Long Reads

The Girl in the Woods by Megan Pacelli

The door buzzer drills its way into my dream, and I just manage to open one eye and peek out of my blankets at the clock so I can figure out how pissed off to be when it buzzes again. The only person who would dare this early in the morning is my father. 

Life Vacation by Michael Bonnet

His approach was becoming untenable. He couldn’t say he was busy all the time and he’d already squeezed about as much mileage as he could out of the time difference and jet lag. For all its mod cons, the 21st century really did have a lot to answer for.

Butterfly Stitches by Jeremiah K. Balko

Dad’s still only twenty minutes away, which is why he can still see us all the time. He’s not like these dads you hear about who don’t want their kids. Mum made it seem like she got us during the school week because she was the mum and he got us on the weekend, like it was the law. Mum doesn’t make us do chores, so we like that, and Rita would’ve picked her anyway. She hates Dad. She has no taste in things.

The Tide by David Micklem

I forget about the men. Not actively, like it’s something I need to remember to do. But naturally, as I pull the water around the kayak. I know that this should be a good time to think about work, about how much longer I can stand being in the same room as the pair of them. Or about dating again. It’s nine months since Suzanne left me, and I’ve not seen anyone since.

The Summit by David Micklem

It took two hours to get to the snowline. There they dropped their packs on a triangle of grass. Jerry took Karl’s map and studied it without sharing. Karl noticed how his brow ruffled, how close he held the map to his face, and wondered whether he needed glasses. 

Sag Harbour by Nicole Sellew

On the beach in Sag Harbor with yet another boy, he’s from Shelter Island, or he’s there for the summer at least, and he works on the North Fork. “I’ve never been to the North Fork,” I tell him, and then I worry that it makes me seem common but then I remember that I’m in the Hamptons, which always makes me feel like I’m seeming common. 

The Deep Dive by Robert Runté

“Feel?” Dr Revio was always asking how she felt. Like I’m wasting my time. Like this whole thing is ridiculous. But Meghan had committed to the process, so she forced herself to take the question seriously, to examine what she was feeling in relationship to the door. 

Finding Closure by David Rudd

He had been eight years older than she was and at the time she saw him as her saviour. St George rescuing her from the family home where, after her mother’s untimely death from cancer, she had seen herself becoming trapped with her demanding father. He had been another man who was always right. Out of the frying pan, as her friend Betty always said. 

BFH by Jacqui Pack

The evening started like most of my evenings: in the kitchen preparing a vegetarian stir-fry. With the vegetables sizzling in the wok, I reached for the soy sauce. Somebody coughed. I froze mid-splosh, the soy wavering over the hob. The sound had come from the empty living room.

You, Me, Them, It by Mark Barlex

All dogs are descended from wolves. Some more recently than others. The little blue handbook given to us with Sadie at the animal sanctuary said, Husky-German Shepherd Cross. The young man who walked her out to the car said, “Definitely wolf,” and smiled and laughed.

Spilt Milk by A. K. Shaw

Mike leant against the fridge as he upended his bottle. I hadn’t heard him come in. The thoughts left my mind like doves out of a magician’s hand and I shrugged, smiling at him in a way I hoped was endearing. All I could hear was swishing sounds as he rinsed the dregs of beer around his mouth. His dentist had told him to stop doing that. 

Stolen by J. H. Whitcutt

murky window in its pane and sending groans through the walls. It does not rouse the brat, who sleeps soundly in his basket. Mrs Moray feels no great emotion as she listens to the girl speak of her husband’s antics, save mild surprise; the man she knew was at best a lapsed Baptist, with little time for church save Christmas and Easter.

Every Cloud by SJ Townend

For a time, in my teens, I would experiment with the compass from my trigonometry kit. When I had mastered some control over my power, I used it to my advantage. I’d etch cross-hatched eyes and a wobbly grin with a tongue poking from it onto the back of my hand – Nirvana – and I’d wait for the rain to come.

The Spot by Alan McCormick

In the middle of the sofa seat is a large damp spot. Richard bends down to have a closer look and puts his finger tentatively on the spot. It’s cold and sticky. He recoils, his brain notching up a gear: It couldn’t be? And, anyway, if it was he’d surely try and hide it? And I’m not checking, sniffing. But he does sniff and closes his eyes when he does, he’s not sure why. “Fuck! Fucking hell!” He thinks about checking the bedding in the bag. It feels too much, sordid, but also straightforwardly forensic, a conclusive step down the line to confirming something he’s not sure he wants to confirm right now. But against this instinct, a stronger impulse makes him pull the sheet from the bag. The same spot is on the sheet and when he places the sheet on the sofa the spots merge in a perfect match.

The Big Change by Steven Bergmark

Another week passed and he still had no way to conclude the prank, which he wasn’t quite sure qualified so much as a prank as an outright lie. He considered the possibility of simply becoming all three, thus rendering it no longer either a prank or, more importantly, a lie. Although then he would be faced with a lifelong prank and lie against himself. Clearly that was no way to live.

Slices by IJ Fenn

Jane and Mick and Tina arrived together in that order. It was the same order they arrived anywhere. Tina drove from Brighton on the English south coast in her Mercedes that looked like a luxury liner cruising across the oceans of English countryside and the waves of the English Channel and the vagues deferlantes of La Manche and the French route nationals, with Jane in the front passenger seat and Mick in the luxurious expanse of the back seat. Tina was in control. Jane was second-in-command. Behind them, Mick was already a part of their past, trying to catch up.

Fast Train to Zion by L M Rees

At eight o’clock, just before the electricity gets turned off for the night, Tata lights some candles on the kitchen table. He shares a chair with Mama and I sit opposite them on Uncle Zalman’s lap. I can tell it’s going to be good night; it’s past my bedtime, we’ll all have plenty to eat and Tata will tell us stories.

The Only Man in the World to Feel Pain by Olivia Baume

She justified it to herself by saying that he was happy for a moment at least, and that was more than she could say about herself. Who’s to blame a person for being happy? For taking the reins, the steering wheel, and turning the dial on their penchant for misery. That was certainly more than she could say about herself. Or most people, for that matter. She admired that about him. He never over-analysed. Or thought much at all.

Storm Beckoner by Judy Darley

Those memories ruffle the monotony of water gnawing on rock, gulls and kittiwakes harrying the wind. She glances up, glimpsing her reflection in the window. Transparency scrubs her face clean and transforms her to the ghost of a young girl.

Adjustment by Frances Boyle

She had fumbled out of half-sleep in Jacko’s bed. She registered the sound, the bright flashes, in the way you count off lightning to thunder. The flashes were pulse-accelerating, though they had nothing to do with her – they marked someone else’s emergency.

Letter from the Mouse Cage by Johnny Gaunt

Mam made a mistake Scotty. And now dads dead. That means she cant ever say sorry to him. Just think about that for a minute. Imagine needin to say sorry but you cant. So instead you just get the pain. Can you hate someone in pain? Im not sure I can cos I know what that pain feels like. We both carry it about with us like guilty humps on our backs. Its always there. Always.

Designed for Life by Ian Murphy

Clive’s ebullient words had lingered in her mind all morning. Festered. It wasn’t the big day, that was still an entire month from now, but it was the day her hopes and dreams were to be confirmed in writing. Any minute now, according to the app.

Dama Bianca by Urška Vidoni

When her husband was at home, she tried to be the best wife she could, and when he wasn’t, she tried to be the best mother she could. But all was in vain; the knight couldn’t, or maybe didn’t want to, see the effort she was making for the family. The balls at the castle became less and less frequent, and her husband sought the company of the bottle instead.

Say What You Mean by Chris Marek

Or what if your mother asks you for the hundredth time if you’ve looked into any new jobs related to your bachelor’s degree in philosophy? Do you tell her, No, Mother, I haven’t. I’m going to suck the teat of the government checks until the money runs dry and Avery eats her own tongue to survive? No.

Amazon Super Prime by Remy Maisel

Helen thought it was strange, but pre-emptive purchases couldn’t be right one hundred percent of the time. Though, they were right most of the time, which made it seem like they could predict the future, but they couldn’t. For one thing, she wasn’t at all certain how Amazon had known that she and Pete had lost the corkscrew they’d already had, but it was more likely that that wasn’t what had happened at all – most likely, they’d bought that one from Amazon and statistically they were right around the point that most people either lost or broke theirs. Maybe it was even designed to break after about two years. 

Seahouses by Louise Wilford

The sight of her – there, then – was so extraordinary that he stumbled slightly, snagging the current of people moving along the pavement. That’s what made her glance over, recognising him immediately. He considered just hurrying on, pretending he hadn’t noticed her, but she was already waving, beckoning him to join her, so he had no choice.

Wadi by Kimbalena Zeineddine

mountain has an escarpment running round it at a tilt so it looks like a jawline and, on the summit, an indentation looks like puckered lips. The mountain is an upturned face kissing the empty sky. Without announcement, Hamad veers off the highway. This is how we come to all our stops: as if it’s an emergency. I turn to Hamad.

Pray For Her by Patrick Nevins

Jack’s home since finishing his master’s was a two-bedroom apartment in a red brick building with quiet tenants. For one week last August he’d enjoyed waking up early, listening to NPR while he ate breakfast, and walking the two miles to Trinity; a zigzag of streets led him by well-tended homes and houses turned into offices and salons. His route was thick with trees and their blessed shade. Then his sixteen-year-old niece, Leigh-Anne, moved in.

The Buddha in the Beatnik by Sam Dawson

In the summer my friends and I would bike along the canal path, industrial architecture of red brick reflecting on the water’s surface, all the way to the House of the Beatnik.
It was a decrepit old place, with rotting wood and missing tiles; something out of a Stephen King novel. But to us it was one big toy. We’d throw stones through its windows, listening for breakages inside. We’d knock on the door and scream when it swung open at our touch. We risked rusty nails and tetanus by hanging from the protruding planks in the porch roof. And yes, despite our parents’ warnings to avoid him, we wouldn’t run when the beatnik came out to speak with us.

Hinckley, Ohio by Kevin P. Keating

Here was the wolf stalking a young girl as she skipped with a basket in hand along a lonely trail. Here was the wolf bursting through a cabin door to devour an old woman cowering in her bed. Here was the wolf attacking a huntsman, eviscerating a lamb, tricking seven little goats into coming outside their house. In another series of drawings, an elderly sorceress, with the wave of her magic wand, transformed a handsome prince into a slavering wolf. The librarian had read them a story like this once, and he used a low, raspy voice when it came time for the wolf to speak. They remembered how the librarian’s breath was warm against their soft skin and smelled like cherry medicine.

Stalingrad by Aoife Loughnane

Suddenly, we had arrived at the stage of the night where the sexual tension had lost what little subtlety it had to begin with. We leave at twenty to one. The minute we’re outside, he pulls me into him and growls, “I’ve wanted to do this for ages.” He holds the back of my neck. The kissing is the good kind. After trying and failing to get me to listen to records and drink tea at his apartment, I kiss him goodbye. He pays for my taxi.

Heading for Somewhere by Nicole Christine Caratas

Suddenly, your bike is heading toward the rice field. The tour guide led you down cracked, narrow path between a duck pond and a rice terrace. You’re flying over your handlebars. You land face first in the mud. The rest of the group panics, but you stand and bend over in laughter. Your guide pulls you out of the field and hands you tissues. You think it’s all very funny, until you see your crash has killed two field mice. The guide yells to the men working in the fields and assures you that the mice’s death won’t be in vain. You think about what that actually means.

The Podcast by Eamonn McKeon

A childish excitement, which had been brewing since the podcast began, stirred by thoughts of unprecedented social media exposure and a revitalised public image, swirled deep inside Frank’s belly, and he tried his best to stifle any visible appearance of its existence. But god, it was hard not to smile. So much had depended on this interview going well.

On The Bank Of Someșul Mic by Zaher “Zack” Alajlani

My life seemed fairly settled at that point, and, as I was well into my thirties, I felt that I had to have a family. I thus started dating Cristina, a secretary who worked for our company. She was timid and soft-spoken. Her green eyes were vastly uncomprehending. Her fake blond hair made her indistinct and obscured all that might have had been special about her face. Yet, she had a nice figure. Her breasts were large and inviting, and she had marvelous, long legs. 

Pedalling For Peaches by Yannick Pas

The bushy eyebrows flexed and the great toucan-like nose, having been tickled by a wandering moustache hair, wrinkled as Gherardo looked around the town square as the prospering sun slowly peeled back the early morning’s inactivity. The townspeople emerged from their shaded domains and into its ceaseless glare as they went about their daily routines. He peered through the golden rays of sunlight that had crept around the sides of the crumbling buildings and blessed the cobblestones with its amber gaze.

Gary by Josh White

He wasn’t sure if the damage to his body would remain with him for the rest of his life, but he knew, unequivocally, that the hospital bill would.

Sounds Sensible To Me by Luke Fisher

The sound I am thinking of describes me, exactly, the sound is exactly how I am, now. It’s the hum of a jack when it’s half-way into the aux but not quite. Not quite the grunge-growl of feedback, but it sits between the pops and crackles. Rice Krispie music. It’s not the death spiral of Stereophonics out of a neighbour’s window either, but it has aspects of that melancholy. It contains within it the last note of the fire alarms we had in primary school, the note which fades slow into deflated-expectations. But above all it’s joyful. I could dance forever to this sound. 

Cheat Code by Sam Roberts

I tell them about Shackleton and the struggle on the ice, how they rowed eight hundred miles to Elephant Island and endured their way home to face the horrors of a war. The children are quietly spellbound by the story of brave explorers risking their lives in a frozen world. Any young lives I can save from what’s coming – to give them the spark I never had, that was crushed out of me on that floor, to save even one life – will make my seventy years worthwhile.

Family Night by Nicholas Elliott

How many times had they been here? Every third Saturday of the month since the beginning of time. It used to be called the Golden Dragon, now it’s the Happy Buddha. It’ll be something else next year. It’s the only thing that changes. Family Night, he calls it.

How To Unravel Reality in Seven Easy Steps by Ryan Walraven

The bar, Hops with the White Rabbit, was also not within his purview. It was located on the outskirts of Honolulu’s Chinatown, in what Daniel could only describe as an industrial park. The façade was spray-painted brick, while the inside was dimly lit and covered in tawdry tapestries. It smelled of incense and cigarettes despite the city’s smoking ban, but the owners brewed their own beer and kombucha, so it had that going for it.

Family Portrait by Lisa Deane

I’m smoking again. If there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s the sweet burn of tobacco in my lungs after eleven years of abstinence. I wonder what my accusers would say if they found out I’m not so much a sadist as my wife is a masochist. Nora has always been wild. I was afraid I’d lose her if she didn’t get what she needed. And you know what, I started liking it.

Slater by Euan Currie

Its seven pairs of legs scuttle soundlessly across the tiled floor, moving in a purposeful line before pausing in front of her foot, antennae caressing the air. With a sniff of irritation, Heather plucks a tissue from her pocket and reaches down to clasp the woodlouse, the segments of its hard body putting up slight resistance.

Into the Looking Glass by Shannon Savvas

El Matador, shadowy stairs up to a darkened room crowded with oases of rosy lamplight. Wine red walls, posters of matadors in tight scarlet trousers and black ballet pumps flourished blood-red capes to taunt monstrous black bulls. Waiters glided between tables, whilst the crockery clinked and private conversations syncopated with a lazy trickle of jazz.

God and the Airport Check-In Girls by Paul Taylor-McCartney

Stephanie and Trinity sat alongside one another but rarely spoke. Since their shift now lasted fifty weeks out of every year, they no longer made the effort to socialise outside of work. They led insular, bone-wearying lives and although this suited Trinity – she was never quite able to recall accurately how she’d even come to be a check-in girl – her colleague Stephanie wanted so much more from life than to process people for Go Missing Airlines.

Evergreen Chapel by T. S. Vickers

The heavy door closed with a thud. This was his moment. He moved across the fence to a spot hidden by their shed, and a tree behind would block him from being spotted by park witnesses. After a swift glance, he climbed the fence beneath the pointed roof and dropped into a crevice. He moved out sideways, crept within the flapping washing, and entered through the open back door.

Headline by Robb Sheppard

10.36pm. They’re not just late now; they’re Amy Winehouse late. The blips and wub-wubs of the Never Gonna Give You Up cover version are barely audible over the audience’s detached impatience and theatrical sighs. The song’s ironic. I think. I hope. The crowd, however, are being more vocal at this one moment than during the entirety of the support slots. I guess clapping is out again this season.

Even Gods Cry by Albrin Junior

He was the only child; they always listened and made sure he got everything he wanted. Sometimes life was too comfortable for his own liking, but it was a privilege and he enjoyed it. They sat in the parlour and listened to all his fears and dreams, before they burst into laughter. It was something they had never done before.

Amor Fati by William Nuth

Mr K. was unhappy. He felt entirely alone. Mrs B., sitting just a few meters away, typing at her desk was no comfort. And since sitting down, a dread feeling had come over him; he felt his life would soon be ending.

Working Out by Zoë Green

He wants to be the beating blood beneath her skin, he thinks, as he drops his new gym bag next to her canvas backpack. The skin of our lips is a hundred times more sensitive than our fingertips; he wonders if she knows this. She must be knowledgeable since she’s always reading. White veins have developed on the buckled corners of her War and Peace, which, he sees, is sitting ready by her neat white trainers.

Beyond Lamorna by D. G. Champken

Soldier’s Buttons, Robin noted the spiky blooms of cornflower-blue underfoot as he trod his familiar, solitary track out of Newlyn harbour. The cliffside above Mousehole, the next village along, was raucous with heather, sweet-scented bells ringing silent and glowing in the early-evening sun, a sun that showcases a unique shine in this small corner of Cornwall. The surrounding sky was burnt orange, a stain that would soon blossom into lilac. Blue skies were rare in this part of the world and time of the day, signalling when they did appear a good day ending.

Resolutions by Diana J. Timms

At quarter past three one April afternoon, Lucy Mackenzie had picked up her six-year-old daughter from school, and the mother’s body had been pulled out of the river at seven thirty by a jogger. The daughter had never been found, despite the dredging of the canal and the most expensive missing person investigation that Catharine had ever instigated. The last sighting of her had been by her teacher when the child had been picked up from school. The police investigation had circled for eighteen months, unable to reconstruct a mere four hours.

The Jackalope by Sheldon Birnie

A devotee of Red Dead Redemption since way back, Tony was familiar with jackalopes. He’d never seen one though. He’d never even been sure if they were real or not – he’d never paid much attention to science, or anything really, in school – until that day on the loading dock. But when he tried to tell his buddies at the bar after work about it, they all laughed at him.

Three by David Christopher Johnston

George doesn’t want to be here, you can see it in his expression: eyes darting nervously from side to side, perspiration shining his top lip and brow, an uneasy smile offered through closed lips. You can sense it in the way he stands: sagging shoulders anticipating defeat, clenched fists buried deep in trouser pockets. It is clear from only the briefest of glances that George feels out of place, out of his comfort zone. A zone that was far from the spectrum of spaciousness to begin with.

Lockdown Tuesday by Colin Mayo

Gerald didn’t like working at home. He found it hard to concentrate. He’d much rather be in the office. It was the whole routine he liked. It gave him a focus. He was someone. He was Gerald R. Scott, Actuary for the Ask Us Insurance Company. At home he was just Gerald or Gerry.

Late Bloomer by Shelby Crane

Sometimes she would make up stories if the conversation turned to first kisses. Her first kiss was when she was thirteen at a summer camp, Or fourteen with her friend’s brother. Often she would steal a story from others if the groups didn’t intersect. Her problem was keeping her stories straight.

Strongman by Rae Stringfield

Tommy lay draped over his mother’s protruding belly, her short fingernails massaging his scalp. The smell of salmon slowly saturated the air in the living room, wafting under the crack below the kitchen pocket door. They never used to close the door, but for weeks now any whiff of food sent his mother running for the bathroom.

Meet Me When Your Hair Is Shorter by Courtney Kerrigan-Bates

At least it wasn’t word-for-word long time no see. His eyes focus on my face. If he wasn’t already too drunk, he’d be analysing how each line of my face has changed, but he is already too drunk, so he’s simply trying his best to look like he’s analysing something, when in fact he can probably see two of me.

World Cup by Tom Morgan

Yes, he’s funny, and I can be funny when I want to be, but he’s the butt of the joke. He’s a complete and utter clown. Hannah’s not going to want to be with a clown, is she? She’s going to want to be with someone tough. I’m tough. At least, I can be – I’ve had four teeth out, and I didn’t even make a fuss. I’ve got them in a small red box in my bedroom.

3250 by D. R. Hill

Hannah feels my presence. She sits straight up in bed, alert, and she looks directly at me. I wonder if she has an image of me, of the real Miranda. I wish I could communicate with her. As she calms I stay and watch over her, as if I’m a carer tending to someone who is sick. She relaxes in bed. This is timeless for me.

Failures of the Heart by Chris Morey

Macavity, she thought, like the cat. As a birthday present, she’d splurged on a Versace bathrobe for him, with a design of a leaping tiger. Or rather, her allowance had, though to keep within budget she’d gone without a lovely little number that she was almost sure she could carry off. It hung in his wardrobe, worn only on the day she gave it to him. And he’d been such an elegant dresser.

The Brothers Callabaugh by J. David Thayer

Right now, before he opens his stupid mouth any wider, I’m feeling just fine. But I already know that’s all about to change. Any second now he’s gonna spill it. Can’t help himself. He’ll hand his burden off to me like a baton and it’ll be my leg to run in the anxiety relay. Well, I don’t want that baton!

House Clearance by D. R. Hill

The charged stillness of the house enveloped you even as you stepped into the open wooden porch. Piles of rotting leaves disguised the intricate floor tiling, and there was a shudder as the front door swung open to reveal evidence of activity abruptly abandoned.

Stereo-Typical by Brian Coughlan

My final memory of Let It Come Down is the four lads running onto the football field at St James’ Park in replica home jerseys, like over-excited magpies, to a bemused silence and then, when the backing-track finally kicked-in, incessant booing from every corner of the stadium, as the boys tried gamely to get their song and dance routine going.

A Haunting by Jonathan Willmer

Michael was dozing on a bench. He opened his eyes and looked up. “A week last Tuesday.” He turned away from Ian, who was standing with one foot perched on a spade. He gazed out at his own garden. The seed pods hanging from the laburnum tree swayed in the wind. He was sorry that he had missed the yellow flowers this year. They were out so briefly, and he had been too ill.

Girls Like Ours by Ellen Dorrington

If I had to describe that time as a single image, I would tell it like this: the sun trapped in long golden hair, and us, the girls, submitting ourselves to it completely. Here’s the photo: school uniforms, standing with our arms around each other, me as the tallest in the middle, and a pair of girls each side of me. The parched grass beneath our feet. Our frozen laughs, a joke made perpetually funny.

Nice Pair by Jack Doherty

I started working in the shop a good 10 years ago. I’m not entirely sure why. It just seemed to happen one day. One week I was a taxi driver, and the next I just appeared behind the till at King Kebabs 2. Weird name, isn’t it? King Kebabs 2. I’ve never understood it. Was there a King Kebabs 1 somewhere? Was this shop some sort of fast food sequel? Who knows?

Doomsday Davidson by David Rudd

It’s now almost twenty years since those headlines, following Charles Davidson’s strange disappearance in 1965. As someone who knew him well, it was to my door that the media initially came. At the time, I told them nothing, but as I now start to feel my years, I realise I ought to set down these biographical observations.

Tree by Lewis Blair

Randolph Minster woke up squint on Monday morning. Although his bed was straight on all three plains, and although he was relaxed and sunk flat when he awoke, it seemed his body was bent to the right and determined to stay that way. When Randolph stood at the toilet to void yesterday’s liquids, he stood askew. When he padded around his little kitchen making boiled eggs – five minutes for large soft boiled, toast notch three on the dial – he was undeniably squint, as if gravity’s pull had moved a little, but always to his right.

In Molina de Aragón by Caragh Medlicott

People faint now and then. Eva envies their respite – she’s been awake for nearly 26 hours, and Matt too. The night before, they stopped at a small lake surrounded by poorly assembled tents. The moonlit water shone like heaven. Yesterday’s driver had warned against bathing. Matt obeyed, Eva tried to, but others were scrambling in, cooling off.

Magun by Douglas K Currier

All high schools are pathetic, as are all high school students, high school existences, high school achievements. That your team beat anyone else’s, ever, you should forget two days after graduation. We’ve fabricated childhood – damn you, Locke, damn you, Rousseau – then built traps to keep young people in it – that comfortable space of “for your age” and “improving” and “participation.”

Subha by Deeksha Verender

When Subha began working for us, I was twelve, and she said she was seventeen. It seemed a big age difference at the time, despite the fact that I was already taller than she was, and broader too. She was the latest in a long line of full-time housemaids that my mum had employed and subsequently fired for various reasons: stealing my old stuffed animals, taking extended holidays to their hometowns, and the most recent, moonlighting as a sex worker.

Human After All by Kwasi Kurosawa

As any sensible person would be, Cylia was wary of long-distance relationships. Given the lack of options in her own vicinity however, she was inclined to look further afield, succumbing to the smorgasbord of electronic dating sites. Eventually, her search reached such sequestered spaces, the depths of some of the most seldom used applications, yet she had little to show for it except for some faded sparks, clumsy comments and innumerable unopened messages, each with a hint of potential, though probably promising disappointment.

My German Grandmother Was Totally a Bitch, and Also So Much Cooler than Yours by Shannon Frost Greenstein

Certain things are absolute, compulsory. There are universal experiences of a German grandchildhood that link so many of us in a complicated daisy chain across space and time: holiday cookies. Hiding an ornament shaped like a pickle on the Christmas tree. Church, specifically Lutheran church. Being early. Raggedy Ann dolls and Hummel figurines and Black Russians and, at the foundation of it all, resilience. Grit.

Anatomy of a Home by Zoë Wells

Sammy pronounces it more like “kit-hen” when he points to the upper right-hand part of the diagram. It’s a common problem for a lot of Somalians, that harsher “-ch” that doesn’t exist in all languages. We’ve done a sheet like this with cutesy drawings of architecturally unsound houses every week for the past month that I’ve been coming to the refugee centre. This week there are five rooms: a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, an empty living room, and a hallway.

Hoar Frost by Dave Gregory

Outside, heavy, wet snow falls on this serene little city and clings to trees, hedges, power lines and parked cars. Inside the classroom, Mr Khatri disrupts the idyll by dimming the lights and introducing a Holocaust film to his twelfth grade, world history students. For the next forty-five minutes, Tanner and the others are deluged with eviscerating images.

Away by Joe Butler

She could only watch him, silently noting that she should be doing something to help him, ease his suffering somehow, but she couldn’t. All she could do was feel shades of some sort of compression. Time passed. All those moments and days and everything in between seemed to just press together, bound with dreamless sleep.

Karen’s Art by Chris Lee

Karen was a brilliant woman, effervescent with ambition and energy. She could see through all fakery and pretention and she could prize from you your deepest thoughts just by opening her eyes and giving you a quizzical look. I became her lover, because I wanted to, oh how I wanted to, but also because it was impossible to deny her. It was as if there was some kind of destiny that drew me towards her.

After Work Drinks by Ian Inglis

When Clive saw Erica standing at the bar, he was uncertain whether to approach her. He watched as she ordered a large glass of white wine – pinot grigio? Sauvignon blanc? – and deftly wove a path through the knots of early evening drinkers, to a solitary table in a quiet corner of the room. She hooked her handbag over the back of the chair and started to read the newspaper that had been tucked under her left arm.

Sealed with a Kiss by Michael Handrick

He sits next to me staring ahead, his eyes shaded by the cap’s peak. He doesn’t hold my hand. I look at him through the rearview mirror and I swallow that image of him. My eyes dilate to take in more until my own reflection is merely a fragment.

Swings and Roundabouts by Jemma Stewart

I wrestle a pack of tissues from my bra – the only place to put them, as my funeral garments are short on pockets and my bag is so tiny it barely fits my phone – and pass them to Willow, then Nai. Willow’s been clutching my hand since we left her parents’ house this morning, as though she’s afraid of losing me too.

Mother by Lily Hawkes

My brother and I liked words, he would always use the ones I didn’t really understand. I made a mental note to find out what rustic meant. Perhaps it was something like ‘rusty’, in which case he was right, it was almost the right colour for rust. In fact, if that’s what the word meant, everything looked pretty rustic at the moment.

Homecoming by Thomas Redjeb

He could not help but recall his earliest childhood memory, when they had both been no more than 6-years-old and had only just met at primary school. At this time she looked boyish and revelled in this look, proudly displaying her scrawny, ragged ginger hair.

Pacific Littoral by Geoffrey Heptonstall

They had expected warm, white sand and high waves. They had seen themselves in the southern heat, in cotton clothes and shaded glass. They were sitting beneath enormous parasols where iced drinks were served at welcome intervals. The surfers were young and skilled.

Honey and Home by Hannah Ewing

We took the property out of necessity, and because even though it was a basement suite there were no tenants upstairs, leaving us to the quiet of our own lovemaking or shouting in the mornings. We had even become used to the sound of the mother next door, who screamed at her small children in Mandarin after breakfast as they walked towards the car.

Turn Right by Richard Berry

The examiner hasn’t said anything for a long time, not since we first pulled up to the junction. What is her name again? Tade, I think. Perhaps I should say something, just to break the silence.

Old Blue by Bryn Chamberlain

Contrary to what you might think, Old Blue was not my dog. Blue was the lawnmower that led to the salvation of my dog, who was also named Blue. Together, these two formed the strongest, inextricably entwined cords of my youth. The one, a black lab puppy; four and a half pounds of love, joy and energy that filled my waking hours and slept by my side.

Gloire de Dijon by David Oakley

The truth is that those who made it their business to solve this mystery were wasting their time, for the simple reason that he had not disappeared. There was, of course, a mystery to solve, but it was a different one.

Injustice by Jennifer Walne

Outside, the sun is glaring. The puzzle of tiny streets with tiny houses leads to the park. She finds her usual spot, a bench hidden behind the shrubberies that adorn the pond, makes herself comfortable, unscrews the bottle and drinks. One large, quick gulp.

Fascination by Mike Fox

My flat was small, top floor of a city tenement. What would otherwise be the living room became my studio, lit during the day by the industrial skyline through ill-fitting French windows which opened onto a tiny balcony. I slept in a box room just off the front door, and, when not painting, washing or cooking, spent the rest of my time in a white-walled annexe with only a sofa, laptop and bookcase. Such was my life. All else I’d left behind.

Shoelaces by Luke Newell

I don’t think many people remember Lewis. Apart from the two or three people you’re really close to, you don’t remember anyone you went to school with, or even really care. At school, everyone has to play nice because for six hours you’ll probably share a class with them. But when they step into the real world they don’t need to play nice anymore. They don’t return the messages, and soon enough, you are left with a pitiful handful of people whose company you never quite grew out of.

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