I’m delighted to give a huge shout out to author Scott Hughes and his most recent work! His story “The Goblin’s Lament” was featured in Paper Butterfly Flash Fiction in April 2018 (check it out here!).
The Kissing Bridge
Susan Murrie Macdonald
Megan Buckman glanced around, delighted by the sights, sounds, and smells that surrounded her. She had never been to a Renaissance Faire before. She’d wanted to go for years, but her ex-husband had always insisted that RenFaires were too expensive.
“Mama, look!” Seven-year-old Jessica ran off to the harper.
“Wait up, Jessie.” Megan followed her daughter. They listened to the harper for a few minutes. There was so much to see and do here; it almost overwhelmed the senses. All the beautiful costumes, the smell of turkey legs and sandalwood fans and flowers. And the music! Harpers, fiddlers, singers. An hour ago, she hadn’t known what a hurdy-gurdy was. Now she had a hurdy-gurdy CD tucked into her purse. “If I can’t get a story out of this,” she started to tell Jessie, but the girl ran off before Megan could finish her sentence.
“Look, Mama, the plumber!”
Megan looked where Jessie was pointing. Standing in front of a booth was a Little Person in Faire garb. Normally, she was bad with names and faces, but she recognized him because of his height. He was their plumber.
He doffed his feathered hat with a bow. “Good morrow, my ladies.”
Megan glanced at the booth, and found it was full of artwork. “Oh, this is lovely.”
“Gramercy, my lady.”
“You did these?”
She looked at the paintings. “Talent like this, and you spend your time fixing stopped up pipes and clogged toilets?”
“Alas, my lady, I earn greater recompense from the mending of other people’s privies than from my art.” His blue eyes twinkled. “Starving in a garret is highly overrated.”
“But this is gorgeous.”
“Everyone admires, few buy.”
“Mama, these ones are just like the beginning of Beauty and the Beast.” Jessie showed her a series of paintings, all painted to look like stained glass windows. They were scenes from various fairy tales.
“That’s where I swiped the idea from,” he confessed.
“This would be perfect for St. Margaret.” At his upraised eyebrow, she explained, “I write children’s books. I’m working on a biography of Margaret of Scotland. This would be perfect for it. And frankly,” she sighed, “I wasn’t happy with the illustrator the publisher assigned to my last book. Is there any chance you’d be interested in collaborating?”
“What was your last book?” he asked.
He nodded. “I bought a copy for my niece. The unicorns looked like draft horses.” He thought a moment. “Have you eaten yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“Shall we discuss this over lunch?” When she nodded, he called to the man at the neighboring tent, “Hey, Tom, watch the booth for a bit. I’m going to lunch.”
“Darryl Phillips, at your service.”
“Megan Buckman.” A line from Tolkien popped into her head, and she added, “’At yours and your family’s.’”
He smiled up at her, recognizing the allusion. He led the way to the food stands. “I hope you’ll let me buy. I get a discount.”
They had to cross a wooden bridge to get there. Flowers adorned the bridge, and several teenagers in Faire garb sat on the railings.
“Kissing bridge, kissing bridge,” they called.
“What’s a kissing bridge?” asked Jessie.
“‘Tis a toll bridge, fair maid. One pays to cross the bridge like so.” Darryl took Megan’s hand and gently kissed it.
“That’s not a kiss,” called out a young man dressed like an Elizabethan lord. He grabbed the wench next to him. She joined him in a passionate lip-lock. In a bad Australian accent, he said, “That’s a kiss.”
Two years later, Megan and Darryl had produced four books together, and were working on a fifth. He had introduced her to musicians she had never heard of: Glenn Morgan and Livy Delafield, Golden Bough and Wild Oats. She introduced him to ‘30s and ‘40s black and white Hollywood movies. He introduced her to Chinese food. She’d never had it before, because her ex-husband didn’t like it. She rescued him from meals that went from the freezer to the microwave to the table (all without ever leaving the box). At first, he came to dinner once a month, then once every few weeks, and now he came over for dinner two or three times a week. He’d become the closest friend she’d ever had. And on summer weekends when her ex had Jessie, she helped him at his RenFaire booth.
“Look, a dwarf!” A girl about three or four ran into the booth, and her parents ran after her.
While her parents admired the artwork, she turned to Megan and asked, “Are you Mrs. Dwarf?”
“Alas, sweet damsel, I am not.” Megan sighed melodramatically. “He waits for his own true princess, and will not so much as glance at a sundial to give me the time of day.”
Puzzled, the girl stared up at her while her parents laughed. Darryl merely looked at her.
After they had bought a painting and left, Darryl said. “Time for a break.”
“I’ll watch the booth.”
“You need a break, too.” He led her toward the food vendors, but stopped at the kissing bridge. He pulled himself up onto the railing, so their heads were level. “Was that just Faire flirtation back there? Or were you telling the truth with that alas?”
Megan hesitated. “I didn’t want to risk ruining a good partnership – and more importantly, a good friendship – by getting what Jessie would call ‘all mushy’ on you.”
He reached over and kissed her. “Who says you’d be ruining anything?”
Susan Murrie Macdonald is a freelance proofreader and copy editor. She has also written a children’s book, R is for Renaissance Faire, and several short stories which have appeared in Alternative Truths, Heroic Fantasy Short Stories, Bumples, and Sword and Sorceress. She has written over 100 articles for Krypton Radio. You can check out her blog, Assorted Scribblings of a Minor Author, follow her on Twitter @WriterMacdonald, or visit her website, Susan Murrie Macdonald: Wordsmith for Hire.
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.
“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.
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!
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/.
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