Flash fiction, short stories, poetry …
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The gods of editing smiled on me this week, so this story qualifies for #FridayFlash.

Less than a 1000 words? It must have been the adjectives I sacrificed. These are harsh gods: passive sentence construction is not to be tolerated; praise their economy of expression; beware their adverbial inquisition. Jihad your ‘darlings’.   

Yah. Now I’m off to break all the rules…


isa got arrested today for cruelty to animals – she said that dog was dead already, and those cats, but nobody believes her.

Then they found all this crazy mumbo-jumbo, Satanist crap in her bedroom, up on the walls. They’re doing tests on the blood right now.

Lisa says that she’s an honest-to-god werewolf. How’s that for an excuse? Woke up on the lawn outside her house – not a stitch on – and had to get her mum to let her in.

That’s crazy, right?

Sure she had a dog bite on her – I saw that frothy, old Alsatian go for her myself – but why make up these stories?

Didn’t that tetanus jab in her ass work?!

Lisa always was strange. Like those photos she stuck online of herself covered in blood –  said she couldn’t remember doing it; said the blood was ketchup or food-colouring, or something. But that ‘ketchup’ looked pretty real to me. She had ‘a look’ in her eyes – you could have checked out those snaps on Flickr if they hadn’t taken them down – that was sort of ‘revelling in it’.

Meanwhile, cherry pie all over her lips, down her neck.

So a bunch of people took exception and decided to picket outside her house; neighbours and such. They said a lot of cats went missing, and it’s Lisa.

I was like, ‘OMG, Lisa, what the hell are you playing at?’

The police found a decapitated dog in her garden, all burned up. She said she woke up with it one morning, in a flower bed – it was right there next to her; no idea where it came from. So she covered it in petrol and torched it.

Neighbours complained about the fatty smoke drifting up over the fence.

Now she’s getting death threats and people have started all these Facebook pages, saying she’s a pet killer. The local authorities think she’s disturbed. The local newspapers have all run stories on her – a bunch of her photos made it on to the front page of the Aklington Examiner, for God’s sake!

A pathetic attempt at attention?

I don’t think I know her anymore. Lisa is a good looking girl – you gotta look – but all that art-house shit with the blood isn’t right. They found jars, too: her old appendix floating in fluids. That’s really not right. How do you even get to take that home with you?

Lisa’s parents are trying to play it down. Her dad got into a punch-up with a cameraman, and her mom has drawn a line across their gravel drive. Cross it, and she calls the cops.

There’s a fricking picket line round her place, right now.

You see what she calls herself, online? I mean, ‘Wolfgrrrl’? She’s been at this some time. Totally batshit. Or is that wolfshit? You should read some of the posts she has on there; some of the fantasies; some of the followers…

827,699 ‘likes’?!


But you know what is really crazy – and there is no way I’m going to ask her why – I found a bunch of Lisa’s clothes out in the garden this morning. I found her cammy top and leggings, soaked in dew, hanging off the old rose bushes. They were totally shredded, and there was red on them. I’m not saying blood, but they were ‘redded up’.

This shit’s Lisa’s because we both went shopping, and that’s the outfit she got last weekend for Embassy Studio.

Her sizes.

Her perfume.

So what the hell was she doing in my garden, shedding clothes? Stalking me outside the patio doors? Sussing me an’ the folks out, while we watch Who Wants to be a Millionaire on widescreen?

Then I start thinking about Mr Pickle.

Do you reckon she did for my cat?

I mean he was old, smelled, yowelled a lot at five a.m. – I had to water-pistol the old git on a regular basis – but I still wouldn’t want some crazy chopping his head off and cremating him!

I’m beginning to think I didn’t know Lisa at all.

And I’ve still got her iPod. So when does that get dropped off?

A lot of kids at school have gone anti-Lisa. It’s the animals: people can forgive a lot – give a serial killer a certain morbid respect – but decapitate one dog…

Ha. That does sound bad.

She was in my house. Do you reckon they can do medical tests to see if she has dog in her? I mean, in her stomach?

That’s so gross; it doesn’t even bear thinking about.

I’ve just been online and the *******madwolf site got pulled. The provider’s saying it’s due to, ‘inappropriate content that contradicts their usage agreement.’

That’s Lisa, right?

I’m really thinking she did for Mr Pickle.

My mum’s friend came round – Janise (wa, wa, wa, what a chatterbox, fringe like a ginger Afgan). She was talking about Lisa (along with the rest of the planet). She saw something – not sure when or where – but a figure, running like a dog, on all fours. This was weeks ago. I was like, sure… I mean, surely you’d mention that at the time, wouldn’t you? But now – guess what – it’s ‘gossip gold’ with Lisa all over the news.

Still, this revelation was enough to make my sister, Lotty, cry. She doesn’t want to get eaten by the ‘four legged’ Lisa, and is now hiding in her room under her duvet. She’s got Take That playing really loud, but I imagine Garry and Robbie would have no hope at protecting her from a were-Lisa.

Which is just bullshit, by the way.

In fact, I’m sorry I brought this up.

September 25, 2011   10 Comments

Ilia’s Frozen Fingers


lia wears his mother’s old skates. The leather is a fly-picked brown, one step away from rotting cowhide, and the blades leave a streak of red rust behind him, as he throws one arm ahead and then the other; face grim, cold air chapping at his hands and face.

Ilia No-smile. Ilia the Monster Hunter. Ilia the Liar. After all, he’s not going to college as he promised his father just ten minutes ago. That tall tale should have struck like a hook in his mouth, hurried as it was through a mouthful of blini, soured cream scooped in. But as any Hunter will tell you, it is as exhilarating to lie as it is to fly like the wind. Behind him, the spotty trail of rust cuts through the perfect complexion of the ice as a long bloodied arc, pointing to his arrival with a simple slice, slice, slice of metal.

The ice is a whetstone, while the blades prepare.

Where the ice gets thinner, and the willows grow through – the flexible branches caught in the frozen falls wearing whorls within whorls – there is a thrusting outcrop of quarried stone, pushing up like the prow of a black ship’s shadow – a hulk socketed with empty windows. The edges of these ruins are hard where the snow is soft.

This is the leavings of the old Krasotka iron mill.

The weirs at its foot are motionless, hung with needle spears, where the winds huff one long, lonely wolf-howl of stone-dry cold. These are the mill-races built to channel old industry, driving wheels and hammers, pounding out blades; where once horses, hands to the shoulder, had pressed stone, turning molten wine into war. Then water drove the wheel. Then nothing. Northern tribes no more. The forges cold. The ruin a place of teenage indiscretion and tall tales.

Ilia’s nose is running. Soon it’ll be as red as the fairytale fruit on the shelves of Lenta. He huffs out a clouded breath into his hands, lest the rest of his flesh ripens too soon. That weir has teeth and the blades of it hang high above him, the frozen foam below like spittle in a mad dog’s maw.

But now, skit-skating the churned ice, Ilia makes it to a blocky, broken section of the weir; sandstone flaking away beneath pillow-white. His blades clatter and his ankles jolt. Then, suddenly, floating on glass…

To his side, the founds and colossi of the mill have collapsed one-into-the-other, interrupting the abandoned industrial process. Water has been diverted. The fallen stones have created a frame around black depth: an obsidian pool, dusted at its edges with pearly white snow, like polystyrene baubles hacked free with a bread knife.

The surface of the pool is as flat as a razor blade.

Ilia wobbles, holds out his hands, and walks the skates in a v – feet planted like a goose – until he can see down into this great glass window; in fact, is standing right in its centre. He suffers a jolt of vertigo. He’s suspended on nothing, looming over an abyss of dark shadow, water frozen where it crept in the lee of the towering falls. Every detail is present and correct, clear as crystal.

Black ice doesn’t grow like this. It’s thin – a child of snap-cold and melt-water annealed in temperatures dropping like steel nails. This darkness has grown from within the icy heart of the water itself, freezing not moonlight, but moondark – perhaps – and something else, a figure that seems to fly beneath his feet. This is something that crept through the darkest of water, at the darkest of night, while the moon shook in her clouded skirts and looked away. Now it’s a fly in amber – an albino, caveless ‘she’ – caught throttling a finger-slipping trout. The fish blood is a smear of red-blown glass, the flesh and bone of its half-snapped remains as glistening and dead as a paperweight. Discarded scales sparkle like thrown silver coins.  One push of pressure bulges the ice.

He quietens now, looks around – nothing but skinny, Siberian pines on the far banks, nothing but clinging snow, and the distant town chimneys, piling out soft trails of white smoke, like muslin unfurling into the sky. Certainly no one around this early morning, near a tumbled down, iron mill.

The sun is still a golden spear, its halleluiah glittering on the icy black beneath him, heaven’s door still thrown wide while angels sing the dawn in.

There is no better time.

This primitive place is in need of excavation.

In his pack, is the simplest and most elegant of man’s tools: the first tool – a stone, fist sized, heart shaped, sharp pointed. He scrabbles it out, stripy woollen mitts finding it hard to grip. No stone here free of the ice that binds it. He brought his own.

Doesn’t put it down, not yet; he’s somewhat awed by that perfect mirror opening down. If it is to be a blow, let it be intended, not dropped as a peck of a fish, or a dull thump of a log-end.

Kneeling now, a hand waved where the white flows have drifted. He can see her face, entombed. For a moment there is a disconcerting symmetry. These are green fingers reaching up to him through the slowing moment, knuckles breaking, nails scything, her head throwing back in the fading snarl of dawning awareness. This is her hair billowing out, grey and web-like, flowing up and around her, enslaved by her twisting motion, and these are her shoulders, blades, and bone, dappled with translucent flesh; bubbles, creeping like silver pearls; tongue slick within thin lips, corpse blue, while a mouth full of carved, yellow pencils, snarls a secret wish.

Deep within the ice, she’s caught above blackness, half in the day, half out; caught in the weir as the temperatures faded, leaving her high and held.

And one thing more: her gut is bulging with Alena, Nataliya, Dobrashin, and Nikolai. Others.

Ilia gave a dismissive sniff, raising both his hands.

Don’t you dare, says that wicked eye, pressed into its cup of ice. Pressing, pressing. Don’t you dare, or I’ll pluck out your still steaming heart. I am the ice-water in your veins!

But the only heart he’ll give is the stone heart, and he brings it down on the ice with a resounding crack. The jolt fractures through the wool of his hands, and in return, the ice shows one white crater the size of a silvery, rouble.

This is the beginning. Let her be exhumed. Let her see what they made here, before, when the wheels ground round and the fiery charcoal leapt. His collection of wicked knives awaits, handles wrapped in blessed linen stolen from the church confessional.

August 20, 2011   15 Comments

The Old Woman Who Eats Kids

Old Woman Story Image


started a myth today. I told my friend Elwood about the old house you can find if you walk up the hill and out of our town and keep walking for a few miles, where, on the right-hand side, along a line of trees, you’ll see an old house next to an overgrown orchard. If you walk there, you find a lake amongst the trees, with a sluice that is nothing but corroded machinery, and the house itself which has empty windows, and doors, and is full of tumbled plaster; and the orchard, where damsons grow, yellow and sweet, if you care to harvest them as summer turns to autumn.

I drew the house – it was similar to one I discovered next to my own home village – and I gave Elwood the picture.

He asked, “Who is the old woman in the window?”

I pretended to be surprised, and said, “Eh? What woman?”

Of course, he pointed, and we both looked together – both, it would seem to him, for the first time.

There is a definite old woman in the far window. She is a blue smear, but she is there.

Elwood is thrilled by this ghost in the picture, and shivers. “That’s amazing! That old woman just appeared in your picture! We should give it to a museum or call Ghost Busters or something.”

I downplay this, a little, saying that there is a curse attached to the old place, and maybe that applies to the picture. “You aren’t supposed to go there, and you’re not supposed to take photographs.”

“But your picture is drawn in crayons,” points out Elwood.

“Yes, but, the old woman is there, isn’t she – in the picture.”

This circular logic is self evident and Elwood agrees to keep the mysterious apparition quiet; just between us. We don’t want to annoy the old lady; make her curse us. That would be really, really bad, we decide.

The next day, Laura asks me about the picture. Her best friend, Clara, was talking to Rachel, who got it from Neil, that Elwood said I had a haunted picture.

I sigh dramatically, and say I cannot show her the picture on account of the curse.

“Curse?” she says, eyes wide, nervously – but excitedly – turning the ball in her hands.

I tell her what I say Elwood told me. “At first, I didn’t believe it either.”

“Oh,” she says, looking around nervously, head bobbing, as if the old lady will come to school right there and then and take her away.

I am intrigued by this idea, so I tell her this happened at another school with a similar picture of the house: that a kid who looked at it – just like her – got kidnapped by the old lady.

Laura is too scared now to look at the picture. Faced with my theatrical fumbling at my satchel to find it, she screams and runs away.

She comes back five minutes later.

“Who drew it?” she asks, her head touching mine, as she examines the picture I have reluctantly produced – having had it ready all morning, waiting impatiently for someone to ask.

“I don’t know. Some boy I think; from another school.”

“The one who disappeared? The one who got taken by the old woman?”

“Maybe. That’s probably right.” I shake my head and bite my lip. “It would make sense.”

There is a picture, which, if you look at it, an old woman will come and take you away. The fruit in her garden is children’s heads – those are in the picture too.

My yellow damsons look a little like heads, I guess. Because that is what Laura tells Clara.

Some bigger boys come to ask me about the picture in the afternoon break, saying they think I made it all up; that stupid, magic pictures with ghosts in them don’t really exist. But they are furtive and keen to look.

I realize these older boys won’t believe the story if they see the picture. It is not powerful enough.

I tell them that the picture has vanished. I mean that I lost it. This is greeted with derision. One of them wants to search my bag, another to punch my face in, so I offer to tell them the story instead; of the old woman, as it was told to me by another boy. Not me.

This is met with immediate interest. I tell them they can’t tell anyone. They have to promise. They solemnly swear this, crossing hearts and hoping to die.

There is a woman who lives in an old house, on the outside of town, who has a garden of children’s heads and whenever one is ripe, she plucks it and eats it. And that same day, a boy or girl will be taken from school – kidnapped – but not one of the younger kids; one of the older ones, if they are naughty or punch faces.

“Kids just like you have already vanished,” I say. “Nobody knows where. She’s a cannibal…”

A boy one year down from me left to go to another school, but some kids think it was the old woman.

There is no picture now; she doesn’t need a picture.

Five kids came up to me today and said, they heard this story which is totally true about this old woman who comes to schools and takes children away and has a garden with kid’s heads in it, and she eats them! “We even found her house!”

When a new girl – Trinny – starts the same afternoon, she confirms this, saying that it totally happened at her old school, and two kids have already gone missing. “All they found were wet footprints – from the lake.”

December 3, 2010   20 Comments