Anniston, Alabama

Shoshauna Shy

Square-cropped photo with a white border and rounded corners. Partial view of a U.S. five-dollar bill at a diagonal on a wood surface. The portrait of Abraham Lincoln is in the bottom left corner of the photo. "S OF AMERICA" is visible on the top edge and "LLARS" at the bottom edge of the bill, as well as 5s in the right-side corners. To the right of the image of Lincoln is a red seal over the word FIVE. Above this is a serial number in red; below this is a signature (C. Douglas Dillon) and "SERIES 1963."

Photo Credit: J. Money/Flickr (CC-by)


Elsie’s father bragged at breakfast how he had special radar, could tell when anybody was lying to him. Turning ten years old on Tuesday, Elsie decided to test that out. While he was mowing the lawn, Elsie removed a five-dollar bill from his wallet lying on the nightstand, and slipped it into her sock against her shin. She had overheard her mother say on the phone just yesterday that they were finally rich enough to jet off to California. Elsie figured, since that was the case, her dirty deed would go unnoticed.

She decided to ask Melvina, the household’s beloved cook and housekeeper, to take her uptown on the bus so Elsie could buy them both ice cream cones at Lickety Split, and even Hershey bars for later. She’d say she had “birthday money” to spend. She pictured the woman’s face lighting up with pleasure.

Elsie did not picture Melvina in the front yard crying while her father stood on the verandah shouting at the top of his lungs, Melvina pleading he believe her, pleading he let her stay.


Author of five collections of poetry, Shoshauna Shy’s flash fiction has recently appeared in the public arena courtesy of 50-Word Stories, Blink Ink, Free Flash Fiction, and Nixes Mate Review.  She was also one of the seven finalists for the 2021 Fish Flash Fiction Prize, will be included in the Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology in 2022, and earned a Notable Story distinction in Brilliant Flash Fiction’s 2022 contest.

Not Far

Tim Love

Photo of a lawn with unmown grass. A small light blue toy car is in the bottom left corner. Some of the paint is worn off the car. A couple chunks of wood/sticks are nestled in the grass in the upper right.

Photo Credit: Rachel Beer/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

I watch our grandson from our kitchen window. He’s not used to a long back garden like ours. He’s crawled right to the end and found a piece of wood that he’s pushing to and fro making BrrmBrrm noises.

He likes playing down there, in his own little world, winter and summer. “This was your dad’s,” I tell him, giving him a racing car I found in the loft. There’s a coiled spring inside so when he pulls it back and lets go, it surges forwards across the grass. “Wow, thanks Gran!” he says, doing it again and again. He doesn’t seem to care that he’s getting no closer to the house.

Now he’s made the car all by himself out of Lego and is pushing it through the unmown grass, screeching round daisies. When he pushes down, wheels come off. He patiently mends it and continues towards me.

But the radio-controlled jeep lurches too fast, veering wildly into the rosebushes halfway down the garden. “The controls are too sensitive,” he says. “I’ll let the batteries run down”—turning the jeep on its back and revving. His grandad would have hated the whine.

The rest happens so quickly. In no time at all he’s back in the house. “Come on, Gran,” he says, lowering me into my wheelchair. “On your marks. Get set. Go!” He tilts me, kisses the top of my head, then wheelies me out to his new car, each little bump agony though I don’t say. My case is already in the back. He lifts me onto the passenger seat, wheels the chair back into the house, locks up, and sits beside me, resting a hand on my knee. “Dad’s waiting for us there. It’s not far. Ready, then?” he asks.

I nod, not looking back at the house that has been my life, that I know I’ll never see again.

“It’s electric,” he says. “Just feel the acceleration.”


Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts (HappenStance) and a story collection By all means (Nine Arches Press). He lives in Cambridge, UK. His poetry and prose have appeared in Stand, Rialto, Magma, Unthology, etc. Twitter: @TimLoveWriter | Facebook | Instagram: @timlove136

The Day the Blossom Blew Away

Esther Byrne

A close-up of white cherry blossoms from underneath looking up at the sky. A branch in silhouette bisects the image from bottom left to top right, with a vertical offshoot on the left side. In the background, more blossoms are visible but out of focus. The sky is a bright white.

Photo Credit: Natalie Barletta/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

It meant a great deal to me; that tree.

It shone crisp white; a promise of spring in my rule-bound winter.

Everyone else had gone for the holidays, leaving the world silent.
I decided to climb into its branches and let it hold me.
A comfort in my life devoid of kind words.

But the blossom blew away, taking me with it.

Now, I’m surrounded by a different kind of white.
All uniforms and beds and questions.

There may be no tree, but I have flowers with me.
I’m held and I’m safe.


It suits me just fine here.


Esther Byrne is a writer from Yorkshire, UK. She has had short stories published with 50-Word Stories and Secret Attic. In 2021, she was runner-up for the Val Wood Yorkshire prize. She lives with chronic illness and is passionate about encouraging people with disabilities to express themselves creatively. Twitter: estherbyrnecom


Sarah Kelleher

Image of a white rose centered on black background. The bloom is fully open with stamens visible in the center and the petals folding back and beginning to wrinkle. A green stem with small thorns extends from the flower to the bottom of the photo. On one side of the stem is a single leaf, on the other, an offshoot with a smaller, unopened rose that is partially hidden behind the open rose. Light falls on the rose from the right. The background is completely in shadow.

Photo Credit: Veit Irtenkauf/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

It’s a bad rose. It sails fat-headed from my hand, skims glossy wood, vanishes without sound. The other roses lie on the coffin where they landed. Casual and elegant and yellow, they criss-cross the sun’s reflection, tight-lipped and pretty like little onions.

My rose’s stem was as long as my arm, too heavy. Why was I so childish? I waited until the end of the service so nobody saw me draw it from the colourful burst at the altar. I held my eyes on my three sisters—if I couldn’t see what I was doing, then neither could they—and they chatted and shoulder-touched like hostesses, incorporated in black, until I dragged the knobbled stem free, flicking cold drops on my blouse. It turned out I had grabbed a white one. It was dry-fluffy, open wide. Mum liked yellow. But stealing a flower at a funeral is a new low, especially when you were not invited, and I did not risk a second try.

Now everyone stands muted in the sun: sunglasses and flat mouths. A priest sing-speaks a verse about ashes and dust. It’s a movie. It’s the end of times. I hold a sticky tissue to my nose, lungs jolting pain into my throat, nerves burning with all these years of avoidance, of pride. I thought there would be more time. I thought she would live forever. No shoulders turn, no sunglasses glint in my direction. I sense pleasure. I bolster their goodness, their dedication.

Why was I brave? Why did I come?


Sarah Kelleher lives in Auckland, New Zealand. To pay the bills she’s dabbled in freelance journalism and copywriting, but her real love is fiction, often getting up early to work at her laptop before her family wakes. She spends the rest of her time flying planes and caring for her son. Email: sarahkelleherwriter[at]

I Don’t Want To Read Your Lips

Hugh Cartwright

Close-up image of a cedar branch weighed down by fresh snow. The snow is fluffy, like cotton balls, and the evergreen branch is bending toward the ground. The trees, bushes, and ground in the background are also covered in snow.

Photo Credit: Suzanne Cadwell/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

I love your lips, but they do not tell me how you feel. Just a touch of your hand, or your smile from across the room, and I can see into your heart.

Evening. The sunlight is golden as we settle for dinner.

“I wonder…” You begin, then pause.

I smile as you tuck back a lock of greying hair and continue.

“…after all, it’s been a while.”

There’s no need to ask what is on your mind. “Not for a few weeks,” I say. “They are away at the cabin with the kids.”

The conversation, barely begun, lapses into agreeable silence.

I gaze past the cedars into the gathering dusk. Gold becomes yellow and purple. “You know, my love, it feels like…”

She interrupts and nods gently. “Yes, you are right. I can feel snow in the air too. We’ll be digging by tomorrow evening.”

But that night, as the snow carpets the trees, a virus will follow. Within weeks it will destroy my hearing forever.

I stare at your lips now and wonder what they say. After forty years of marriage our need for words has washed away. And yet now I ache for words: for the feel and touch of your voice, a gentle caress that will never reach me again.


Formerly a University scientist, Hugh is now retired and living in the Pacific Northwest, where writing provides a diversion from his doomed attempts to grow Canadian oranges. His stories have appeared in Nature Futures, Foxglove Journal, Meniscus, The Drabble, and elsewhere. Email: hscart[at]

If We Hold Each Other Tight

Michael J. Brien

Image of the back of a porch swing. The photo is cropped so only one side of the swing is visible. The wooden slats are covered in faded white paint. The arm of the swing is threaded with plastic-covered chains that extend up toward the ceiling. In front of the swing is a railing with a black-painted rail and white-painted balusters. The railing is attached to support posts on the left and right of the photo. The swing looks out onto a lawn with shrubs and trees. The porch is in shadow and the light is fading over the lawn.

Photo Credit: blgrssby/Flickr (CC-by-sa)

They walked along the short bricked path from the front porch to the dirt drive. Both of them remembering the fifth anniversary of the older man’s wife’s death from the kidney failure she had battled for nearly a year. The night held a lingering scent of pine that had been in the air since the day before when the electric company had come through and grubbed the acreage beneath the power lines.

The younger man, his only male progeny, cocked his head, listening to the small cracking sounds that the night insects made back in the trees.

When they reached the dirt, they looked at each other and turned to look back at the house. From inside the cabin, the dim light over the stove peered through the flimsy curtains that the older man’s wife, this progeny’s mother, had sewn on her Singer machine just as she had begun her dialysis treatments. A blue-veined harvest moon parted the tops of the pines and laid its bright white light at their feet. They walked in that moonlight back to the steps.

The old man stared down at the wide pine boards beneath his feet and spoke for the first time since supper. “In 1954 I became accountable. I got my degree, joined the US Army as a private first class bound for Korea, and your mom delivered me a fat red-faced baby boy.”

The younger man’s smile was hidden in shadow. He felt a slight breeze trace his face and arms. “Quite a year, Dad.” He held his father’s elbow as they stepped up onto the porch. Arm in arm, straddling the wide planks, they shuffled to the porch swing.

The older man lifted his eyes and held out his arms. They glistened like the sudden birth of two more stars in the expansive galaxy swirling above their heads.

The son stepped into their open gate and the old man drew him in, holding him tight.

The son’s arms came up and banded around his father’s small frame.

The moon rose higher and brighter, neither man letting go. The weight of each perfectly balanced against the other.

The old man moved his wet face into the soft flesh of his son’s neck and whispered, “I miss her something terrible.”

“You always will, Dad.”

The older man pulled his head away and motioned to the swing. “Let’s sit for a while and remember.”

“Sure, Dad,” the son heard his own voice soft as an owl’s silent flight in the night, swooping in under the porch roof, landing gently beside his father.

The older man sat down, the seat rocking back slightly. He took a deep breath, speaking sure as he did on the day he spoke his vows to his bride, “If we hold each other tight, we can keep each other warm.”


Michael J. Brien is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop. He is the author of over 90 published children and adult short fiction, poetry, and non-fiction pieces, and is a recipient of grants from the Iowa, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire State Arts Councils. He is a member of the New Hampshire Writer’s Project, and an adjunct member of Southern New Hampshire University. His recent work has been published in Edify Fiction, Oyster River Pages, Amoskeag, Miranda, Epiphany and Flash Fiction literary magazines.
Email: writermusicman[at]


Renée Perry

Photo Credit: Rick Cameron/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

You said, “There’s a new woman in my department. She just got to San Francisco a couple of weeks ago. Just a couple of weeks and she’s nailed down a job and a place to live.”

“That’s pretty fast,” I said.

I passed the house once, twice, then again. Then I went back to work, putting replacement parts, small screws, wires, plastic clips, into the back of the vans that the telephone repairmen would drive the next day.

I asked you, “Your new coworker, she’s from the Midwest, you said?”

You said, “Yes, Michigan. She’s just moved to town. She has the cutest dog, so smart.”

The next night, I drove by once, just the one time, then turned around and went back on my route. So many small pieces, each with its specific place, its drawer, its cubbyhole, its rack.

You said, “She drove all the way here in a Honda Civic. You know, the ones that look like they put a car shell on a motorcycle. All those miles, can you imagine?”

The third night, I didn’t go off route at all. I finished my trucks, hung out with my coworkers at the barn, had a beer and came home where you were already in bed.

“All that way with a dog in the car and all her stuff. I don’t know if I would have done it,” you said. “When I moved to California, my sister was here already and I knew people. Coming out all that way and not knowing. It’s so brave don’t you think?

I said, “Yes, I guess.”

After a week, I drove to half a block away from our home. I turned off the lights, turned off the engine. I sat there, looking at the cars on the street. There was your car. And there was her car too.

When we had breakfast the next morning, I didn’t mention the cars. I wasn’t supposed to be there. I was supposed to be on my route, driving from garage to garage. I had one route with no change, no deviation. I should have been miles away.

I said, “Your new coworker, she must be settling in now, right?”

You said, “Not really, she doesn’t know that many people here yet. Mainly our work group. You know how hard it is to make friends in San Francisco.”

I said, “Yes, yes I do.”


Renée Perry lives and writes in the Central Valley of California. She has been a population ecologist and a nonprofit operations manager, though not at the same time. Twitter: @rroseperry Email: rroseperry[at]

Basement Flat, Corner of Barons Court Road

Emma Pearl

Photo Credit: Julie Jablonski/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

An unlikely setting to barter for your heart’s desire—the back wall so close to the train tracks that the whole building rumbled constantly—but the address I’d been given, nonetheless. November wind cut like a knife, urging me down the steps when I might otherwise have walked on by or dithered on the pavement battling with my second thoughts.

A scrawny, unkempt woman opened the door and regarded me hungrily. Her corvid eyes were too small even for her narrow face. Inside, the flat smelt not of incense but of earth. Plant pots sat precariously on every surface, seedlings every shade of green leaching over edges, handwritten labels that made my breath stutter.

Liver Function. Sense of Smell. Friendship. Premonitions. Courage.

Fear rose in my throat and I fought the urge to run. I had to do this—every other avenue was already exhausted. The curse of infertility was scraping me inside out. I needed a child like air to breathe, no matter the cost.

My eyes kept flitting to the labels, desperately trying to predict what I would be sacrificing to this unwholesome woman who was, apparently, the answer to my prayers.

Curiosity. Singing voice. Childhood memories. Honesty.

The handwriting scrawled like spiders tiptoeing down my spine. Flies buzzed at the window pane—dead bodies piled on the sill—and the strip light in the hallway flickered like a curse, echoing the ragged hope in my heart.

How to play the violin. Left thumb. Remorse.

The woman held out her hand. I had been instructed to bring a personal item. It must be precious, small enough to fit in my palm and have been in my possession for at least five years. I passed her the only thing I could find that fit all those criteria—a brooch that had belonged to my grandmother. I wouldn’t miss it. Doubt plagued me sharp and sudden. Did that mean it wouldn’t work?

She studied it, threw it in the fire that blazed lazily in the hearth. The flames danced and glowed turquoise. The woman nodded. It was enough. She fished it out with a pair of tongs and placed it carefully in a pot, pushing it deep in the soil with her blackened fingernails. She set the pot beside the fly graveyard. What would she write on the label when I left?
Sense of humour. Faith. Confidence.

How could I know then that this trade would render everything pointless?

“Drink this,” she muttered, pouring a glass of dubious-coloured water from a jug. I gulped it down, anxious to leave now. The taste was bitter, and those crow eyes staring into my soul made it bitterer still.

I left, my heart skittering like a trapped fly. Too late for regret now.

A week later, a positive pregnancy test brought the joy I had hungered for. It had worked. But it wasn’t until after the baby was born that the label on my plant pot became clear to me.

Ability to love.


Emma Pearl writes fiction for all ages and is represented by Sera Rivers at Martin Literary Management. Her debut picture book Mending the Moon (illustrated by Sara Ugolotti, Page Street Kids) will be published in November 2022, the sequel Saving the Sun in 2023. She is a WriteMentor picture book mentor. She grew up in the UK and now lives with her family in New Zealand. Twitter: @emmspearl Email: emmspearl[at]


Mike Hickman

Photo Credit: Paul A. Hernandez/Flickr (CC-by)

Right now, she can see three options. Over and over.

1) Linda stands silently on the porch as the officers circle the “why?” Because they need to know why, even with the “what” warm behind her and the “how” warmer still in her hand. “Drop the questions,” she tells them. “You can go back the way you came. You know I can’t.”


2) Linda has answered the questions so many times now. There is nothing they can ask that hasn’t already been asked. Of herself. All these very many nights out in the cold. So, as she stands there, as the officers approach, as she knows what they will have to ask, she determines she does not need to say another word. The weapon, after all, is still warm in her hand.

Or, with only the tiniest shift in emphasis:

3) Linda has answered the questions so many times now. So, as she stands there on the porch and the officers approach, she knows what they will have to ask. She determines not to say another word. The weapon, after all, is still warm in her hand.

Linda watches the moths skimming and rippling across the refracted porch light. Playing at freedom, the light recaptures them every time.

The other questions usually start around now. The questions that had first prompted her circumlocution. Set it in motion. Impelled her towards the porch light this night and every night.

Until they stop.

“What you doing out there? Where’s that beer you were gettin’?”

There are only so many ways it will turn out, Linda tells herself, as she turns back towards the house. Every time, every night, she finds herself standing out here, replaying what is yet to happen in all its potential eventualities. She cannot do this for much longer. So she allows Harold to call her back in. Just this once more.

At least until tomorrow.


Sometimes Doctor, always writer, Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx and Erin Fleming. Since 2020 he has been published in Agapanthus (Best of the Net nominated), EllipsisZine, the Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, Sledgehammer, and Red Fez. Email: sirhenryatrawlinsonend[at]


Hibah Shabkhez

Photo Credit: Sue Thompson/Flickr (CC-by-nd)

Nelui painted the three men simultaneously, one feature at a time, which was perhaps why, despite being of different ages and races, they seemed like triplets. All of the heads had the same bestial quirk of the jaw, the same distressing pinch of nostril, and the hair-tufts seemed to bore into their half-skulls like grotesque trepanation commercials. Their leering right irises were ghastly in thick-browed almond-shaped sacks when set beside the closed eye-rims sunk deep into their left cheeks.

I cleared my throat. ‘Look, I think it’s amazing. But… I don’t think it’s a good idea to… most people won’t understand it, you know. And—they—do you know what they could do to you?’

‘Thank you for the lie—and for the truth,’ she added a final dab of paint to their noses, bulbous jutting things hooked more like cliff-tops than falcon-beaks. ‘And yes, I know exactly what they could do to me.’

I pretended to try again, though I had already yielded before her fury and her resolve, too suppressed and concrete to be born of anything other than a pain lived and remembered. ‘Maybe you could call this something else, something abstract or surreal, and paint another official portrait of them?’

Nelui smiled and went on painting.

I did not have the courage to attend the unveiling, so I sent a card with a flu-excuse and spent the next week reading the reviews—in the incognito window, and through a vpn. Of the art jargon I understood nothing, but I could see one thing: either it was either hailed or execrated—there was no middle ground. And the triplets, as the whole world was calling them now, remained silent. If they had sued Nelui, or railed against her in the press, I would have been reassured. But they did nothing. Nothing at all.

It was not they who threw stones at her studio and set fire to the canvases, screaming of blasphemy and profanity. It was not they who carried the guns, not they who fired them, not they who faced trial for murder—though nothing was proven against anyone in the end, so that did not matter anyway. Of course they did none of those things. No, they mourned her, that bright talent lost so early to the cancer of fanaticism, and founded a generous memorial trust for young artists in her name.


Hibah Shabkhez is a writer of the half-yo literary tradition, an erratic language-learning enthusiast, and a happily eccentric blogger from Lahore, Pakistan. Her work has previously appeared in Plainsongs, Microverses, Sylvia Magazine, Better Than Starbucks, Post, Wine Cellar Press, and a number of other literary magazines. Studying life, languages, and literature from a comparative perspective across linguistic and cultural boundaries holds a particular fascination for her. Linktree. Email: shabkhezhibah[at]