February 2015: WHISPERS

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An Imagined Artist’s Studio Practice by Robbie Jones

Artwork by Robbie Jones, who 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, as in the artwork contributed above.

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Rachel J Fenton, The Ear of Dionysus

“It is said Caravaggio was on the run, when he named the whispering gallery in Syracuse – the city Cicero claimed was the most beautiful belonging to Greece, before the Romans took it. It is said the artist took a man’s life after a tennis match, because of a rumour he had taken one into his bed. Love all.”

All the eyes in the Louvre appear to follow you, except those of the mourners of The Death of the Virgin before you. Beside: himself; telling in hushed tones all he knows of the dead artist. But, artist yourself, you know truest answers are yielded from the subjects rather than the master.

You: muse; now a truth so glaringly obvious he cannot speak of it. It: curled as an ear inside you, waiting to kill the silence when it tears you apart like Dionysus – after discovering his captives’ secrets by lying against the mouth of the cave where he held them. Them: a student and a teacher on the run.

Rachel J Fenton is usually based on Auckland’s North Shore but her fiction takes her around the globe. A finalist in the 2014 Dundee International Book Prize, she is currently participating in the NZ Book Council’s Graphic Novelists Exchange Residency in Taiwan in association with PANZ and the Taipei International Book Exhibition. Rachel was the 2014 Features Editor at Flash Frontier. She blogs here.

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Gail Ingram, Whispers

A rabbit pops out of a hole. A mangy hare, in fact, her eyes glassy, looking for escape.

She has six kits in the warren below. Their fur is mangy too, stiff. Death is on her tongue, a taste that seems to come from inside, rather than, say, some poisoned carrot, blanched like the landscape.

The wind catches the willows out left. There. She bounds from the dust-bowl entrance. Darts left, right, her gait uneven. Stops as suddenly as she began. Here. Her coat blends tan-grey into tussock. Her nose quivers, for the first time, her eyes look interested.

Dark clouds press the horizon. A rumble. The hills look closer. Watch. They open like a walnut-shell cracks. And the ground, where the hare sits, blows like breath.

The horizon has split. Two nut-halves. Lightening crackles between the broken hill. A crack begins to run across the earth towards the hare. Her whole being shifts towards it; her ears lean into it, she trembles. The crack has singular direction, and tussock, stone, tree fall into its wake.

It travels more quickly than you think. She reacts now. Uses her hind legs to propel herself. For a moment she is high above the crack. Her fur is no longer dull but sleek, her front-legs reach skyward, she is in motion.

We can remember her like this. We don’t need to imagine the rush downwards towards the open earth into crumbling, bone-crunching mineral. Let us recall her fine last leap towards her kittens.

Gail Ingram writes short fiction and poetry, which have appeared in journals and anthologies, such as Takahē, Poetry NZ, Penduline Press and Cordite Review. She was placed in 2013 BNZ Flash Fiction awards and long-listed in 2014 National Flash Fiction competition. She is currently the president of SIWA.

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Tina Barry, What’s All This?

We’re in Billy’s parents’ basement when Beau puts his arm around me. I’m like ew because of Beau’s B.O. then I move closer & rest my head on his shoulder, because maybe Beau & I could be a couple like Sue & Billy; they’ve been together 6 months. The others stare at Beau & me because Beau’s acted like he likes me before. Like the time a bunch of us did a séance. We contacted Beau’s Grandma, then Beau & I made out for a long time. & once we met in a park & played Crazy Eights on the make-out table & then we made-out, even though the make-out table was for couples of 2 weeks or more. So the guys & girls put their heads together & look & whisper. Then “Saturday Night Live” is on. Gilda is Emily Litella. Her hair’s a ball of frizz & she’s pissed off. She’s pounding her fist. “What’s All This I Hear About Violins In Movies!” Bill Murray tries to stop her. “Miss Litella!” he says. He wants her to know it’s not VIOLINS in movies it’s VIOLENCE & just when she’s about to say, “Oh. Well. That’s different,” this dim-wit Mitchell says, “Beau, dude. What are you doing with Emily Litella?” Beau lets out this fake horror movie shriek like I had snuck under his arm without his knowing it. Then everybody’s laughing. I sit there blinking, but inside I’m repeating Emily Litella’s famous line, “Never mind. Never mind. Never mind.”

Tina Barry’s short stories and poetry appear online and in print publications including Drunken Boat, MadHat Lit, Inch Magazine, The Camroc Press Review, The NewerYork, Lost in Thought, Elimae, The Orange Room Review, THIS Magazine and Exposure, an anthology of microfiction from Cinnamon Press. She lives in Brooklyn, where she completed her MFA in creative writing at Long Island University.

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Rebecca Simons, Asylum Whispers

The importance is to never lose sight of the beautiful. Because, it’s the beautiful that makes us human – not the ugly. The ugly is what causes us to be less, to be sub-human.

The Prof insists we maintain a professional distance. He says by learning rules, routine, rhythm they have a chance at finding stability, safety, even a glimpse of controlled sanity.

When I look in their faces I see truth. I see my own life without the mask – each betrayal, disappointment, hurt, forming contours that could be my own, the question of sanity no longer relevant.

Her name is Grace, her beauty as fragile as a young girl’s first whispered declaration of love. Every morning I place her medication on her tongue and feel the guilt as she swallows it down. It is her innocence that disturbs the most – the way her unquestioning eyes absorb all.

The affair ended a month ago today. I am glad. His eyes watch too, sneering from the shadows. His words tied – his wife’s short fingers twisting them in large knots.

Outside the Common Room the lemon verbena bush reaches its spindly arms into the autumnal sky. I think of the fragrant leaves that will bud in the spring and smile.

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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Pamela Hill, Katya’s Baby

Bread and spiced tea for those who wash their feet in streams. Where vines touch down and bounce, a chemical plant nourishes life round the trees.

Children run barefoot through the dust near railroad tracks and shacks constructed by calloused hands with projectile fingers and polished nails.

Color cannot change the truth.

That damned explosion, damned explosion from years ago, explosion where the clangs were not from railroad cars, and chemicals changed a perception of color.

As Katya danced in a dirt-white dress to celebrate her wedding, the cows ran out from hidden pastures just before their eyes exploded.

And now, now Katya’s baby is missing fingers. She will not have polished nails.

Explosion of sad. Can one learn to like sad, settle in, appreciate, accept and embrace the feeling of sinking? Take the heartache and do something with it? What can one do with heartache? Lift one’s face up from the gravel and see. Squint the daze from one’s eyes. Hate the sun. Love the rain while sipping tea.

Hold the baby and tell her sometimes the sky seems blue?

Pamela Hill attended private college in Northeast Florida where she graduated summa cum laude. She currently lives in Florida where two statuesque beauties in the form of highly intelligent felines illuminate humor with sudden ninja attacks on her computer mouse while she works on her first novel. Pamela’s poetry and prose can be found in or is forthcoming in Ping Pong, Thrush Poetry Journal, Copperfield Review, Apeiron Review, Write Place at the Write Time, Hermeneutic Chaos Literary Journal, Apocrypha and Abstractions and other journals.

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John Parras, At Monte Rotaro

Have you ever walked the crater at Monte Rotaro? The path is shady, and soft with pine needles. You can hear yourself breathing. You can hear a bird rustle in the underbrush. You can hear the soft footfall of the love beside you. Perhaps he is simply a shadow…

The fumarole’s steam – that is my hot breath upon your ankle. The cool caverns remind me of your limbs in the evening breeze.

The moss is soft green. The path is easy.

Notice those boulders above, as massive as buildings. They could kill us in an instant.

Below, the ground skids off steeply into dense brush at the heart of the crater. One would not survive such a fall…

But the path is flat and shady, strewn softly with pine needles and moss. It’s easy, and we hold hands easily.

Here, who would think we’re on a teeming island? And on the teeming island, who remembers the massive volcano slumbering beneath our small lives?

Let’s kiss lightly beneath those towering boulders.

John Parras’ fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, Salmagundi, XConnect, Oasis, Gulf Stream Magazine and other literary journals. He received a National Endowment for the Arts Writing Fellowship, and his novel, Fire on Mt. Maggiore (Univ. of Tenn. Press, 2005), won the Peter Taylor Prize, awarded by the Knoxville Writers’ Guild.

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Susan Tepper, Child-Bride

My child, you say, causing my eyes to wander. The stairs, the hall, the peeling wall paper. The light bulb that swings. Recklessly. I didn’t wish to be your child-bride. You held me in a noose over a cauldron. One move and it was winter again without coal. My coat shedding at its sleeves. The hem trailing through melting snow. Why, dear Petrov. Should a man believe he owns a woman? Or woman-child – as you wish. I have none in my womb though it feels heavy. Nor do I intend carrying your own burdens forward. I have instead a handful of purple sage in a jug on the night stand. Next to where a silver frame shines without its photo. I could gather all the silver in this house and travel by train to the smelter. I could collect a great amount of money. While you, dear Petrov, sit idly by. Paring your nails and your fruit. I see you and want to scurry away like a small rat. My tail protruding as I enter the hole.

Susan Tepper is the author of four published books of fiction and a chapbook of poetry. The Merrill Diaries (Pure Slush Books, 2013) is a novel in stories. Tepper writes the monthly columns “Let’s Talk” at Black Heart Magazine and UNCOV/rd at Flash Fiction Chronicles. She’s been listed on notable stories 2014 for story/South Million Writers Award and nominated 9 times for the Puschart Prize – and once for a Pulitzer in fiction for her novel What May Have Been (co-author Gary Percesepe, published by Cervena Barva Press, 2010. More here.

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Tim Heath, Going to Mary’s House

We balumpa up the track to Mary’s house. It sits clean-lined, low to the land, but high on the valley edge, smiling at being off the grid, water and waste free of municipal connections. Scars from excavation almost healed by kikuyu, a rampant band-aid, a rowdy guest, the one who gets things going then needs to be subdued.

Later, after hugs, and a salad made from whatever the possums have left, I lean on the deck rail, Shiraz in hand and drink the greater intoxication of the valley below, where kereru swoop into whooshing parabolas like the baton strokes of a conductor making the most of something by Wagner. From this ski jump flight, they climb, the soft felted shush of wings power to another stall and they end up below me; their backs blend, then contrast, with the darkening tones of the bush.

This is not quite paradise – there are too many mosquitoes for that, and the sea is a little too distant – but I love its gentle defiance, its peaceful and compatible contact with the land, the way it, and the pigeons, whisper to me yes, of course, this planet is worth trying to save.

Tim Heath writes poetry, enjoys some success in the oddity known as Poetry Slams and writes whenever he can grab time from grandchildren, travelling, sailing, growing vegetables and hanging out more washing than he cares to mention.

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Alex Reece Abbott, A Free Lunch

It’s humid as hell, thunderstorm weather. K’s shouting lunch.

The wonky ceiling-fan sags, static, useless. I peel my thighs from the vinyl bar stool. K’s jittery, prickling. No eye contact. Tears of condensation streak her beer glass.

I sip my house vinegar, bracing myself. What’s prompted this summons? Marriage Problems, probably. A bite of my lamb-burger sends greasy blood seeping beneath my nails. It’s harder to interrupt with a mouthful. Give her space, let her talk, that’s best when you’re out of your depth.

Something’s happened and now K can’t stand it anymore. She stabs her tomato sauce with a thick crinkle-cut chip, spills her guts about thirty-odd years of misleading, lying. Wants to sort it, get on with her life. Honesty’s the best policy.

Once, I asked for K’s support and I remember her useless honesty: Get a grip. Suck it up. Is some reciprocity required, an unspoken deal? Duped by the free lunch, not privileged – I’m obliged to listen. Half K’s age, I wonder: what’s the story, making me the mother confessor?

K zips her crimson lips, toasts me.

“No worries,” I say, like this dumped confidence isn’t my lead-weight secret too now. Like I don’t have to carry on, knowing what I know.

“Wish I’d told you sooner.” K’s all smiles, unburdened. “No regrets eh? You told me that.”

We head back to work, zinc clouds dumping fat rain, drenching us, cleansing nothing.

All afternoon, I steal sidelong glances, sitting beside K in meetings like everything’s the same.

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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Helen Moat, Returning from the Wood

Detta and Frena saw stories in everything: in bark and boulder and banks of snow around the farm, even the pictures on their bedroom wall. And the sisters filled the spaces between with whispered tales.

“Who is she – the woman pulling the sleigh of firewood?” Detta asked in hushed tones, her tiny body thrown together with Frena’s in the cold ravine of their spring-lumped mattress. The moon shone on the Segantini snowscape, just as it did on the white-caked ground outside.

Frena pulled the duvet over her chin, her breath smoking its laced edge in the icy room. “She’s a sorceress, Detta, and the twisted sticks on the logs aren’t branches. They’re vipers.”

Detta looked at the contorted forms slumped over the tree stumps on the woman’s sleigh, skeletal legs trailing the snow. “No, not vipers Frena. Corpses.” And she spun her sister a story of stolen children.

While Frena slumbered, Detta lay awake, afraid and unafraid. She felt the painting drawing her in, but instead she dressed and went out onto the porch. She found her skis, hooked the metal clasps of her boots into the clips, yanked down the levers with stiff fingers, and pushed off into the dark.

Swish, slap, swish, slap, she slid towards the night-washed buildings with their little squares of yellow, above them the luminous mountains electric, sparking her skin. As in the painting. Then Detta saw her, the black-clad figure pulling the sleigh, up ahead, drawing her in. Drawing her in.

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 was nominated for the Sundress Publications Best of the Net 2014. This story was inspired by a painting of the same title by artist Segantini Giovanni, found at her blog, here.

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Gretchen Carroll, Power Cut

She looked down to the street from the lounge room window and wondered if he had misjudged his footing and fallen over in the blackness. Or perhaps this was her punishment for earlier comments and he wanted her to feel anxious.

The valley was dark, when normally it would be pepper-potted with bright lights. Tonight a few windows were dimly lit with candles. In the house opposite, a spotlight roamed as someone searched the room with a torch.

She looked at her phone’s screen. It was down to battery-saving mode with no way of recharging it. Then she noticed his phone sitting by a cushion on the sofa. She swore under her breath and tears rose up. With no way of reaching him…. And there was no way she could go looking for him either, with Lucas sound asleep in his room.

What time should she call the police? She breathed deeply and checked her watch. No, he’d only been gone an hour; if the power was on, she conceded, she wouldn’t have been worried by a longer-than-expected walk.

From the sofa, his phone started to ring. She looked at the screen; she didn’t recognise the woman’s name. The phone glowed, and then stopped. The caller didn’t leave a message.

“It’s all irrational,” she mumbled.

Then, heavy footsteps. She looked up and caught a breath in her chest as she saw a dark figure fill the front door’s frosted glass. She thought she heard a voice whispering.

Gretchen Carroll lives in Auckland with her husband and son. She works as a freelance writer, mainly writing articles for magazines. View some examples here.. She enjoys crafting flash fiction, and illustrated the children’s book The Magic Giraffe and other Breakfast Stories.

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Suzanne Claessen, Whisper in my ear

Suzanne Claessen Whispers

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. Her work is often inspired by the natural environment and combines imaginative and bizarre twists. Two rather opposite sides of her personality are reflected in her work, from dreamy to dark, as well as the spaces in between.

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Nod Ghosh, The Wedding

Salomé lifts her veil and looks at Manuel through lowered lids as if partaking in a conspiracy.

Old women in widows’ weeds pick on chicken bones and laugh about their own weddings. It was purple as aubergine and the size of my thumb. Cackling. Chicken bones breaking. A ragtime march beats the air with its incessant timbre. Birdcall drifts from the trees like feathers. Uncles and waiters sidestep around tables like buzzards.

When it starts to rain, no one is ready, but everyone laughs. Grey circles form on white. The rippling table-clothes fold like tidal sand. Salomé lets her bridal demeanor slip. She squeals when her new husband pulls her into the vaulted building. Manuel takes her bejeweled hand in his and puts it to his lips like he owns it.

In the back room, two cousins kiss and find redemption. They whisper their own vows into eggshell ears. Outside the pavements are steaming, and clumps of cream float away in streams of rain and disappointment.

Nod Ghosh has recently completed year two at the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch. Short stories or poems have appeared in Takahē, Penduline, Christchurch Press, TheGayUK and also here at Flash Frontier, where she won the Winter 2014 Writing Award. Nod is writing a second novel, but keeps getting distracted by the desire to write short stories.

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Eileen Merriman, Eye of the Storm

Sophie’s parents are arguing again, their angry whispers slipping under her bedroom door. She turns on her radio, the newscaster drowning out their voices.

Cyclone Ida will hit by nightfall.

She walks past the beach on her way home from school. The sea is boiling, the road thick with salt-foam. It looks like snow. She lies on her back and tries to make an angel. When she gets home her mother tells her off for getting her school uniform dirty.

You’re twelve, not seven. Old enough to know better.

The wind screams like a pack of hyenas. Palm trees swirl like Medusa’s heads. Rainwater slides down their street like a fast-moving glacier. A piece of roofing iron flies across their lawn and slices into a magnolia.

Jesus, her father says.

Night falls. The lights go out. They sit on the couch with a blanket around their knees.

Worst storm in fifty years, her father says.

Her mother says, remember when we went camping and we thought our tent was going to blow away?

Her father laughs. It gives Sophie a warm feeling in her stomach, like hot chocolate. She closes her eyes. When she opens them, the wind has dropped. She is alone.

She finds the torch, walks into the hallway. Her parents’ door is closed. Whispers, a giggle.

Sophie turns, and walks back into the lounge. She opens the French doors, peering into the back yard.

Mud. Detritus. Chaos.

Relief.

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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Gary V. Powell, Making Out

We parked beside Christiana Creek, near that big Dutch elm that was dying, where you would one day carve our names after we’d fought our first fight and you weren’t sure we’d be able to go on — that’s how inexperienced we were, convinced one fight would end us, notwithstanding the poetry we’d read together barely aloud in the library, the four leaf clovers we’d found in the field behind White’s barn the day their Jersey cow, lowing softly, gave birth, and the afternoon we walked home from school in that warm spring drizzle, hand in hand, when we were still completely innocent, only to have your mom take one look and breathe, Oh, Cath, as if I’d baptized you in sin instead of what I then imagined love to be.

The gearshift of my ’68 Camaro on the console between us, we kissed, tongue-searching, and repeated familiar patterns of caressing under skirts and inside jeans, naugahyde seats squeaking out a rhythm, guilt and desire peeking through the steam-fogged windows, until you said we should spread a blanket for once. We unzippered and unbuttoned and stretched out lean and hard on the cool ground, naked and finally doing that which must be done, the mosquitoes whizzing, the stars hissing like distant campfires, the creek gurgling like a pot boiling, and your lips in my ear, yes, oh yes, yes, like the susurration of the breeze through Indiana corn leaves, like we were the first ones ever thought of this.

Gary V. Powell’s fiction has appeared most recently at Bartleby Snopes, Carvezine, Thrice Fiction, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, Camroc Press Review, Blue Fifth Review and Best New Writing 2015. His first novel, Lucky Bastard, is available through Main Street Rag Press, here..

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Elizabeth Farris, Secondhand Man

He always said thrift stores are full of dead people’s castoffs, so that’s where I’ll take his button-down Oxfords. I’m laundering and pressing them as he had always insisted.

Eleven shirts later, I grab the last one and place it on the ironing board. The steam iron stutters. I replenish the water and wait. Its mumble increases to a hiss. I spray the starch and flatten the collar, which he had always kept closed until she loosened his tie and ran her fingers around his neck.

I take the sleeves that had encircled her trim waist and spray them twice. Three times. I press down on the nozzle until the can is empty and the starch forms a white crust. The iron growls and roars. It’s assertive, retaliating; it distresses the sleeves until they stiffen into submission.

The row of buttonholes is where her slim fingers had worked their way downward while he whispered velvety words he never said to me. The iron creates an irregular chain of hideous puckers and wrinkles – it’s absolutely unforgivable. Then it lets out a vulgar snort and scorches a brunette hex onto the breast pocket.

I pull the plug and the steam iron sighs.

*

On the drive to the funeral home the shirt hangs on a hook. It is stiff and lifeless and the fresh air from the open window doesn’t comfort it. On the body, it will torment for eternity.

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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Patrick Pink, Within the Closet

Mum came to my bedroom door when she saw the ute’s headlights bash up the drive. She didn’t have to tell us to hide.

“Don’t say where. Then I won’t be able to tell him. Chaz…” She looked at me then stopped and was gone.

So as Dad’s fists rattle the deadbolt and Mum waits, alone, in the centre of the lightless lounge for the familiar shriek of sirens, I gather up Little Elvis from his cot and Rubygirl at seven takes his favourite stuffed animal like a little mother to help him stay quiet. This is a newer house but most of our hiding places are known. The cubbyhole behind my closet is my own. Even Mum and Rubygirl don’t have a clue.

Dad’s shouting and Mum’s pleading shudder the walls and floorboards. Words lose meaning; only the jagged undertone is felt. We know to whisper when talking is needed.

“This is yours?” asks Rubygirl, her jetplane breath sugary against my ear.

Little Elvis is in my arms, swaddled close because cuddles ease.

Yesterday, I bit back noisy joy as Nick hugged me here behind the secret door after school. He called the closet our den and scratched our initials into the cheap plywood. We kissed the other quiet when either got too loud.

Dad’s boots become distinct; his search has edges.

I hold Little Elvis to my chest. Rubygirl burrows deeper into me.

My fingers trace Nick’s declaration until they bleed.

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 Glitterwolf and Chelsea Station Magazine and in forthcoming issues of Jonathan and Sixpenny.

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Sophie and Liberty, Murmurations
Sophie & Liberty Murmurations

Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith are independent documentary filmmakers based in London and New York. Their past projects range from the educational to the experimental. They have produced a diverse body of work that includes art department for feature films and award-winning short documentaries. They have previously collaborated with The House of Fairytales, Film London, October Films, Ideas Tap and many schools and museums. They find inspiration from bike rides, being by water, making things and meeting people. More here.

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Jane Swan, Whispers in the Hallway

Jenny hears whispers in the hallway at night. It has become so bad that she now sleeps on the couch.

“It’s just the wind getting into all the nooks and crannies of an old house,” she tries to reassure herself. The hall wallpaper hangs from the scrim like the sagging skin under an old lady’s arms.

Jenny denies herself a second cup of tea, fills a hot water bottle and takes a sleeping pill. But going to her bedroom she still hears the soft buzz of voices.

Woman found wandering. Taken to Seacliff Hospital, the hallway whispers.

Toddler swept from Craigie Rock . . .

Seven weeks later a For Sale sign goes up outside 48 Acacia Avenue and soon a young couple buy it. “How long will they last?” the neighbours wonder.

Before they move in the Monroes engage a builder to renovate the bathroom and plasterboard the hall. A truckload of building debris sallies forth to the dump and as night breaks the fractured pieces of sarking covered in 1920’s newspaper begin to speak.

A new consignment of corsets from Mayfair . . .

Mr and Mrs Cecil Browne announce the engagement . . .

Elderly man found dead by milkman.

Tomorrow the bulldozer will crush the sarking into phrases and it will be buried under tons of garbage.

The residents of the Avenue shake their heads at the resilience of the new people and mutter: She drinks herbal tea and meditates. Is Nerissa Monroe perhaps a witch?

Jane Swan has recently moved to a seaside village north of Dunedin. She is settling down to work in this new stimulating environment even though the seals and birdlife are showing little interest in her writing. She doesn’t share her chocolate with them.

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Patricia Hanifin, Geometry

The neighbours are almost quiet. Each day she follows the shape of their rituals: pre-verbal grunts that blossom into arguments. The dog barks then whines. The kid sits on the concrete path, hands over his ears. But now, a whisper of stillness: the purple Buddha serene on the bedside table, the blue vase a peace-offering of pink petals and orange stamens.

Each day has its own geometry: the circle of early morning grief, her heart split open like a walnut shell; the looping oval of words between blue lines; afternoon lethargy boxed on the couch; the sharp angle of memory; the circumference of the past; the texture of breath caught in the funnel of her throat. In the evening, she walks parallel lines of pohutukawa, crimson needles stitched among green leaves. And in the sky, an arrowhead of cloud shadows the mangroves.

In her notebook this unattributed quote: The heart shapes the breath.
There’s a gust of westerly breeze, a whoosh of exhalation as wood pigeons crash-land in the puriri tree next door. A square of sunset in the kitchen window. She traces the radius of her loss: the moment she discovered she’d travelled from the centre of her life to the outer edge.

Next door they’ve started again – warming up for the last round of the day. She inhales, holds, releases. Each in-breath a gathering of energy. Each out-breath a murmur of protest.

Trisha Hanifin lives in Auckland and was the Auckland regional winner in the 2014 National Flash Fiction competition. She writes short stories and flash fiction, and is currently working on a novel. Her story ‘Me and Bobbie McGee’ won first place in the 2014 competition sponsored by Auckland University’s magazine Ingenio.

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Kate Mahony, Life For Us

My cousin’s husband, Ahmed, heads out one evening to meet his friends. They will play cards and drink Turkish coffee in a bar. When he does not come home, my uncle goes to look for him. He cannot find him. He and his sons search the next day. Nothing. No one has seen him. My cousin, Saida, is expecting a baby. She becomes worried and anxious. Ten days go by.. Then a man my uncle knows comes to the house. He says for my uncle to go with him to the outskirts of the city. Beneath a motorway are fifty or more bloated corpses. All men. They have been shot in the head and dumped there. My uncle looks at all the bodies. He thinks that one of them is Ahmed but they are so unrecognisable he cannot be sure. At home, he grips his prayer beads until the rope breaks and the beads scatter. He shouts,”We were promised freedom and security. Democracy. But now all we have is our dead.”

When Saida learns what he has seen, she goes into early labour. The family rush her to hospital. She delivers a baby boy. He is born too soon and he lives only one hour. Afterwards, when the men bring her home to the women, Saida turns her face to the wall. We cry and cry and cry, but Saida when she speaks will speak only in whispers that we cannot make sense of.

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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Heather McQuillan, The Yes-man Goes Spinning

In the beginning the word bounced about in Addison’s temporal lobe.

It rebounds at each touch of its chemical vowel against neurons, over and over. It must have been designed for that purpose, he thinks – the word “No”.

But now Yvette walks by, with her round breasts, her round arse, those round-plum lips and the food in her hand, and the word spins counter-wise.

The Yes-man has anticipated this willful twisting and takes its cue to approach. Here it comes now, writhing through the grass, subtle and sleek, its roundness limited to one narrow dimension. Soft it speaks. And softly its sibilant word, liberating, uninhibiting word oscillates through the labyrinth, amplified, over and over, through the ossuary-reeded mouthpiece of wily gods. It is the oracle. It is the answer. It is the unoiled hinges of the opening door. With barely a breath the Yes-man’s word transudes the oval window of Addison’s ear to encoil “No”, to squeeze all the brio and the bounce from it.

The Yes-man goes spinning and adds a coda. “It is your entitlement,” it hisses and entitlement is a word far tastier than any Addison has heard before and he swallows it down whole.

At the end, Addison lies embalmed and put in a coffin while Yvette sips from a spoon. By then the Yes-man is elsewhere, still whispering liberty.

Heather McQuillan is a teacher and a writer. She writes children’s books, flash fiction and poetry. Most nights she 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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Frank Beyer, Dog Breeder

The ambulance got there five minutes after me – I’d already put the offending mutt out in the fenced-in garden. They put a brace on dad’s neck. It was sweltering in the ambulance. Dad’s eyes were open, but he didn’t say anything. The paramedic told us that he had a naughty dog too; Dad managed a smile. I felt sick that one of Dad’s dogs had caused trouble again. They kept Dad in for observation. When I went back to the hospital the next day, a doctor wanted to see me. He was tall and broad-shouldered, the kind you expect to be confident, but his voice was a whisper. I didn’t catch all of what he said: The blow to your father’s head caused only a minor concussion…a few things amiss…sweating profusely and pacing the ward…complaining the sheets were giving him a rash…but there was no visual sign…not symptoms of concussion. Then, in a slightly stronger voice, he said this: Do you know your father has a problem with amphetamines? Bloody hell no – I thought dexies were for dickheads at the pub, not someone like Dad. The doctor outlined the steps to help the old man through. I had to get in touch with his GP as soon as possible…fill out such and such…I dreaded the process. Forcing the story out of Dad would be painful – I knew this madness has something to do with dogs winning shows.

Frank Beyer has worked as a Tour Manager for educational trips to Asia and South America. His experiences on these journeys, as well as back home in New Zealand, have inspired him to write short stories, and more recently flash fiction. Frank studied history at the University of Auckland, and through doing so realized he had more taste for interesting narratives rather than accuracy. After a hectic 2014, he plans to enjoy the laid-back pace of New Plymouth for the majority of 2015.

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Fiona Summerfield, Fighting the Voice

The patchwork of colorful, suburban shop fronts finished with the post shop, guaranteeing frequent foot traffic.

There’s no one out there, whispered the voice.

Sam pushed back the glass door and wedged a wad of cupcake cases to hold it open. The fresh cakes lined up ready for inspection. Sam claimed her unfamiliar position behind the counter to wait.

Why will they come? Your prices are too high, the voice whispered.

They did come and the EFTPOS registered their delight.

But will they buy tomorrow and the next day?

It was variable. Balancing cake numbers was complicated.

You are not making profit yet. You’ll never make a profit.

Sam dragged out the flour and flicked up the mixer through winter storms. Curtains of raindrops looked threadbare from the shop window but appeared impassable to cake buyers. The landlord still called.

She piped icing through spring. And scrapped together the rent.

You can’t control the weather. You’ll never make a reliable income.

Her business mentor didn’t agree, said, “Profit will come last. Hang in there.” But the voice had deeper access than the business mentor.

On a Friday Sam told the voice to shut the fuck up.

Not me, the shop.

Sam sifted flour and cracked eggs. The mixer screamed. The voice stopped whispering.

What are you doing? It roared over the mixer.

Sam pushed the cases out from under the door. It swung shut behind her. She set up a table under the sunshine and gave cakes away for free.

Fiona Summerfield is a freelance writer with a science background. Her articles have appeared in a large range of print publications and online. She was short-listed for the 2013 Kobo/NZ Authors E-Publishing Prize. Living close to the beach in Nelson, New Zealand, she helps run the annual No More Excuses Writers’ Weekends at Arrow Motel. She also works in another form of story telling, commonly known as marketing.

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Shreyasi Majumdar, Unexplored Territory

I can barely see the Swan plant now. It’s swollen with Monarch caterpillars. The mature ones hang upside down, their heads curled skyward, stony still and meditative like the Moai.

And then there are the chrysalises, dangling vicariously from reedy branches. Tiny beads line their tips like glitter glue.

Did I tell you about Celia? I noticed her cocoon last week. I remember that day because the house resonated with a familiar emptiness that rushes in each time you leave.

I meandered through the garden pretending I cared about the hydrangeas. And there it was! Pistachio green. Silent and stoic, suspended from the garden recliner.

Its smoothness reminded me of your moonlit body against white, cotton sheets. Our second skin.

Over the week, I’ve watched Celia’s chrysalis morph from the opaque green of jade to a deep, translucent black. Today, I see a smattering of orange inside. It’s time.

I hold my breath as the creature begins to tear at it. Her wings engorge to an impossible fullness.

Flap. Flap, Flap.

And I know what I must do. To silence the whispers outside and the clamour within. To be fair to your wife and kids. To Pete. To us.

It won’t be easy. Thankfully, it won’t be today.

The afternoon sun hits the chrysalises, lighting up the swan plant like an out-of-season Christmas tree. I head into the house humming, planning dinner. Pete will be away all weekend and I know you love roasts.

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. For the past year, she has been seriously indulging herself in fiction writing and, although she’s new to publishing, she’s eager to explore.

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Elizabeth Welsh, & some scenes together

She watched him peel off his Coca-Cola t-shirt in the filthy apartment opposite her own. After he changed and left, she split in two, making a whispering sound like an eggplant parsing into a pair of foamy white kidneys. The shine of the split throbbed; it hurt her first self’s eyes, made her scrunch up her fists.

Her second self cut her hair. She was blithe and laughed a lot, mimicking the movements of the impatient dog walker she could feel pacing on the pavement outside. Taking handfuls of it, she cradled the dark strands in her right palm, twitching. The scissors were blunt, so she used toenail clippers. It was slow. It gave her a look like stairs ascending.

One of them coaxed the other into attending, boldly picking up a flyer after class. Hands were clasped, voices gaily sang, and their bellies gasped from too many hot dogs. A glimpse of a Coca-Cola t-shirt wittered into view, but it was orange, not black, and flew through the crowd twitching, like a chalky-grey moth at dusk. One of them sneezed loudly from the pollen. They briefly wondered if they had spent their time well or what that meant.

Afterwards, the line of cedars waving along the street looked different. She thought it could be a spareness. Perhaps even a wallowing.

Elizabeth Welsh was editor at Flash Frontier in 2014. A a poet, flash writer and academic editor, she is also member of the Tuesday Poem collective and editor of The Typewriter, an online poetry magazine for emerging New Zealand, Australian and Asia-Pacific poets. Originally from the beautiful climes of New Zealand, Elizabeth has been living and working in, and exploring, Europe for the last several years. She wakes up daily with a sense of adventure and loves where travelling is taking her.

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Please also see this month’s interview with 2015 National Flash Fiction Day competition judges Owen Marshall and Fiona Kidman.

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Coming in April: stories of iron. Guest edited by Tim Jones.