Artwork by Celia Coyne. Celia likes taking photographs of the sky from her home in the Port Hills of Christchurch. She is a writer, too, and can often be found sitting on her deck gazing at the view, with a cup of Irish tea and her notebook. More photos can be found on her website www.mybeautifulsky.com.
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My husband may be a physicist, but he’s a boson when it comes to domestic science. So I’ve written him instructions on how to roast a chicken while I go to yoga.
Preheat the oven to 240ºC. The mysterious force that heats this box also runs the Large Hadron Collider.
Pat dry the bird – which DNA confirms descended from dinosaurs – with a strip of plundered forest.
Drizzle the small dinosaur with olive oil and rub on sodium chloride.
Chop a small allium cepa and sauté in butter.
Using the processor’s centrifugal force, reduce bread slices to 1½ cups of crumbs.
Add sauteed cepa, 1 tsp mixed herbs and a raw egg. Re-activate machine briefly, but not so long as to produce a pentaquark.
Stuff the dinosaur’s black hole with this mix – this is your stellar moment – so gravitational pull makes sure nothing ever pops out of it.
Truss the dinosaur’s legs over each other. Twine works, String Theory doesn’t.
Turn oven down to 200ºC.
Place wee dinosaur in the oven with some sprigs of rosmarinus officinalis.
Set timer for 1 hour 20 mins.
Pull up a chair, and watch quantum physics demonstrate how matter and energy behave.
Reassure yourself The Big Bang Theory is just a name.
Jan FitzGerald has been published in mainstream NZ literary journals since the 1970s and in Poetry Australia, The London Magazine, Acumen (UK), Orbis (UK) and others. Her latest poetry book is entitled On a day like this (Steele Roberts, NZ). Jan works in Napier as a full-time artist. For more see her website, Painting Poets.
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My boyfriend doesn’t appreciate me anymore so I’ve started growing a new one in a petri dish.
The first year of our relationship was textbook perfection. Recently we’ve fizzled out. He’s spent weeks on my sofa eating, drinking, and scratching inappropriate areas. I’ve tried suggesting we go out and do something fun, you know, like roller disco, or we could go see a film; he just belched and consumed more of my shopping.
He lost his job, though that’s no excuse. I told him he shouldn’t sit there and squander his time, he needed to find a new job, but something or other was on the telly. I was lucky if our conversation was anything more than grunting.
It was natural that he didn’t notice I’d signed up to evening classes; I was going to pursue my interest in Biology. I made many new friends, and when I was at the class I’d forget about my lousy boyfriend, and it was there I learnt a lot of new things, including the solution to my problem.
He’s been cultivating for about a week now, though he won’t be able to stay there much longer; he’s growing quick. Under a microscope I can make him out a little. Mitosis is beautiful, and so will my Brad Pitt lookalike boyfriend.
I can’t wait.
I haven’t worked out how to get rid of the current boyfriend yet. Chemistry starts next week; that should help.
Santino Prinzi is currently an English Literature with Creative Writing student, and was awarded the 2014/15 Bath Spa University Flash Fiction Prize. His flash fiction and prose poetry has been published or is forthcoming in various places, including Flash Fiction Magazine, the 2014 and 2015 National Flash Fiction Day anthologies (UK), Unbroken Literary Journal, Spelk, Vine Leaves Literary Journal and others. You can check him out at his website or follow him on Twitter: @tinoprinzi.
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You stand very still. You can see into two rooms.
The kitchen is tidier than usual. Someone has done the dishes and stacked them in a white rack on the draining board. Except that they aren’t your dishes. You don’t have that pattern, let alone so many plates that match. Yours are a harlequin set, odds and ends from raggedy op shops, sporting unmatched chips.
A yellow cloth hangs over the tap, straddling the swivelling arm that mixes hot and cold. But there should be two taps, proper ones with cross-shaped knobs and helpful letters. Letter. The deep-blue C went down the plughole a long time ago.
You smell burnt toast and the tang of stovetop coffee.
In the other room, a big TV adorns the wall in place of Betty Blue. The walls aren’t green. They’re lined with striped paper, embossed, mushroom pale. Where are your books? Where are your books?
A black leather couch, a chaise longue, a ghastly sculpture of a naked woman writhing redly on a chrome corner table. Someone has moved the oil-fin heater from under the window. You wonder about the cat’s basket, and the cat.
Behind you, the white suit coughs and rustles. She wants you to keep moving. Fair enough. You made a deal. You take a shuffling step down the hallway, towards the back door. But you worry. About what you’ll find outside. Or not find. Like where you buried it.
You see two futures. You stand very still.
Fiona Lincoln lives and works.
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Natasha Zeta on ‘Point of Entry’ and the collection it comes from: “An oil painting of scars on shards of mirror, some a recognizable body part, some not. I am fascinated with the intimate nature of scars, and how much we choose to share about them. In the collection are surgical scars, sports accidents, self injury, bar fights. Some a slip on the stairs and some the proof of surviving something life threatening. We are rarely born with them, but it is part of our biology.”
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Cigar smoke coiled around the beard that seized power in Cuba. The unrelenting rhetoric of adversaries turned up the heat on the cold war. Communism morphed into the new black plague and fallout shelters pockmarked across Norman Rockwell’s America. Fear of The Bomb was spreading… yet, they danced. Security clearance name tags jiggled against pocket protectors as they danced. The normally stoic group of crew cut, slender white males in starched white shirts and skinny black ties smiled and spun with weightless abandon as they danced.
The dancing men were not concerned with politicians, presidents or premiers with their trigger-happy fingers hovering over The Button; they were too focused on their lofty goal. Not to say that spirit of competition did not play a role–it did. Beating the Reds was just one driving force for the dancing men. They also wanted to prove the power of rocketry could not only blow up the planet, but be utilized to explore new worlds and transform old world humanity.
Their eyes, several of which peered through virtually identical thick, black rimmed glasses, darted across monitors blinking telemetry, guidance systems, booster data and altitude. 280,000 miles above the earth at 3,685 mph, a petite rhesus monkey named Sam roared across the edge of space. They did a jig to Sam’s achievement–their achievement. They danced because science positioned mankind one step closer.
Mark Rosenblum is a New York native who now lives in Southern California where he misses the taste of real pizza and good deli food. He attempts not to drive his wife crazy, but tends to fail miserably. His most recent ramblings appear in Vine Leaves, Pure Slush, The Emerge Literary Journal, The EEEL, The Raleigh Review and Maudlin House.
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Papa burns my biology book in the barrel out back then writes to my teacher Mr. Darrow that he and his are most definitely not related to bonobos but are made in the Almighty’s image. He blacks out the passages in my geology text that contradicts the world was made in six days. Physics pages are ripped because it is divinely possible for a legion of angels to sit–never dance–on the head of a pin.
‘God never fails,’ Papa says and my sister Ruthie and I can’t help but flick glances to the empty chair at the other end of the supper table. ‘But science…’ Papa grinds his back teeth like chewing bitter blasphemy and settles the rest unspoken in the laden air like the weight our Saviour still carries for all us sinners.
After washing up, Ruthie unearths her psychology book from under her mattress with its dog-earred sections on depression and grief. Through the bedroom wall, I hear her recite the gospel according to Bandura and seek succour in the good word of B. F. Skinner.
In candlelight, I reread the homoerotic parts of the Bible and wonder about the cohesive attraction between David and Jonathan as I spit in my palm.
Throughout, Papa’s prayers vibrate the floorboards. They rise and hiss like glossolalia during a summer revival meeting. I pretend they’re celestial static transmitted by a deep-space probe on its steady course out of the known galaxy while I comet-streak the headboard and shudder Jesus.
A die-hard short-fiction enthusiast, Patrick Pink grew up in Chicago, Illinois and lived significant amounts of his life in Michigan, Texas and Germany before calling New Zealand home. His work has been published in a number of international journals and anthologies. His latest piece can be found in Wilde Stores 2015: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction.
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Schrödinger’s cat stretches in front of the fire, contemplating the meaning of life and death.
Erwin has gone out to a lecture. He’ll come back later. He always does. He has to. Schrödinger’s cat licks one paw, rubbing it behind her left ear. Erwin went with Anny. He said he wouldn’t be late.
Schrödinger’s cat methodically licks her paws. In the hall, the clock strikes midnight. A thought trickles its way through the cat’s mind. Perhaps Erwin isn’t coming home. Maybe he’s lying in a ditch somewhere having one of his coughing fits. Perhaps he’s been poisoned, or had a heart attack, or been struck by a meteor. What are the chances of that? Maybe Erwin is already dead. What will she do then? Who will look after Schrödinger’s cat, if Erwin doesn’t come home? Anny never liked cats.
Schrödinger’s cat doesn’t dare look outside, to search for Erwin. What if she distracts him? What if he sees her and steps out into the road in front of a speeding bicycle, or trips over a pothole and cracks his head. Then it would be her fault. That he is dead. No. Safest to sit still. Best not to look. After all, it might affect the outcome. He will come back. He always does.
Schrödinger’s cat curls up in her new box, with that strange orange and black symbol painted on the outside. She falls asleep. While the clock ticks, Schrödinger’s cat dreams about life and death.
Melanie Dixon is an emerging writer and a graduate of Hagley Writer’s Institute. She writes fiction for children and adults and has had work published in Takahē, Peduline Press and the Quick Brown Dog. She was short-listed for the National Flash Fiction competition in 2014 and 2013.
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He loved cleaning the lab and arranged his rota with Donna so he could do this on a more-than-regular basis. It was all glistening gas pipes and new-looking chalk boards. His eyes, later described as having different coloured irises, caught the sun like the test tubes he caressed as he slotted them in their wooden racks. His supervisor would recall his request to take the racks home to stain and varnish them. To avoid perishing, he covered the rubber of the pipettes with small squares of cloth he’d embroidered with students’ initials. He aligned the spines of the text books and squared the piles of exercise books. He tried to sharpen the chalk. In December ’78 he took a text book home. He walked through the experiments without the chemicals; practised shaking the test tubes between thumb and forefinger like he’d seen on the late night science programmes. He squeezed the pipette, put the tubes in the rack, put the goggles on at the appropriate time, tied his hair back, smiled as he moved into the pressed white lab coat. In May ’82, when he’d become part of the furniture, his sweaty hands prepared the chemicals one more time.
Rob Walton is from Scunthorpe, and lives on Tyneside with his family. His poetry appears in Emma Press Slow Things anthology, Butcher’s Dog 5, Firewords Quarterly, Deseeded, Visual Verse and Northern Voices. His stories are published by IRON Press, Red Squirrel, New Writing North, Arachne and Shelter. Winner of UK NFFD micro-fiction competition 2015, he has written script and collated the New Hartley Memorial Pathway text.
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He ran through the garden, careful to avoid using his front left paw. He rolled in the grass, desperate to mask the strange smell the master had put on him. He barked his displeasure at the sky. Just once. He held his tail high as he ran around the property, sniffing the flowers, the grass and anything else on the wind.
Then he heard it. The master was calling.
He whirled around and raced towards the sound. He could see the figure in the distance and it only fueled his speed. He bounded towards him and barked a greeting. He was so close now, he was a good boy.
The steel capped boot that cracked his ribs sent him flying across the garden. He whined and howled. The master whistled. He ran towards the sound. He was a good boy.
Mixed race, complete romantic and in love with the power of the written word, Phoebe Kulasegram considers herself lucky enough to have done a bachelors in Creative Writing at Colorado College and is currently living in Auckland, New Zealand.
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Otis and I end up on a website about dead bodies. There’s an experiment where dead pigs are put into the sea. They’re in cages, and scientists film what happens. Lobsters and silvery fish eat the pig bodies. Doesn’t take long until they’re just a pile of bones. That would make a good science project, but I’m not sure how I’d get hold of pigs. I could use bacon, but I’m vegetarian. And I don’t have an underwater camera.
My project will use red cabbage, lemons, vinegar and baking soda. I have four glass jars (not matching), and my auntie’s been missing for a week. I boil the cabbage. Auntie usually helps with science. Mum suggests adding food colouring. She doesn’t get what indicators are. No one mentions Auntie. Otis is doing something with snails.
Mum’s on the phone. She thinks I can’t hear. She says police, she says missing persons, and she says depressed.
I wish Auntie had talked to me. We talk about everything. I want to use toilet bleach as the fourth thing to test with cabbage water, but Mum says it’s dangerous.
Auntie likes walking on the cliff tops by the ocean, but Mum says it’s dangerous. I wrap the glass jars in newspaper, so they won’t break. There are lobsters and silvery fish in the ocean.
I text Otis to find out what’s happening in World of Warcraft before bed.
I dream they find Auntie on the beach wrapped in bacon.
Nod Ghosh attended the Hagley Writers’ Institute in Christchurch. Short stories or poems have appeared in Takahe, Penduline, Christchurch Press and TheGayUK. Nod has recently completed a second novel.
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She found the debug controls by accident, in a dream, and realized the physicists had been taking the long way around. Rather than awkwardly manipulate matter, she reached into the starry black innards of the machine and touched raw code with her bare appendages. She was an intra-particulate cephalopod. She could change the color of the world and the minds of man with nothing but her trillions of soft tentacles.
The changes she made were too complete. No one could remember that the sky had been blue. Today’s doctor didn’t know he was yesterday’s war criminal. Everyone and everything she touched carried on as though nothing had changed.
She envied the scientists. They were like unicycle-riding jugglers, easy to gawk at. They died, sometimes, without ever knowing whether their theories held true, and humanity applauded them.
She solved all forms of scarcity, tweaked the cosmos to allow for faster-than-light travel, introduced fantastical beasts for man to befriend or battle, and banished mortality. Meanwhile, the scientists scratched their heads and reworked their equations to account for changes in universal constants, never once pausing to wonder if perhaps it was the universe itself that was wrong.
She stretched and bent the world until it forgot its shape. Light moved slow as water. People died before they were born. The starry black machine coughed once, then ceased, and she was alone.
She decided her creations would, above all else, be able to marvel at her work, and love her for it.
Tara Lee is an unpublished author living in Seattle, Washington, in the rainy Pacific Northwest region of the United States. She’s spent the past few years honing her skills in informal flash fiction writing contests, and appreciates nothing so much as a blunt critique.
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When an apple landed on his head, Dave was none the wiser.
He awoke from a dream of drifting on a beam of light but had nothing to relate it to.
A fear of dirt, fed by the fierce scrubbings his mother gave him, led to a lifetime habit of washing hands yet, when those around him died of puerperal fever and he lived, he gave the credit in equal measure to his godliness and good luck.
He chanced a trip to Chonos Archipelago off the coast of Chile and held a conch shell to his ear to hear the sea. He didn’t notice the barnacle boreholes and so the evolution of man never occurred to him.
When he visited Poland he was offered the basement room or the one in the tower. He chose the former for ease, so never looked up in wonder at the night sky the whole time he was there.
Having taken a wrong turn on his ramblings one balmy Scottish summer, when the twilight stretched on to the edges of the universe and the chill of night came suddenly despite the season, Dave sought refuge in an unlit house. He climbed in an open window and found plates of agar and mould on the table. He tidied up and left the place so spic and span that when Mr. Fleming returned he thought the brownies had been.
The next time an apple landed on his head, Dave ate it and spat out the pips.
Heather McQuillan lives in Christchurch and has published two novels and a short story for children with Scholastic NZ. She was awarded the Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2005 and her two books have been selected for the Notable Books List by Storylines NZ. She is a tutor with the School for Young Writers. Her work was long-listed in the 2014 National Flash Fiction Day competition. Most nights Heather goes to sleep hearing the waves on the shore and in the morning she wakes with more stories in her head. Sometimes she sleeps in a caravan by pine trees and wakes up with magpies quardling and the stories all ebbing away.
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Dexter was airborne. He flew around the school buildings and it was amazing! Flight, defying gravity Yeah! A Hawker Jump-Jet. He had become his favourite aircraft, just like the scale model replica he had in his bedroom..
Climbing was a breaststroke-like action, gliding by assuming a crucifix position and keeping perfectly still, and hovering by pedaling air with his hand and feet. He cruised past the general science classroom where they’d been learning about gravity. Well, he’d show them. He struggled with that stuff and his results had been so bad he couldn’t face his parents. It was more his father, who would likely beat him again over his low grades, and because he didn’t do sport and sometimes smashed windows. If only he could control that rage that came from nowhere and overwhelmed him.
He soared and circled the grounds for a while, then wheeled and began his descent, trying to slow, but approaching the ground far too quickly for a safe landing.
Just before he hit, he saw them, those dealers, across the road by the bus shelter.
Still there, likely pushing the same pills they’d sold him that morning. Good stuff.
The ones that could make him fly.
He struck the tarmac hard, his fuselage turning into splintered bones and split organs, his life- fuel spilling red on the runway.
His flight time, from the roof of the building, to the quadrangle below, was, by Newton’s law. Exactly one point seven-five seconds.
Jeff Taylor is a retired pharmacist living in Hamilton who enjoys writing short stories for both adults and children. He has been writing for about six years and has won three short story contests in the UK (Global Short Stories) and has a children’s story published in Barbara Else’s latest anthology, Great Mates.
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The gentleman from the lunar society wound the music box and placed it under the vacuum chamber’s glass dome. He turned the brass crank, and the Handel chiming from the tines quietened as the air was dragged out. I’d expected some change, something dense and black like the night sky. Yet I could still see him when the box fell silent, through the glassware, his face rippled with prismatic imperfections.
He came from Birmingham, wearing velvet and powder. Sister blushed at his accent, and the gold flowers embroidered on his justacorps.
Next he boiled water with no flame. I leaned close, and breathed a haze that blocked our view. Father clipped my ear, but when asked to volunteer I plunged my hand into the water. It was cool as if freshly drawn. We were expected to gasp and mew, but I held his gaze, watched the reflected lamplight play in his spectacles.
When he revealed the sparrow Mother left. He pulled the shroud from the cage with a clumsy flourish, my sister’s breath grew heavy. It scratched at the wickerwork, its white-tipped feathers matted from panic. He held it gingerly, catching its wing under the glass. Its breast swelled with each pump.
Sister chose the moment the sparrow lay still to sigh and faint artfully, carefully, onto the floorboards. She lay and fidgeted with her bodice. Even in the shadows I could see her lids flicker, her pupils set on the scientist. But I believed only in the bird, dead.
Sam Averis is a developing writer from Christchurch, where he lives with his wife and daughter. His interests include sports, gaming, cooking, and brewing. You can find him here.
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Your father is an astronomer, your mother a topologist. You are trying to be an actress, but there’s physics in your genes.
Right now, you are sitting in the front row of the stalls, watching your partner take her bow. You’d auditioned for her part, you think you would have been better, but it is she who glows in the light of the parcans. You love your partner, love her dearly, so you are already rehearsing the positive things you can say to her later, things you can say given that honesty, for you, is a biological imperative.
Your partner rises from her bow and scans the audience with a brimming face. When she catches your eye, you hold your right hand flat, then curl your fingers in the direction the world is spinning. Your thumb now points along its axis of rotation, in the direction of the planet’s angular velocity. To your partner, it will look like you’re giving a thumbs-up.
Yes, you love her. There is no doubt about that. But still, pause to consider a thought experiment. Imagine rotating your hand: a simple shift from north to south, thumb up to down. It would only be a small gesture, but how dramatically might it change the spin of your romance, the orbit of the earth.
Ingrid studied creative writing at the University of Evansville, then physics at the University of Cambridge. She has soft spots for Go, cryptic crosswords, and the python programming language. Once in a while, she tweets at @LunchOnTuesday or adds a little something to www.ingridj.com.
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In the beginning God created Meg. She met a man called Bob and they begat three children.But in her sixtieth year she was struck by a great fatigue, and they sent her to the hospital where a doctor cored her pelvis like an apple.
The next day God and his white-coated disciples visited her. And God said, verily, you have the beast and it is called leukaemia.
Then came a time of endless night and opiate-dreams, and great doses of poison to kill the leukaemia-beast. Sometimes one of the disciples would come and run his fingers over her vertebrae as if he was playing a Grand Piano, and then he would put the poison in there too.
On the three hundredth day, God came with his disciples and declared that she was in remission.
That night there was much rejoicing and feasting.
But on the three hundredth day Meg woke with gnawing in her bones, and the beast was back.
God said, how many siblings do you have and will they donate bone marrow and have you made a will.
Meg said, I don’t want more poison. And God said, thou shalt have palliative care.
But her sense of taste returned, along with her hair. She sat in in her own Garden of Eden with her first grandchild, and when she held him he smelt of strawberries and thyme.
She said, you are bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, and my heaven and earth is complete.
Eileen Merriman writes flash fiction, short stories and novels. Her work has previously been published in The Sunday Star Times, Takahē, Headland and Blue Five Notebook. She was awarded second runner-up in the 2014 Sunday Star Times Short Story Competition, and is the recent winner of the 2015 Flash Frontier Winter Writing Award.
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Guest Editors Kathy Fish and Tania Hershman on this issue:
What I am always looking for, but especially with very very short stories, is a piece that marries a compelling story with a love for language, one that grips me from the very start and never lets me go. Yes, even a 250-word flash story can become baggy in the middle! When it comes to fiction inspired by science, here I wanted to be delighted by an original take on a scientific topic, one not constrained by fact but where imagination was let loose – plus the above-mentioned story and love for language. An idea is not enough, you have to find a way to involve the reader in the story, make us feel. I was thrilled by how many submissions we got, and how varied they were – although for quite a few writers science was something done at school and never since! Between us we chose, we hope, a variety of styles and approaches, but all great stories, all not just fitting themselves into the length constraints but celebrating brevity, using it to tell a story that would become an entirely different animal if longer, and often sliding in some science with playfulness. Thank you to all those who submitted, keep playing with science!
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Please also see this month’s feature with Flash Frontier’s September Guest Editors Kathy Fish and Tania Hershman. Many thanks to these writers and editors for sharing their keen eyes and work with us.
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Coming in November: the sky issue.