Maps

Flash
Rolf Samuels


Photo Credit: Kara Brugman/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

I’d suggested an estate sale in Colona. It was a Sunday in early October, cloudy, not yet cold. M collected vintage blue bottles, a particular tint you couldn’t always tell from the photos on an eBay posting. M liked to drive, which was fine with me, but she was between cars, so today I steered and she navigated. We drove and drove, further and further east from the neighborhood where I’d mapped the sale. Houses thinned. Fields of stubbled corn grew.

“This can’t be right.” I pulled over, parked the car, and reached for the map unfolded on her lap. M couldn’t fold maps, but she needed them. She never got fully comfortable finding her way around the Quad Cities. She hadn’t grown up there, and her powerful memory wasn’t very spatial. I folded the map so the exposed panel showed Colona. “We’re here.” I pointed. “We need to go here.” I pointed. I handed her the map and u-turned the car.

I don’t remember being angry. I remember my voice as calm. That is what I remember.

M stayed mute, turned her face from me. She studied the flickering power poles. The car’s wheels whined. M rolled down her window. She held the flapping map at arm’s length and released it. “No. No, we don’t.” Behind us, the map fluttered, a mangled kite.

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Rolf Samuels is an English professor at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin. “Maps” is part of a larger work, Prospects, in which a Quad Cities copy editor excavates the debris of a fallen romance. Email: risamuels[at]gmail.com

Carriage

Flash
Erica Plouffe Lazure


Photo Credit: Tamara Craiu/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

Last week, on our way home from the library, we saw the woman who pushes a fake baby in a real carriage. Someone claimed she was crazy, that she’d killed her real kid in a car accident, which is why she walked everywhere with that carriage. Someone else joked she was too poor to own a car, but did not dispute the dead baby theory. And today, as I walked across the street after school, nose buried in the library copy of the fourth Narnia book, the lady with the fake baby ran right into me. The light had turned red, signaling for us to walk, and I thought I was safe except there I was in the middle of the intersection, with a skinned knee from her wheel and my book flung inside the carriage.

“Lucy!” the lady shouted, bending over the carriage to check on the fake baby.

“Can I have my book back?” I asked, my face hot.

The lights were about to turn and the cars revved with anticipation.

The lady looked at me for the first time, saw me clutching my skinned knee. “What are you doing here?” she said. “Stay away from my baby!”

“I don’t want your baby,” I said. “I just need my book back. It belongs to the library.”

She took the book, admiring the cover—The Silver Chair—then put it back in the carriage. “I like libraries,” she said.

The lights turned green and horns started sounding, and she continued to stand there as though we weren’t about to cause an accident.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Cora,” I lied. Cora was the name of a real baby I knew and sometimes babysat for.

“Cora, have you met Lucy?” she asked. She picked up the plastic doll—I could now affirm it had working eyelids, no hair, a serene expression between sleep and wakefulness, all wrapped in a dirty pink cloth. The woman glanced from the fake baby to me as the blare of horns grew, and I smiled through her toward Lucy.

“Nice to meet you, Lucy,” I said. Lucy’s eyelids shifted open when tilted upright. “And what pretty eyes you have.”

And even though I knew that the fake baby was plastic and her owner was crazy, as the horns grew louder around us, desirous of getting on with their daily commute home, I am certain that as I touched Lucy’s tiny plastic hand, I heard a small laugh, a baby’s laugh, coming from the doll, or perhaps from a presence alive inside the carriage, into which I reached and found my book, and escaped into the rest of my afternoon, into my novel, enchanted by the imagined worlds that I simply could not accept in real life.

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Erica Plouffe Lazure’s flash fiction collection, Heard Around Town, won the 2014 Arcadia Fiction Chapbook Prize and was published in July 2015. Another chapbook, Dry Dock, by Red Bird Press, was also published in 2015. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, the Greensboro Review, Meridian, American Short Fiction, The Journal of Micro Literature, The Southeast Review, Fiction Southeast, Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine (UK), National Flash Fiction Day Anthology (UK), Litro (UK), and elsewhere. She lives and teaches in Exeter, NH and can be found online at ericaplouffelazure.com. Email: ecplouffe[at]yahoo.com

Oenaville, Texas

Baker’s Pick
Erica Hoffmeister


Photo Credit: Woman of Scorn/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

She was eleven, but the way he was staring at her mouth he could’ve guessed her at least sixteen. I was sixteen, but the way my narrow shoulders met her chest made her look even taller, broader. Her body a map laid across a table and pressed from corner to corner, asking your fingertips to run across water ridge lines with a smooth spinning compass pointing south.

I took the cherry sucker from her mouth and popped it into my own. Hey! She screeched with the tone of a girl who just got her period for the first time. Her knees were still unaccustomed to the weight of dying blood.

He carried his gaze through gas-stained coveralls, looked back to the pump, sweat on his wrists. The sucker protruded my cheek like an abscess, rotting my back teeth until I threw it at our feet.

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Born and raised in Southern California, Erica Hoffmeister earned her MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University’s dual degree program in 2015. She has had work published or forthcoming in So To Speak, Split Lip Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, Shark Reef, and Literary Mama, among others. Her poems have: been nominated for Best of the Net in 2107, received runner-up for the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize in 2016, and she’s also received an honorable mention for the Lorian Hemingway Award for Short Fiction in 2014. She currently lives in Denver with her husband and daughter, Scout Séverine, where she writes, teaches college English, and perpetually misses home—wherever that feels like at the time. Email: zhoffmeister[at]gmail.com

The Santa Realisation

Flash
Michael Sams


Photo Credit: Masha/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

I remember I was nine. I was in the back seat, behind Mum, who was driving sedately. My older brother was beside me. It was an early Saturday morning in November, already uncomfortable with the dry Australian heat. The air-con blasted pitifully, unable to eradicate the lived-in stink of the family sedan. We were on our way to the markets for some bromeliads for Mum and, I hoped, a slushie for me. My cotton floral dress was sticking to the polyester seat. Mum was humming along to a song by her favourite piano rock artist. She stopped at a red light.

“Sweetheart, look in the park, there’s Santa!” Mum exclaimed.

We looked. He was a sorry excuse for Santa. Even from a distance I could see his shoes were scuffed and the suit was tattered and faded. His belt wasn’t shiny, in fact, it wasn’t even a belt; I think it was a scarf. The beard-strap was clearly visible and his cap was missing the pompom.

“He looks terrible,” I said.

“Oh, that’s not the real Santa,” Mum corrected herself. “He’s just helping Santa out, like the elves do.”

She returned to her humming, so she didn’t hear my older brother whisper there was no real Santa.

My eyes widened. My jaw dropped. I stared amazedly at my brother, eleven, who was sagely nodding. My heart was racing. My brother put his hand on my shoulder, consoling. I blinked. No real Santa. My brother removed his hand.

I turned and saw my Dad, twisted in the front passenger seat, looking directly at me. He had heard my brother. He had seen that moment. I could see he wanted to console me, so I gave the smallest nod and slightest smile to let him know I was okay. His chest heaved with a silent, heavy sigh. The traffic light changed. Dad turned to face front. I wanted to console him, but I couldn’t.

Mum sang softly along, “…but I know that the ice is getting thin…” as she moved the car toward bromeliads and Dad-purchased slushies.

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Michael Sams started writing short stories as a boy. He won a couple of competitions and attended a writing camp where he was mentored by published authors. In the last couple of years, he has been writing short plays. He has had several performed in various cities around the world. In the last couple of months he has returned to short story writing and is enjoying it immensely. Email: mike.sams003[at]gmail.com

Cloise

Flash
Lynn Mundell


Photo Credit: Miss Wetzel’s Art Class/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

In their favorite game, they’re joined together, like famous twins Chang and Eng.

“Safety in numbers,” says Eloise, older by forty minutes. “Two heads are better than one.”

“Hahaha,” says Chloe, younger by the same. “Two-heads-two-heads!”

Chloe drags the skirt up their skinny legs with Eloise’s help. They’re eight years old—or sixteen, combined. Eloise pulls the sweatshirt over their heads. Each girl gets a sleeve. Side by side, they squeeze through the hallway, a double Popsicle.

“Girls, you’re stretching your clothes again.” At the kitchen table, Mother sits with ruined mascara like a masked bandit. Father has left. They’ve separated; like an egg.

“Please call me Cloise.” They keep moving, past the suitcases.

In the garage, they share a gum. Chloe gets the grapey first minute, chomping near Eloise’s ear as her sister searches for the duct tape.

They hear Father’s VW pull up. Raised, scrambled voices. They undress quickly.

“Chloe, time to go!”

Naked, they move chest to chest. Eloise stares into Chloe’s vague eyes, which may be looking back.

Eloise winds the tape around and around them, from armpits to bottoms.

They’re joined clamshells. They’re a double rainbow. No one’s splitting up Cloise. They’re a package deal.

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Lynn Mundell’s fiction and creative nonfiction can be found in The Sun, Five Points, Hobart, Fanzine, Superstition Review, Tin House online, Eclectica, and other fine literary journals. She lives in Northern California, where she co-edits 100 Word Story and is co-editor of Nothing Short Of: Selected Tales from 100 Word Story (Outpost19, April 2018). Email: lamama36[at]gmail.com

Milk Siblings

Flash
Catherine Fearns


Photo Credit: urs/ula dee/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

I only left him with her for a few minutes. She and little Eva came over for coffee, and I just needed to nip to the post office. It seemed a shame to bundle him up and out into the cold, and he was so nicely asleep, and it looked like rain. But when I returned, I saw flesh against flesh, my flesh against her flesh. I know it’s a thing—I even looked it up on the internet afterwards—milk-sharing, wet-nursing, women have always done it. So why has this darkness descended, as if it’s my body that’s been violated, as if he’s not mine anymore? I don’t know if I can bear it.

It was that look on her face, so triumphant as she cradled him.

‘He was hungry,’ she smiled. ‘You know he’s teething, don’t you?’

She couldn’t even let me have this for myself. And he looked guilty: as he twisted his head towards me, wondering where his loyalties should lie, he tugged her nipple outwards. Milk seeped down his chin and I almost retched. I tried to smile, and moved to take him, but she motioned me to stay back.

‘Shall we just let him finish? Shame to disturb him.’

Perhaps it was shock, or a fatal Englishness—don’t make a scene, it’s not that bad—that made me yield, and I would curse my weakness later.

We were animals now, predatory females in the wild. I sat on the floor and played with Eva, who looked equally bereft. My breasts burned with the sweet agony of let-down, my heart racing. On the doorstep, she looked into my eyes and said lightly: ‘Now I’m his milk-mother, we’re bonded forever. And Eva’s his milk-sister. They won’t be able to get married you know!’

It can’t be taken back. Some unnamed battle has been won, and a part of him is lost to her forever.

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Catherine Fearns is a British writer living in Switzerland. She is a regular contributor to Broken Amp and Pure Grain Audio, and also writes a blog about heavy metal and motherhood. A former breastfeeding counsellor, she has written a number of short stories inspired by her experiences working with breastfeeding women, and this piece of flash is one of them. Her first novel, a crime thriller entitled Reprobation, will be published by Crooked Cat Books in October 2018. Email: metalmama1978[at]gmail.com

Perfume

Flash
Michael Crane


Photo Credit: Vetiver Aromatics/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

To Cath, the arts administrator at the local council.

My friend Odette started a new business and is about to become a merchant. She isn’t selling cheap clothing donated by family members of the deceased; she isn’t selling manufactured meat and calling it gourmet hamburgers; she isn’t a high-tech madam of prostitution over the internet and she doesn’t own a fish-and-chip shop that is a front for money laundering or child pornography. She has become an importer of perfume, but it is not an everyday perfume which smells like all its competitors; it is not manufactured courtesy of the death of many animals; it is a perfume unlike any other which she had to travel to Geneva to procure and it doesn’t have one identifiable scent but offers any one of a million possibilities that only someone who smells it can recognise. To a businessman it smells like money and to a sailor it smells like an ocean wave during a violent summer storm. To a builder it smells like sawdust and to a chef it smells like a perfectly cooked medium rare filet mignon with sautéed truffles on the side, bathed in gravy so fine and smooth it glistens in the candlelight. To a baker it smells like golden brown bread straight from the oven and to a farmer it smells like fresh cow dung on a spring day. To a painter it smells like turpentine and to a doctor it reeks of iodine. To a mechanic it smells like a combination of sump oil and gasoline and when Odette dabs a little perfume behind her ears, it is another different fragrance all together. it is the only product she believes in and it smells like a perfect faith: like speed, like a drowning man in an ocean waving for a life raft. It smells like the holy water blessed upon a baby’s brow at a christening and when she wears her perfume it smells like her laughter: wild and gregarious, like a mob of drunken seamen standing on a pier singing songs of sirens stranded on rocks.

From Sally, the wife
of her one true love.

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Michael Crane is widely published in Australian journals and newspapers and some US Magazines. Some of his favourite North American writers include JD Salinger, Charles Bukowski, Elmore Leonard, Margaret Atwood and Richard Brautigan. Email: michaelcrane680[at]yahoo.com

Sturdy Girls

Flash
Amanda Breen


Photo Credit: Rennett Stowe/Flickr (CC-by)

Emily’s arm brushes against mine as the taxi lurches over the rain-slick streets of Amsterdam. Our flight from London landed 40 minutes ago, and even though we’ve only lost an hour, my eyelids are heavy, shuttering against snippets of lavender sky, traffic lights, bicyclists. Emily has been talking to the cab driver since we left the airport; they’ve covered his family history, the city’s top tourist attractions, and what kind of weather we can expect.

He asks her if we’re sisters, and I force my eyes open. I want to hear what she says, and it seems imperative I stare at the polyester headrest in front of me to catch every word. We are not sisters, I want to scream. No, she laughs, not sisters, just friends. I wonder why he’d even suggest something so ludicrous. Emily is twenty years older and exudes painful elegance: long legs, pale skin, sharp edges. I am soft.

The scene at Heathrow only hours before erupts in my head. Emily refusing to buy me a sandwich, pinching the flesh of my upper arm between acrylic nails, telling me she didn’t let any of her girls get dumpy. You should lose ten pounds if you want better customers, she’d snapped. I press my finger against the cold glass and draw a box. One bicyclist races through it, then another.

We stop when the waterlogged windshield glows red. It turns green. At first, there’s not a car in the lane next to us, then there is, and the bicyclist who thought she could run the red light slams into the windshield, which shatters, exploding into a bright spiderweb under the pressure of bone and steel. Horrified, we watch her arc through the air and land on the other side of the street, where passersby crowd around her, shriek in a language thick with consonants, whip out their cellphones to call for help.

The offending driver grips the wheel behind his splintered windshield, motionless. I stare at the woman, a crumpled heap in her coral blouse and dark blue jeans. I imagine her putting the outfit on this morning, sliding her arms through fluttery sleeves, slipping her legs into soft denim. She doesn’t move. No one touches her. Our driver shakes his head and speeds us away from the wreckage.

He clicks his tongue, makes a sucking sound. “These bicyclists have no respect for traffic signs. And this is what they get.” Emily and I stare out the window even though there’s nothing to see anymore. He sighs. “Well, she might be okay. She looked like a sturdy girl.”

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Amanda Breen recently graduated from Barnard College of Columbia University, where she studied English with concentrations in American literature and creative writing. She likes to write about women and power, and is especially interested in how gendered constructions of power impact individuals and relationships. Her work has appeared in A Barnard Writer’s Life: The Collected Works of Creative Writing Concentrators, and she looks forward to experimenting more with flash fiction and shorter forms. Email: abreen2415[at]gmail.com

Dissolve

Flash
Gaynor Jones


Photo Credit: Elné/Flickr (CC-by)

We sit in quiet lilac rooms on plastic chairs. Paper on the table, posters on the walls. They already know the who, the where, the when and it’s enough for their notes. But they’re desperate for the why.

First sip, first toke, first hand fumbling into your jeans. Excitement, that’s all. They’ve either never had it or they’ve forgotten.

On weekends I go from couch to couch, maybe room to room. They put things in my mouth then put the thing in my mouth, and it dissolves and I dissolve with it. Life melts into colours, like dancing inside a rainbow.

Later, as it wears off, I hang out the window in the room above the chippy where they store us, half laughing, half crying. ‘Help,’ I call out, needing to be saved from myself.

Then it’s meeting after meeting after meeting.

For some it’s just their job; they’re paid to care about me. Others really do care and they are the worst. Their vacant mouths wait for me to speak so I say what they want, nod along with them. Sometimes they get through and I pick at the dry flakes on my skin, spilling out promises I half intend on keeping. But then I remember the colours.

And the next Friday night, I escape, find them and dissolve all over again.

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Gaynor Jones is a freelance writer from Manchester, UK. She writes micro, flash and short stories and organises the Story For Daniel flash fiction competition. Her work can be read in Ellipsis Zine, Flash Frontier, MoonPark Review and The Airgonaut, among others. She tweets at @jonzeywriter. Email: gaynor[at]jonzey.com

Last

Flash
Michelle Dotter


Photo Credit: Imre Kissik/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

What I remember most is the heat. It was so hot that summer we were fifteen that we couldn’t breathe—every day was like a thick cloud of steam sitting on the cabin by the lake. Even the crickets were quiet. The sunset made the lake boil in the red earth.

At night, we couldn’t sleep because of the aching humidity that never went away. Even with all the doors open, the air didn’t move—I exhaled and pulled the same inhale back in. Watched you doing the same. One night I caught your eye and we ran down to the well and threw buckets of water on each other, fully clothed, soaking ourselves until we shivered in spite of the heat. Then we sprawled out on the dirt floor of the cabin, each of us listening to the sound of the water dripping out of our shirts. It made little pools on the ground, and I rolled over to keep as much of my body in the water as possible, and so that I could see you through the shadows, the charcoal smudge of your face dreaming of dreams.

The best were the nights when neither of us was tired, and we lay there staring at the ceiling like the dark planks were suddenly going to open into another world and pull us into something—the black box of the universe at the moment of unfolding, when every thought was a supernova. It never happened but I never stopped believing it might. I’d shift and put my arm under my head and you’d roll over onto your side, putting up with the heat of one part of your skin touching another so that you could look at me. You were my mirror, my mirage in the dark.

Nights like that, my name sounded strange when you said it, like you were testing each syllable because you weren’t sure it was going to hold. I’m burning up, you’d say as you laughed, and in the moonlight your face grew up so fast that I wasn’t sure, for a minute, who I was talking to. Let’s jump in the lake. Race ya.

The last night, you were still dripping when you stood up. I stared at the back of your shirt, at the dampness that made you shimmer as we ran to the dock, the first time you ever beat me. The moon was sleeping on the surface of the lake; it woke with a start as you jumped right through it, silent like the crickets I hadn’t seen all summer.

When you went under, I held my breath for you.

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Michelle Dotter is the editor-in-chief of Dzanc Books, a nonprofit independent press committed to literary excellence in fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Molotov Cocktail, Entropy, and the No Extra Words podcast. Email: michelle.dotter[at]gmail.com