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Short story

The Fading Corner

Author: Alberto Furlan

Illustration: Christopher Harrisson

Jamie and I, we ruled that corner when we were kids. Sure, the adults let us believe it, but we thought we were kings of the entire neighbourhood, selling sweets from the warehouse at a discount. We could see folks come up all the way from the bottom of the hill, and we’d be there with a glass of water, free of course, and some candy – that was 25 cents. Weren’t many that said no.

One day, we was doing the count of the candy that was left, and I thought I got it wrong. Did we sell old man Milligan three or four sweets? What about Miss Charles?

Jamie spoke up: “Buck, I’m pretty sure we sold Milligan two pieces of candy.”

“You sure?”

At that moment Milligan came ambling ’round the corner, on the long way down the hill to his fishing boat. “I bought four sweets son, and don’t let that son of a preacher tell you otherwise.” He walked on down. He was always making crazy comments like that to anyone who’d listen.

The count didn’t add up. Who had sold the candy to Milligan? It’d been Jamie.

“You cheating me out of half a dollar, blondie?” I said to my friend, half joking half not. I didn’t want him to think I was taking this too seriously, but not too lightly either.

“You callin’ me a cheater, shortstuff?” Jamie replied. I guess he did take it too seriously. I could tell from the way he moved towards me, hunched up his shoulders an’ clenched his fist.

“I asked you, I didn’t call you nothin’. Where’s the other dollar from Milligan’s sweets then?”

“I ain’t got it.”

“Well then who does?”

“I have half a mind you do, shortstuff” Jamie said, giving me a nudge on the shoulder.

Now, I do not take well to physical intimidation. Maybe it’s ‘cos I’m a little on the short side, I feel I need to make up for it. I shoved him back.

I saw the fist coming, but I didn’t do nothing to stop it. I took it on the cheek and threw one right back, aimed straight and true for the ribs like Pop taught me. I was bleeding, Jamie was weezing and all the money was on the floor. We punched each other a few more times. Some of the adults were laughing, others came to try break us apart. I remember seeing one adult pick up two bills from the floor. I learnt a lot about people that day. Jamie and I, we didn’t speak so much after that. Still don’t.

“Where’d you get that scar?” Julie asked me. Good Lord she was a pretty girl, her blonde curls down to her shoulders like a creek in the sunshine. You could see her smile from across the street for how bright it was.

“Funny you should ask that, it happened right here.” I’d promised her father to get her home by 10pm. We were just coming up to the corner where Jamie and I had our fight.

“You know Jamie Grant?”

“The son of the preacher up in Whitchurch?”

“That’s the one. Him and I used to be buddies, we’d come here and sell candy we’d get for a discount down the warehouse on the dock. Anyway, one day he tried to cheat me out of some money. We’d sold some candy to the old man, Milligan, remember him?”

“I think I remember his smell more than the person!”

“Yeah, that was Milligan alright. Anyway, he bought four sweets from Jamie, showed ’em to me. Jamie told me he bought two and kept half the money. I called him out on it and we got in a bit of a scruff. Haven’t spoken to him much since then.”

I got Julie home right on time, maybe even a little bit early that night. Her Pop seemed to like that

“Hey daddy! What you looking at the pavement for?”

Lil’ Jonas, he was tugging on my sleeve. We were just going down to the sweet store on the harbour, and it’d been a while since I had the time to come down here, what with work and the new baby and all.

“I was just… thinking about things happened here a long while back Jonas” I said, grabbing his hand again. I began the walk downtown, nice sunny day like this, its a good time to share stories with the kids.

“What were you thinking about Pop?”

“You know that Jamie Grant? Guy who mom pointed out on the television?”

“The guy who shouts at the president? In the calitol?”

“It’s the capitol. And yes, that’s the one. D’you believe I once had a fight with that guy on this street corner?”

“No way! What did you fight about? Were you hurt?”

“Naw, I wasn’t hurt. He was a friend, I didn’t want to punch him. But he tried to steal a dollar that belonged to me.”

“Did you fight over a dollar daddy?”

“Well son, back then a dollar used to getcha lot more than it does now. I’ll show you all the candy we could buy at the store with one dollar. But it wasn’t the dollar, it was the principle.”

“The prince-pal?”

“The principle, Jonas. I’ll explain it to you someday.”

I walked down the road soaking the sunshine, happy to be there with my son. No amount of money or success could make me want to be anywhere else. I went back to the garage the next day, as I had for years, my head a little taller.

“You saying you don’t believe me Steve?”

I was talking to my grandkid, his scruffy brown hair framing his sharp eyes.

“I know President Grant is from this town granps. I just can’t quite believe you two used to sell candy here together. Comeon, that’s a big fat lie!”

“Don’t you tell me what’s a lie and what ain’t! I remember what I did, how things were, how much of a scoundrel Grant was back then.”

I was shakin my walking stick at the corner, that fading corner in my mind, where the fight had taken place. I could no longer say I remembered it like it was yesterday.

I couldn’t remember how Grant had stolen the money – did he sell more sweets than he told me? Or did he change the price? Anyway, I knew it was a dollar that he owed me, that was clear. And when I said he stole from me, he punched me right in the face, no warning. So I hit him back.

“I told your grandma that story the night we went out on our first date” I smiled at Steve. His eyes lit up. He loved to hear stories about grandma almost as much as grandma loved him. When our baby Jonas, Steve’s father, died, he found comfort in her arms.

“And I would never lie to her. That’s how it happened, straight and true.”

We walked on, down to the candy store down by the harbour. I could see Steve was getting impatient now, and my eyes… well, they weren’t so dry anymore. The name of the store down the way had changed, but the old sign atop of it was still visible, fading like this corner of my town, like this corner of my memory. “Grant’s Candy store.”

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Short story, Thriller

In The Garden of Krakow ( Part 1 )

Author: Timothy Connolly

Illustration: Mark Smith

‘I hope you can fix it’

That woman wouldn’t give him a moment’s rest. Sweat ran down his fingers. He could taste the
garlic on his breath. Christ, he didn’t want to talk to a beauty when he felt half a beast.

‘I’ll do my best.’

He heard her walk away and he breathed a sigh of relief. It had been near the end of the day when Marcin got the call. His back had ached, and he had been washing the grime off his fingers. The phone had rung. The voice would not take no for an answer. Could it not wait until tomorrow? No? You want me right there right now? You want me to drop my evening just so I can handle that water heater? Sure, why not. What else could a plumber in Krakow have to do on a Friday night.

If it was a man, he would have told them what to do with themselves. But, well, women were a different sort. Even listening to that voice sent a thrill through his synapses. It lit him afire. He hoped she hadn’t heard the rasp in his voice. Truth be told, the only women he knew were his wife and his sisters. He hadn’t been able to think. Had no chance for reason. Sure as hell wasn’t thinking of her as a sister. And all he could smell was that subtle scent of perfumed air. While he still fumbled, this woman struck. She offered him a large amount. So large as to be stupid. He had no choice but to say yes. And he had packed his stuff with a sigh.

Right now, his back ached. His knees trembled. The tiles pulsed red, the bath as white as milk. He couldn’t kneel. It would look savage. Couldn’t touch the bath. What if she wanted to shake hands? His calves ached from the stress. It was difficult to take apart a water heater. Lots of parts that crunched. Gushing water that stank. His callused fingers reeked of grease, but it helped to block out the scent of the woman. He paused. What was that…something had glinted in the depths of the machine. A star in a coal mine. He pulled it out. The cylinder was scratched as if by nails. His eyes ached as the silver clashed with the colour of the walls. He had to get out of here. He could taste the copper in the air, and the salt on his tongue. He put it in his pocket without thinking and packed up his equipment.

If god willing, he would have a drink when he went home. Boil some pierogi, open a can of peas, and throw it all together with some soy sauce and vinegar. First, he had to get the money off the woman, and his mouth dried at the thought. He walked through the hallway. The pain in his calves leached through his body as he stood. The floors were clean. The wardrobes spotless. A child’s box lay in the corner. It was green with a purple petal on its cover. It had been opened. He saw an old coin, a beaten book and a bent spoon. He entered the studio apartment and he noticed a couch. A bed. A table, and little else. The ceiling was in the shape of a square that had been spun on its axis. His feet felt unsteady, rolling with the very movement of this world.

The woman’s back faced him and he licked his lips at her shape. Her shirt left the centre of her back to touch the curve of her buttock. Her hair gushed like ink on her shoulders. She turned. Motes of silver burned in her hair. The outside light turned the whole room red.

‘Have you finished?’

‘Yes’

He felt awkward. Uncomfortable under those cool dark eyes. His eyes were drawn to her lips, her hips and her cleavage glinting in the light. It was as if he were the gardener suddenly called into the tea‐room. Should he sit on the floor to eat with his hands?

‘Nice place you got here. Tidy.’

‘I wouldn’t live here. Someone else did’, she replied.

‘Oh. Good. Well then…who was that?’

She leaned against the windowsill and he kept his eyes on her face, ‘Immigrants from another place. A gas leak killed them. Accidental. The minister told us so.’

I wasn’t saying he hadn’t.

The woman’s disapproval flavoured the air. He could smell his sweat. The blue of his overalls had never looked so faded in this room. Christ, he had been married. He should be able to talk with one woman. He didn’t want to leave a bad impression.

‘You know, I found some strange scratches on the machine. I can check them out for you? I know what I’m talking about. I’ve been doing this for years. And, you know, some of these government folks can be wrong.’

She paused, ‘Really?’

‘Here, why don’t I show you?’

He held it up and it blazed like a bloody sun.

‘That’s strange. Why don’t you leave it here and I can check with the minster?’

‘Don’t bother. I can check myself. I’ve been at this for years. Won’t miss a thing.’

‘Really’, the piercing on her tongue glowed green as she licked her lips, ‘…What did you say your name was?’

‘Marcin’.

‘Well, Marcin. I thank for offering your help.’

She blinked her lashes and he could feel their softness from where he stood.

‘Okay. That’s fine.’

He found himself short of breath. Flushed as if in fever. Blood pounding all around his body as the light flushed her skin.

‘No, it’s not fine. Not many other men would have been as gallant as you. So brave, so strong, so fearless to go against the long arm of the law. Marcin, you are a ripe apple that falls from the sky.’

‘Eh, well, maybe.’

‘A man of few words. I see. I wonder….’

‘You wonder what?’

The shadow of her opening legs ripped wounds in the floor.

‘Whether there is another way to pay you.’

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Short story

Original Features

Author: Josh Woodfin

Illustration: Christopher Harrisson

The two-seater electric car came to a silent stop in a disabled parking space.
‘Fucking lawnmower’ spat Andy Templeton as he uncoiled his long frame from the drivers seat. He hated the tiny car with a passion. If Apple designed a clown car this would be the result, and Andy was stuck with it unless he wanted to ride a bike. Yes, an actual bike.

Those were his options thanks to the geniuses in marketing that’d decided all agents for Stelling & Dauntner should now portray ‘a sustainable and environmentally friendly image that is empathetic towards a forward-thinking millennial and near-post-millennial client base’.  Which loosely translates as ‘we’re targeting the cunts that have so much money they’re happy to pay another 10% on the asking price if the listing has any combination of the words smart, home, green, energy or solar, in it’.

As a junior agent, Andy was limited in his choice of transport, but he’s currently on a winning streak that could change that. A series of big wins over the last 3 months has put him top of the sales leader board and means that he’s in-line for a fat commission and a promotion.

If he gets the gig, he will not only be selling the cities’ premium properties to the people that matter. He will get a new car, and it will not sound like a hair-dryer. It will be a big car with automatic wing-mirrors, heated seats, and a long-arse bonnet for scaring cyclists.

Andy smiled to himself as he pictured his own bright future, but the excitement about his impending step up the ladder was fighting with the gloomy fact that he had one last monumental obstacle to tackle before he could take his seat amongst the gods. He had to sell flat 11A in the Goldacre development.

This small, two-bedroom development features everything a desperate young couple looking to make their way in the big city could need: walls so thin they will know exactly what everyone else in the building is up to at all times, four to five of their very own windows and a balcony that overlooks some of Britain’s most well maintained railway sidings.

And yet, despite these benefits, Andy could not sell this flat. In a city this desperate for a home it should have been easy. And true enough the rest of the properties in the development had sold in a matter of days. But 11A was different.

As Andy approached the development even his completely untrained and disinterested eye noticed the presence of the building. A hulking Victorian structure, it was built as a school and operated as such for many years. But eventually the demographics changed and the school was sold and the building was turned into a retirement home of some reputation. This was a desirable place with gardens and good food and friendly staff at an affordable price. It was a happy place for somewhere that was so closely linked with the end of a life. But the owners had squandered their money and lived beyond their means for far too long, running up debts they could not pay. The home, and the lives of the people who lived there were forfeit as the creditors rolled in and sold the home for development. Goldacre Gardens became Goldacre Apartments, and the shared gardens that smelt of roses in the summer were turned into a resident’s car park.

Andy didn’t care about Goldacre apartments’ past. He only kept all that rubbish in his head to keep the punters busy and distracted during viewings – the less attention paid to some of the properties on his books the better. No, Andy was more concerned with the present, and more specifically his 8am appointment with the, what were they called? The Hillingdons.

Strangely, the lead had come directly to him rather than through the office. He’d got a phone call yesterday from the woman dialling in from a withheld number. Dreadful line, too. She sounded like she was standing on top of a mountain, wind howling around her, voice drifting in an out. Probably just in a mobile deadzone. She said they wanted to see 11A, and more importantly, she said the magic words ‘cash buyer’.

Andy paused at the bottom of the steps and took a gulp of mouthwash from the bottle he kept in his pocket. Game face on, he mounted the front steps and passed between the two stone lions, with their weathered faces, that guarded the front door.

Unlocking the front door, Andy made his way to the foot of the stairs and looked up into the gloom created by a single skylight high up in the hallway. He hit the light switch on the wall to his right and a barely there light started to come from the bulb in the paper lampshade hanging from the ceiling. ‘Fuck,’ said Andy under his breath as he watched the bulb slowly warm-up. ‘Energy saving lightbulbs…’

Andy mounted the stairs two at a time and hit the light switch at the top. The door to 11A was at the end of the corridor at the back of the house, and as he fumbled for the keys in his pocket, he couldn’t help but enjoy the comforting and familiar weight of them in his hand. The house seemed very quiet.

Unlocking the door, Andy caught a gust of air and smelt, what was it? Perfume? Yes, a perfume. But not like the stuff worn by the girls at the club. This was richer, thicker even. And there was something else too, something earthy and autumnal. It smelt like the park. And it was cold too. Some other agent, probably Tom fucking Wharfdale, must have left a window open. Never mind. Andy wasn’t worried. The couple sounded so keen on this place he reckoned he could do the dirty in less than half an hour. He was feeling good about this.

Ten minutes later, there was a knock on the door. This made Andy jump because he was expecting the buzzer on the exterior door to sound, not the actual door to the apartment. Probably one of the residents let them in, thought Andy. Straightening his suit and pulling on a smile, Andy grabbed the door handle and had the chance to feel that the handle was ice cold before it was pulled from his grip and he had to step back as the door slammed open as though a strong wind had caught it.

‘Sorry about that’, said Andy, pulling himself together quickly, ‘I’m just excited to have you here.’ Never let it be said that Andrew Templeton can’t turn on the charm when he needs to. But inside his heart sank a little as he looked at the couple standing at the door.

Their clothes were old. Not old as in ripped, but old as in dated. Andy didn’t know enough about fashion to say when they were from, but he’d definitely seen picture of his nan and granddad wearing similar outfits. In fact, he could remember the event – it was their wedding anniversary and they’d dressed up. So that means these two are not only wearing weird old clothes. They’re wearing weird old smart clothes.

Realising he’d probably been looking for too long, he forced his head up to meet their eyes. Both parties looked normal enough up top, apart from haircuts they’d had to make themselves look ‘of a time’. Knobs. Andy reckoned them to be in their late-twenties or early thirties. They smiled and Andy offered his hand and his name. ‘We know who you are’ the woman replied with a smile, not offering her hand in return.

Andy beckoned the couple in and got ready to run through his spiel, but the woman interrupted him. ‘It looks very different to the last time we were here’ she said as the couple gazed around the living room that the front door opened on to. ‘Sorry, have you looked at the property already?’ asked Andy, a little confused and annoyed (Tom fucking Wharfedale). The woman ignored him and the man turned to Andy and said ‘Do you know the history of this building?’

Here we go, thought Andy, but then again, these hipsters probably only like stuff that’s ‘authentic’ and ‘honest’. ‘Er, yeah, it was a school at first,’ replied Andy, hoping that they didn’t want details. ‘Then they turned it into an old people’s home,’ a nasty smile spread across Andy’s face, ‘but don’t worry, we’ve got rid of the smell of piss.’ The couple only stared at him.

‘Do you know about this flat, specifically?’ asked the man, with what looked like the beginnings of a smirk on his face. Andy did know this, actually. He’d overheard another agent talking about in the pub. At first he’d thought it was just Friday night bullshit, but a couple of other agents confirmed the story on Monday morning.

When the owners of the old people’s home decided to sell up, most of the residents moved on without a fuss. Andy reckons they figured one chair is much the same as the other when you’re 80-years-old. But one couple refused to go. They’d moved in at the same time, and it had been their home for 15 odd years. The owners offered them all sorts of sweeteners, but they refused, the stupid idiots.

Anyway, the owners were all set to get the law involved, but in the end they didn’t have to. The couple were the last residents in the building, and on the night before they were due to be evicted, they went and killed themselves. They were found in bed next to each other wearing their Sunday best, apparently. They’d taken an overdose of insulin. It turns out the old boy was diabetic and he’d been hoarding it for weeks.

Andy didn’t much want to tell this story to his potential buyers so he dodged the question and mumbled something about ancient history. All the while the couple kept their eyes fixed on him and that funny half-smile on their faces. Frankly, it was creeping him out.

‘So,’ he said turning his back on the couple and their unsettling smiles, ‘shall I show you the rest of the apartment?’ ‘Oh there’s no need for that’ said the man as Andy heard the front door click shut, ‘we know this apartment very well already.’

Andy suddenly felt colder than he’d ever been in his life and the blood rushing through his head sounded like deafening radio static. He wanted be anywhere but here, but he still felt his body being turned to face the couple as though by invisible hands.

Andy’s breath caught in his through. The couple’s clothes had changed and decayed as though they’d been buried in damp earth. And there was something else, too. The sickly sweet perfumed smell was back and stronger than ever.

Andy felt his chin lifting up even though the last thing he wanted to do was to look at those faces again. But there they were, no longer those of a happy couple looking forward to beginning the rest of their lives. They were the faces of people who had lived a whole life and then some. They were old, yes, but there was so much more. There was anger behind their smiles, but as the couple turned from Andy and looked into each other’s clouded, sightless eyes, there was love, too.

Then static in Andy’s mind began to fade as the woman turned to Andy and her smile faltered, and then disappeared as she stared into his eyes and whispered through a voice made of dead leaves, ‘this is our home. And we cannot let you take it from us.’

 

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satire, Short story

“NUTS AND BERRIES WON’T SAVE YOU NOW!” Exclaims hostage taker at health food event

Author: The Real Noose ( AKA Ciara Ginty )

Illustration: Chris Hollis

A siege at the bi-annual Healthy Eating and Flatulence Awareness event at London Olympia is approaching its 4th hour, say police.

The incident started this morning after a disgruntled ex Holland and Barrett employee decided to lock all the exits and hold everyone inside using a stapler as a weapon. The perpetrator encouraged three others to join them in threatening health enthusiasts.

“We could easily take them down, they’re using office supplies to cause panic. We just thought it best to not get too involved” explained Chief inspector Hardstool “we’re unsure the motive and we sort of don’t care. Whatever it takes to keep self righteous health fanatics away from society, really”

One of the hostages found a way out and helped 12 others escape, amongst them was 56 year old Paul Simon, who stated “I just think no one has the energy to actually just push one of them over. Plus, it’s impolite to shove”

We will keep you up to date on the crisis as it happens.

have you ever been held hostage or have you ever held people hostage? We’d love to hear from you.

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Short story, writing competition

Nocturnally ( Runner up of The Gauntlet )

Author: Lydia Smith

Illustration: Christopher Harrisson

Marc was a complex soul. To the outside world he was master of zen, he even had the stripy hippy trousers to prove it. But this had not always been the case and no-one ever knows the real story unless they themselves took the lead, and even then they can easily give into concepts of false grandeur or excuses for bad behaviour, but Marc was aware of the truth.

As Marc’s fingers gripped the gentle curls of the finely woven rug beneath him he inhaled, as he exhaled he let everything go, he lost everything that he was, lost his ego, he was faceless.

During deep meditation a person loses their identity and becomes one with the Universal energy, all well and good, but something was missing for Marc. The emptiness in his life was easy to access, it was a vacuum longing to be filled.

Back in the day Marc was a charmer, he could have any woman he wanted, and he did. He thought back to the fine meals he would woo ladies over, pan-fried fish and a full bodied red, and they were like a Rubik’s cube in his hands.

But none of them mattered after the day he met her. Initially he thought he’d seen a shooting star hurtle across the sky, but then she landed at his side. They talked nocturnally under the glittering sky, she told him about the places she’d travelled through and the strange things she’d seen. Marc told her…almost nothing about himself, what could he say, he realised he was ashamed of himself. All his stories were of conquest and the trail of broken hearts that he no longer blazed but which now hounded him. They kissed before she left, he begged her to stay but she told him the time was wrong, she would come back when the clocks were right, she left him with a single rose that she retrieved from behind her oxygen pack, Marc treasured it still.

It was then he embarked on this life changing path, he was a changed man, unrecognisable from his former self, except in Letchworth nobody seemed to be able to let go of Marc’s reputation as easily as he could. People jeered him with stories from his past and offered him invitations for easy sex.

Marc grew his hair long and started wearing a miserable blue fleece made from the most unnatural fibres he could find, the sort that catches on even the softest hands, but even this didn’t seem to dent his reputation as a stud.

The stink of stale fish and morning wine breath haunted his soul until he eventually took a knife to everything that he knew, killed it for good, and moved to Doncaster.

Nobody in Doncaster ever supposed he could handle a blue joke, or for a moment considered him “highly shaggable”, in Doncaster he was Marc, boring, predictable, quinoa munching Marc.

And Marc looked patiently to the stars waiting for the clocks to be right.

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Short story

Merlin is a liar

Author: Emily Weeks

Illustration: Christopher Harrisson

Arthur stood at the pinnacle of Glastonbury Tor, surveying the wetlands which stretched far and wide.

‘Do you ever wonder whether people will remember us?’ he asked.

‘Of course I don’t,’ said the elderly man standing next to him. He leaned heavily on a stick. ‘I know that they will, as surely as I know that these wetlands will never be tamed by man.’

‘How do you know?’ Arthur asked curiously.

‘I know because I am the Merlin,’ the old man replied.

A murmuration of starlings rose up from the reeds. The two men watched them in silence.

‘Suppose I don’t have any sons,’ Arthur remarked, after a while. ‘Will they remember me even then?’

‘Arthur, my boy, in the not too distant future a man called Alfred will be remembered for burning a few cakes,’ the Merlin said patiently. ‘I think you can rest easily. It’s not every day a man pulls a sword from the heart of solid stone,’ he added, with a twinkle in his green eyes.

Arthur laughed.

‘I can’t believe you wrote “ex saxo” instead of “ex saxon”. You knew perfectly well what you were doing.’

‘Where’s the harm in one letter?’ the Merlin shrugged his shoulders. ‘Everything we do now has ripples throughout the rest of time, my boy. Besides, people will believe anything they’re told, especially if it’s written down.’