Following June’s Festival of Flash, we asked several more BSF contributors to share their story. Below we include a small number of from the forthcoming volume, with contributors reading plus commentary.
Does the Pig…?
Does the pig run?
Does the pig run and jump over the fence?
Does the pig, fleeing the farmer, run toward the fence, to jump the fence?
Does the pig, fleeing the farmer, who is brandishing a dull rusty knife, run toward the fence, which is in disrepair, and leap into a kind of freedom?
Does the pig, fleeing the balding farmer, who is brandishing a dull and rusty knife, a knife he inherited from his grandfather, speed toward the fence, rotten from termites and broken by teenagers the night before, to find himself in freedom?
Does the wiry-haired pig, fleeing the bald overweight farmer, the man who is holding tight to his grandfather’s knife, a knife used to cull generations of pigs, flee toward the broken-down fence, sailing over it to freedom?
Does the pig with wiry white hair, who just this morning was concentrating on a mud pool he favored, run from the farmer—who looks like he is at death’s door to be honest—and yet who is still white-knuckling a knife, a knife he got from his grandad, a knife used to slaughter pigs over many decades, a knife that was once iron in a quiet hillside, does this pig run to toward the fence, broken by local teens during a night of drunken balance beaming—though the teens were only a proximate cause since the slats had been weakened by termites—to freedom?
Does our friend the pig, covered in mud from his favorite mud pool, run from the hungry farmer who loves his knife, the knife that Pappy gave him to spill gallons of porcine blood, a knife that was once quiet iron living, in its way, inside a hill, does this very pig zoom on over toward a fence—a fence used the night before in a balancing act by two teenage girls staying out later than they told their parents they would, drinking from a bottle of wine—and pass into a realm of freedom?
Does the muddy pig, who was recently having some of his best mud thoughts and mud sensations in his mud pool, fly from a farmer who wields his grandpa’s knife—a knife used in the past for killing animals but before that was just sitting there in the dark earth—fly from the farmer and toward the fence, luckily broken by two teens under the moonlight—teens who, the night before laughed when the wood snapped and caught each other—and does the prenominated pig, picking up speed near the end, jump gracefully over the broken fence into freedom?
Does the pig belong to a trinity we might call “knife—pig—man,” a configuration in which the man dreams of being a knife, the knife dreams of being iron in a hill, and the pig dreams of being a drunk teenage girl balancing on a narrow, rotted board, the same board whose nocturnal collapse has cleared the way for the pig to jump into freedom?
No. The pig stays where he is.
First published in Hex Literary Journal
On Wearing Pig Masks During the Commission of Crimes
In 2017, an armed man wearing a pig mask burglarised a Rolex store at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. Later that same year, a man in Manitoba, Canada stole 5k worth of goods in a pig costume. More recently, in Malvern, Worcestershire, UK, a man in a pig mask was arrested for frightening children on their way to school. These are just a few data points, of course, but they suggest a minor swine mask crime trend in the U.S. and Commonwealth countries. Wearing a mask encourages the stepping over of lines we might not cross with bare faces. But if any sort of anonymity will serve, why not a dog or a vole or an emu mask? Maybe a pig mask is simply what these men had ready-to-hand, but it’s hard not to imagine a greater will at work. Jacob Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology documents the pig’s role as the primary sacrificial animal of the ancient Germans. The pig’s entire life – every meal, every romp –was dedicated to spilling its blood for the gods. The role of the pig is the same today, sans the gods. This long history of shabby treatment is probably upsetting if you’re a reflective sort of pig, and I wonder if unquiet pig ghosts, ancient and modern, aren’t enacting a subtle symbolic vengeance on human beings, compelling desperate men to become their law-breaking avatars so that we slowly begin to fear the pig as we fear the wolf, the lion and each other.
Nick Story is from Columbus, Ohio. His fiction has appeared in The Normal School, The Indiana Review, The Florida Review Online and The Adroit Journal. His website is nick-story.com.
In This Tale of a Suburban Tiger, the Part of the Mother is Played by a Bird
Your mother flies away today. She rugs up in her warmest feathers, her favourite yellow cardigan, worn soft in the wash, and her best plaid slacks. With a round carry-case over her shoulder, she shakes her hollow bones, flexes her wings and sails into the sky. You wonder if she plans to ever return. You wonder if the tiger knows she’s leaving.
You chase her as far as the river, where the water shines like a scatter of silver coin and white gulls scream under a high sun. The birds fly to meet her; they wheel and swoop and tangle in the long stream of her once-auburn hair.
You look for clues to explain her departure. You check among the paperbarks that straggle the edge of the river bank, glance under the pilings at the bridge, you wade through tall rushes. Her nest is not too hard to find.
It looks old, and carefully crafted from sticks and spider-web; it’s steeped in her lemon scent. In it, there are broken feathers and three white teeth, streaked with blood. Big-cat curved. You pick them up, they lie bone-cool in the palm of your hand. Your mother circles low, cries a cut-glass cry, then soars with the wind, away. That’s when you’re sure she knew about the tiger. That’s when you’re sure she lied.
You’d tried to tell her you were afraid. Showed her where the tiger hunted after dark, where he paced in the shelter of the trees that line your street, licked his heavy paws with a rough tongue under your broken porch light, or prowled the hallway while she slept and you didn’t. You’d picked at strands of his blaze-orange coat, snagged on broken nails and jagged fencing, pointed out deep prints in the grass. You begged her to protect you. There’s no such thing as tigers in the suburbs, your mother said. But she wouldn’t meet your eyes.
The last you see of her, she’s heading for the offing, far from the river banks, out to sea. You stand on the edge of the shoreline, try to call her back but she’s beyond blood ties. Behind you, you sense the prickle of a watchful gaze. You feel the damp, smoky fingers of approaching jungle mist, curling through the mud flats and around the water reeds. It reminds you of a hot, thick breath crawling over your skin late at night when your mother is asleep.
First published in Splonk
For a time, when I was a child, I became convinced a Bengal tiger was stalking our garden, under the washing line out the back. There are no tigers in Australia, but I remember my conviction and I remember the burning outrage when no one believed me. With this piece I drew on that memory to weave a much darker tale. I wanted to highlight the way children make sense of the world when they don’t have any other way to find meaning, including in the way they process trauma. It was hard to chisel out the finished story, to hold the surreal and mystical within a clear narrative arc, I wrote many, many drafts. Gave up on it more than once. But it niggled. Finding the right title went a long way in helping it come together. I chose second person (eventually) for the intensity it brings to short fiction and to magic realism. Originally, the parent was a father. I felt it would be more impactful to make the character a mother instead, because we tend to see that role as sacrosanct and it felt more interesting to challenge that. This story was a lesson for me in perseverance, and like most things I am proud of, it relied heavily on considered feedback from others, in workshops run by Kathy Fish and SmokeLong Quarterly. And I am so grateful to Irish journal, Splonk, for loving my story too.
Gillian O’Shaughnessy is a prize-winning short fiction author from Walyalup/Fremantle, Western Australia. She spent twenty-five years with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as a journalist and radio presenter and curated Writer’s Weekend for Perth Festival in 2022. Her short fiction has been widely published in journals and anthologies in the United States, Britain, and Australia and she’s a submissions editor with US flash fiction journal, SmokeLong Quarterly. Find her at gillianoshaughnessy.com.
The Last Fall
We rushed to the windows, jostled each other to teeter on desks, heels straining for balance, ties arrowing all ways. We pressed palms to glass, look, look, and turned our heads to ask, can we, can we? And our bosses nodded, yes, yes, because who would be that cruel, besides they were already at the doors themselves, so we cluttered and bumped and there was almost a crush, a few did fall but others hoisted them back up, people who’d never even said a good morning before, and outside there were more of us, spilling, swirling out of buildings, asking was it real – not just the artificial stuff used in museums – and we flew out our tongues, dodged dewy-nosed missiles; grew furred and freckled while the earth birthed soft bandages and buried the raw shrivel of our inertia.
What’s it called? somebody asked. We wiggled brows at one another, those few of us ancient enough, who’d seen airbrushed photos, back when light followed dark and we’d had untamed land to spare, but we couldn’t remember. We attempted breathy sounds: soufflé, slow worm, blush? The word wouldn’t come.
Then somebody said ‘joy’. Wasn’t it called joy? We cupped our hands around this joy, sifted it through each other’s fingers, nibbled its edges. Let its fullness in our mouths flurry our insides. And although we knew in our hibernated hearts that the word wasn’t quite right, knew we’d gotten this wrong like so many things, still, somehow, it seemed to fit.
First published in Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction
This story was one of those that arrived one night and emerged the next day as an almost fully-formed piece. If somebody asked me to write a flash fiction about climate change, or about a future where things we took for granted no longer existed, I wouldn’t know where to start. It feels overwhelming. But it nudges into my writing, here and there, in ways that maybe the shortest of fiction makes possible. I remember being in an online meeting where somebody, an academic who lived in a country where snow was pretty much the norm, told us how excited he’d been to see it the day before for the first time that year, how he’d rushed outside with his kids, abandoning his work for later. Hearing him made me feel happy, and connected. There is that universality to the wonder of snow, the sometimes suddenness of it, the transformative effect it has, making the world somehow new and full of possibility. For me, this piece delves into the horrifying potential for loss. But it’s also about hope. The idea that even if we forget the detail, the words, the context, we might still be able to carry a shared memory of the spirit that can unite us.
Linda Grierson-Irish’s short fiction has appeared in Flash Frontier, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Unbroken Journal, 100 Word Story, Reflex Fiction, Aesthetica Creative Writing Award, Ellipsis Zine, TSS and elsewhere. Her work has been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and Bath Flash Fiction Award, included on the BIFFY50 list, received two honourable mentions for Best Microfiction, and previously been nominated for Best Small Fictions. She lives in Shropshire, UK.