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 hair made antlers.
Rachel J Fenton was born in Yorkshire and currently lives in Auckland. In 2013 she was winner of the 7th Annual Short FICTION Competition (University of Plymouth), was the recipient of the Flash Frontier Winter Award for excellence in writing and was short-listed for the Fish Publishing International Poetry Prize. She has received numerous honours in previous years, including the 2012 AUT Creative Writing Prize. “Hunters in the Snow” was written for FLASH MOB 2013 and is also highlighted in our features page this month. More here.
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It started with the lake and the spruce trees leaned in for a better look. My toes wandered into the water, which threw out glacial-silt blue and reflected a grey sky. Feet explored further, ahead of myself so that the snow-born water crept up my legs and I was soon on my back. Mushrooms popped tops of heads up through moist dirt to peep. My toes led the way, becoming glacial themselves as the Alaskan current carried me out of the lake and to the river.
Mist began to fall and I became a blue totem: beaver knees, eagle mound, moose-antler breasts, grizzly-bear hair. My skin crystallized, forming snowflake stars over my fingers, shins, then finally my middle.
As a close summer sun came out my blue star skin melted and I became the Kenai.
Jaclyn Bergamino, currently based in Wellington, grew up in the sultry swamps of Florida where she developed an appreciation for the environment and how it shapes our experiences. Since then, she has taught English and art all over the world. Seeing the world through the lenses of other cultures, in other environments, and through the eyes of her students has shaped and informed her writing.
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One snowy night in Cromwell I turned myself into a dark Spanish gentleman, insisting that everyone in the group call me El Matador. I stole a crimson towel from the hotel’s white cupboards and dashed at Matt, who, catching the idea, became the Bull (or El Toro, as they say in the land of La Furia Roja). Between us we managed to overturn a couple of the cafeteria’s tables and several cane chairs, and get ourselves banished to our rooms by our supervisor.
We didn’t go to our rooms. We shot out into the snow, one plunging solid hoofs into the whiteness, the other pressing delicate, barely visible Matador footsteps on the immaculate compactedness. From the verandah, girls cheered us on, waving their scarves, whistling.
We performed our torrid battle beneath the scorching Spanish sun. Picadors on proud stallions encircled us. Hordes in the stands roared their approval, or jetted wine from their botes directly down their throats without swallowing. The air was filled with cigarillo smoke.
My sword was hidden beneath my twisting cloak. El Toro, enraged by the flaming colour, turned and charged. His horn gored my ribcage as my sword plunged into his neck. His blood arced above me, rained down around me. His legs crumbled, he eyed me piteously, fell head first into the sand. My blood dripped on his head. Clutching my side, I stepped forward, tripped, and laughing, rolled onto my back.
Above us, the cold, clear night shone reams of stars.
Mike Crowl is a writer, pianist, composer and actor living in Dunedin. He has been writing for publication since 1989, with most published material these days appearing on one or other of his blogs. Current projects include typing up weekly letters he sent to his family in 1968/9 when he was at the London Opera Centre, and writing a set of songs in which dogs of various shapes and sizes are the focus.
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From Hogmanay to Haukeliseter the Telemark Waters once liquid solidify. I learned to ski, instead of love. Carol King’s earth moved under my feet; the frozen possibilities assumed a shape, snow on ice, ice on water
Boats upturned lay lost ’til summer. Fossen was a destination and destiny a frozen fragment. I followed reindeer tracks, when I might have followed you…but where to?
I slipped my feet into wooden skis and learned to stand by myself. And when I did fall, finally, it was downhill, flying, snow-kissed, knees together, skis pointing forward.
Across glittering kilometres I chased the sun. No snow-plough, no hordes of tourist skiers – just me in my borrowed clobber with my frozen eye-lashes. Tears are wasted in minus 20.
I saw you on Facebook recently. Hat all jaunty, head askew. I knew it was you, and you knew, too. When I tried to find you the next time, you’d blocked me. But you must have known, surely. I wasn’t interested in you. I wanted you to see how far I skied – all those glittering kilometres freestyle, upstanding, the sun at my back. Grateful for the push, my technique now perfected.
They say global warming will splinter icebergs and raise the seas. But your footprints in that snow were buried long ago… just so you know….
Maggie Rainey-Smith is the author of two novels, a published poet and a short story writer. She blogs here and is a regular book reviewer on Beattie’s Blog. She won the 2007 Page & Blackmore short story competition and was short-listed in 2004 for the Landfall Essay Prize and Takahē Cultural Studies essay competition. Her short stories and poetry have been published in Sport, Takahē, The Listener, New Zealand Books and Radio NZ.
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I remember being on top of the world, standing with you at the triple apex of France, Italy and Switzerland, surveying grey silhouettes hewing sea-blue sky and mushily declaring: you can see New Zealand from here, then wishing I hadn’t. A cool peak presaged rapid descent.
I remember the sheer incline and pointing my skis towards crème brûlée and bottles of Côtes du Rhône, and recall my nose tingling and my lips numbing, thin air cleaving a slit in my merino scarf and wind sweeping my breath back down my throat. A whirling spiral in my belly had nothing to do with the cold.
I remember nervously staring down what I’d melodramatically named “the abyss”, and your quiet experience soothing me, as it had the previous night when you wordlessly guided my novice hand’s greedy stroke. I remember being excited and afraid.
I remember asking you why are they called “black runs” – anything to do with protruding rocks? and your eyes laughing and you saying that I’d be fine, you were pretty certain it meant nothing concerning, otherwise it’d be “red run”, surely? — but I could look it up later to prove you wrong. As if you could be, I remember thinking.
I remember you giving me a push, free falling, then grasping, then understanding.
Split open on ice, clinging to delible flakes of dreamlight and diminishing whispers, my mind’s eye blind-blank with whiteout, the voice in my head growing silent as snow falling, I can’t not remember you.
Derek Jones is a writer who lives near Puhoi. He has just finished writing the unauthorised autobiography of Anonymous_Author© and has pledged to write using his real name until the fictional literary voice he created has its memoirs published. Patently, judging by the book’s description, he may be submitting as Derek Jones for some time.
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There’s a chance of snow. Kyle has never seen snow before. It seems irrelevant, up here on the hot-as-hell fourth floor of his university hostel. He reaches over to turn up his stereo, the thumping bass roaring into the vacuum in his chest. Raylene next door bangs on the wall. He can’t hear what she’s saying over the music and quite frankly he doesn’t care. He yells “Fuck off” even though she can’t hear that either and turns his attention to the task at hand. The pills lined up on his bed are blue and white and two-tone green-cream. So much for the Prozac — what a waste of time. He turns the stereo down, hears raucous laughter down the hall. Arseholes. He swallows some pills, chases them with gin, gags, swallows some more. He didn’t know it would take so long. The puking starts an hour later, lasts for three. He passes out at some point, wakes to see an odd grey-yellow light filling the room. Life is giving him another chance. He doesn’t want it. Acid bile and alcohol bubble up his throat as he lurches towards the window. There’s the snow after all, alabaster white under a china blue southern sky. He opens the window as far as it will go and swings his legs over the sill. He breathes in, the sharp air cutting into his lungs like a razor blade, then spreads his arms. Waits for a chance of snow.
Eileen Merriman lives and works on the North Shore in Auckland. She is currently working on a book (fiction) and has recently completed a Creative Hub creative writing course. Her interests include reading, writing, running and the outdoors.
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She says it’s snowing over there in Nevada. I say it’s hot here, I’ve been for a swim. She says I wish, and I say I could do with snow. Only it never snows in Northland.
Remember the first time we saw snow? I ask her. When you were a little girl.
She says she likes the snow, but it’s cold and she has to wrap up to go outside, and how’s the beach?
Hot, I say. Do you miss it?
Sometimes, she says. She lives in a town in the middle of the desert where it snows in winter. In summer, under a high, relentless sun, temperatures go to over a hundred degrees according to Mr Fahrenheit, and purple sage struggles low and twisted across the empty barren hills.
I have sage in the garden, for cooking. And thyme. Is she eating properly?
Yes, she grows her own veggies, but it’s winter now and everything dies. Each year she plants flowers and waits for spring.
It’s near dinner time there. What is she having?
It sounds good, I say. Eat well. Sleep well. Take care. I love you.
I love you too.
I don’t say, When are you coming home?
Daphne Clair de Jong, author of almost 80 romantic and historical novels published worldwide, is a past winner of the Katherine Mansfield BNZ Short Story Award and other awards, has had numerous short stories and articles published in magazines and anthologies, and some poetry in literary magazines. She also tutors writing in nearly all genres and until recently ran the world-famous-in-New Zealand Kara School of Writing and Karaveer Writers’ Retreat in rural Northland.
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We’d moved to a cottage in the Cork mountains – floor of stone and roof of slate, and joined at one end to another room with its own door, home to an amiable sow.
The hearth was barely warmed before snow covered the land, freezing it hard.
The bog froze.
Likewise the streams.
Our eyrie presided over an icy land.
We burned turf, a small hill’s worth delivered to the side of the road, our embarrassment at this wealth less acute as we ventured through the longest winter in Ireland’s memory.
The heart of the cottage was the hearth. It had a movable crane on which to hang pots, and embers from yesterday’s fire enlivened newly placed turf each morning.
Weather permitting, we worked, landscaping an apiary nearby, scraping away snow to expose curiously shaped rock formations. Among these we prepared areas of soil.
Then back to the hearth, turf on the fire.
As it had ever been, the toilet was a nearby wood, past cattle, snow melting on their glowing backs and on sun-bright mornings, their hoofs clattering, their breath steaming. Holly trees glittered in hoar frost where as months passed, birds searched anxiously for remaining berries.
Someone had waved a wand.
Imprisoned in a spell, a white severe eternity, we didn’t dare imagine the day when indeed we’d see, pushing through the snowy crust something of wonder and a symbol of release – the cold ironic spring beauty of the Snowdrop, and the promise of the Lesser Celandine.
John Ward moved to Nelson following the Christchurch shake-up and joined the South Island Writers’ Association who mentioned Flash Frontier in a recent newsletter. He read through some of the pieces and was tempted to try.
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My father tells me. There are only three types of people: the ones you love, the ones who love you, and everybody else. Don’t ever forget.
I nod as if I understand, but I am only six, nine, fourteen. I’ve heard these words for as long as I can remember. The birthday kiss on the cheek. The handing over of a present. Not opening it until I have repeated the advice and remembered the difference.
In the church porch my father asks me to repeat the mantra. Our voices echo. He nods, kisses me, takes my arm. I walk towards the altar in a measured pace as if ploughing a furrow between my old life and the new. Glorious splashes of colour from the stained glass wash over my white dress.
On either side and ahead, are the ones who love me, the ones I love and everybody else.
It is winter. Only the unprepared go out seeking essential supplies. Or help. I close the door behind me and step into the new snow covering yesterday’s tracks. My bruised cheek and split lip smart in the cold. I wrap my scarf tighter and tuck my face into my hood. The softness of the wool makes me cry.
My footprints leave hollows in the snow, like windows to springtime.
I walk away from everybody else and head towards my father’s house.
Jane Swan’s house and garden run wild because she spends time daydreaming and writing. She is newsletter editor for the Waitaki Writers’ Group. Successes include two Radio New Zealand stories and others published in local and daily newspapers, Alfie Dog Ltd and Essentially Food. She has also been highly commended in the Heartland Short Story Competition and short-listed in the Sunday Star Times competition. Jane is trying to find an agent or publisher for her first novel.
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Following in his footsteps she concentrated on pace, rhythm, the ground. It was better than looking up, seeing the joy on his face, the alien landscape of white and grey that made her feel like a bug about to be squished. The going was hard – up hill all the way – it was always up hill. She stopped to catch her breath, to draw gulps of frozen air deep into lungs, the landscape enveloping, threatening to swallow her whole. She had taken the chance, thinking she could conquer through the love she had for him and lost. The numbness was now complete. He turned to face her, snowflakes gathering in the hollows of his clothing and said, “Hurry up, we’ve only got a couple more hours of daylight.” She looked down at the plains of untouched snow running parallel with their tracks, and momentarily saw the golden sands of her youth – like a blank canvas perfect for making angels. All she had to do was lie down, pretend she was at the beach, and wave her arms and legs like a mad thing. She closed eyes, tasted salt on the tip of her tongue, and wondered how long it would take for the snow to fill the angel in. His voice interrupted, “Come on. We haven’t got all day.” A glance behind showed their steps were already half filled, in another hour they would probably be completely gone. She shrugged and bent forward to continue, he wouldn’t have understood anyway.
Rebecca Simons is an ex-office worker who discovered short story writing while enjoying a mid-life crisis. Although her university years were spent studying European language and culture, she has found an even greater challenge in mastering the use of her maternal language, English, and hopes to continue with this challenge for many years to come.
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My birth certificate reads Benita Jackson. Tess says I used to be called Ben but I’ve only ever known myself as Jo.
Tess is five years older than me and knows everything. She says I was a “difficult conception and a difficult birth.” Because Mom and Dad couldn’t have the son they wanted they named me after Grandpa Ben. Grandpa Ben ate apples to the core, she said.
When I was six months old Uncle Joe died and, according to Tess, that’s when they changed my name to Jo.
Joe’s death haunted Dad. One night he just up and left in the middle of a snow storm. When I was older I asked Tess why. She said Grandpa Ben was wrong about the core and that’s why Uncle Joe died. But an apple never killed anyone – except Snow White and that doesn’t count.
Every Christmas Dad sent a postcard and money. Mom threw the postcards away and spent the money on wine. Last Christmas he sent a postcard from Sterling, Massachusetts. He’d bought an apple orchard an hour out of Boston.
“See?” I said to Tess. “Dad wouldn’t buy an apple orchard if apples killed Uncle Joe.”
Today I’m eighteen. I jump off the back of the truck as it rumbles past the end of Dad’s drive. It’s close to midnight. He’s sitting on his porch; fireflies flicker and music spreads out into the night.
He splashes amber liquid into a tumbler and hands it over.
“Hello, Ben,” he says.
Kathryn Jenkins unexpectedly started writing flash fiction as a result of a workshop exercise and has written at least one a month since. She’s still surprised at what turns up on the page and wonders where the ideas come from. She hopes they will never dry up.
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(Let da unfamiliar wirds* flow over you like kaavin skalva. Or, if you must, consult Shetland and Scots dictionaries. You’ll need several. Pretty dancers? If you’ve seen them, you’ll know them.)
Noon. Half light. Filskit bairns. Fish frae da skeo for da laird. Da haari wind. Pretty dancers. Sneeb. Flukra. Peerie fanns. Blinnd-moorie. Kaavin skalva. Doonlay. Moorie-caavie. Muckle fanns. Peat-reek in claes, hair, lungs. Makkin. Bundlin.
Rollin. Pitchin. Stinkin. Pukin. Da oobin wind. Weevils in da parritch. Ship fever. Ocean burial. Landfall. Bush wi tangles. Da haari wind. Bunghy hut. Mud. Filskit bairns. Possum stew from camp oven. Makkin. Coortin. Wood-reek in claes, hair, lungs. Nae laird.
Here, now, south.
Stranded cars. Stuck buses. No work, no school. Mittens, beanies, parkas, gumboot socks. Snowmen, snowballs, toboggans, adrenalin, pink noses, blue fingers, toes. Heat pump. Hot soup. Pretty as a jigsaw. Cosy as a curled cat.
The screeching wind. Buried cars, stock, farm bikes. Dead lambs in stacks. Staunch cockies pitching in. Black ice. Fractured limbs. Snowed-in ambulances. Burst pipes. Frozen hotties. Cold meals. Woodburners, generators (while fuel lasts). Pretty dancers. Fiscal glee, at snowfields and curling lakes (once roads are cleared). Scenic as a Hobbit film. Cold as a crevasse.
*”Wird” is pronounced like the first two letters of “win”, followed by a double-length “r” before the “d”.
Karen Peterson Butterworth is of Paleolithic British, Celtic, Viking, Anglosaxon and God-knows-what-else descent. She loves wirds, and possesses hybrid vigour, small-island cunning and stubbornness. She has published a bit and has some prize certificates on her study wall.
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Paul woke at 5 am.
He and Cristiane had got used to sleeping through the farting of early morning trucks engine-braking onto the bypass — different to the farting of fat water buffalo or the belching of lugubrious camels.
The silence woke him. He knew it had snowed, enough to stop trucks.
He lay remembering other sounds that had marked their lives. His favourite: rain, marching across the jungle to rat-a-tat-tat on their leaf-thatched hut, raked by lightning and rattled by thunder. Cristiane preferred the wind soughing through Aleppo pines on the Algerian coast where she grew up. Dreadful sounds, human screams of pain or hate, he chose not to remember.
They’d met in Darfur, sent by different NGOs. Thrown together by deeds of charity, love took them, together, to other “conflict situations”, so many of them in hot countries. But recently he and Cristiane had come home to the snows of his native Canada and its first-world medical care.
He looked across at the outline of her figure in the hospice bed set up in their apartment, the IV tube no longer connected, the machine at rest. He got up and knelt at Cristiane’s bedside. He watched the faint flutter of her eyelids, listened to her shallow, uneven breathing. He stayed kneeling, holding her hand until, as softly as a falling snowflake, her last breath floated away.
Then there was only the sound of snow.
Peter Adams won the PEN International first book of non-fiction award for Fatal Necessity, his book about the annexation of New Zealand and the Treaty of Waitangi. After a career in international relations, and many bureaucratic documents later, he is trying the challenge of writing short fiction and poetry. Peter lives at the edge of Wellington harbour, which provides plenty of stimulus.
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Sometimes grown women dress up as swans and dance around in front of an audience. Then they die of a broken heart, a sinking pavlova, shivering and pale.
The shape of the bat is for men. Flapping and swooping and so strong that when they turn their heads, their bodies have to follow.
Sometimes women get black too, pour themselves in and the sticky night holds them as they teeter and clatter over rooftops, sounding like Christmas coming.
But for men – no white. No twitching feathery dance, no crumble tumble darling. Snow rabbits and polar bears melt all too quick in global warming.
Originally from Christchurch, Zoë Meager completed a Masters of Creative Writing at the University of Auckland in 2012. Her story “Things with Faces” won the Pacific Region Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2013, and is published online at Granta, and her other work has been published in various journals and received commendations. In “This is how it works” she alludes to archetypal gendered icons (Odette, Batman, Catwoman) and their respective black and white imagery, playing on the idea that the sexes are opposite and inviting reflection on masculinity.
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The day you burned my book began with a sneeze. Nothing unusual – I always wake with a sneeze poised in my nostrils, like a greyhound waiting for the starting box to open. Well, the starting box had opened and I was ready for the day.
It was light for a June morning, but my breath glittered and ice rimed the curtainless window. Our shared bohemian dream, romantic in its conception, turned icier by the day but the sex was still full of heat and gluttony, and I had my first edition E.E. Cummings’ Tulips and Chimneys for restoration of faith. “Utter nonsense”, you would joke as you flicked through your not-so-glossy car magazines.
I got up to pee. The old toilet had once been an outhouse, but your grandfather had cobbled together an internal access from the lounge. Wrapped in the quilt and barefoot, I scuttled down the hall from worn rug to worn rug, hoping that you’d already lit the fire.
You were sitting on the red vinyl back-seat of your first Falcon, reading Autocar. There was an impotent fire, not much more than a glow. Ah well, I would pee and return for a snuggle. As you turned and flashed your one-sided smile at me, I saw the torn page on the hearth:
…while of faint hills do frailly go
The peaceful terrors of the snow,
and before your dead face
I grabbed the fire tongs and plucked out the scorched remnants of my faith.
Jac Jenkins privately believes that her greatest writing accomplishment was the highly commended award for tidy writing that she won in primary school, as her handwriting is exceptionally poor. Luckily she writes all of her poetry and flash on the laptop these days. In 2012 she was awarded a mentorship through the NZ Society of Authors and worked closely with acclaimed poet Sue Wootton. The above story contains a segment from the poem “Songs, III” in E.E. Cummings’ Tulips and Chimneys, Thomas Seltzer, New York, 1923.
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The snow had started to thaw in the last few days, melting in the sun, then hardening into black ice overnight. Senior Constable Rewi trod carefully between the Dunedin bungalows, stopping outside a beige block of pensioner flats.
Rewi knocked with increasing volume on the front door, but received no response. He stood back, then rammed the door with his shoulder’s full force and stepped into the flat. He walked around, calling her name, noting her life’s detritus. A half-eaten lamb chop amongst the dirty dishes stacked in the kitchen sink. Six eggs, a pack of instant porridge sachets and a loaf of mouldy bread: the cupboards’ only contents. Bottles of lurid nail polish and make-up samples lined up neatly along the shelves of her bathroom cabinet. The rest of the bathroom covered in mould and dirt, towels strewn on the floor. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis: the lounge bookshelf’s only inhabitant. A shabby fur coat and a black felt hat with yellow ribbon slung over a chair. A pair of sensible black boots on the floor.
Opening her bedroom door, Rewi was assaulted by a wave of heat and smell. Empty cigarette packets and an overflowing ashtray lay beside her single bed, with its bed clothes pulled over her motionless form.
Rewi sighed. Another death this winter. The tape would stay across the door until her life could be removed.
Gretchen Carroll lives in Auckland with her husband and son, and makes a crust in communications. Outside of work she enjoys writing short stories and travel features. She also illustrated the children’s book The Magic Giraffe and Other Breakfast Stories, published October 2011 and available in Auckland libraries.
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A blood bead rises where the needle pierces white skin.
She remembers a story with a needle and a drop of blood bright against the snow. But it’s not her story.
In her story the needle takes her to another place, where all is muffled, like inside a womb, inside an igloo, inside the snow. Yes.
As she slides down the wall, the syringe falls, spinning from her hand.
She remembers a story with a spindle falling, slippery with blood, into a well, and a girl following it down, down. Falling down to another place.
Where there are flowers and talking apples and freshly baked bread. It is perfect, a magical idyll. It is Euphoria. There’s an old woman at an upstairs window, beckoning. She is hunched and hooked, with fingers like pretzels and breath as sweet and as sinister as gingerbread. Mother? Is that? No, it’s Mother Holle who puts her to singing-skipping work.
And now she shakes the eiderdown at the window and the feathers fall like snow, falling down, down falling. She laughs as the world is covered with her feathersnow. Until all is muffled by her whiteout. Shhh.
She comes round on the cubicle floor, covered in the filth and flood of her melted dreams.
She remembers in the story there were two girls. Yes, that’s right, the good girl came back covered in gold, the greedy girl in pitch.
Perhaps this is her story after all, but she knows she’s not the golden girl.
Sian Williams is editor at Flash Frontier. She has no problem with needles or blood but has been terrified of Mother Holle ever since she borrowed a book of German folktales from the library when she was six.
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Shards came down, not the light flakes that dance on your tongue and remind you of your laughing sisters, but the kind that bite and sting, that freeze you in this moment even as you try to retreat into the warmth of your mind. The kind that make you run for cover. But here there was no cover.
Not anywhere. Miriam looked around the desolate landscape and saw only burnt-out houses and ashen hills. She had left her village months before, searching for survivors. She slept in caves and ate what little fungi and lichen she could find. She learnt to hide from wolves and pierce a hare through the heart with one swift arrow. Each village she passed was the same. No survivors. She took fur-lined boots from one house, dried fish from another.
Once she came across a small fawn, lying lame under a bush. She fed it berries from a frozen nawk-nawk bush. She knew she should keep going but something kept her there. She slept with her face near the fawn’s, breaths meeting in the narrow space between noses. When the fawn died, she covered it in pine needles and stayed till dawn. Nothing should die alone here, or make the after-journey in the dark.
With only instinct guiding her, Miriam wrapped herself in her woollen cloak, and continued north. Shards fell from the sky and she walked on, searching for survivors and drawing strength from the warmth of a fawn’s breath.
Michelle Elvy is founding editor at Flash Frontier. She sailed to Alaska once, and the higher latitudes continue to fuel her imagination — even if she’s admittedly more comfortable in sub-tropical Northland.
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Please also see this month’s feature with contributors Kathryn Jenkins, Martin Porter, Leanne Radojkovich, Jaclyn Bergamino and Rachel Fenton, who is the winner of the 2013 Winter Award for excellence in writing.
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Coming in October: an international issue with stories themed rescued.