PBFF’s reading period is now closed.

Another reading period has come to an end at Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction!  Thank you to all the fantastic authors who submitted their work.

At some point during this coming week, I will be making the decisions about the 2018 selections, so watch your inboxes!

Thanks again for your interest in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction!  Happy holidays!

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Norm Roberts – Hard Times

 Hard Times 

By Norm Roberts

I knew the economy was bad, but I never thought it was as terrible as it is turning out to be.  Everyone has heard of someone who has been laid off or has had to take a cut in the hours they work or the pay they get. Yes, the hard times are here for a lot of people. It seems that even Santa Clause has been affected by the economic downturn.  Really, when you think about it, Santa has had to change with the times like everybody else.  First it was outsourcing gift-giving: Parents, then e-bay, and on to Amazon. Santa and the reindeer are doing a lot less of the deliveries these days also, what with the UPS and FedEx and the other couriers helping out.

Surely, all that outsourcing must cost extra for the jolly old elf.  Just last week I went to do some Christmas shopping and what should I see:  Kris Kringle employed at a store.  But not to sit and listen to the little ones’ wishlists. Nope, he was pushing the floor cleaning machine.  Up and down the aisles he went, stopping every time he spotted a child, to wish them a Merry Christmas and hand them a candy cane.  Oh, how times have changed when Santa has to get a part-time job to make ends meet.

Hard times, indeed.

Tabitha Baumander – Dragon

Dragon

By Tabitha Baumander

Unemployment when your life is supposed to be hitting its stride is less than fun. The more frustrated he got, the more Ben felt a connection to the young men and women who came of age during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. In both instances, the economy had been trashed by a lot of idiots who played games with paper that represented money and goods which either didn’t actually exist or were worth so much less than their assigned value it was scary. The truth came out, and the house of cards fell. The damage it did to the financial security of the world would be felt for a generation: his generation. 

At the same time, Ben knew he was better off than most. He had a good education and at least a little practical experience in his field. If he could find the money, he even had a good practical business idea. He didn’t have money, of course, and that meant getting a job with someone else. Problem being, he’d been let go when the crash came and getting a toe in the door with a new company was proving a challenge. On the encouragement of his employment councilor, however, he kept moving and that included going out as much as his budget would allow. 

This evening, that meant going to watch the Chinese New Year’s celebrations featuring fireworks, free samples from local restaurants and a twenty-foot-long dragon puppet worked by fifteen men. The pamphlet organizers gave out said, in contrast to European tradition, seeing a dragon in China was good luck. He could use some luck but this wasn’t China. All the same, the celebration was fun and free and that was a good enough excuse to attend in spite of the less than perfect weather. 

Going home on the warm subway, Ben watched as a small elderly Asian man boarded and walked the length of the train. His age was hard to stick a number to, but he couldn’t have been less than mid-sixties. He was bundled against the cold with a big puffy down coat and a Russian-style hat. His eyes stared out at the world from under the furry brim of the hat like polished pebbles that had a difficult-to-describe gleam. Adding to the old man’s fairy-tale appearance were a white beard and mustache groomed to stiff points. To Ben, he looked like nothing more or less than an actor in a Kung Fu movie: the sort of character that was sometimes wise, sometimes comical, and sometimes dangerous – often all three. 

The odd little man took out a small bottle. It reminded Ben of a perfume bottle, only it looked genuinely old and was closed with a cork. The man studied the level of whatever was in the bottle by holding it up to the light. Ben wondered how the old boy could see anything because the glass looked opaque. He put the curious artifact away, then unexpectedly looked in Ben’s direction and smiled. 

Ben’s heart hiccuped. For the moment – just a heartbeat – their eyes met, the strange old man’s eyes changed. They became gold, totally completely gleaming gold. Then they were normal: slightly beady, human eyes once more.  

The old man got off the subway. Like an echo of the vision of the golden eyes, something new was sticking out of the man’s bulky coat. That something was the tip of a golden reptilian tail. Mouth hanging open, Ben stood and leaned against the subway car’s window, staring out at the old man as he moved to the center of the deserted platform. The farther away from the train he got, the more tail slipped out from under the coat.  

Ben was transfixed. The subway began to move before he realized the doors were closed. The old man was glowing now. The tail was long and swooshed through the air like the victory of dreams against reality. Ben’s last view of this impossible figure showed the old man tossing the bottle high in the air. Then there was a flash and Ben found himself sitting in a seat facing forward. 

Oh no, you don’t, you’re not going to try and tell me it didn’t happen. It happened! he thought to himself. 

At the next station, Ben got out, then crossed the platform and backtracked on the first south-bound train. The only sign of the man was a small intricately-decorated leather shoulder bag. Ben picked up the bag and, without thinking, slung it across his body. It fit perfectly, although if it had belonged to the little man it should have been far too small. Getting on the next subway going his way, he carefully looked into the bag without anyone noticing. The bag held twelve bundles of bills and a gold medallion on a leather thong.

Estimating the amount, Ben’s mind buzzed, It’s hundreds, all of them. There’s at least a hundred thousand here. 

Getting off at his stop and leaving the subway, mind still spinning, Ben passed a homeless person. He stopped and looked back. They were almost the same age, only this guy had slid farther down the ladder of life than Ben even wanted to picture. The guy sat on the ground next to his backpack, strumming a guitar in a way that showed he knew what he was doing.

It was a vision that reminded Ben of one other thing he’d read while killing time at the library after reading the want ads. Blessings, be they from gods or fairies or even dragons, should be shared. The swiftest way to a poisoned blessing was greed. He took a bundle of bills out of the leather bag, walked back, and dropped it into the guy’s guitar case. While the guy stared at the money, Ben said, “Don’t give up,” and left.  

Ben took the fortune the rest of the bag contained and started a small business. A year later, he met the woman who would become his wife. Three years later, in the living room of his new home, he held his first born child as he and his wife watched a new singing star being interviewed on television. The young man was describing the moment a small fortune came from a total stranger. It was a gift that let him turn his life around. 

“I can’t describe him, don’t make me try. I’m also not going to get all weird and say it was an angel, but the guy dropped the money in my case and said don’t give up. I didn’t, and from that day onward, everything changed. It’s one of the reasons I always give ten percent of my concert fee to homeless charities. As long as I’m selling, I always will.” 

Feeling the gold coin hanging around his neck, Ben smiled, thinking, Pal, you think getting that from me was spooky – you should have seen the guy that blessing really came from. 

 

Tabitha Baumander is a divorced mother of adult twins who lives in Toronto, Canada. Her writing style tends to put unreality in as real a background as possible. The logic there being: a dragon in Narnia is hardly worth mentioning, a dragon on the subway, now that’s something. Tabitha has work published in several horror anthologies and two novels on Amazon. You can find them here: http://www.amazon.com/Tabitha-Baumander/e/B00F6GJCZ2.

Mark Mattison – Creep

Creep
by Mark Mattison

I hate cockroaches. Honest to God, I just hate ‘em.

They seem to like me, or at least, my house. Maybe they’re just biding their time ‘til I get evicted so they can take over the place. Seems like they thrive in this damn Louisiana heat. I think they’re, like, the state mascot or something.

They come from every damn crack in the house. They skitter ‘cross the floor every time I turn on a light; doesn’t matter which room I’m in. I put out the traps an’ all but they seem to like my bed better. I swear to God, last week I woke up to find one of them buggers jumpin’ out of my shorts. Still creeps me out just thinkin’ about it.

But that wasn’t nothin’ compared to what happened last night.

I was flippin’ the channels, lookin’ for that new reality show, when I come across this documentary on PBS about – yeah, you guessed it – cockroaches. Of course. Close-up camera shots, dopey narrative about reproductive cycles, that sort of thing. I finished off the last of my Jack Daniels and set it down by the foot of my recliner when I heard the most annoying high-pitched laughter you ever heard.

That’s right – laughter. I sat up and must’ve been gawking at that piece of crap ‘cause he was laughin’ his creepy little head off at me.

He was standin’ straight up on hind legs, of all things. I’d never, ever seen a roach do that, and believe you me, I’ve seen a lot of roaches. I rubbed my eyes and he just laughed all the harder.

“What the hell you laughin’ at, boy?” I asked him. I couldn’t believe I was talkin’ to one of ‘em. I looked down at the Jack Daniels again and wondered if maybe I’d overdone it.

“Cockroaches have long been depicted in art and literature,” the documentary droned in the background.

“I’m laughing at you, Steve,” the roach squeaked.

I squinted and stared. He nearly fell over laughin’ again.

“Um – why?” I asked. Kinda dumb, maybe, but what d’you say in a case like that? I was just glad nobody else was around. I wondered if it was some kind of prank.

“Because this time tomorrow, ‘Boom!’ – Your pitiful little life is going to come to a mercifully abrupt end. You won’t be able to push us around anymore. No more poison gasses or roach traps, no more squashing us and all that. Your time is up, monkey man.”

“Hardy and resourceful, the cockroach can live for weeks without any food at all,” the documentary continued in the background. Another close-up, like the bug was gettin’ interviewed or somethin’.

“What are you talkin’ about?” I asked. I scratched my head.

“Oh, five thousand years of civilization and you think you’re hot stuff,” the roach went on. “Well, we’ve been here two hundred and fifty million years. We got here long before you ever started rubbing sticks together to make fire, you big fat twerp!”

Normally I’d slug somebody for callin’ me that, but I couldn’t’ve been more offended just by the fact that he was a talkin’ bug to start off with. I ignored the cheap dig. “What d’you mean, you ‘got here’?”

The little roach planted his front legs on what I guess would’ve been his hips, if he had had ‘em. “You think we evolved here like you did, monkey man? Think again. We migrated to this rock from outside your galaxy. Our sun was going nova so we had to go somewhere. We started out on that rock you call Mars – wasn’t too bad at first – but ended up here. And we plan to stay.”

He chirped. The TV showed pictures of hundreds of roaches swarming on some kind of dirt hill while goofy music played in the background.

Gross.

“Oh, believe you me, we tried to live in peace at first.” He began to pace. “But you wouldn’t have any of that. No, it’s always ‘Ew, get that dirty bug’ and all that. And now you’re overpopulating this whole place and killing it with all your pollution. Well, no longer. We’ve been working on a plan to get you monkeys to nuke each other so we can have the place to ourselves again. We can survive a bit of radiation, you know.” He stopped pacing and I think he smiled at me.

“And you’re confessin’ all of that now?” What a bonehead.

“Why not? You don’t have that much longer to live. And rubbing it in makes it all the more fun. You’ve had your fun with us, mister, but now the table’s turned. I’ve memorized the codes I’ll need to start your global thermonuclear war.”

“Get outta here,” I told the little snot. “Like you’ve been plotting the destruction of the whole human race from my crappy house?” I did look out the window, though. Barksdale Air Force Base wasn’t that far away.

He laughed again. “Of course! Who would’ve thought to look here for the instrument of your race’s demise? It’s the perfect hiding place!” He chirped again.

I stood up and placed my hands on my hips to match his stance. “And you’re the only one who knows these codes?”

His smile vanished quicker’n a Yankee politician’s campaign promises. “Um –” was all he said.

“Thought so,” I said as he made a most satisfying crunch beneath my heel.

I wiped off my boot with a nearby Kleenex and threw it in the trash, ‘long with my bottle of Jack D. Maybe I’d had enough of that stuff for awhile.

“The cockroach is remarkably resilient,” blared the TV. I plopped back down into my recliner, reached for my remote, and kept lookin’ for that new reality show.

I hate cockroaches.

 

Mark Mattison is an independent scholar, writer, and author of fantasy and science fiction. He lives in West Michigan with his wife, son, and laptop computer. Mattison is the author of “Commander Chris and the Mystical Orb,” published in 2010, and “The Goblin Gambit,” published in 2015.

Steve Pease – White Lies, Black Lies

White Lies, Black Lies

By Steve Pease

Way before it ever came to this, Margaret and I would curl on the couch. We’d touch glasses (Sancerre for her, Shiraz for me), and we’d touch each other. Then we’d talk about what touched us both in the music we listened to.

Back then, disagreement was rare. So when she enthused about a Tracy Chapman line (something about lies being best when storytelling), I went along with it.

“Great song.” I said. (Truth).

“Profound insight.” I added. (Lie).

Honestly? I don’t think Ms. Chapman thought it through. There may be a place for the little white relationship balm I spread that evening, but most lies are like the aggressive cultures I’ve studied under a thousand microscopes; they rebound and multiply indiscriminately, with no regard for anything in their path.

And they bite. And they wound. Sometimes it’s a scratch that continues to itch long after it should have healed. (People call that guilt). Other times it’s a major trauma. (Name me a war that started from truth).

I guess that most of my early lies would share some common ground with yours.

At five: “It wasn’t me, Mom.”
At ten: “No, Mr. Francis, I didn’t cheat on the math test.”
At fifteen: “Of course I love you, Leah.”
(That may be just a boy one; I never did understand women well enough to know whether they practice the same hormone-driven duplicity).
At twenty: “55 m.p.h., officer.”

Sadly, too, I know that many of you will hear these like the echo of familiar footsteps down your own hallway:

“I still love you.”
“Nothing’s wrong, I’m just tired.”
“I have to work late to finish the project.”
“There’s this conference in San Diego.”

The end result of those was coming home one night to find that both Margaret and the house were cleared out. The end result of those was coming apart a little. As I said, they rebound and they multiply.

And, in turn, having bred, they led to the last five lies I recall. All told to my research supervisor at Endove.

“Yeah, yeah, Ron, everything’s okay at home.”
“Just a couple to unwind after a hard day. I don’t have a problem with it.”
“Yes, I know the environment is controlled and that there’s no danger.”
“No! Why on earth would I work off-program, and make and take a vaccine?”
“Absolutely, I always observe the safety protocols.”

Of course, after the accident, Ron’s not around to reprimand me. Not many people are. Hell of a big bite. Hell of a big wound.

And, I suppose, hell of a big guilt. But if I can find anyone left to lie to, I probably still will.

 

Steve Pease once had a ‘proper job’, drafting press-releases and briefings for British politicians. He argues, rather convincingly, that this was an ideal apprenticeship in the realms of fantasy. These days, he enjoys an idyllic lifestyle – walking his dogs by the River Derwent in Northern England, as he dreams up ideas for his twin passions of story and song writing.

Steve’s work has appeared in U.K. sci-fi/fantasy magazine ‘The Singularity’, Volumes 1 & 2 of Canadian anthology ’47-16: Short Fiction & Poetry Inspired by David Bowie’, and – in the USA – in Fantasia Divinity’s ‘Distressing Damsels’ anthology. Examples of his musical collaborations can be seen & heard at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1zOS8K6tZQk&feature=youtu.be and https://www.reverbnation.com/thejamesdeangarageband

Submit your flash fiction! These are the guidelines.

READING PERIOD:  NOW CLOSED~  

YES, PLEASE:

Flash fiction stories only.  Word count: 1,000 or less.

English language only.

Original work only.

Genre: science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, humour, western, mystery, literary…and any variation or combination thereof.  If in doubt, send it along – you never know.

Multiple submissions:  feel free to send up to three (3) submissions during the reading period.  Please send each submission separately.

Simultaneous submissions: all good. If your story is selected for publication elsewhere, please contact me right away to withdraw it from my consideration.

NO, THANK YOU:

Word count over the limit.

Poetry, non-fiction, essays, children’s stories, anything other than flash fiction.

Erotica, excessive gore, abuse, or ‘isms such as racism, sexism, etc..

Overly saucy language.  I don’t mind swear words, I just would prefer to keep the content on the site closer to the PG side of things.

Reprints.

Stories sent outside of the reading period.

Artwork.

Queries. They’re not necessary.  Send me your work if you think there’s a chance I might like it.  Please don’t ask me about your submission after you’ve sent it. I will get back to you by December 31, 2017.

FORMATTING:

I’m not picky about fonts or font sizes or margins or paragraph indentations or anything of the sort.  I will format your work to fit the site if it is accepted for publication.  If your story has an experimental form and I accept it, we’ll work together to ensure it is posted properly.

Cover letters are not required.

Your contact information (name, email address) MUST be included somewhere in your submission.

Please watch your spelling and grammar – if your story is littered with errors, I am likely to give it less of a chance.  Don’t worry about American/Canadian/British spelling; I’ll sort it all out.

If edits are required, I will make them and send you the proof for confirmation before publication on the website.

If your work is accepted, I will ask for a short bio.  This will be an opportunity to add a link to your author’s website or blog.

RENUMERATION:

If your story is accepted for publication, you will be paid $5.00 (Canadian funds).  Please note that if you live in certain countries outside of Canada, the exchange rate may mean you don’t quite make five bucks from your story.  I’m sorry about that, but if it’s a problem, please don’t send me your work.  Payment will be issued via PayPal.  In order to receive payment, your PayPal email address must be provided to me.

  • If your story is published in the months of January, February, March, or April, you will be issued payment on the first of January.
  • If your story is published in the months of May, June, July, or August, you will be issued payment on the first of May.
  • If your story is published in the months of  September, October, November, or December, you will be issued payment on the first of September.

PUBLICATION:

Authors retain all rights to their work.

Bear in mind that if your story is posted on Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction (or anywhere else on the Internet, for that matter), you may not be able to submit it to another publisher as it will be considered a “reprint.”

If, for some reason, you wish to withdraw your story from Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction’s website, please send me a message and I’ll remove it as quickly as I can.  Again, it will still count as a “reprint” in the view of a future publisher, even if it has only been posted for a short time.

If your story is accepted, I will let you know when I plan to post it on the website.  It will be posted on the first day of that month.

OTHER THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW:

In this second year of Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction’s existence, I will only be accepting twelve (12) stories for publication.

I will send you a confirmation of receipt of your story within 48 hours of your submission.

I must apologize, but I cannot offer more than a form rejection letter at this time.

SEND SUBMISSIONS via the Contact Form.

J.L. Fullerton – The Harvest

The Harvest

By J.L. Fullerton

The motor of the old tractor hummed and purred steadily, sounding somehow melodic amongst the relative silence of the flat, open space. Bathed in early spring sunshine, beneath the expansive ocean of a bright blue, cloudless sky, the diesel-slurping machine guided the disc harrow around the field in a majestic dance. A thin stream of serpentine dust trailed behind, twisting and twirling upward, slowly fanning out like a giant dragon with massive wings outstretched, before drifting apart and dissipating slowly into nothingness.

The lumpy soil, black as coal, was quickly reduced to a fine powder as the sharp points jutting from each of the rapidly rotating circular steel plates shredded and pulverized all within their path.

Ahead, a shape jutted from the earth defiantly; it practically taunted him, stubbornly standing in stark contract to the flat land all around.

It looked like narrow sliver of jagged rock at first, but as he steered toward it for a closer look, recognition struck him like a bullet.

What the hell? That’s impossible….

His brow furrowed as he contemplated a tangible explanation for what his eyes were telling him.

He shook his head—it didn’t matter.

The problem was easily rectified.

Whistling a tune softly to himself, restoring the wide grin on his face, he jammed the shift lever forward. A soft grinding sound filled the cab as the transmission initially resisted his efforts, before finally conceding the higher gear.

The machine lurched forward, picking up speed as the exhaust pipe belched out a thick jet of inky, black smoke.

The front tire bounced over the troublesome thing, followed by the much larger rear tire.

Bounced from his seat, he giggled like a child on an amusement park ride, his face split by a wide smirk, eyes bulging with a crazed intensity.

Twisting around, he shouted in triumph as the disc blades pulverized the thing; it burst open like an cherry tomato squished between the fingers.

He recoiled slightly as a strip of bloody flesh splattered against the rear window of the cab, mere inches from his face.

He shouted gleefully as the deathly pallid skin, soggy and wrinkled, slowly slid down the glass, leaving a narrow smear of ruby-red liquid in its wake. The once vibrant smudge grew dark and discoloured almost instantly, swarmed by the microscopic particles of dirt magnetically drawn toward the wet stickiness like crows to a carrion feast.

Reaching the bottom of the window, the paper-white swatch plummeted to the ground below, where it was immediately devoured by the hungry blades of the disc.

Through the cloud of dust, he saw that only a few small tufts of yellowish hair remained visible behind him, very much resembling the delicate stalks of wheat that would soon enough burst forth from the ground.

An insanely gleeful, triumphant shout filled the cab as he shifted gears once more and stomped the accelerator to the floor, sending the tractor racing off into the dusty beyond.

 

J.L. Fullerton is a writer & blogger from Sylvan Lake, Alberta, Canada, who specializes in horror and speculative fiction. When not locked in his basement office writing, he works as a teacher, teaching everything from Kindergarten to high school English, in addition to enjoying time spent with his wife and son. J.L. Fullerton can be contacted via his Twitter handle @horrorscribe85, and maintains a blog at https://jlf85.wordpress.com/, which consists of reflective posts pertaining to a variety of different topics including current events and the nature of this crazy thing we call life!

S P Mount – Giveth and Taketh

 

Giveth and Taketh

By S P Mount

Mary cupped the silver thistle with both hands as if she captured a mouse. Breathless, she realized the professor she cleaned for had spoken the truth, and not through a hole in his demented head. Loosening her grasp, she cast her eye down the length of the stalk.

Its thorns were steely, sharp as Lilliputian swords. She scowled. Folklore dictated they stab into her palms. Draw blood. The opportunity of a century would be lost if she did not. The ‘Steely Scot’ would revert to any other purple weed dominating the postcard scenery of the glen.

She winced at the prospect. Inhaling deeply through her nostrils, she exhaled through tightened lips. Despite resolve, she tentatively wrapped her fingers around the precarious stalk but its pinheads merely scratched the surface. She wished she’d downed some Dutch courage, but, if the legend proved true, she could not afford to mess up the wording of her wish or she could end up as a real-life troll like the Lithuanian man/woman she used to share a prison cell with.

Even if she had donned a wig and sunglasses and used a stolen credit card for the rental car, she could not risk driving drunk again. Most roads around Loch Ness could be tightened with a shoelace while others twisted like tinsel around a Christmas tree. She could kill herself this time.

“Just do it, Mary!” she screeched.

Her shrillness surprised her. It bounced around the valley like a wayward ping-pong ball. Her ex always did say her voice could guide ships into the harbour. Hardened by the streets she grew up in, as well prison, she knew no fear, but there, in the serenity of the Highlands, even the chirp of a songbird unsettled her.

She gritted what teeth were left so hard the really rotten ones crumbled a little more. But that would not matter in a few minutes. She’d wish for youth, beauty and riches. Compressing her palms into the thistle’s spikes, her scream pierced the glen so the petals of bluebells closed in fear.

She lay flat on her belly and hung to the stalk, as her mind involuntarily flashed back to the incident in her teens when she nearly died.

A deep-rooted weed protruding from the overhang of an industrial waste ‘bing’ people joked made children impervious to disease for having played upon, together with a six-inch stiletto heel anchored into its chalky, sheer cliff face, helped to save her life until a faceless someone with a strong hand pulled her up. If her existence did not otherwise suck since, she’d be convinced she’d had a guardian angel.

Euphoria rushed through her bloodstream like a high-speed Internet connection. Suddenly, she felt no pain. No warm breeze on her bare limbs. No aroma of the subtle potpourri of floral and heather that vied with thistles to carpet the hillside. Her physical being had, apparently, returned to the ‘womb of the cosmos’–something she’d snorted at when the professor shared his secret about the ancient legend. It was exactly as he foretold.

“The writings cannot possibly do justice to the perception of all existence, though,” he said as Mary struggled to compose her choke-filled laughter. “The human impediment interferes, you see.

“No matter the sense of etherealness, the vision, painted in all its eloquent prose, is true beauty beyond the sentiment of even Plato himself.

“According to a script discovered under a broken floorboard at the University of Edinburgh while practising the ‘Highland Fling’ in his youth, a magical thistle was said to materialise once a year in the Highlands.

“A gift from the Banshee that once ruled the moors, it will grant whomever discovers it a single wish. It has taken my entire lifetime, but, finally, I know when and exactly where it will appear.

“But the venom, for make no mistake, that’s exactly what it might be, when injected into the palm of the hand, reveals the wonders of countless planes.”

Mary quipped because she lived under the Glasgow Airport flight path she was well used to countless planes.

“Alas, though, the fates are against me. They riddled me this.” He said and patted his lung cancer. “I wither before salvation comes. Pity, for I might choose immortality if only my body would endure as sturdily as my mind.”

Alone in the world, the nutcase might, Mary hoped, just leave her money in his will. And, when that day came, she was delighted to be summoned to a law office. But the professor only left the ancient script. An envelope signed, sealed and delivered together with a sarcastic smile.

“The SPCA gets the rest.”

There is no reward without sacrifice, the accompanying letter read. You must word your wish judiciously, Mary.

After looking up ‘judiciously’, and the Internet confirming the Steely Scot was actually a ‘thing’, Mary took it seriously. Could the old nutter have spoken the truth?

Yes.

Her wish contained every possible proviso. She memorized it verbatim. The double-edged sword those who discovered the thistle of centuries past said the magic was, would not take Mary Smith’s carefully considered words and cleverly misinterpret them to turn an opportunity of a lifetime into a curse instead.

No.

“State your desire.” A disembodied voice boomed.

“I wish. . .” Mary said and coughed nervously. “No! No wish. Not for you. The hand of fate was already extended to save your life. A life since wasted. I grant only my other hand; the opportunity to change one thing about how you came to live that life.”

“Well, if I knew that, I would never have bothered coming.” Mary sniffed.

“Granted.”

“What? Wait….”

As her physical being dissipated to where she might have been had indeed she not bothered, she heard the voice of the professor.

“Of course, Mary, the one thing to be changed, was for you to never have slipped over that cliff, you silly moo.”

“Sh…!”

And her scream turned the air blue throughout countless planes.

 

A prolific author of numerous short stories, novellas and novels, a love of travel and people-watching serve to widen the abyss of creativity and strange imagination S P Mount comes home to to put ‘pen to paper’–as well his beloved Mini-Schnauzer, MacGregor.

Stephen Sottong – Refugee

Refugee

By Stephen Sottong

There was a rat in the soup. It was going to be a good day. Liss moved slowly, stiffly, from her privileged position on the top of the shelves in the drafty shed where the orphan girls slept. From this warmer height, she observed her tiny domain.

Liss walked the few paces in the morning chill to near the front of the soup line. She was never first. If a big girl like her was always first, the matrons would call her a bully and make her go without. She pushed two of her friends ahead of her. They’d give her some of their soup. It was worth it – all of the good parts were ladled out to the first few girls.

The gaunt, sad-eyed Head Matron broke the routine of the morning. She walked in pushing a dirty, reluctant, red-headed girl ahead of her.

The big woman who ladled the soup wiped greasy hands on her stained apron and pushed red hair from the new girl’s eyes and sighed. “So fragile.”

“So tragic,” the Matron said, prying small hands from her worn dress.

“How many more can we take?” the woman with the ladle asked.

The Matron shrugged, handed the girl a tin bowl and injected her into the line ahead of Liss.

Liss saw that the red hair was dirty but curled. The dress the girl wore was useless in the cold. Her muddy shoes were patent leather. The red-haired girl sobbed and trembled.

Shaking her head, Liss poked the red-haired girl in the small of the back when she did not move as the line progressed. She would have to learn the ropes.

On her turn at the vat of soup, the red-haired girl held out her bowl and started to scream when she saw the rat. Liss grabbed a handful of the red curls with her left hand and whispered, “Spill a drop of that and I’ll yank your hair out by the roots.”

The big woman mechanically ladled soup into the red-haired girl’s bowl. Liss held out her bowl with her right hand and guided the red-haired girl with the left. She moved the girl to a corner of the filthy shed. The red-haired girl looked at the soup with the rat leg floating in it and started to retch. Liss grabbed the bowl, and downed the soup, crunching on the bones, then sat to eat her own. The red-haired girl stared at Liss, sobbing. Liss tossed the empty tin bowl at her head. The red-haired girl retreated to a corner, crouching in fetal position, crying. Looking at the girl, Liss fleetingly thought of getting her something to eat, but dismissed it – she wouldn’t last long. Most didn’t.

Liss sat back, licked the last of the broth from her bowl and let the soup take the chill from her bones. There had been a rat in the soup. It was going to be a good day.

 

Stephen Sottong has been writing full-time for the last 14 years from behind the Redwood curtain in beautiful northern California. He was a 2013 winner of the Writers of the Future contest. More information about him and a list of publications can be found at https://www.stephensottong.com.

Rhys Hughes – When a Wink is the Same as a Blink

When a Wink is the Same as a Blink

By Rhys Hughes

I admit it. I gave a pair of binoculars as a birthday gift to a cyclops. It was a bad idea, a joke in poor taste, but I just couldn’t help myself. Giving an optical device to a cyclops is suitable if that device is a monocle or even a telescope or kaleidoscope. But binoculars are cruel. I suppose I still can’t forgive and forget the eating of my crew.

It was a long time ago and bygones should be bygones. You can argue that and I will nod at your wise words. But deep inside I feel that men and monsters can never be real friends. They eat us and we slay them and that leaves deep psychological scars. It seems to me that there is always a risk that old conflicts will flare up once again.

It wasn’t the first time half my crew had been devoured. Long before I even knew what a cyclops was, I lost many good sailors to a tyrannosaur. That was in the days when ships were a lot more primitive and crude than they are now. They didn’t have sails or oars, but just went where currents took them. All voyages were random ones.

The tyrannosaur incident gave me an idea for a subtle form of revenge and the next time I encountered the beast I gave it a pair of binoculars as a present. I experienced a deep satisfaction as I watched the vicious brute attempt to peer through both lenses at the same time, even though its eyes were on either side of its head. Very funny!

“That’s to pay you back for my digested crewmen,” I said to myself, as I watched the villain become dizzy and fall over. I departed and knew that an inappropriate gift can be a more decisive retribution than a sword thrust. Later an asteroid splashed into the sea with such force that a giant tidal wave washed all the tyrannosaurs away.

But my troubles were far from over. I went on many voyages and my sailors were always eaten by something or other. When we were captured by the cyclops I saw at once that if I ever escaped his clutches, one day I would return and give him a pair of binoculars. I was already scheming to do this with a polite bow and a shrewd smile.

That future time came and I was passing his cave and dropped in for a visit. He brewed coffee for me and we chatted about former glories. Then he looked sheepish and said, “No hard feelings?” and I replied, “None at all, dear chap,” and I presented him with the binoculars wrapped in shiny paper. He blinked at the parcel and opened it.

I thought he was winking at me and I winked back, but he really was only blinking, because a blink is the same a wink to a cyclops. Then big tears dripped down his face and used his nose as a ski jump to leap clear of his chin. It was as if a tap had been turned on inside his head, the same head that had munched my men years before.

These were the loneliest tears imaginable because they came down in single file without the moral support of other tears on the other side of his face. In fact they were so lonely that each teardrop wept smaller tears of its own, and so on to infinity, which explains why one should never go to watch a sad movie in a cinema with a cyclops.

Rhys Hughes has been writing and publishing fiction for the past 25 years. His first book was published in 1995 and since then he has had almost forty books and more than five hundred short stories published in ten different languages around the world. He has a particular fondness for flash fiction and his collection FLASH IN THE PANTHEON gathers together some of his best work in this form. He is currently working on a long novel about a ghostly highwayman. His blog can be found at https://rhysaurus.blogspot.co.uk/.