JP Lor

They drift by, as I lie in the middle of the road, stiffly twitching, insides outside, muzzle crushed but an eye staring at the sky. 

These beings, idly fast, following each other, like ants but untouching, seemed harmless. The sterile road too. So I tore through the barbed wires and chased the bullheaded sun as it buried itself behind the mountain. 

The wind played with me, for the first time, picking up my hind legs high into the air. Gently nudged and kissed my nose. Wrapped its arms around me until my eyes and cheeks were wet, until I couldn’t breathe. 

I was free.

Now, blood spills further away from me, swelling hazy dark clouds.  

Was I supposed to ignore the rousing pull and pinch of life, ensnaring me into wanting more? Were the dead grassy hills and the cages all? Were my frail bones and muscles supposed to grow bigger, beautifully slow under a smooth gleaming coat, just so the whistling stompers on horses with ropes could gaze in wonder?  

A burning screech.  

A swerve. 

Down the hill, an unflinching roar. Faster and faster it comes. Will it put me back together? A gurgling cry escapes from what’s left of my throat. My legs move. Rumbling red gravel jolts my heart and I

JP Lor has stories in The Dillydoun Review, CC&D Magazine and Versification


Elizabeth Guilt

Melissa smoothed her silk dress, checked her hair, and rubbed sanitising gel on her hands. Her husband handed her the little plastic device, and she smiled as she pressed firmly on the clicker.

The needle shot round into her thumb, stinging more sharply than expected.


He took her hand and, pressing gently, guided it so the swelling drop of blood fell into the square well on top of the box.

His arm around her shoulders, they hurried away and waited.

Silence fell. Everyone waited.

Melissa sipped at her lemon soda. It shouldn’t take this long. It hadn’t taken this long when she’d held Aimee’s hand three years ago.

“Did you do it?”

“Yes, Mum!” Melissa snapped, more harshly than she intended.

It had only seemed a few moments before Aimee’s silver rocket had zoomed into the sky. Had Aimee felt the time dragging like this, before the explosion of super-cute pink bears?

She turned to her husband. “Do you think it’s…”

A fizzing crackle interrupted her question, and he squeezed her shoulder.

The rocket didn’t fly directly up as expected. It spiralled, executing wild loops until it hung, spitting sparks, over the summerhouse.

Melissa held her breath.

Showers of green and orange stars rained down in torrents. A purple train flew out to one side, and a noise like the blare of trumpets shone over the uneasy group staring at the sky.

“Mummy, you said it would be…”

Aimee shushed her daughter.

“Melissa, are you sure you did it right?”

“Yes, Mum!”

“But it shouldn’t be all those different colours!”

“It must be a manufacturing error” said her husband, his arms protectively around her.

Everyone looked from Melissa to the box to the space in the sky above. Memories of the vibrant stars shimmered behind their bewildered eyes.

A week later, when she’d had a proper test at the hospital, Melissa had cards made. Beautiful, darling little cards that unfurled into blue vintage racing cars. She sent them to the party guests who’d travelled so far but gone home awkward and confused.

Melissa brought Benjamin Albert home from the hospital, wrapped in a sky-blue blanket, and settled the baby in the nursery they’d painted ready.

It was years. Sixteen years of toys and books whisked out of sight; of reluctant Saturday morning rugby practices and screaming fights over clothes; of awkward conversations with the school. And tears, so many tears, before Melissa accepted that the exploding box had been correct.

Elizabeth Guilt lives in London, UK, where history lurks alongside plate glass office buildings and stories spring out of the street names. She has had fiction published in Luna Station Quarterly, Electric Spec and The Colored Lens. You can find her online or on Twitter (@elizabethguilt).

Not your fault

Mia Lofthouse

You are a child in a room of locked doors with a key that opens none of them.

In the room there are many things, you know one of them can hurt you, you cannot know which. You stand still. Hoping if you scrunch your eyes, count to ten, you’ll wake up somewhere safe, in your mother’s arms as she whispers, ‘It was a dream, only a dream.’ You do this. But the room is the same and you are running out of time.

Ok then, if he wants you to play, you will. So, you must choose, choose and hope you find the way out. You run to the bookshelf, feel rather than see him move behind you, move closer. You take a book, hold it out in trembling hands. This won’t hurt you. But it won’t save you either. You’ve always been bright for your age, bookish, wise, but you are still a child and nothing you have learnt could have prepared you for this.

Something else then; you stumble to the bed. It seems impossibly far away. Your heart flutters, a moth failing to take flight. He is getting closer. You reach for your teddy, the one you have had since you were born. You press it against your chest. It turns to dust and vanishes. No comfort can be found in this.

You move on.

You know where to find the knife, you have had it hidden for weeks, for this exact moment. You point it at him.

He laughs.

You notice how much your hand is trembling. The room should crumble now, you think, but it doesn’t. You let the knife go. Nothing he can do will ever make you stoop that low; after all, you are the child and he is the monster. It was never any other way. 

You’ve lost hope now. You know there is no way you’re leaving this place without being scarred, but then you remember something. You reach into the pocket of your jeans for the chocolate bar you earned at school. You break it in half and offer part to the monster. He takes it and you both eat, looking at each other. Then he tosses the wrapper and reaches for you.

As you shrink in his shadow you realise the truth. It was your kindness that hurt you. Your kindness after all. And as you close your eyes and wait for it to end, you pull your kindness closer. He will not take that from you.

Mia Lofthouse is a 21-year-old writer. She writes both short stories and novels and is currently studying for a Masters degree in Creative Writing. In 2017, she was a finalist in the Wicked Young Writer award and more recently her story, ‘The Road Home’, was published in Personal Bests Journal.

Full Speed Ahead

Andrea Lynn Koohi

Five trains leave the station back-to-back, half-moon magnets connecting them. Their fuel is the force of a little boy’s hand. A green train is chipped where a dog chewed the corner, a blue train faded where fingers hold tight. They’ve cruised these parts before, but they don’t remember: tracks like snakes around the floor. There’s no goal but forward, no purpose but fun. They speed through a tunnel, glide over a bridge, ride too fast around a bend. One derails, dead stop, on its side. The boy doesn’t see it, but my tired eyes do: its painted face still smiling.

Andrea Lynn Koohi‘s writing appears or is forthcoming in Lost Balloon, trampset, Whale Road Review, filling Station, Pithead Chapel, Ellipsis Zine Nine, Sunlight Press and others. She lives with her husband and two sons in Ontario, Canada. Find her on Twitter (@AndreaKoohi).

Certainly Not Trees in Winter

Karen Walker

In spring, when the trees aren’t hungry and naked, he’ll return to the park bench. Hardwoods fallen on hard times, birches silver, but penniless. He gets it. He’s there too. So no point in twig fingers, bending low under the weight of snow, tapping his shoulder for help. He’ll wait until the trees have been fed by April, clothed by May. After all, he isn’t their keeper. He has his own troubles, and, damn it, no one cares about those. Certainly not trees in winter.

Karen Walker writes in a basement. Her work is in or is forthcoming in Bandit FictionDefenestration, Virtual ZineReflex FictionPotato Soup Journal, Roi Fainéant Literary PressVersificationSledgehammer Lit, and others. Twitter (@MeKawalker883).

Colored Feathers

Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar 

She climbed the wrought-iron ladder and pulled a suitcase from the loft, the large maroon one her mother had once filled with beads and frills and embroidered napkins for her wedding. Her mother’s voice inside her head warned, If you plan for the worst, it’ll happen. Think only good things. But she cupped her hand around her lips and whispered the voice into silence. Even as she tried hard to think of the yellows at the center of daisies and the purples of plums, she knew she had to prepare.

Day after day, she filled the suitcase with shavings of herself – pieces that didn’t belong there, in the house, the marriage – neatly arranged, layered with colored feathers, for use at someplace, sometime. At night, she stowed away the suitcase under the bed. The bag bulged like an over-risen loaf, the leather cracking, the contents spilling out at the sides, the zippers catching fabric and snagging longings. A pair of sandals with a cushioned footbed waited beside the suitcase.

What’s poking under the bed? the husband complained in a slurred voice one night as the mattress sagged under his weight. A corpse you’re hiding there, woman? With a knee to the center of her spine, he kicked her off the bed. She lay on the cold floor staring at the darkness under the bed until light crept between the window slats, and the outline of the suitcase emerged like a curled-up swan. Outside, sparrows chirped under the eaves, a song of sweet escape.

Later, she pressed the bulging suitcase into surrender, tucking in the contents, and zipping the jaws shut. As she strapped the sandals to her feet, moaning at the softness against her callused soles, something fluttered inside her belly. She pressed a hand to her wren-colored dress and discovered a honeydew hardness. A glance at the one-page calendar on the paint-peeled wall showed she hadn’t bled in months.

Let the seed grow in shelter, her mother’s voice in her head again, this time soft like a plea. She collapsed into a heap beside her freedom, hugging her knees like a pheasant of winter, head burrowed into its wings, eyes frozen shut. Day after day, she unpacked the suitcase, flinging the contents into road-ruts to be discolored by rain, nipped by free birds.

Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian American writer. Born to a middle-class family in India, she later migrated to the USA. Her stories and poems have appeared in many publications, in print and online. She is currently a Prose Editor at Janus Literary and a Submissions Editor at SmokeLong Quarterly. Her debut flash fiction collection “Morsels of Purple” is available for purchase on See more online. Reach her on Twitter (@PunyFingers).

The Crossing

Alison Milner

I say, “you are a figment of my imagination.” You say, “I don’t believe you”.

You hunch your shoulders in that belligerent pose I know so well. Your grin reminds me of adolescence, of secrets and small lies.

Your stance is territorial, in the centre of an ancient pack-horse bridge which spans a turbulent river. Stained with peat, carbonated by topography.

A dandelion and burdock Northern English beck.

You are wearing our old, cracked leather jacket, the glazing of our outer selves. Your feet planted firmly in the heavy boots whose soles inhabit ours. Their toughness empowers us. The footprint of who we are, bold and free, before I learn to tread carefully.

It is summer and the air is heavy with a cloying sweetness. The weather is hot and dry, but I see heavy rain, falling like beads from a broken chain.

Sheep graze the sky, drifting wool. White, blobbed with blue paint. Fallowing this field where colour hums yellow and purple hues. I am on the canvas of an impressionist painting and your portrait is drawn incongruously at its centre.

I squint against the searing light, and you fade into the haze. When I open my eyes wide the glare intensifies. You are still guarding the bridge, sketched charcoal-black, figurative.

I walk towards the beck seeding dandelions, the blown wishes of a lifetime. I tread lightly on clover pompoms. I do not want to scatter petals like confetti at a wedding.

 “You can’t ignore me. You can’t cross without me,” you say.

 I do not contradict you, but my legs stride forward. My trousers rustling, my trainers squeaking like mice.

“I wrote to you,” I say, “letters of the mind, tumbling images I couldn’t articulate. Sentences that wouldn’t shape onto paper.”

The flagstone bridge is slippery with spray. I do not slide as I walk through you, cutting your silhouette, onto the other side. Across the water into a field of gold.

I touch the shining silk of buttercups. I glance back at the bridge. It is empty except for a grey heron, fishing for its next catch.

Slender grasses wave in a sea of grey-green brush tips. I caress seed heads furred like kittens’ tails. Run my fingers along plumes which scatter escaping insects.

I stroke the ears of wild grain like a lover, until only I remain. A solitary woman in a wildflower meadow.

Alison Milner lives in Hebden Bridge and is inspired by the colours and contours of the moorland close to her home. Lockdown led Alison to explore internal landscapes; it created blank-page time for her to play with words. She has been published in a literary magazine and two anthologies.


Abi Hennig

Take me through the procedure. One more time. Just so I’m prepared.

Make an 8-inch cut in the chest

We never bought her brand-new toys, sparing the rod does not have to mean spoiling the child. She was happy with our homemade gifts: hand-drawn top-trump cards fashioned from cereal boxes and sticky-back plastic; bottle bowling pins; sock monsters; tin-can robots with sharp edges carefully sanded soft.

Cut through the breastbone to expose the heart

And then she was three-quarters-to-six, a rag-tag mop of curls and an eye for harmless mischief which charmed everyone she met. The playdates came, and went, and came again. Birthday parties exploded in clouds of icing and glitter, knee-deep in wrapping paper, shiny to the touch, and plastic bags with plastic toys and plastic-coated lollipops that glistened sticky in the sun.

I packed her off each time with Tupperware: homemade hummus, hand-moulded pittas, cookies sweetened with honey from the hive. She returned with a crumb-filled box, a giveaway slick shimmer of sugar on her lips, eyes glazed hazy.

Stu told me to let it go.

The nights drew in.

Connect to bypass machine

She wrote to Santa in conscious cursive, looping letters into candy canes, dotting each i with a star. I peeked over her shoulder, swallowed hard, and wondered what to do.

Remove the diseased heart

‘A Barbie’s not so bad,’ he said. But Barbie’s where it starts. Next comes princess shoes and pastel-painted horses and tacky tat that’s all the same, same, same.

He said to leave it in the box, surrounded by the appendages: shoes, handbags, necklace, skateboard, teeny-tiny mobile phone.

I ignore him, focus on recycling: cut the box into playing-card rectangles, carve clear pvc into tiny stars and store them in a craft box, leave just one square spare.

I slice through polymer torso, cut a window, pop out flesh, smooth and cool, place it to one side. 

Replace with healthy heart

With nail scissors, I slice the shape: a human heart: transparent, fragile. I prick my finger and watch blood bubble, print pvc with a piece of me, place it gently in the space, watch it swallowed whole.

Close breastbone with wire, leaving the wire inside the body

Years of sewing has made my stitches neat. She will love her plastic princess and pepper her with kisses and the bumps beneath the breastbone are proof that she is extra special, with a heart that’s made to last.

Stitch up the cut

I wrap the doll in tissue paper, finish it with ribbon and a tag in Santa’s hand.

Seal with a kiss

I tuck the parcel in the present drawer, pack my bag, perch on the edge of the bed. Stu tells me I’ll be back to give it to her myself. I listen to my heart skip its beat in the dark and wonder.

Abi Hennig lives in Brighton and spends her time teaching, writing mini stories and losing gracefully at complicated board games. Her words have popped up in various places – recently in Ellipsis Zine, Molotov Cocktail, and Janus Literary. She tweets (@abihennig).

Grotto life

Martha Lane

Borrowed baubles in his pocket, he shifts uncomfortably. Pride whispers in his ear.

They’ll know it’s you.

The pub crowd jeering with yeasted breath, maybe brickies from the site. Awareness laced into their boots. Talking to his jingle-bell hat while their kids recite impressive lists, breathless and flushed, while he buckles resignation round his fake fat tummy. Desperation the twinkle in his eye, he ho ho hopes it pays enough.

A familiar weight and warmth hits his lap. The boy. On the cusp of not believing. On the cusp of understanding. Wishes for a bike, asks for a beanie.

Martha Lane is a writer by the sea. Her flash has appeared in Free Flash Fiction, Perhappened, Bandit, Reflex fiction, Briefly Zine and Ellipsis, among others. Balancing too many projects is her natural state. She tweets (@poor_and_clean).

Embers of all

J.H. Hewitt

Your eyes were steady. I tipped my head and raised a brow. Straight at me, you said it again. A blink. And then, on my face, a small smile broke out, its flames crackling in the space between us. Licking at the chairs on which we sat, setting them ablaze, making embers of all.

The smile – hungry now – glanced at you. Your eyes unflinching. I watched it open the front door, and set out for the town, spreading as it went, razing houses, St Trinity, the Oak. Old style lamps flared then burst. It seared across the land, while you held your gaze. Up went hedgerows, trees, strangle-squawked crows. Billows of grey filled the sky. But the smile scorched on, boiling the oceans, blackening shoals and choking gulls. Soon, the plains were dust, the charred mountains bare, cities pluming final puffs. A whole sphere in cinders.

The smoke clung around us. I could hardly see you now – or breathe. Then, at last, you said, clear, like you’d never needed air anyway: “No, no, no, not like that.” And then: “What have you done?”

The smile fell away. Wordlessly, I searched for something to save. 

“Of course we can change our diet, fly less and drive less, but the single most important thing any one of us can do in the fight to save our planet is to communicate about it – whether that is directly to people in positions of power, through art, or in social conversations with those around us. The aim must not only be to change minds but also to win hearts. We mustn’t just argue using data, but also persuade using empathy. Let’s shine a torchlight on powerful governments and corporations who dodge accountability by trying to gaslight individuals. And let’s reward with loyalty those who show courage in putting the planet and its most vulnerable people first.”

J.H. Hewitt is a parent and writer – but most of her words get someone else’s byline.