More – by NICK BLACK


He holds a crisp new fiver between his fingers.

“No,” I say, encouraged by the sweat on his top lip. “More.”

He sighs and parts his wallet again.

“I’ve only got a twenty,” he says. “Have you got change?”

“I’ll take the twenty,” I say. “And the five.”

Since The Incident At Svetlana’s BBQ, I’ve been making my husband pay for certain things he wants done. Her push-up bra’s been a nice little earner for me.

“Ok,” I say, snapping on my Marigolds. “Let’s get this over and done with.”

The spider in the shed is big and bulbous. Jesus! I don’t even mind them and I need a moment to approach it. “Have you got it yet?!” he pleads from the kitchen door. “All gone!” I walk slowly around the side of the house with it cupped in my hands. And drop it through the bathroom window.

I’m learning.



Nick Black’s stories have been published by Spelk Fiction, the Woven Tale Press, Sick Lit, Cafe Aphra, Litro and (forthcoming) the Lonely Crowd and Firefly Magazine.  More can be found at 


Innocence – by ANTHONY SPROUSE



         Tommy rushed into the living room and immediately dived for his toy box, an enormous blue and green one his parents had bought him recently. He seemed to be getting a lot of gifts lately but didn’t understand why; not that he was going to complain. He reached into the box and pulled out his favourite bears. Fluff; who was the daddy bear. Cuddles; the mummy bear and lastly little Wolfy; who was their son, just like tommy and his parents. He sat down with them all and began to play.

Wolfy hated getting dressed up, but he had no choice in the matter. He had been forced into his best jacket, an emerald green with gold stitching, just like the one Fluff wore. Cuddles however was wearing a beautiful blue dress that swirled around when she turned, like leaves dancing in the air. Wolfy had been told that they were going to an important place called court, but it didn’t sound very exciting to him. Everything had been important recently, ever since that dragon had appeared, nothing had been the same. Cuddles had started growling at Fluff a lot of the time and it was entirely the dragons fault. They never used to be mean to each other; they used to spend loads of time together and tell Wolfy lots of magical stories. Now all he heard though were angry growls being exchanged and all because of that dragon!

It wasn’t as if she couldn’t be a nice, she was friendly to Wolfy and she was extremely friendly to Fluff, but she made Cuddles angry and upset whenever she saw her.

Before they had left home, Wolfy had been asked several times who he liked better, Cuddles or Fluff. But he loved them the same and didn’t understand what they meant. That was why they had to go to this court place today apparently.

When they finally arrived at the court, Wolfy saw a big black owl with long curly white hair; sitting behind a huge desk that seemed to take up the whole room. Then the owl spoke two words that Wolfy didn’t understand but would change his life forever.

“Custody hearing”

Tommy put his teddies back into his toy box and found his mum sat on the floor nearby. He walked over to her and gave her a big hug. Then tommy asked a question that made his mother let out a sob of sadness.

“When is daddy coming home?”


Me recent

***Anthony Sprouse is a short story author, novelist, and poet. He has several pieces of work appearing or forthcoming in several publications. Currently he is studying a Bachelor’s Degree in creative writing, and when he’s not writing avidly, he’s most likely getting stuck into a new book with a big mug of hot chocolate.***


Magic Madness & Wine – by ROB TRUE


Magic Madness and Wine                                                         Rob True




He couldn’t understand the TV.

He could tell it was English words, but they just floated meaninglessly around in his head.

Like something familiar, only he couldn’t quite put a finger on it.

He’d seen the program before, but it didn’t mean shit.

The image blurred out from the screen, colours flowed into the room. Pointing at it, he saw coloured beams of light come from his fingertips, like lasers.

He flicked his hands about like a wizard, firing laser beams round the room from all fingers, then got up and turned off the telly.

The room disintegrated into patterns, black, white and grey swirling patterns and he sat back down.

The sofa was pushed up against a wall and he must have had his face pressed hard against it, or maybe he had pushed the sofa away from the wall with his face. He didn’t know, or couldn’t tell. The wall had gone.

Looking over the back of the sofa into an abyss of mad animated black and white geometric shapes, shouting into it, laughing, his voice echoing back to him.

He lay down and the patterns so crazy, the room had vanished.

Out from the centre of swirling black and white madness, came a giant hand, grabbing just short of his face, as he laughed and fuckin’ laughed. Strange, haunted, screaming faces broke out of the patterns, open mouthed, screaming agony, one after another, moving left to right, and he laughed and laughed at it all.

He stood up, fell down, stood up again, bouncing off the walls, spinning round and round, laughing and laughing.

Hysterical, maniacal laughter like a madman. Only God can laugh like that and it was God laughing through him, in him, out through his mouth, crazy laughter, laughing with God, powerful laughter that knew the meaning of something, everything, which was nothing.

Fuck knows what it was that he knew in those moments, not something he could rightly tell about after in words.

That kind of knowing is lost in the moment and at the same time, known forever.

The rest of the week, he stayed home from work, sitting in a dark room, drinking beer and rum.

When she came home from New York, she saw him on the sofa, spaced-out, unwashed, unshaven, dirty looking, with ashtrays full of spliff ends and empty beer cans all around him, the curtains drawn.

“Oh for fuck sake. I’ve kept you straight for six years, I leave you alone for one week and when I get back, you’re exactly how I found you when we met!”

He smiled an idiot’s grin at her and she laughed shaking her head, sat down and gave him a kiss,

“You’re useless without me. Go and have a bath, you stink of stale rubbish!”



***Rob True was born in London 1971. He left school with no qualifications, dyslexic and mad, in a world he didn’t fit into. He got lost in an abyss, was sectioned twice and spent the best part of a decade on another planet. He returned to earth just in time for the new millennium, found a way to get on in life, married a beautiful girl and lived happily ever after. She taught him how to use paragraphs and punctuation and his writing has been a bit better ever since.***

Blueberry Muffin by WESLEY COOKE

          Blueberry Muffin by WESLEY COOKE 


I got a pet dribbler.

My pet dribbler is a man mountain, with hands like bunches of bananas. Strangler’s hands.

My pet dribbler is called Dudley.

I call him my pet dribbler because that’s what he says to the others in there whenever I go and see him.

I met him one Wednesday when I popped round to see Mum. We always settle down to watch a film on a Wednesday – preferably a ‘shit kicker’ Western. Me and Mum were out in the back garden at the time having a cuppa when we heard this almighty racket – proper blood-curdling screams and aggy shouting. I had a quick Mr Chad peek over the wall and saw some big fella on the floor, curled up in a ball and on the receiving end of a right royal kicking from two sturdy-looking, middle-aged blokes. Now, I’m no have-a-go hero but the shrieking and howling coming from this poor fella was something else – almost childlike. It went right through you.  I climbed over the back wall and ran over there shouting for the two of them to pack it in – “he’s had enough!” The two of them spun round fast as you like, but their angry screwed-up faces soon smoothed out and went all wide-eyed when they saw who it was (in small and insular south-coast towns like ours nicknames quickly do the rounds – my nickname is Stabby Wayne; a nickname well-earned and well-upheld over the years), and so they both buggered off without any fuss. I could’ve laughed out loud when I looked down at him; the way he peered at me through those bunches of bananas covering his face. I peeled them off, helped the great big blubbering lump to his feet and took him round Mum’s to get him cleaned up.

The look on Mum’s face when we shuffled into the kitchen; I hadn’t seen her that angry with me in years. I didn’t laugh when she got back – still in a huff – and told me all about Dudley. I roared and I guffawed and I slapped my thigh like they do in old black and white films.

It turns out me and Dudley are the same age. It turns out my Mum and Dudley’s Mum know each other. It turns out that ever since the day Dudley’s stocky-little-barrel-with-a-big-beehive-hairdo for a Mother gave birth to him – at home – she’s kept him shut away indoors, under lock and key. Caged up like an exotic, twenty stone songbird. I didn’t find any of this stuff funny – but it also turns out that every now and again this exotic, twenty stone songbird somehow gets out of his cage and goes for a little fly about. The trouble was that Dudley liked to fly about with his flies undone and his pink and red courgette hanging out for the world and his wife to see.

Meet my pet dribbler, Dudley.


I forgot all about Dudley and his pink and red courgette until one Wednesday, about two years later when Mum mentioned that his stocky-little-barrel-with-a-big-beehive-hairdo for a mother had passed away.  Sheila her name was. It turns out that a few Fridays ago, on her way to buy blueberries (every week she’d bake Dudley a fresh batch of blueberry muffins, put a candle in each one and sing Happy Birthday to him) Sheila just dropped down dead. It turns out that Dudley has been put in a home, just outside of town. It turns out that my Mum and Dudley’s Mum know each other because they’re sisters.

It turns out that I bake a bloody good blueberry muffin.



***Wesley Cooke is a Mother’s first son. Wesley Cooke was born to test & experiment. Wesley Cooke lives in London. He tweets at:

PS: Don’t kill me for including your twitter, Wes.***

Duty of Care by OWEN CLAYBORN


Duty of Care

Owen Clayborn


The boy of seven stole another glance at the sleeping man.


The boy got up and walked over and stepped over the man’s legs. He would have to be quick.

The sun was slanting straight in through the grimy window, and the glare made it hard to see. The boy was sure there had been paper and a pen somewhere in one of the drawers.

He opened the top one – slowly, so slowly – and looked again at the sleeping man. The beer can resting on the man’s stomach had tipped, held loosely in one hand, and formed a dark circle of damp on his drainpipe trousers. The hand – nails black with dirt, a tattoo of a swallow between thumb and forefinger – was an instrument of horror for the boy, and he quickly looked back at the drawer.

Its contents included bottle openers, unopened bills, empty cigarette cartons, matchboxes, a tangle of wires attached to a smashed pocket transistor radio –

The boy quietly – oh, so quietly – pushed the drawer closed. He slid open another. This one, being slightly less accessible than the top, was less full of junk. It contained a bundle of terry towelling nappies (there were no babies in the flat, so the boy was slightly mystified by their presence), a packet of safety pins (unopened), half a pen (the useful half, the boy noticed with a leap of his heart), and, right at the back, a spider web. He felt the feathery, sticky silk brush his fingers.

The boy grabbed the pen and whipped his hand out of the drawer. He slid the drawer closed, terrified that the spider might get out and scurry across his hand and up his arm towards his face.

The next drawer down held a stiff, crumpled pair of knickers, a cardboard album cover spilling black shards of shattered vinyl, and – the boy’s eyes lit up – a writing pad, still in its clear plastic wrapper.

The boy took out the pad, closed the drawer – slowly, slowly – and clutched his treasures to his chest. Now he tiptoed over the stained, threadbare carpet, avoiding bin bags full of rubbish, catching his awkward reflection in the black glass of the television, stepped over the sleeping man’s legs, which terminated in two massive, stinking, winklepicker-clad feet – a sudden snore from the man made the boy’s throat squeeze shut and his eyes flash wide open and his little palms sweat – and went into the corner where a filthy duvet formed a kind of nest.

He sat down and took the wrapper off the notepad, taking great care not to make a noise. It was difficult because the plastic was so crisp and crinkly. He opened the pad to reveal the top sheet and he stared at its solemn blankness for a second or two. Then he took the pen between thumb and fingertip and began to write.

‘Dear Daddy.’

He stopped and thought, the broken end of the pen in his mouth.

‘I love you so much,’ he went on, the effort of the work crumpling his brow. ‘I want to come home. They are mean to me here. I am lonely. Yesterday the man told me to come here he sed he had something for me and he told me to cloes my eyes and put my hand out –’

The boy began to cry; some of the tears fell on the page and he tried to rub them away.

‘– but when I did the man burned my hand with his sigret and they all laffed and I screemed. I have to sleep in the corner because they sed my room is to full of there things and they woodnt take the things out so I could sleep in there –’

He had peeped into that room once – the room he had thought would be his. It had smelled bad. It had smelled terrible. There were rubbish bags heaped on a bed and flies batting against the window. There was a shape under the bed sheet – a large doll, the boy had thought. The shape had given him a horrible feeling, and he didn’t look at it again. A pile of junk by the window: wheels, sun-warped boards, splintered wooden bars.

But then they had come back, hooting and guffawing and banging into things, and he had clicked the door shut and rushed back to his place in the corner, little more than a frightened animal.

‘I have to sleep in the room with the tv I am hardly ever alowed to eat they say they are to tired to cook sometimes and I feel very hungrey all the time the man says I have to be his foot stool and he puts his feet on my back wen I sed no wons he hit me in the mouth and it was bledeing and it made my tooth wobly.’

He was crying again, and trying not to sob, so he quickly wrote, ‘Please come and get me Daddy. I love you. I will do enething to come home and be with you and Mummy agen I will be good I promis Just please please come and get me. You are the best Daddy in the world.’

The boy already had an envelope. He had been carrying it around in his pocket for days. He took it out and tried to flatten it on his knee. He addressed it in his large, childish letters, folded the letter lovingly, and slipped it into the envelope. Then he licked the gummed edge – it tasted horrible  – and sealed the letter inside.

He went back, stepping over the legs (his heart was pounding in his chest now and his head was swimming) and put the half-a-pen and the pad (he had slipped the wrapper back over it, though it didn’t look quite right) exactly where he had found them. Then, over the monstrous legs again, his whole body trembling.

The door had a strange kind of lock on it. He had watched sneakily how his foster mother put the door on the latch by clicking down a little round button. The boy went to the door now and, standing on his toes, unlocked it. He clicked down the little round button and put the door on the latch so that he could get back in. He opened the door – quietly, quietly – stepped through, and pushed it shut.

The hall was empty. He regarded the rows of closed, unfriendly doors. He walked and then raced to the lift at the end of the hall and pressed the button. While he waited, he peered across at the other tower blocks.

When it came, the doors sliding open with an inhuman clank, the lift smelled of stale urine (as it always did) and there was a cigarette butt still smoking on the floor.

He stepped in and pressed ‘G’ for ‘Ground’.

The lift took forever to get to the bottom, and as soon as the doors opened and let in the hot, bright afternoon, the boy shot out and tore down the road, almost gasping at the freedom: a rush and noise of summer people; a yellow ice lolly, white miniskirts, the mystery of attaché cases, glimpses of sea-blue sky, big red buses slowly sailing through the city traffic; all in the blink and blaze of the sun.

He knew exactly where the pillar box was. He had paid careful attention when he had been out with his foster mother to get things for the ‘house’ that wasn’t a house.

And there it was: the pillar box, glossy-red and reassuring, the object of his obsession. Panting and sticky, his hands shaking so much with adrenaline and exhaustion that he could barely lift them to post it, he raised the envelope to his parched lips, tears blurring his vision, and kissed it. Just before he pushed it into the pillar box, its crisp whiteness against the red, he looked again at the writing on the envelope.

‘He’s sure to come and get me once he sees how neat I’ve written it,’ the boy thought as he dropped the letter inside and turned and ran back to the tower block as fast as he could.

All the way up in the lift, he daydreamed of being back home, his real home; of sitting on his father’s knee, or going about on his shoulders while they both laughed. The happy times before Mummy had hurt herself.

At the bottom of the pillar box, the letter lay. On it was written, in the careful handwriting of a child, ‘To my Daddy’.


***Owen Clayborn is a British-American writer of poetry, full-length fiction, and short stories. His work usually features roguish characters in unusual situations. Owen is currently working on a picaresque novel. Follow Owen on Twitter at: ***

Fire by DEE LEAN

Fire by DEE LEAN


Flame engulfed me.
I would have died if not for the amount of alcohol I’d consumed.

Bright lights from the hospital blind me.

I get up and fish around my melted handbag. Find a cigarette and walk toward the doors, dragging a drip with one hand and holding a fire blanket around me with the other.

I light up.

Hearing frantic yelling, I glance back the way I came. I’m being told to go back inside.

I nod and hold up the hand with the needle pierced through a vein. Showing five fingers. There is no pain. Not yet. That comes later. When it comes, it’s unbearable. During surgery I wake up while the skin is being stripped from my thighs. They quickly knock me out again but not before I let off a blood-curdling howl that can be heard down the hall.

For three months I was drugged so heavily I could barely bathe myself.

A morphine and drug addict. Up to 37 pills a day. I sometimes wished for death to take me in my sleep.  But he never did, the selfish prick. The nightmares would wake me up crying. The daily pain was beyond comprehension.  Then later the beginning of withdrawals almost left me for dead again.

Most of this I’ve blocked away in a safe place to keep me from living it over and over again.

But my insecurities will creep back occasionally to remind me that I’m broken.

Sometimes I think about my life draining out of me and wonder why it crept back in.



***Dee Lean believes that a writer that doesn’t write is like a soul without a mate; aimlessly wondering without a purpose. Born in Belfast, Ireland, Lean currently lives in Melbourne, Australia and is a single mother to two gorgeous kids that get her up and inspire her to see and seek the good in all. When people ask her what she does, she simply says, “I write.” She tweets at:  ***

How we Leave – by HILLARY UMLAND

How We Leave

Hillary Umland



When the birthday balloons finally began deflating at my office desk, they did so in their own ways, distracting me from workday monotony.


When the first balloon, green and partially caved in on one side, began its demise, its skin became gum-like, a strip of it clinging to the surface of my desk as I picked it up. So I sat there, furiously scratching at the green strip with a fingernail, but the color lingered where it had lain slowly losing its breath for the past five months.


The green stain becomes a periphery mark on the left of my desk forever.


Parts of skin of the yellow balloon wrinkled, tightening like a belt around a waist while other parts stayed smooth, eternally youthful. It became discolored, tiny dark spots like teardrops splattered on its yellow skin, before it declined into its comfortable and quiet collapse.


The tiny blue balloon deflated as soon as I held it in my palm, giving up easily and compliantly like we had shared an unspoken and pleasant agreement.


Still, it slightly stuck to my flesh as I peeled it away.


But the last one, red and willful, kept its small and withering shape with its wrinkles and spots, holding out until I was forced to find a sharp pointed pin. Its fading rubber shell was tough and thick, forcing me to poke and pierce it again and again to break the surface. But it wouldn’t let go that easily, so I squeezed softly, smothering the possible pop from my co-workers’ ears, yet still it rebelled against my grip, sticking to my force, refusing to release.

So I keep it and wait for its end, the way we do with the complicated plants we buy with good intentions, the way we do with our helpless and ailing grandparents, the way we do with friendships passing their prime.


The way I did with us.


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***Hillary Umland is a writer of fiction and poetic prose currently living in Nebraska. She has been published in Unbroken Journal and Sick Lit Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @hillaryumlaut if you like Top Chef and pizza. ***