F.F.F. Stories – Friday 6/25/21

5. The Writer, by Marjan Sierhuis

“Please take a break today,” Elsa says, walking over and massaging his neck. “Visitors to the flash fiction site can wait another week.”

“But I have another story to tell,” Oliver says as he glances at his notebook. “My readers need to see it.”

“I am sure they can wait. You have been writing continually for the last several months.”

“Miss me?”

“Of course, sweetheart. How can you even ask me something like that?”

“Come here,” Oliver says, pulling Elsa onto his lap and kissing her on the cheek. “Show me the ways I can make it up to you.”

4. The Skilled Lion Hunters, by Ann-Louise Truschel

Unaware that they were being watched, the poacher and his guide stealthily approached the pride. The hunter was looking for the rare black-maned lion that roamed the wildlife preserve.

He had paid the guide to sneak him into the protected area so he could get the trophy of a lifetime! The bribe had cost him a small fortune!

“He’ll occupy the place of honor above my fireplace.”

As the poacher raised his rifle, he and his guide were attacked by the rest of the pride that had circled around behind them, learning too late that lions indeed are skilled hunters.

3. Time’s Up, by Bill Engleson

On the day I died, I woke up, a bounce in my belly, a smile on my lips.

“You’re looking chipper,” she observed.

“Haven’t even had my coffee yet,” I said, hugging her the way I once did.

“What brought that on?” she asked.

I continued to grin like a school kid in the moment, finding lost pleasure, remembering the way I had imagined my life, my love would unfold.

After breakfast I made to leave.

“Where are you off to?” she queried.

“I’m thinking a hike up to the Falls,” I said.

“Be careful,” she advised.

“Always, my love.”

2. Wind Song, by R.S. Pyne

The wind blew directly in his face and it sang with a dozen voices, each one belonging to a past victim. He kept them with him always, recalling their faces, how they died and how he killed them: the closest the man ever came to making friends. On the hunt now, he searched the streets for prey.

An accomplice breeze showed him the way, insistent and impossible to ignore. It told him to kill and drove his compulsions, fuelled the fierce rage against a world that had rejected him – always room for one more in his collection of bound souls.

1. The Trouble with Garlic, by Fliss Zakaszewska

Harry and Geoff were discussing their favourite topic: home-cooked food, cooked by someone else – their wives.

“Can’t stand garlic,” announced Harry. “I’d tell Delia to shove it if she put it in my food.”

“Me, too. I’ve told Christine never to use the stuff.”

Delia looked through the open hatch towards her husband and smiled. She took a second garlic clove, an extra-large one. Carefully, she peeled and crushed it … then stirred it into the lasagne.

“And you’ll be shoving garlic – again – where the sun don’t shine, sweetheart,” she whispered as she reached for a third one.

F.F.F. Stories – Tuesday 6/22/21

5. The 159th Burns Supper, by Gordon Lawrie

For those unfamiliar with Burns Suppers, this isn’t quite so far from the truth as you’d imagine.

The 159th annual Burns Supper was an eagerly anticipated event. It opened with Tae a Haggis, followed by the Selkirk Grace. Once the haggis had been killed and cooked, the guests ate well, washed down with liberal quantities of whisky.

Entertainment followed. Tam O’Shanter, of course, followed by To a Mountain Daisy, To a Louse, To a Mouse and finally To a Penguin. Mercifully, the Reverend Bob Thompson forgot The Immortal Memory.

The evening concluded with Burns Song Karaoke and the traditional pitched battle in the car park. Police were called and everyone spent the night in unco’ happy custody.

4. A Special Day, by Bruce Levine

It was a cold, windy, bleak, rainy day. The wind howled, making all plans seem irrelevant. He looked at his wife, seated across the work table in their library/study/workroom, and wondered what they should do. They’d started the day as usual, checking email and sorting through work at hand, but today was supposed to be a “special” day: not for work, but for celebrating. He got up from the table and walked to the window to watch as the weather increased its ferocity. No, he thought, not a day for going out. Not a pleasant day to celebrate his birthday.

3. The Fisherman, by Tyrean Martinson

He was old, bent and gnarled. This was his last chance.

Digging his feet deep into the sand, he pushed his boat out to sea one shove at a time.

Balancing carefully, he climbed over the prow.

His fishing net lay limp in the back of the boat. He didn’t need it where he was going, but he didn’t want to part with it.

Alone on the water, he could hear every creak of the boat and his back, the rasp of the oars against their casings, and the chuckling lap of the water against the sides.

This was home.

2. Start Again, by Henry Bladon

I hold down the backspace key and watch as the words are gradually erased from my screen. The characters exit left; a ballet troupe leaving the stage.

Honesty dictates that they are words I never really wanted to say. Anyway, I’ve decided it’s no good to ignore the signs.

Click, click, click. All gone. Start again.

In its place I compose another message which says: Your bitterness doesn’t just come from all that coffee you drink.

A subtler and more sophisticated approach, don’t you think?

No regrets. There’s no going back.

One final stare. Then press Send.

And start again.

1. The Shredder, by Sheila Ash

‘Tis an unforgiving place. Directionally confused, every way the same. The madness of regularity, row after row, pattern repeat after repeat, two this way, two that, two up, two down. A log pile of packed-tight, pointed bevels. Lying flat, I’m nudged across, grazed by their crevasses, a restless guru on a bed of nails. Outer walls encroach at a slow, steady, inexorable pace. Resolutely, this advancing army of swords prods me, their prey. Their double edge serrations shave my soul. This machine annihilates all in its path. Stripped. I am but dust.

F.F.F. Stories – Thursday 6/17/21

5. Diving to Glory, by John Cooper

Cyril moved to the edge of the diving board and looked down.

So this was it; this was the outcome of all those years of early mornings at the municipal pool, of all that practice in the front room every evening – honing the shapes and curves his body could make. The months of dieting, weight-training, running and stretching until his body was pushed beyond endurance.

This was what it had all been for – a few seconds of ‘elegant falling, then minimal splash’ and just the outside chance of a medal on a ribbon for all that hard work.

4. The Pink Ballet Shoes, by Guy Fletcher

Despite seeing the photographs of emaciated bodies, it was the pink ballet shoes which tore his heart apart the most.

He wondered which poor doomed child they belonged to and knew their terrible fate. Did her parents survive, forever tortured by this awful time?

The shoes were all shapes and sizes, as plentiful as fallen leaves after an autumn storm but a much more gruesome sight. What hopes had all these people had, which for many would have ended in such despair?

That night he dreamt of a young girl dancing … and awoke with a start.

3. The Harvest, by Hibah Shabkhez

“They will yield a fine harvest,” rustled Father Oak to Mother Maple. “Fur-less, they strip other animals; claw-less, they fashion stone claws, to hunt their prey and to slay one another!”

“Abominations! Fratricides!” Mother Maple withdrew from the creatures, horrified. “Cast them out now, say I!”

“Nonsense! We shall nourish them well, so that they may ripen quickly.”

“If they turn their claws upon us – ”

“Oh, they won’t do that. They know they die the day we do.”

“Well, I hope you’re right,” sighed Mother Maple, and lowered her branches to the feeble paws reaching up for her leaves.

2. Compromise, by Barbara Gliddon

Nine o’clock Sunday – breakfast: He said he wouldn’t, and couldn’t, do it
Stubborn.
As was she. “Same thing.”
“No, it isn’t.”
Twelve-thirty – lunch: “Why not? It’s Monday tomorrow.”
“Sore feet. Doctor’s orders.”
Seven o’clock – A change of tactics, even though earlier he had said he wouldn’t, not couldn’t, which irked.
Sympathy.
“How are your feet? Still not great?”
With dignity and forbearance, he limped outside.
She settled on the couch, accepting that she was to hear, again, the sore foot saga: the tenderness, the podiatrist, the ointment, now that he had put the rubbish out.
That was the deal.

1. The Wailing, by Kim Favors

I can hear you next to me: hospital room 2237. I know you’re scared. “Me go home … me go home,” you wail.

Did they leave you here to die?

I’m scared, too, for my own reasons.

From my doorway, I watch a woman arrive. Your wife — or perhaps she’s your daughter — is told “three more days” and “home health care.” After she leaves, you wail again, “Me go home.”

I look down the corridor, seeking the reassuring smile of my nurse. She doesn’t show. I crawl into bed, and in my pillow begin wailing: “Me stay here … me stay here.”

F.F.F. Stories – Monday 6/14/21

5. Larry Talbot, by Rod Drake

The old gypsy woman lied. There is no cure, unless one counts death as a cure. The full, autumn moon will soon rise in the sky. I wait and watch in horror. Soon the hunger will overwhelm me; then I’ll lose consciousness. Only flashes of memory will remain—running wildly as bare branches tear at me, cold ground fog, smelling the scent, hunting intently, and hearing distant dogs and men in grim pursuit. Tomorrow I will awaken, lost, sore, half-naked and covered with someone’s still warm blood. And know that I face two more full moon nights.

Readers might need to look up Larry Talbot

4. Slow Down, by Don Tassone

“There’s an app for that, you know,” he said.

“I know,” she said, studying her computer screen. “But I like to browse.”

He tapped his fingertips on the table.

“I’m going downstairs to run.”

“Okay,” she sighed.

“What?”

“I thought we might take a walk. It’s such a lovely evening.”

He remembered the last time they took a walk, stopping to talk with neighbors. It took an hour to go around the block.

“I just want to squeeze in a quick run and get to bed early.”

“Okay,” she said, picking up her romance novel and pulling out the bookmark.

3. Manhattan Brownstone, by Jane Briganti

A horse and carriage, dressed in roses of yellow and white, arrived in front of her brownstone on the upper east side of Manhattan. Awaiting her exit from the building was the driver dressed in top hat and tales. “Right this way, my dear,” he said, as he extended his hand outward to help lift her into the carriage. Trotting along Madison Avenue, they soon reached their destination at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. On the steps of the Cathedral, dapper as ever and dressed in a smile, stood the man who won her heart. The man from brownstone across the street.

2. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2019, by Sankar Chatterjee

Lincoln was morning-walking in the Heavenly Park. King rushed past him.

Lincoln: Why the rush?

King: Another Remembrance Day, but for what?

Lincoln: I took a bullet to make a wrong right, while much work remained unfinished. Thought enlightened future generations would tackle the part of equality.

King: And I took a bullet to remind those citizens about your unfinished mission. After all, it was a fundamental human rights issue.

Lincoln: Now, they would erect a wall to keep away the poor neighbors.

King: What appalled me was … not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

1. Final Words, by Marjan Sierhuis

He lies on the hospital bed. I reach for his hands. They are cold. I cover him with a warm blanket.

He is dying. That is what he wants. He says he is ready. He wants no heroics.

His face is pale and clammy. His lips are purple and dry.

He whispers.

I bend over to hear his words. They are muffled.

I lean back and study every nuance of his facial expression. I see a flicker of an eyelid.

I try to catch a tear that rolls down his cheek.

I reach for a tissue. I am too late.

F.F.F. Stories – Saturday 6/12/21

5. Word Play, by Pamela Kennedy

“The pen is mightier than the sword,” my son, Paul, commented to his older brother, John, who quickly retorted, “My PENis my sword!”. I had wanted to chuckle at his play on words but forced myself to refrain.

They looked baffled when I explained to them that that type of humor was out of step with today’s reality. It is no longer tolerated in schools, offices, or social events. Even among friends, it could come home to haunt them.

“Boys will be boys”, but only if society doesn’t take that away from them.

4. Rufus, by Jeffrey Paolano

Cindy has aged into rheumatism and arthritis.
She slathers ointments to restore plumpness.
Her palsied father whispers his needs, rapt by the dog that’s dying.
Her father’s snapping blue eyes have faded and turned rheumy. The dog’s eyes have yellowed while its body appears to have melted.
“Daddy, I must take Rufus now. He’s suffering,” pleads Cindy, compelled by compassion.
Her father is unresponsive.
Cindy gently lifts the pet.
She feels the slight tug of her father’s grip.
“Leave him,” her father whispers.
“Darling, I can’t. He must go.”
“Leave us be together,” pleads the father.
In revelation Cindy relents.

3. The Magic, by Kim Favors

Grandma’s frail hand grabs mine, pulling me atop her musty hay pile. “Come, Girl. Come see the magic. It may be the last time. But first, promise me.”

I promise, and when the fire eats the moon, it’s only Dog and Grandma’s small box that I carry to the ship.

Dog passed eons ago. I’m now a respected Elder.

I’ve kept my promises — for the most special of the girl star sailors.

When I think they’re ready, I open the centuries-old box.

And together, in Grandma’s ancient mirror, we witness “the magic” — the faces of the next hope for humankind.

2. The Street Crossing, by Sunanda Chatterjee

She stepped into the pedestrian crossing and stumbled. I rushed to her aid. Her wrinkled, cool hands felt like parchment. Lines radiated from her mouth like sun rays as she gave me a crooked smile. Wispy hair escaped her woolen cap, and her shawl dragged on the wet, dirty street.
I lifted up the shawl, held her elbow, and walked her across the street, while cars groaned with feigned patience.
Her voice crackled. “God bless you for helping a complete stranger.”
My throat clenched and words couldn’t escape my lips.
Ma’s memory isn’t what it used to be.

1. The Char Woman, by Ann-Louise Truschel

I do for him twice a week. I’ve been working for him, I guess, it must be going on four years now. He’s a pleasant enough man, middle-aged and quite mannerly, but also quite untidy. Although a Londoner, he pays me well to neaten up his rooms, launder his dirty and stained clothing, and throw away the unfortunate souvenirs he sometimes brings home late at night.

I understand his bizarre needs, and, over the years, I have learned to accept and overlook his strange behavior. We’re even on a first-name basis.

“Oh, Jack! You have blood on your clothes again?”

F.F.F. Stories – Friday 6/11/21

5. Mistaken Identity, by Ann-Louise Truschel

The foreign students were bewildered by groups of young people dashing here and dashing there. Not speaking the language, the new kids were faced with the difficult task of finding the right building, the right classroom.

They couldn’t understand the confusing maps with arrows pointing here and there, different colors for different levels, some stairs that they couldn’t go up and other stairs that they couldn’t go down.

Yet they finally somehow managed to get to their classroom – English as a Second Language. They looked around at the other alien students, noticing, disappointedly, that they were the only Martians.

4. Memory, Forever, by Sankar Chatterjee

Millennial Tamali and Shibashis grabbed a window table on second floor of Calcutta’s iconic Coffee House on College Street. Looking at the building across, Shibashis began trembling. “I didn’t bring my English text-book.”

Tamali: You OK, dear?

Shibashis: See that second-floor window in that building? My eighth-grade classroom in high school.

Tamali: I’m listening.

Shibashis: In first English class, we didn’t bring our textbook. As punishment, the strict teacher made us stand on chairs entire time.

Tamali: Really!

Shibashis: Oh, that shame and humiliations! They’re watching and mocking from here.

Tamali: Now might be your turn.

Shibashis: Winter recess … no classes now.

3. The Last Chapter, by Gordon Lawrie

Deciding that one husband was one too many, she decided to rationalise. Inspired by the book How to Murder Someone in Five Easy Stages, she armed herself and arranged to meet her husband at a quiet railway station. Why he agreed, no one knows.

Once alone, she smashed his head fourteen times with a rolling pin, threw the body onto the railway line for the next train to crush, then fled.

The police naturally assumed suicide initially, but then forensics found blood traces away from the platform’s edge.

The moral? Always read the last chapter: “How Not to Get Caught.”

2. Jack & Jill, by Adrian McRobb

“Push!” said Jack.
“I am pushing!” replied Jill.
“Well, you’re not doing it hard enough!”
“I’m not used to this sort of thing, you know!”
“Maybe you should use your hips more?”
“My hips? How would that help?”
“It would give you more impetus!” Priding himself on the use of a large word.
​”If you’re going to be like that, you can damn well do it yourself!”
“Come on, love. You know I need you for this?”
“But, I’m doing all the work!”
“Just a bit longer, love?”
“That’s what you always say. Why can’t we just buy a new car?”

1. Bleak Introspection, by Henry Bladon

He’s tall, isn’t he, Dad.
What, son?
The man in front, Dad. He’s tall, isn’t he.
Yes, son.
There’s the roar of a goal.
Dad. What’s a rictus?
Never you mind, son.
Sounds bad, thinks the son.
The match continues.
Ten minutes pass. The son is curious again.
Dad?
Yes, son.
Do you have a bleak introspection?
A what?
A bleak introspection. Mum said you have a bleak introspection.
Did she, now?
He can’t see the match, so the son looks up at the sky.
Clouds float by and he wonders when Dad’s bleak introspection will pass down to him.

F.F.F. Stories – Thursday 6/10/21

5. February 14, by Marjan Sierhuis

“Forget the chocolates and the red roses this year,” I tell him while I cut the root vegetables into bite-size pieces, coat them with olive oil, and toss them with salt and pepper.

“You have never complained before,” he says with a stunned look on his face.

“Surprise me this year with something different,” I tell him as I slide the vegetables onto a rimmed baking sheet.

On Valentine’s Day, he hands me a box wrapped with bright red paper.

I lift out an aluminum baking pan, shaped like a heart, and I try and keep a straight face.

4. Golden Years, by Nicky Johnson

When Papa dropped dead in the middle of dinner one night last year, my siblings and I just assumed Mama wouldn’t be long after. We even had a meeting to decide which of us would house her. Much to our surprise, she is more vibrant than we ever remember. Between shopping, knitting club, cooking class, she doesn’t return half of our calls. I didn’t tell the others, but I’m certain she even went on a few romantic dates. Now the only thing we discuss is what she could have possibly put in the roast that dreadful night last year.

3. At the Cinema, by Muireann Kelly

In the final month, they went to the cinema five times. To the outside world, it looked like they were any other couple wanting a cheap night out. There, they could avoid the stifling listlessness brought on by another long evening at home. It was a kind of freedom in itself. Each of them knew their role at the cinema. It became a sort of comfort to her in those last decaying days. He would order the tickets online. She would linger over the pick’n’mix, then the ice cream, before buying a small popcorn and a beer for Greg.

2. Orphan, by Rod Drake

There was a bad crash up ahead on County Blacktop 13, maybe caused by the pounding rain. Some drunk driver, probably. Which made me think of my father, who won’t ever listen or change his constant drinking. Glad I’m away at college, but I have to come home once in a while. A highway patrolman waved me to stop with his flashlight. He asks me, “Aren’t you Joe Baxter’s kid?”

“Yes. Why?”

He watched as the ambulance pulled away empty, and the hearse was loaded. “Well,” he said slowly, “then I got some bad news for you.”

1. Tolz, by Jeffrey Paolano

“Coffee, darlin’,” says Tolz, smiling at the waitress decades his junior.

“OK, honey,” says the waitress, pouring coffee, carried in anticipation, a vestige of a proficient breakfast waitress.

As she drifts amongst the tables, tossing quips and splashing coffee, Tolz gazes on the vision wistfully.

Mike, observing the hang-doggedness of Tolz’s demeanor, says, “Could be your granddaughter.”

Living’s adorned the men with scars and color. Their hands that engulf the coffee mugs, or rub the stubbled jaws, are ham-like, calloused, and abraded.

“I don’t mean like that … I mean when we was.”

“Yeah. When we was.”

“You know.”

“I do.”

F.F.F. Stories – Wednesday 6/9/21

5. I Didn’t Cry, by Joshua Doane

You used to drink until you passed out, but before you did, you always pointed out everything that you didn’t like about me. I cried. You didn’t hit me, but your words hurt nonetheless. When you woke up, you didn’t remember anything you said. When I brought it up, you said I misconstrued everything.

Then one night you did it again. The same words. The same pain. This time you didn’t wake up. You stopped breathing as you laid on your back. Suffocating. I didn’t call for help until I knew for sure that you were gone. I didn’t cry.

4. The Necklace, by Ann-Louise Truschel

“How much was it, Eileen?”

“Oh, Harold. It’s all about money with you.”

“Eileen, how much?!”

“You can’t put a dollar value on absolutely everything, Dear. Some objects are just so beautiful you can’t really ever put a price on them.”

“You can when that beautiful, exquisite object is charged to one’s credit card. At least, that’s what the credit card company tells me.”

“But … ”

“The cost, Eileen. What did the necklace cost?”

“Well, it was under $5000.”

“How much under $5000?”

“Just barely under.”

“Eileen, you have enough jewelry.”

“Nonsense, Harold. There’s no such thing as enough jewelry.”

3. The Lady in a Wheelchair, by Guy Fletcher

Jeff trudged through the busy city streets after his team had lost again, resenting shoppers who were quite oblivious of the score, laughing in the Saturday air.

The rain swept across, adding to his misery, and he was almost blinded by an umbrella.

“Watch it, you idiot!” he snarled.

“Lost again, did they?” was the retort.

It was then that he saw a young woman struggling alone in a wheelchair. She clearly only possessed one leg and stopped for breath, soaked to the skin.

Jeff felt ashamed of his petty woes.

2. Another Bed, by Henry Bladon

When I found her in our bed with someone else, she was staring at him and didn’t seem to notice. I recall he had a stupid grin on his face. It was smug, and I hated that. I had to admit to myself that he was handsome, though. It was a shame in a way, what happened, because they looked happy together. I always think it’s nice for people to be happy.

I don’t know if they retained that happiness, but what I do know is they’re now lying together in another bed, and it’s where I grow my roses.

1. Foreplay, by Gordon Lawrie

As she snuggled under the covers, her body tingling with anticipation, she felt those familiar feelings again. The foreplay was almost her favourite moment: she caressed its firmness, aware only too well of the pleasure that would soon engulf her.

She stroked it, back and forwards, wondering how something so strong and hard could lead to something so soft and tender.

She could wait no longer. She turned to page one and began to read.

“It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

F.F.F. Stories – Tuesday 6/8/21

5. In the Moment, by Mark Towers

Charlie looked down, turned away, felt the colour drain from his face.

“C’mon, mate. Don’t be a wimp,” Dan yelled from below.

Charlie sensed a grin on Dan’s face. An imprecation pushed at Charlie’s lips; he bottled it deep inside.

“You’ve done this before,” Dan offered.

Charlie turned again, looked to the horizon, which offered no comfort.

He took a few steps back. Then a few more. The dizzying drop no longer dominating his view. The profanity burst out as he ran towards the cliff edge. Feeling 20 years younger, Charlie plummeted towards the sea like that first exhilarating time.

4. Irony’s Double-Edged Sword, by Sankar Chatterjee

American John Ford was exploring India’s southern state Kerala, blessed with lush greenery, back-country waterways, and bridal-veil waterfalls. Inhabitants call the place “God’s own country”.

While crisscrossing, John noticed red flags emblazoned with hammer and sickle representing a left-leaning political party, flying everywhere. Though the ideology was becoming extinct elsewhere, it survived here due to judicious practice of inherent philosophy of equality by state’s educated citizens. To rest of India, Kerala represents a “red state”.

That’s when a unique irony dawned on John. Back in homeland, current strongman’s hate-mongering, xenophobic, and ignorant supporters reside in regions collectively known as “red states”.

3. View From The Cloister, by Kim Hare

Heart racing, I wait. I watch as snow whites-out the familiar green square of grass. A robin hops about, leaving fresh new tracks.

Magdalen’s bells ring and the robin flutters away. If my research is approved, Mankind will enter new territory, able to reverse aging whilst increasing fitness.

My nervous breath spurts out, dragon-like. Condensation, carbon dioxide and vapor exit my lungs; molecules are transformed, like magic. When medieval scholars stood in this very spot, had they, amidst a first snowfall, breathed out dragon shapes and believed it magic? Will my research be dismissed as witchcraft? Is the world ready?

2. The Last Riddle, by Krystyna Fedosejevs

Curiosity pulled her. Overhead paper lanterns lit the way. She smelled the sweetness of steaming dumplings. Heard chords played on an erhu. Witnessed a crowd gather to view swirly moves of a fast-paced lion dance. Riddles attached to lanterns she read. Satisfied all could be answered, except for one.

“Happy lantern festival!” the man beside her said. “I’m stumped on that one, too.” His warm smile encouraged hers. Calmness invited her to break from shyness.

They spent the rest of the evening together gazing into each other’s eyes. Unknowingly solving the last riddle: happiness needs to be created, not pursued.

1. Suria, by Marjan Sierhuis

(Posted, with image, to a PAGE on the F.F.F. website.)

F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 6/6/21

5. Nature Unites, Human Divides, by Sankar Chatterjee

On the dark beach of Pondicherry in Southern India, Parisian Thierry Lesur and Londoner Barry Smith were patiently waiting to experience the sunrise over the Bay of Bengal. In colonial times, their nations fought here for supremacy. Later they found peace in a continental union. Soon the sun began to emerge. Its color changed from yellow to orange to flaming red with all combination of heavenly shades in between. Together, they appreciated this surreal display of beauty.

Later inside a beachfront café, the CNN-International delivered them national news. Barry’s country wanted to go alone, while Thierry’s nation was getting fragmented within.

4. A New Routine, by Russell Conover

Fred was sick of his exercise routine. Day after day, he swam lap after lap, hoping to see some improvements in his figure and his health. “Don’t give up!” his friends told him. “You’ll see results soon!”

So Fred soldiered on. However, not only did he see zero physical enhancements, but he was becoming tired of his route. Short, repetitive, and not at all engaging.

“I gotta break out of here,” he declared. He backed up and sailed forward, striking the surrounding glass, but the fishbowl barely vibrated.

Fred the goldfish sighed. “On to Plan B. But, never give up.”

3. Mushrooms, by Jeffrey Paolano

“Tyler?”
“Yes, dear.”
“Lori wants to do her sophomore year in Paris.”
“That’s a lot of money.”
“Yes, but think of the boost to her career.”
“You mean painting?”
“Yes, dear. Her painting. Tyler, do you remember being nineteen? Do you remember how strong your dreams were? Do you remember how you were going to conquer the world?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Don’t you want that for your daughter?”
“Certainly.”
“Well, this is her dream.”
“However, I had the good sense to follow the rule of the fungi.”
“What’s that rule?”
“Keep your parents in the dark and feed them horseshit.”

2. Seeing Me, by Kim Favors

“You have a way with animals. They trust you.”

It was one of the kinder things my mother said to me.

“Let it go,” my neighbor yelled at her golden retriever tussling with something in the grass. It was an opossum, bloodied but still alive. It didn’t resist as I carried it to safety.

And later, there was the fallen baby sparrow on my patio. It lay warm and quiet in my hand.

Yet it was in their final moments, with eyes like small dark marbles reflecting my own, that I began to wonder.

Is this what love looks like?

1. Giovanni, by Gordon Lawrie

When Giovanni arrived in Edinburgh in the 1970s from the little Italian town of Castelfranco, he already knew at least a dozen people there: friends, relatives, neighbours from back home. They found him work and somewhere to stay … eventually helped him buy a news agent’s shop.

He worked hard. The shop went from strength to strength, the heart of the community. But Giovanni was always just ‘the Italian with the news agent’s corner shop’. Never ‘one of us’.

Then one day he dropped down dead. The shop closed, and suddenly the locals realised that without Giovanni there was no community at all.