F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 7/12/20

Today’s stories come from our previous posting location. Most are mine, though one is from another author. The stories are in no particular order, compared to their original post sequence. — Russell

7. It’s All About the Money, by Ann-Louise Truschel

“Get your coat on, Mother! We have an appointment with your lawyer.”

“But you never let me go out. Where am I going? I don’t remember.”

You don’t remember anything, you old bat! her daughter thought. But today I’m going to get control of your money!

At the law office, old Mrs. Blaine says, “I need to go potty.”

“Let me take you,” offers the secretary.

In the ladies’ room, the secretary hands her cell to Mrs. Blaine, who pulls up the Uber app. “My ticket to Tahiti is at the airport. Stall my daughter as long as you can.”

6. The Perfect Aliens, by Russell Conover

Jacob was struggling to make the aliens in his story perfect. He pictured the most terrifying invaders he could imagine: green with numerous eyes, sharp teeth, and no mercy on Earthlings.
“Something’s still missing,” he groaned. “Too generic.”
Jacob looked up, and saw his cat Fluffy entering. Fluffy carried the lifeless body of a mouse, proud of her conquest.
“Bad Fluffy!” The cat skedaddled.
A light bulb went off in Jacob’s mind. He resumed writing. “The invader was terrifying enough. But then it grew whiskers and fangs, and stabbed its prey lifeless, with an innocent ‘Meow’.”
He grinned. “Perfect.”

5. The Heist, by Russell Conover

Tony eyed the scene. He was sure he could sneak into the picnic while the people’s backs were turned, and grab a tasty treat. He slowly approached the blanket, waiting.
“Darn. I left something in the car,” the dad said. “Let’s go get it.” They all left.
Tony grinned. This was his chance! He scurried forward, eyeing the delectable feast.
“Hey! What’s that by the sandwiches?” the boy yelled. “Get it!”
Uh-oh! Tony thought. He sprinted as quickly as possible, but it was too late. The girl’s shoe squashed him flat.
It ain’t easy being an ant.

4. Seeking Freedom, by Russell Conover

The men, women, boys, and girls looked out of their cages, terrified and sad. The monsters had taken them as prisoners with no warning, and no hopes of escape.
“What can we do?” moaned one girl.
“No clue,” a man groaned. “This is hopeless.”
All the while, their captors watched with glee. “Our plans are finally coming together,” one reveled. “But, I do feel bad for them.”
“Hey–the sign warned them,” her friend replied, rubbing his green skin.
“Do not meddle in the affairs of dragons, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.”

3. Unity, by Russell Conover

Sharon was grasping at straws for her Friday Flash Fiction story. She had a lot of good ideas, but couldn’t unify them into one coherent tale.

She jotted down her ideas: sunshine, chocolate, orangutan, ocean, party. They were all vivid, but they had nothing in common.

“What will I do?” Sharon moaned.

Then she had a thought: Just write. Her fingers tapped the keyboard–first tentatively, then more confidently. The story materialized. She reviewed the work she’d just done, with a smile.

“Not my best, but decent, considering.” She cracked her knuckles. “Writing isn’t so bad after all.”

2. A Little Slice of Heaven, by Russell Conover

Alan smiled, taking in the sights around him. The sun was shining on the Hawaii beach. A cold drink was in his hands, beside his many books. Birds cawed in the distance, and children laughed as they ran into the waves. His wife sat beside him, and his kids were building a sand castle.

This was heaven. An escape from life. He never wanted to leave.

“Jones! Snap out of it! Report’s due in an hour!” The boss frowned.

Alan jolted awake in his office chair, sighing. Only a week till his big vacation.

1. The Beach Walk, by Russell Conover

Sam was in paradise. He strolled the shore, listening to the crashing waves and smelling salt in the air. What could be better?

Then he noticed something. A fish, flopping on the shore, was stuck in a plastic soda can holder. Sam jogged over and freed the fish from the plastic ring.

“I am free! I cannot thank you enough! I will now grant you the wish of your choice.” The fish winked at Sam. His jaw dropped.

“Never thought I’d say this, but I’ve had too much time in the sun,” he muttered. “Madness is setting in.”

F.F.F. Stories – Saturday 7/11/20

5. Work from Home, by Adam Smith

“Jobs Available For Stay At Home Moms”

Gerry knew this was what his wife needed. If she had something to fill her time, he wouldn’t have to worry when he left her alone.

When the trial offer kit arrived, he took it down into the basement. He was careful to re-lock the door behind him and pocket the key.

“Honey? I got something for you. Maybe now you’ll quit your struggling?”

He set the box down. His wife crawled forward, dragging heavy chains behind her.

The manacles had cut her ankles again. “Oh, Sweetheart, you’ve rubbed yourself raw,” he chided.

4. Punch Drunk, by Guy Fletcher

“Don’t take the mickey. I used to be British Middleweight champ,” slurred Tony, a mixture of drink and brain damage.

“Yeah, and I’m Ricky Hatton,” mocked a young man. He and his friends burst out laughing.

The young man fell like a stone. Tony instantly regretted his actions; this was a long way from cheering crowds and being held aloft as a hero.

Tony was unshaven, overweight, a mere ghost of his glory years and had been forced to retire due to too many heavy punches.

Tony hoped “Ricky Hatton” would recover. There was no laughter anymore in the grimy pub.

3. Satisfaction, by Darren Walker

Jim was bored. The job lacked stimulus anymore. Sure, the pay was good, and the hours were as flexible as his morals, but it just didn’t get his blood pumping like it used to. Maybe it was the lack of interesting contracts or he had just gotten too damn good. Something moved in his scope; the pretty redhead sipped at something hot and frothy from a mug. Perhaps a life alone was not really a life at all? The press of cold, hard steel against the base of his skull jolted him from his melancholy. Jim was no longer bored.

2. Mixed Berries, by Joshua Michael Maher

It was their third morning at the Plaza Hotel. He had only left once for a packet of cigarettes; she had not left at all. Their breakfast arrived at nine and, as usual, he tipped well and sat at a glass table, overlooking the city and Central Park, sipping his coffee while she ate in bed.

“Why do you always order the mixed berries?” he asked, watching her cut her waffles around them. “You know they cost more, and you never eat them.”

“Because,” she said, adding syrup to her waffles, “the one day I don’t, I may want them.”

1. Gotya, by Susan Church

Cassie barreled down the road toward the highway, her sneakers pounding the hard packed dirt. Behind her, Rocco’s thundering footfalls sounded like muffled gunshots.
“No-no-no,” she screamed, as if chanting the words would make him disappear.
She heard the blessed whoosh and whine of traffic ahead. If only she could get there, someone would be sure to stop and help her!

The toe of her shoe hit the asphalt. A crushing pain snapped through her shoulder, pulling her back.

Thick fingers bit into her skin and rough lips caressed her ear.


F.F.F. Stories – Friday 7/10/20

5. Smoke ‘Em, by Adam Smith

Jerry lobbed a grenade over the truck before him. 2 … 1 … Boom! He ran across the open intersection and dived behind a mailbox. The cover was inadequate, but the box would hide him.

Ping! Zing! Thud. Bullets were everywhere and one hit the mailbox. He had to go. Now!

He rolled while firing his glock, made his way beneath a burned-out bus, kept firing and rolling until he was out the other side, then leaped to his feet and ran down an alleyway, into darkness.

He rested. Breathed. Patted the package under his jacket. All this for a pack of cigarettes.

4. Cornish Lust, by Gordon Lawrie

(Published, with picture, to a PAGE on the F.F.F. website.)

3. Hope, by Don Tassone

He trudged through the soggy grass, sat down on the old cedar bench and stared at her flower garden, feeling as empty as it looked.

It had been a hard winter, the first he had ever spent alone. Her passing had left him despondent, and he wondered if his life, too, was over.

She had always cleaned up her garden in the fall. But now the wilted remains of dead flowers shrouded the untilled soil.

Then, near the edge of the barren, mottled earth, he spotted the green tip of the first crocus sprout, and his spirits began to rise.

2. A Hundred Words, by Fiona Jones

“Good work!” I enthused. “Here’s a star to make you Star Writer of the Week.”

Jemma beamed with pride. She had worked hard for nearly twenty minutes—rubbing her head to start the ideas flowing … drawing a lively picture of squarish shapes and round smiling faces … and laboriously forming words: “I wet too The parc aN I plad on The swigs.” She had even done a full stop at the end.

“You’ve really made progress with your writing,” I added.

Jemma took a deep breath. “One day,” she promised—“one day, I gonna write a story a HUNDRED WORDS LONG.”

1. Accused, by Martin McConnell

The lanky creatures hovered around her in the circle. She was the shortest, the heaviest, and often hungriest due to a deformity at conception, most often trading time for extra food. On this ship, she was the unloved, the first blamed, and the last acknowledged.

“She bumped the dial with her clumsy floating about the ship,” said one of them.

“I didn’t,” she replied.

It didn’t matter. Every crime needed a perpetrator. With nobody else to blame, she wore that shameful skin.

The long, gray, slender finger aimed at her in sentencing. “Twenty hours off your life.”

F.F.F. Stories – Thursday 7/9/20

5. Not Cricket, by Charles Boorman

Bruce was young and ambitious but after a few seasons near the top without major success he was afraid that his career might be entering the doldrums. If he wasn’t to go down as just another eternal talent he needed to deliver the goods P.D.Q. The older players told him a trick that could swing the match and kick-start his stalling career – if he could get away with it unseen.

The time had come. Bruce caught the ball thrown by the captain. But as he groped for the sandpaper in his trousers the TV cameras zoomed in on his crotch.

4. The Last Drop, by Greg Michaelson

(Posted, with picture, to a page on the F.F.F. website.)

3. A Simple Hello and Goodbye, by Johann Lux

The extraterrestrial message took forty thousand years to get from its planet of origin to Earth.

Evidence of the message being authentic among the scientific community was undeniable.

Numerous analyses of the message were spun to blur what the message simply stated.

Of particular interest was the message’s reference to April 29th, which led to speculations of terrestrial mischief. These suspicions were laid to rest with the discovery of a celestial object making a speedy approach.

Everyone is treated to a spectacular cosmic lightshow. Orange clouds begin to gather. Light from the sun grows increasingly warmer and somewhat strangely brightened.

2. The Winds of Change, by Fliss Zakaszewska

“But we were expecting a lion!” they gasped. “Bahhhh … ” They turned. “And the sheep’s almost here,” they added.

“Well, you got me,” she hissed, cold green eyes staring at them.

“Are you albino with you being so pale and all that?”

A low noise emanated from the back of her throat; she was definitely not purring. “I’m a whitetiger from the Steppes of Siberia.”

“But March always comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb … ”

“And this year, you got the Beast from the East. Now, where’s that lamb?” She licked her lips slowly.

1. Love at First Sight, by Gordon Lawrie

As the door opened, they saw that they were made for each other.

She was ready to eat after the journey from Cornwall to Scotland; he’d starved himself since lunch. He’d made haggis, neeps and tatties for dinner; she’d brought four large pasties for a starter; and for dessert they sent out for a pair of Dominos ham and pineapple 13″ pizzas. The pineapple was the healthy option.

Then they did what all romantic couples do: flopped on the sofa to watch Simpsons episodes together with some cans of cheap beer.

All the miraculous result of random right-swipes on Tinder.

F.F.F. Stories – Wednesday 7/8/20

5. A More Suitable Pairing, by Adam Smith

The dragonfly alighted on the back of her hand. He could not tell which was more fragile and he could not imagine a more suitable pairing.

“You each are a nature’s beauty,” he whispered. She turned as if she could hear, but certainly the tapestry which hid him was thick enough?

He watched until she blew upon the creature. It flew circles and found its way behind the curtain, landing on his shoulder.

“I know you are there,” she announced, “and I know we are one. Goodbye for now, my love.”

When he ventured a peek, the balcony was vacant.

4. The Land of the Dead, by Ian Fletcher

He looked at the boisterous teenagers chatting away, ignoring his attempts to quiet them down on this rainy Monday morning.

He’d started at the school twenty-five years ago. None of this youthful congregation would have even been conceived then.

“A whole generation born!” he thought.

“A whole generation passed on, too,” he reflected, pondering the death of his parents, aunts, uncles, their friends and neighbors, all vanished from the earth.

“Let them chat on,” he thought, for they were still cocooned in the land of the living, while he was being drawn ever closer to the land of the dead.

3. The Real Little Women, by Adrian Slonaker

On Saturday evenings, while the Cold War fomented fears of not if, but when, Oliver’s panacea persisted in Peekskill. Lounging in the luxury of a La-Z-Boy, he was soothed by TV’s adolescent sirens, who were to Louisa May Alcott’s literary maidens what Atari was to Go Fish. Jo’s snarky sarcasm, Blair’s brilliant ideas, Natalie’s Borscht Belt belly laughs, and Tootie’s telltale histrionics were as reliable as Reagan’s voters. When Oliver went off to university soon after the girls-er, women had faded from the airwaves. He knew he’d been well-schooled in the ‘Facts of Life’.

2. Siranne, by Tanya Fillbrook

An intrusive cool breeze engulfs my ever weary bones as I witness peculiar ”space storms.”
To where I, Siranne Jones, await my fate.
In love and war, in life;
For if these stars ”flicker to fade,”
Outcast I will be.
I will grasp hold of ”outer earth” until the darkened heavens have become illuminated,
In order for my return to the safest planet in the universe:

= = = =

The following story was posted to another location for F.F.F. stories, years ago.

1. 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.”

F.F.F. Stories – Tuesday 7/7/20

5. New Normal, by Don Tassone

They’d grown used to 24-hour news, to thinking of people they’d never met as friends, to assuming everyone over 50 has hair that is naturally brown, blond or red.

Deep down, though, they knew these things were an illusion. So they began to turn off their TVs, delete their Facebook accounts and let their hair go gray.

They had allowed themselves to think of such things as normal, but now they began listening to each other, writing letters and living at their own pace.

They began creating a new normal, and life became clear and slow and real again.

4. Intermissions, by Jason Scott

Will placed the milk next to his foot. He’d been holding it forever.

“Stop bouncing that ball,” a woman fruitlessly begged her recalcitrant boy. She’ll get her wish, Will thought, while watching his phone count down, 3 … 2 …

Then, everything stopped. Sound. People. The ball in mid-air. Possibly God, if he existed.

Will could grab that ball from time’s clutches but promised himself no more disruptions. Besides, he felt less alone, inanimate amongst the “frozens.”

Exactly 15 minutes later, life continued.

Raising his phone, he reset the countdown. 30 seconds. Enough time to text: Didn’t forget the milk. I miss you

3. The Cousin, by Paritosh Chandra Dugar

The younger one, a boy of two years, was struggling with an obstinate car while the other, two years older than him, was content with a tiny ball. The car was a battery-operated toy. The younger one’s mother was too busy knitting to see her son’s frustration. Suddenly, the desperate child began to cry. Flinging aside his ball, the elder one reached his crying cousin and pulled the car from his hand. Annoyed, the mother got up and smacked the elder one for his brutish act. The tearful child could only murmur, “I–I just wanted to press the button.”

2. Ending Her, by Susan Church

She was a silly old lady and I hated her. Her hair was an explosion of maroon wires, like a rusted Brillo pad. Her gash of sticky lipstick reminded me of blood in the snow.

I would end her–now. Quickly.

She toddled down the street.

I inched down the grass toward the gate. I could feel my mouth filling with hot saliva.

Here she was! I pounced! She let out a jagged squeal as we collided. My meaty front paws scraped down her bony chest.

I growled as she went down. Ending her would be easy!

1. Tweets from the Bunker, by Reg Wulff

More people working than ever thanks to thousands of job openings: Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Unemployment will be at lowest level in history of America but Dems only worry about body count. SAD!

Massive growth in economy coming with increased need for materials and labor to rebuild cities, highways and other national infrastructure. Tremendous chance for American companies and workers to M.A.G.A.!

America is respected again by our allies and adversaries! Putin went down like a bitch and little rocket man is crying over his broken rockets. Xi better rethink his trade policies. Totally unfair to America!!

F.F.F. Stories – Sunday 7/5/20

5. Complicit, by Justin Wall

Today I watched the Earth die. It would be unfair of me to say that I was not without blame.

At 10 a.m. this morning, I was given a choice – either hand over my vaccine, or watch the planet burn. I knew the intention of those making this demand was dishonourable. This project was my life’s work; it cost me a marriage and many friends. Why should I have been held to ransom over this?

Five hours later, a super-contagion had wiped out half of the global population. On reflection, it is now clear that I chose unwisely. Oh, vanity.

4. Spring Fling, by Jane Tulloch

“I wandered lonely as a cloud – ”
“Wait a minute. Who said clouds are lonely?”
“That Wordsworth guy.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s actually true, though.”
“No. But people say all sorts of daft things and call it poetry.”
“Well, what could he have said, then?”
“I walked about all by myself?”
“That’s not very poetic.”
“Right enough. How about – on my lonely walk I glimpsed a host of golden daffodils?”
“A host? Glimpsed? Really? I thought daffodils were yellow anyway.”
“Ok. While I was walking about all by myself I saw some daffodils.”
“Nailed it. Not very poetic, though.”

3. Meanwhile, in Washington, by Sankar Chatterjee

The President just emancipated slaves. On a gorgeous day, after delivering a speech, he would open his house to all citizens to celebrate. His would-be assassin, standing near-by, murmured, “This should be your last speech in life.” Two days later, anti-abolitionist John Wilkes Booth would fatally shoot President Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theatre.

150 years later, thousands of students would converge in the capital to protest against recent arms-violence. Becky asked fellow protester Cathy, “Do you think the President would sit with us discussing the issue?”

Current leader was just starting at the first hole in sunny Florida, 600km away.

2. Can’t Find the Words, by Greg Michaelson

He sat and stared at the screen. It was a big ask. And at such short notice.

They’d made requests in the past and he’d done his best to satisfy them. They weren’t always so happy with the outcome, but, eventually, had seen what he was getting at.

Usually he could respond without thinking about it too much, but this one felt different. If he got it wrong, the whole interaction might be compromised.

He really couldn’t delay it any longer. That was the point. Just to do it. But where to start? How to put it? One hundred words …

1. One New Message, by Holly Hale

Mary plugged her dead phone into the wall and waited for the charger to kick in. With no internet or home phone installed yet, this was her only contact to the outside world. Pressing the power button, her phone lit back up, revealing an unread text message.

‘Lock yourself in the bathroom. I saw him outside! I’ve called the police but you need to hide now!’

In a panic, she ran towards the safety of her bathroom, but it was too late.

F.F.F. Stories – Saturday 7/4/20

5. Until We Meet Again, by Marjan Sierhuis

My father’s words were muddled and incoherent. His once bright eyes now held a glassy-eyed stare. Clutching his cold, damp hand, I would try to be patient and see what he was trying to tell me.

Moving closer to the bed, I studied every nuance in his ashen face. I searched desperately for a sign that he was still very much a part of this life. But eventually I saw the truth. My father was dying and I had to face it.

Later, I said my goodbyes and whispered in his ear, “Until we meet again.”

4. The Frequent Flyer, by Charles Boorman

Even after decades of air travel, it never failed to piss him off: the baggage reclaim. The queue for trolleys, jostling for position at the conveyor. “How long do you need to get a few suitcases off a plane?” Joe grumbled to himself.

“Excuse me. Can you give me change?” said a small man. He held out a bank note towards Joe, who put down his briefcase and began fumbling impatiently in his wallet. “There you are,” he grunted.

“Thanks a lot,” replied the man, disappearing among the passengers.

“Where the hell?” gasped Joe, looking around desperately for his briefcase.

3. The Abdominal Stretch, by Christopher Elieson

I grabbed one of my students by the arm and pulled her forward.

“Time for a stretch, Kel,” I said, stepping behind her.

I wrapped my left leg around her left leg and my right arm around her right arm, causing her to lean to her left, exposing her ribcage.

Squirming and tapping her free bare foot on the mat, she cried, “Ow! Let me go!”

Looking down at her, I intoned, “Next time, young Filipina, show this old-time wrestler the proper respect!”

I threw her face-first onto the mat and glowered at the rest of my students.

2. Gunshot, by Gordon Lawrie

The shot rings out like a crack in the silent air.

We all hear it we run as fast as our legs can carry us you don’t look round when someone’s fired a gun this isn’t the time for questions like panicked animals we charge off colliding with each other someone crashes into my shoulder I’m aware of someone else falling I can feel my heart pounding hear it in my head above the pounding feet and desperate breathing of those around me no time to stop just keep running till you’ve completed four laps and crossed the finish line.

1. And Thus It Goes On, by Fliss Zakaszewska

Dave stamped his feet. “S’not fair! It’s not jolly-well cricket!” Jake nodded. “The bounders aren’t playing with a straight bat.” Terri secretly agreed with them.

But Mitch whined. “Non, non, non! It is you that is not fair!” Then he turned and pouted.

Terri was stuck piggy-in-the-middle. If she agreed with Mitch, the others said she was ‘only a girl and what did she know’, but if she sided with the big boys, Mitch called her a ‘jolly old English rotter’ (but in French).

And that, folks, is a summary of the Brexit negotiations, Easter 2018.

F.F.F. Stories – Friday 7/3/20

5. Emily, by Adam Smith

John left the dance early to find Beth standing alone on the stairs outside.

“I couldn’t go in,” she said.

“I couldn’t stay,” he replied.

“They all act like nothing happened.”

“Well, they don’t know how to act. None of us do.”

“Emily was my friend, John.”

“I know. I liked her too. But she took a coward’s way out.”

“Don’t you say that! You didn’t know her.”

“Okay. I’m sorry.”

He walked her home and kissed her lightly, “I’m sorry.”

She squeezed his hand, “I know. Thank you.”

They married after high school and named their first child Emily.

4. Why I Look Like Santa Claus, by Johann Lux

Friday night, I’m at Frank’s bar washing down Buffalo Wings with Boiler Makers.

Betsy, drunk and high on moonshine whiskey and locally grown pot, takes the seat beside mine.

I buy Betsy a beer, which convinces her we should be more than friends.

Standing naked in an old cow pasture, Betsy grabbed hold of a fence post as I approached her from behind. We were doing fine until Betsy touched a length of fence wire. The jolt of electricity that surged through us put an instantaneous end to any further romantic inclinations and turned our hair a permanent bright white.

3. The Way She Said Goodbye, by Guy Fletcher

The roses I laid by the roadside have withered now, blood-red to brown, crumbling in my hand like dreams.

Her death was news for a day or two, a smiling photograph for the world, hiding demons.

The last time I saw her never leaves my tortured thoughts. I tried to help but each person is an island; we barely know ourselves, let alone anyone else.

​She mounted her bicycle staring at me with the saddest eyes I have ever seen and waved with her cute little hand, but the way she said goodbye tells me it was no accident.

2. Jack ‘N the Boxer, by Adam Smith

Jack ran down the street, barely ahead of the man who wanted to kill him. The rain was torrential. He turned sharply and flattened himself against a building.

The killer rounded the corner. Jack pounced. He brought his right fist down hard. The man’s gun flew from his grasp.

They boxed a minute … then got locked up, arms tangled. Jack head-butted the other man, who backed away, stunned.

A kick to his crotch saw him crumple. A heel to his temple ended it. Jack retraced his steps. There was still a bag of jewels in a warehouse by the docks.

1. Escaping the Cold, by Grant Burger

She served him breakfast. Eggs sunny side up. Bacon lean and crispy.

“Another damn freezing day,” he said.

The thanks I get. “Come the summer, you’ll be bitching about the heat,” she said over her shoulder.

“Nah. I won’t,” he replied, through a mouthful of food.

He pecked her on the cheek. Said he might be home late.

She waited till the taxi arrived, before she turned off the heating and opened the windows.

“Another damn freezing day.” She laughed, leaving the front door open behind her.

Later, she sipped a margarita and smiled as she pictured him arriving home.

F.F.F. Stories – Wednesday 7/1/20 (B)

5. Silence, by Reg Wulff

It blanketed the world like a fresh snowfall. The wind no longer carried the carefree laughter of children playing outside on a warm summer’s day. Whispers of sweet nothings and secrets ceased. Shouts of joy and despair were muted for eternity.

Everyone and everything, all that was beautiful, kind and caring, gone in a moment brought on by the insanity and hubris of man.

The king sat on his throw and smiled as the soft breeze dismantled him flake by flake. Better to be the King of Ashes for a minute than an equal among men for a lifetime.

4. The Worst Problem in the World Ever, by Adrian Slonaker

Jackie’s listening to Lesley Gore whilst the housekeeper cleans. Why must Mum and Dad be so mean? All that rubbish about saying no and crushing dreams. All Jackie’s got are tears and lots of screams! The wall calendar suggests that Friday’s the night of the dance, but will Jackie be going? Not a chance. She’ll be stuck at home, angry and seething, with sobs and idle threats punctuating laboured breathing. (And if you ask Jackie, she’s even worse off than poor Marge Guttman, who was offed by a mask in Halloween III).

3. Happy Birthday, by Adam Smith

The darkness pressed upon my body like heavy water. I could not breathe without inhaling thick blackness. No sound came to me but for a deep-throated gurgle that was my own plea for release. An hour of this was enough to drive me insane, and I had endured half an eternity of this sleepless, muffled pitch. I had endured an agony beyond agonies.

But the day did come when it ended, when I was cast into the light, took my first breath of real air and cried for the sheer joy of new sensation. My birthday had arrived.

2. Defiance, by Randy Flohr

That night they sat around the Old Mother and waited for her to decide. She was not their leader, but when she spoke they listened.

That night they decorated their rune-scarred skin with a palette of bright pigments and braided long white feathers in their hair. They shaped a single breath into a long note of melancholy and despair. All around the village these notes fused into a constant complex and perplexing song. To the slavers it sounded sweet, deaf as they were to its defiance.

After that night, their song was never heard again. But they were finally free.

1. The Summer of 2016, by Marjan Sierhuis

It was warm the day she visited the nursing home. Actually, it was the summer of 2016 and one of the hottest days on record.

Inside the home the air conditioning had started to malfunction, so she escorted her mother to an outdoor terrace.

There they sat on chairs adorned with vibrantly colored cushions and welcomed soft breezes that delivered a delicious scent of blooms.

Timid eyes that still held a hint of a sparkle peeked out from under the brim of a large sun hat.

“Do I know you?” her mother asked quietly for the umpteenth time that day.