Archive for April, 2012

There was a distant dull thump, similar to the sound a rugby ball produces when punted down field, and it took a moment for me to comprehend that the noise had in fact been made by the side of my head hitting the white canvas. The world was suddenly in an upside-down spinning chaos and the more I tried to align my vision to a single frame the more it spun out of focus and the more dazed and disorientated I felt.

I could not lift my head an inch above the canvas; it was stuck there like a magnet on metal. It was as if the force of gravity had suddenly multiplied, the earth sucking at my body through the canvas trying to swallow it, rendering my limbs impossibly heavy and immovable. Warm liquid with a vague metallic smell leaked from somewhere on my face and was steadily pooling around my head, painting the white surface a perfect scarlet.

I was suddenly shivering and, apart from the taste, the warm red fluid was oddly comforting against my cold and clammy face. But the taste of it was revolting and with my limbs being stubbornly uncooperative, I could do nothing to get away from it.

I rapidly blinked a few times, or at least the lid of the eye that wasn’t completely swollen shut, and at last the chaotic swirling subsided enough for me to see blurry faces looking at me through the ropes around the ring: some white, some black, some jubilant and others less so. T

he weight crushing my head finally lifted just enough to allow me a one-eyed glance back at my corner. There stood my trainer, and although his face was also still somewhat blurry, the disappointment was plain to see as he looked down at me, a trace of disgust also detectable. That expression on his face as he stared at me would probably have been less wounding if my trainer wasn’t also my father.

Words: 330

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“They do the best tea here, let me treat you.”

Thomas smiles and says “Yeah, alright.”

He’s been waiting for weeks; Diane had to make the first move. He’s known that since they met, reaching for the same book a few Saturdays ago. Diane works days, Thomas works nights, so it’s been snatched moments; arguing good-naturedly about an exhibition at lunchtime; mugs of hot Vimto in Affleck’s; browsing through the musty racks of a vintage shop.

Diane grabs his hand and hurries him up the steps. Thomas pushes open the heavy door for her, breathing in her perfume as she passes. It’s got to be today, he can’t wait any longer. They sit at the back, away
from prying eyes. Diane orders green tea latte; Thomas takes blood orange. They split a slice of carrot cake.

Diane drinks her latte quickly, always in a hurry. Thomas is used to biding his time, and the tea slides down his throat the hazy temperature of blood.

Today Diane talks while Thomas just listens, mesmerised by her voice. He can’t help staring at the mole on her neck, sure that if he was close enough he’d see it quiver from the pressure of her heartbeat. His hands itch to touch Diane’s pale throat.

“You’re miles away.” Thomas looks up, failing to hide his guilty face.

With a smile, Diane lays her hand over his. “Tom.”

Diane’s lipstick is the russet red-brown of dried blood. Thomas has had enough of fighting down the urges, his dark little fantasies.

“Take the afternoon off.”

Diane smiles, terrifying and exhilarating. “I already told them I wouldn’t be back.”

She takes his hand again, leading him this time to her flat. Thomas shifts the bag on his shoulder, hoping he remembered everything. As Diane opens the door on an empty white space, Thomas starts to feel

“It was in your tea,” she says, still smiling as she picks up a knife.

“We all have dark little fantasies.”

Words: 330

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I’m a natural follower. Middle of the pack kind of guy. Whatever is considered cool is fine with me. Somewhere, a long time ago, I lost myself and picked up a different, more carefully fabricated version.

I joined Facebook not to connect but to stalk. Secretly browse through “friends” photo albums seeing how they defined fun. Ideas for vacations, what bands to listen to, what books to read were derived from profile likes.

My Tumblr page doesn’t contain one original post. It’s a complete shame. I spend hours every day trolling through others pages looking for stuff to re-post hoping that if I put it on my page it will somehow change me, inspire me.

Twitter is even worse. I blindly follow people with little regard to the consequences. It’s like a drunken co-ed giving out her cell phone number at a frat party. Currently the ratio is ten to one. I get depressed when strangers don’t follow me back. I sit and struggle to produce some witty aphorism or comment on society in 140 characters or less. I’ve been known to spend an hour constructing a tweet.

I bought flannel shirts not for the comfort but for the connotation they carry. I drink green tea and chug Pabst Blue Ribbon hoping people will notice. I wear Doc Martens despite them giving me blisters. My pants are way too tight, making it hard to bend over and pick stuff up or even sit down for long periods of time. Ray Ban glasses are always perched atop my nose. I have 20/20 vision.

You may think I’m pathetic, a poser, unoriginal but I’m really you. And that’s what I hate about myself most.

Words: 280

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He was born in London, she in Nottingham. They first met aged six on family holidays near Weymouth. Their mothers told how they sat with their exposed legs dangling in the stream singing nursery rhymes.

He schooled in London, she in Nottingham. On a school visit to Weymouth aged 13 he was was hiding from bullies when he heard a familiar voice that he couldn’t place. They spent the day together. He bought her ice-cream then they swam together and sung their favourite songs by the same stream.

In Cambridge as a fresher he waited for registration scared by what the next few years would hold. Then from nowhere her familiar face approached him. They read different subjects but joined the same societies and danced in the same dances. Neither would admit they capitulated to the other but by the time they left they were engaged.

After their wedding they had little money so they honeymooned in Waymouth and this is where developments started to strike a different, darker chord. The hotel they had stayed in as children was gone and a new car park made their stream less romantic. She became irritated by his perpetual humming, something she had found charming before their wedding. After three miscarriages and a massive row over something she walked out.

He aged in London, she in Nottingham. When his cancer became critical he was moved into hospital. One day sitting outside his ward in the sunshine he saw an old lady helped out of an ambulance into A&E. They held eye contact only for a second but he knew. When he found her they sat in the sun and told each other of their lives, she had remarried and had two children; he had lived a life never giving up hope he would smile to her again. Her recapitulation came that day, as she hugged him his cancer made its final move on his frail body.

He died in her arms smiling.

Words: 328

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Stan parked his new Rover 2000, got out, closed the door, clicked the key in the lock and turned to walk towards his office across the car park. Glancing back over his shoulder a couple of times to admire his new purchase. Streamlined, gleaming, polished, ready to go.

As he took his seat at the drawing board his colleague Tom called across, ‘You’ll never guess what.’

They’d been working for months on the drawings of the most complex motorway junction yet to be built. The Worsley Braided Interchange just where the M60 and M61 meet together with access roads for the busy A580 and A666. It would mean shifting millions of tons of peat and earth. Laying miles of new tarmac, building overpasses and connecting roads. Quick access to the North for the people of Manchester.

Stan didn’t like the tone of Tom’s voice. He didn’t want any surprises. But he got one.

‘The maps show there’s a footpath just at the widest point of the junction.’

‘What? How can that be? I thought we’d checked everything?’ replied Stan.

‘So did I, but there it is,’ responded Tom.

‘What are we going to do? We don’t want protests and delays now. Just when everything’s prepared. The contractors are due to start work in a couple of months,’ said Stan with a hint of desperation.

‘No worries old chap. Problem solved. I’ve put a footbridge onto the drawing already. It’s not going to break the bank on a project like this,’ said Tom.

‘Can we do that? A bridge that long? Just for a few walkers and their dogs,’ asked Stan.

‘It’s already done. Here just sign off the drawing,’ reassured Tom.

As Stan scrawled his signature on the drawing his mind was already wandering, imagining the day he’d take his new car for a spin up to the Lake District. Manchester to Kendal. He’d be there in a couple of hours. No problem.

Words: 322

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She always did like to be different, and in retrospect maybe I should have been worried when she suggested a walk on the beach. Should have read her eyes or checked her tone for clues. Instead, I took her at face value, and found myself enjoying what I mistook as a pleasant stroll toward the sea. When we got there we sat down together on the sand and gazed out into the distance. Never the quickest to catch on, by this point I’d started to feel a touch uneasy, given that we hadn’t exchanged a single word in going on half an hour. Then she sighed, and said all the things people always say in such situations, obvious words that nonetheless never left me. Still haunt me to this day, in fact. My response doesn’t bear repeating.

We made our way back to the hotel separately, which was ridiculous considering we were inevitably going to end up back in the same room. I arrived after her, to find her putting her things into one of our suitcases. I remember feeling surprised that she hadn’t already done so; earlier she’d excused herself from breakfast, and as I stood there watching her I wondered why she hadn’t used that opportunity to pack. My curiosity got the better of me, and I had to ask.

“I didn’t know for certain it was over,” she replied.

“Was there anything I could’ve done?”


“What kind of answer is that?”

“If the answer was ‘no’ we wouldn’t be here right now.”

After that exchange we both cried for a while, tentatively held one another but quickly withdrew, finally moved past the emotions to discuss the practicalities. We still had four days of the holiday left, and as things stood we’d be living in the same space, not to mention sitting next to one another on the flight back. How we managed to raise the funds necessary to ensure that didn’t happen is another story.

Words: 329

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A 6.0 sent most to their closets, pantries, and hallways, wherever they stored earthquake supplies to check their water, food and first aid kits.

In 1989, The Loma Prieta—a 7.0—flattened a section of the Interstate through Oakland, killing 42, burned up much of the Marina District in San Francisco, killing four, and here in Santa Cruz claimed three while demolishing historic buildings along the Pacific Garden Mall.

This morning two children were swept away at Ocean Beach. Six tourists at Point Lobos, lined up for that classic California shot—backs to the incoming waves—all gone. Seven car pile up at Devil’s Slide on Highway 1 claimed the lives of surfers racing toward the killer Mavericks-style waves at Half Moon Bay.

The high surf advisory cleared swimmers from the beach. Attractions shut down. But there he is, riding high, the gondola all to himself. He thinks he’s immortal. The gargoyles think otherwise.

Words: 151

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Phillip first saw the girl on the moon when he was seven; she scratched ‘hello’ into the grey dust with her bare feet. The next morning, Phillip doused the garden with weedkiller to spell out a reply.

‘Do you want to come and visit?’ she mouthed from over 238,855 miles away.

Phillip nodded and trotted across the room to get his box of crayons. Over the next few weeks, he wrote letters to NASA, Roscosmos and CNSA, politely requesting a seat on their next trip into space.

When they didn’t reply, he built his own rocket in the back garden. With a colander for a helmet and his dad’s work jacket for a spacesuit, he sat in a cockpit of toilet roll tubes and television remotes preparing for blast off. Final checks completed, he tugged the bed linen over the hatch under the kitchen chair and began the countdown.

Launch was indefinitely suspended due to inclement weather and tea time.

‘238,855 miles is a very long way away, dear,’ his mother consoled as Phillip stared up out of the window.

So, Phillip gets old. He no longer dreams of the galaxies and the stars and he has forgotten all about the imaginary girl on the moon. But, the girl on the moon has not forgotten about him.

She is older now too, but she still looks out for him, staring down at the planet below; counting down the continents as they dance by. When England appears on the horizon, she throws rocks at his window to try and get his attention. They always burn up over the Atlantic Ocean.

Years pass and Phillip doesn’t look up at her twice. Heartbroken, she weeps in the swallowing dark, knees folded into her chest. Small blue droplets drift off into the darkness, before being swept away towards the ball of gas roaring silently in the night’s sky.

Words: 321

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That I am alone now is not important. At least, this is what I tell myself. Because the city, you must understand, speaks.

I had a body like that, once, it says. Before time etched this map on my skin.

Your hands grip its bricks, its construction sites, the work of man on his surroundings. You want to be like the birds you find huddled in the eaves. The impermanence, the living tension that comes with having no real home.

From here on the roof the city appears graced, a world revealed. The rain has passed, and the sky is a raft of colours — holy grey to the right, sheer pink in the middle of my line of sight, becoming turquoise and finally midnight blue to the left. The beauty of it is almost enough to take my mind off my breathing, doubled over as I am, sweat balling on my forehead. This is power. But then, that was quite a climb.

My throat is dry, my tongue salted. I have to sit down. As I do so, the muscles in my shaking legs contract. I can’t hold back a yelp. It is a pain, however, that is instantly forgotten. I stretch, rubbing to diffuse the feeling. On the horizon, the low sun is making its way down on the city, the shadows cast by the tallest buildings lengthening. I fight to get my breathing under control, inhale steadily, with more resistance.

If you had a lover, children, people who care too deeply, then you would be forever thinking twice. But this is where I feel at home. In the alleys, on the ledges, the rooftops. The city is very old here. There is no hiding place. Here, the actors are jeered.

One time, I lost my footing. It was a long drop, and it was some time before I was found. But not tonight.

No. Tonight, I made it.

Words: 321

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330 Words is part of #Flashtag, a group of five Manchester writers who should know better. This summer, we’ll be returning to Chorlton Arts Festival for the second Flashtag Writing Competition, a contest which celebrates flowing prose, emerging writing talent and brevity.

If you’d like to submit your wares, we’re looking for stories of 500 words or less. You can enter by sending your story to Entries must be submitted no later than 27th April, so get scribbling. If shortlisted, you must also be able to attend the live final on May 23rd.

Last year’s winner, Socrates Adams, is now a published author of the exceptional ‘Everything’s Fine’. If that’s not incentive enough, there are also fantastic prizes on offer for the champion submission.

You can find more details about the competition on the #Flashtag website.

Good luck.

Words: 138

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