Archive for December, 2011

The standing man is at my window again.

He always appears at twilight; a dark silhouette set against the dying orange embers of the evening sky. He comes, I think, from the wood behind the house. A crooked, twisted man, sculpted from the damp, rotting forest, standing motionless on the brown grass outside my window.

And the standing man is old. His grey skin is pulled tight against his face, taunt across the skull. In the failing light, you can see his clouded yellow eyes set deep within his face. I look up from my book and I can see him; his torn cloak floats in the evening as he stares through the patio doors and into my home. He pulls a toothless grin, a dark smile which never ends, and the living room becomes cold.

I do not dare go out to challenge him. At first, I tried to threaten, shouting obscenities through the clear glass, masking my fear with rage and anger. And over the months, I have turned to reason, debate and pleas. But, the standing man is unmoved by my words, so now I just watch him. As he watches me.

And when I retire for the night, I can hear him in the darkness; scrabbling outside in the garden, his throaty cackle creeping through my window as he knocks over plant pots or scrapes his nails across the brickwork.

Yesterday, I realised that the standing man is getting closer. Each night, he is another shallow step nearer to the door. Soon, his crooked nose will be pressed flat against the window, his breath of rotting leaves crawling up the glass. Soon, his wiry hand will reach for the door and all the locks in the world won’t be able to stop him. He will creep into my house, leaving a trail of wet leaves and greasy mud behind him. And soon, I don’t know what will happen.

The standing man scares me.

Words: 323

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Another year has drawn to a close and it’s been a sexy 12 months for 330 Words. The site celebrated its first birthday, helped organise two excellent literary events, took part in writing a book and got nominated for a couple of awards along the way.

Still, all this pales in comparison to the excellent tales we’ve all been privy to in 2011. Over the year, 81 yarns of cheese, time travel and rabbits have been posted and we’ve had nearly 10,000 visitors to the site (roughly double last year’s total). Of course, none of this would happen without your delicious tales of flash fiction.

So, a standing ovation for the following contributors for their efforts over the past 12 months. In no particular order, I’d like to thank the following for their tales of fiction. They made me smile, laugh and cry real man tears:

Dom Conlon
Sal Page
Laura Maley
Zach Roddis
Guy Garrud
William West
David Stedman
Dan Carpenter
Stephen Shaw
Stella Turner
Rosalind Bell
David Hartley
Sarah-Clare Conlon
Christopher Marshall
Emily McPhillips
Nathan Beck
Laurence Connell
Francis J Butler
Lynsey May
Fat Roland
Shirley Kernan
Niki Rooney
Sarah Reid
Sarah Peploe
Rowena Forbes
Matt Carson
Benjamin Judge
Aaron Gow
Koen ter Horst
Jez Green
Nici West
James Hull
Isabel Joely Black
Kevin Edwards
Larner Caleb

Here’s to another excellent 12 months of flash fiction.

Words: 220

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This is where we tortured Mrs Jones.

“These are the castles of your generation. Shells of buildings ravaged by cutbacks, they should be managed by English Heritage.”

I’m listening, sort of. But it was easy being distracted by memories. The old place had been left to street kids years ago. A desk was still visible, and pieces of broken blackboard were scattered here and there but otherwise you’d be hard pressed to know this had been a school at all.

God, what a waste.

I should say something to him. After all these years and here in this place again, I should say something.

Elongated fish people with spliffed-out faces look on from broken walls, sunlight illuminating faces waiting to learn

“Mr Jones, I have something to tell you.”

“It’s about her, isn’t it? About Edith?”

All these years and I never knew her first name.

“Don’t look back, my boy. I know what she was like. I knew what you all thought of her. Water under the bridge and all that. Wondered how long it would take you to mention her.”

“But her life, we made it a misery.”

“She understood. Fighting with teenagers was just a part of the job. You never really won, you know. You just tore chunks out of your own futures. But students like you made it worthwhile. She thought highly of you. She saw what you were capable of.”

“I was no better. I joined in. I laughed when she cried after all the tricks and went along with burning her books at the end of the year.”

“And now you’re here, pushing your old headmaster around abandoned schools when you could have parked me in front of a TV somewhere. You care. If she taught you nothing else then that would be enough.”

I want to say more. I want to make up for the years. For being a child. Instead I look at my watch. It’s 3:30. Time to go home.

Words: 330

photo courtesy and copyright of Jay Sharples –

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First day. Hard to get out the door so early. He tries not to think of his warm bed. On quiet streets, he’s aware of feet stamping the pavement, breath coming in rasps. He turns into the footpath between allotments and new houses. Wet leaves slap his face. Twelve weeks till the marathon. Can he do this? He’s not mentioned it to anyone. He passes a dusty field hemmed-in by the backs of houses. A grey horse watches, steam spilling from its nostrils.

Seventh day running. Trainers on before waking. Doesn’t seem to be getting any easier. Drizzle, almost too light to fall, floats around his head. Still takes the allotment path, where no one can see him struggle to combine running and breathing. He scans the field. Where’s the hemmed-in horse? There’s a tarpaulin in the corner, bricks around the edges. Hiding something that could be a slightly-folded-up horse. He slows and stares, wondering if he dare climb into the field and look under the tarpaulin. He looks at the houses, sure he sees a movement. Anyone could be watching.

Two weeks to go. It might be getting easier. He has to do it. He’s come this far. The sky is blue with dry-brush smudges. Now he stays on the road, not caring it’s more public. He’s gone further than ever before. Maybe he’ll register for the race soon. Make the commitment.

Instinct takes him down hemmed-in-horse-field path. Mist swirls round. He’s breathing steadily, feeling comfortable. He turns his head to the hedge. Is the horse still there? Mist parts like net curtains. Out of the corner of his eye he sees shiny black hooves and a pure white rump. A horse-snort. It gallops around the field. The thudding of hooves cease. It lifts effortlessly up into the sky. He squints in the sunlight, sees a flowing mane and strong, snow-white feathers. Pigeons coo. The mist disappears. The view must be wonderful from up there.

Words: 325

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I’m surprised they’ve all come, especially the children; there’s not much festive cheer here. They said they would come, but saying and doing can be poles apart; you learn that working here, especially today. I smile to myself; I’m glad they’ve come.

They trample in from the sleet and their coats start to steam once they get through the sliding doors, letting a burst of icy air in and sending goose pimples covering my bare arms. They take their gloves off and diligently pump big globs of anti-bacterial hand gel out, studiedly rubbing it in.

It leaves your hands sticky and makes you need to wash them again, I think; the cheap stuff does anyway. Lower alcohol content I suppose.

They’re all huddled together in that corridor of silent brightness. You can see the mood change, it dips and they grow quieter in anticipation. A few paces on smiles return but broader and tighter, as they are lost through his dark doorway.

The children aren’t keen, they look shy and hide behind their parents but once the eldest gets a handful of coins they run off to pick one thing each from the vending machine. Don’t get Quavers or Wotsits, they get stuck behind the metal rings all the time and I don’t have the key to get your money back. Sorry.

We crept round the wards at 5am, leaving a small present on each bedside table. We were quieter than we normally would be, it felt like a game; we couldn’t help giggling. The volunteers make them up from donations throughout the year – just a token, soap, hand cream, a little box of Celebrations, maybe a satsuma.

You can tell it makes a difference to the ones who are alone; they’re chattier this morning, and I’m more patient. I left one for him too, even though I know the blue and silver bag with coal tar soap and liquorice allsorts will still be there, untouched, tomorrow.

Words: 328

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Most people will present impossibilities as true facts. They will say that every cloud has a silver lining or that the grass is always greener on the other side. There are some elements of truth in the phrase “there are plenty more fish in the sea”.

Timothy the tuna had being separated from his parents at a young age, but this wasn’t a fun filled journey or an animated film. Timothy was lonely. He vastly ignored most schools, he was always swimming in a different direction anyway. For a while he imagined that he might find another fish to swim with, but was worried of how this might relate to the tide. Despite his general ignorance towards the other schools, Timothy increasingly found that he was imitating their direction, albeit unconsciously. He also decided that he couldn’t swim completely solo, he became dependant and fascinated by the way other fish followed in rhythm with each other. Often, he would ask himself why he had to be a tuna, why not a salmon or a catfish, they looked like they lived more exciting and eventful lives.

Timothy often swam too fast, missing things, opportunities, food. He often wondered what would happen to him. He knew that like so many others, he would end up on the end of a line or caught up in some nets. The only problem was that he didn’t know when it would be, it could be tomorrow, it could next month, it could be next year. Timothy just wanted his existence to mean something, he didn’t know what, but something more than the usual drift.

The truth was that Timothy ended up mostly tinned on the shelf of a wholesale store, not before being between slices of wholesale bread at the buffet at a wedding in Sheffield. That is a completely different story though.

Words: 308

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He doesn’t like cheese. Can’t stand the smell of it, he says. Can’t stand the smell so won’t like the taste. I’ll be honest, it’s a struggle knowing how to move forward from that. I need to accomplish certain things whilst I’m here, and this isn’t a great start.

But do I want to know.

So I ask about the smell. What is it he doesn’t like?

There’s a pause. Like his dead dog had just come back with a stick in its mouth. He stands to his full height then stretches some more, showing his great belly to me without a single care. He knows I’m not who I say I am.

It’s the smell of cheese frying, he tells me. That’s what puts him off. It’s what stops me too. Frying? Who fries cheese? Everyone fries cheese, he tells me. His wife saw it on the telly and now won’t stop doing it. With milk, he adds. Cheese fried in milk.

I’m losing it. I know I am. The situation is getting out of hand. But you can’t fry cheese in milk. You just can’t. That’s not what frying is. I think I’m right. Doesn’t matter to him though. Frying’s what he wants it to be. Always has been. In his world, everything is what he wants it to be. And this is, most certainly, his world.

I should shut up and finish this. I should. But if you don’t like cheese because your wife fries it, in milk, then your real problem is her. I offer this as an observation.

His eyes twist deep into me. Not once have they looked down at the box I’m carrying.

He doesn’t like cheese. So he won’t like pizza. And if he doesn’t like pizza, then why would he order one?

I find myself more upset at the knowledge I won’t be getting paid for this one than whether or not I can reach my knife in time.

Words: 328

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[Exchange Shopping Centre, Ilford, Essex, 00:03 25/12/2011]

“Wow, this is so amazing!”

“Yes Dave.”

“I mean, look at this, I’ve got a nose, a real nose… I can smell things.”

“I know Dave, me too. But, do you think—“

“—And these feet, look at them, they’re, made of some kind of wood or something.”

“Well, yes, that leads me onto what—“

“I bet I could run for miles and miles and I’d never feel anything.”

“Well, that might prove problematic.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well Dave, you know a few minutes ago when the blue fairy was here—“

“Oh yeah man, like I’m gonna forget that.”

“Yes, well, you remember how, when she waved that shiny stick at us and asked us what we wanted?”

“Of course, I mean, I didn’t even know reindeer could talk.”

“Actually I’m pretty sure they can’t.”

“Then how are we able to?”

“I think it’s some kind of magic… you know, what with her being a fairy and all.”

“Really? Wow, is there anything she can’t do?”

“Probably not, which is what I’ getting at. Anyway, she asks us what we want and you say—“

“— I wanna be real, like really real!”

“Yes, good call by the way, I’m not gonna deny that. But afterwards, when she asked us if there was anything else we wanted…“

“I said no, I mean, what more could we want? Hey, look at this stuff, it’s all brown and… bristly.”

“Yes, that’s your fur. But, you remember how she insisted on asking if there was anything else?”


“And I tried to interrupt, but you told her to just ignore me and that we were just so grateful for what she’d done, and she kept asking and sort of, glancing downwards and winking?”

“Umm, kind of, why?”

“I was just wondering if, you know, it might have been a good idea to ask her to, you know, get us down from here?”

Words: 324

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My next meeting with Xavier was different. He seemed to have lost something, some of his edge, some of his vitality. It was as if he was truly becoming the down and out that I didn’t believe he really was. Was this change in him a consequence of his contact with the Naylorites – a contact I had facilitated? Or was it something different?

I soon found out. We met in the back terrace garden the Lead Station. Xavier had a haunted look about him.
‘How goes?’
‘Not well Bilbo. They are after me.’
‘I’m not sure. Could be your lot, the Dark Cyclists-‘
‘No,’ I shook my head, ‘and not my lot and don’t spread such rumours.’
‘OK” he replied in a sceptical voice.
‘Not my lot!’ I said more emphatically.
‘OK. OK but someone is… I got beaten up yesterday.’
‘Oh…. sorry to hear that but isn’t that an occupational hazard?’
‘Yes but they were professionals, I could feel the difference.’
‘But why?’
‘To warn me off.’
‘Off what?’
‘Off… the Naylorites I think…. Unless they did it.’
‘Not likely they are ex Quakers and so are pacifists.’
‘Oh yeah, there’s a tale or two I could tell you about them.’
‘Another time’ the last thing I wanted to hear was Xavier slagging off the Naylorites.
‘Is there somewhere you can go?’
‘I rather hoped you would know a place.’

It happened so suddenly. A shadow loomed over our table and a hand seized Xavier and another hand firmly pressed me in the chest back into my seat. It was an i-snatch squad*, no use resisting them otherwise we would both be ‘tazed, dazed and fazed’. They took Xavier away but left me – why? – luck on my part or were they already watching me and waiting?

*I-snatch squad – semi autonomous squads but government funded at a distance, independent of the police and the armed forces. Set up in i2018 or thereabouts. Formed largely from ex service men and women.

Words: 330

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Sat up in the tree, lightheaded above the allotments, Blake felt that he had at last been relieved of a heavy burden. The bark was rough, brown. Here were smells a man could rely on: split logs, mulch, boot polish. He couldn’t remember when he had last climbed anything, let alone a tree. And now he was sat there, perched on a broad beam, all his thirty years of age, legs dangling.

His thoughts tumbled out. For every chancer being successful, there were a thousand others doing what it took just to hold the days together. It was a simple exercise in time management, perhaps. To work on through exhaustion, with no care for desires, for triviality, was what the giddying planet demanded. But there was no perfect existence. There was just a better way of describing the life you had, of repackaging it to be presentable to the tastemakers.

Pleasing the wolf, Blake called it. Yet wasn’t it a natural tendency of people to reach out for a golden version of themselves, even if it were unattainable? In this overconfident era he had become his own misfiring self-help guide; cause and alleviator of all his troubles. It went on, like spindrift. Could there come a day when he would have the optimum balance of experience, and courage enough to face the morning with a wink, yet youth enough still to go where the heart led? What had become of his past selves? Did they still exist in other dimensions? Was it possible to pick up the thread again? To try again?

And so, for a while longer, Blake sat. To the casual observer, it would appear madness, to be there, up in the tree. But for an hour, it made it easier to believe that the world was not out to get you, that there was no grand plan, no confusion, no injustice, and that all that really happened on the ride was what the brain imagined for itself.

Words: 330

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