October 2013: RESCUED

Christopher Shanahan

Christopher Shanahan, ‘The Acrobat’

Artwork by Christopher J Shanahan, an artist and food industry economist living in San Antonio, Texas. Some of his work can be found at The Optimal Brain. Shanahan says of “The Acrobat”: “I think of circuses as places people go to run away, and performers, such as the one here, always holding out their hands to those who may help them from falling.”

~ ~ ~

William Doreski, Bird Repair (FLASH MOB 2013 2nd place winner)

The nurse called just as I coaxed the broken-wing bluebird into a box. “Your mother’s in poor health,” she said, “your mother’s dying, your mother’s dead.” I should call the funeral home, the florist, the gravedigger, but first I have to get this bird to the bird doctor, the fellow with the ostrich plume design on his stationery. He specializes in bird repair. They come in broken and leave more or less whole. Some get artificial wings that beat by means of a hearing-aid battery, slung under the bird’s body like an amulet. Some get new beaks to replace those blunted by crashing into windows. The doc shapes the new beak from plastic, fusing it to the old beak-stump with superglue.

The doc is in. The bluebird perks up when I open the box and the doc’s big blond Viking-face peers in. The bird chirps, and then bursts into song. I think the tune is “That Old Black Magic,” but I haven’t heard it in that key before. “Nothing wrong with his beak,” the doc opines. He touches the bent wing and then flexes it. “Not broken, not at all, just sprained.” I’m so grateful. I explain that my mother is dead. “Everyone’s mother is dead,” he observes, “or will be. You could bring her in and I could try to fix her, but reactivation doesn’t always please the reactivated. Think of her happiness. If she returned from death, what would she tell the neighbors?” I agree to think. The doc poses the bird on his thick right forefinger and smiles at it. The bluebird launches into a Gershwin medley, rounding every note with a smile.

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and teaches at Keene State College. His most recent books of poetry are City of Palms and June Snow Dance, both 2012. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in many journals, including Massachusetts Review, Atlanta Review, New England Quarterly, Worcester Review, Harvard Review, Modern Philology, Antioch Review, and Natural Bridge.

~ ~ ~

Rebecca Simons, Gone to Sea
He lay very still, arms resting along his sides, and felt the gentle sway as the ocean caressed the hull. It was a calm night, the fishing good that day. Soon the journey home would unfurl before them, where they could collect their money and unwind a little. Warmth fluttered through his groin as he imagined the fiery heat of liquor and the company of a lady for the night. It had been a long time since he had seen land, prepared his own food, or taken a piss according to his own demands, and he was ready. Abrupt rhythm unnatural to the sea broke through his revelry. He opened eyes and saw a woman dressed in blue, bent close as she fussed over lines and monitors, insistent electronic beeping filling the space between them. He said nothing, meeting her eye and looking deep inside, his breath now coming in shallow drafts. He was always restless when on land, the unyielding nature of earth and rock combined with the expectations of family somehow tying him down. He closed his eyes once more and returned to the lapping waves, creaking boards, the tang of fish guts mixed with engine oil he called home. No one could hold him, the pull stronger than a mother’s embrace. He was a fisherman, and the sea was where he belonged.

Rebecca Simons is an ex-office worker who discovered short story writing while enjoying a mid-life crisis. Although her university years were spent studying European language and culture, she has found an even greater challenge in mastering the use of her maternal language, English, and hopes to continue with this challenge for many years to come.

~ ~ ~

Rachel Fenton, Dinghy

We’re all in it together, have form honour that means we look out for each other at our own expense.

Blackout curtains remind me of the way towels can be used to protect a person’s modesty when changing on the beach.

I caught a window in the science lab. It was pushed in by a lad whose teeth stuck out as he inspected the buckled front wheel of his bike. Sir suggested I’d stolen a slice of pond from Monet’s water lilies before remembering to shout. I didn’t sprag.

Whenever there’s silence, we rely on Dinghy to fill it. The lads love him for his ability to wear the ripest armpit on his head while holding another kid’s bonce like a rugby ball. “Sniff up,” he bellows, and they all roll about laughing.

But in science, they put a drawing pin on his chair and he heehawed anti-gravity, touched down like a spit-balled post-it note. They made it up to him by taking him home at lunch, showered him and brought him back a ghoul in talc, then, just for fun, they crocodile clipped his goolies to a power pack and plugged him in. We all got done for that, though it was hardly life-threatening.

Now, Dinghy’s crying because what’s being described as love with fruit was done to him by his step-dad. Words flood out. We all put our arms around him, link hands in a ring to hold him. Listen, the last of the air coming out.

Rachel J Fenton was born in Yorkshire and currently lives in Auckland. In 2013 she was winner of the 7th Annual Short FICTION Competition (University of Plymouth), was the recipient of the Flash Frontier Winter Award for excellence in writing and was short-listed for the Fish Publishing International Poetry Prize. She has received numerous honours in previous years, including the 2012 AUT Creative Writing Prize. More here.

~ ~ ~

Nancy Stohlman, The Reluctant Hero

I wanted to just keep walking and pretend I hadn’t seen it. I knew plenty about bags floating in rivers. It wiggled, and I knew I should stop but I kept walking, and I was reminded of my mother sneaking me down to the edge of the river, showing me all the empty bags left in the mud like used condoms – look at those stories, she would say, people just threw them away like trash! They could have lived. And then she would fall to her knees and pray to her god.

So when I saw the woman leaving the edge of the river, I knew what was going on. I avoided eye contact with all the gypsies, beating deflated pillowcases against rocks as I crawled up the muddy banks and caught the tail of the story. I dragged out the waterlogged thing and took it home, where I set its cold, blue body gently on the page and let it live.

Nancy Stohlman’s books include The Monster Opera, Searching For Suzi: a flash novel, Live From Palestine, and Fast Forward: The Mix Tape, an anthology of flash fiction that was a finalist for a 2011 Colorado Book Award. She is a co-founding member of Fast Forward Press, the creator and curator of The F-Bomb Flash Fiction Reading Series. Find out more about her at www.nancystohlman.com.

~ ~ ~

Derek Osborne, The Night (FLASH MOB 2013 Top 15 Finalist)
her parents were gone they sat on the love seat side by side saying nothing the longest time just staring through big glass doors leading out to the deck and the soft blue rippling shadowed stone wall his arm on the back of the couch not touching not yet not saying but getting there closer so close he could smell her hair her body there under the sweater and jeans the big fire roaring blue bottle of wine her thigh barely touching her chest softly rising and falling his own breath shallow and quick remembering how she had looked at the lake and how she had looked getting dressed in the sun and all to do now but lean in and touch her cheek her mouth and that would be that would be everything already spoken unspoken but said all the same when she looked in his eyes on their afternoon walk though never quite sure but must be so they were there after all alone in the dark their bodies breathing whispering touching can’t get much closer and nothing else left to do so just do it her face lifting her lips parting his own a taste forever tasted and measured compared then lost to living lost to time till found in these words such moments in silence solitude wandering back to that day that kiss remembered that kiss reborn that kiss that kiss that once and only fall into love

Derek Osborne lives in eastern Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in Bartleby-Snopes, PicFic/Folded Word, Pure Slush and Boston Literary among others. A collection of his stories is due out very soon. To read more or contact, visit him at Gertrude’s Flat.

~ ~ ~

Reynold Junker, Last Day

“I like that idea.”

“And what idea is that?”

Vacation over, they were sitting in the La Guardia Airport departure lounge. He’d been reading Our Town. Assigned reading. She was studying the departure board.

“Thornton Wilder’s idea of, before you die, reliving your choice of any one day in your life. For me it would be the day we met. The day I first saw you.”

She didn’t say anything.

“And you?” he prodded.

“And me what?”

“What one day would you relive?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’d have to think about it. Do you think it’s going to snow?”

Reynold Junker’s writing credits include, among others, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. He has published work in the magazines America, U.S. Catholic, Crannog, Italian-Americana, Feile-Festa, West Marin Review and VIA-Voices In Italian Americana. His story “Dancing with the Jesuits” was awarded first place in the Catholic Press Association’s Best Short Story category 2008.

~ ~ ~

Maggie Rainey-Smith, Changing Course (FLASH MOB 2013 Top 15 Finalist)

I worry we’ll be lost in the forest of crying pines. I want to find the sea, to reach the beach. You say trust me, but I don’t, we argue, sand in my throat. I want to claim the dunes, the bathing shed, the outside shower. I know exactly where Aunty parked her car under this tree, over here where Uncle swam nude at night alone, where the men from Taiwan caught the crabs, where we built a fire with your father, cooked snarlers, drank wine, where my dad knelt in trousers to drink tea…how he hated sand and how silly I looked in my cut away togs with my waxed bruised thighs.

We’re going forward. I can no longer claim to have lain on that bank in my bikini and they’ve moved the herons too so we can cycle through to Richmond close to the road where we waited by the mouth of the sea on school mornings with our net and a milk bottle for the whitebait. Where’s the scout hall, the footbridge, the rubbish dump, the catch-in-the-back-of-my-throat freshly killed meat smell?

All my secret roads are gone and our river’s changed course.

Maggie Rainey-Smith is a published poet, short story writer and the author of two novels. She blogs here and is a regular book reviewer on Beattie’s Blog. She won the 2007 Page & Blackmore short story competition and was short-listed in 2004 for the Landfall Essay Prize and Takahē Cultural Studies essay competition. Her short stories and poetry have been published in Sport, Takahē, The Listener and New Zealand Books, and on Radio New Zealand.

~ ~ ~

Cezarija Abartis, Again

Lily crossed her legs. She was a pretty teenager, Elizabeth thought, as pretty as her daughter. Lily let the gun rest in her lap. She opened her hands as if she were measuring something. “In school, I read a story where this robber kills a family in Florida. They were driving on vacation, and he kills them. No more vacation.”

“I know that story,” Elizabeth said. “Flannery O’Connor.”

“Right.” Lily looked pleasantly surprised. “I always feel sorry for him. He didn’t really want to do that. He wanted a new beginning.” She stared at the window and sighed. “But that’s life. Same-old, same-old.”

“You don’t have to do this. You can have a new beginning.”

Lily’s face became sour. “There are no new beginnings. You should know, a smart lady like you. Educated. Rich.”

“I’m not rich.”

“You got more than I do.”

Elizabeth saw what Lily would look like as an old woman – small, constrained, hungry, furious.

Lily raised the gun. “‘If only someone had been there to shoot her every minute’ is how the story ends.” The curtains of the open window trembled in the breeze. “So I guess she does live. She lives to get shot every minute.” Lily smiled.

To Elizabeth the barrel seemed so slight. She imagined the sound of the bullet cutting through the air. She shut her eyes and then decided to leave them open for this last event.

Lily wobbled the gun. “Another time.” She put it down. “See how good I am.”

Cezarija Abartis’ Nice Girls and Other Stories was published by New Rivers Press. Her stories have appeared in Per Contra, Pure Slush, Waccamaw and New York Tyrant, among others. Her flash, “The Writer”, was selected for Wigleaf’s Top 50 online Fictions of 2012. Recently she completed a novel, a thriller. She teaches at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. Her website is here

~ ~ ~

Celine Gibson, Sound Advice

Carl buttonholed Joyce in the corridor. “Joyce, I was wondering…” Joyce, reluctantly, took Carl’s report home to proofread.

At teatime, the phone rang. Warren said, “For you, Joyce.” Joyce took the call. “Hello? Yes… I suppose that’ll be okay, Carol.” Joyce agreed she’d take Carol’s kids for the weekend.

Joyce opened her emails. She exclaimed: “It’s from Terry, Warren. He’s been a stranger!” Joyce’s face fell. Terry had written, …I know I can rely on you, Joyce – you’re such a brick. Joyce marked in her diary the weekend she’d be dog-sitting the great dane, Brutus.

Enjoying a latte with her sister, Joyce was stunned to hear Cheryl say, “….and now our rebuild’s happening, we can’t host Carrie’s 21st… I’ve put your address on the invites, Joyce – that alright?”

A ring at the door, her neighbour’s son, Kyle, a lovely boy, holding a basket of dirty laundry. “Mum’s machine’s on the blink again – Mum said you wouldn’t mind. Here.”


Cheryl raced up to Warren at Carrie’s 21st. “Where’s Joyce… and why the apron?” Warren said, “Isn’t it obvious, Cheryl? I’m playing hostess.”

Cheryl was confused, “But Joyce promised…” Warren proffered a cupcake, “Yes, well…she made a promise to Sam as well.”

“Sam – who’s he?”

“She is Joyce’s counsellor – told Joyce to start saying no… ‘cept to her marriage proposal, I believe.”

Cheryl stuttered, “JJJoyce is mmmarying a….w-w-woman?”

“Straight after divorcing me. Have another cupcake, Cheryl – too good to refuse.”

Celine Gibson shares her home with her husband (a bagpiping fiend) and two cats. Writing is her first love, followed by gardening, baking and painting – when time allows.

~ ~ ~

Helen Moat, Five Knots

Knot 5, day 1: On the quay she watched him depart, her fingers untying the first knot. He watched her shrink. Made her disappear. A knot slackened inside of him.

Knot 4, day 2: She looked out to sea. Waiting. In the stillness the walls of the house breathed out. She released the second knot. He let the land recede until there was just ocean and sky. Blue on blue. He felt another loosening of the heart.

Knot 3, day 3: She opened the window; birdsong flew through. She danced to its soundtrack and something freed up in her body. She undid the third knot. He dropped the mainsail somewhere in the blue and started fishing, unfurling his fists.

Knot 2, day 4: She turned her back on the sea and painted the walls: lemon yellow, blood orange, crimson. She released another knot. He sat in the blue forgetting. His heart pulsed to the wingbeat of a fulmar.

Knot 1, day 5: She dreamed he’d flung his water and catch into the navy depths. She cleared away his ocean charts and seagoing paraphernalia, released the last knot and cracked open a bottle of ruby-red wine.

He closed his eyes. The boat drifted. Soon he’d drop off the earth’s edge and free fall through space. But for now the sky above was blue velvet on his cheek, the ocean below a lullaby. His heart slowed to the beat of a great whale.

Helen Moat was runner-up in the 2011 British Guild of Travel Writers Competition and was highly commended in the BBC Wildlife Travel Writing Competition this year. Her writing has been published in The Guardian, Telegraph and Wanderlust magazine. You can read her travel inspired pieces at her blog..

~ ~ ~

Teoti Jardine, Last Voyage

Knowing I was a sailor he invited me to visit his Uncle Jack, an old mariner who had lost his voice, suggesting that my visit might cheer him up.

I packed my sextant, compass, maps, and set off.

Uncle Jack appeared holding a sign, “Welcome”, and motioned me in. When he noticed my sextant and compass he sat down and began to write, hunched over his pad as if to prevent the words from escaping.

He passed it to me and as I read I realised who Uncle Jack was. He had written of his last voyage, the ice and snow, the albatross he had killed, doldrums, sea snakes, naught to drink and on and on until he had lost his voice from telling anyone who paused to listen.

When I finished reading my heart melted, and filled with compassion for Uncle Jack. I broke into an old sea shanty, not believing my ears when Uncle Jack joined in, tears shining on his face as he sang.

All night long we sang sea shanties, spoke of our seafaring days and drank mugs of rum. Uncle Jack told me he would never speak or write about his last voyage ever again.

Next morning I gave Uncle Jack my sextant and compass and told him I had no further use for them. Reaching the brow of the hill, I no longer felt grief weighing on my wings, and I caught the wind and flew southward.

Teoti Jardine is of Māori, Irish and Scottish descent. 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, and hopes to have a collection of poetry published later this year. He lives with his dog Amie near Oxford in North Canterbury and is a member of the Canterbury Poets Collective committee.

~ ~ ~

Jen Knox, Like Water

There is no hand outstretched, no reassuring words when I fall. My body becomes liquid, like Bruce Lee said, only it’s not quite water. I close my eyes and am back in my room, practicing, knowing that next time the boys won’t knock me to the ground. Next time my hands will move so fast their eyes won’t know where to settle. I will block blows and twist their arms into pretzels, but I will let them go.

My body is seizing now. I am sinking into the floor, spreading on the linoleum. No one is supposed to be here, but I feel pressure. I am water, and I am earth. There is nothing more pristine.

My father’s fist pounds my chest. The pills tickle the ground as he kicks them away. His “Why, Son? Why?” jars me, makes my legs heavy again, not like air, not fluid, and I open my eyes. The world is solid, bright. There are boys waiting for me at school. They’re still there, and I need more training. I studied Jeet Kune Do, practiced all summer. I thought I was ready, but when I saw them today, I turned home.

I want to tell Dad why, explain, but he won’t stop. And when I sit up, coughing, stomach upside-down, I begin to cry. I become a lake, a river, a stream, an ocean that will one day be able to move anything, anyone. I just need more time.

Jen Knox is the author of Don’t Tease the Elephants. She works as a creative writing professor and editor in San Antonio, Texas. Jen’s writing was chosen for Wigleaf’s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions in 2012, and she was a recipient of the Global Short Story Award. Some of her work can be found in A cappella Zoo, ARDOR, Bound Off, Burrow Press Review, Gargoyle, Narrative, PANK and Prick of the Spindle. More here.

~ ~ ~

Joani Reese, For Doug (FLASH MOB 2013 Top 15 Finalist)

A passer-by found Kate slumped, tongue thick, clumsy, hands turning, turning the wheel, eyes flying apart in small, bright pieces. Your shell lay broken over the hood of her Camaro. The parking garage’s concrete blocks were splashed with drying blood that painted the unfinished portrait of a young man.

Dangerous men had forced Kate behind the windshield now dotted with carnage, told her to confess if she valued her breath. They placed her on point after they broke you, leaned you over the chrome bumper, and pressed her foot to the pedal.

You’d heard too much. The final lesson of this life was taught by men who laughed as they ended yours. You’d turned the corner in the wrong room in a moment perfect for dying, ignorant that the clock was ticking this last hour.

Had it only been someone else, a deaf man, one who walked with a white cane tipped red, a drunk splayed on the sidewalk cadging strangers for change…. If only, my friend, you had not overheard their plans. Your jokes would still welcome me over long-distance calls, your redhead’s skin still sunburn on trips to Michigan’s dunes, your mother not weep for her lost only child, your son grow up without a parent.

Only mute Kate knew their faces as she collected despair in small, speechless increments, her mother sipping Chianti and laughing her smoker’s laugh with those who had killed you. Your first girl could have won tardy justice for you. Instead, Kate fashioned prison sheets as a noose, fixed them to the bars, and purpled her face in shame.

Joani Reese has poetry, flash, creative non-fiction, and book reviews published or forthcoming in many online and print venues. Reese is a poetry editor for Connotation Press. Her second poetry chapbook Dead Letters has been recently published by Cervena Barva Press. More here

~ ~ ~

Natalia Spencer, The Puppet Maker

He often walked the bridge at night to escape his solitary life and when he saw the limp body lying in the gutter he deduced someone had tossed it from a speeding car. She was so small and the old man couldn’t resist taking her home.

It took many hours to make her look like new. He bathed her body, shaved her matted hair and attached a wig to her head. Carefully he applied new face paint to hide the crack and chose a pretty dress and dancing shoes for her to wear from the spares he kept in his cupboard.

“Hmm, something’s missing. Ah sì, sì, underwear,” he said but reasoned no one would care if she wasn’t properly dressed. In the corner of the room a boy with stick-thin legs sat watching and waiting until Geppetto left the room to make a telephone call.

“Run away,” the boy whined. “My father’s wicked, he squished little Jimmy with a cricket bat.”

Geppetto, coming through the door, laughed softly. “Oh Santa Maria, if he tells anymore lies he’ll get a big nose. Ignore him, my Dolly Twinkle Toes. I’m harmless, just a poor widower with time on his hands.”

Dolly couldn’t answer and lay on the bench staring at the ceiling through glassy eyes.

Geppetto covered her with a blanket and, patting the boy’s head said, “It’s your bedtime. Off you go,” knowing the birdcage in his shop window was a profitable way to display his new toy.

Natalia Spencer studied prose poetry and flash fiction under the tutelage of American poet Dr Carrie Etter and has an honours degree in Creative Writing. In 2012 her flash fiction was published in the anthology Kissing Frankenstein and Other Stories. She is also interested creative non-fiction and prose, biology, religion and history, and writes under the name of Talia Hardy.

~ ~ ~

Eileen Merriman, Rescued

Ellie walked into the water, watching how the water swept out, in long, smooth arcs, before gathering height and folding over, the foam feathering into the wind. She could just make out her stepfather, Greg, bobbing out beyond the breakers on his surfboard. She heard the roar just before the wall of water scooped her off her feet, pulled her under. The churning and bubbling filled her ears, as the sea ran through her nose, her mouth, her eyes. She was just about to inhale when an arm wrapped around her chest.

“You all right?”

Ellie breathed. The air gurgled down her throat, rushed into her lungs with a sharpness that made her eyes water.

“Relax, would you?” Greg towed her back in on his board. He blinked at her through the rivulets of water streaming down his face.

“You OK?”

“I’m fine.” Ellie realised her bikini top was askew, tried to adjust it with trembling hands. “Thanks.”

“Here.” Greg retied the straps around her back, moved his hands back toward the front. His thumb brushed, slowly, against her nipple… a strangled sound escaped her.

“Relax,” he said as his hands fell away. Ellie crossed her arms over her chest, looked back up the beach. Her mother was lying on her back with a magazine over her face.

“Mum said to tell you we should go soon,” she said abruptly.

“Sure,” Greg said, hands on hips, and soon enough they did.

Ellie went to her room and cried.

Eileen Merriman lives and works on the North Shore in Auckland. She is currently working on two novels and has recently completed a Creative Hub fiction writing course. Her interests include reading, writing, running, and the outdoors.

~ ~ ~

Bob Carlton, A Fairly Standard Fairy Tale
The knocking will not stop until I answer the door. I am being summoned to court, for it seems a young lady of noble birth is requesting my questing. I have not been addressed as “Sir” in years.

Admittedly, I am a mess. I reek of cheap ale and cheaper wine. Once prodigious feats of scholarship have been reduced to translating pornographic ballads into Roman so I can sing of the bodacious birks of my bloen without fear of the cudgel.3
A royal maiden is detained by a beastly captor of some sort, and suffers under a constant, if unspecified, threat. Minstrels praise her almond-shaped eyes and olive skin. I cannot remember the last time I had solid food.

The redomestication of my hair and beard makes me look and feel twenty years younger. The queen herself flirts, though most chastely.

Putting my martial accoutrements, not to mention my life, back in working condition, has caused delays. The princess writes, chiding me for my dilatoriness and threatening litigation if my forbearance continues. She would do well to remember who is in need of a savior.

Finally, I have become her knight in polished armor.

Years of trials and battles become legend, and when I finally arrive at the stronghold what do I find? No beast, no damsel. But I return a hero, and I am left wondering the secret motive and hidden motif behind all this.

Bob Carlton lives and works in Garland, Texas.

~ ~ ~

Mike Crowl, Textual

Rest. Skewed. It was an odd text to get. Plainly I should have understood it at a glance, but a glance didn’t suffice; nor did a prolonged stare. Texts are immune to prolonged stares.

Was it a predictive text problem? Seemed a bit too clever even for an iPhone’s brain. Seemed too enigmatic for prediction.

Take a word at a time.

Rest. Who was supposed to rest? Me? Or did it mean he was having a rest? Needing a rest. Or that all the rest of them, whoever they were, were resting. Or were skewed.

I wasn’t sure where he was so I didn’t have any idea whether there were others needing to rest – or be skewed.

And skewed? Did he mean skewered? No, he was usually pretty careful in his choice of words. So skewed. He’d skewed off the road. Or the rest had run off the road. Who the heck had run off the road? Was there a road?

Maybe he was under stress and actually had meant skewered.



Figuratively? Which meant what?

What had he been doing this morning that might have got him skewered?

Going to the supermarket for a bottle of olive oil. Seemed difficult to get skewered in the olive oil section. So, skewed: an old lady had run into his trolley and sent him skew-whiff into the sauces.

In which case, how to reply?

Over a long cup of coffee, I reflect.

And tap out the message:



Mike Crowl is a 67-year-old writer, pianist, composer and actor living in Dunedin. He has been writing for publication since 1989, with most published material these days appearing on one or other of his blogs. Current projects include typing up weekly letters he sent to his family in 1968/9 when he was at the London Opera Centre, and writing a set of songs in which dogs of various shapes and sizes are the focus.

~ ~ ~

Reem Abu-Baker, There Was No Reason

I don’t save the dog when the river sweeps her up.


At age six, I walked into the Pacific with my hands thrown into the salt-speckled air. I crooked my neck up, bellowed at the grey sky. “I am catfish,” I screamed, “I am love.” I threw myself into the waves. The waves ate me up. My father and mother dived in after, from different directions, their fingers latching onto opposite arms. They pulled. I went two ways, water and grimy ocean flecks sloshing into my mouth, throat, lungs.

Finally, they moved as one. I lay on the sand sputtering sick wet, bruises forming on my round child arms, wrapping them like seaweed, the left dislocated.


She is my neighbor’s, brutish man who drowned her puppies last week, said he couldn’t afford food for both bitch and litter. I gave him 200 dollars and whispered the soft-bellied dog away.


“Pulled me hard,” I said.

“Who did?”

“Dad,” I said.

“Happen often?”

“Yes,” I said.

I had no reason.


The dog is slicked in slime, head bobbing up and down the thrashing river. I stumble down the bank. The dog’s eyes are sharp orange lights, and they say, She can’t be stopped. She is catfish. She is love. She is more than you will ever be.

She closes her eyes, and I turn away, hope she is floating, dreaming her children, towards some back-in-time sea, enveloped in the water’s noise, so great it becomes silence.

Reem Abu-Baker lives in Denver, Colorado, where she recently received her bachelor’s degree in creative writing from the University of Colorado. Her work has appeared in Word Riot.

~ ~ ~

Kim Thomas, A Savage World

You now say it was always going to happen, he slipping himself inside her, although you never made any such prediction beforehand. Gossip comes naturally when you call her a bitch and him an adulterer, while she calls their child a miracle, and he fights to save his marriage.

Before the hurricane they were merely two faces among hundreds sharing the building in which you worked, faces you acknowledged when passing without ever knowing either of their names, or whether they knew each other. When the roof was ripped away you saw her fall to the ground and cut her forehead. But you couldn’t hear her scream above the raging wind and sheets of iron smacking into one another. You saw him drape himself over her, smearing the blood from her wound across his white shirt, before grit caked your window.

The hours you spent under your desk as the building crumpled around you, you remember well, as you do them, miraculously, being found the next morning, battered and bloodied, in a haven deep in the debris. But you cannot stomach any suggestion they, with all hope lost, found succour in each other, cocooned from a savage world. A hand grasped for reassurance, an embrace that brings comfort, a kiss that stirs the loins. No. You believe that, weeks before the storm, once outside for a cigarette, she took his hand and guided it inside her blouse. This you did not see, but now you are sure it is so.

Kim Thomas is a bloke – let’s get that clear – although was once asked, in writing, by his doctor’s receptionist to make an appointment for a cervical smear test. Usually most accommodating, he politely declined on that occasion. He recently rekindled a long smouldering interest in creative writing. A growing weariness with his profession – the law – has had something to do with that.

~ ~ ~

Christopher Allen, Beyond the Fences

Tuesday nights, Ally went to the hallowed Fences, the place his church – mostly fat-assed middle-age men and Ally – played softball. Sometimes he played right field when Mr. Omar was getting his chemo, but usually he warmed the bench, rubbing his mother’s baby oil into his new glove.

Tonight’s opponent was First Baptist Robertsville. Mr. Omar was dead, so Ally was limping to first (the third pitch had clipped his hip). He’d never been on first before. It felt safe: like an enormous communion wafer, but plump as a tick, kissed with muddy cleat prints.

The next batter hit a left-field line drive, so Ally limped on, love bursting – for the Fences, for all these Christian Americans playing this American game, for this grinning second baseman waiting for him to Slide! Slide! as the crowd was yelling.

Ally’s left cheek hit sand as a waft of saddle soap and leather brushed his other. Two beefy, hairy legs wrapped around him, pinned him to the ground. When he tried to stand, the second baseman from First Baptist Robertsville tightened his leg-grip – like a boa. A Baptist boa.

“You’re out, faggot.”

Ally felt the legs give his slight ribcage one last, long squeeze. Everyone saw; no one helped. But this was the freeing thing.

Released, Ally limped off the diamond. Past his glove dripping baby oil on the bench, past the batters’ cage and beyond the fences, he floated down the hill and off the earth.

Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen’s award-winning fiction and non-fiction have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Indiana Review, SmokeLong Quarterly’s Best of the First Ten Years anthology, Prime Number Magazine, A-Minor Magazine and Blue Five Notebook. A finalist at Glimmer Train in 2011, Allen has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize twice. He is the managing editor of the daily litzine Metazen.

~ ~ ~

Guy Yasko, Rent extraction

I saw the ladder from around the corner.

Fucking landlord can’t leave well enough alone.

The garbage bins were still on the curb. I wheeled them up the drive, around to the garage.

He was on his back at the foot of the ladder. His eyes pointed straight into the sky.

I nudged his midriff with the tip of my shoe.


I wedged my toe underneath him and tilted him on his side. Slid his wallet out, took the big bills, slid it back.

I left a couple twenties for the rescue squad.

Guy Yasko was born in Chicago. He makes his living at the intersection of Japan and the anglophone world.

~ ~ ~

Janis Freegard, Ngaire

She was a cold fish, Ngaire, never had much of a word to say to anyone. From the morning she started, she ploughed diligently though the accounts each day and left on the dot of five. Civil enough, but she never joined us for lunch in the park or her share of the ham Mr Hansen always put on at Christmas. Her desk was clear, her filing up-to-date, but she might as well have been a robot. Rumours swirled: she was a murderess, a former nun, Mr Hansen’s secret love child.

So it took everyone back when she showed up late one morning, cradling a hefty cardboard box. “What’ve you got there then, Ngaire?” Sheila asked.

Ngaire actually smiled. I just about fell off my chair. “See for yourself.”

Sheila peeked inside. “A pig! Oh my god, Ngaire, you’ve brought a pig to work!”

Well, we all had to look then. Sure enough, two curious, piggy eyes peered back.

“Kunekune,” said Ngaire proudly. “I found her injured on the side of the road. The vet says she’ll need regular feeds if she’s going to survive. I’ll have to bring her in for a bit.”

Well, that was the start of it. Sheila dug out an old dog basket, Mr Hansen brought a bucketful of veggie peelings and the new receptionist started crocheting a pig-sized blanket. The invoices got paid late for once, but no one cared. That year we had turkey for Christmas and Ngaire and the pig both came.

Janis Freegard’s work has appeared in many publications, including Home: New Short Short Stories by New Zealand Writers, 100 New Zealand Short Short Stories 4 and the Listener. She is a past winner of the BNZ Katherine Mansfield Award and was runner-up in the 2012 NFFD competition. Her latest publication is The Continuing Adventures of Alice Spider (Anomalous Press, US). She lives in Wellington and blogs here.

~ ~ ~

Cathy Lennon, Unexplored Territory

In the jungle God speaks from the trees and his voice drips down her spine. She forces through the invading green, feeling herself snagged and stroked until she is wet. The pounding of her heart and the rasp of her breath are counterpoint to the ceaseless scritch and screech of creation. It assaults her from beneath her skirts and above her head. The throbbing is a part of her now. She keeps her gaze fixed on the white of his shirt, devouring the evidence of his exertions, the hidden beauty. At her back, the steady step of her husband.

Later, crouching in darkness behind a tree, she waits. Her skin will burst if he does not touch it. She licks the salt of her palm, works her avid tongue between her fingers. Like a worm, she thinks. In Eve’s apple. He does not come, of course.

In Santarem, the next night, they dine. Her husband is loud, expansive. She can barely eat. Her gaze strays to the rows of canoes that line the riverbank. “Van Meer is gone to Manaus,” he says, thumb resting on his breast pocket. She lays down her spoon with great care. “Thence homewards I do believe.” He smiles at her through pipe-smoke. On her plate a split maracuja, pendulously spherical, oozes seed. In the heat its sweetness has an underlying taint of rot.

Cathy Lennon is based in the northwest of England. She has only recently begun sharing her flash fiction and short stories with others. She has been published in print and online, including in the 2013 National Flash Fiction Day anthology (UK) Scraps. She is on twitter: @clenpen.

~ ~ ~

Judy Nieuwendijk, Anyone, anything can take wing – anywhere

“Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-f..,” The glint of gold stopped Luke mid-shuffle.

From a crack in the concrete outside the exercise yard a dandelion sang its delight, the yellow defiant against the prison wall.

“Johnson, move it!”

Luke resumed his mindless shamble. “Twenty-five, twenty-six…”

Restless that night, Luke felt sleep slither from his grasp and deny him oblivion. That flower. Yellow. A shard of memory: his daughter asleep on her yellow SpongeBob pillow, her hair a riot of black curls.

From the time the cell door clanged behind him he had allowed no feeling, no memories. With his rare visitors he would sit blank, uncommunicative.

His fortress now breached, memories surged in. Alicia climbing into a cuddle chuckling Daddy. The delicious fragrance of the baby’s neck. The acrid smoke belching from the overturned car, his wife trapped, her screams piercing his drunken stupor.

Anguish burst through, swamping him. Relentless waves of agony racked his body.

Next day the dandelion was a feathery globe of tiny parachutes. As Luke watched, a gust of wind whirled the seeds high into their future, their message to him resonating. Anything can take wing.

A swirl of wind snared memories. The blustery afternoon in the park, Alicia tossing red and yellow leaves high. The baby absorbed with the daisies between his chubby legs. Remorse stabbed; he had missed the marvel of those first tottering steps.

Then a curling of hope, recalling her wonder. “Daddy, look – anything can fly!”

Judy Nieuwendijk lives, for now, in rural South Auckland with husband Fons and grandson Nicholas. Sometime soon Judy and Fons will be nomads, wandering back-country New Zealand in their bus. For the first time in her life, Judy has time to write the many stories and experiences of a rich life, delighting in seeing the jumble of words tumble from within onto the laptop screen.

~ ~ ~

Please also see this month’s Book Feature with authors of new short story collections Latika Vasil, James Claffey, Catherine McNamara and Berit Ellingsen.

~ ~ ~

Coming in December: stories from the underground

Book Feature: October 2013

October 2013

This month, we focus on four books by writers of short prose. And since this is an international issue, the writers we include here come from wide-ranging corners of the globe: Latika Vasil was born in India but has lived in Wellington since she was a young girl;  James Claffey is an Irishman living on an avocado ranch in California; Catherine McNamara is an Australian who has lived in Italy and Africa and now resides in the UK; and Berit Ellingsen is Korean-Norwegian living in Norway and writing in English.  We are pleased to feature these four talented writers this month, and we hope you’ll enjoy taking a closer look at their recent releases.



Latika Vasil, Rising to the Surface (Steele Roberts 2013

Flash Frontier: Your book has a surreal look and feel, and you’ve said yourself that water plays a key role in your stories. The title also implies change and transformation. Can you talk about how the book feels as a whole? What common themes and moods do you explore? Is it a book mostly about floating or swimming (metaphorically)? Does this connect to your own experience as a writer who was born in India and immigrated as a child to New Zealand? And how does the wonderful watery/urban image on the front cover represent the book? 

Rising-to-the-Surface-cover-web2Latika Vasil: I’m hoping the book strikes the right balance between variation and coherence. It’s important that the stories feel like they belong together thematically and that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I like reading short story collections where there is some sort of thread running through that keeps it all together. At the same time, there needs to be enough variety in terms of style, tone and narrative voice to make the collection vibrant and interesting to read. I’ve been pleased that several readers have said they’ve enjoyed the variation of characters and perspectives across the stories in Rising to the Surface.

Some of the stories are quite sad in tone but there’s also humour interspersed throughout. I’m drawn to writing that combines different moods and emotions as this seems more authentic to me. Emotions are often complex in real life and humour can be found in the unlikeliest situations. Binnie Kirshenbaum is a fiction writer who manages to cleverly combine the tragic and the comic. She has been described as a ‘stand-up tragic’ and I’d love to write in a similar vein!

While I didn’t set out to write stories to any particular theme, the themes that seemed to emerge when I was writing were how people deal with feelings of alienation and a lack of connection, especially in an urban environment; how people find purpose and deal with a sense of aimlessness; and how people balance settling and growing. In many of the stories we meet the characters at a transitional point in their lives. Having floated along in their own little bubbles for a long time they are now looking for meaning and connection and some sort of transformation. Many of the characters feel like outsiders, not quite sure how to engage with the world around them. I felt the surreal cover image of floating underwater inside one’s home, looking out on the world outside, wonderfully fit these themes and the overall tone of the collection.

Excerpt from “Surviving Earthquakes and Other Disasters”

There are two things I always do in the mornings. The first is, I make a pot of Earl Grey tea. The second is, I read the newspaper online. Though my world has gradually telescoped down to a small dot-like existence – just me and Alice or me and the laptop – the outside world seems to be ever-expanding. A calamity of biblical proportions occurs every few days – there have been tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. The earthquake in Chile, we are told, is ranked in the top ten of all time. Who knew such a list existed?

Alice’s class topic is ‘natural disasters and survival’. Someone asked the teacher if the topic had been chosen because of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The teacher replied that the topic had been picked last term, before the massive tsunami, and that they had ‘just got lucky’ with the timing. This was said straight-faced.

“Perhaps there will be an earthquake here in Wellington and we’ll be even luckier,” Alice had whispered to a friend.

Today, I’m embarrassed to say, the first story I read on the website, before the politics and natural disaster updates, is ‘Fetish black market for Japanese Airline uniforms’.  In the corner of my eye I see a story about Belinda Wright.  I quickly close the web page.


After my tea and newspaper browsing, the day proceeds in various ways, depending on what day it is. Today is Wednesday. On Wednesdays I have my weekly lunch with my mother. This is my mother’s treat and while this makes me feel slightly juvenile I don’t mind because my mother is rich, comparatively speaking, and I am poor – a solo mother and a student, double-dipping into the well of the financially wretched. We usually eat at a suburban café called Kalamata and the wall art – large mounted posters of Crete and Rhodes – and the bustling middle-aged female clientele always put me in mind of films like Shirley Valentine. I can almost imagine my mother running off to Greece with a thirty-five-year-old waiter called Costas. We order dolmades, tzatziki and spanakopita. I am vegetarian and this is one of several things about me that irks my mother. The other annoyances are usually lightly peppered into the conversation over lunch. ‘Your life is a disaster’ sits like a thought bubble over her head, unspoken. Instead she says things like “How’s the job hunting going?”

“Mum, I’m not looking for a job. Remember I’m studying.”

“Oh yes, the Creative Writing. I thought that was more of a night course – a hobby.”

“No, it’s full-time,” I say flatly, not betraying even a hint of irritation. I don’t mention that the course is online. I feel, somehow, that this will only further needle my mother.

She sighs and concedes defeat for today. We talk about Alice and other less volatile topics. As we prepare to leave she asks me if I need any money. I say Alice and I are doing fine and that I’ve picked up a bit of proofreading work. Later I find two fifty dollar notes in my handbag. My mother is like a reverse pick-pocket. I don’t know how she does it.


Latika author photo 2Latika Vasil is a writer living in Wellington. She was born in India and has also lived in the States and Singapore. She has previously worked in the education sector as a researcher and lecturer and currently works as a freelance researcher and writer. Her stories have been published in various literary journals and anthologies and broadcast on Radio New Zealand National. You can find out more about her here.


James Claffey, Blood a Cold Blue (Press 53 2013

Flash Frontier: You have a distinct and recognizable style and approach to short story, but you also like to play with words and content, and your range is quite vast. Can you talk about the content of this collection as a whole? How did you decide which stories to include in this collection? How do you know when a story fits? And also, please tell us about the title and the cover art, and the way they guide (or represent?) the overall mood of this collection.  

Blood_a_Cold_Blue_coverJames Claffey: In terms of choosing which stories to include in the collection, I decided for the most part to leave out a great many stories set in Dublin, and slated to be part of a novel I’m currently editing for publication with Thrice Publishing. I consciously included a number of unpublished stories that I never submitted to any journals or magazines, to give the book some element of balance between published and unpublished work. As far as how I know when a story fits, I decided to include mostly short, flash fiction pieces, with the exception of some slightly longer experimental stories I thought represented some of my strongest writing. For me, the book represents a view of who I am as a writer, a sort of kaleidoscopic gathering of stories that function well on their own, and together form a stained-glass window of words.

The title, Blood a Cold Blue, is a fragment from a story of the same name, and it’s one of my favorite pieces in the book, and appears in its original long form, as opposed to the edited version published at Word Riot. I feel the story illustrates the change in my writing since graduate school. I am far more experimental, open to taking more risks, with my writing now, than then, and the image in the story of the girl turning into a half-seagull/half-woman figure is probably a tip of the hat to the magical realism I read as a younger man when I was living back home in Ireland. I read Juan Rulfo, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Isabel Allende, and couldn’t believe their brilliance. The title also informs the book’s overarching themes, those of love, loss, decay, and hope.

The cover art was suggested by Kevin Morgan Watson, at Press 53, and I loved the image from the get-go. I’d rejected several of his suggestions, but not the bird! At first we couldn’t find the artist to get his go-ahead for the image, not through email, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, anywhere. We decided to move on and consider other images and even a title change and in a last ditch effort, I went digging online and found an old LiveJournal with an Icelandic email, and emailed him there. We heard from him the next day and he was happy to give permission to use the image. I think we were all mightily relieved to get the go-ahead!

On a side note, that cover bird brings me full circle from the days as a child I’d watch the birds through the kitchen window, pecking at scraps in the yard. As a youngster I was obsessed with birds, and would wander off with my dad’s binoculars and the RSPB Guide to Birds, and search for owls, hawks, and whatever other birds I could find.The image resonates for me, too, because I see this writing life as a sometimes lonely one, pecking away in isolation, trying to get that simple nourishment we all crave.

“Illuminating Every Fear”, from Blood A Cold Blue

The spot from where your future will appear, this great thing you wait for, is out there, in the fields, in the streets of some unknown city. Just like you were, or still are, out there searching. There’s something you seek like a buried jewel in Varanasi. You leave your body sometimes in search of it, a clod-covered ephemera to put your soul at rest. You’ve seen it before. It was in your father’s house when you were a boy. Your mother polished the treasure every week, gently handled its surface, rubbing it with cloth. Perhaps she has the answers, abandoned and sitting in her kitchen. She smokes cigarettes as the black clouds rumble across the window and drop sheets of gray water.

There must be a shift in how things are approached. Believe in possibility. It can take place, open a weal in your flesh, enough to place a finger or two, an entryway for fortune. Speak words of love, of life, of healing. Abandon words of death, of corruption, of impotence. Jacket warms your neck, collar up around your ears, eye slits narrow against sand that whips off the beach, dervish-like to the air. Choppy water, dolphins off shore, beneath the violence, and only stubborn gulls stand at shoreline, huddled together, bundled in feather to stare at a fierce sea. Now and again one caught by wind propels—paper boat in a hurricane. When wind tumbles gulls in gusts and hurtles them along, are they afraid, or do they revel in thrill?

Nowhere on the seascape can you find what you seek. Maybe you’re not in the right place. She didn’t speak of places geographic, only of places in the soul: fiercely buttressed vaults, dark cobwebs hanging from the eaves, a faint chink of light cutting pitch like a scalpel to illuminate fears you’ve touched. The cards pointed to the void—Knight of Cups, the Queen of Cups, the Magician, the Hanged Man—and your father who could die tonight while your five-year-old body lies awake in the dark listening, waiting for his breathing to stop, and the mourning to begin. Shall you grow up and fail? How will you make the change from child to adult without the map buried off on some barren headland?


James Claffey

James Claffey

Born and raised in Ireland, James Claffey grew up in the Dublin suburb of Rathgar, and came to America in 1993. He has lived in California for seventeen years and spent three years in Louisiana at graduate school. These days he lives with his wife, writer and artist Maureen Foley, and their daughter, Maisie, and, sometimes, his son, Simon, on an avocado ranch close to the ocean..


Catherine McNamara, Pelt and Other Stories (Indigo Dreams Publishing 2013

Flash Frontier: Your new collection, while wandering across continents and nationalities, contains themes of belonging, home, displacement and perceptions of the ‘other’ in terms of race, class, gender and sex. And your stories contain beautiful and raw depictions of emotion, conflict and pain. Do you think of your stories as politically and culturally charged or are they driven by individuals and the choices they make – or are those two things inextricable from one another? Related to that, how have your own experiences of living abroad, sometimes in challenging places, impacted your observations of characters and changes that inevitably occur in their own emotional or intellectual landscapes? And finally, what was the inspiration behind these stories in the first place, and how did these stories come to you as a collection? 

FRONT COVER_PeltandOtherStories_webCatherine McNamara: I would say the stories are driven by individual situations and dramas rather than being politically or culturally charged. I always start with a specific sentiment or angle in mind and depart from there, and then the context shapes around this. I have a keen interest in the historical exploitation of Africa and its contemporary fallout, which seeps into a lot of the African stories. But it’s not my mission. In Europe I’m particularly interested in our abuse of the landscape and how I think we should still be humbled by nature. And there are urban stories dealing with sex workers, drug addicts, physical decline, eroded relationships, where the social environment is entwined with each character’s situation. But it’s a risk to let this bear too much upon the story, as I feel it’s so important to allow everything to shift along smoothly. Short stories have to be so compact and for me this technical resolution is perhaps more essential than transferring weighty themes across to the reader.

It’s true there is a direct conduit to some of my experiences in West Africa in the stories. Years ago, I lived in a diplomatic context and the work I produced had a filtered vision, even though it was praised and published. As a white Anglo in Africa one is always the Other, but when I began to live with my Ghanaian partner my perspective shifted enormously in economic and social terms. In a way, after giving birth there, running a business, dealing with a host of situations, I feel I ‘acquired’ the right to see certain things from the inside. My title story “Pelt”, told from the point of view a pregnant Ghanaian woman trying to hold onto her German lover whose estranged wife comes to town, is a story I would never have been able to see/feel/imagine when I was living as a privileged Westerner. And yet, being a part of both the Western and African worlds made it possible for me to represent the Germans as well.

In Ghana we lived through a range of very rich and raw experiences, travelled widely and I enjoyed my work (traditional art gallery). They were years where I hardly wrote a word but lived first hand – even hand to mouth! – that now form a major part of my writing ‘bank’.  My story “Infection”, published in Wasafiri journal and appearing in Pelt, is an account of what happens when Eugene, a failed doctor returnee from the UK, son of the inspired Independence movement, comes back to the seaside Ghanaian town where his step-sister is dying of AIDS. Though the story is fiction and was challenging to construct, it draws upon some aspects of contemporary reality in West Africa that became clear to me.

Each story for me springs from an idea – a sentence, a notion I’d like to explore, a person whom I’ve watched walking someplace. Or maybe something that’s happened close to me. If I think of “Pelt”, the title story, well, one day this tall German guy walked up to our house in Ghana. He said he grew up in our house. He looked around a little, and asked if he could go out the back and show us where there was a monkey cage originally. Later, he walked away down the street again and I could see him through the hedge. He had a stiff back, as though he had an injury that couldn’t be put right. For me he became Rolfe in that first story, even though there were no monkeys and Rolfe didn’t have a sore back. And I don’t have a facial image of either of them. It was just his essence that came to me when I needed a lover for the girl who starts the story off. Her voice was easy. I’ve lived with lots of Ghanaian women in the house: employees, friends, lovers of friends. But I never take notes. For me that takes away the magic of discovering the story that you are in process of writing. The act of generating a story – for me – is very exciting, and frightening.

The collection didn’t come together easily. I submitted it in various forms, and kept adding the new stories I had published. Since I’ve moved to Europe I’ve been trying to shift location away from West Africa, but it’s hard as the ideas won’t go away. At one point a reader friend even suggested I do a book of only African stories but I didn’t agree – I didn’t want to be a white person writing about Africa, I wanted to be a writer producing good stories, no matter where they were located. So I imagine my next collection will be just as much of a mixed bag.

Excerpt from “Infection”

Eugene washed down the gauzy bread with a searing cup of instant coffee. Breakfast in the hinterlands of West Africa. His eyes strayed around the bar. Four plywood walls and a bamboo-clad ceiling, posters for competing national beers. The waitress sashayed out through plastic streamers nailed over a door frame. Five years down the road and she might look like Becky at home – a frail assembly of limbs, her organs kernels without an orbit.

He paid then headed back onto the sandy street. A way off was the beach. Last night he had heard a king tide booming against the small headland holding the fort. The massive sock of two heavyweights ramming shoulders. Wave versus sediment. Seas versus earth. Maybe the Prussians had listened to the same collision as they lay perspiring in netted beds. Hadn’t they erected the minor fort before it passed to the Dutch? Two centuries before Wilberforce deplored the trade in slaves along the coast? The whips, the cassocks, the brass. And all for what? Tit for tat between Europe’s restless third-born sons, the empire-builders and crackpots. And then Bismarck’s tailspinning thrust that fractured the deserts, the quiet rivers and villages, the colossal forests with their soaring primordial virginity.

There had been chatter last night at the fort. Two women speaking English had arrived carrying large knapsacks down the narrow hall. They had settled. Not without opening his lockless door looking for the bathroom and making the standard exclamations upon discovering the tap was dry. The generator had long ceased its putter. One knocked on his door and asked if they could borrow, or well, have, a match. Wide awake, he lit his own candle, then threw over a lighter. He saw the usual type of African adventuress. Apologetic, too smiley, a printed headscarf. She said they had a bottle of whisky if he’d like to join. Eugene declined. He blew on the candle, turning back to the sea.

Sleepless, his skin was a mask of sweat, suctioned into the hollow before each wave propelled its mass against the rock. Each boom worked upon his subconscious with a ravenous deconstruction, leaving palpable rivulets in the wake of the breeze.

It must have driven them insane.


Catharine McNamara

Catherine McNamara

Catherine McNamara is a novelist and short story writer. Her collection was released in September 2013 by Indigo Dreams Publishing UK. Her commercial women’s novel The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy was published in April 2012. She also wrote the children’s book set in Ghana Nii Kwei’s Day. Her short stories have been published in England, Australia and USA. More here



Berit Ellingsen, Beneath the Liquid Skin (firthFORTH Books 2012

Flash Frontier: Your book has been said to embrace both the sensual and scientific world. Tell us about your relationship to the environment and how these stories reflect your own experience with geography, climate and culture. How does writing fiction bring you to new worlds and root you more to this one? How does the relationship between myth and reality impact the way you go about writing short stories? And tell us a little about the marvellous title of this collection, too.

beneaththeliquidskin_coverBerit Ellingsen: I wrote the stories without planning a common theme. But when I started to put the collection together, I saw that many of the stories revolved around our relationship to the natural world and the ecological environment. It’s a personal interest as well as a professional one since I’m educated as a biologist.

Because of the theme I initially called the collection Anthropocene, the word some scientists use for the current geological era. It means “the age of humankind”, ie the age where human activity affects the planet more than any of the natural large scale processes.

But this is not a very common word. Moreover, the publisher loved the line “beneath the liquid skin”, which was used to describe the surface of water in the story Gold-Flecked Water. We then realized that many of the stories had water or the ocean as image or part of the plot, such as “Boyfriend and Shark”, and “The Love Decay Has for the Living”. From then on there was no other choice for the title. Instead we used “Anthropocene” as title for the last story in the collection, which describes one of the outcomes of the age of humankind.

Our generation is the first that is truly aware that we are making our planet’s environments less habitable, for many other species, but also for ourselves, yet we are so addicted to the way our societies work that we seem unable and unwilling to change them. I think much of my writing comes out of an indignation and guilt over that. Some of the stories that deal with this are” A Catalog of Planets”, “Polaris”, and “In all the Best Places, Lightning Strikes Twice”.

To me, our destruction of the habitability of the planet is also caused by the narratives we tell ourselves about what we are and what we need in our lives. I address some of these myths in the collection, particularly in “The White” and “The Story That Wrote Itself”.

Excerpt from “Sliding”

When we are sliding fast toward winter, daylight narrows to silver as the eaves of the wooden houses and the corners of the hedge-bounded gardens grow dark.

Leaves slap yellow and orange and green against the bare birches and the moist cobbles in the courtyard, and aim for the mountains across the bay.

The light swells and swells inside us until we are ready to come off the ground like scabs from the skin, and the sky pulls us quickly apart.

But we can’t stay in this moment for long; we yearn for it to pass. We need to be something else again.

Denser clouds drift in and the sun sets unseen.


Berit Ellingsen

Berit Ellingsen

Berit Ellingsen is a Korean-Norwegian writer whose stories have appeared in Unstuck, SmokeLong Quarterly, elimae, Metazen and other literary journals. Her short story collection, Beneath the Liquid Skin, was published by firthFORTH Books in 2012. She was also nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the British Science Fiction Award that year. Berit’s novel The Empty City was translated to French and published as as Une Ville Vide (PublieMonde) in the summer of 2013.

Find out more at http://beritellingsen.com.

Please see the October 2013 issue — rescued here