[Flash Fiction] Joyriders

JoyridersThat night me and Jen took a green Starlet out the Naas Road. We’ve a great spot near Saggart for burning doughnuts. I was driving, Jen telling me to slow the fuck down. The spliff kept hopping off her lap and she didn’t want it all over the floor. I pulled back, and thank Jaysus I did, cos next thing there was a fella in the middle of the road, on the white line, pushing a pram. One of them big, black, bouncy yokes, ancient as God. And your man was strolling along as if he was off to Spar, like it was the middle of the day or something.

‘Pull over,’ Jen said.

‘What?’

‘Just stop, will ya?’

So I pulled in and we got out of the Starlet and I was bricking it in case your man knew the car, or us.

Jen said, ‘What’s in the pram, Tommy?’

‘Nothing, Jennifer. I’m only out looking for the baby. We must have left her somewhere.’

‘Maybe go home, Tommy. Rita will be worried about you.’

‘Yeah,’ he said. And he turned the pram around and wandered back the way he came, into the night.

In the car we shared the spliff and Jen’s tokes were a bit long, you know, but I said nothing cos she was gone real quiet and all.

‘Who’s your man?’

‘Me Uncle Tommy.’

‘Is he all right?’ I was wondering if he copped the Starlet.

‘What do you think? Drive.’

So we cruised as far as Kill, passing The Dew Drop and the industrial estate and all the houses with their lights off. Jen said to keep going and she got me to stop outside a graveyard on a real lonely road.

‘That’s where Tommy and Rita’s daughter is,’ she said, flicking her head.

I looked past her at the graves standing like black teeth around the church and thought it was an awful place for a little baby.

We lit up again and opened the car windows to let the smoke out; it was mad dark. The windmills on the hill behind the graveyard cut through the air, I could hear the shush-and-hum of them.

Jen told me to get into the back seat and I did and she got in too and straddled me; her mouth tasted like barley sugar not dope. When we finished, Jen cleaned the seat with a baby-wipe and fucked all our butts out onto the ground, so the car would be all right when we left it back. That’s the way Jen is, decent as anything.

***

(Nuala Ní Chonchúir)

[Flash Fiction] To Walk Where Once He Danced

To Walk Where Once He Danced Cover PhotoThe wrought iron fence still ringed the grounds of the ballroom as it had all those years ago. Back then even a half decent ballroom had been worth travelling a fair distance for and this one had been the best. Now, at 86 years old, Tom found little reason to travel, little reason to venture far from home and few enough places to venture to. Yet he had travelled today, a whole three buses and five hours’ worth of travelling. Now it was time to see if it had been worth the effort. It was still here at any rate, still standing, he hadn’t been at all sure that it would. Still here but time had exacted its cruel price. One time this ballroom had stood proud, shining and bright in the night, now it lay dark and derelict in the daylight.

Tom walked along the fence, rust had claimed it some time ago but flakes of black paint still clung on in places, pieces of better days. He ignored the warnings of the battered signs proclaiming ‘KEEP OUT’ in faded letters, and turned into the old car park. Each step he took with care, mindful of the tufts of grass, the weeds, and the cracked tarmac that they sprouted through. It saddened him seeing the place like this, years of neglect plain to the eye, the once grand entrance now boarded up, littered with beer cans and marred by graffiti. He didn’t bother even trying to mount the steps there. The plywood nailed across the double doors, worn and weathered as it was, looked far too sturdy for old arms to tackle. Instead he headed towards the back of the building.

The rear of the building proved even more overgrown than the front had. His feet found a roughly beaten path through the undergrowth. It led him to a back door, also barred with plywood. He tapped at the plywood with his walking stick, saw that it rattled a little against the doorjamb. In the gap between the doorframe and the wood he wedged the tip of his cane. Gripping tight to the cane with both hands, he mustered all of his strength and leaned in towards the wall. With a low groan the sheet of wood broke loose and fell to the ground beside him. He slipped the flat cap from his head and shook it at the air around him, trying to shoo away the dust that he was coughing out. When the air settled somewhat he stepped through into a small room and on again, through to the corridor beyond. The passage was dim, dusty and marked with more graffiti. His left hand he kept on one wall to steady himself and used his cane to push the rubbish at his feet out of his path. The passage brought him to a doorway that opened out into the ballroom. Breathing deep, he stepped inside.

Overhead the few missing slates let the sun shine through in spots of light. Long gone were the couples spinning in each other’s arms, replaced now with empty bottles spun round by the wind. The wooden floors that had once sounded out with taps and beats of happy feet now lay warped and twisted. No graffiti here, thanks be. The kids had left this part alone at least. He walked straight to the middle of the dance floor. His footsteps echoed softly but clearly in the still room. It was an empty room, any small thing of interest having been scavenged long before, empty now save for Tom and the memories he brought back. On the walls faded squares gently reminded where pictures had once hung. If any of those pictures had still remained he might have been able to find an image of the boy he’d once been or maybe the girl who’d taken that boy by the hand and taught him to dance in step with the beat of her heart.

On this dance floor Sheila had first slipped and swayed into his arms, into his life. This had been the stage for so many of their firsts: first words, first laugh, first fight, first tears, first dance, first kiss. He turned slowly in a circle taking it all in through half closed eyes, rocking his head from side to side as they had rocked their hips all those years before, side by side, in time to the music. He remembered when he’d looked into her eyes for the first time, not knowing that this girl would become the woman that became his life. A lifetime hiding behind a smiling pair of eyes, all the joy and all the sorrow, and neither one could’ve guessed it.

Sheila had been sharp in every way; sharp dressed, sharp minded and with a sharp tongue when she’d wanted. Not anymore though, those were all just memories. Memories were all that Tom had left and Sheila had none. Not fair. Her mind was clouded and getting more so every day. She held no memory of Tom, no memory of them and little recall of much of her own self. The past lay atop Tom’s present like dust, covering everything, and the future was dark, closed and ever shorter. For Sheila all three held no meaning, for her there was only confusion. She might not remember the life that had started here all those countless moments ago but Tom did, and this old dance hall still stood, battered and tattered by the years as it was. It still stood. A silent shrine to the songs of their summer days. The silence was suddenly shattered by the sound of heavy footsteps approaching.

“Don’t even thinking of running.” An authorative voice shouted. Tom turned to see a middle-aged Garda step into the ballroom. “I mean it now, if you kids make me… Oh!”

“Afternoon, Garda.”

“Jaysus, now you I wasn’t expecting. Who’d we have there now, Billy White, is it?” The guard asked, as he walked over. “No, not Billy White. You’re not from around here, are you, old timer?”

“No, I travelled a ways to get here. We used to do that when we were young, all pile into a car on a Saturday evening, heading off in search of a dance. This hall,” he said, gesturing around them with his cane. “This was my favourite. It was where… Well, it’s really sort of special to me and I just wanted to see it again.”

“Here now, we can’t have you in here, it’s bloody dangerous is what it is. Whole place is liable to come down on your ears if you sneeze too loud.” The guard’s eyes settled on the liver spotted hand that held the cane in a shaky grip. He sighed. “Look, I’ll tell you what, let me take you down to Hogan’s Pub and buy you some lunch. My Uncle used to work here, I’ll give him a ring, see if he’ll meet us. He might have an old photo or two of the place that you can take home with you. Okay?”

“He used to work here? Maybe, maybe I knew him once so.”

“Yeah, you never know, maybe you did at that. Now how about we get out of this place and grab some lunch?”

“Hmm…Huh? Oh, yes! Lunch, yes, and the photos.”

“Yeah, and the photos, of course.” The guard said, gently taking a hold of Tom’s elbow and guiding him out. “I tell you, it’ll be a lot safer and a lot nicer now to be looking at some lovely photos over a quiet pint than poking around here in this dusty old death trap.”

“That’s true.” Tom said, throwing his eyes about for one last look. “Maybe sometimes it’s best to remember things the way that they were instead of how they are.”

***

(Ciaran Tolan)

[Flash Fiction] The Last Day

The Last Day Cover Photo“Sorry, what did you say?” Oisín asked, stifling a yawn.

“I said: wakey-wakey, pally, gimme my payment and hit the pavement.”

“Yeah, of course.” Oisín said, fumbling in his pockets for cash to pay the cab fare.

Jet lag had taken a hold of him so he double checked each note to make sure he didn’t accidentally hand over a hundred dollar bill. Twice he’d done that the first time he’d been to New York. Twice bitten, he thought, and twice… however the rest of that went. He handed over a wad of cash. Bidding the cabbie keep the change and goodbye, he stepped out into a New York day. The cabbie got out too, threw Oisín a bemused look, walked to the boot, yanked out a bag and set it on the sidewalk.

“Figured you might need your luggage too, pal, even if you don’t think so.”

“Thanks.” Oisín said, offering a sorry smile. “My head’s a little messed up from the flight.”

The cabbie waved the thought away and was gone. Oisín really was feeling disorientated. He had expected to see Sadie at the airport but when he’d turned his phone on after landing there had been a voicemail waiting instead, with instructions to hop a taxi to Union Square and meet her at Starbucks. That was all. She had sounded stressed though. She hadn’t said much besides ‘Union Square’ and ‘Starbucks,’ but there had been a worrying tone to her voice. He had tried ringing her back. It kept ringing out. He’d meant to try again from the cab but had fallen asleep.

Sadie’s probably fine, he thought, I’m worrying over nothing. It was a sunny day and here he was in New York. With a smile on his face he looked around intent on soaking in the city. The smile faltered as his eyes took in the scene around him. He’d felt the crowd as soon as he’d stepped out of the cab. There’s always a crowd in New York, that bustling sense of urgency all about. He had felt that straight off but had been too spaced out to catch the mood. He was catching it now. The streets were packed with people, their faces distraught, pained and anguished. A sense of panic was in the air. He saw an elderly couple crying in each other’s arms. A younger couple approached them, to offer comfort it seemed but then they too burst into tears. All four wept openly in the street. Oh my God, Oisín thought, something has happened. Sadie!

He rushed across the street. Starbucks, she’d said she’d be at Starbucks. There was a line at the coffee shop that stretched out around the block. His eyes skimmed along, searching her out.

“Oisín!”

Thank God. Sadie offered him a faint, sickly smile under listless eyes. Twitching arms were folded awkwardly across her chest and he thought she might be close to tears. He threw both his arms around her neck and held her tight.

“Thank God you’re okay.” He whispered.

“I am, for now.” She sniffled into the small of his neck. “But it’s the end, Oisín, it really is the end.”

“Whoa, hold up now.” An angry voice shouted out. “No queue skipping.”

“It’s okay, she’s a friend of mine.”

“Oh, she’s his friend, that’s cool everybody. Yeah, nice try, buddy, I don’t care if you’re Jay-Z and she’s Beyonce, the line starts back there.”

“Ah, don’t get all bent out of shape.” Sadie shouted back. “Nothing to worry about, he’s Irish.”

“So what?”

“So all they drink is tea, that’s all they care about. Believe me, this guy’ll happily blather on this tea and that tea, and the right way to stew a pot, and a whole laundry list of other crap and in the end it still tastes like boiled wee in a cup to me. So I’m telling you: this guy, you don’t have to worry about.”

“Hmm” The guy looked down to the ground then back to Sadie. “How do I know he’s Irish?”

“Sure, you only gotta listen to him; he’s got an accent as thick as tar.”

“Okay, then.” He said, locking eyes on Oisín. “Talk.”

“Eh, about what?”

“About more than two words so we can hear if you’re full of crap or not.”

“Okay, em, my name’s Oisín, I’m from Ireland and… all I’m going to drink today is a cup of tea.”

“Okay then, Irish, but if I see you sipping on anything but tea in there then we’ll be having more than just words, if you catch my drift.”

“Understood.” Oisín said, turned away and whispered to Sadie. “Jesus, that guy’s really on edge.”

“Everyone is, now that it’s actually happening. I mean we all knew this day was coming but thought we still had time, you know, that something could be done… Everybody said it’d be six months at least before anything happened. Then they dropped the bombshell last night: today would be the last day. No more coffee for me, no more coffee for anyone.”

“Christ, how can you worry about coffee at a time like this?”

“Oisín,” Sadie said, giving him a strange, sidelong look. “What is it you think is going on here?”

“I don’t bloody know, the streets are full of panicked people, you’re talking about bombs being dropped…”

“Bombs! I didn’t say anything about bombs, nobody’s dropping any bombs. It’s the goddamned FDA that’s the problem. Last night the government announced that they’re instituting a ban on coffee, effective from midnight tonight. This is it. This is the last day.”

“Coffee!” Oisín exclaimed. “This is all about coffee, hell, I thought this was something serious.”

“You listen to me Oisín Higgins,” Sadie said, jabbing a finger under his nose. “And you listen good, this here is deadly serious. A bunch of goddamned pencil-necked, paper-pushing jackasses that call themselves politicians have decided to take away my life blood, that’s about as damned serious as it gets.”

“Okay, okay, I hear you.” Oisín said quickly, holding his palms up. “Calm down.”

“Jeezum crow! When they were handing out pen pals back in the day I sure wish they would’ve paired me up with a nice Columbian instead.”

Oisín decided, wisely, to keep his gob shut. They stood on line like countless others across the fifty states, all hoping for one last cup of coffee shop joe before the end, one last sip to steel them for the dark days that lay ahead. Across the nation on this, the last day, the streets were jammed with broken people: the poor, huddled masses yearning to drink caffeine. Soon the baristas would turn in their tampers and come the stroke of midnight, a person could land behind bars if caught holding an ounce of pure Columbian brown beans. Tomorrow the sun would rise on these new United States of America, one nation indivisible, with coffee, regular or decaf, for none.

***

(Ciaran Tolan)

[Flash Fiction] Insomnia

Insomnia Cover ArtAs you pass by this field, this cottage, its unkempt sceac, its thistled front yard, its dirt floor, where the bachelor Leo lies deep in his sleep, you know you had no choice. This pram, this lane, you have been here before. Or maybe it is just an old story, grown familiar through the retelling. Maybe it’s  all a dream.

You steer a steady course, the wheels either side of the lane’s rutted centre. Passing by the beech where the buzzard roosts, you walk faster, wheel faster. Into potholes, over bumps, a wheel-ya weila waile. There was an old woman who lived in the woods… You hum it without knowing, because it is your song.

Off in the distance, you imagine you hear another rhythm, insistent and steady as a heart: weila weila, weila weila. But no, it’s too early. No trains run at night. Your imagination is running away with you. You force yourself to slow down, act natural. Act natural in your nightie, with your dressing gown, hastily tied, now fallen apart, at four in the morning. Ha.

Those many limbs reaching towards you from the ditch, they’re shadows, they can’t hurt you. They can’t hurt because they’re shadows, and because you are beyond hurt. When one of them steps out into the lane, dark and shapeless, you stop as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

All right there, Molly? There’s the wheeze on the voice, a whiff of Sweet Afton.

All right, Leo.

And what, if I might ask, has you out wandering this time of night?

I could ask you the same question, you tell him smartly. You move to go around him, to drive your pram past before he thinks to look inside. His boot blocks your
wheel. On purpose?

Sometimes the sleep evades me, he says, as if to himself.

Tell me about it, you say.

Awake again, you found yourself. Which sounds open-eyed, fresh. Awake! Not the thing it is, the murky weight of your clogging sinuses, blocking your nose, the ache at the back of your eyes. Eyes which you are keeping pressed shut, because a flicker could ruin it, and then you would not sleep at all. You open not your eyes, but your mouth, a mean little slot, enough to fit a narrow straw. There. You will be able to breathe this way. Deepening, belly breaths (but don’t think about them). At last.

Birdsong? What birds, from what dark realm? Because it is 2 am, you remember. Last feed. You got through it, because then you would sleep, both of you. You would sleep. Only then you didn’t sleep. You were awake. Again. In three weeks or was it months, you haven’t slept.  Across the room, he is awake, mewling and whimpering, some upset, some badness.

When they brought him to you, all swaddled in blue, he was perfect, the hint of blond curl, the steady blue gaze. But then, he didn’t settle, didn’t feed. He didn’t seem to warm to you. Maybe colic, said the midwife, but you were already beyond caring, a week with no sleep. When you looked into his eyes, steady and sure, you saw terrible futures, terrible things. A dream, you told yourself next day. A terrible dream.

You turn away from his sound. Your eyes remain closed. A sliver of moon will ruin it. Or, catastrophe, a reckless glance at the glowing red segments that are time, arranged in configurations that can lead only to despair.

You wonder about it, though, the time. You can’t bear the not knowing if there’s any sleep to be had. You risk it. Across the desert of  twisted white sheet the curtain edges confirm your worst fear. Dawn, the tasks of the day stretched relentless and long, punctuated only with feeding and crying. A brain fog, a blur. Not a life. Not again, you tell yourself. The red segments spell out only 3 am.

Not again, you repeat to the bathroom mirror. You’re a shadow, grey skinned, hollowed out, swollen breasts upon a stick. You’re no longer sure which is you, which your reflection.

You had no choice. Your story had already been written.

You manoeuvre neatly past the foot. But Leo swings around, surprisingly sprightly, causing you to speculate again about his age. He looks inside. As he lifts his head, he turns not to you, but to the sound you thought you had imagined. Weila waile, weila waile. A heart beating faster.

Where is he, Molly? Where did you leave him?

You are humming again. You have no choice. It is your song, your story. You know where it will end.

The goods trains, you remember. They run through the night. You did not mean to say it aloud. It is for the best. That is why you are able to push on past him, looking over your shoulder and telling him it is all for the best. But he is not there any more. He’s vanished. Gone flying off in the direction of the railway line, hoping to get there before the train.

***

(Paula McGrath)

[Flash fiction] Between Shafts of Sunlight

Between Shafts of Sunlight Cover PhotoTim stood at the cliff’s edge looking out over the water. A sharp wind gusted at his back, flapping his jacket’s lapels softly at his chin. A voice blew a soft ‘boo’ into his ear.

“Christ, Lisa!” He said, turning around. “Don’t be doing that, I could’ve…”

“Ah, relax, you’re miles from the edge.” Lisa said through a smile. “I’m glad you came, wasn’t sure if you would.”

“Messaged you back to say I would, didn’t I?”

“Aw, did you? Sorry, didn’t check my messages after, was deep in research, you see.”

“So, why am I up here?”

“Why? Because there’s something in the air up here. All my time spent seeking out the weird and the wonderful on the web not knowing it was here all along, right on my doorstep. Or cliff top I suppose I should say.”

“What?”

“Sheesh, Tim, didn’t you read the stuff I linked you?”

“Lisa, I don’t have the time to read half the odd junk you send my way. I remember reading something about strange lights over… Peru, was it?”

“Oh, yeah, that! Aliens, I’m certain, though might be willing to consider the possibility of ghosts.” Lisa said, her eyes lighting up. “We’re not in Peru though, are we?”

“No. So, c’mon, what did you drag me all the way up here for?”

“Couldn’t take five minutes to read the bloody…” She muttered to herself, took a deep breath and laid it all out for him. “Right, short version, so there’s this Australian girl, Kristi, that I know from this message board I’m on, well she messages me out of the blue and goes, “Oh, my God, so you’re from that Blackwater village, with the cliff and the wind that blows from another world.” So I was all, ‘What?’ Then she launches into this big thing and I’m thinking to myself if this was for real I definitely would’ve heard this before but later I asked my granddad and it’s all true!”

“Ah-huh.”

“So I jump back online, chasing leads and posting questions when up pops this email from Lucy.”

“The Australian girl?”

“No, that was Kristi, she set me on to all this, then Lucy saw something I posted somewhere and sent me on even more details. Really interesting stuff. First off there’s the Soft Man.”

“Soft man?”

“Yes, the Soft Man, who walks the cliff’s edge wrapped in colour and light with a voice that’s as the whispering of the wind.”

“So that’s who you’re up here looking for.”

“No, not really, I’m after the ballroom. They say the Soft Man comes to show you where blows the wind from out this world. Find him, find the wind, find the ballroom.”

Wind, ballrooms and soft men, Tim thought, if there was a way they were all meant to fit together he couldn’t figure it.

“Okay, well whatever about your soft man but there’s no ballroom hiding about up here.”

“Ah, but there is. Somewhere. The entrance is at least, trapped between shafts of sunlight or hidden behind a breeze.”

“If you want to go dancing I know plenty of clubs.”

“The dancing days are long gone,” Lisa intoned gravely. “The party ended, ages past, and empty now stands the hall. Only one soul still roams… You know I really wish you’d read the article.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t. So who is this soul?

“The Veiled Mother in White.”

“And who’s she when she’s at home?”

“The woman who weeps and never sleeps,

The woman who seeks yet never speaks,

Forever nursing to an empty carriage,

Forever minded of an empty marriage.

With…”

“Alright, alright, I get the idea. D’you learn the whole thing by heart or what?”

“Yeah actually, I did.” She said, folding her arms defiantly. Her eyes held his, then bulged wide and lifted over his shoulder. “It’s him! Look, it’s the Soft Man.”

Tim looked to where she pointed. In the distance an old man was ambling along, head bowed into the wind. Lisa gripped Tim’s arm and started to walk. He held his ground and took hold of her shoulder.

“Hold on, you can’t go bothering some poor old chap.”

“That’s no poor old chap, that’s the Soft Man. He’s…” She frowned. “He’s gone!”

“Ugh, he’s not gone.” Tim said, turning again to look. “He’s…”

Tim couldn’t see the old man now. He ran his eyes along the horizon again. Where had he gone? Behind that boulder maybe, he thought, or… Behind him Lisa talked excitedly.

“Soft Man shows the way. See the Soft man, see the way, so they say, hee hee!! Well, I saw him. Is it enough just to see him? Hmm. I wonder if…”

“Ha. Hey, this is like a real life Where’s Wally.” Tim said. No reply. He turned. “Did you hear that, I said…”

Lisa was gone. He spun in a complete circle. She was still gone. That was impossible, nowhere for her to go except… Of course. She always pushed a joke too far, took stupid risks. He hoped there was ledge on the cliff side, that she wasn’t just dangling over the edge by her fingertips, afraid that’s exactly what she was doing.

“Not funny, Lisa, pull yourself up already, I’m not laughing.”

No answer. He took a tentative step towards the edge. The wind gusted against his back, nudging him onward. He heard Lisa’s laughter. His head turned at the sound. He blinked, rubbed his eyes, blinked again. He was sure he had just seen her laughter dancing on the air. He swallowed deep. The wind came again at his back, he dug his heels in but still that incessant force pushed him on. He threw his right hand back and felt resistance. Slowly he turned, staring at his hand in wonder. He raised his left hand beside the other, both resting on nothing yet something. Stretching out both arms he felt something give a little. He shook his head and bit at the corner of his mouth. Then he pushed as hard as he could. He pushed out, parted the wind and stepped on through.

***

(Ciaran Tolan)

Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction Cover ImageOn Friday, March 14th, we asked our Facebook fans to suggest various story elements that we could build some flash fiction around. We got some fantastic responses so thank you for all your ideas. Kristi Michelle Barnes kicked off the proceedings with her suggestion of, “The edge of a cliff on a gusty day,” as one possible setting. Leslie Hogan intrigued us with her idea for a setting, sending us across the pond to “a Starbucks in New York City the day before the FDA bans caffeine.” We tip our hat to Lucy White who presented us with three proposals to ponder on. For a setting she pitched us “an empty ballroom.” and for characters she offered up two choices. First, a “person who talks so quietly that everyone has to lean in to hear them, and whose seeming lack of confidence is juxtaposed by their outrageously coloured/patterned/provocative clothing,” and finally she left us with the rather unsettling image of “an insomniac pushing an empty pram.”

The rules are simple. Each writer is given the list and has to craft a story around at least one story element. At least one but they are free to use as many as they wish. It will be very interesting to see how all these varied pieces might somehow slot together. All stories must come in at less than 1,000 words. (With a little leeway given for an errant word or two, of course) Keep an eye on here for when we post the tales.

To read some of the tales that sprung from such seeds click on the image below to be brought to that story:

Insomnia Cover Art   Between Shafts of Sunlight Cover Photo

The Last Day Cover Photo   JoyridersTo Walk Where Once He Danced Cover Photo