guess how it got there. His poor rummaging partner. Bits of my china turned up at their place. If you are away overseas, a box in a garage is abandoned property in her world. What can I say?
The teapot is rusting. Good. Let it rust.
It was beautiful once, petite and black, surprisingly heavy, a soft mountain design on each side. Elegantly balanced.
It was given to me as a birthday gift. In happier times.
Later I imagined slamming it into his skull.
In the end this was not necessary. A psychic javelin to the chest did the trick. A heart beating one minute. The next minute not.
But I am left floundering. It’s like I have won a tug of war. My legs will no longer support me. The years of strength required to resist and all so suddenly, so surprisingly, gone.
And yet, still, every time I see the teapot is an arrest, a moment of question – is he really dead? Did I really do it?
The Japanese Teapot is a black ghost, a shadowy black-gong ghost. A reminding ripple of un-scrubbable shame, fantastic failures of natural obligations and shredded souls.
I do not go to my brother’s place often, but one day, when I am ready and get the chance, I will quietly pick it up and take it. Gently place it in the red-lidded rubbish bin.
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.” She recently won the 2015 North & South short, short story competition.
~ ~ ~
I never liked driving at night, especially if it was raining. The combination of rain on the windscreen and reflections on the wet road, the sudden blaring of another car’s headlights shattering my view into dazzling pieces.
And the shadows: figures visible one moment and gone the next.
The daytime also has shadows.
Pure darkness pantomiming reality. A skinny man leans out from the fence, glaring; a dog with hackles raised appears from a bush; a vulture wafts across the garden.
Alicia ˗ the afternoon carer ˗ calms me, reassures me. “No vultures in this country, Mrs Dillman.” She tidies my cardie round my shoulders as though it was cold in this hothouse. It’s never cold. Sometimes I suffocate.
“There!” I say, pointing. “The gardener!”
He’s close to my sliding doors. His face is blackness.
He carries a weapon.
“Those cataracts, Mrs Dillman. You’ll be good after the operation.”
She speaks English well, but her words come to me through a net across her mouth.
I have to trust her. She has good eyesight. She saw a sparrow fifty metres across the lawn attacking a crust bigger than itself.
I don’t trust her. She doesn’t see the shadows.
“The gardener! He’s coming through my windows. He hasn’t opened them!”
Where has Alicia gone?
She’s left me. She’s hidden the bell.
I can’t scream. “Who are you?”
He smells of the past. Touches my hand.
The breeze blazes the curtains into fire.
Mike Crowl, writer, pianist, composer and occasional actor, has just entered his 7th decade. In 2014 he published two children’s stories and a non-fiction title as e-books. He’s currently working on a third children’s story. He blogs regularly, writes book reviews and is possibly involved in too much social media. His musical Grimhilda! was presented in Dunedin in 2012.
~ ~ ~
Of all the gin-joints in all the world…said Bogey. And, “Play it, Sam.”
Uh-uh. People get it wrong. He didn’t say that. She did. With no ‘again’.
He didn’t want that love story played over; he’d been hurt enough the first time.
Anyway it didn’t work out in the end. He went off to play soldiers. Ingrid Bergman boarded a plane with her husband, who was a war hero of some kind.
Generations of cinema-goers cried buckets for them both.
Me, I think it was the husband who got short-changed. The other two had their fling to dream about for the rest of their lives. But a man knows when his wife is thinking of someone else as she piles his plate, irons his pants, and pretends in bed.
Even though it’s over – he moved away and she didn’t smile for weeks, only chattered away about nothing over the coffee after dinner, but never looking at me straight.
It’s that faraway look she gets, while she’s bending over the sink to fiercely scrub-scrub at a pot and then stops for a second, two seconds, her hands in the hot water; the way her eyelids flutter a bit, her mind someplace else.
I fantasise about killing him. But it wouldn’t turn the clock back.
And even while I’m red-raging mad underneath, I feel this helpless need to comfort her, without letting on.
Things will get better. But she’ll remember him. And I won’t forget.
Daphne Clair de Jong, author of almost 80 romantic and historical novels published worldwide, is a past winner of the Katherine Mansfield BNZ Short Story Award and other awards, has had numerous short stories and articles published in magazines and anthologies, and some poetry in literary magazines. She also tutors writing in nearly all genres and runs the world-famous-in-New Zealand Kara School of Writing and Karaveer Writers’ Retreat at her home in rural Northland. Find out more here.
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Thomas watched the surfers from his lofty nest in the dunes. They cut and spliced the waves with precision. The summer breeze warmed his face and tousled his short sun-bleached hair. He inhaled the salt air and sniffed the iodine wafting from the piles of seaweed washed up in the storm that brought this groundswell. It banked up on the shore and in the caves on the rocky headland.
The day was sunny, but it had a dying feel as though soon the winter would bring its chill air and cement-coloured skies.
“Good day for it, young ‘un.” An old man in an army surplus great coat said as he stood over him like the gnomon on a sundial. He sat down beside Thomas.
Thomas frowned. “Did I say you could sit?”
“What’s the matter, boy; did I get in your sun?”
And that was a double affront to Thomas, as he thought of himself as almost a man. And who was this old guy anyway? A homeless hobo or worse. They both kept their focus on the surfers.
“We are like waves,” the old man said. “The same but everyone different.”
“What’s so cosmic about that?”
The old man scanned the horizon. “Mere shadows under the sun with no more significance than a breaker on the shore of a mighty ocean.”
Thomas raised his eyebrows.
Leon Paulin lives in Oamaru with his wife, one of two daughters, three cats and a dog. They overlook the Pacific Ocean, which he finds stimulates the writing process. He has published articles in NZ Fitness Magazine and the Otago Daily Times, and currently has just completed a YA manuscript.
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When they came to replace me I’d almost forgotten that I wasn’t actually an owner of a secondhand furniture shop.
I hadn’t had contact for three years. I’d begun to feel at home in the forgotten corner of this sleepy city that I had been relocated to twenty years ago. I’d grown accustomed to my routine: sitting outside my shop smoking cigarettes, watching the world pass by, occasionally selling to dotty middle-aged women who leisurely paced the surrounding charity shops during the week.
Across the street Derek sells fruit and Len has a burger stall. Derek has enough regulars to sustain his stall and Len catches the lunch rush of office workers eager for a cheap eat. We occasionally talk to each other across the street. Mostly, though, we keep ourselves to ourselves, safe in the knowledge we live stress-free lives.
The drops had always been intermittent. I was paid a retainer to always be available. I had a flat and office above the shop for work that I could never be privy to, only act as a host, which I did dutifully. Upon contact I would place an ‘out to lunch sign’ or ‘back in one hour’.
When the agency arrived, two men in their late 30s thanked me for my service and explained an internal review had decided that cutbacks meant the number of drop points and safe houses was to be reduced.
I was selected for closure and retirement.
“Can I keep the store?” was all I could think.
Rob Jones completed an MA in Producing Film in 2010 and has been writing since late 2013. Rob left his job in a large book distribution warehouse in England to travel and work in New Zealand, whilst continuing to write. Now in Wellington, he uses his writing to create other forms of artwork, in style that fits the poem/piece.
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When Roland moved out, Mary dragged the bed from his room into hers, pushed the two single divans together and made a bed that was at least queen sized. But there was a still a big chasm down the middle, a gap she couldn’t close, even when she rolled up one of Mum’s old woolen blankets and squeezed it into in the crack.
Now Gordon lay on the other side of the chasm and it was as if they were a canyon apart, she felt she could roll a little to the right and she’d fall hundreds of metres to the raging river below. Raging rivers, thought Mary, now that’s a euphemism for something.
Mary rolled towards Gordon and felt she was crossing an ocean. She stopped when she reached the join between the two mattresses. Two islands will never meet, she thought. She tried not to, but then the words came out: “What are you thinking?”
He had just half a smile. “I was looking at the shadows. You’re always in them.” Mary imagined herself an enigma, an object of curiosity, to be discovered. A secret.
“Why?” she asked.
Gordon sat up. “Mary, I always see you when it’s dark.” He sat up a little straighter. “We meet at night; we come back here; it’s dark. You’re never in the light.” Gordon got out of bed, and the divide grew. “Sun’s coming up,” he said.
Mary reached her arm from the shadows, but he was gone.
Annette Edwards-Hill lives in Wellington. She completed the Poetry Creative Writing workshop at Victoria University in 1997 and a Masters in Art History at Auckland University in 2000. A strange series of events led her to a career as a business analyst but she has a preference for writing fiction over project documentation.
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Papa is dying. And dying men have their assertions.
After three hours in the Singapore-Bali flight, we find ourselves in the Denpasar hustle. I hire a taxicab and we spend the hour-long journey to Ubud in silence. I glance at Papa’s wan face as he watches the thatched-roof pagodas and lush paddy fields race by. Skin struggles to cling to his bones and he seems small – a mere silhouette of the man who came to this island forty years ago only to lose his heart to a woman.
After we settle into a reasonably comfortable lodging in the city center, I ask him what he’d like to do after dinner.
“The Wayang Kulit,” he says, simply. “I want to go watch them.”
The shadow puppets – I might have known. An art form almost as ancient as the Indonesian people themselves. It was at a Wayang performance, that Papa saw Ma for the first time, and spiralled down what he called the ‘abyss of love’. He spoke of the ‘abyss’ long after ma was gone.
Papa. Always a tad melodramatic.
We manage to find front row seats at the evening show in the local theatre. The ‘dalang’ manoeuvres intricately carved leather puppets behind an enormous, white cotton screen. Bright yellow electric lights illuminate the fabric and the shadows come alive, dancing to vibrant music. They tell tales of love and loss, courage and victory, life and death. A distant memory glistens in Papa’s eyes. He is enthralled.
Shreyasi Majumdar is a new import into New Zealand and is already head over heels in love with the country. 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, and Microfiction Monday Magazine.
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It’s hard to feel lucky with blinding light in your eyes and a veiled gun aimed at your chest. So vulnerable. A fleeting second, mistake or not, and my last moments would consist of: an unapologetic echo ripping through my sanctuary; a bright light; one less heartbeat. I try batting the light away relentlessly, before accepting my visibility and fate lie in the hands of these strangers. These powerful obtrusive strangers.
I don’t know much but I easily recognize the distinct sound of disagreement. Our country reeked of it before the attacks.
I hear the sharp breathing, the after–run kind. One, two, three people. They’re saying I look wild – a risk. Female voices. Two. The third, a male, is yet to speak. Maybe, like me, he’s lost the will to even try.
The light shifts hitting the cave wall directly beside me.
“Do you have a name?” the silent one asks.
I like his gentle tone. My mouth which hasn’t touched words for so long urges me to respond. I feel so desperate — clinging to that voice. Those words! They were mine – I hadn’t been given words for so long.
It’s been a long time since names seemed important; mine slowly disappeared with each day spent as a refugee desperately shielding myself from daylight.
My mind remembers only caves, or nights sneaking around outside, pressing into unlit walls, crouching in darkness. My mind knows only one honest response.
Ashley Williams is a 16-year-old from the Bay of Plenty raised in the country, with a family of six with a love of reading and writing. Developing a story in 250 words is something she has never done before and something she finds difficult and a fun challenge. This year, she has started making an effort to break out of her shell, so sharing her work is one of the ways in which she is hoping to achieve this.
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Martin Porter, Cast into Darkness
When I was young, there were no shadows. We lived in our own pool of light, each with only our immediate contacts. I shared thoughts with my neighbours, no further. I saw as far as the end of my street. Perhaps I lived in ignorance, not prosperity; perhaps I lived in darkness.
Not all were happy with such a bland existence; they explored the greater language of the traveller, found new processes of communication. They saw a landscape beyond our world. Words became ensnared into the passing of gossip, camaraderie and information. They became tools for progress; with progress came utility.
It was natural that we should give up seclusion for silver, half-light for hard edged vision.
This new brilliance revealed stray ideas, interfering with the right and proper strands. Some were introduced with intent, advertising some new frivolity. Some were used to waste, divert, or undermine. Soon, we did not know what was trustworthy, or even real.
So each notion was brought into the courtroom, put under the interrogation lamp. Each thought was examined for honesty, veracity, even purity. We discovered which were safe to possess and which harboured false vowels or housed secret consonants. So we became as the gods.
As these thoughts roamed through this illuminated world, each carried its own shade of meaning. Gradually, unnoticed, these tones grew deeper and darker, becoming shadows leaning away from the light.
Then each shadow took on its own life.
And so we were cast into darkness.
Martin Porter, born in Jersey, studied astrophysics in London and Leeds and taught physics in Jersey before becoming a systems trainer in New Zealand. He is now retired. Martin has recently had work published in Paper Tape magazine and Storm Cellar Quarterly and is twice winner of Whangarei Libraries Flash Fiction competition. He blogs mainly at Poetry Notes and Jottings.
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I see her pale-faced languid way of moving, of slipping between rows of chairs, the way she selects her place, towards the back, to the far right – the shadow-side of the room. She settles her bag on the chair beside her and, as the seats fill, she stares at the space between her knees.
“Is this seat taken?” Repeated louder.
Reluctantly she lifts the limp bag to squash its faded denim beneath her chair. Annalise does not look at faces, only feet. The lecturer directs his PowerPoint at two screens. They bleed black words. The meanings bleach from her mind. Annalise stifles the first yawn.
They held such high hopes for her, her parents. They paid the psychologist’s fee for that label which they’d stitched with precision into the fabric of her school uniform. But it had clawed at her skin. Annalise was sensitive to seams and bright light. She had not lived up to expectation – her gifts revealed to be fool’s gold and cheap perfume. See, here she is repeating a failed class, her memory of the facts too hazy, her essays too fanciful.
She spent the summer months in bed, curtained against the spotlight glare of the sun. Her father snapped at her to get a spine. Her mother plied her with lean steaks and iron pills.
I see Annalise use pointed scissors to cut away the label. She bleeds into wads of toilet paper, leaching iron and will and wit. Soon, the label will come free.
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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Please also see this month’s feature with five 2015 National Flash Fiction Day long- and short-listed writers, who also happen to be frequent contributors to Flash Frontier‘s pages: Pete Carter, Leanne Radojkovich, Kate Mahony, Céline Gibson and Louise Miller.
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Coming in July: 2015 NFFD competition winning stories.