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Allen Ashley & Chris Fielden, imprisoned in some sort of twin-bodied Photoshop nightmare
This photo has not been altered in any way, especially by Chris, who isn't very good at using Photoshop
Welcome to Allen's Sensory Overload Challenge. Like Allen, it's simple (sorry, couldn't resist...). Like Chris, it's beautiful (and again...). Anyone can submit. All entries are published. Discover how delightful writing purple prose overloaded with sensory description can be.
The rules feel, look, smell, sound and taste simple:
So far, we've received 62 stories. We need 38 more to publish the anthology.
We want stories of up to 175 words, packed full of sensory impressions and descriptions. Specifically: we want to drown in your senses. You may choose to overload on one branch of sensations, but ideally we would expect your flash fiction to include reference to all 5 of the commonly accepted senses:
Sight/Seeing, Sound/Hearing, Touch/Feeling, Smell and Taste.
Or at least have had a go! Assail us with your aromatic, smooth, salty, bell-ringing purple prose. You know you can and you know you want to.
Many 'How To' books will tell you to be precise and careful when using sensory words. We want you to be profuse and bountiful. The more the merrier. Chuck us into the setting and the situation. Overload us with sensory input and information. And tell a bit of a story as well. It's not too much to ask, is it?
The first anthology – Sensorially Challenged Volume 1 – will be released once 100 stories have been received, so probably sometime late in 2017.
Allen and I would like to thank everyone who submits their stories for their support – it's much appreciated :-)
During the course of running the sensory challenge, Allen and I got into a discussion with author Steven Hardy (author of story 051) regarding apostrophe placement in the word 'people's'. Due to our diligence, Steven very kindly made us a certificate for being top editors and word geeks:
Allen and Chris's Top Editor & Word Geek Award Certificate
We're sharing this here in the hope that it inspires more authors to award us with stuff.
Proceeds from sales of the sensory writing challenge anthologies will be donated to the National Literacy Trust.
This charity is committed to helping raise literacy levels in the UK. The writing challenges run on this website do the same thing, in a roundabout kind of way, so this seemed like an appropriate charity for us to support.
Having seen the photo at the top of the page, this will be immensely hard to believe... Allen and I have not yet shared photographic space together. I know, I know... please try and contain your shock.
We did meet, at a Bristol Festival of Literature event last year, but I forgot to get photographic proof because we were too busy chatting about writing, comparing notes on running short story competitions (Allen judges the British Fantasy Society competition and I run To Hull & Back) and stuff like that.
While we were chatting, we decided that running a writing challenge together seemed like a good idea.
Allen has been a great supporter of the writing challenges run on this site. Not only has he submitted his own stories, he's shared the challenges with the various writing groups he runs/belongs to and has generated lots of submissions from many authors. So, it's great to be able to work with him on this challenge.
Each time a story is received it'll be published below. When 100 stories have been received, they will be published as a collection. The book will be made available in print, Kindle eBook and PDF formats.
Proceeds from sales will go to the National Literacy Trust.
If we don't receive 100 submissions, it's a bit of fun, you can read all the stories here on the site and you now know the National Literacy Trust exists and that they do fabulous work.
As with all the writing challenges on this site, it's impossible to lose. Everyone wins.
Below are all the sensorially saturated stories that have been submitted to date, drenched in purple prose. See the words. Hear the joy. Taste the magic. Smell the stories. Touch your toes.
The stories are published in the order they were received.
by Allen Ashley
This was to be a watery experience like no other and Sasha could hardly sleep for impending excitement. Her shower gel had been hand-pressed and packed by above minimum wage earning denizens of the legendary Floral Isles; purchased with two clicks on the internet; depleting her bank balance substantially, but who cared? Because she was worth it.
She squeezed out a medium-sized globule, relishing its soft stickiness on her palm. In some lights it looked red, but as it lathered up the colour was somewhere between rose and tangerine. Hmm, inhale that heavenly aroma of mangoes, guava, hibiscus flower. A flick of the tongue and even its taste was appealing: fruity, not at all artificial.
One sense missing. She clicked her phone to speaker, showered successfully to the pumping beat of Beyoncé's 'Crazy In Love'.
Only the need to dry, dress and head off to work would ever break this paradisial sensory spell.
To hell with work. Let's pamper… while her daily water ration lasted.
Mrs Stone's ENT Appointment
by Christopher Fielden
The room stinks of disinfectant. You'd think with the amount of tax my Harold paid over the years they'd be able to afford something more fragrant.
The walls look like a paint factory has vomited on them. Modern art, they call it... Makes me feel queasy.
I look up and see my name in large red letters. Now everyone in the waiting room knows who I am. There's no privacy nowadays.
I lick my lips and taste denture adhesive. It’s too minty. How am I supposed to enjoy a cuppa when it feels like I’ve been force-fed a Polo production plant?
I touch the door handle. It's filthy. With £350,000,000 a week back in the NHS, you'd think they could afford to pay a few cleaners.
The doctor's sitting behind his desk. His mouth's moving.
"What?" I say.
He says something else. Why do young people mumble?
"You'll have to speak up, dear."
He stands and puts something in my ear.
"How’s that, Mrs Stone?" he bellows.
"There's no need to shout, dear. I'm not deaf."
by Louise Burgess
Step one of the diet, throw all junk food in the bin.
However holding the soft, half-eaten chocolate cake in my chubby pink hands made my mouth water like a blood hound. Why was the smell of dark chocolate so tempting?
I must resist, although it had cost me £30 at the bakers to buy and I couldn't afford to just toss that money away now, could I?
So sitting down on the cold wooden kitchen chair I indulge in a small bite, the instant the moist cake melts in my mouth with the white frosting covering my lips I feel pure happiness. Something this heavenly in 3 layers of chocolate with a white frosted top could not be that bad for you. So I take another bite of the Calorific forbidden treat.
The door swings open making me jump out my chair like a guilty two year old, with chocolate covering my mouth and fingers.
by Sue Powis
Small stones whisper and shift uneasily beneath half-hearted waves as the unrehearsed choir of seabirds begin to sing in cacophonous dissonance. The wraithlike haar wanders as aimlessly as a contented beachcomber at the edge of the gunmetal sea until a sudden salt-laden zephyr pushes her up the shingle bank. She seeks sanctuary at a beach hut where she clings to the eaves with ephemeral hands. Droplets of moisture weave lacy patterns on their downward glide, stopping momentarily to hang like pearls on a lace-maker's bobbin, the ensuing pattering on the decking adding a syncopated rhythm to the music of the morning.
As the sun's exhalations breathe a hole in the hazy shroud, the haar melts away and the discordant choir falls silent. Landmarks loom out of the milky miasma as the mist rolls away to reveal the blue-on-blue line that demarcates Cambridge sky from Oxford water. As the new day takes its first breath, there follows a satisfying silence broken only by mellifluous birdsong from fragrant hedgerows and sibilant stones shifting with the salty tide.
Developing A Strong Stomach
by Glynis Ann Downey
I remember those nauseating smells. When I first started nursing, they were hard to deal with. Now, it’s easier.
I recall having to learn how to handle it and clear up, no matter how unpleasant the task.
Sometimes, the smell never left me. It seemed to stick to parts of my body, until I got out into the fresh pine wood surrounding the hospital. Trees never smelled so good.
I felt for the patients. It’s how I learned to cope. Sometimes, I could see they were embarrassed. They avoided my eye. Touched my hand. Apologised. I reassured them. It was fine. I’d clean them with a smile on my face. It was worse for them.
Considering how a patient must feel was a good lesson. My life in the hospital never seemed as bad after that.
by Maggie Elliott
She could almost taste the crisp, melt in the mouth cookies as her eyes scanned the ingredients in the recipe.
Tapping the sieve with the flat of her hand to refine the flour, she felt the dust cloud covering her face. A couple of coughs cleared her throat as the butter plopped into the bowl before the whirring of the mixer beat it into a smooth concoction that smelled of dairy.
The icing sugar produced a silky-smooth texture, but sniffing the vanilla essence before adding caused her eyes to water and her head to recoil.
She felt a blast of heat as she opened the door to slide the mixture into the oven. They smelled delicious.
Once assembled, the sweetness of the biscuit, together with the buttercream and jam filling, almost sent her body into sugar overload.
All she had to decide now was how to consume these delicious Viennese Whirls with the tea she had just poured – dunk and bite or nibble and slurp. Separating them afforded her twice the joy.
by Dora Bona
He stares with bitterness at his reflection in the silver teapot. Strings of yellowing hair, sparse and greasy cling to his jaundiced skull. He is withering like the late spring daffodils.
A bowl of food sits untouched on the table. He knows without tasting a morsel that the brackish slop, intended to nourish him will only attack his resolve like fast acting poison. One hand rests on the cracked surface of the ancient bible, yet he still feels its leathery newness. He is decaying like a rotten thing.
Fulvid walls, once white and alive now yawn with tired apathy. His fingers shake as they straddle a smouldering cigarette. He has barely the energy to bring it to his lips. If you lie down you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Tendrils of smoke enter his nostrils – hungry maggots scrambling towards his lungs.
Stacattoed words pierce the silence like ricocheting bullets.
"Dad, for Chrissakes. What have I told you about smoking in the house?"
Hot Dogs and Candyfloss
by Alan Barker
The wind whistled as I crunched across the shingle beach, ozone from the flapping seaweed taking my breath away. I looked up at the empty funfair.
I remembered Easter last year. The blasting sound of pop music drumming in my ears, the oily smell and dull thumps of the bumper cars accompanied by the screams and laughter of their drivers.
I started off the day enticed by the juicy taste of hotdogs covered in fried onions, allowing the hot mustard to dribble down my chin.
Then there was the water chute, where I gripped the car rail tightly as it plunged into the depths and the loud splash of cold water which drenched me to the skin so that my T-shirt and shorts clung to me, but soon I dried in the hot afternoon sun.
The crack, crack of the rifle range encouraged me to have a go. I won a soft, fluffy, toy rabbit.
I left grasping my prize whilst enjoying a small cloud of sweet, sticky candyfloss.
The Mystery Of The Ubiquitous, Solitary Shoe
by Helen Combe
The crunching, gravelly birdsong filled walk smelled of pungent leaf mould and insidious mud. Turning my chilly face to the comforting, warming sun, I beheld a shoe swinging by its laces from a telegraph wire. I turned to my boyfriend, smelling the sultry musk of aftershave and the piquant, lemony zing of hair gel mixed with the earthy reek of his creaking wax jacket.
"What is the mystery of these ubiquitous, solitary shoes?" I asked as my foot suddenly slipped and, aghast and disbelieving, I toppled sideways into the freezing canal. The icy fluid slapped my face, bubbled and roared in my ears, stung my nose and froze my mouth with bitter, swampy silt. The world was engulfed in benumbing darkness as I sank.
A strangling, tightening round my throat was followed with upward rushing as my boyfriend hauled me gasping to the surface and flapping onto the towpath.
My left foot felt wrong, light and loose yet numbingly cold.
I found that I was at one with the mystery of the ubiquitous solitary shoe.
by Dee Tilsley
The acrid smoke filled Shona's nostrils, cloying, choking. Why didn't I open the window? she thought frantically. Why did I choose tonight to burn it? Oh to feel the soft breeze on her face, to breathe deep the sweet smell of the air, heavy with honeysuckle on the other side of this dirty, distorted glass. To be running through the meadow of sweet, fresh mown grass that she knew lay just out of reach.
Too late. Too late to stop the bright, sudden glare that had lit her scared but determined face in the mirror. Far, far too late to replace the rough, scratchy, sulphurous box of matches back into the old wooden drawer. Too late for any chance of redemption, of reprieve.
She heard the wood of the stairs creak, felt the tremor in the floorboards as the heat warmed her hands and the smoke brought tears to her eyes. Too late.
It was so unfair. She shuddered with fear as she heard the eldritch screech...
"Shona, are you smoking in there again?"
by Eddie Regory
Rocheet squirmed out from under me and jumped into a Bruce Lee stance, brushing his thumb over his nose. He brought his head down and charged at me like a raging bull, knocking me backward into the ground.
"Ah, you bit my arm," I yelled. I leveraged my hands under his chest and, with all my might, pushed him over, jamming my fingers into his eyes.
He begged me to stop, but I wouldn't. Then he got loose again. I tackled him to the ground and pounded his face. As Rocheet lay there protecting himself, an evil grin formed from his face.
Rocheet pleaded, "I quit."
I jumped off, hoping it was over.
"I lied," Rocheet exclaimed.
I shouted, "Don't you ever give up?" Anger bubbled up from my stomach. A teacher rushed over and shouted, "Stop it," forcing her skinny arms between us as the blood from my arm trickled over her hands. The teacher snatched me by my arm and pulled me aside.
A Different Vacation
by Sivan Pillai
I didn't know what startled me out of my slumber – the cacophony of birds, the barking of dogs, the mooing of cows, shafts of sunlight filtered through the foliage of giant trees entering through the windows or the aroma of food wafting in from the kitchen.
Soon after sundown, a pall of darkness had engulfed the area but after a while faint, twinkling stars had become visible through gaps in the quick-moving clouds in the sky, followed by an infant moon.
While I lay tossing in bed, jackals had seemed to howl from just outside the windows.
When I returned from a tingling bath in the icy, fast-flowing stream, the dining table was laden with steaming food. The spicy dishes made my eyes water, but the sweet and sour fruits brought some solace.
Father, worried that the internet was taking too much of my time, had asked me to spend the vacation with my grandparents in a village that had no internet, cell-phone, television or uninterrupted electric supply.
Thank you, Dad.
by Norman Longworth
I clamber reluctantly from my bed, mind still cluttered with sleep, and peer through the French windows. It's still there – that brainless magnificent mountain presiding spectacularly over its fiefdom in the valley below. 9,000 feet of snow-capped rock standing guard over my land, my house, me. "Good morning your majesty," I say.
I open the window – oh dear, not sunshine again. It's March. Winter for goodness sake.
The sounds and smells of a French rural landscape attack my fogbound senses. Tractors passing, nightingales ending their night-long symphony – they must be completely exhausted. Kept me delightfully awake last night.
Peaches, pears, cherries, in full-painted blossom. I can almost taste the pesticides they pour over the poor buds. Shouldn't be allowed.
I stagger downstairs. Breakfast time. Not that stupid muesli again. Tastes like sand and gravel. But the croissants are pure musk.
From the balcony I see Eus, my village perché, houses cascading down the hillside in a crazy Dali-esque waterfall.
And this is Paradise? Humbug.
Might change my mind when I wake up.
A Sensate Experience
by Lesley Anne Truchet
The sight of it activated my salivary glands. My heartbeat accelerated. This was my first time.
I listened to the words of guidance.
I closed my eyes and breathed in the moist pungent aroma.
With my fingertips I lightly caressed its cool velvety length.
I closed my eyes and allowed my tongue to glide languidly over the smooth surface, finally taking the end into my warm mouth, savouring the thick creamy substance.
Today I'm a famous movie star, but I've never forgotten my first ever moment in front of a camera, making a TV commercial for a chocolate iced lolly.
by Marilyn Thompson
Wind buffets my body , threatening to hurl me from the ribbon of tramped earth stretched along the top of the dyke. Clouds weigh on shuttered beach houses, pressing them into a landscape greyed by winter. Rain slants down. Stings my face. Inveigles its way through the gap between waterproofs and walking shoes. I lean into the rising storm. Cold drills through layers of clothes to chill my bones. Rain turns to sleet. I can taste the bitterness of it on my tongue. Waves leap the breakers, roar their fury along the Sea Wall and recoil into the Wash as if afraid of the land.
I pause momentarily, tempted by a huddle of trees below, then keep on walking. In this weather movement is life. To stop is to stop forever.
Concentrate. Place one foot in front of the other. Feel the ground beneath my feet. Heel, toe. Try not to stumble and fall in the fading light. I am old but if I can do this, then I ain't dead yet.
The Ballad of the Masquerade Ball
by Betty Hattersley
King Henry the eighth of England,
Loved to frolic and also demand,
He created the Masque for people of court,
To cover one's face and disguise, was his thought.
Hidden behind their costumes,
As the harpsichords sound filled the room,
Musicians would play for jesters to dance,
At the Mediaeval Masque they'd go in a trance.
Beautiful gowns of velvet and gold,
King Henry had eyes for ladies so bold.
Gents in silk britches, with wigs piled up high,
Mead flowing in goblets, no person was shy.
An evening of music, laughter and fun,
Their identity hidden till evening was done.
A pig roast prepared for folks to enjoy,
Quail eggs with chicken and venison pie.
Passions aroused at the Masquerade ball,
Henry would choose his maids from them all.
Whilst watching and choosing from his throne where he sat,
Through too much indulgence, the king became fat.
by Danielle Dayney
With gentle force, she pulled the tattered sheet off the ornate dresser. A cloud of dust plumed into the air, swirling around the wooden beauty. It was full of curves: soft to look at, but hard to the touch as she traced her fingers across each hand-carved detail.
She imagined her grandmother's perfumes that once were displayed upon it: potent and flowery. Its finish had been worn from being opened and closed, battered and bumped, over the years. It was her plan to give it new life.
She opened the smooth plastic container of chalk paint, and a new, clean smell filled the space. Gentle brush strokes covered each camber and cranny with paint. Once dried, she used the coarse edge of her sanding block and found her rhythm. Sweat dripped down her forehead and onto her temples as she distressed and sanded each edge to perfection.
Once she was done buffing and shining the sticky wax, she stopped to stand and marvel that something old was new again.
Panic (Attack) at the Disco
by Paige Vest
The murmur of concertgoers grows louder as roadies perform sound checks. Fans rush toward the stage and I realise that we've been separated. My eyes search but I don't see you.
Strangers jostle me, stepping on my toes while seeking better positions. I feel my heart pounding. I'm anxious without you beside me.
I cross my arms and dig my fingernails into my flesh hard enough to bruise. Pain grounds me and I seek escape from the suffocating mob.
The lights go down and the crowd roars, pressing forward, dragging me along. I'm sightless in the dark and smells assault me as I struggle to escape the gridlock: perfume, beer, sweat... the cloying aroma of marijuana smoke.
Sudden spotlights blind me as the band takes the stage. Gigantic speakers assault with sound which pounds my eardrums and thumps against my chest.
The shouts of delirious fans drown out my sobbing. Fists pump the air and an elbow hits my tear-streaked face. I taste blood and nausea rises.
I can't find you anywhere.
Panic consumes me.
by Melony Boseley
Rose sat on the back patio and ignored the harsh tones reverberating from inside.
Auburn foliage cascaded onto the verdant landscape. The wind carried the smells of grilled meats with it. Joy and splashes echoed in the air.
The warmth of summer had not yet passed, but the chill of autumn had not begun.
Her tiny feet dangled from the stained deck. In her voice there was a melody of her own making marking tempo with each swing of the leg.
It was the perfect moment.
One that she would later come to realise marked the end of her childhood.
by Sandra Orellana
Joy came out through her bedroom window: a farewell to her room. Her neighbour saw her but at that moment they both vanished.
The bedroom stayed; a space with items. A mirror reflecting comfort for a static noise TV. A lonely bed, scattered with written papers left behind for anyone to read, to be used and feel what used to be felt. The room's colours gave it joy for other items to encompass the energy and spirit. Smells of roses beside her bedside table. The cup of coffee and left over chocolate bars made a worthy scent for the lonely room. A bible opened on Proverbs 24:4: "By knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches." Walls: no-one can hear the sound of a dog scratching the door to be open .The light from an open window shining through, bringing the outdoor breeze. Papers were like heartbroken souls left behind. The room frozen as if waiting for the creator of heaven and earth to put this time back to life.
Two Little Lines
by Donna-Louise Bishop
She flinched as the roll-up, which had stuck to her lip, ripped off a peeling of red-stained skin. Its shade was Sunset Lust. At least that's what the shop assistant had told her earlier that day. Now she thought it looked cheap. Less lust, more lame.
Vibrations from the conversations and trance music blaring out in her flat wiggled their way outside and onto the balcony where she stood alone, shivering in her strapless dress. It was mild for New Year's Eve but it didn't mean it wasn't cold.
In one fluid motion she gulped the last of her wine and took one final drag of her cigarette, letting it sting the now raw patch of skin. Wedging it between her thumb and middle finger, she flicked the butt into the darkness below.
She hadn't planned to do the test until tomorrow morning. Ignorance is bliss, she thought. But now those two pink lines had changed everything. And despite the fear she felt, she knew next year would be the start of something wonderful.
No Brain-Pickers For Her
by Glen Donaldson
The late afternoon sky oozes through the mullioned bay windows in an optimistic, lady-like shade of grey. Inside, Beryl listens to the pop of unseasoned firewood as it makes the final shift and crumbles into embers. Without warning, a foul odour drifts from the kitchen. Next moment, her date – the exotically named Avocado – pushes his way through a shuttered swinging door holding waiter-style a silver tray brimming with food.
Beryl licks her fleshy lips and grabs a handful of oily hors d'oeuvres.
"Can I pick your brain?" asks Avocado, sitting down opposite her in a mahogany chair with cherubs chiselled into the sides.
In apt response, Beryl belches operatically, then collects her oatmeal coloured overcoat and leaves. She'd always loathed the expression 'Can I pick your brain?' and for a dedicated wordophile like her, it was a dealbraker.
No brain-pickers for me, was the affirmation that looped through her phrase-coiffered head as she strode onto the avenue. Determination drove her on. Determination to find the right words and the one who could speak them.
The First Note
by Nicole Loh
The lights were blinding. It hurt her eyes as she stood on the polished wooden floor of the stage. She couldn't see the faces of her audience and her shoulders relaxed. Her fingers were not quivering and shaking, and her heart stopped thumping, just enough for her to hear the little murmurs coming from behind her.
She filled her lungs with air that tasted of air conditioning and loosened her grip around the violin's neck. She turned her head. A blur of browns, silvers and blacks. The violins, cellos, trumpets and flutes. They dressed in a sea of black and white. Her red, flowing gown that fluttered like a butterfly stood out, much like a sore thumb. The attention made her shoulders tenser, but still she nodded, ignoring the growing lump in her throat. They took their positions and awaited her cue. They were ready for her to take the audience on a musical journey.
She raised her violin and played the first note. It rang through the halls and resonated in their hearts.
by Michelle Konov
In the end, I was nothing more than a scapegoat, he thought as he glanced around, taking in the bright red lights flashing spastically throughout the building. The deep, ashy scent of flames wafted up from the ground floor and he wondered, not for the first time, if they had really thought they could kill him so easily.
Creeping slowly forward toward the window, he kept out of sight as much as possible. The smooth grains of the windowsill under his hands were a clear juxtaposition to the ragged flames rising behind him.
Shrill sirens pierced through the air, firefighters and policemen already arriving on scene, eyeing the ruin of a building as if displeased.
He moved to the rear of the building. Thankfully, it was empty of both cars and people. As he tumbled through the third floor window and made a particularly fine landing on a lamppost nearby, he gave a thought to revenge.
They always said it was a dish served cold, but he liked it red hot. And preferably on fire.
by Brandon Brown
The boat had docked.
The first thing I could feel was the cool breeze drifting through the winds, impacting my face.
The sound of loud cries from the flocking seagulls above welcomed us. The ramp was secured with a loud clink. With that, people rushed over to secure their place in the queue that was forming.
I was first. I'd been waiting for what felt like forever. It was my right. I'm sure others felt this way, but I was me, not them. I picked up my bags. They were heavy, but I managed to get a porter to help me. He struggled, but tried not to show it.
I landed on my bed. It was pristine and fresh, the bedsheet clearly washed and prepared that morning. All I could think of was how the next two weeks could turn out. I looked out over my balcony and my senses heighted. The view and aroma of the food from below me was incredible.
by Jack Caldwell-Nichols
I felt as though I could taste the aroma, such was the attack on my senses. It was almost offensive. No, it was offensive. My eyes were watering. Offensive. Or maybe it was the pain in my stomach causing the tears. What was that? I started worrying desperately about arranging an appointment with good old Doctor Green. Perhaps she could check my olfactory nerve?
Finally, my mother left. Goodness gracious – her new perfume from her new boyfriend, the one with the new flashy red car. Mum jumped in and didn't even bother to wave goodbye. The sight of the flashy red number speeding off into impending retirement was...was it a hernia? It could be a hernia. I remembered hearing a man complaining of having a hernia, describing the experience as a 'darn nuisance'.
What a beautiful day. The sun shone with dizzying brightness. A bird graciously flew over me, and I looked on in awe. Then I looked at my shoulder and saw bird poo.
It was time to buy a nice new car.
A Pair Of Egrets
by Ellie Bignall
A knifing peppermint wind struck the fields with an explosion of invisible silver; air trickled between every sugared leaf and skated on iced whorls of a petrified brook. The feeble butter sun shivered between iron clouds in a pale mirror sky. Ghosts of a thickly spicy autumn hung silently in the air, suspended like jubilant icicles in mockery of thudding fallen apples and skeleton leaves; a sparkling tapestry of movement and stillness in muted silks and silver thread.
The photographer's luck seemed finally to be turning; the pair of egrets he'd been waiting so long for had decided to nest early, and the burning iciness of the morning had dissuaded hikers from bruising the fields with their greasy chocolate boots.
He'd been tracking for perhaps two hours when he stumbled over a frosted wicker basket thrown carelessly on the earth, dislodged by his churlish shoe. The delicate air was split by a cry. The photographer spun. Far from the mournful sob of a bird, this was the stone grey wail of a baby.
Senses of Love
by Hema Nataraju
I saw him for the first time after the football game the other day. Adrenaline pumped voices boomed in the showers, but they melted into the billowing steam the moment my eyes rested on his face.
A calm overcame me, a serenity that kneeling before God in a little temple on the hills brings. His eyes were pools of cool water to a thirsty traveler walking through the desert. His sweaty, tanned skin probably tasted like sea-salt chocolate truffles. On cold Netflix-and-chill nights, his muscular, hairy arms must feel like a blanket of warm angora.
Every pore of my body wanted to be close to him.
A scrunched towel hit my head from the back, snapping me out of my reverie. "What's the matter, Danny boy? You gay for the new guy?" The pack of cackling hyenas walked away.
I wish they had waited for my answer. Love looks angelic, smells and tastes like Grandma's baking, sounds like violins and fireworks and always feels like coming home.
Why then, is mine any different from theirs?
Under A Velvet Sky Frosted With Sparkling Stars
by Margaret Edwards
The deck rail was blissfully cool and shiny against her cheek. The mellow Merlot coated her throat with inky, plummy liquorice.
Romantic setting, huh? Sadly no; this was the Caen – Portsmouth ferry and her annual booze run. She slurped again.
Footsteps; squeaky shoes approaching, accompanied by a bitter stench of sweat and... something ripely pungent?
Oh hell, she thought. That creep in the French supermarket who'd cornered her by the deli counter and asked her what 'Camembert' was in French.
"Fancy meeting you again." His voice was oily, sneering. "I've got the cheese," (so that was the smell), "and you've got the wine – could be some party." His wet mouth suddenly came slobbering down like a cabbage-fuelled slug. Instinctively she sprang onto the rail and jumped.
Above her, the delighted shrieks of gulls, purposeful shouts from the crew diving in and one baffled whinnying face.
Pressed, caressed by the waves; so tenderly slapped and wrapped, rolled, folded round as in silky foil, beribboned with seaweed like a miraculous present. "But not for you, creep." She smiled.
A Tall Tale
by Mike Scott Thomson
...last night I drank one bottle of syrupy saccharine luminous turquoise alcopop and now I have a million clanging chiming bonging bells peeling between my ears so I stagger to the kiosk and croak through my scratchy gravelly vermillion-hued oesophagus, "Tall Americano," and the barista asks, "Medium, large?" and I think good, none of those stupid sizes here so I say, "Medium," and she pours me a coffee then another and hands both over then says, "Two Americano, five pounds," and I think, "Drat," but I'm too British to return one so I pay and carry them one in each hand onto the train and think, well, waste not want not, so I take a sniff and they're peaty earthy caramelly chestnutty and I take a sip and oof they're gloopy treacly grand-piano-lands-on-head STRONG but I finish them both and now I can't stop yammering and my heart's going boompety-boom like a billion piece timpani orchestra and people are edging away and...
Thank goodness I didn't ask for Venti.
Fly Tipping At The Late Night Fried Chicken Outlet
by Martin Strike
The blue light and lazy hum of the Zappo electric fly killer on the wall may be irresistible to you, bluebottle, but death with a spark isn't all it's cracked up to be. Beats flypaper, mind. Everyone hates bright yellow – it's tacky. And sticky. Land there and you'd have time to write your obituary before your drawn-out death – if only your hands weren't glued by the glue you'd flown into. Stuck fast, you could watch your ungunked compatriots poised on lumps of pink, raw meat, only lifting to air should cigarette ash flick from the man slicing burger buns on the same counter.
What is the last thing that goes through your mind before you hit a windscreen, or you're bound in web and feeling the vibrations of the spider coming down-thread? Maybe you'd recall your wriggling maggoty childhood, or happy times spent rubbing your hands, feet soothed on a soft, aromatic turd?
Buzz off now, bluebottle. Fly to choose the death you favour, letting me sit, quite drunk, my meal to savour.
by Michael Rumsey
He stopped opposite Albany Park. A touch on his car horn may have caught attention and elicited a merry wave, but it was currently subdued. Nevertheless, here was a blast from the past.
Tent canvas fluttered gently, guy ropes sat steadfastly taut. A sight for sore eyes, especially if you stood directly in the path of drifting smoke. It wafted lazily towards him to deliver the mouth watering aroma of frying. A reassuring crackle of spark-filled dry twigs, the spit and sizzle of big thick skin splitting sausages. Billy cans and tin mugs clicked distantly, patiently waiting for the lip smacking promise of palatable delights. Sunlight bounced off a gurgling stream where uniformed figures scooped and splashed.
Elated, he surveyed the scene and recalled, as a boy, carefully packing his kit bag for camping weekends. Items ticked off, ready for any eventuality, in line with the Boy Scout motto.
How appropriate he should encounter this exciting atmospheric pageant today, when he was en route to Powell's garage to get his beep repaired.
First Impressions Of Africa
by Jennifer Chislett
Nairobi burst upon me in a riot of colour and sound. Bougainvillea tumbling over fences in dazzling colours of purple and scarlet; jacaranda trees along the road foaming with mauve blossom. African women in brightly coloured traditional kangas, babies tucked into the back, swaying along the streets, shopping balanced on their heads.
Cars and taxis hooted, lorries full of men all singing in unison rattled along the roads; spicy aromas from street stalls assaulted my nose and made my mouth water. The feel of the sun on my skin caressing me with warmth, and occasionally a light breeze to temper it was a delightful sensation, having come from a grey and chilly England.
The taste of wonderful drinks from fruits cut and squeezed as I waited, slaked my thirst whilst wandering along in this new and fascinating world. This vibrant place was to be my home for the next few years and I couldn't wait to experience all it could show me.
by Jack Probyn
It was dark. Too dark. He didn't know how he got here. But when he woke, the only light that filled the room was the heavy blanket of harsh, fluorescent white that encompassed his mind.
It was painful. Too painful. His skull throbbed with the repetitive beat of his racing heart. Thud thud. Thud thud. Thud thud.
It was cold. Too cold. A delicate wintry breeze swam over the curves and contours of his body. Half his skin rose in protest as the air hugged him tightly, with his nipples leading the attack.
Why was he half naked?
He didn't know. Where was he?
He didn't know.
He struggled to open his eyes, ignoring the pain that ensued. A solitary candle, placed on a large, uneven stone, flickered and danced carelessly in the air. It was aromaless, save for the acrid smell of corrosive chemical and decaying flesh.
The rest of the room was empty except for tiny rivulets of water weaving down the walls.
Fear grappled him. A figure of death advanced.
by Karen Vernon
I wish you would go back to sleep.
I smell old dog, I hear your tail thumping against the floor.
I pat your head and scruff your crumpled ears. My company is all you want and there is little time left for us; I willingly forego sleep.
I sit with you and run my hands over your fur, the colour of deserts and sunsets, as soft as a rabbit. The ridge runs down your spine like ornate trim on a once fashionable garment.
I remember when I found you; a tiny, crying puppy with breath that smelled like toast. It was late at night, 16 years ago. Much has changed and you stayed by my side for all those years.
But you can no longer follow me.
I sit with you until your tail stops wagging, the light has faded from your eyes, your body has gone cold.
My coffee tastes bitter as the sun rises. I watch birds collect the hair you shed to line their nests.
Inspector Singh at the Seaside
by Ian Tucker
A cooling gust brushed the hairs on his arms, sending light tingles into his skin. It flicked the loose silk of his shirt against his chest and carried salt and fish and the petroleum and wood odour of boats up his nose. His sinuses throbbed with an ache which was more discomfort than pain and his tongue tasted of grit and stale mould from the long night of bad coffee.
The island's last nightclub boomed bass notes which shook the cold steel of the pier's handrail. He bit into the samosa Sanchez had brought him and felt the spice burn his lips and tongue before the warm sweet ghee smothered it. Below, wavelets rustled on the beach, muttering as they overturned loose pebbles and drawing transient white contours at the edge of the still black and purple sea. High above the moon glowed blue.
The breeze died back and the cloying smell of perfume and blood from the twisted body at his feet engulfed him again. Its vibrant, multi-coloured sari was spattered with maroon stains.
by Cosima Armstrong
My peaceful abode is deep down in the ocean, where I listen to the singing of my graceful companions above me. There used to be very few disruptions. But those tiresome beings who live above the sea tip all sorts of things and ugly noises into it. I can smell their detritus.
They call me a sea monster. But I am beautiful, long and sleek, my jeweled armour illuminating the darkness, as I swish through the silken waters caressing my body. Sometimes I surface and fly high where I see all the Earth with its beauties and miseries.
I used to eat, and can still remember how scrumptious a nice fat sea bass or salmon tasted. They didn't like being eaten. I evolved and stopped eating and found that I didn't need to.
Humans think they've seen me. Not true, I just live in their dreams in the form of half-forgotten legends.
Me, and my melodious companions will still be here, when they, and their commotions, are gone, forever.
Burger And The Empathy
by Vaibhav Rathi
I was about to take a hefty burger, as I like to enjoy some junk food every once in a while during the cold season, when I saw a dog wagging its tail heavily and shivering. It was searching for some food certainly, but I chose to ignore it because it's a regular thing to perceive on the streets of India.
The aroma of soy sauce was getting into my nostrils. I was just being impatient, my mind was drifting across my craving and the dog's hunger.
I took money out of my pocket. I saw a vagrant girl was feeding the dog from the food that wasn't sufficient even for her. Then she covered the dog with her little blanket and sat beside it. I may have money, but not the heart of that beautiful girl.
I felt guilty so I bought two burgers and walked to the girl. I gave one to the dog and the other to the girl, that little girl who taught me empathy.
Some Advice is Better Followed
by Tristan Bolton
I awake, staring directly at a very blue sky.
Gradually, I become aware of someone speaking, but I'm feeling a bit bewildered as I'm not currently sure where I am.
"Are you alright, sir?" I hear an unfamiliar but none-the-less sincere voice ask.
"I'm not sure," is all I can truthfully reply. I feel dizzy and the extreme warmth of the day is beginning to make its presence known. I push my hands into the succulent grass beneath me and draw a deep breath, pulling in its freshly cut aroma intermingled with that of traffic fumes and the freshly brewed chai I've been kindly presented with. Its sweet taste starts my reboot.
I should be on a coach, I remember now, that one, over there, the Volvo with the air conditioning. I tentatively pull myself up, assisted by a couple of concerned helpers.
"Are you alright?" I'm asked again. I am, and I tell them so, but I think perhaps in future I should do as suggested and keep myself adequately hydrated.
by Yvonne Mallett
She hears the words. Just. They fade, drowned by the seeming-slap of seashore sounds upon the sand.
Again, "She's back." The voice – Male? Female?
Where has she been? She feels cold, body numbed, trembling yet trying to be still.
Merciful anaesthesia thins like fog. Mind and body sense the dizziness.
Then, as the haze upon the mind retreats, again the voice, "She's back."
Where has she been? The question slips from focus in the sharp smell of disinfectant.
Blunt tools probe and thrust to bruise her body.
Now she understands, and certainty prompts recall.
She has been where smiles from those once loved, though not seen for half a lifetime, have touched her, their hands and words so gentle. Their love once nourished her, held her close, warmed her.
Now she looks to find them, tries to speak, tries to hear.
But still she hungers and is chilled.
"You made it," says the voice.
"Oh, send me back," she sobs.
by John Wilks
Marauding monkeys screeching and clattering across a corrugated iron roof; three cows with bony, protruding haunches shuffling along a cooling beach, silhouetted against a shimmering orange sunset; a hunchbacked chai-wallah shouting along the cockroach-infested corridor of a train; the insistent call to prayer before dawn, haunting a skyline of air-conditioning units and satellite dishes; the cumin-sizzle of dal fry and chana masala; the fetid squalor of bloated dead rats and stinking cow-dung next to pavement children in rags squatting to sort plastic from cardboard; the taste of scorched naan flecked with ashes straight from the flaming tandoor; the heady, bitter seductiveness of cashew nut feni liqueur; a faded 10 rupee note that pleads a history of a thousand hands; a swishing coconut palm breeze that caresses bare skin flirtatiously.
I've tipped the sand from my trainers, swallowed the last anti-malarial tablet and stopped practising head-wobbles in the bathroom mirror, but, like a love-bite, like a hang-over, like an earworm, like scent on a pillow, like raw chilli on a fingertip, Goa just won't fade away.
by L A Moylan
The black bog burns my cheeks a brittle blue, the hungry heather seems to feed on my every step and rain torpedoes my eyes like spikey spores, sharply pulling me on.
I feel her hand somewhere in the future, searching for me at night across the static sheets. Her laughter like spring daffodils, how I ache for the warmth of her teething mouth and sun warm cheek. I can almost smell the milk on her fragile baby breath.
The crow's cry knocks me present, my mind mummy sore. The gnarled knuckles of the edge beckon me closer with constant craggy hunger. I see him now, watching TV, slurping up tepid gravy as it drips on his greying Brillo pad beard. His wide fingers, finger the worn buttons to bring him to a wide-eyed state of telly unconscious.
I recall the warmth of her brushed cotton back and I breathe in the comfort of her neck. I'm so cold, the wind pushes me forth with an icicle palm, and it gently lulls me over.
by Fiona Jeeves
Although twists of air were scented with pine, it was the dry touch of ash that coated her tongue. A fading ember spat from the depths of flickering gold-orange flames and hissed as it sank in the snow. Deft fingers forced a blunt iron needle back and forth through coarse green wool and her tears were halted on her cheeks, frozen in icy wind. The fire was dying.
Beyond the blizzard, the shadows of bent trees stood against an endless grey sky, screaming defiance.
She sewed the edges of his cloak. Starting with the collar as he lay unyielding, unmoving and silent as flurries landed and settled in gentle spinning drifts. A flake perched on the end of his nose and she waited for the edges to blur in his breath. Instead it turned to ice and her needle joined the fabric together, pinching it from collar to neck, from chin to nose to forehead. The last flame whispered out of existence. Who would sew her cloak?
The Mind, A Minefield Of Possibilities
by Robert Stewart
Tingling like the aftershock of a shock from some electric storm. My mind was thrashing with feelings north and south the smell of sweet perfume from meadows endless in vast scapes of dreams' succulent warmth.
Vision's limits fully exceeded by zooming vistas on landscape lost in lost control yet focus clear on subject dear soft the touch of imagined warm embrace and lips that kiss the sweetest dew were ever met when my thoughts do turn to you.
A fusion of burning visual moist tender sounds primal to my inner ear and singing to my soul as gripping as a dagger's hand when tender sensual moments that were stolen slow breaths that deepen into caverns as if the rocks wetted touch the earth itself.
To fuse a spirit when sharing sounds with words that act as hands and create the perfect interaction with such erythema; much as a breeze with tree tops gently swaying; a union such as this part-thought, part-spirit, part-heart's desire to please. All in a single kiss.
Café Terrace, Rue Du Beurre, Autumn
by Carolyn Cahalane
Whistling waiters drag in shabby red cane chairs. Rain on the ground slishes under car wheels; gun-metal clouds send dancing rain drops to the awning above me, like the scurrying of fairy feet. The brakes of a bus are released in a slow, exasperated gasp.
At the next table, a dark man puts a smooth, rolled cigarette to his craggy mouth. The thick, bitter air fights the garlic and cèpes which long to linger luxuriously. But the rude, mineral-rain air from an open door asserts supremacy, its chill spitefully enveloping my arms.
Entering lugubriously, sliding into seat, a svelte woman in a chartreuse shot-silk dress, hugging her hips like pondweed around a river pebble, flicks her caramel hair pensively, listening to the slow hum of the craggy man's voice, his ochre hands chopping, beckoning, measuring, pointing and, finally, resting on the milky marble table top.
A silver saucer arrives: l'addition.
In the tawdry hotel room, sickly pink walls seep the blabber of American television and I pack, wistfully promising return.
A Sense Of Freedom
by Alan Pattison
Dennis was never really a religious man, but he always liked going into old churches.
One day, he was walking through a village in Yorkshire when he saw the church, which appeared to be early medieval. The door opened easily and, shortly after walking in, Dennis was greeted by a man in clerical clothes who said, "Please come in and if you need to know anything, just ask."
Dennis kept walking and looked around him, eventually ending up in the front row of seats. He looked up at the pulpit and admired the fine wood and stonework of the sanctuary. Someone started playing the organ, which always lifted him.
A bit later, through the vestry door, came the smell of cakes being baked and coffee brewed, which made him feel even more relaxed and at home.
Before too long he had the strong sense of being set free and, when he saw the vicar coming towards him, he hailed to ask when the next service would be.
by Diane Caldwell
The taste in her mouth was like metal. Acid. Sour. Her lips were cracked. She ran her tongue over the brittle ridges. She pushed herself up off the bed, grabbed her brown, wool shawl, and flung it around her. Her first steps were painful, like walking on needles. The cold morning air made her skin pucker. She shivered as she prodded along the pinewood boards, wrapping her arms around her chest for warmth, over to the heavy oak door. Pulling it open, her eyes beheld a biblical sunrise. Slants of sunshine radiating out from behind slate clouds like the fingers of God. Golden streaks of light in the gray morning. Doves, "Kerood kerood kerood," and the leaky outside faucet drip drip dripped. She could smell morning. Its misty, dewy-scented freshness. The moist earth. The pine needles rotting.
She made her way back into the house to the kitchen. The pain in her feet had subsided. She put on the kettle. A cup of black coffee would set her straight.
Guilty Of Nothing
by Bee Grey
I could smell them a distance away. It was that fungus smell. A cross between mouldy and just mildew damp. The smell always seems to permeate down my nose into my mouth; I could taste the smell of fungus. It is not an unpleasant smell or taste, at least not to me.
I headed straight to the mushrooms. They lay slightly hidden behind trees covered with a thick layer of lichen, so soft to the touch. I stepped between the trees, bent down, gently removing the long grass covering the promise of success. A dog barked. Its owner shouted, "What are you doing in there?"
I stood slowly feeling like a guilty child; not guilty, but feeling guilty just the same. "Collecting mushrooms. Today I think I have found them."
He stood beside me. Looked thoughtfully at my find. Nodded. Taking a knife he cut through each smooth stalk, carefully placing them in the basket I had brought with me. Breakfast out doors today?
Feeling A Little Silly
by John Briscoe
Getting out of bed, Mack sensed the coarseness of the sheets. His mouth tasted like stale sprouts. He picked up his underpants feeling the stiffness, sniffing the odour. He realised that he’d have to feel his way to the toilet as he could barely see with the curtains closed.
Mary heard him get out of bed and, opening her eyes, saw him stagger to the bathroom.
Having seen his body and heard him snore, sniff and thrash about in his sleep all night, she felt relieved nothing had happened between them. Maybe it was the alcohol that had made her fancy him. He'd undressed and, feeling for her, had fallen asleep. She had seen her mistake immediately and heard herself whisper, "What a fool I've been."
She heard Mack shout out; he must have bumped into the lavatory. She should get dressed before he felt a reason to return. If this was a taste of what it would be like, she sensed she would go back to being a nun.
by Emilie Lauren Jones
Shaking arms hugged the splintered remains of the small, wooden mast. Silence. Where would its colossal claws crash through next?
The sweet stench of rotting fruit melded with the scent of dank cellar – another claw raged down on my stolen vessel, throwing me into the frozen depths of the enormous lake. A sickly mix of fear and water flooded my mouth. Gasping, choking, grabbing at something that used to be a part of the base of the boat, I dragged my tired legs on to some floating rubble. Splinters ripped my hands.
Everyone knew not to come here. I should have listened, but the lure of the lonely boat and forbidden mass of inky blackness had proved too tempting. Don't think about what's underneath.
Tears mixed with river slime – would this be my last adventure? If I did escape, no one would believe me anyway – they never did.
by S.W. Hardy
My bloodless knuckles clasp onto the knobbly, off-white plastic stool upon which I sit. The frequent chime of technology, constantly reminds me of these distantly-familiar people's dependence upon electricity; multi-coloured screens emit harsh lights and cicada-like moans all around me.
My food arrives on a criss-crossed, blood-red tray.
The aroma of sweaty chicken, ambrosial rice and orientally-fragrant soup hammer at my nostrils. The bird, grain, and liquid were all shades of amber, swirling in the shimmer of oil. It took three minutes 12 seconds to prepare and only cost three dollars. I taste a spoonful of rice, chicken and soup, and my tongue is overloaded with an iridescent rainbow of flavours and textures.
Tender. Herby. Moist. Spicy.
A wayward auburn cockroach scuttles into a cracked drainpipe; I wonder how many other bulbous-eyed, pallid-green lizards were residing in that concrete tube too? My green and gold checkered shirt clings onto my damp skin, as the humid evening air caresses my face.
I decide that I am happy in this land of food.
by Jerry Wilson
In the Bahamas, pastels are a sin. Tourists, in heedless pursuit of vacation, spill from leviathan ships in an assault of garish colours, shaming the bleached sea gulls into a ghostly chorus of envious screams.
On the pier, a reggae band's insistent, pulsating back-beat sifts through the tourists' sunburned, seasick hangover fog and jerks them into a submissive dance. Popping fingers. Bobbing heads. Swaying hips. Forever changed.
The violent colours of the band's shirts don't merely reflect light, they reach out with kaleidoscopic tentacles and wrench eyeballs from sockets.
In stasis, the white-legged, peacock-hued tourists are obscene. But, animated by the music and inspired by the confident grace of the dancing reggae musicians, they transcend their separate vulgarities and unite in an urgent ritual of ecstasy. They join in a frenzied rapture of whirling indigos, rejoicing crimsons, exulting saffrons, sinuous russets, and graceful ceruleans – bold colours that are proof that they are each part of the celebration.
"I am here, I am alive, I am a part of the shared joy of being."
by Josie Gowler
We wait in the dark, breath steaming, the bittersweet, slightly metallic taste of our flask of tea lingering on our tongues.
"Ready?" Maude asks in her raspy whisper. Drizzle beads on her hair, picking out the grey in silver baubles. "Coast is clear. Let's go."
Hobbling over a sliding squish of muddy verge we round the corner, stifling giggles, and stop in front of the offensive street sign. 'Scholars Walk'. Really.
Holding onto the icy metal of the sign, I crouch. My knees let out a creak and I feel the cartilage grinding. I take the cap off the marker pen and its heady smell hits me.
One quick stroke later and it's done. 'Scholars' Walk'. Another apostrophe returned. Another city street sign corrected. I nod in satisfaction. So does Maude.
Vandalism to correct vandalism. We rush away, silvered hair flapping in a glacial night-time breeze, tangy with the hint of wood burning in the stoves of the street's affluent houses. We must be England's oldest graffiti artists.
Lovely Weather for Ducks
by Sandra Unerman
The rain beat against the pavement, pattered among the bare branches of the oak trees in the park and splashed in the stream. Seagulls lined up in a row along the cross bar of the goal down on the playing field and crows flapped overhead. The wind was too strong for an umbrella to be any use. My woolly hat and my big coat kept most of me dry but I could feel the damp soak into my ankles and cold drops of rain stung my face. The smell of wet grass made my nose itch.
Back home, I looked out into the garden, where puddles and wet rhododendron leaves glittered in a burst of sunshine, before the clouds darkened again. To warm up, I made lemon and ginger tea, with a dash of honey to sweeten the taste.
The Life of Saris
by Dolly Garland
It was the colours that drew me in. Bright, dull, glowing, tacky, iridescent, draped around the shop like glittering wishes, or prophecies. The gorgeous fuchsia for a girl's night out. The boring beige in comfortable cotton when your self-esteem is low. The royal blue to stand out in the crowd, knowing you are better than most. Or a hot fiery red to be a sex-symbol, while the soft chiffon material caresses your skin. The black and silver silk for that fashionable diva who leads, or pure black netted sari for the wannabe-vamp look. The forest green kanjivaram with embroidered flowers to please the mother-in-law, or the shimmering copper that makes your eyes shine and brings the lust-glint back in your husband's eyes. Exquisite emerald for that special dinner party. Tantalising turquoise for a relative's wedding. Dark navy for sombre occasions. The faded yellows and muted pinks for when life is an effort. And white for a widow, offering freedom and independence or grief and endless loneliness.
Take your pick.
What life do you want?
by Laura-Liisa Klaas
I look at my watch for the hundredth time. Surely we should start boarding now for the flight to be on time. The air conditioning is blowing right onto my eyes and cheeks, there is a smell of baked goods mixed with perfume and urine in the air, my palms are sweating on my new chinos and I feel exhausted and fed up. I can still taste the coffee I had two hours ago.
Frowning, I try to look for a mint in my bag. I feel around and almost cry out as my hairbrush prickles the skin underneath my nail. Every time. I should bin the silly thing. I glance down and see a small dot of blood already forming. I sigh and make my way to the toilet to wash it off.
Right when the ice cold water flushes over my throbbing finger I hear the loud speaker announcing the start of the boarding. I rush out, almost knocking over a toddler. What a great start to my honeymoon, I ponder sarcastically.
Wandering In Wonderland
by Stuart Lanigan
Crackle of the ground underfoot,
Beneath the ice on top,
Hides a hidden underworld,
Causing you to stop.
Listening to the breaking ice,
Stepping in and stamping twice,
Watching as the ice shards shatter,
Laughing aloud like it doesn't matter.
The ice cold air is freezing,
Breathing out in clouds of steam,
Wandering in wonderland,
in a bitter winter scene...
by Karen McDermott
I closed my eyes against the too-white ceiling, the inquisitive flare of the dentist's nostrils, and opened my ears instead to the radio's distraction.
The cliché of soothing classical music had been vetoed by the young practitioner, who seemed to have a preference for bubblegum pop. I focussed on her soft humming along to some pipsqueak belittling her ex, before the sterile smell of her gloves pushing my top lip into a snarl jerked me back to reality. My heartbeat quickened as I heard the assistant shuffling away to select another instrument of terror.
"You're just going to feel a little prick," the voice above me assured.
"Mhmmpf," I replied, attempting to keep the fug of panic escaping my throat and clouding all of our judgements.
Friends had had plenty to say about the process, but curiously left out the sound of old boughs breaking. The deforestation of my mouth leaving a few birches standing still. A receptionist handed me my bill, and I wondered at my pristinely uniformed lumberjack, who'd pulped my wallet too.
A Bad Coffin Fit
by George Kelly
When he awoke, he saw nothing but black.
He tried to lift his head, but it bumped against a hard surface. His bare elbows grazed against rough wood. His feet scraped the end of the box.
Aboveground, he heard voices; then, louder, sprinkles of mud and gravel raining on top of his new house. To make it worse, the space smelled of wet socks: musty, tickling his nostrils.
He wished Leena, his wife, was here to hold him close, to kiss the salty tears leaking down his cheeks. He wished he hadn't crossed Mario Sorelli.
Then, loud as a truck, a series of gunshots shattered his thoughts – followed by two heavy thumps from above, bodies falling to ground.
Minutes later, the coffin was opened and light flooded the small space, momentarily blinding him.
When he could see again, his wife smiled back at him.
"I knew you'd find me," he said, and, after she helped him out, he kissed her.
"I love you," she said.
"I love you too," he said.
The last thing he remembered about that day was the taste of her lips: strawberry lip-butter with a hint of blood.
A Fishy Tale
by John Notley
Each step he took towards the chippy excited him as the unmistakable aroma of the delights to come wafted from the open doorway and assailed his nostrils. As he entered he heard the plop as a fresh fillet of fish fell into the fat fryer and the frizzling sound was music to his ears. The pan of boiling oil sizzled in harmony with it.
He placed his order for cod and chips and took his seat in anticipation of the joy to follow. When his order arrived he was tempted to test the texture before tasting. With his index finger he prodded the recumbent fish and, satisfied, picked up the sauce bottle.
The tart taste of the tartare sauce, which he spread liberally over the dish, added to the succulent sensation as it encountered his palate. He savoured every mouthful as if it were his last meal. This was a moment never to be forgotten. Working abroad had been lucrative, but they couldn't cook fish and chips. Good to be home again.
by Temmy Oj
The water was her release...
...and as tears rolled down her cheeks, the salty tasting liquid intermingling with the sharp, chlorine-scented water, bubbles rose to the surface of the disturbed liquid. She imagined she was one of them; free to turn her dreams into reality, free to fly. Her hair flew wildly in the water, circling her head like a halo. Her bare feet stung as they pushed up to the surface, but her clothes weighed her down. It was almost surreal.
She felt its soft, fluid movements dance along with her. Its motherly touch guided her. The water's receptive energy allowed her to empty her mind and to free herself of the thoughts that burdened her. The water extinguished the flames of pain and anguish that roared within her. The dulled sounds removed her from reality, the cool liquidity protected her from the stones life threw at her. It encased her in an impenetrable shell of self-importance. For once it was just about her.
She was the water.
The water was her.
by Wayne Hewitt
Strewn naked and face down on the morticians table, the cadaver captivated my gaze, synapsis exploding. I struggled to comprehend what I was seeing. Feeling my eyes drying to the point of pain, I forced myself to blink, applying much needed lubrication. That's a dead body, I thought. Whoa. This was going to be the weirdest first day at a new job.
The exit wound gave a clue to the cause of death, but never assume anything, my university professor had said. I placed my right ear over the exit wound. There was a faint whoosh, like when you listen to a shell at the seaside. Hmmmm... I wonder... no one else is here. Why not?
My gloveless right index finger eased into the exit wound. It felt pleasantly squishy, almost erotic. I heaved in a deep smell of my gore covered finger, salivating at the fragrance of death. Oh boy, placing the finger in my mouth I savoured the taste of my first client's soul.
I think I'm going to enjoy being a mortician.