Flash in the Pantry: The Stick Man by Colin Gardiner



‘Hold your hand still.’ Peter held the candle out.

‘I don’t want to,’ Kevin replied. He shivered despite the summer evening. He glanced at his watch. Seven o’clock. It was getting late and his mum would be wondering where he was. The afternoon spent playing in the field had slipped by. Peter had led the way through the twisted path to the ruined church at the edge of town.

‘Don’t be a baby,’ Peter said. He placed the candle on the bench and stared at Kevin. ‘Do you want the Stick Man to get us?’ He pulled up the hood on his parka jacket.

‘What’s the Stick Man?’

‘There was a priest that lived here, on his own, years ago.’ Peter touched the doll-like collection of branches that lay on the bench. ‘He used to catch kids playing in the graveyard and lock them in here.’ Peter picked the twig-doll up and held it close to the flame. ‘He used to punish them, by pouring hot wax onto their hands.’

‘That’s a stupid story.’

Peter put the doll back. ‘One day he caught two boys who fought back.’

‘What did they do?’ Kevin asked.

‘They pushed the priest, who fell back into the candles.’

Kevin looked at the rusted rows of metal around them and shuddered.

‘The wax from the candles fell onto his face, while he was knocked out.’ Peter tipped the candle, which dripped onto the head of the stick doll.

‘’Bloody hell!’

‘Don’t swear in church.’

‘Sorry, amen.’

‘The priest jumped up, blind and screaming. His gown was on fire.’ Peter kicked a piece of wood. ‘He chased the boys down to the door. The fire spread quickly.’

Kevin noticed the blackened walls and charred pews surrounding them. The air smelled heavy and musty. He tried to laugh, but his throat was tight. ‘As if,’ he said.

‘They found his body under this bench, covered in wax and splinters of wood from the rafters.’ Peter looked up at the shattered roof. The sky was an orange glow. ‘One of the boys was never found.’

‘Shut up!’ Kevin pulled away from the bench and turned toward the door.

Peter stepped in front of him. Streaks of wax lined his sleeves. ‘Where are you going?’ He pushed Kevin back towards the bench.

‘We need to keep the Stick Man away,’ Peter said. ‘It’s just a drop on each hand. Look.’ He dripped a bead of wax onto his skin. The wax hardened quickly. He rolled it into a ball and flicked it into the dark.

‘Your turn.’ Peter grabbed Kevin’s hand. He held the candle closer.

Kevin pulled free and pushed Peter’s arm away. Wax splashed onto the bench. The candle wavered, but stayed lit.

‘What did you do that for?’ Peter placed the candle back down. The stick figure was completely covered in wax.

‘You bloody weirdo,’ Kevin said.

Peter pulled his hood down, ‘It was just a joke…’ he paused.

They heard the tap, tap, tap, on the door.

Kevin glanced at Peter; who stared back, eyes wide, mouth open. He heard Peter’s ragged breathing, mingled with his own.

Kevin shivered. ‘Who’s that?’ He whispered. He heard the snapping sound of branches from outside.

‘It’s the Stick Man,’ Peter uttered.

‘Shut up,’ Kevin replied.

The snapping ceased, leaving silence outside.

‘I’m going home…’ Kevin said.

‘Who is it?’ Peter shouted, which made Kevin jump.

Then, thump, thump, thump, on the door.

Kevin stepped back and stumbled back over a piece of wood. The sickening twist of his ankle made him yell.

The thumping stopped. Peter took a step towards the door.

‘Don’t,’ Kevin rubbed his foot.

Peter ignored him. He pushed the door open. Dusky light flooded the church interior. The long shadows of the graveyard lay before them. Peter stepped out of the church. ‘Stay here,’ he whispered. ‘I’ll run for help.’

‘No!’ Kevin replied. ‘I’m coming with you!’

‘You’ll slow me down.’

‘Peter!’ Kevin leaped up on his good foot and grabbed the back of Peter’s jacket. Peter lurched out of his grasp. The door slammed shut.

Kevin pushed the door. It wouldn’t move. ‘Let me out,’ his ankle felt swollen.

‘You idiot. You ripped my bloody coat!’ Peter hissed from outside.

Kevin heard the snapping of branches.

He heard a sharp intake of breath, then the thud of something hitting the ground.

Kevin shivered. ‘Peter!’ he whispered.

He heard the snapping of branches. Then; tap, tap tap, on the door.

The door swung open.

Kevin saw the tear he had made on the back of Peter’s jacket, which flapped open like a crooked smile. The hood was up. Kevin looked down and saw the streaks of wax lining the sleeves of the parka.

He shuffled forward and grabbed a shoulder. ‘That was a really stupid joke…’

He stopped. He felt the brittleness beneath the jacket. The branches snapping.

The figure turned around.

Colin Gardiner lives in Coventry. He writes short stories and poems and is published by The Ekphrastic Review and the Creative Writing Leicester blog. He is currently studying a Masters in Creative Writing at Leicester University.

Flash In The Pantry: The End by Lauren Foster

‘Apocalypse Now?’
‘His favourite film.’
‘Really? But it’s so damn long.’ A strangled laugh escapes from his lips. ‘Fasten your seatbelt,’ he says.
‘Ok.’
He looks at her. ‘Oh shit.’ It’s all he can think of to say.
‘He was pissed. As usual.’
He stares down at his hands, then runs them grasping through his hair. He thinks of her hands, how they move over his yielding flesh, then earlier – before he got there… He covers his open mouth with his hand and mutters through it: ‘Jesus. I never meant it to be taken seriously. I never thought… not for one moment, you know?’
‘Right.’
‘I can’t. She…’
‘Yes?’
‘You don’t understand. ‘
‘Oh, I do. Perfectly.’
He grips the steering wheel with both hands until his knuckles turn white. In silence he watches a petite tortoiseshell cat trot across the road, mouse in its jaws. It leaps onto a wall and over, into a garden.
‘Will you forgive me?’ he says.
‘Not yet.’
‘Are you going to say anything with more than a few syllables?’
‘Are you going to keep to your side of the bargain?’
Silence.
‘Well?’
‘I’m really, truly sorry.’ he says.
‘At least I get an apology. I suppose one should be grateful for small mercies.’ She gives a little shake of her head and leans into the passenger door, long unkempt hair silhouetted against the sunrise. The glow forms a halo and he can’t take his eyes of her. It’s been this way since first they met.
‘I couldn’t take it anymore,’ she says.
‘I know.’
‘They’ll be looking for me.’
‘I know.’
‘Take it off.’
He obeys.
‘Drive.’
He turns the key and the engine complains into life. They set off slow through the old town, content to be still, for a while. She rests her face on the glass, appreciative of the smooth cold against her skin.
‘We can never win,’ she says, the words barely audible.
‘But we will never lose.’ His left hand reaches out to her right, clasps it tight. She doesn’t resist his touch, or respond to it. Marks of history etched into his ring finger. He wonders if she can feel them, mirror to her own.
‘I’ve got nothing to prove anymore,’ she says.

Lauren Foster is a writer and musician based in Charnwood, and a recent graduate of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

Flash In The Pantry: A Blemished Slate by Dr. Susie Gharib


She was ushered by her uncle into the only room that was close to the front door of her grandparents’ spacious but very old house. He mumbled something in utter disapproval at her newly shaven head, which looked as a scraped potato in her grandmother’s pot. Clare felt utterly embarrassed though she had done nothing wrong. She thought that she must have looked too ugly to be isolated in her uncle’s private room. She stared at the open window behind which many butterflies roamed. She examined every inch of the wall, stared at nothing then inspected the pictures of a single man’s world, and although she could not then spell the dignified word, its letters loomed large on the ceiling and walls:

F grew gigantic and looked like a lamp-stand with no gold.

O was a circle that had no exit or door.

R restlessly roamed tripping on obstacles on the floor.

L heavily lagged looking lame and forlorn.

N knelt to pray for hair to quickly grow.

F,O,R,L,O and N must have come into the room the moment her uncle turned the knob. Time grew wingless and seconds and minutes crept on the floor. It was a tradition with some parents to have the heads of children shaven to strengthen their hair-roots, but she who recommended the hair chopping did not supply Clare with a cap or hood with which to hide her furless globe. Why was she not at home? Was a shaven head a stigma in any household?

Clare waited for her grandmother who with a hug would calm the heaving and scattered limbs of forlorn. She would ease Clare’s bewilderment and shame with a single kiss on her forehead, fastening a bouquet of violets to the sleek hair, behind the very tiny ear, regaling her nostrils with the soap-scented hand as she, with a snow-white towel dipped in lukewarm water, blotted every mark on an easily blemished slate, a child’s face.


Dr. Susie Gharib is a graduate of the University of
Strathclyde. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in Peeking Cat
Poetry, The Curlew, Plum Tree Tavern, The Ink Pantry, A New Ulster,
Down in the Dirt, the Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Mad Swirl, Leaves
of Ink, the Avalon Literary Review, The Opiate, Miller’s Pond Poetry
Magazine, WestWard Quarterly, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Grey Sparrow
Journal, The Blotter, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Crossways, The
Moon Magazine, the Mojave River Review, Dodging the Rain, River Poets
Journal, and Coldnoon.

Flash In The Pantry: Taciturn by Dr. Susie Gharib

I sift through a treasure of photos that my Dad’s death has unearthed and pore over one of an acquaintance who had a fleeting presence in my childhood. I have a vivid memory that conjures every single detail, colour, smell and sound from recollections that would evade any other child.

I sat in the taxi next to the driver, a proper but tiny barrier between him and two young women, a relative and a dark-haired university student in her twenties, visiting home. The driver, a typical womanizer, divided his attention between the tortuous road to the student’s summerhouse and her very short-cut blouse. She had a beautiful bosom and the most captivating smile. He bombarded her ears with compliments and sometimes he crossed the line. I viewed her with my mesmerized eyes but she never returned a glance. She sedately ignored the driver’s remarks with a meaningful but inscrutable smile. I wondered what was making her so happy – I was sure it was not that silly clown. Though her face was fixed on the road, she was looking inwardly at something that fascinated her lustrous eyes. She was so taciturn that I cannot now recall her voice. I had an excuse to constantly examine her face to see how she responded to sexual praise of the unremitting type, but her politeness remained all along intact. When she left the car, I felt a terrible sense of loss. That nymph had me under her spell. She never doted on me as strangers usually do on children during a short drive, but she took away with her a piece that she chiseled off my mind. My sun and my moon orbited in her constellation – she had allowed them in without a sign.

More than forty years have elapsed and at the counsel of my retentive memory I could have been three, four or five. That was my only meeting with my mother, now I realize long after her demise. She had departed from the world without saying goodbye. I wish she had sealed that short meeting with a hug, a kiss, or a keepsake gift. My only inheritance is a box of haunting smiles and a long history of malignant lies.


Dr. Susie Gharib is a graduate of the University of Strathclyde.
Her poetry and fiction have appeared in The Curlew, A New Ulster,
Straylight Magazine, Down in the Dirt, The Ink Pantry, The
Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Mad Swirl, Leaves of Ink, The Avalon
Literary Review, The Opiate, Miller’s Pond Poetry Magazine, WestWard
Quarterly, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Grey Sparrow Journal, The
Blotter, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Crossways, The Moon Magazine,
the Mojave River Review, Always Dodging the Rain, and Coldnoon.

Flash In The Pantry: Deliverance by Karen Rust

The regular tap of my stick pauses as I lean over the stone wall and contemplate the swirling dark below. As my breathing steadies, I fumble in my coat pocket and locate the engraved hip flask, one of the few things I treasure in this world. A generous gulp sends the honey liquid coursing down my throat. By God, that’s the ticket on a night like this. I’m screwing the cap back on when a movement catches my eye. Someone is climbing onto the wall near the middle of the bridge, holding onto a stanchion, head bowed to the blackness below.

I limp towards them, calling out, making myself known. It’s a woman. She warns me to stop when I’m a few feet away from her. She’s not dressed for the weather.

I tell her my name. She doesn’t want to talk but I talk anyway, gentle, soothing, like she’s one of the kids with a fever, all those years ago. She wants me to leave her to it.

I ask her why? What can be so bad? Her body folds in on itself, her grip loosening on the stanchion. I’m nearer, asking her to hold on, asking her to come down. I’ll listen.

She shakes her head but then she speaks. Her child died. Cancer. She can’t go on without her. Her husband is broken, their family shattered.

Her pain is visible, radiating into the darkness and much as I want to take it from her, I know I couldn’t stand it. I’m nearer now, close enough to wrap my shovel of a hand around her slender one. I remind her that if she goes through with this, she’ll pass the same pain to her parents, already mourning the loss of their grandchild.

She frowns, then crumbles to a sitting position, her sobs covering the noise of the wind and fast-flowing river. She’s shaking uncontrollably as I help her off the wall, wrap my coat around her and give her a nip from the flask. She splutters, then has some more.

We talk quietly and finally she lets me call her brother. He arrives in tears and takes her in his arms. I decline their offer of a lift but take her hand through the passenger window before they leave. She thanks me. He can’t thank me enough.

The car disappears back towards town. I’m shivering from the cold or shock; I don’t know which. The rain comes, thick drops, right on the edge of sleet. I limp back to the point she was going to jump from and regard the inky depths she sought deliverance through.

At home, my wife drifts in a morphine fuelled sleep. She’s not long for this world and I don’t want to be in any world where she isn’t. My suicide note sits, neatly folded, on the kitchen side next to the kettle. Veronica will find it when she arrives in the morning. She’s a good girl. Comes to look after her mum two days a week to give me a break. If I go through with this, she’ll have to mourn me, then mourn her mother. Am I that really that cruel?

I take out the hip flask, drain it and watch the river flow.

Karen Rust is currently studying an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. Check out her blog, Blooming Late.

Flash In The Pantry: Still Wet by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

1.

My masterpiece is still wet. It will not burn.

2.

She is Sri Lankan. She keeps telling me I’m a great writer, which annoys me, but she insists. I say: If I’m a great writer, why aren’t I rich and famous?

3.

I have a while to wait until it is burnable.

4.

She says: Until the giant sleeps, the dwarfs play everywhere. That is both folksy and elegant but, in the context, doesn’t make sense. I lose my patience and say: Well, don’t call me great anymore. Truth be told, I’m one of the dwarfs.  Besides, calling me great stimulates egotism and, as a Buddhist, you know that’s not desirable.

5.

I have thus far left no trace of myself, of my “talent.” I have not given in to ego. I have thus not contributed to genocide or war.

6.

Okay, I’m sorry. I won’t call you great anymore. She goes walking around the lake. When she returns she says: You know what I think of when I see cranes? I think of tying their long necks together. They have lovely long necks with tiny soft feathers. So white. So white.

Flash In The Pantry: Serotonin Reuptake by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Flash In The Pantry: Mandela Warp: A Moment in History by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Flash In The Pantry: Cooking Shows by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Inky Interview: Author Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois from Denver, Colorado

Flash In The Pantry: Cooking Shows by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

1.

Americans are callous, hard-hearted killers, guilty of genocide and mass murder.

2.

The flowers arrive smashed and broken. The FTD deliveryman stands on the porch of my farmhouse and stammers his apologies, and I launch into a rant, reminiscent of my son’s political rants, except I don’t have his gentle Mexican wife to put a hand on my arm and whisper, ‘that’s enough’.

3.

One million Iraqi civilians dead in our War Against the Wrong Country.

4.

I think of demanding that, in recompense, the FTD man repaint the floor of my porch, whose glossy grey paint is cracked and peeling. It would be an irrational request but so much of life is, like these flowers arriving mortally damaged. Someone wanted to express their love and make me feel better as my illness spools out.

5.

We should all abandon our lives, go live in monasteries and weep copiously night and day, and repent.

6.

Instead I’m angry, frustrated, close to tears. I yell at the FTD man: Get out of here! Get off my porch!

7.

Instead we entertain ourselves with superheroes and cooking shows.

8.

He tries to say something about a refund or a replacement, but I won’t hear him out. My yells turn to shrieks and he flees. He gets back in his truck and drives away fast, roiling up dust on the country road.

Inky Interview with Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Flash In The Pantry: Serotonin Reuptake by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Flash In The Pantry: Mandela Warp: A Moment in History by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Flash In The Pantry: Mandela Warp: A Moment in History by Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois

Obama hits on the Swedish Prime Minister. She’s got that ofay blonde hair and legs that go on forever. They’re not longer than Michelle’s, but Big O’s gotten caught up in the celebration of Mandela’s death. He’s slid into his African self, as if he’d taken a few good draughts of nitrous oxide or absinthe drinks loaded with wormwood, as if he’d torn pieces of Ethiopian spiced goat meat off a larger hunk with his sharp teeth. All the goat meat in the world, he thinks, is his. He’s the most powerful man in the world. He can eat and drink as much as he likes. He can blow up to be as fat as a deposed dictator.

Big O is looking for a slam dunk. O, this Swede is hot. Michelle is staring daggers. She’d kick the Swede’s ass in a felony fight. She reins in her man before he can scandalize himself. He’s already gone too far. He’s been leaning in, taking selfies of himself and the Swede as a couple, cheek to cheek, here at South Africa’s party to send off their Saviour.

The looks Michelle’s giving him can curdle milk. Everyone in the world sees it and knows she can be a real ball-buster. She’ll show no sweetness tonight. 

Meanwhile the translator for the deaf is hallucinating. He sees angels in the stadium, archangels carrying Mandela home. He’s scared—where are his medications? He’s suffered “anger issues.” He’s next to all these powerful leaders, but are they really leaders, he wonders, or just so-called leaders?

He knows no sign language, but he’s depending on God to carry him through. He’s three feet away from Obama, three feet away from the most powerful man on Earth. He grimaces as Obama brushes by him.

The Swedish Prime Minister knows there’s little chance for a hook-up, but maybe after they’re both out of office…

None of this shit is supposed to be happening, but there’s a warp in the fabric of the Universe caused by Mandela’s death. He was filled with spiritual power. Now unleashed, that power is having wacky effects on people, even presidents and prime ministers. That warp needs to be closed, muy pronto, before all hell breaks loose.

Flash In The Pantry: Pushing Up Daisies by Michael Murray

‘No, no, no,’ he was thinking as he was waking. ‘Too early.’

‘Damn birds. Damn, damn.’ His protestations lacked the vigour to drive him up and doing. He pulled the covers over his head. But he lay there tense. He knew; that was enough. Too much light. Too much…busyness. It was in the air. And it was stifling under there.

‘Someone turned on the heating? I’ll kill… The bills!’

But it wasn’t that. What it was, he knew, he had to shell-out for a new mattress. Sticking into his back again.

‘Memory foam. Not one of these…with metal bits sticking up into you…’

But at least this got him up and dressed.

‘Something…was it King Albert? Edward? Someone who shoulda known better, died through…tetanus…septicaemia…from a bed spring?’

And that had him washed and dressed, and presenting himself downstairs.

A cheer as he walked into the workshop. Sarky lot, he groused. He looked at their beaming, lively faces.

‘Come on, Granddad. Get this down you.’ A mug of strong tea. Too strong, His constitution…there’s a word from his younger days, when he had the gift o’ the gab… Well, his stomach could no longer take it.

They meant well. He looked at them again, felt a warmth for them. A part of him whipped out, ’Infectious. Infectious good-will.’ And that part of him knew that bode ill.

And then they brought out the chair. The wheelchair. He froze. That anger felt good; he felt better. Slightly. But he couldn’t sustain it. To his shame, and yet…relief, admit it…he slipped into it, as if into a made-to-measure suit. He thought about it, his old wardrobe, those suits up there. Maybe he could donate them. The styles, well. They say it all comes round every twenty years or so. So…

They were all looking at him. Their young, eager, and innocent expressions. It was an unhurried, but expectant look. Does that look have a name? He no longer cared…cared to follow through, find the lost connections. Is youth an expression? It’s…an age…thing…

‘Let him rest,’ they were saying, looking over to him. Benevolent, he thought, that’s it. That’s the word. He’d slumped. They’d left him near a window, and it was too bright, too hot.

‘Has one o’ yous put the heating on?’ But he couldn’t get the tone right. It came out like a snarl. Had he upset them now? But the bills!

‘Come on, old man,’ they were saying, gently – like to an old pet? No, there was respect in their faces, their manner. His students. And suddenly he felt proud of them.

‘Just this one last job, eh?’ They wheeled him to the engine room, lifted his hands to the iron wheel.

‘Easy, now,’ they soothed. ‘Just one last slow, steady push. Then it’s all over, eh. Plenty of sleep.

Those daisies don’t rise by themselves, Mr Winter.’

Flash In The Pantry: Jack by Andrew Williams

Birds sang in the bare branches of the trees. The air had a fresh, new smell to it, the very earth exhaling as the days grew longer. Mary pulled her winter jacket a little tighter around her shoulders. The sun was bright but it gave out little warmth. It would be a few more weeks before the jacket was no longer required.

Spring at last, Jack.’

She carefully set a canvas bag beside her and knelt down to tend the soil. She could feel the damp even through her denim jeans. They’d probably need to go in the wash later.

I thought that winter would never end. You’d like that, I suppose – school closing and all that snow for sledding.’

She took the gardening fork from her bag and began to dig into the earth. The cold and wet weather had left it packed together; no use for planting. Still, at least the weeds weren’t a problem yet, though they would be next month.

You remember that snowman we made last year? Ping pong balls for eyes and a carrot for a nose. I put one of your caps on it and said you looked like twins.’

The soil tilled, she put the fork aside and took a plastic wrapped bundle from her bag.

Crocuses,’ she said. ‘They’ll look lovely when they come up.’

She gently pushed the bulbs into the soil, then covered them back over. There was no need to water them; the ground was damp enough already.

She packed up her bag and stood up. A cold breeze blew over her and she shivered.

Mind you, the daffodils are coming up nicely. They should be flowering any day now.’

The birds sang. She breathed deeply, feeling the crisp chill of the air in her lungs.

How is daddy? I miss you both, you know. It hurt me so much when you went to join him. But that wasn’t your fault, I know.’

She wiped away a speck of dirt from her eye.

Your daddy left when you were so young. Did you even remember him?’ She sighed, her breath like steam upon the cold air. ‘I suppose that doesn’t matter. You’re together now.’

The wind blew through the bare branches of the trees.

I should have paid more attention to you. I should have listened. And now all I have are these visits. I can’t hug you like I used to. I can’t kiss you on the cheek before you walk through the school gate. I let you down, and you were taken from me.’

She fought off the tears. She’d cried too many already.

I’m sorry, Jack. Mummy comes whenever she can. And now that spring is here, I’ll come every week. I promise.’

She turned away, following the path that led out of the gardens. Behind her, the polished black marble glistened under a coat of morning dew.