'These darkly comic tales place the author snugly between Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. Be sure: Chris Fielden is one funny feller.' Allen Ashley, British Fantasy Award winner.
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Allen's Sensory Overload Writing Challenge

The Sensory Writing Challenge is temporarily closed while I complete work on my website redesign

It will re-open on for submissions on 1st September 2024

Quick links on this page:

rules & how to submit - about the sensory challenge - read sensorially overloaded stories

Allen Ashley and Chris Fielden

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.

Rules & How To Submit

The Sensory Writing Challenge is temporarily closed while I complete work on my website redesign

It will re-open on for submissions on 1st September 2024

The rules feel, look, smell, sound and taste simple:

  • 175 words max
  • please include a title for your story (not included in word count)
  • use as much sensory description as you can
  • entry is everyone's favourite price - FREE
  • anyone can submit
  • 1 entry per person
  • no profanity please - all the writing challenges are shared with children
  • your sensorially saturated stories will be published on this page
  • every time we receive 100 200 stories, we'll publish all of them in a book
  • any money made through anthology sales will be donated to charity
  • by submitting, you accept the terms and conditions
  • when anthologies are published, you will be involved in the book launch process
  • submit your story by filling in the comments form below or by emailing Chris
  • include a short biography (40 words max) for use in the published book - if you don't supply a bio, we will be unable to publish your story
  • include 1 link (optional) to your website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc.

Allen and Chris respectfully suggest: No more stories about eructation, breaking wind, being caught smoking or waking up in a coffin. These have now been adequately covered. Thanks.

So far, we've received 390 stories. We need 110 more to publish the next anthology.

The Sensory Writing Challenge is temporarily closed while I complete work on my website redesign

It will re-open on for submissions on 1st September 2024

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About the Sensory Writing Challenge

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?

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:

Word Geek Certificate

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. As yet, we've had no takers. This situation needs resolving, ASAP please.

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About the Charity the Sensory Writing Challenge Supports

Proceeds from sales of the sensory writing challenge anthologies will be donated to the National Literacy Trust.

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.

How The Sensory Writing Challenge Came To Exist

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 judged the British Fantasy Society competition and I run To Hull & Back) and stuff like that.

NOTE: we have now met many times, and run events together, but I've left this bit in as it makes a good story...

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. Every time we receive 100** stories, they will be published as a collection. The books will be made available in print and Kindle eBook formats.

Proceeds from sales will go to the National Literacy Trust.

** When Sensorially Challenged Volume 3 was full, we decided to change this to 200, so Sensorially Challenged Volume 4 will contain 200 stories written by 200 authors.

If we don't receive enough submissions for the next book, 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.

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Sensory Stories

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.

Sensorially Challenged Volume 1

We received the 100th sensory story on 10th August 2017. The first 100 stories were removed from the website on 1st October 2017. Sensorially Challenged Volume 1 was released on 2nd December 2017.

You can learn how to buy the book and support charity here.

Sensorially Challenged Volume 1

The book contains flash fiction stories written by 100 authors.

Profits from sales will be donated to the National Literacy Trust. You can see how much money has been raised for charity by all the challenges run on this website on the main Writing Challenges page.

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Sensorially Challenged Volume 2

We received our 200th sensory story on 31st January 2019. Stories 101 to 200 were removed from the website on 26th February 2019. Sensorially Challenged Volume 2 was published on Saturday 22nd June 2019.

You can learn how to buy the book and support charity here.

Sensorially Challenged Volume 2

The book contains flash fiction stories written by 100 authors. As always, profits are donated to the National Literacy Trust.

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Sensorially Challenged Volume 3

We received our 300th sensory story on 7th February 2021. Stories 201 to 300 were removed from the website on 7th March 2021. Sensorially Challenged Volume 3 was published on 8th May 2021.

You can learn how to buy the book and support charity here.

Sensorially Challenged Volume 3

The book contains flash fiction stories written by 100 authors. As always, profits are donated to the National Literacy Trust.

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Sensorially Challenged Volume 4

You can read the submissions received for Sensorially Challenged Volume 4 below.

Story 301

Is A Jaffa Cake A Biscuit?

by Allen Ashley

Biscuits age to softness,

cakes tend to get harder:

I should experiment like Louis Pasteur

with this choc and orange gel epicure,

but they don't stay long in my larder.

 

Is a Jaffa cake a biscuit?

Was God an astronaut?

Is a grape a ripe sultana?

What's the square root of nought?

 

Do I have a healthy diet?

Is my money well invested?

If I want to make a cheesecake

should I buy pre-crushed digestives?

 

Is the sky blue out of sadness

or grey for nondescript?

If I go up to the counter

what selection will I pick?

 

If I tell the doctor what I eat

do I risk another lecture?

Is a Jaffa cake a biscuit?

Well, it has a biscuit's texture.

Story 302

Down There, Down Where?

by Christopher Fielden

The bath is lukewarm, my fingers wrinkled. Candles splutter and die, replacing rose fragrance – the smell of her – with smoke. All the bubbles have burst, leaving soapy residue on the water’s surface. I’ve lingered too long. It’s time to get out, but I’m not ready.

I pull the plug and watch a small whirlpool appear. It dances lazily back and forth, sucking the soapy water downward. Down… down there… down where?

A sudden chill in the water causes me to shiver. Liquid churns, presses, holds.

I try to stand. My tears trap me. The whirlpool grows. I feel its pull, sinking. My toes become a swirl of colour, melding with the water, twirling round, descending. My legs follow. I clutch the sides of the bath. Smooth and slippery, porcelain offers no purchase.

I can’t breathe. Eyes sting. Lost.

My torso melts into the liquid, washing away, until only my head remains.

The water gurgles, sucking the last of me down, into the pipes. Lost in the darkness, I taste the tears that cleansed me.

Story 303

Lunch At The Globe

by Anne Maguire

Climbing the stairs took us out of the noise and eye stinging pollution of south London into the classical beauty of another world. We sat by the window and watched boats floating past on the Thames and tourists bumbling slowly past the windows. Others were shouting and running around.

The smell of fresh bread and melting cheese assailed us as we passed around the laminated menu. There wasn't a lot of choice but we had no problem choosing. We had been here before. The lights were bird feathers woven into a mesh around a bulb and we discussed where one would buy such light fittings, knowing they wouldn't suit our homes.

The food arrived with our bottle of chilled rose and discussion ceased. I put a piece of beef in my mouth and barely chewed, as it melted and set off a reaction causing a small ooo to escape my lips. She laughed and said that her lamb was just as nice. We devoured everything and then managed an unctuous chocolate pudding. A blissful day.

Story 304

The Bone Pain

by Len Saculla

When we were naughty as kids, Mama would bash our heads together. "To knock some sense into you," she'd say.

Often the bone pain would last for hours, so that would be one sense.

Sometimes I'd be seeing stars. Normally, if you're seeing stars then it's night time with a dark sky and no annoying streetlamps giving out electric light pollution. If you're seeing stars in the daytime then you're probably on a spaceship. Or looking directly at our warm, yellow sun. Which is not a bright idea. You're likely to go blind.

When I was a kid, Mama told me all sorts of things would make me go blind. This is the only one I still believe in.

Story 305

The Cat, The Neighbor And Me (The Eggroll Life Style)

by Sandra Orellana

"Push," said the hulky neighbour.

"Pull," I said breathlessly.

The cat meowed, watching what we were doing.

A lovey-dovey couple were inside a white pick-up truck on the countryside dirt road, keeping an eye so no one could get near what we were doing. "Eggroll," was the word they would shout if someone was coming.

What was I pushing and what was my neighbour pulling? A stubborn mule, sitting on the ground, refusing to move an inch. My hulky neighbour pulled with force. From behind the mule, I attempted to raise it off the ground. The mule weighed about two hundred pounds.

Time passed as stubbornly as the mule. Then, a steamy burro (donkey in spanish) trotted toward us.

Hee-Haw said, "Eggroll."

Suddenly, we no longer had to deal with stubborness. We jumped into the pick-up. The mule and the donkey followed, also jumping into the truck. We all ended up lovey-dovey together, making a heavenly banquet, eating crispy, deep fried eggrolls. The cat, the neighbour, me , the lovey-dovey couple, the mule and the burro.

Story 306

Making Sense

by Michael Rumsey

I'd been out of touch with Maggie for over a year. Had not seen or heard from her, not a whiff. Couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I had an eerie feeling something was wrong. She'd never missed opening night in my theatre. She had a nose for that sort of thing.

Perhaps I should phone, see if she'd heard about it, sort of echo my concern, reach out, get a handle on things, sound her out. On the other hand, out of sight, out of mind.

Maybe I was not the flavour of the month for Maggie anymore. Perhaps she'd gone off the theatre. After all, tastes do change. Better to wait a bit. I might hear a snippet on the grapevine, or spot her out somewhere and pick up the scent.

Yes, that's it. A pinch of caution to savour is called for, best not to go sniffing around. That makes sense.

Story 307

Heightened Senses

by Christina Collins

I wake to the head-splitting sound of buzzing. I tentatively reach up, but it's not my eyelids I feel.

I hear the footsteps and a voice echoes around the room. It's close enough for me to detect the pungent linger of garlic.

A ringing, different to the buzz joins in, creating a cacophony of sounds.

I'm aware of a smell invading my nostrils and I sniff harder. Boiled cabbage.

A noise resembling a train, thundering along on its tracks, gets closer.

The noise lessens, but the smell intensifies.

The crash of plates and I sense something ricochet off. I jolt, and wince, as hot liquid seeps on to my lap. My hand instinctively reaches down and I touch the dampness. Drawing my hand to my mouth, I taste gravy.

A high pitched voice drones around me. A waft of delicate perfume clogs my throat.

"OK, Rae, time to take these patches off."

My eyes flicker and I see the clear image of the face in front of me. And the noise subsides.

Story 308

Impact

by Grace Collins

On impact I felt everything. From the way my head slammed backwards, jarring my neck, and my chest constricting under the pressure.

In that exact moment I could feel the glass shattering, splintering into thousands of tiny pieces, each one piercing my skin. The screech of metal grated in my ears as the two bodies collided. My nose filled with the stench of petrol and the metallic taste of blood lingered in my mouth. In that exact moment, when everything went black, I thought of you.

My mind automatically conjured up the image of your face. I reached out to trace the lines around your mouth, your eyes following the curve of my hand. You smiled at me and your lips spoke my name, but I couldn't hear you. My eyes began to water and my vision blurred as the white noise grew louder, my head aching from the sound.

My head rolled to one side, the pavement horizontal with my vision. In the distance, I could see flashing blue lights.

Story 309

Gimme Shelter

by Missy Lynne

Dark, brisk night. Black, rough asphalt.

Storm hiding beyond the sky,

Behind where you can't see, but you feel it all the same.

Coming upon you like an unwanted shadow.

Cigarette burning in-between fingers.

The warmth, a welcome relief from the cold.

Smoke rising, puffs drifting by with that old familiar smell.

Beer in the other hand, hits your lips like a blessed calm.

The call of the crowd, the whistles, the screams beckon.

Time to move on.

Cigarette drops, sparks burst.

Beer gets chugged, can crushes.

On we go.

Walking towards the concrete colosseum,

Quickly.

In the gates.

People everywhere.

In front, behind, beside, pushing, stumbling along the way.

All heading to the centre.

But we headed up.

Up and up.

And the centre became far away.

And the people became smaller.

And the masses gathered like a colony of ants.

And we watched and listened.

And we heard.

'Gimme Shelter'.

Story 310

Beautiful Butterfly's Descent

by Andrew Spence

Butterfly escaped; fluttered aimlessly until captured by a vicious, jetting kitchen-sink stream, fast flowing to the dirty depths of stinking sewers.

No, Devil thought, I have a use for you.

Darkness covered her frail form. Ahead, Devil grinned. "Sweet thing, so pretty, I saved you from being torn apart. Come here," it whispered, eyes glowing a dull red.

Frightened, but whole, she staggered towards the dark one.

"Here, a tiny addition to such a fragile wing," it hissed, as she quivered in the cold darkness.

"What is this, that stings so sharply?" she asked.

"You will know, when that brutal bully boy next scares you," the demon said, slowly, sensuously, stroking her newly hooked wing.

Then, it was bright; her cage shone as bully boy shook it, staring in. He laughed, his horrid hand chasing her, teasing her, trying to tear her wings, terrifying the tiny thing. She fluttered, flew faster, a better flyer than his ugly hand. A swoop, a sting, then Devil's deathly poison violated his vein.

Story 311

Progress

by Sue Buckingham

It was a bygone time.  A quieter time. Just the man and the cow. 

No machinery; touch is everything.  Hands on the teats, warm, gentle, firm. Drawing the foamy milk to splash straight into the pail, warm from the morning sun. His cheek on her flank, checking heart rate, soothing, comforting.

"It’s all good, Nellie old girl." The 'girls' are all old. She gently lows.

His life defined by females. A wife and four daughters. Loud, excitable, busy, chattering girls, all of them. But here in the field, it is all about hush, calm, slow, reflection.

His hands move in perfect rhythm, unaware that mechanical hands are just around the corner.

No three-legged stool, no field, no pail. Just metal and glass and shouting.

"Hey up, in you go."

Prodding, pushing, pulling, squeezing. The sound of stressed mooing. Cloven hooves slapping through slurry.  The slurping and swallowing of the milk being whisked away through endless tubes. Disappearing into an abyss.

A process.

Cows with numbers punched in their ears, not names etched upon his heart.

Story 312

The Wall

by Kelly Van Nelson

Dark in here. So dark. Can’t blink. Too afraid. Knees knock. Hands shake. Can’t even touch the wall. What’s the point? I know it’s curved. Nobody touches it. No idiot in their right mind turns their nose up about it. They’d smell nothing but the truth too. Everyone knows about the curved wall. Shake my head at the thought of someone touching the wall. Too vigorous. Dislodge something at the back of my nostrils. Taste acrid blood inside my mouth. I want to spit it out. Vile, acrid liquid. I cough, mouth closed, keep the puddle inside. Don’t want to cause someone outside to recoil at the sight of it. Safer in here. Inside the curved wall. Staring at the pitch black. So quiet. Not even the sound of eyelashes blinking. No eyelashes in here. Can’t blink. Can’t scream. Can’t hear. Can’t smell. Can’t touch. Can’t touch the wall. The curved wall. Nobody touches it. The wall is here to protect me. To protect me from myself. To keep me here. Inside my mind.

Story 313

Unhinged

by Josephine Andersen

The screaming  slashed into her dreams. Pulling on her gown, Sally unlocked her door and saw Harvey. The whites of his eyes gleamed in the dark. His face twisted in rage.

Maggie, his sister, was standing next to him. Sally could smell the Miss Perfume fragrance from Angola on her hair.

"He's going to kill him," screamed Maggie.

"I'll get him."

She heard scrambling at the neighbour's door. Does fear have a smell? Harvey was a big giant of a man.

Sally gripped Harvey's arm.

"If you lay a finger on that man, you will be in deep trouble." She kept hold of him, her white hand firm on his muscular, black arm.

"What went wrong?"

"We were eating late, pop your lips good, chicken muamba. He barged into our flat with a can of Q20 squirting it on all the door and cupboard hinges, saying he could hear them squeaking."

"Keep your door locked in future. We all know he is unhinged."

Story 314

Licky Lover Or Hound From Hell?

by Linda Hibbin

Son says she smells 'doggy'. How offensive.

I sniff her. Grass, last night's strawberry yogurt on her whiskers, my perfume from a cuddle. She feels squidgy, overweight. The reason? She's a professional forager. Led by her nose, there's nothing that's unpalatable. She finds food fishermen forget. Biscuits, half-eaten sandwiches, a whole kebab one day. Even stole a warm pasty from a stranger's bag. Rolls in deliciously smelling fox poo, eats rabbits' droppings.

She's traumatised by thunder and motorcycles roaring.

More effective than my alarm clock, her sharp bossy yaps awake me.  Her cold, wet nose nudges for tummy tickles, her back legs kick for attention. Ouch. 

She speaks in doggy tongues. "Yap, gruff, huh-huh."

See a squirrel? Off like a shot. Espy a fox? Not so brave. Recognises friends, family? Hysterical, mad five-minute racing upstairs, back down, around garden, stairs, garden.

Postman-orange isn't her favourite colour. They fear my snarling, hound from hell. It's the post she wants, not them. Letters are haute cuisine. I'm tastier. Licky, licky. I'm left feeling sticky.

Story 315

The Pool

by Kate MacDonald

It was a sizzling hot summer's day in glorious, majestic Glen Coe. The heat was made bearable only by slipping lazily into a pool of clear, cold water that nestled in a verdant cranny.

The pool was fed by a waterfall and from this, bright, sparkling drops of water were thrown into the sweet-smelling air. The resulting rainbow hues were delightful to watch.

We floated, barely moving totally relaxed limbs. To our utter astonishment, we found we were not alone in the water. Beneath us, large, slippery, scaled denizens of the deep slipped and slithered.

These wild salmon could spend long periods quiescent in deep pools and under banks before heading to the shallow, gravelly upper reaches where they spawned in autumn.

In trepidation, we slid surreptitiously to the side of the ancient, stone-clad pool. Nervous and wary, we watched the salmon. It soon became obvious that our fears were groundless. We were not going to be gnawed on or nibbled.

Nevertheless, we left them ownership of the calm, soothing water.

Story 316

Floored

by Rob Molan

It is pitch black when I come round. I cannot see anything. It feels like I have lost my sight. There is no sound other than a drip of water. There is a horrible, pungent smell. I call for help but there is no reply.

I stretch out my arms in front of me to detect objects as I slowly move around the environment. I touch a door but can't find a handle. The wall next to it feels cold. My hands encounter a shelf. I pick up a small object and taste it with my tongue. Yuck, it's soap.

I turn around, slip onto the floor and hurt my back. I scream in pain. As I lie helpless on the floor, a recognisable stench floods up my nostrils. I feel sick.

Suddenly my eyes are dazzled. A light has come on as the door is opened loudly by someone entering.

"Why am I in a gents' loo with a motion sensor light control?" I shout.

Story 317

The Ferry

by Jo Caddy

I stand in line, sandwiched between a hairy-as-a-wilder-beast man and his female counterpart.  A billboard to my right sports a crusty map, void of its original pallet of blues and greens, with roads snaking over mountains, through valleys and across red seas. 

We shuffle forward, evidence of a blistering day sliding over the soft skin of my naked arms, as my queue mates close the gap between them. There's the jingle of a distant bell, the crowd parts, my breath retreats. I gaze upon a massive lake enclosed by towering jagged cliffs. Overwhelmingly aware of my small stature, my eyes focus on a giant raft, atop steaming molten, sailing hither. A shadowy figure tugs a rusty chain from the lake like a captured sea snake.

Gripped by fear I'm forced onto the rotting raft by a stenchy mob. I scream but only grey smoke escapes, disbursing as I shoot upright in bed. I devour the air, snatch my ferry ticket from the nightstand, dial the number and cancel my trip. Better to be safe than suffocating.

Story 318

Bursting Point

by Rosalind Parker

Take a deep breath, hold your nerve as you spring, and jump off the conveniently placed pontoon into the sea. Your senses are instantly awoken. Your skin tingles with the feeling of pinpricks as the difference in pressure and temperature of the refreshing water encompasses your mostly naked body. Going down (how far will you go?), sound is numbed, which is welcomed, especially from the outside metropolis. There is just you and this earthly element. Smell and taste combine, tasting saline from the water up your nose that goes to the back of your throat and the faintly metallic smell mixed with sulphur and seaweed.

Going back up takes what feels like an eternity. Be patient, enjoy the control. Breaking through the surface you gasp (you did it), feeling exuberant, for this was a challenge. The sunlight is incredible. You blink and turn away from its glare. Focus and look around to see familiar sights. After such a long time away from the sea. What a simple pleasure.

Story 319

Crying Out Loud

by John Holmes

I was crying over a seagull. The stiff breeze, streaming from the sea, encouraged the flow of tears.

The seagull was standing on its one good leg, unaware of my distress. The more it wobbled in the wind, the more I cried.

My emotional compassion towards this bird was totally unreasonable. It’s disability was creating a lachrymose drama, where I am given a starring role.

I wanted to pick the bird up and nestle it in the security of my warm winter coat.

I wiped my eyes, in a vain attempt to stop the flow of tears. The movement disturbed the seagull. It hopped to the left, then flew off the cliff and never looked back.

I watched it fly away as far as my blurred vision allowed, picked up my two sticks and very carefully heaved myself off the bench.

Story 320

A Lad In The Cave Of Wonders

by John Notley

When Uncle Abanazer had asked for his help in entering the cave, Aladdin had been scared.  Now that he had squeezed through the narrow entrance he was excited. He lit the scented candles he had been given and looked in wonder at the vast cavern that confronted him.

The flickering light bounced off gleaming stalactites revealing many chests scattered on the floor. The only sound was that of dripping water. Each chest overflowed with gold coins, precious jewels and silk cloths.

Aladdin rubbed his eyes unable to believe what he saw. He dipped his hands in one of the chests and felt the coins running through his fingers. He held the silks against his cheeks. The delicate aroma from the candles lifted his spirits as he filled his pockets with as many coins as he could.

He kicked away the battered old lamp laying at his feet and made his exit. Abanazer pulled him through. "Where is it then?"

"Where's what?"

"You know what, you idiot, the lamp. The lamp."

"Oh, that old thing... I ditched it. It weren't no good to anyone."

Story 321

A Late Return

by Evelin May

Above her, the sky was on fire. Deepest shades of scarlet, streaked with orange and gold. She could not recall the last time she had seen colours that intense.

Unreal, she thought, breathtaking. Closing her eyes, she inhaled the fresh evening air. It smelled of the ocean, she could almost taste the salt on her tongue. The sand beneath her feet was soft, slowly cooling after a hot summer's day.

A seagull's cry cut through the silence. There, she could hear the soft murmuring of water washing upon the beach.

She remembered the first time she had seen the ocean. Her mother had taken her for her tenth birthday. It had been the morning after a storm. She would never forget the overwhelming sense of awe that had rushed through her that day, witnessing the force with which the waves broke on the black rocks, hearing the deafening roar that came with each crash.

She had not been back since, too busy with life.

But now that was done, and she had returned.

She smiled.

Story 322

Take That

by Julie Astronaut

When I was little I wanted to be big. I dreamt about it, cocooned in my Silver Cross pram as I looked out into the bright light hitting the shiny handle and bouncing up on to the white fringed canopy that was shading my fat little body.

I would lie, wind rustling the leaves around me, and dream of food. Thinking of my little teeth vibrating and my tiny wet pinky tongue shivering with pleasure. All of it in its English glory. (I had yet to travel off the front lawn). The crispy hot chips salted and covered with vinegar lying next to a brick of boozy battered fish. Glass dishes showing rainbow layers of steamy vegetables with melting butter dripping over them. A breast of golden succulent chicken. A bowl of cold meringue broken and covered in cream with red ruby strawberries. Or slurpy rice pudding with its milky smell and slippiness. 

That was my dream.

To wish my babyhood away. As I couldn't tell it or write it,  I could only dream it.

Story 323

Nowhere Woman

by Sandra Jones

I’m sitting here going nowhere. Can’t move, can’t think.

So, if we have to endure lockdown, why can’t work shut down? Ironic. But hospitals can’t close.

My day off, shall I have a drink?

It has to be five o'clock somewhere; today I don’t care.

Rain lashes down on my tin roof.

Fire flames crackle, cosy.

I open the front door to sniff the outside air. Eucalyptus greets my senses, redolent of a rainforest. Ah, the Australian forest, gorgeous, when not on fire.

So today, my day off, writer’s block has set in. Can’t go anywhere, can’t think, can’t move, feel numb.

Only one thing left to do. Mulled wine. I gaze out my window, watch the forest drinking in heavenly water and feeling my cheeks glow from the orange flames.

The aroma of cinnamon, orange and cloves add to the warmth. The syrupy flavours soothe my soul.

Nowhere woman… Now where have I heard that before? Oh, I remember… 'Nowhere Man', but I am somewhere. I’m lucky.

I have a home.

Story 324

Train On The 10th Platform

by Ambirneya Kannan

The train suddenly looked like the paradise she had dreamt of her whole life. Sanam came to know her man was near.

She kept searching for him in the crowds of the blue train, which was waiting to depart on the 10th platform of Central Railway Station.

She stepped out of the train and started walking along the platform until she saw Santa, the love of her life. She ran to him as the lone wolf runs to see her moon on a full-moon night. The little boy, who was clanging his toy to the floor, looked at them while they both blushed.

He hesitated to hug her because of the crowd, even though he really wanted to crush her between his arms with love. So, he gave a rough touch, held her hand and they both went onto the train.

They stood near the train door, hugging each other desperately. All the people on the train seemed to vanish to the love birds, who had met after a long time.

Story 325

Destitution Is Not Water Resistant

by Lesley Anne Truchet

The steady stream continued to flow. Millimetre by millimetre the water rose, taking its sweet time. The clear water was already lapping over my shoulders, tickling as it crept in tiny rivulets up my neck. My breaths came heavy and laboured, loud in my ears, like the sound of pumping bagpipes in preparation for playing.

The tepid liquid was protecting me from the freezing air, a temporary consolation. Cold to the marrow, I was unable to control my shivers and I began panting. The water began to eddy around my mouth. I sneezed and choked as a mouthful of water entered my lungs. Coughing uncontrollably, my calm cracked. 

As my numbed wet feet touched the icy, ancient ceramic tiles of my broken-windowed, north facing bathroom, I made a dash towards the wood burner, my towel flapping behind me as if trying to catch up.

My teeth chattering like a chorus of castanets, I resolved once and for all to replace my temperamental water heater, never mind the expense on my impoverished income.

Story 326

I Am A Mirage

by Daniel Scott White

"Do you see it?"

"I see water... hope."

And they pull themselves across the desert toward me. Tongues tied and dried out like broken and cracked leather.

I am a mirage. People come to me for life. I listen to them, talking about salvation. When they almost touch me, I move away.

But still, I listen. They lie most when they feel death is nearest.

"God has declared it. We must go west," the closer one says. He's broken, fingernails pulling his thin cage across the sand.

"God doesn't care. When we crossed that deep canyon, Jonah died there. Where was God then?" the other man asks, his arms bare and brushed with lines like they'd been grated with sandpaper.

Then...

"Can you see the pearly gates?" The first is pointing.

"I can," the second sings in ecstasy, arms upraised.

And when they feel themselves shriveling, they leave this world thinking I am the city of gold.

That's my gift to them. That's what I do. Yes, that is why I am a mirage...

Story 327

She Isn't Singing Yet

by Jill Waters

He hides beneath the fleecy towel, breathing in the generic fragrance of fabric softener. Some sort of flower. Jasmine? The noise of the crowd becomes a distant murmur, suppressed by the sound of his heart. A pounding sledgehammer within his chest. Breathe, he thinks, breathe.

Sweat trickles down his face, a cooling stream that stings his eyes and brings salt to his lips. He bites into the soft, yielding flesh of a perfectly ripe banana. He chews slowly, trying to swallow the pulpy, masticated mass, imagining the potassium within, battling the lactic acid in his thighs.

He looks down between his feet at the grass, verdant and green, manicured and managed, and imagines feeling it between his toes, soft and embracing. He longs to remove the shoes and strapping; the armour that encases them.

"Time."

Applause is deafening as his opponent stands. Removing the towel, he picks up his racquet, tightening his grip as he makes his feet move. The balls are soft but powerful. One point at a time. It's not over yet.

Story 328

Beaten

by Heather Haigh

Wind whips the flames into a frenzy. Billowing, acrid, black smoke assaults the nostrils and stings the eyes.

A low groan is heard above the roaring and the rattling ironwork. He darts back a pace as the searing heat batters his face, the pungent aroma catching in his throat. He coughs – a harsh racking noise that adds to the percussion of clanks, rustles and clatters.

Colourful plastic strips dance a merry jig, whipped horizontal as they strain to escape their anchorage. White angels standing in a neat row are tossed into the air, where they are torn into unrecognisable battered wisps, soaring towards the heavens.

He feels the perspiration that crawls down between his shoulder blades glue his billowing shirt to his back. A clammy chill envelops him. He reaches for his weapon of choice and hurls it at the uncontrollable monster. The hiss is deafening. The world turns white.

The hero sags, defeated. "I told you it was too flipping windy for a Barbie."

Story 329

The Only Way Is Up

by Paul Mastaglio

Tess gawped in wonder at the big white wheel that dominated the Hopping's fairground on Newcastle's Town Moor. She reached for David's hand but only managed to feel the rough texture of blue jeans as his hands stayed rooted in their pockets.

Puzzled, Tess turned her nose in the direction of the burger stall as the smoky aroma wafted over. She licked her lips as she thought of the spicy sauce she could add to the filling.

"Could we...?" she began.

David stared back, stony-faced.

"There's something I've been meaning to tell you," he interrupted.

Just then, they heard the whoops of excited children as they passed the dodgems. The little red cars buzzed around the circuit, shrieks following in their wake.

"What is it, David?"

"I was going to finish with you tonight, Tess. I couldn't deal with the loss of Tom any longer."

Tears formed in her hazel eyes as she gripped his arm tightly.

"We'll get through this, David."

Behind them, fireworks spluttered, coughed and then soared into the night sky.

Story 330

Inner Peace On Earth

by David Mitchell

I am a victorious Christmas shopper. My feet and arms are aching. The bus is late. Too many of us squeeze into the shelter. A fatty takeaway smell wafts by. I can so nearly taste it. My empty stomach grumbles. I am exhausted. I need home. Now.

The bus turns up and I head upstairs. The deck is illuminated by a shop’s flashing neon reindeer. I grab a window seat. The heavy bags on my lap instantly cut the circulation to my legs. A sizable stinking drunk man sits down awkwardly beside me, pushing me closer to the window. Ouch.

Passengers start calling home to explain their lateness. Multiple conversations kick off using increasingly competitive volumes. Youngsters blast out electronic music. The engine starts. In my constrained conditions, I twist painfully to pull out my headphones. Torture.

Why do we do this to ourselves every stinking year? I place the headphones over my numb ears and close my eyes. Wonderful bass. Thumping drums. Walls of guitars. I escape to my happy place. Peace.

Story 331

Après-Ski – The Ultimate Love Affair Of A Chocolate Bar

by Ceri Marriott

Toby loved the steep Swiss valleys and their deep ridges. After a hard first day of skiing though, he was feeling somewhat shattered. However, he was very happy that Maria had brought him to the village bar.

Maria, wearing an alluring scent, had first come to his attention in a supermarket in London. She'd thought he looked lonely on the shelf at his age, fancy that and had immediately taken pity on him. He'd gone back to her house, and, well... one thing had led to another and here he was now, in his favourite country with a girl he adored.

For the first few days, she'd just kept gazing at him and touching him tenderly, and clearly wasn't quite ready to fully consume their relationship. But now when he looked into her eyes, he saw her happy smiling face, heard the excitement in her voice, and his heart simply melted with ecstasy. He knew it would be different today. Her tongue would soon be licking him all over.

What a way to go.

Story 332

The Smell Of Eternity

by Bernie Mayall

The train suddenly moved, earlier than it should, jumping into life with a metallic, laboured groan. I was relieved, it meant I'd be earlier home. I closed my eyes and settled down to relax. But when it didn’t stop at the next station or the next or the next, I became wary. The pins and needles of anxiety shot around my belly and I looked around. Where there had been people there were none. The blue-green of the scenery blurred against the carriage windows as we gained speed dizzyingly fast.

The overwhelming sound of an alarm reverberated down the train, causing me to wince. It seemed to come from nowhere creating a puddle of sound that felt as if it was dripping towards me. A sweet aroma filled the air. My eyes watered with the sensations and closed again.

When they opened, I was no longer on a train, I was in a large field. Flowers stretched in every direction, the smell of mown grass was overpowering. I noticed my headstone.

Story 333

Brave In The Trenches

by Lindsey McPherson

Hunkering down in the stinking muddy trench, water at knees, trench foot itching, I can see my army mates, wide eyed, dazed, terrorised. Young lives trying to get comfortable, knowing the smell of their bodies and fear.

Icy breath hangs in the air. "Into the trench, boys."

Cigarettes calm the nerves. My mate Sarg lights mine. Enemy third sight and a ricochet ringing in the ears, Sarg wounded.

"Medic, medic."

Pressing rags into Sarg’s wounds, body warm, blood wet.  Blood pulses, a sign of the living.

Urgent shouts carry down the trench. "Incoming."

Bomb blasts landing two hundred yards away, then nearer, one hundred yards over the lip of the trench, shrapnel flying, young men praying. I sneak a look. They are coming.

German voices getting nearer, their boots squelching in the mud. Prayers get louder. "Mother Mary..."

Then: flash bang.

"Charge."

"Get them."

"Kill them."

"Charge."

Rifle up, trying to get a grip in the soft mud, clambering upward. Sliding backward, falling back.

Eyes meet. Kill or be killed.

Story 334

Run

by Minhong Kim

My sweat trickles down my tired body. I must finish.

I check my CASIO F-91W limited 1991 model. It's almost 5PM. I pick up my pace, and my sweaty, muddy legs bounce back and forth, propelling me forward.

I see a water station coming up. The volunteer running the water station looks bored. He has on a yellow, bright vest and doesn't even notice me coming up. Panting, I snatch up and drink out of the small, paper-based cup. Nearly finished...

I wake up. My alarm is blaring out a classic '80s ringtone. I check my actual CASIO F-91W limited 1991 model. August 1st, 8:45 AM. I'm late for the race.

Story 335

Next Stop, Limbo

by Nat Ellis

The train suddenly stops. A brilliant blue light envelops me. The slow drumming of my heartbeat fills deathly silence.

I inhale to calm myself, aware that the air smells ethereal.

I start to hear a faint rhythmic beep.

I grab the rough fabric of the seat in front of me and pull myself to stand.

The light begins to fade, lifting the fog from my vision. My eyes adjust. I see a door at either end of the compartment. One is labelled 'Stay', the other 'Leave'.

I walk towards Leave, but it feels like wading through treacle. An overpowering medicinal smell makes me recoil. I taste metallic sweetness.

I glide effortlessly towards Stay. A reminiscent and fragrant aroma wraps around me like a warm hug. Primroses. The scent my beloved took to the grave.

My life memories flash into my mind as the beeping becomes a long monotonous drone.

My heartbeat stops. Consciousness dawns.

I have to make a choice between the comfortable ease of eternal reverie, or the painful struggle of existing without you.

Story 336

Normally Perfect

by Jason Kim

A light wind tickles the back of my hair as I progress into a light jog. The faint glimmer of early morning sun bathes the trees around me with shimmering intensity as I breeze past them. Ambient sounds of nature fill the air and resonate in the silent morning.

As I reach the harbour I slow down, walk over to the balcony and gaze out to the purpose of my daybreak run. The morning horizon is met by a vibrant orb that splatters the water below in kaleidoscopic shades of crimson, amber and gold.

Story 337

Ruin

by Tom Fender

I opened my eyes to find nothing. My ears rang, and the roof of my mouth tasted like dirt and metal. I realised then that I couldn't breathe.

At first, I thought I was a goner like I was in some sort of limbo. Then I realised I could push myself up. Black soil dropped around me as I emerged from its chilly embrace.

I breathed in the musty air and, with it, the sweet smell of the dead.

The world was grey. Mud, soil, broken wood. Torn white and red flags were all around me. A subtle breeze sent the hairs on my spine straight up.

My armour was dragging me down, so I pulled it off. I took one step, then another, each one helping me towards my destination, a hillcrest.

I reached it with my heart pounding and my chest rising and falling in infrequent bursts; something was wrong with me, yet I didn't know what.

I cried when I saw the abysmal sight. My village was gone.

Story 338

Guilty Pleasure

by Shanne Wolberg

On the tray sits a piece of red velvet cake. Cream cheese icing like snow atop a crimson mountain.

She licks it, slowly, savouring the sweetness and then bites quickly into the moist dessert. Her teeth sink deeply into the sugary treat, tongue lapping up the crumbs greedily as they fall. She can smell the sugar, feel it pumping through her veins.

She smacks her lips together, making a crude, popping sound, startling herself, causing her to jump. It has been a long time since she has tasted anything so decadent. A flood of saliva accompanies a flood of memories. Those of better times.

Her fingers run over the white napkin, feeling the roughness of the paper as she brings it to her stained, red lips. She swallows down the rich confection and listens for the metallic turn of the key in the lock.

They would come for her now. They would take her life, but they could never take back her last guilty pleasure. Her last meal.

Story 339

Ambiance

by Brenda Daniels

My eardrums pulsed to the early morning thunder that crickled and clattered a valley away. My nostrils unfurled for a puff of warm, salt-earth that washed through the mosquito-mesh window, rippled across the hairs on my right arm, and then flittered through the meshed doorway behind me. Rain pattered onto the canvas roof, trickled through the leafed trees and dripped and splashed from a brass pipe that kept the canvas taught and leak-free.

As my eyelids cracked open, grey, lemon-yellow sunlight yawned at my pupils. It was so early the white-noise shrill of night cicadas still pierced the bush. But with the turn of dawn the distant chirp of the first sunbird hissed across the night insects. "Wake up," it said.

The soft pads of my fingers swiped at my warm, damp brow. Gosh, I thought, YouTube’s ambient sounds morning alarm is really realistic.

Story 340

The Bubble Net

by Natalie Jane Bayfield

The cold air drifts like a feather, undisturbed by the icy sea. Still waters run deep.

Underneath the water she stretches her spine to turn, then dive. Gravity preserved in her slow descent. Displaced water tickles her thick blubber in upward strokes. The sea glides like cream against her silvery skin.

She turns again. The sun dapples the surface of the sea. Her body shudders like a drum. Bubbles are beating their way through her. They climb with her, ahead of her, turning as she turns, beaming up a cylindrical fizzing wall.

A haunting cry: a salty song released from the hollow pipes of another leviathan nearby rallies together a cacophony of monsters. Glittering fish spin together in a disco ball, dancing desperately to escape the glass ceiling of their aqueous tomb.

From above: shadows grow darker beneath the polished sea. Ribbed columns of flesh ceremoniously rise and break the still water. Their wide-open mouths sealing the fate of fickle fish. Fish forever feted in a temple that quietly retreats, back into the sea.

Story 341

Flowers

by Amizero Iriza Peace Mary

And the flowers do not smell; they say they are nobody

But when the time comes they quit for security reasons

Their vivid images fade away, the way they act as instrumentals 

But one day they feel their faults and try to quit their way 

Ever since the next chapter revealed a new and important fruit 

That chapter is called 'life is a book'

And when it comes to the fruit scents, they feel tremendous

Life becomes uneasy and difficult in the shade of the fruits' summer 

And already find another place to live in 

The flowers then lose them and cut ties

Story 342

The Transient Line

by Alice Galvin

A gale of hot air sprang at me, like a blasting furnace. A swarm of people pushed their way through the narrow doors, jostling for a seat like seagulls trying to grab the last chip on a pier. The last in the pecking order stood aloof.

A multitude of scents competed for sensory dominance: coffee, perfume and body odour. Of course, the journey doesn't begin without a warm, robotic welcome from the muffling voice. "Wel-come-to-the-Ju-bi-lee-line."

Passengers on the 9am train, riding the world’s dullest roller coaster, either glued to their devices or staring at the walls like criminals in mugshots. Not even for the cries of a screaming child, would they redirect their gaze. 

Mesmerised by the iconic blue and red sign that read 'Green Park', as it blurred away from the departing train. Blending into the remaining mosaic on the walls, like watercolours.

Sounds of the train brushing up against the concrete tunnel echoed roaring Romans in deathly battle.

Train was now shaking. Passengers were rocking. Lights failed…

Story 343

Night At Mount Makiling

by Marh

The forest floor was slightly damp due to the mountain's cold. The distant relentless whine of the cicadas filled my ears as I crouched among the shrubbery while twigs crunched and snapped under my boots. The scent of wet earth and flora filled my nose but still, I kept to my hiding spot.

The only things I could see through the darkness were the occasional flashlights being pointed at our trainees and, though the cold ground was starting to get me, I ground my teeth and held onto my flashlight tighter.

Rapid footsteps sounded past me. Quickened breaths and restrained huffs of laughter rang through my ears as two trainees ran past. I scrambled to turn the flashlight on and blinding light filled my vision for a moment before my gaze landed on the two trainees who looked at me, wide-eyed.

Smiling, I nodded for them to return to the barracks. "Caught you."

The cicadas' shrill cries continued on.

Story 344

The Dancers

by Amelia Anthony

The dancers seemed a picture of perfection as they twirled and lept. Their wavy skirts swished around their knees and the heavy sound of wooden heels clanged against the floor.

They spun, faster and faster, until the bells on the ends of their dresses rang together in a shrill scream.

They flew past me, wafting the heavy scent of perspiration over me as they did so.

The dancers placed full trust in the music, which played fast and quick, like a sparrow racing through the rustling leaves of a lush, green forest.

And when a note was missed, the trust was broken and loud crashes thudded through the floorboards as people stumbled and fell.

I bit down on my tongue, hoping to snuffle down the laugh that was rising in my chest.

I succeeded, but at a price, for the bitter taste of blood soon coated my tongue and, upon reaching up to my mouth, I found my hand to be covered in the red colour of blood, striking strongly in contrast to my pale skin.

Story 345

Flooding the Titan's Monolith

by Zorbaz Englander

Snow decorates the prairie glaciers as water glimmers and flows, spewing from an iron monolith, staked into the depths. The air, far too cold for flowing water, frosts each breath of the titan. His eyes tighten as he stares at the spreading lake in the winter's wane light.

The titan treads through the glaciers and rivers, splattering water towards the heavens, cracking the ice with each thunderous step. Bending low, he places his ear against the monolith, furrowing his brow at the distant, unceasing rush of water within. The cracked well spills the blood of the earth upon the glaciers and into winter's cold embrace.

Wiping his eyes, the Titan gazes to the distant east and mutters to the wind, "It just had to be tonight, the night war filled Ukraine."

The titan cuts the power, the well stops its bleeding, and drifts to silence below. Time passes, the light fades and in darkness, the rivers freeze. The glaciers cackle with glee as the winds and snows of war sweep across them unabated once more.

Story 346

Best Day Ever

by Aisha Amjad

The sea was roaring with all its glory. Looking at the red-orange sky, Moon turned her head towards the clanking noise.

An old man was balancing a bamboo basket full of colourful bangles on his head and shouting loudly, "Buy the rainbow-coloured bangles, red, green, blue and yellow, made for only beautiful women's thin wrists."

Moon smelled the scent of jasmine flower coming from a small boy who was busy selling the garlands to a happy couple. The aroma of spicy potato patty sizzling at a nearby food cart watered her mouth.

She checked her bag for some loose change and bought the red and green bangles from the old man, whose sunken eyes sparkled with joy, and moved towards the food carts. She slowly ate the flavourful spicy patty on top of sweet savoury tamarind chutney, tastes bursting in her mouth.

She smiled and pulled out her mobile, captured her best selfie in the background of setting sun and posted on her Instagram: Best Day Ever – Sun, Sand and Colour.

Story 347

Monday Blues

by Jamal Sarwar

On Mondays I am groggy. This has to do with the chores of the weekend along with my pursuit of hobbies. By the time I get to sleep, it is well past midnight.

I am awakened by the clanging of the alarm. My body is deprived of rest and I wish to sleep a little longer. But I have to reach the office in time and that is when I begin to get panic attacks.

I rub my eyes and half-heartedly draw the blue curtains to let the morning light in to help me fully awaken. I curse the roughness of my beard and head towards the bathroom. While brushing my teeth the sweetness of the toothpaste makes me wish I could eat it and save time on breakfast. I shave and take a quick shower.

By the time I am ready to leave for work, I am already so weary. The tangy smell of primroses lining the driveway lighten my mood. I head off to work wishing there was an extra day between Sunday and Monday.

Story 348

Stay A Little Longer

by Charley Whitehead

The light streams in beneath the curtains and douses the room in an orange glow. It starts at the foot of the bed, extends its reach until it illuminates the body beside him, creates peaks and valleys across the landscape of its back. The head of hair imitates the golden sun outside, and it makes the air smell like citrus.

He runs his hand up the spine, settling against the neck where the pulse beats, alive. His fingers flutter to a tune he can't hear, pirouetting across the skin like the motes in the light. They settle gently over the heart. He pulls himself closer; the sun soaks them both.

He whispers, "Stay."

The body sits up, reaches out until its shoulders pop, and stands.

He turns out of the heat and stares at the ceiling until it is about to cave in on him.

A hand brushes his hair back and the mouth – that terrible, beautiful mouth that has said terrible, beautiful things – hovers over his. A silent promise before slipping out the door.

Story 349

The Imperfect Marriage

by Emma Hardy

Tip tap. Pit pat. The kitchen tap dripped loudly, almost deafeningly to Nora. She grabbed another large handful of popcorn and shoved it into her mouth. The toffee flavour soon became sickly sweet around her teeth but still she crunched, then more.

The potpourri bowl rested drearily next to the popcorn bowl like an unsuited married couple. The potpourri had been sitting there for months now, with only a faint smell lingering if you put your face right into it.

The doorbell rang. Nora jumped. It was time. A few stray popcorn pieces spiralled onto the kitchen floor. Nora’s hands became clenched fists. Then she released them, then clenched them again. She took a deep breath and opened the front door. The world seemed on pause, silent. The smell of baked bread from two doors down made Nora’s nose twitch with envy.

Nora grabbed her bright pink luggage and entered her lover’s car. It had blacked out windows.

"To us."

The champagne flutes chinked in the back of the limousine and their driver pulled away.

Story 350

Into The Pit

by Rosie Arcane

Is this Hell?

It must be. Just look at these creatures. Twisted bodies, crooked hands and sunken, dead eyes. The smell is the worst thing, a concoction of nervous perspiration and broken dreams. This sweltering, spiritless place is just a petri dish, brewing apathy and cynicism.

I remember what it's like to live. To see the world. Will I ever be able to do that again? I clench my jaw and wiggle it from side to side, feeling my teeth scrape against each other. It sends a shudder up my spine.

I jump at the sound of my name. The guttural voice is like hot coals in my ear canals.

"Quit your daydreaming. I want that report on my desk by one o'clock."

My boss waddles off, leaving a stinging cloud of overpowering aftershave, oniony body odour and authority in his trail. It catches in the back of my throat and I choke.

Yes. This is definitely Hell.

Story 351

Gone

by Melanie Barrow

Tentatively, I pushed open the door and peered into the gloom. A heady cocktail of spicy pot noodle, sweat and unwashed clothes assaulted my nostrils – eau de teenager.

Picking up a discarded hoodie I let the synthetic softness caress my cheeks, breathing him in. Navigating towards the grey geometric patterned curtains, I stumbled over a plate peeking from under the bed. Crouching, I wondered what other treasures lurked in that cave. My fingers closed around a slimy, rotting apple smothered in fluff. Black droplets stained the carpet, oozing from the discarded blackcurrant juice carton. A sudden glimmer of sunlight exposed hundreds of crinkled abandoned jewelled sweet wrappers.

Brandishing the can of air freshener I paused, strangely reluctant to obliterate the putrid smell. Sinking into his hollow in the mattress, encased in crumpled bedding, I wondered Could I do this, could I really disinfect his memory?

My phone vibrated. 'Hi, just been for nachos with one of my flat mates. See you Xmas.'

I smiled with renewed resolve, let the jasmine loose and pressed the nozzle.

Story 352

Description of Love

by Fahime Saeedi

My darling

Your voice is red

Your eyes are like a wild deer

When you look at me

The warmth of your gaze

My cold body: it heats up

 

My darling

Remember all that love making

In the secluded alleys of the heart

How it knots from knot to knot

Only with your voice

 

My darling

Tune your voice for me

Like guitar strings

To be the caress of my frozen heart

 

Yes

My darling

My darling

Your voice is red

Story 353

Mag Pie (from Ripley's Recipes for Cats, 500 Easy Meals for One)

by Deborah Owen

Ingredients:

  • One adolescent magpie
  • Dry, crackly leaves
  • Gobs of glutinous spit (processed is fine)
  • Feathers (a mix of soft and scratchy)
  • Gravel
  • Dust

Preparation:

Best done when the youngster is alone while its huge, monochrome parents are off spearing a buffalo for lunch. Trickle a trail of bird food (obtainable from all good garden tables) from the nesting tree in the direction of you. Camouflage yourself by crouching in some long, rustling grass and wait for the stinky little thing to hop your way. 

Make that weird chattering noise, then pounce – silently. The wriggling, furious ingredient will taste good, but don't crunch down, you'll spoil the recipe.

Back indoors, preferably without humans watching, dispatch the birdie. Let it cool off. Bind leaves and gravel with spit (or dribble, if spit is unavailable). Dress with feathers (the dish, not you). Remember, we eat with our eyes.

Consume at leisure – then find the TV guide, because once the parents get a whiff of what's happened, you won't be going out for some time.

Story 354

Reading In Nature

by Baran Rastegar

The tepid sunshine makes contact with my skin. I tame the pages of my book with my fingers, feeling its pages smooth and free of roughness as it dances tango with the wind. The wind says farewell, and welcomes the rain.

The cold tears of the sky drip down my forehead and onto the page. I'm drenched in the cries of the sky's pain, shaking in the chilly weather. I can taste the drops of rain, feeling its bitterness in my mouth. I can hear the rage of nature, the fight and tension of unresolvable conflicts. Lighting and thunder have never been on the same page of any book at all…

Screams. The tension is unbearable, and I lose control of my book as it plummets to the ground while its sound echoes. Bang. My soul has had enough.

Story 355

Remembering My Grandfather With Fondness Compared to Work and Next Door

by Alan Ryan

Mondays often make me mourn a weekend's passing.

A work return infested with virtual anti-fun. Joyful pretence peering into a small screen hollows me. Two dimensional ghosts animating life, developing 'screenitis'. Work appealed once; used to fulfil. Post pandemic, a blue-sky thinking directive stationed me at home. Leaders fake caring.

Another quiet, sunny day to roast in my bedroom workspace, like ripe tomatoes withering on vines. A dull clang from next door's meter echoes through thin walls. Unlike musical chimes from a clock my grandfather left me. Next door and their furniture are gone. He projected a lofty ego yet appeared vacant. His manner was rough as a thistle's teat, shouting and swearing. Monotonous tones, enough to bore a cat licking a sweet.

Kim is Zoom-calling me. I ignore it. Tension pulses across my temples. I strike a match and light my candle. A dancing flame and primrose fragrance are mood changers. A necessary uplift at nine-fifteen, when stuck here until five.

I sip water. I won't anchor myself here much longer. I'm no tomato.

Story 356

Rush Hour

by Holly Harris

The train suddenly jerked to the right, bringing those aboard with it. No blue seats were left unoccupied, no handle left without hands clasped around it. The screeching of the train, as it pulled into the next station, pierced the air and instructions from the Tannoy followed. Bags clanged against the walls of the train as it began to move again.

The rough fabric of the seats scratched those who were lucky enough to sit, though the cold weather meant many had winter coats or trousers for protection. The floral smell of various perfumes intertwined with the muskier colognes and the odours of sweat, all in a cocktail of an aroma, spreading through the air within the carriage. The smell could almost be tasted, it was that strong. A bitter taste, with a hint of sweetness, a dash of warmth, all mingling together.  

At the next platform, people alighted from the train and more people replaced them, bringing the sounds of their conversations and silences. The hustle and bustle of the morning had begun.

Story 357

Reunion

by Vamsi Mohan Pingili

The train suddenly chugged. A familiar-looking middle-aged woman in an exquisite blue chiffon sari and sleeveless blouse entered the coach and glanced at the unoccupied seat beside me.

Looking at me, she exclaimed, "Hey, Manibh, is that you?"

I replied, "Yes. You are Priyanka Saxena, right?"

My long-isolated lover is the only person in this world who called me, Manibh. My actual name is Manish Bharadwaj.

The clang of water bottle and luggage on the floor broke our reverie. She quickly collected her belongings and sat next to me. For a moment I lost myself in the all familiar primrose fragrance emanating from her. The touch of her soft, smooth arm against my rough muscular body re-ignited my lost yearning for her.

"Manibh, how are you?" she asked. "Are you married?"

I said, "No. What about you?"

She offered me a sweet and said, "No."

I haven't experienced a tastier sweet in my life.

Story 358

A Cry In The Woods

by Ryan Finnerty

The cold breath of the wind always gives my spine a shiver. It is deep into the evening, and the trees have blended to a dark complexion. Though silence plays within these woods, my steps can be heard on a crunch of branches – their dying cry.

On my lower arm the blood has dried, yet I still smell its metallic taste amid the air freshly borne from the bushes and trees. The wound is long. I travel further, deeper into the ocean of woods. A white moon floods the night sky, alight with the stars. Still breathless from its endeavours, my heart thumps upon my chest, screaming to escape. Oh, but that is a different scream...

I run, with all my strength, through the forest. My heart thumps faster. The cries inflect and pierce, rising with the wind.

"Help me. Help."

As I sprint through bodies of trees, I listen intently, desperately.

"Help, someone, please."

I do what anyone would do. I supress the screams. My heart eases. The wind runs down my spine.

Story 359

Autumnal Embrace

by Ashley Fox

Framed by decaying brush and a fierce copper sky, the auburn-haired child frolics freely, leaves crunching beneath her soles, cheeks growing rosy from the crisp air. 

Deep cawing of shadowy birds echoes overhead, and an oaky aroma drapes the air, emphasising the changing of the seasons. 

Sparkling hazel eyes scan the horizon, always seeking magic in the mundane. 

With a tender wave of her hand, a compelling breeze sweeps through the garden, lifting a pile of leaves off the ground in a graceful upward swirl. 

Another small yet intentional motion commands the veil of sepia clouds to part, revealing a low, gentle sun. 

Soaking up its brilliance, she twirls in the cascading amber rays. 

Serenity gradually dims as the early sunset reminds her of inevitability, the turning of the wheel. Soon the land would be barren, void of life and vibrancy. 

A time of reflection and patience, she too would retreat inward, evolving evermore. 

Anchoring her in the present, the elements of the harvest envelop her, promising their return.

Story 360

Under The Boardwalk

by Valerie Fish

It was a glorious summer's day. I ran down to the sea and dived straight in, the chilly water a shock to my system, taking my breath away and giving me goose bumps.

I remember dancing in the lapping waves, enjoying the reprieve from the scorching heat, slimy slithery seaweed between my toes.

Back on shore drying off, the sweet perfume of Hawaiian Tropic. Basking in the sunshine, running silky soft warm sand through my fingers. Paradise.

But then I remember...

The stench of stale beer and tobacco on his breath, mingled with a whiff of candy floss and freshly cooked doughnuts. B.O. The saltiness of the blood on my lips, wanting to vomit. Squeals of happy children enjoying the rides, drowning out my own cries. A huge weight on top of me, crushing me, struggling to breathe. The nauseating feel of his fat sweaty hands all over me, inside me.

And then... nothing but blackness.

Story 361

Raising your Voice to the Rain

by Anoushka and Meredith

I walk along the pavement, each step I take layering more soot onto my shoes. I feel the grimy air surrounding me that covers the stars that were once so visible. I can feel it seeping into my lungs. I cough, crimson liquid splattering. My body aches but I carry myself further.

In the distance, a fox, now completely covered in black, whimpers and reluctantly lays down, wrapping its fluffy tail around itself before falling into its final slumber.

A fire in my chest convinces me to quicken my pace. I can feel my heart beating in my ears. I glance up at the bold red letters above me reading 'Emergency' but I don't have time to shout.

I fall to my knees, and clutch my chest. The most painful goodbyes are the ones that were preventable. If you raise your voice to the rain now, we can end this.

Story 362

Fresh Blood

by Bernie Mayall

Lorna is still, reflective, watchful. You think she is calm, at peace. Maybe she is. But if you look closely her hands are constantly moving, rubbing her nails, one nail sliding under another back and forth imperceptibly, fingertips rubbing, rasping.

Her hands tell us what her eyes do not. Placid eyes, a face in repose. A practised half smile ever present, a visual 'I'm fine'. The smile casts a protective ring around Lorna, a tangible barrier of placidity that defies penetration.

Her own natural, bright silver hair catches the sunlight, winter and summer, the way her colours catch the imagination of children reading the books she illustrates. Reflected, refracted, alive and immediate. They flowed from her heart onto the page as vivid as fresh blood. She feels colour, its vibrations deep inside her, feels them reverberate through her and flood her mind with their sounds and shapes with a joy she was unable to share in any other way without the art that gave her life. Her authors adore her. She paints and lives.

Story 363

Life Goes On...

by Freida Richards

Jo lifted his head from the steering wheel. He could feel the warm sticky liquid gushing down his face, the familiar taste of blood in his mouth.

"That was a damn stupid thing to do," he said, having lost control of his car. It had come to rest upside down in the ditch. His head hurt like hell and, touching it, he could feel a large, gaping hole.

He kicked out at the mangled door. The metal groaned as it crashed to the ground.  Jo scrambled up the bank, cursing as he did so, and seated himself against a tree.

Looking around, he saw a large house with lights on. He was feeling cold and knew that he needed to get in the warmth as soon as possible.

Stumbling across the open field and feeling dizzy, he fell into the soft earth. When he opened his eyes, he could see it was daylight. Standing in front of him was a tall man.

"Thank God, can you help me?" he whispered.

Story 364

The Executors

by Lily Finch

Why would I agree to that?" said Randy.

Denise, in her beige turtle neck sweater dress that made her legs appear just enough to end in beige patent heels that matched her flawless make-up, poured herself a drink of iced tea. She sat in the blue, plush wingback chair across from him. Increasing the pitch in her voice, she responded, "I suppose because we both stand to lose a lot of inheritance for one."

He scoffed at her and took a drink of his sweet tea. Still, the loud, repetitious clang of the grandfather clock diverted his attention to the tiny, wooden door next to the clock. The old door beckoned him. As he opened it, he felt the rough doorknob against his palm, thumb and index finger.

Randy saw his parents' old green gardening boots, lime green pruning gloves, and bright yellow slickers still inside. They pulled Randy instantly back to the scent of their floral gardens, where primrose filled his nose. He spun loosely, his eyes crinkled and he said, "OK, where do I sign?"

Story 365

The Sting of the Sea

by Susan Wickham

The relentless pain in my head pulsated. I could hear the sea from my bedroom window. It seemed in rhythm to the throbbing. 

I walked out towards it, the coarse yellow sand filtering through my toes. I lay face down, flat towards the soft waves and stretched out in the direction of them. The green water crept up the beach gradually towards me and touched my fingers, then my wrists and arms. A whiff of the strong seaweed scent blew towards me. I swallowed and could taste the sour salt. 

My clothes started to feel heavy as the ocean took possession of me. I ignored every impulse to move until I started choking and spluttering. 

Beside me, I noticed a pure white, perfect crinkled-up jelly fish. It was beautiful. All at once, my mood changed, the banging in my temples ceased and I stood up and staggered out of the water.

Story 366

Destination Bluebird

by Teresa Griffin

The train suddenly came to a screaming halt. A large mist of orange and black cloud crept along the track, engulfing the singing bluebird perching happily on the side lines. Out of the mist emerged a giant, voluptuous singing bluebird, clanging claws along the railway track, heading straight towards the stilted train. The driver stood rigid in fear, unblinking eyes, staring immediately ahead, drinking in this enormous vision of bouncing feathers hurtling towards him. The mist descended around the rough, flaky yellow exterior of the carriages. The train driver now gone.

A sweet smell of sticky, golden honey whiffed through the carriages as the plump bumblebees hummed and weaved in and out of the windows, carrying primrose flowers on their backs. Translucent lilac petals swirled around in the air, releasing powder puffs of tongue tingling, glistening sherbet. Screams could be heard echoing throughout the train, then silence.

Story 367

Sunday Nights

by Shazad Khan

I remember my secondary school days, when, on a Sunday night, usually when I heard the intro to Last of the Summer Wine on TV, that a heavy darkness would envelop me. Pleasant though the intro was, to me it was the precursor to the oncoming onslaught of school. Like a bad omen, it spoke to me of endless hours in the classroom, and of the unfinished homework that I still had to complete. As an adult, no longer confined to the shackles of school, and even though I no longer watch Last of the Summer Wine, the dreaded feeling continues.

On a Sunday night still, in my forties, my heart feels rough, ragged, dark and gloomy. The air around me begins to reek of toil and labour with the bitter taste of marmite on my tongue. And even though it might be a mid-summer evening, a chill grips my innermost being and churns my insides till it turns blue.

Story 368

The Predator Lurking in Our Midst

by Linda Swan

The wild soul of the beast arose as the creature crouched low. Perceptive glowing eyes stared with laser focus at the unsuspecting prey. Pointed ears were alert and listening. A pink nose sniffed the still air, whiskers twitching. The power of the animal vibrated across its golden, striped fur. Sharp muscles coiled and bunched as its body sprung up, unleashing the monster and forcing it through the air. Muscular legs directed sharpened claws with deadly precision.

The predator’s success was marked with a shrill squeak that broke the silence, the victim pinned. In fluid motion, back paws bludgeoned and pummelled the target. Razor-sharp teeth clamped down, gnawing mercilessly, striving for the taste of blood and flesh.

The intoxicating, sweet smell of mint and lemon began to infiltrate feral senses. Savage bites turned to obsessive chews and licks. Euphoria forced lazy movements sending the quarry across the carpet. In a state of bliss, the hunter ambled after its find, the bell on its collar tinkling as it rubbed its face across the toy mouse.

Story 369

Fluffernutter of Squibbleton

by Ashutosh Pant

Once, in the town of Squibbleton, there lived a strange creature named Fluffernutter. Fluffernutter was a half-unicorn half-jellyfish hybrid with rainbow fur and black tentacles that glowed in the dark. He loved cheese mixed with pancakes and could often be found floating through the sky or under water.

One day, while Fluffernutter was frolicking in a meadow, he stumbled upon a talking potato named Sir Spudington. Sir Spudington had a monocle and a top hat, and he spoke in rhymes that made no sense whatsoever. They went on a quest to find the forbidden shoes.

They went to Doubblefon, a hill near their city in search of the shoe. They climbed the hill and jumped from it to find the shoes with Sir Spudington flying on the the back of Fluffernutter. They flew for two days straight but found no shoe and returned back sadly to Squibbleton.

Story 370

Grandmas Are Supposed to Wear Housecoats

by Karen Storey

"You’re going to be a Grandma!" My stunning, lithe daughter and her pretty, petite wife bounce into the cluttered kitchen.

Grandma. I glance at my turquoise yoga pants and red painted toenails while images of a real grandma rush forth.

I’m four years old, finding solace in the squishy lap of Grandma Fran, whose breath smells of coffee as she kisses my cheek with her dry, wrinkled lips. When I touch the floury skin beneath her chin, it pushes inward like dough, then out, spongelike, as my finger pulls away.

The dark crimson of my toenails reflects starlike beams from my kitchen spotlights, stinging my eyes, making them tear.

I hug both my girls tight, then step towards the coffee machine. My finger brushes a stray coffee granule, which I press to my tongue, relishing its bitter kick. I push the machine switch, waiting for the slurping, sucking action of the water.

I won’t have the spongy chin, the squishy lap, not even a housecoat, but I can forever breathe out coffee scented grandma kisses.

Story 371

Paper Cotton

by Joe Streiff

He had never seen a 500 Euro note. It looked unreal, like pretend money. Ultimately, it was. One hotel on Boardwalk, please. Banknotes had this strange texture, especially used ones. Somewhere between leather and a kitchen cloth. They sounded like paper, but they were made of cotton, he had once learned. Paper money was not made of paper. This told you everything you needed to know about modern economics.

Pecunia non olet – money does not stink. Some Roman emperor had allegedly said that once. He took a quick glance around, then rubbed the note under his nose. That Roman fella obviously had never smelled paper money made from cotton. It did stink. Little, but noticeable, of sweat, grease, and, it being a 500 Euro note, a bit of cocaine. Or so he thought. He had never taken any. Too expensive.

He opened his mouth slightly. He just had to know. A jerk, a quick lick and… yuck. Just yuck.

"Streiff!" the manager yelled from behind. Damn. His first and last day as a bank teller.

Story 372

A Sixth Sense

by C.A. Evans

I’m not sure I want to be here. I hug the warm ceramic mug with cupped hands, nervously stroking the smooth embossed logo, waiting for the liquid to cool. I turn to my toasted teacake instead. The butter oozes from the spongy bread as I take a bite. There’s a hint of cinnamon. I am reminded of Christmas and worry that’s why she wants to meet. I push my plate away as a man sweeps past. His cheap musky scent irritates my nose, ruining my breakfast completely.

I wash the teacake down with my cooled latte. It’s more bitter than I’m used to in other coffee shops, but she wanted to meet here. The caffeine explosion jolts me awake just in time. I must have a sixth sense because, as I look towards the door, she enters wearing her usual denim dungarees. Her layered necklaces jangle along with the clink of coffee cups as she walks straight to the counter. When she looks round to ask if I want another, I am no longer there.

Story 373

The Circus of Second Hell

by Phillip J Cogger

The street smelled of old wine, cheap food, cigarettes smoked to death, and looked like a pair of communal Y-fronts. I leaned against a wall to catch my breath, the smell of my own stale sweat setting up home inside my nostrils.

Despite my status, I had everything to live for. And even though I had nothing to give, they still pursued me. I'd been running for five minutes when the one with the purple hair gave up. I guess he'd seen what I was made of when I ripped a tuft of his badgers mop straight out.

I expected sirens somehow, that's how they showed you it was them. But there had been nothing save a pulse on repeat. All I knew was run and keep running, until whoever I'd been might give way to who I might become.

Story 374

Into The Light

by Jason Mann

The miracle happened in the most unlikely of ways.

They'd told Joe Parsons not to go up on to the roof. Too dangerous, they said. But typical of feisty old Joe, he ignored them. The fragrant rooftop garden had become ever more precious to him as he lost his sight.

On this spring day, Joe stayed up there longer than usual, lapping up the benign warmth of the sun, the gentle perfumes of lavender, rose and honeysuckle, and the cheeky chirping of birds.

So, it was late by the time he felt his way down the narrow stairs back to his flat using the familiar handholds. Near the top, a child's toy snagged his foot. He lurched forward, his stomach swirling, a half cry on his lips. Over and over he rolled, his head banging against the bannisters and the wall.

He awoke, squinting in an explosion of light and colour. Heaven? No, heaven didn't have fuschia wallpaper and a stained hallway light.

"I can see," he croaked. "I can see!"

Story 375

The Bath

by Kate Baker

My skin is the colour of pale raspberries - a month before they'll be picked and squashed and squeezed by tiny hands, eaten in stealth by Pick-Your-Own-ers. I put the tip of my tongue against the back of my hand and taste soap.

The bath water is too hot but I'm addicted to the tingling in my toes, the scent of exotic fruit in my nose. I shut my eyelids and all I hear is the whirr of extractor fan, the tinkling of water cascading from limbs as I lift them into cooler air. Gentle snapping of disappearing bubbles deliver notes of mango and lime, just as The Body Shop promised on their scratch 'n' sniff advertising board in an otherwise drab and dowdy High Street. The board was overseen by a beautiful, tall, effervescent girl. We'd piled in like a river bursting its banks. I cradled the gauze bag all the way home on the noisy number nine bus, and hid diesel fumes by sniffing the contents, excited to soak winter away.

Story 376

Primrose and Chocolates

by Joe Parrillo

The train suddenly slowed to a stop a quarter mile from the station. Then, a flash of blue light struck me and I was knocked down. I was alone in the station. I walked towards the train and noticed no driver.

Next, I was startled by a clanging sound. The noise was deafening.

It was already a rough morning, having been terminated from my job and now an empty train.

I noticed a beautiful woman step off the train. She handed me a box of chocolates. "These are for you, you dear sweet man."

"Who are you?"

She said, "Primrose."

I loved the smell of her name. "Would you want to have a drink with me?"

"No. Your dreams are short."

The clanging alarm went off. I was in my condo. Crawling out of bed, I headed to the kitchen. My eyes popped. On the table was a box of chocolates. On the back, in black marker, it said: 'Primrose. 919-771-7651.'

I picked up my phone and called her. Finally, she picked up. "Joey?"

"Ma?"

Story 377

Cadaver Dog

by Dianne Bown-Wilson

Vast canvas. Banks of fields; emerald mounds so voluptuous you want to roll in them. But unreadable. Fool's Errand, most believe.

You raise your head, tail thumping. We're off.

On the hillsides, a purring wind seethes through grassland, rippling up Mexican waves, sighing through copses of trees, pausing like stop-start traffic.

In the valley, distant bleating sheep, reeking cowpats by a gushing stream, claggy hoof-churned mud.

Onward.

You, straining, pulling the lead, so competitor-keen my fingers ache from resisting.

"Stay with me," I whisper. "We'll find him together."

Reassuring hand on your warm, bony skull, but you're not interested in my touch. All you want is your quarry.

You look up, ears perked, eyes scanning, but nothing's as steadfast as the nose. Head down again. "Good boy, follow the ghost." Cadaverine, putrescine, decomposing corpse. I chant the words like metronome beats, mindlessly following your path.

I'm panting, mouth dry, furrowed tongue craving gum. But I park the thought. I can't confuse you with whiffs of minty freshness when your focus is death's putrid stench.

Story 378

Story 386?

by Peter Smith

My fingers hover over the keyboard. The tips of each feel the smooth centre and the sharper edge of individual keys – a soft caress, not the hard, satisfying tap as I begin to write, for I don’t write.

My eyes are transfixed on the screen before me, a blank white page, its only occupant a lonely, flashing cursor, yet I don’t see it.  I am aware of the vast whiteness but I see through it, look past it, gaze into foreign lands, fantasy realms, and even my own history, but I don’t write.

I hear the sound of my breathing and the gentle fizz of the rain outside, but all I long to hear is that confident tap of the keys. The assured footsteps of my story taking shape. Still I don’t write.

My nostrils are assaulted by the aroma of caffeine. An unwelcome distraction, but a welcome one also. Its bitter taste plays across my tongue. A comfort blanket, but no inspiration within, so I don’t write.

Story 386? I don’t write, yet.

Story 379

Shooting the Breeze

by Samantha Milton

"Why would I ever agree to that?" asked Bumblebee.

"I hear ya," said Hoverfly. "Yeah, you'd have to stop flying but think of all the other things you could do as a human. Imagine how it'd feel."

"But humans," insisted Bumblebee, "they seem to ruin almost everything they touch."

After a hard day's pollination, Hoverfly and Bumblebee would kick back and chat through a hypothetical question. Today's seemed a no-brainer to Bumblebee. There's no way he would want to be a human. To him, they were the most pointless species of all. 'Consider ourselves the best, while leeching off the rest' should be their strapline. He smirked to himself.

"They kid themselves they've tasted success," Bumblebee explained, resuming the conversation with Hoverfly. "See themselves as so superior, never stopping to consider that without us they'd be nothing. It stinks."

Rarely had a question elicited such a vigorous response.

"Alright," sighed Hoverfly, "this is only supposed to be a bit of fun after a hard day's graft, mate. Keep yer hair on."

Story 380

Untethered

by Emily Sharma

The waves hustle and pummel, drag and swish. Salt-stings, pushing up his nose, trickling down his throat. Feeble legs kick. He's cold, so cold. The effort, the endless pull of it all has exhausted him. Sleep beckons and he leans into it, relaxing. He'll let the water ease his pain. He's forgotten who he is, why he's there. He lets himself sink slowly, untethered.

A body spoons with his. He is breathing. How is he breathing under water? But he is. He can hear the soft hiss of air, in and out. And he's warmer, nearing warm.

"Shush, it's OK." A familiar voice, the smell of lavender talc, the spooning, all of it feels like home. "You're safe," she says. "I'm here."

Who's here? He rolls over, turns his head, looks into a face, lined and wrinkled and wise.

"Where is Sarah?"

"Here, George. I'm here."

It's not Sarah. Sarah is young, vibrant. This crone is not his wife. He moves back into his dreams; back to the water and the day he met her.

Story 381

A Taste of Freedom

by Brigitte Pace

The blue petals felt soft against my rough blistered skin, and I kept the pretty flowers pressed against my face, caressing my cheeks in the blazing sun. Within seconds, I was awarded with a lovely floral scent that reminded me of a woman’s perfume. A buzzing sound gave me a startle and I spotted a foe. The flying insect was feeding off a Californian poppy.

The enraged bee charged at me, and the blue-purple primroses fell out of my hands just as the loud horn sounded from an old blue van that made a clang coming down the street. I had to move, keep going or they would realise I had escaped.

Story 382

Tea Recitation

by Nuri Rosegg

When I'm being poured, I sound like a waterfall. I'm black and magic like Chinese mountains or red-golden like the glare of Kenyan sunrises. I'm the smell of gourmet chocolate in disguise and touch your throat with soft strawberry skin. I party through the night with sugary blueberry, lipstick-loving hibiscus and the twins, black currant and blackberry.

I warm you up with a winter drink – a piquancy of clove, cinnamon and citrus rinds. I sing a melody of spring stimulating your fantasy bouquet, full of fragrant grass odour. With my mixture of currant and mint, you feel the hot summer cooled down by pungency. While wannabe fire is teased by Indian summer, I striptease the lemon-mandarin flavour. Fully naked, I have my heritage in mind: Ceylon, Assam, Oolong, Rooibos. Confusion thanks to YOU. I have enchanting names: Jasmine Dream, Festive Grape, Barberry Garden – just to please YOU.

But you never think of ME.

How do you think I feel when I swim through your sharp teeth, inhale bad breath and plunge down your back-breaking throat?

Story 383

Blind Ambition

by William Odell

Mondays often make me blue. Will retirement ever arrive? Thoughts of the daunting week ahead swirl with the early morning fog in my head, only to slowly surface as the black and sweet brew is consumed. I question my job choice, my dedication... is this it? I guess. But I grind, always have.

Unwavering in my quest to succeed in the never-ending climb up the retirement ladder with no visible Eden. A distant clang arises, as the shaky ladder taps against the edge of my personal utopia with every nervous movement, confirming the fragility of my pursuit. I climb cautiously, gripping every rough, rigid, virgin rung with my aging hands while stepping with utmost precision, being careful not to slip back to where I've been. The workday ends. As I enter my home, I'm greeted by the smell of primrose, permeating from a scented candle carefully selected from my wife's fragrance arsenal. I hear her soft voice – I look around at what we've built together.

Dear Monday, I will not miss you.

Story 384

Dammit Zammit

by Pete Armstrong

Rees-Zammit dives into the corner for a fingertip touchdown. Sodden turf flies everywhere. A reeking confetti of Mississippi mud pie and shredded grass sprinkles down upon the saturated carcasses of triumphant try-scorer and disconsolate defenders.

The crowd erupts with volcanic, ecstatic fury. A bubbling explosion of cherry and white. Hands wave, hats and scarves. Eyes shine bright, teeth gleam white, flecks of beery spittle arc outwards. The rainbow's deeper hues are eclipsed, there's only scarlet, scarlet everywhere.

Noise drenches you. A rumbling thunder of brass and the shrill screech of woodwind unite in joyous fanfare. Birds scatter from rooftops in flapping alarm, rats scurry from cosy hidey-holes under the stands and insects buzz off. The whole stadium jives and pirouettes around the succulent feast on display. Dripping platters of strawberry to brighten up the pale-marigold sunshine and grizzly, grey rain of Gloucester autumn.

But what's this? A shrill blast punctures the fiesta. The mosquito whine of officialdom sucks the blood from the fruits of victory.

Forward pass.

Referee's face a resolute mask.

Unimpeachable disapproval.

Dammit.

Story 385

The Mock Trial

by Richard Flamank

The scaly, fetid hand took him unawares and hoicked him up, a fingernail scoring his mouth and filling it with metallic blood. It hoisted him like a condemned man before the drop over the gallery's edge as the second hand ripped the toy knight from his grasp. He squealed.

"You besmirch our name, boy. No son of mine is a thief."

His tunic choked him, his eyes bulged, his mouth stung, but he was no thief. "I am innocent," he rasped.

He'd heard the word before. When his father met clients. Saying they hadn't done anything and were innocent.

His defiant eyes climbed his father's face. The acrid, smoky beard, the mouth that had spat scraps of foul-tasting meat with angry words into his own mouth, the fearsome scar on his cheek... He puffed rancid air and reddened with rage. Then the eyes. Eyes, which had softened at the words, and a frown now relaxed.

"Innocent, you say. Let's hear your case. Your brother accuses you of theft of his knight."

Story 386

A Guilty Pleasure Moment

by Sarah D

I tasted what I thought was nice,

'Flavourful' to suffice;

I saw the Creamy Saucy Dish,

Looking back at me to relish!

I touched the rather neat looking cake,

A peice of which I'd rather not take;

I only saw from afar,

Something I'd rather keep in a jar!

 

But I promised myself that I would have,

Something special that I might like;

Something that isnt too sweet,

Coz my sugar levels might actually spike!

 

So again I tasted what I thought was nice,

'Flavourful' to suffice;

I took the Creamy Saucy Dish,

Looking back at me to relish!

Upon touching the rather neat looking cake,

A peice of which I would never otherwise take,

I didn't only see from afar,

Something I'd rather keep in a jar!

 

And finished it...

Because even though its not my Birthday, 

I deserve Cake... even though

Nothing is at stake.

Story 387

The Arrival Of The Rainy Season

by Perceive Chuchu

A flash of lightning struck in the distance, and my eyes blinked in response. A deafening rumble of thunder subsequently echoed, causing the ground under my feet to tremble. Fumbling through the thick air, a heavy raindrop landed on my numb thumb. Before the drop dried out, I quickly licked it and it seemingly quenched my thirst, leaving a fresh taste in my hunger-stricken mouth. Yes, it had been a long, busy day at work.

A sweet, pungent zing in my nostrils excited me; the rainy season had finally arrived. I sniffed the air and the fresh petrichor was indeed satisfying. A cool breeze swept across the calm and peaceful atmosphere. On the western highland, the sun now rested on the mountains like a drop of blood on an eyelid, bidding farewell to the long day.

Out of the blue, a ribbon of colours decorated the sky, indicating a short-lived experience for the day, but it was indeed the much-anticipated rainy season.

Story 388

Mondays

by Elaine Casey

Mondays make me feel 'maudlin'. Before you know it, the weekend has gone in a flash and an uninvited Monday is once again knocking at the door. I refer to it as 'Mondayitis' as it attacks the body suddenly, like a disease.

The dread starts on Sunday evening with the realisation that Monday is less than twenty-four hours away. I can hear it coming and it suddenly hits me like a reverberating clang to the head.

Everyone looks rough on Mondays. No one wants to make eye contact and no one wants to clown around.

Monday drives me to reach for something tasty and sweet, with the promise to start the diet 'next' Monday. The aroma of coffee entices me with just one more cup.

It's funny how the burden lifts later in the day, when the repetitive yawning stops and the cortisol rushes once again through the veins. The dread felt at the beginning of the day has passed as though it never was and I'm grateful that Monday is coming to an end at last.

Story 389

Just Another Sunday

by Bill Sargeant

Mondays I feel happy. I have seen the end of another Sunday.

Saturdays I hear laughter, smell barbecues and taste beer, but Sunday is my sad day. I feel blue and cry a lot. I see no one and hear nothing, but that wasn't the day my wife died.

She died on Thursday a year ago. She died in my arms at two o'clock in the morning. I still feel the coldness creeping in and I still see her last moments as I held her close.

I was on my own. I had the funeral arrangements to see through. I suspended all my senses.

I just went on. Not seeing, not feeling, not hearing, tasting nothing but, on that following Sunday, the sadness came. I felt suddenly alone, seeing the house and missed hearing the noise of her radio, the scents of her lingering in the soaps of our shower, the smell of her herb garden.

A house of emptiness broke me, and I cried and tasted my tears. On Sundays now, memory's tears drown me.

Story 390

The Unwelcome Gift

by Maggie Elliott

Scratching sounds in my kitchen alerted me that there might be an unwelcome guest in my home. The aroma overwhelming my nostrils suggested it was a rodent.

Terrified of it roaming around in the night, I approached one of my feline companions, renowned for his hunting prowess. Stroking his soft velvet coat wakened him and I carried him to the kitchen where he became immediately alert. Sensing the presence of prey, he settled down, fixing his gaze in the direction of the sounds.

Feeling nothing would happen until dark, I retired to bed.

In the early hours, loud meowing startled me from sleep. Rising, I shrieked as something squishy crunched underfoot. The sight of the flattened carcass triggered a desire to vomit.

Collecting and gulping a glass of water, I resisted the urge. However, dealing with the sight and odour of the detritus left a bad taste in the mouth.

Observing me with a curious look, the expectation of praise ignored, kitty returned to his bed where he slept unperturbed, unlike myself.

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Glynis D
It's my first writing experience on here. I'm completely green about how to do it on a computer, as I usually write by hand. How do I do it as I would live to have ago at this? Thanks.

Chris Fielden
Hi Glynis.  Just type your story into the comments box, like you did your comment :-)

Glynis D
OK, will do. Many thanks.

Ann E
Sounds like fun! One of my writing student just sent me this link. I'll see if I can get them to enter. I'll give it a go too.

Chris Fielden
Fabulous, thanks Ann :-)

Alan B
Hello Chris. Good to see the beginning of another fine challenge. Might have an idea of my own soon.

Chris Fielden
Great, thanks Alan. There's a bit of a queue with challenges now (around 12 months) but I'm always open to ideas :-)

Sivan P
Congratulations for introducing the Sensory Writing Challenge. Enjoyed all the interesting stories published so far.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Sivan :-)

Margaret E
Good morning, Chris. It was good to read about your musical success in the USA.

I'm really enjoying reading the other entries up to date. It's wonderful to have an opportunity for deep purple prose.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Margaret - and thanks for submitting :-)

Jerry W
Extremely happy for the well-deserved growth and popularity of your website. Rock on. It matters. Wilson.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Jerry :-) Fielden.

Michael R
I put my finger on it and suggest this is not a challenge to be sniffed at. I spotted it on your site before I heard about it. It is very much to my and. it seems, many others sensitive taste.

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Michael - a comment that's a sensory story all of its own... :-)

Namita M
Hi Allen and Christopher. Thank you very much  for allowing me to send my writing to this project. It's not only a great opportunity to publish my story, it's a great inspiration and fulfilling to work for the charity.

I hope this enthusiasm will be continued and the people in need will benefit from this project.

With my best wishes and many thanks again. Namita.

Chris Fielden
Thanks for your kind works, Namita.

It’s a pleasure to publish your stories and support some amazing charities.

Thank you for taking part in the challenges - it's very much appreciated :-)

Sandy P
Hi Allen and Christopher. Love the challenges. It does inspire a lot of writers to, 'have a go'. Me for one.

Chris Fielden
Great, thanks Sandy. We'll look forward to reading your submission :-)

Elizabeth M
Hope I've managed to submit properly.

This is a great site. Thank you for running it.

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Elizabeth :-)

You have indeed - thanks for submitting, your story has now been published above.

Carolyn C
Grace Howard and Charley Swire are already wonderful writers.

Sheila R
Chris, this was so much fun! Your contests and challenges are the best and I look forward to receiving all your emails and newsletters. To Hull And Back is my absolute favorite and I can't wait to see your finalists.  Don't ever stop!

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Sheila!

You'll be pleased to hear that stopping is not in my nature :-)

Jasmine S
Hi There, for challenge entries, do we have to use our full proper name, or can we use our penname? My penname still uses names on my birth certificate, just not my full name.

Thanks, Jaz

Chris Fielden
Hi Jaz. Using a penname is fine. I'll look forward to receiving your story :-)

Jennifer C
I love this idea. In my life overseas I have had many sensory challenges which I can write about. Nairobi was the first in the first challenge - might do a second one, or there's Mauritius in the 1960's followed by Zambia, followed by Hong Kong in the 80's - now, there's a place! Using only 175 words is a challenge in itself!

I must collect my thoughts, make a decision, and WRITE!

Many false starts to come, but such fun to do. Thank you for this opportunity.

Chris Fielden
Well, it sounds like you have a lot of experience to draw on, Jennifer. We'll look forward to receiving your story :-)

Jay B
A story for your sensorially royal collection. May it help raise more funds for the National Literary Trust.

Chris Fielden
Great stuff, thanks Jay :-)

John R
Hi Chris, thank you so much for including my story – it has given me quite a boost of confidence, as I had no idea whether it was worth including!

Thank you.

Chris Fielden
No problem at all, John, thank you for submitting.

It’s great to hear your feedback. One of the reasons the challenges exist are to boost confidence so writers feel inspired to go on and do better things. Great to hear it’s working!

David M
Hi Chris, I really enjoy these challenges, they're good exercises in editing your own material without (hopefully) losing the pace of the story. My last story's first draft contained 220 words and the second 190 before I hit target. Ah, brevity. I must convert the wife.

Chris Fielden
Thanks, David - really glad to hear that. And thanks for sharing your editing process. I find flash useful for the same reasons as you, and apply the same techniques to my longer works now. If I write a short story of 4,000 words, I often find I can cut out 500 of them and tell the same story at a better pace.

Good luck with your wife conversion. I hope you have a suit of armour handy for when you broach the subject :-)

Eileen B
Thank you, Chris. 2 days ago I would never have thought l could try. But after your free course, I plucked up the courage. A big thank you. You ask for approval to print it - a big yes please.

Chris Fielden
Great stuff, thanks Eileen :-)

David M
I read all of Volume 2 in one sitting, and have just put a glowing review on Amazon. Special mention to Mike Evis for 'That Perfect Day', I think it's jaw droppingly good. What an ending!    Well done everyone.

Chris Fielden
Thanks very much, Dave :-)

Alice H
I only found out about this site a while ago and I've already submitted 4 stories! It's free and the money goes to charity, I'm so glad this exists :)

Chris Fielden
Thank you, Alice :-)

Roger N
Thank you. Chris.

Having read your most recent newsletter about seven story mistakes... Failure to engage the reader. Guilty: A weak opening. Guilty: Not sure I dare read any further yet, but I am beginning to see a clearer picture.

I'm setting out my stall for an entry in The Moth Short Story Prize which closes in June and I shall be following your advice by using part of a story line from a novel I have written. Such guidance notes as you have sent me, I find very useful.

Chris Fielden
No problem, Roger. Glad to hear you have found the guidance helpful :-)

I wish you the best of luck with your submissions.

Jacqui M
Thank you for including my short story, especially to be amongst so many talented writers. Your exercise was an inspiration.

Chris Fielden
No problem, Jacqui. Thank you for submitting :-)

Deborah RG
Hi there! I've never entered something like this before, but I decided to build on my writing portfolio by giving it a go. I hope I've submitted it correctly. Thank you for doing this!

Chris Fielden
No problem, Deborah. Thank you for submitting :-)

Josephine A
Thank you for putting my story on your web site.

Chris Fielden
No problem, Josephine. Thank you for submitting :-)

Rosalind P
Thank you Chris for publishing my entry 'Bursting Point'. A first for me. For fun, I took it two steps further by trying Adverb Challenge with 'Bursting To' and Preposition Challenge with 'Bursting Throughout'. Quite a cognitive mission, essentially learning a lot on the journey.

Chris Fielden
No problem, Rosalind - thank you for your submissions :-)

Great to hear you learnt from it. All the best.

Daniel SW
I love this challenge!!

Chris Fielden
Thanks Daniel :-)

G LJO
Sandra Orellana (author of story 305) is a fantastic person and writer. Her stories are so different. I had the honour of meeting her and I've never met a better person. Das Leben ist kein Ponyhof.

Chris Fielden
Thanks, G. I can also confirm that Sandra is a total legend :-)

Karen C
Hi, how do I send in Jamie's story please, to the sensory challenge?

Chris Fielden
Hi Karen, you can either fill in the comment form on the page, or just email it to me - whatever is easiest for you is fine :-)

Alice G
When is the deadline for this challenge, Chris?

Chris Fielden
Hi Alice, thanks for your message.

There is no deadline - the challenge is open indefinitely. We just produce a book each time a certain amount of stories are received :)

Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Mags L
Sharing this opportunity with all of my amazing writing friends who will undoubtedly give it a try! Who wouldn't? ;)

Chris Fielden
Thank you, Mags, much appreciated :-)

Kole M
Definitely have to make it in the fourth volume. I love the last three, brilliantly done. Boom!!!

Chris Fielden
Thanks Kole. Look forward to receiving your submission when you're ready :-)

Vamsi MP
Hi Allen and Christopher. Thanks for accepting and approving my story for publishing. It enhanced my confidence and inspired me to continue my writing. I hope it will help many people like me to progress further in their endeavour to learn and sharpen their story skills. Thanks a lot.

Chris Fielden
No problem, Vamsi. That's great to hear, because that is exactly what the challenges were designed to do :-) All the best.

Melania B
I'm very excited about this, because I am an aspiring author.

Chris Fielden
Fabulous news, thank you Melanie :)