If You Scream Long Enough into Darkness

Cheryl Burman

I lounged by the Coke machine, face, hair, clothes grimed with dust from riding in the back of a farmer’s pickup for forty miles. My sweat-wet Tee stuck to me, back and front. I plucked at it as I stared across the glare of the garage forecourt.

There wasn’t much out there. A flat plain stretched away under a searing sky, red-rusted and spotted with stumpy trees like the face of an acne’d teenager. Distant hills made for a better view, lifting range after range, echoes weakening to a soft-edged smoky haze.

The lone pump in use stopped with universal abruptness. The user, out of my sightline, noisily jiggled the nozzle, slotted it back in place with a clunk. That’s when I took notice of the car itself. Especially its plate, which must have sent a subliminal message to have me thinking of the softening hills.

‘Echo’

No number, like the only echo in the world belonged on that car. As a Brit, I quietly mocked the worship of the V whatever engine in this part of the world. No mocking this beauty though. Fifties, early sixties? Long as a swimming pool, tail fins stolen from a jet rocket and a wraparound silver grille wide as a shark’s mouth. Pale pink. A Monroe car, all heat and glamour. I stood for a closer look.

‘She’s a beauty, eh?’ A more organic beauty of about the same vintage walked towards me, perfectly balanced on four inch heels below leggy cut-off jeans. She jangled a heavy set of keys in slim, red varnished fingers. Giant sunglasses held back waving hair bleached by sun, or chemicals. Cheekbones as sharp as the car’s tail fins.

‘Yours?’

‘You betcha. My twin.’ She smiled an American white dazzle. ‘El Dorado, ’62.’

She gestured over her shoulder at the car. A pale band on her ringless third finger told me part of the story. Trading on the country’s renowned openness, I tilted my head in the direction of her hand.

‘Consolation prize?’

‘You might say that.’ She waved the hand, dark brows arching. ‘His was fire hydrant red.’ Her smile flattened into a grimace. ‘He drove it off into the sunset, the required pretty young thing tucked into his side.’

A story as old as those mountain ranges.

‘Sorry.’

‘He was sorry too.’ She pulled the sunglasses down, peered over the edge. ‘Later.’

I wanted to hear the rest. She seemed a woman who could sculpt sharp, deadly edges into revenge. I relished the anticipation with tingling spine.

She left me speculating.

‘If you scream long enough into darkness,’ was all she said, ‘darkness starts screamin’ back into you.’

I pressed my sunburned lips together and nodded, feigning wisdom beyond my gap year status.

Her glittering red lipsticked smile relit. ‘Offer you a ride?’


This story was the winner of the ECHO themed flash competition from September 2021.

About the author: Cheryl Burman came late to writing, inspired largely by where she lives, in a beautiful forest. Over the past few years she’s published a children’s fantasy trilogy, a slim collection of short stories (several of them prize winning/commended) and a women’s fiction novel which is being met with positive reviews. In between getting on with two current projects, she’s much involved in her local writing scene including working with students in local schools to encourage their creative spark. 

Grief Like the Apple Tree Grows Crooked Not Straight

E. E. Rhodes

Crumble

It’s your face in the mirror, even though there’s no one left to see. Your fingertips touch mine on the glass. Cold. Like the other side of a winter death.

I tell Tam it’s your fingerprints I leave.

Harvest

I hear your voice in the night. Tam asks what the matter is, says I was crying in my sleep. I tell him you were shouting. Calling my name.

He holds my hand in the too quiet dark. Mumbles something soothing. Sorry, I tell him. Sorry, she woke us again.

Fruit

I sit at your desk opening the drawers. Each one smells of you. Apples and autumn, and a hint of clove. I drown in the me-myself familiar scent.

I leave the drawers open while I make lunch in the kitchen.

Later, I close each of them one by one. Like a morgue, I tell Tam. Just like morgue drawers.

Pollination

Tam brings figs home from the farmer’s market.

I tell him you found wasp grubs inside one once. After that you would always say figs tasted like an anticipation of death.

I stew the figs with honey, and add cream. Tam says they taste like life. I tell him I agree.

I want it to be true.

Blossom

I leave a branch of apple blossom on your grave. We haven’t chosen the stone yet. None of us know what it should say.

People think I’ve some special insight. But it’s not true.

You’re ever farther from me. As I go on. Almost alone.

Bud

I tell myself I can start over. Grow into something new. I tell Tam this over supper. He nods. Asks what I need.

A future. I tell him. Not just a past.

I try not to show how fragile I still feel.

Branch

The solicitor says you’ve left me your flat. I know this was probably more by chance than anything else.

Philip phones and whines. Says it should be his. Talks about the shelves he put up.

I remind him he left, before you did.

He always thought I was a pale version of you, no substance of my own.

I tell him not to phone again.

Tam smiles when he passes me a glass of wine.

Trunk

I don’t think of you for three days straight.

Tam asks if it’s a new lipstick. It is, I tell him. And a new dress. And a new haircut.

It’s my face in the mirror.

It is.

You wouldn’t approve.

Root

We take all your things to Oxfam. Or to be recycled. Or to the dump.

All I save is a face that looks the same as yours.

Seed

Over coffee, my boss asks what it’s like to lose a twin. I tell her to ask me again when I have.

But, I talk about you in the past tense.

The lipstick leaves an unfamiliar pink smile on the cup. I fit my mouth to it again. And again. And again.


This story was a runner-up in the ECHO themed flash competition from September 2021.

About the author: E. E. Rhodes is an archaeologist who lives in Wiltshire, in England, with many books, a tolerant partner, and at least a couple of mice in the wainscotting. She can be found on twitter @electra_rhodes and has had work published in a range of anthologies, journals, and collections. She’s currently working on a flash novella set in Wales.

Aircooled VW Baja

Emily Macdonald

Step 1: Raise the beetle and remove the wheels.

For a modest man, you like a car that attracts attention. Oily blackness lies under your nails, dots, and spots your face, inking your skin. You show me your manual. Ten easy steps.

“Sweet as”. You flick your fingers then slide, skating away on your trolley so only your lower legs protrude from under the car.

Step 2: Remove the engine cover and the rear bumper.

A car that says surfer, off-roader, mechanic, Mad Max.

Step 3: Take off the running boards and the rear fenders.

That says dunes and Sex Wax, sand tracks through marram grass.

Step 4: Undo the throttle cable and remove wires.

Riptides and swell, the resin of pine trees from Muriwai Woodhill spit-sticking on the off-shore wind.

Step 5: Cut off the rear apron.

Escape the apron strings, you say as if that’s supposed to be funny. Exposed and essential. Emissions as raw as roll bars. Essential roll bars — so it turns out.

Step 6: Take out the engine from the engine bay.

Remove everything surplus, take out the back seat and floor mats. Remove the muffler.

Make some noise. Let that engine reverberate. Practice brace and acceleration in an empty downtown car park, just to hear that sound. Ricocheting off concrete, echoing deep into underground recesses.

Step 7: Mark out and cut the fenders to shape.

Flared for fats. Clearance to slide on tight corners. You’re in a tight corner boyfriend, ten easy steps—I repeat back what you said.

Step 8: Remove the welds

Customised for driving from Kawhia to Raglan, airborne over hot black iron sands.

Step 9: Reinstall and reconnect the Baja Bug engine.

Air cool. Cool as wrap ‘round, black shades, you dude.

Step 10: Put the fat wheels back on the BugBlonde.

Suspension of summer, with a slab of cold beer. Suspended upside down on slip-sliding sand. Wind switches and surf booms and thunders. Exhausted hot pipes burn me, searing a deep-reminding scar.


Emily Macdonald was born in the UK but emigrated with her family to New Zealand as a child. She grew up in Auckland and studied English at Auckland University. After completing her degree, she did a one-year postgraduate course in creative writing with Albert Wendt. She started working and learning about wine as a student and has worked in the wine trade ever since. She began pursuing her interest in creative writing again at the beginning of 2020. Emily left New Zealand in 1990 to travel and now lives in south London with her partner and their two teenage children.

You Are Entering the Tunnel of Love

Frances Gapper

Flashing skeletons, bats and phantoms. I wonder if this ride was once a ghost train. But it did say Tunnel of Love, in big pink letters around the entrance. 

Young women clutch their hair and scream. The guys try to look cool.

Amid the leaping out and woohooing, I stay calm. I put up my hand, to keep cobwebs from brushing my face. Having been in a long-term relationship, I know this is nothing, nothing. 

My ex was scared of me, but vicious too. Always getting in his little digs.

The boat is stuck. How do I call for help?


This story was shortlisted in the November 2021 Monthly Micro Competition.

About the author: Frances Gapper’s micro She’s Gone was published by Wigleaf and is included in Best Microfiction 2021. Recent work in Twin Pies, Truffle, MacQueen’s Quinterly, Sledgehammer, Stone of Madness, Blink Ink, Versification. @biddablesheep

Words Slapped on a Garden Sign: Reap What You Sow

Connie Boland

Five days after the last time she spoke to her father, Carrie staggered from pub to pub, police station to hospital. Inquiring about a troubled man with a pinched face, swollen knuckles, and tense shoulders.

“No sign of him,” they said.

She talked to neighbours, friends, coworkers. Searched garage, and basement. Behind the cellar, Carrie crowbarred a thick, wooden door. Moist air smelled like rusty pipes. A frayed cable scratched her upturned face. 

Six days after her father went missing, Carrie watched her mother’s crooked fingers tenderly knead healthy soil into a desolate garden. Carrie never mentioned the man again.


This story was shortlisted in the November 2021 Monthly Micro Competition.

About the author: Connie Boland is a freelance journalist and fledging creative writer, mother, grandmother, and avid hiker in Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador.

We Watch Each Other for the Signs

Joanne Key

Yesterday, my neighbour stood a vase in the window with a single red rose in it and blew me a kiss. Today – a painting of two people dancing. He waltzes around the room with a pillow. He makes me laugh. Maybe in a different life we might have had a thing. Through binoculars, I watch him rush off again. When he comes back this time, he looks worried, swaps the rose for the red cross, flashing on and off. We close the shutters together, lie under our beds, listening to the thud of their feet outside, their deep growls.


This story was shortlisted in the November 2021 Monthly Micro Competition.

About the author: Joanne key lives in Cheshire where she writes poetry and short fiction.