Friday, December 19, 2014

An Alternative

“Sorry mate, full up.”
“What do you mean, full up?”
“Just what I said, full up!”
“Haven’t you seen the state of my wife?”
The innkeeper eased his copious figure further around the door frame and cast an indifferent eye over the tiny, tired woman with the blue shawl sitting on the donkey.
“She seems pretty far gone. Oh well. It’s a shame but it’s not my fault you know. If we had a room I’d give it to you mate. It’s this silly census business - bloody Herod with his petty bureaucracy. He just loves it, doesn’t he? All this paperwork. Oh well. Keeps the Romans busy, anyway.”
“Yes, but what about my wife? She’s not going to give birth out here in the street, is she? It’s Christmas for God’s sake!”
“It’s what?”
“Oh nevermind. Look, don’t you even have a stable or something?”
A Roman soldier appeared in the doorway and pushed past them, reeling. He wove a few steps into the street, singing, before he fell and lay face down in the mud, giggling to himself. Joseph and the innkeeper stared. He finally lurched to his feet and staggered off down the street, zigzagging wildly and shouting profanities at no-one in particular.
It was starting to rain and Mary looked visibly pissed-off. This wasn’t good news. His mind searching wildly for possibilities, Joseph’s eyes alighted on a small tatty brown leather pouch lying in the mud where the Roman had fallen. Without thinking, he scooped down to pick it up just as the innkeeper closed the door. Inside was a single bright shiny gold coin. He let out a yelp of joy and hammered on the door. The innkeeper opened up with a face like sour milk.
“You again?”
He was about to shut it when Joseph ducked in and stuck his foot in the door frame.
“Look - we have money,” he said, holding up his find with an enticing smile. “I will give you this whole bright shiny coin if only you’ll find a room for us at your inn until my wife’s given birth. It won’t be more than a day or two, I reckon. Come on, think of everything you could buy with this. That refurbishment?  A new horse and wagon?” He snatched the coin away from the innkeeper’s grubby reaching fingers and shook his head. “Show me the room first.”
The innkeeper turned back, muttering, and led the way up the stairs. “You’ll just have to sleep in our room then,” he wheezed. “My wife and I will sleep in the stable or something. Won’t kill us for a couple of nights, though it is awful cold.”
“Oh well, at least you’ll have the animals to keep you warm,” Joseph suggested, taking in the room. “And straw is an excellent insulator.”
Plush furnishings, glowing embers in the fireplace, four-poster bed. He smiled. No more ear-mashings from Mary. “Yes, this will do nicely,” Joseph nodded, throwing off his cape. “Thank you - arrange for our things to be brought up; I will go and get my wife. Oh and if you could put our donkey in your stable for the night...? He’ll help to keep you warm.”
He winked and tossed the coin up high in the air, watching as it turned over and over as though in slow motion. The innkeeper dived for it, his eyes seeming to pop out of their sockets and his mouth forming a dark O like a gutted fish.
Joseph watched him scrabble around the floor for it, shook his head, and swept off down the stairs to tell Mary.

by Sara Roberts

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Giggles

At first she didn’t fully notice. Like shadows, the grinning faces flickered in her vision. When she stopped at a crossing, she heard the snicker. It was almost like snorting: the hideous sound when somebody extrudes laughter and tries to inhale at same time. Like a pig! she thought, disgusted. The people behind her were whispering, as if sharing an inside joke. As the traffic lights shifted, she hurried to get away. The blisters on her feet were making her walk awkwardly. Yet she was determined to ignore the pain. The laughter pursued her, like an echo of every clunky step. 

Wearily, she carried on. She had been on her feet for hours, without caring where she was going or what street she was on. The strap of her bag cut through the jacket and into her shoulder. It felt so heavy, as if every hour of her aimless journey had added more weight to carry around. A boy came towards her. As he passed by she saw him grinning, pressing his lips together to muffle his giggles. No, she hadn’t imagined this. There were others, many people it seemed; all of them glancing, some even staring openly. The sneering laughter reverberated in her ears, high-pitched and low. Everywhere she turned she saw their hyena-like faces like reflections in a mirrored maze. Her heart was pounding hard. 

Hot, why was she feeling so damn hot? Her cheeks felt as if they were burning! Sheepishly, she combed her fingers through her hair, looked down at her clothes to make sure there was no stain or anything else that made her look ridiculous. She checked her shoes, those worn-out boots that squeezed her toes together, which were sore and swollen from running around. Nothing. She couldn’t find anything out of the ordinary. Maybe her face? There must be something wrong with her face. Dizzily, she bent down to look in the mirror of a parked car. She hadn’t been aware of how exhausted she was; she felt drained, dehydrated. There was nothing peculiar about her face; no breadcrumbs, no ketchup sticking to her skin. The eyeliner was a little bit smudged but this was barely noticeable in the twilight.

As she stepped away from the car, continuing her excursion, she looked into the passing faces, searching for clues to understand the cause of the giggles. Their chuckling seemed grotesque. The grinning crowd looked like a parade of fools. Quizzically, she studied the grimaces of passers-by. How ridiculous they look! The funny sounds of their laughter made her think of horses, monkeys; a whole zoo came into her mind. Giggles escaped her, reluctantly at first; then louder, relieving. Her laughter sounded like a shriek, much higher than her usual voice. Listening, she sought out similar laughs. Her! She sounds almost like me! It was like a new game: comparing everyone’s snorts.

Before she was aware of it, she had turned into one of them. 

by B.E. Seidl 

First published by Flash Fiction Magazine

Monday, December 1, 2014

Not Noughth Week

It's not noughth week for me
A minute mile and a decade east

Baby braced to my breast babbling
Bubbly bliss to the morning mist.

It's not noughth week for me
No rimey bike seat mark on jeans
Midas dust on shelves of everything
A blinking I on open window screen. 

In not noughth week no essay looms
Rumbling billow to be blown by breath
Fresh on the marks of a maizey margin
Pencilled thoughts that pulse past death. 

Here, a decade away, I no longer get to press reset for yet 
another noughth week.

I keep counting. 

by J.W.