Nancy Brewka-Clark – Familiar

Familiar

by

Nancy Brewka-Clark

“Mistress Lorna Fey?” At the crone’s nod, Kate whispered, “I need a hex.”

“Ah. Come in, and take a seat.”

A swirl around her ankles almost tripped Kate up. “What a lovely kitty.”

“He’s a Scottish Fold. Tips of his ears bend right over like a lightning-riven birch. He likes you, don’t you, Greymalkin? Mustn’t let him be overly familiar.”

“Just like Roger Laniger,” Kate sighed.

“Ro-o-o-o-ger,” the cat yowled, quite clearly, and then spat.

“Greymalkin has no use for weasels,” Lorna said. “Nor do I.”

Kate frowned. “But I didn’t say anything about weasels.”

Lorna cackled. “Laniger is the Latin word for weasel. May I ask what yours has done?”

“Ever since he moved into my building he’s been stalking me.” Kate shivered. “Yesterday he told me he slept with my picture beneath his pillow.”

“Weasels make terrible lovers. All slither.” Lorna was scribbling on a yellow legal pad. “Six curses on his head I shall bestow, and put a sterile curse on all that hangs below.” She tore off the sheet and handed it to Kate. “Remember, spells are made of wishes transformed into words. There is no room for error.”

“Thank you, Mistress Fey.” Opening her purse, Kate thrust in the paper. “What do I owe you?”

“Just one little thing,” Lorna said as she ushered Kate to the door. “I suppose you think I took no notice of your dire shock upon seeing the crone I’ve become.”

“You do look a bit different from your ads,” Kate said. “I apologize.”

“All flesh perishes. But, the spirit? Never. My thousand years in this realm is rapidly drawing to an end. I’ll soon be on a distant plane, and you will take my place. ”

Kate stared at her.

“One seeks, the other finds. One gives, the other takes. One must go, the other must stay. Not that it’s a hardship to wield power. Just the opposite.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You will.” With a sly grin, Lorna shut the door.

***

Licking his lips, Roger Laniger undid the security chain. “Yo, hot mama, come on in.”

Rapidly Kate spat out each line of the curse until she got to the grand climax. “With currant eyes and pelt as rough as teasel, he’ll run—”

“S-s-s-s-s,” something hissed at her feet.

“—right up my leg! No!”

The weasel scrambled across her right breast to sling itself around her neck. Digging in its claws, it hissed, “Turn me back into a man, you witch, or I’ll bite your ear off.”

“You bite my ear off and I’ll throw you to the dogs.” Kate didn’t actually know any dogs, not savage ones, anyway. The dogs she did know were meek little things on dainty leashes with sparkling collars or bright bandannas. “And I’m not a witch.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” the weasel snarled.

Kate rushed for the staircase with Roger Laniger, now a ferret playing the role of albatross, slung about her neck. Out to the car she dashed, and peeled out of the parking lot to drive off in high gear. And all the while her unwelcome passenger was growling such dire imprecations Kate snapped, “Woof, woof, weasel,” which silenced him for the rest of the ride.

“Lorna?” Kate turned the old brass doorknob. Much to her horror, the purple door swung open onto a realm of cavernous darkness. “Are you in there?”

“About time,” a voice called from the back of the bungalow as a row of candles lit themselves on the mantel. Kate almost wept with relief as Lorna came into the room towing a huge black suitcase. “My plane leaves at eight.” Lorna peered at her. “Brought your own familiar, did you? Greymalkin will have something to say about that.”

“No, no. This is the pest I was telling you about.”

Lorna rubbed her chin, where some white hairs had just sprouted out of a black mole in apparent evidence of her rapidly accelerating decrepitude. “Got careless with the precise words, did you?”

Kate blushed. “I was in the middle of my final curse when he turned into a weasel and scurried up my leg.”

Lorna limped over to scowl at the trembling weasel. “Go home, Roger Laniger, under your own steam. What happened here was all a dream.” She snapped her fingers. “Now flee!”

Lorna and Kate burst into laughter at the sight of Roger, restored to human form, running down the street like a marathoner. When Kate finally turned away from the window, Lorna was cradling a thick volume bound in black leather in her arms.

“Time for a little witchspeak before I vanish into the ether. Verily,” Lorna cackled, “thou shalt never be short of customers. This I swear by the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin.”

“So that’s what they’re doing there,” Kate said.

“To everything there is a purpose,” Lorna wheezed.

“Without you, how will I know what it is?”

“You’ll have plenty of time to read the manual,” Lorna said.

“Verily,” Kate giggled.

And from beneath the sofa, Greymalkin yowled in anticipatory glee.

 

 

A longtime author of flash drama, nonfiction, poetry and fiction, Nancy Brewka-Clark is delighted that “Familiar” is the third story of hers to appear in  Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction. Her debut poetry collection Beautiful Corpus will be published by Kelsay Books in June 2020.

Renee Carter Hall – Penultimate

Penultimate

By

Renee Carter Hall

The room had crashed again. Instead of the rose-patterned wallpaper and the burlap-textured accent wall, the living room glowed fluorescent blue slashed with jagged red lines. She sighed and started the reset, waiting through the parade of logos and offers for upgrades, until the news feed finally came up, tastefully bordered in a gilt frame.

The headlines swept past, each lingering only as long as the room’s interface gauged her level of interest. Updates on the wars, a celebrity’s wedding, the latest public pleas for medical assistance, the new hors d’oeuvre everyone was making, the week’s political scandals ranked in a top-five format. She frowned at one item, and at her concentration it expanded into immersion, trading the walls around her for video and audio.

The last tiger had died, it said, in captivity at one of the western sanctuaries. It was a female, twenty-two years old, named Grace. The video of her caretaker finding the body was both distressing and compelling in its grief, and it played through twice until she closed her eyes. When she opened them, a wave of comments washed by, video and text, crying avatar faces and platitudes, each blending into the next. RIP Grace. Beautiful creature. So sad!!! Then a smattering of cat pictures shared for no apparent reason.

She wondered how many of the people mourning had ever seen a tiger other than in an immersion. The last zoos had become sanctuaries, closed to the public, when she was still a teenager. She had a vague childhood memory of a striped back pressed up against the glass, the tiger asleep on a summer afternoon, mixed in with the scent of popcorn and hot dogs.

The feed moved on, but sluggishly. She still scanned the headlines, but the interface could tell her attention was elsewhere. Finally a soft chime noted that it was her preferred bedtime, so she turned the feed back to the wallpaper and went to bed.

All night, her mind cycled back through photos, videos, a gallery of tigers, an endless parade, as if her own mental feed had gotten stuck on a single subject. Had it known, she wondered, that it was the last? How did anyone know, for certain, that it was the last? Had people so filled in every space, that there was no camouflage left?

She thought of old maps. Here there be dragons, or monsters. Or tigers. That time when there were still gaps big enough to hold entire creatures. That time where a person could not know something and have to live with not knowing it, unable to answer every question in an instant.

She dreamt of forests, of jungles, unmapped spaces where leaf and stone had never felt the sound of a human voice. She followed trails through a dense tangle of lush growth, and when the trail ended, she pulled vines and pushed brush aside with bare hands that ended in curving claws. She dropped to all fours and felt her spine flex. Colour became scent, and sound sharpened.

The next morning, she woke surprised to see her own hands. Her body felt clumsy and foreign. The news feed had long since moved on, and there was nothing else to say about the last tiger. The human community had noted the loss appropriately and grieved it appropriately, but now there was something new that required its due performance of sadness or anger or amusement. To linger too long was to risk being left behind.

She could not think of words to match what she still felt. Something had changed in the shape of the world, but she couldn’t define it, not even to mark it as a loss or a gain. It was something about being the last, though, and something about being alone, of having no one else’s opinions inside your head. It was something about having a pattern all your own, right down to the skin.

She knew, then, that the feed was wrong. If this wild solitude could linger in her, then wildness could always find a place to hide. The last tiger was not lying dead in a security video, caged in pixels of a news feed. It was out there, somewhere in the patches of forest that remained, always at the edges of vision, always a glimpse of pelt, a flash of eye. There would be rumours, but no one would ever find it. It would move through the city streets when everyone was asleep. It would slip through the feed, lurking in the spaces between words. It would live in the eternity between instants, and it would never have a name.

 

Renee Carter Hall’s short fiction has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including Strange Horizons, Podcastle, and Daily Science Fiction. She lives in West Virginia with her husband, their cat, and more books than she will ever have time to read, and readers can find her online at www.reneecarterhall.com and on Twitter as @RCarterHall.

Steve Tem – The Family Man

The Family Man

By

Steve Tem

The suspect’s broad, pallid face betrayed no emotion, but the detective noticed a distinct twitch in the left eye. He was a large man, and held himself very still, only his eyes moving, and occasionally his lips, which he alternately stretched and pursed, as if exercising them in preparation for some sort of strenuous oral activity. The detective found this profoundly unsettling to watch. He sensed that this family man, seemingly devoid of emotion, actually possessed emotion in abundance. But it was deeply buried within that pale grave of flesh.

“Where is your family?” the detective asked again.

The suspect looked puzzled. “I already told you. They’re at home. Safe at home. When can I go back there? I’ve never been away from my family this long.”

“I doubt you’ll be going home at all. In fact, I’d bet on it.” The suspect, still calm, stared at him as if he were a curiosity. The detective, painfully uncomfortable with the man’s gaze and troubled by his complete lack of progress, left the station and drove to the suspect’s home. Two vans from forensics were parked out front. Several uniformed officers canvased the neighborhood. A team of investigators wearing white CSI coveralls, blue PVC overshoes, and nitrile gloves were digging up the front lawn. A large number of wooden crates had already been excavated. He let himself inside the house.

The living room was pristine and sparsely furnished. No magazines on the tables, or ash trays or knickknacks. One interior wall was roughly textured, embedded with sea shells, small stones, and other conglomerated materials. It was different, but oddly pleasing, a piece of the outdoors brought inside. The other walls were plaster-pale. The deep-pile carpeting was white and definitely not kid-friendly. The entire house was like that, more like a model home than where a family actually lived. The scene investigator was jotting down notes just inside the kitchen doorway. He looked up. “Hello, Lieutenant. I should get this guy to clean my house. This place is immaculate.”

“What did you find in the crates he buried?”

“Everything I’d expected to find in the house. Kids’ clothing, toys, a woman’s clothing, purse, make-up, personal items. None of it new. Lots of wear and tear, the toys a little on the shabby side. I don’t think they spent much money on the kids.”

“All the crates were full?”

“Most of them stuffed. Except for four larger crates buried in the side yard. Each was empty except for a single item.”

The detective walked around the room, stared at the conglomerate wall. “What were those single items?”

The investigator read from his clipboard. “Three contained a flannel blanket with cartoon characters on them: birds on one, fish on another, and something I couldn’t identify on the third. Looked like a pig, maybe. The fourth crate held a woman’s cotton robe. Pastel green, plain, no frills.”

“Any organic material?”

“I sent them all to the lab. They were pretty filthy. I’m guessing yes, fluids of some kind. No visible blood.”

“I want a catalog of everything you found in every crate. By tomorrow if possible.”

The investigator scratched his head, made a note. “Of course. But about those four big crates. All the others were near-perfect, smooth. But those four had lots of dings and scrapes across the tops and corners. The newer marks are a good match for that shovel he had in the garage. The older ones were made by something else.”

The detective stopped pacing and stared at him. “Older ones?”

“Yeah. Judging by the marks on the wood, and the condition of the soil, I’m pretty sure those four crates were dug up, pried open, and reburied again. Multiple times, over a period of years.”

The investigator returned to the excavation work outside. The detective got down on his knees and examined the carpet. It had been thoroughly combed, and the contents filed in envelopes. There hadn’t been much: a few hairs, foreign fibers, minute slivers of plastic, glass. The suspect was beyond fussy. The detective wondered how much time the large man had actually spent in this living room—it looked more for display than for living. He noticed four deep indentations in the carpet about two feet in front of the conglomerate wall. He brought in one of the kitchen chairs. The legs matched the indentations, but only with the chair facing the wall. He sat down and gazed forward. It was like staring at a cliff, at geographic strata. He imagined himself the suspect, that big pale face pushed forward, expressionless.

He thought about how deep the indentations in the carpet were. He thought of that large man sitting here for hours on end, his weight pushing the chair legs deeper and deeper into the carpet. He thought of the man exercising his mouth. A family man, thinking about his family. The detective had a family of his own, a beautiful wife and three rambunctious boys. Oh, the noise they made. The mess. But he adored those kids, how they jumped on him as soon as he walked through the door, consuming him.

He leaned closer. His breathing grew labored. There by one of the stones, a very small detached fingernail floated in the cement. And the stone itself was so white and smooth, and the way it was dimpled, it might have been bone.

 

Steve Rasnic Tem is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, and British Fantasy Awards. He’s published over 400 short stories. His most recent collections are The Harvest Child And Other Fantasies (Crossroads) and Everything Is Fine Now (Omnium Gatherum). His last novel Ubo (Solaris, February 2017) is a dark science fictional tale about violence and its origins, featuring such historical viewpoint characters as Jack the Ripper, Stalin, and Heinrich Himmler. Yours To Tell: Dialogues on the Art & Practice of Writing, written with his late wife Melanie, appeared from Apex Books in 2017. Last year Valancourt Books published Figures Unseen, a volume of his Selected Stories. The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack, a middle grade novel about Halloween, also appeared from Hex Publishers.

Geoff Hart – Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing

By

Geoff Hart

The trout slides through the water, skin tingling with the electric fields of its environment, hunger driving it upstream. Flowing water alternately compresses and caresses its skin; sounds boom around it, tiny variations of water pressure on its inner ear and along its lateral line. Light flickers and dances on the silver surface above, and on the clean umber sand below. Silt tickles its gills, and there’s a faint sense of prey coming closer. It waits in an eddy for sustenance to arrive. There is movement everywhere, then one particular movement perturbs the surface; the trout’s mouth gapes, and it surges upwards and breaks the surface, capturing the fly, and its stomach fills. But it’s not enough. It slides back into its eddy. And now, there’s another fly drifting downstream, coming within reach, and the trout lunges for it….

The fisherman’s in his element, savoring every moment whether or not it will end in a fish. He’s seen them in the eddy pools, lulled by the current to a somnolence that would let him slip his hands beneath them and tickle them from the water’s embrace, or even just net them. But he’s a sportsman, and that’s not the point of being here. Wind tickles his hair where it protrudes from beneath a spectacularly ugly hat. It’s a sunny day with cloud-dappled skies, and when the sun peeks between the clouds, it gets warm. There’s a scent composed of clean water, of growing things, of sunwarmed rubber waders, of clean sweat mingled with DEET. An occasional breeze carries away the sweat and DEET. The stream murmurs, a soothing background noise, and lulls him like the water lulls the fish.

He projects the fly, flimsy line sweeping back, forth, back again, until at last it’s far enough out he can let it drop. The hand-tied fly alights upon the water’s surface with the slightest ripple, hesitating a moment before drifting downstream. His thoughts drift with it and with the water sweeping past his waders. He remembers, in his muscles, setting a hook, wrestling with a fish, fatiguing rather than overpowering it. He remembers the shock of bashing its brains out on a rock, and remembers cleaning and dressing it, building a fire, and eating the juicy pink flesh, still half raw in places. He senses as much as feels the trout rising to the bait, adjusts his footing, and prepares to snap the end of the rod and set the hook….

The alien ship hovers invisibly in geosynchronous orbit, cloak engaged. Electromagnetic radiation sleets about the ship, but the cloak is multifunctional; the same property that bends light around it also diverts radiation that would harm the occupants. The sun’s above the horizon, and the planet glows beneath them, brilliant blue of oceans with diamond glints, glaring white of clouds, brown and fresh green of soil and vegetation. It’s a lovely place, but the aliens aren’t here for sightseeing. At the Science station, one leans over the scanner, intent on fulfilling the search parameters. An AI assistant narrows the data, searching, progressively homing in on the ideal solution. There’s a large, sunlit continent, with a narrow waist near the equator and sparsely settled, that stretches nearly from pole to pole, but the locale of most interest right now is in the northern hemisphere.

They’ve come many light years for this moment. The technological achievement is impressive, particularly the part about cheating physics to arrive here within days rather than lifetimes. But the biological achievement will be even greater: the chance to prove not just that life exists elsewhere in the cosmos (they’ve done that already in their own solar system), but rather that tool-using intelligent life exists,  never mind the decades wasted fruitlessly scanning for it on every gravitational and dark energy frequency known to science. There are those who still believe intelligent life is unique to their one lonely planet orbiting an insignificant sun. Today, they’ll be proven wrong.

The sensor station pings quietly, and Science station transfers the location to the Ops console. A nervous operator takes a deep breath, streamers of methane exiting through frilly gills, then focuses the scanners on their target. There’s a clear gravitational signature that shows a carbon and calcium frame containing large quantities of liquid water, covered from apex to nadir by a synthetic inorganic sheath and surrounded by external water that flows past, bearing many lesser life forms. The target is making motions consistent with an effort to capture those lesser life forms. The Ops officer manipulates an algorithm, and a credible facsimile of one of those life forms instantiates in the flowing water. It moves slowly towards a synthetic extension of the target. There’s a capture device at the end of that extension, and Ops guides the simulacrum towards that device. The target moves to capture the life form, and Ops moves to capture the target….

In a higher dimensional pocket of space-time, the energy being watches, bemused, as its creation moves towards the alien ship’s bait. Wheels within wheels, and where does it end? The being glances back over what would have been a shoulder before the singularity, suddenly nervous that it too is being watched. Nonsense, it concludes. There are, and could be no watchers. It extends a tendril of spacetime towards the spaceship….

 

Startled by an aggressive dictionary during the 9th month of her pregnancy, Geoff’s mother was shortly delivered of a child who showed a precocious antipathy towards the users of words. Over time, he was able to transform this antipathy into a more functional, if equally passive-aggressive, career as an editor. After nearly 30 years, the verbal flame burns as intensely as ever, leading to an errant, semi-evangelical career ranting against the evils of words from pulpits at any editing or technical writing conference that will have him, tirelessly seeking new recruits for his cause. In his spare time, he roams the globe, entertaining and enlightening locals with his creative and uninhibited interpretations of their linguistic conventions. He also commits occasional fictions. Visit him online at http://www.geoff-hart.com/.

Open call for submissions of flash fiction!

Something new this year! I am going to set up two short reading periods instead of one long one. (The next reading period will be in October – keep your eyes on this site for more details).  Selected stories will not be published until 2020, so patience will be required, but to ease the pain a little, I’ll issue payment for them before the end of 2019.

SUBMISSIONS:  OPEN APRIL 1 to 30, 2019 ~  

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 as many submissions as you wish to during the reading period.  Please send each submission in separate emails.

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 June 30, 2019.

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.

Submissions may be an attachment (.rtf, .docx., .doc) or pasted into the body of your email – it’s up to you.

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 $10.00 (Canadian funds).  Please note that if you live in countries outside of Canada, the exchange rate may mean you don’t quite make ten 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 selected for publication during either the April or the October reading period, payment will be issued on December 1, 2019.

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. Stories will be published in February, April, June, August, October, and December of 2020.

OTHER THINGS YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW:

In this fourth year of Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction’s existence, I will be accepting six (6) 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 to shrob17(at)hotmail(dot)ca. I will not consider submissions sent outside of the reading period, so double check that it is open before sending me your work.

I’m looking forward to seeing your work!

Sheryl

Nancy Brewka-Clark – Love & the Underdog.

Love & the Underdog

By

Nancy Brewka-Clark

The little dog trembles at being so far above the flagstone floor. With a pair of tongs, Mistress Meat plucks a coal red as the eye of a dragon from the fire and flings it into the metal wheel. He begins to run. The wheel spins, rattling the chain connecting it to the spit on the blazing hearth. Blood from the haunch of venison sizzles. He has no idea he is meant to repeat his futile flight day after day until he dies.

***

“Poor little dog. What do they call him?”

“Oh, he has no name. He’s just a turnspit dog. And from this moment forth you are just a scullery maid.”

“Yes, Step-mama.”

“Call me Your Highness, you stupid girl.”

“Please, Your Highness, I would like to have my book. It was Father’s. Every night before I fell asleep, I would translate the tales of Ovid from Latin for him.”

“What need does a scullery maid have of books? Give me your slippers and your stockings. Now, your frock. Henceforth you shall be barefoot and wear only these rags, as befits a girl who has nothing.”

***

Mistress Meat never notices that the roast is flavored with the salt of the girl’s tears. But far above the kitchen in the great paneled dining hall the prince who has been sent by his father to woo the girl’s step-sisters finds the taste tantalizing. Observing him with slightly crossed eyes beneath modestly lowered lashes, the two step-sisters toy with their forks. One dreams of sprawling naked in a featherbed sprinkled with rose petals, the other of a gossamer gown as easily shed as a snake slithers out of its splitting skin. Their mother, thinking she can use a strong young arm to bolster her rule and a hard, lean body in her bed, leans forward in her low-cut gown of purple velvet trimmed with ermine to tempt the prince with her majestic bosom. The pressure crushes her skin to crepe, but she believes herself irresistible.

***

“My lord and master, I heard a most disturbing tale down in the town. The king’s legitimate heir, a lovely young girl, vanished after his death. ”

“Vanished, Will? How could a princess vanish without a vast hue and cry?”

“Unlike the deceased king, who was dearly beloved, the widow who sits upon the throne is roundly loathed and feared in equal parts. She has ordered the tongue ripped out of anyone who questions her rule.”

“Then we shall hold our tongues, my valiant servant, until we can get to the bottom of this matter.”

***

The little dog lies panting in his dark corner long after the scullery maid has wept herself to sleep. Her feet are blackened and blistered from walking upon errant cinders as she went about her hellish work. What if he could creep out of the kitchen and hunt for the slippers taken by the evil-eyed woman with the golden crown on her head? Surely they would be better than nothing.

***

“Forgive me for waking you, my liege. From the looks of this slipper I believe the missing princess might be within the confines of these very walls.”

“My word, it’s very dainty. Wherever did you find it, Will?”

“I was standing guard outside your door when the largest rat I’d ever seen came scampering down the hall. I drew my sword and prepared to run it through. Then I realized it was a little dog. It had a pair of slippers in its mouth. In its haste to escape, it dropped one and vanished down the staircase.”

“Well done, Will. Now we have a plan.”

***

The little dog scurries into his corner, ashamed and grieving. What good is one slipper? Growling softly so that he won’t waken the slumbering scullery maid, he chews savagely on the soft blue leather until there is nothing left but scraps.

***

“Come, girls, and claim your slipper from the prince! It must fit one of you.”

“Mama, it’s mine! Oh, but it’s far too tight. It must have shrunk when I went walking in the dewy garden.”

“Here, sister dear, give it to me. Ugh! Unh! Yes, it must have shrunk.”

“Tell me, Madam Queen, are there any other royal damsels within these walls?”

“Oh, dear me, no, none that I can think of, my dearest prince.”

“That’s most peculiar. You see, my loyal servant paid a visit to the castle kitchen this morning. Oh, don’t bother to ask why, Madam Queen. But, he found a young girl whose foot fit perfectly into this slipper.”

“Oh, no, no, no, that is quite impossible, my precious prince.”

“Is it, Madam Queen? Why don’t we go down to the kitchens, then, and see for ourselves what mischief might be afoot.”

***

Taking the golden crown from the old lady’s head, the handsome young man puts it on the scullery maid’s raven locks. Smiling radiantly, she points toward the little dog. “Canis Vertigus,” she calls. He creeps forward humbly to lie at her feet. Putting his nose between his paws, he stares at her with eyes as bright as her own. She scoops him up to whisper one word into his ear. “Gus.” And he knows he will be hers not just in name but in heart, body, and soul forever.

 

Nancy Brewka-Clark is a longtime published author of short fiction, poetry, drama and creative nonfiction who lives on Boston’s highly romantic North Shore. She’s delighted that “Love & the Underdog” is the second story of hers to appear in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction.

(You can find Nancy’s first story, The Invitation, here!).

Gregg Chamberlain – Poetic Licence.

Poetic Licence

by

Gregg Chamberlain

‘Twas late on a summer solstice night so dreary, whilst I pondered, weak and weary, over tomes of weird and forgotten lore, that there came a sudden tapping, as of something strongly rapping, followed then by a crashing and a bashing up against my subterranean shelter door.

It must be just imagination, was my initial rumination, just a simple flight of fancy as fatigue now made me antsy. That’s all it is, I told myself, whilst placing books back on the shelf. That’s all it is, and nothing more. Surely no one hammered on my shelter door.

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK! rang the sound.

“Who’s there?” I cried, now quickly spinning ‘round.

“Berry!” roared the strange reply.

“Berry who?” was my answering cry.

“Berry glad to be here!”

An odd response, there could be no doubt, from whoever, whatever stood without. What mad thing driven past all reason during this post-apocalyptic season, now full of lunatic, childish glee, had come ‘round now to torment me? More important yet, I now did wonder, while I stood listening to the night-time rumbling thunder, how sturdy is my iron-bound shelter door? Can it withstand the pounding more?

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK! Once more there came a bashing.

“Who’s there?” I cried, my teeth now loudly gnashing.

“Grape!” came an answering howl.

“Grape who?” I cried, with queasy bowel.

“Grape weather we’re having!”

Wild-eyed now, I turned once more to all my dusty books of forgotten lore, ancient knowledge now my sole recourse, to determine what was the unearthly source of this japing, jesting, joking jackanape, from what hell did it escape, and how to force its swift return to the fires that eternal burn, while ‘neath the constant pounding strokes oaken door timbers groaned in concert with knock-knock jokes.

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK! Once more ‘gainst my shelter door.

“Who’s there?” I demanded in a final encore.

“Banana!” answered an angry growl.

“Banana who?” Fearful now I did implore.

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK! My door did reverberate.

“Who’s there?” I soundly cursed my ill-born fate.

“Banana!” returned the beastly howl.

“Banana who?” Faint hope revived, if somewhat late.

Now I perceived there might be cause, despite the scratch of adamantine claws, that I might yet escape with life and soul intact, avoiding need for unwholesome pact. For my unwelcome visitant’s curious way of inquiry could yet save the day. Dawn’s welcome light came on apace, its burning brilliance would soon give chase to any fell creature waiting at my door, and send it wailing off forevermore.

KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK! One last time the echoing pound.

“Who’s there?” I demanded, with defiant sound.

“Orange!” came fast in answer.

“Orange who?” Worry now a returning cancer.

Silence at first, the quiet loud in my ears, giving new strength to my rising fears.

“Orange you sorry you’re alone?” growled back the Unknown.

I let drop the book I had in hand, and as I watched the splitting door, knew as one truly damned, I should see the dawn’s light…nevermore.

 

Gregg Chamberlain lives in rural Ontario, with his missus, Anne, and their cats who allow the humans to think that they are in charge. “Poetic Licence” is Gregg’s tongue-in-cheek tribute to Edgar Allan Poe, and other weird fiction writers.

The results are in!

Thank you again to everyone who submitted their work to Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction during the recent open call! The calibre of work was fantastic and it was incredibly difficult for me to decide the final lineup for next year. I’m not complaining a whit – that’s such a great problem to have!

As of now, all of the authors have been notified regarding the status of their stories. If, for some reason, you haven’t heard from me, check your spam filter first, then fire me an email and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

I am toying with the idea of opening two calls for submissions in 2019, so watch this site for more details.

The first story for 2019 will be published on February 1, so if you haven’t already subscribed to Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction, I’d encourage you to do so and receive all of our stories in your inbox for free.

Wishing everyone a magical holiday season and the very best in the new year!

~Sheryl

Norm Roberts – Morning Hunt

Morning Hunt

by

Norm Roberts

It is a quarter to too damn early in the morning and I am getting out of bed. As my feet feel the chill of the wooden floor, I look over my shoulder to my wonderful wife. She lays there still sleeping, not stirring, still lost in her dreams. I reach over and nudge her awake. She grumbles and then acknowledges that she is awake. I shower and dress, and she makes us breakfast and piles our gear at the door. As we eat, the excitement of the hunt starts to build, and we smile at each other and reminisce about past hunts while looking forward to placing another trophy in the main room.  I grab the gear and load the truck while she gets cleaned up.

It is cold. Frost hangs from the branches of the trees. The streetlights are barely winning the battle verses the dark and cloudy sky. It is a quiet morning, and we feel like the only people alive or at least crazy enough to be up this early. We start the drive out of town and soon realize that we are not the only people out. As we go along the gravel roads, we see vehicles parked along the shoulders or in pullouts. At first it is just one or two. Then, there are groups of vehicles, some with ATVs at the ready. A few people are returning to town with their catch in the back of their trucks. We start to worry about bagging anything with all this activity.

I drive onward, going farther then I intended to go, down some side roads that I hope will not be as busy. My wife tells me to stop the truck, that it is time to start the hunt on foot. She has a feeling that our target is close now. I never argue against her feelings; she has a knack for these things.

We start walking into the trees. The sunlight is trying hard to chase the dark away and melt the ice crystals in the air. We don’t have to trudge through the snow for too long before she grabs my arm to stop me. She points to show me where to look. I don’t see it at first but then there it is. Not the largest, not the smallest, but just the right size for us. We bag it and bring it home. We will set it up in the main room where we will dress it in lights and bulbs and enjoy it for a few weeks, with the belief that it is the most beautiful Christmas tree we have ever had.

 

Norm Roberts is a lover of lacrosse, and works much too hard for a mere pittance.  His story “Hard Times” was featured in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction in December 2017.