Pen Name & Published!

Just a quick note to flag that I have updated my pen name! The author formerly known as S. Z. Fletcher is now known as S. Z. Meriläinen. I am excited to post more under this name for everyone to see!

On a similar note, I am officially being published in a short story anthology! It’s a pair of collections of queer stories around the theme of masquerades. She Wears the Midnight Crown and He Bears the Cape of Stars for wlw and mlm focus respectively. My story, Carved of Ice and Snow, is a story of a hermit witch, the unseasonal blizzard that strikes her home, and the stranger that collapses at her door. 

Available as an e-book through DuckPrintsPress soon!

Please enjoy this snippet as a taster and a treat!

The blizzard was relentless. But so was Siofra. And, unlike the storm, she belonged.

She threw herself back out into the fury of the ice and the snow. The cold was almost a living creature, sinking greedy claws into her flesh and nibbling at her extremities. Ignoring the ice crackling beneath her feet, the snow clinging to her clothes, and the wind pushing at her body, she lurched in the direction her heart knew her cabin was, even if her eyes said differently. Each breath she drew chilled her from the inside out, pain crystallising in her chest wherever the frozen air reached. Just like her trees, she was being snapfrozen; even the figure she fought to haul through the snow felt colder in her hands.

Wincing, panting, and swearing beneath her breath, she plunged forward. Trusting her heart. Trusting her feet, too, which knew the forest floor even when it was buried beneath unseasonable snow. Trusting them step after step, through the cold, through the fear, until one last footfall plunged her forward and she fell hard—

—against her cabin door.

Short Stories

Market Day

This month’s FuriousFiction entry! This was one I had a lot of fun with and find it to be very sweet!

The specifications for this month’s prompt are detailed below. There is a photograph included, but I will include it at the end.

  1. Your story must include this setting pictured (at the end) at some point.
  2. Just because it’s March, your story must include the following “MAR-” words: MARKET, MARBLE, MARVELLOUS, MARSHMALLOW.
  3. Your story’s final sentence must contain dialogue – i.e. someone speaking.

Please enjoy!

Market Street was always busy on the first Saturday of the month. As well as the food stalls that were there every weekend, the artists, tailors and jewellers joined the fray. The regular shoppers had to shoulder their way through the tourists who came to peruse the arts and crafts. 

Thea didn’t mind. Her bakery stall was always swamped with peckish people pining for pastry.

It was also the only time she got to see Cleo.

At least, that’s what the sign said her name was. Cleo’s Crafts. The display changed every month: from cross stitched landscapes to intricate beaded earrings all the way to abstract clay sculptures.

Cleo would occasionally stop by the bakery stall. Every time her hair was a different colour, a rainbow deconstructed and sprinkled through the year. The note she held always said the same thing, one of Thea’s specialities, a sweet roll marbled with chocolate topped with toasted marshmallow. It had got to the point where when Thea saw Cleo leave the stall, she’d get the best roll ready to go. After picking it up, Cleo would vanish for about fifteen minutes and, try as she might, Thea was never able to see where she went.

This time she was ready though. She had a ‘Back in Ten’ sign good to go, and was wearing her favourite elbowing jacket, the one with studs on the sleeves to help coax people out of her way. She kept a close eye on the stall across the way, and when Cleo shut the lids of her display cases, protecting ornamental glass snakes from sticky fingers, Thea got the roll ready and prepared to prop up the sign. Cleo’s hair was pink this month, a delicate pastel shade that made Thea think of peonies dotting a winding forest path the same shade of green as Cleo’s eyes. 

When she offered the paper bag, Cleo mouthed and signed, “Thank you.”

Thea, hoping those YouTube videos were reliable, signed back, “You’re welcome.”

Surprise brightened Cleo’s eyes, the sun emerging from behind clouds. 

Putting a bit more faith into the tutorials she’d watched, Theo added, “I’m learning, slow please.”

With slow deliberate movements, Cleo signed, “Well done. It’s not easy.” Then she grabbed the roll and disappeared. 

Thea followed. A few careful jabs of her elbows and the tourists parted around her like water. She kept her eyes on the pink hair bobbing through stalls.

At the end of the street, the stalls opened up into the empty harbour. Cleo was leaning against the red phone booth, tearing pieces of the roll off and popping them into her mouth. Thea approached, keeping a safe distance so when Cleo noticed it wouldn’t startle her too much.

Instead, Cleo reached out and touched Thea’s shoulder. With a shy little smile, Cleo offered of a piece of roll. Thea took it. Enjoyed how it dissolved into a sugary lace on her tongue. Clumsily signed, “Thank you.” 

Cleo smiled, then mouthed and signed back, “Marvellous.”


#VSS365 February 2021

#VSS365 is a daily prompt based on Twitter. VSS stands for Very Short Story and the challenge is to get the story to fit into a single tweet. 

I am currently publishing the daily stories on twitter, but am also working through the backlog! Most of these were posted live as the month went on, though I did miss a few in the middle and doubled up on others! Please enjoy.

Food is running low. Our stomachs growl and snarl. For lunch today, we tear thin strips of jerky and chew painfully slowly. Describe aloud thick, juicy steaks. Slathered in rich jus. A side of thick cut chips.

Subtly eyeing the scant meat of each other’s limbs.

It’s the heat death of the universe. The collapse of all matter into nothing. Finally. I’ve been waiting forever. I curl around the burnt out remnants of existence and soothe the frazzled edges.

Soon it will expand again. A whole new infinity. Just for me.

I’ve heard it often: ‘The sweet embrace of death’. Nihilistic teens mostly, joking about the troubles that life deals them.

I do my best to be true to the saying. When I come to take someone away, to draw their soul from their body, I try to always greet them with a hug.

I soar lazily across space, draped in a shawl of night dusted with glittering stars. The Sun is reluctant too release his hold, lingering at the edge of the horizon as I fill the sky.

Below, billions of dreams glitter and glow, embers in the darkness. Mirroring my path.

They went by Friend. An inscrutable smile and kind, warm eyes. Their hands were quick, clever and gnarled.

Ancient and ageless, they guided those who were lost and tended those who were harmed.

A guardian of the forest were they, and they had truly earned their name.

A witch can use any sort of tools. Wands, crystals, tarot or scrying bones. The first thing a young witch is taught is that it doesn’t really matter what tool they are drawn to, their magic comes from belief in their power.

I, myself, am partial to the electric guitar.

Contrary to popular belief, dragons don’t lay eggs. Their young are formed, slowly from the dreams of children and stories passed down through the years. Sadly, the space between births is getting longer.

If you would like to help the dragons, you just need to believe.

You find yourself in a room. You can’t remember how you got here. There is no door that you could have entered through, nor any way to exit. You tap your fingers on the walls trying to find one. Eventually, you fall asleep.

When you awake, yo ufind yourself in a room.

A ball of fluff lives beneath my bed. Resisting the pull of the vacuum and sweep of the brush. At first this was hugely annoying, until I realised the shadow that haunted my dreams was missing. That it hadn’t shown up in weeks.

Floofles has very sharp teeth after all.

I gather the fluff by lint rolling the couch, carpet and my favourite flannel PJs. I gather it all into a soft pile and sort through the colours.

This done, I turn to my task. Painstaking and arduous.

I have needle felted you a hat, Mr Whiskers. I hope you like it.

They lay in a bed of pine needles, warmed by dappled sunshine and the soft touches of their bodies. Alone, the forest was frightening, but together it became a place of tender unions.

They didn’t know that the trees protected them. Such hopeless romantics, those elms.

The river of stardust flowed through space. Catching the light of dying stars, pulled by their inexorable gravity into gentle curves, it trickled ever onward.

As it passed, it sprinkled cast of powder on planets, seeding the elements of life on the barren rock below.

It had been storming for days. Heavy rain pelting the city below relentlessly. Drowning it slowly.

When the river burst its banks and hungrily swallowed the streets, those on higher floors opened their homes to shelter those lower down.

Humanity surviving together.

A single mistake. His foot slipped as he ducked beneath the boom and he was swept into the stormy sea.

Three years later, his yacht was eventually found. Empty and decayed with no clue to his fate.

He became a nautical mystery: the subject of many conspiracy theories.

Pain surges up my leg. I stumble and fall to the ground, tears running down my cheeks as I clutch my foot. A thousand hornets have descended upon me, stingers dripping with venom.

I will never recover from the agony of stubbing my toe on the corner of the table.

She had been thrown overboard. Slowly, she’d sank to the bottom of the ocean and become the current and tide.

When she finally found the pirates who had killed her, she became a storm. Her voice the shrieking winds, her fury the tossing waves.

More souls lost at sea.

The collapse of a red giant. The surface of the star roils with whirling storms of flame. Cool spots form sinks of darkness as the fuel at the heart is used up. Eventually, the mass crushes into a singularity, time stretching oddly around in the stars final goodbye.

The side effects are truly random. Perhaps you’ll grow another head, perhaps you’ll have a mild case of the sniffles. The risks are innumerable and need to be carefully considered.

How much would you give for the chance of immortality?

We have come to a decision. It was taken to a vote and has passed through a rigorous democratic process. The journey may be hard, but we will persevere to victory.

Step one: curtail time indoors.

Step two: buy seeds from Bunnings.

Step three: get this garden started.

The cabin is ramshakled. Logs stacked unevenly, all askew. Shoddy craftsmanship, think most. It’ll fall apart in a year.

I’ve been living here a while now. The walls are strong, the gaps well insulated, and the derelict appearance keeps naysayers away. It’s all mine.

We assigned points to memories, for actions and touches. At the end of the month we averaged our or scores and the highest won. As time went on, the scores trended slowly down.

In the end, our relationship came to mean zero.

The stars shift in their usual positions. Slightly at first, barely noticeable, then quicker and by a greater degree. NASA goes silent, home astronomers stare through their telescopes in horror.

The Milky Way steadily scrambles itself, and the fallout is still pending.

The screen is bright and colourful. My cursor scrolls over the start menu, hovering for a long moment on ‘Load Co-op Game’. In the end, I click ‘New Game’ and play through the adventure alone. Your ghost remains in the other save file, waiting for me to hit the button.

My skeleton army is held together with tendons, ligaments and wrathful magic. Their bones clatter and rattle as their jaws chatter wordlessly. I stare out over them as they bump blindly together and wonder if I should have maybe created an undead infantry with eyes.

The rollercoaster dips and turns, horrifying plunges and soaring heights combined with dizzying loops. Breathless and ever so slightly nauseous, I stand in the line and hold your hand. Looking down at your excited grin and sparkling eyes makes the experience worth it.

They hid in the shadows of those who had revealed themselves. Beauty and strength and power. Temperd by imperfection and humility. Emerging over millennia.

Faced with the complex facets of humanity, the gods and goddesses could do nothing but cower and be forgotten.

It starts as an itch between my shoulder blades. Just where I can’t reach. I strain and stretch and finally scratch and grab at the spot. I find a thread. Thin and tenuous. It goes forever: I try to pull it free. Before I can stop myself, I have unravelled.

I sew darts into my clothing as I grow, spaces in the fabric free to expand into, providing curve and shape where before there was none.

Plus they’re convenient sheathes for my collection of tiny knives.

You folded me a paper crane for our wedding. Lined notepaper torn into a precise square. Beneath one wing, if I tilt it just so, I can read the word ‘love’.

It’s been three years now. One day, I’ll be strong enough to unfold the origami and read the letter inside.

I wear dark sunglasses, rendered blind in the evening gloom. My date approaches, a shadow. Shining sequins catch my eye, lining her gown.

“Is this okay?” she asks, leaning close.

Feeling the pattering of her snake hair kissing my cheeks, I smile and say, “Of course.”

This planet’s rotation is markedly different from Earth’s. I can watch the stars move in the sky, count the minutes as the sun crosses from horizon to horizon. It should be dizzying, but it’s almost meditative. Watching time tick by, beneath this firmament.

Short Stories

Wild Magic

Another entry into FuriousFiction run by the incredible Australian Writers Centre. I really had fun with this month’s (unlike our narrator) and hope you enjoy it as well! The specifications for this month are as follows:

  • Your story must take place in a SCHOOL.
  • Your story’s first word must be THREE.
  • Your story must include the following four adjectives:

I also want to wish FuriousFiction a happy third birthday! I’m sad I missed out on all those previous prompts and wacky antics, but I’m so thrilled to have found them now. They won’t get rid of me so easy! 

Please enjoy.

Three classes in and I am over this day. It was bad enough slogging through a lecture on tinctures. And that demonstration of scrying bones? No thank you.

The third lesson is set up in the ancient amphitheatre on the outskirts of the grounds. The stone is cracked and worn, vivid green moss flourishing on the ever-damp surface. The sky overhead is dark purple; stormy clouds crowding close. There is no roof, and all of us keep shooting suspicious little glances upwards. Any umbrella will be nothing more than a lightning rod out here and if the sky opens up then we will all be drenched.

The lecturer is Headmistress Amelia Jones. She is a short, round woman with a tendency for uncouth jokes and an infectious, bubbly laugh. As she walks to the centre of the stone, her long hair brushes the ground behind her.

“Welcome, kids,” she says. Though her voice is soft, she immediately commands the attention of all of us. “Today I’m going to show you how to tame wild magic.”

A ripple passes through the students. It goes over me and I don’t join in the whispering.

Amelia raises her hands. The air hums, and, as though on command, the clouds overhead break. Rain falls in sheets, but when the drops hit the humming air the water dissipates, filling the amphitheatre with mist. A snap of her fingers, and Amelia condenses the mist into jets of flame that dance overhead. Her mouth is forming words, but what they are exactly is lost under the frantic murmuring of the students around me. Bringing her hands together in a sharp, quick clap, the flames drop to the stone between us and sink into the moss, the surface charring black. It only takes a second for the flame to vanish and the moss to swell, burst, grow into thick, twisting, flowery vines.

The other students, some who have never seen magic before today, are astonished. One reaches out and touches the vine, fingertip brushing a pale pink flower.

Lightning splits the sky overhead. Thunder crashes immediately afterwards, making all of us jump. Except Amelia. She seems to have expected it, because she throws her hands up.

Almost as though her hands are magnetic, the electricity is drawn to her. Dancing in sparking, crackling arcs above her head, hopping between her fingertips. Her long hair lifts and stands on end, fizzing and snapping as it surrounds her like a halo. With a wide grin, she spreads her arms and starts the lecture proper, now that the demonstration has fully engrossed all of us.

Except for me. I lean my chin on my hand and roll my eyes. This was super cool when I was like, five, but after a decade of watching Mum—sorry, Amelia—pull the same old moves, it’s gotten a little boring. The fun of the lightning is over, the talk is very dull in comparison. It’s a shame I’m getting graded on it this time.

Short Stories

#VSS365 January 2021

#VSS365 is a daily prompt based on Twitter. VSS stands for Very Short Story and the challenge is to get the story to fit into a single tweet. 

I am currently publishing the daily stories on twitter, but am also working through the backlog! Here is January 2021, for your enjoyment.

My therapist gives me a new word. Verklempt. To be overcome, overwhelmed, drowned in emotion. Crushed beneath a tsunami of feeling. Trapped and lost and trying to remember to breath.

Repeat the word, he says. Verklempt. Verk, in, lempt, out.

Reminding me I exist.

A velociraptor’s claw, delicate and wickedly sharp. Brittle now, ancient. A curious choice for a weapon, and yet here it is buried deep in the man’s eye.

They called me in to investigate, to solve this awful crime.

Smiling, I bend to admire my handiwork.

I’m a perfect dinner guest. I’m polite, I’m punctual, I’ll always bring a gift. Being a vampire shouldn’t be an issue: we’re well known for our hospitality!

All you need to do is open your door when I knock. Ask me to come in, welcome me into your home.

I won’t bite.

They circle like vultures. Waiting for me to fall. I stumble and quickly rise, but not fast enough. A claw sinks into my calf and I shake it free with a cry. The blood running into my shoes is unbearably hot.

I kick out uselessly, and the coconut crabs circle closer.

As a junior witch, she had accidentally hexed herself. A misspoken word, and she was cursed.

Even now, as the elder in her coven, she cannot remove the vex hex. Little annoyances, piling up day after day. She bears them with a smile, revelling in her early magic.

Perhaps this is a foolish vendetta to pursue. I fear that I have chosen a pointless war to wage, and that I will fall in battle over this insignificant point.

But, goddamn it, raspberry jam is superior to strawberry jam and I will die on this hill.

The creatures didn’t know the site they were entering was sacred. When they passed through, touching ever surface with their strange, gloved hands, they didn’t know they were violating our temples.

Still, we cowered beneath the coral as the humans swam over our reef.

There are many different kinds of magic. Academics have tried to map them all out, in flow charts or time lines. I’ve found the best way is to use a Venn diagram.

In the centre, where the circles overlap, is untamed wild magic, beyond the ability of any mortal witch.

I have a terrible and completely irrational phobia. I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t stop myself from obsessing.

I dream that my voice has been stolen: snatched away and used against me.

Needless to say, I stay home when the ventriloquist comes to town.

Perhaps it is an act of vandalism. I don’t care. I have rearranged the stars to spell your name, I have burnt your face into the sun so everyone can see your beauty.

Unrelated, can you bail me out? It’s definitely a crime and I hate jail. Thanks, love.

Her story was written on the finest vellum that money could buy. The ink sparkled with gold, catching the light to glimmer even in dim rooms. Each word transcribed in exquisite calligraphy, every letter lavishly curliqued.

And all to mask the blandness of the tale.

I’ve cross-stitched you your own medal of valour. Your favourite colours intertwined, because silver and gold are boring.

It’s a birthday present. I give it to you proudly. When you understand I hug you tight.

Depression is a battle, and I will fight by your side.

I always get vouchers. A mass of experiences, piling up in red envelopes. From base jumping to gin flights. I work my way through them and tell you in intricate detail what I felt, tasted, enjoyed.

Since the accident, I understand you living vicariously through me.

I mine other languages, searching for words to describe my feelings. Zweisamkeit and mamihlapinatapai, even going so far as tuqburni. They fit so well, and yet don’t come close.

I curse the limited vocabulary I have available to describe how much I love you.

It’s time to vacate. I drift around the old house, touching the marks I’ve made on the walls, the stains and scratches accumulated over my tenancy. Heart aching over a thousand moments that go half-remembered.

Ready now, I open the front door and step into the light.

I preen in front of my reflection, enjoying the glittering rainbow refractions off my enormous diamond jewellery. I place a fascinator in my hair and watching the shining peacock feather flutter above the empty space of my face.

Who says vampires can’t enjoy mirrors?

The moon is full and low overhead. I dance beneath her silver face, naked, vulnerable, untouchable. The song of my coven echoes through the forest and I feel the power of my ancestors trill to life in my veins.

I am a young witch, and the night is open to me now.

I catch the movement in the corner of my eye: a brief flickering shadow passing the open window. When I turn, there’s nothing there. I ignore the twist in my gut and turn back to my work, pretending the hairs on my neck don’t rise.

The sense of being watched pervades.

It’s dangerous to feed my ego. The compliments and awards only serve to swell my head, larger and larger.

Please stop! I can’t fit out of my front door any more, and the roof is pressing closer by the day.

Her new glasses come with a state of the art filter, designed to mask blood and gore. She wears them to a horror movie and laughs as the screen pixelates.

The algorithm isn’t perfect, but she’s managing dinner without seeing the steaks.

The stigma is everywhere. As soon as I mention it, I’m inundated with disbelief and pressure to reconsider. I keep my lips sealed, my thoughts inside, my secret shame to myself.

Apparently it is a cardinal sin to dislike Nutella.

I paint my nails, a glimmering holographic blue that catches the light. My skirt is knee-length and pleated. It fans when I spin.

For the first time, I look in the mirror and feel euphoria.

To guard against telepathy, I line my hats in aluminium foil and direct mean thoughts to anyone who makes eye contact with me. It may seem like overkill, but I know my mind is mine alone and also I always get to sit alone on the bus.

You treated me like a queen, worshipped the ground I walked on, provided for my every whim. Any imperfection, you ironed out until I was flat and lifeless. A paper idol propped up by your words.

When I left, you didn’t understand.

I just wanted to be seen as a person.

Standing on the edge, staring down into the abyss, the darkness that seems to rise up to meet her. Feeling her stomach twist and churn with anxiety. She forces herself to take shallow breaths, then steadies herself an jumps into the darkness. Sinking into the water.

Klazon blaring, lights flashing, an alarm screaming out. Danger! Danger! Danger! I freeze, overcome, synapses overwhelmed, joints locking.

You see my anxiety and, by simply taking my hand, soothe my fight or flight response.

I know I am safe with you.

I make us cocktails with obscene amounts of rum and a splash of pineapple juice, served in carefully cleaned coconut halves. Together, we lie in front of swaying palm trees on TV in our sunglasses and swimsuits.

Our own little paradise in our 34th floor apartment.

To protect ourselves from disease, we anoint ourselves with sacred oils and dress in the garb of our ancestors. It shielded them from plague, and so we walk in their footsteps.

When we meet, we use hand sanitizer and make sure our masks are covering our goddamn noses.

I never thought I was made for politics. For much of my life, I was priviledged enough that most politics didn’t impact me. When I became aware enough to realise how I could help, I was inspired to start.

All that said, please support my run for mayor. I’ll do my best.

Kisses so delicate they feel like butterfly wings brushing against my skin. I close my eyes and lean in, captivated and flushed. You hold me gith and murmur sweet nothings, and I am lost in the feeling of you.

We are entwined together.

I force more slang into my lexicon, stuffing sentences full of words I barely grasp the meaning of. I know I use them wrong, that it highlights my unfamiliarity, but the grimace on my teenage son’s face makes it all worthwhile.

I’m a totes dope mum.

Short Stories


FuriousFiction for January 2021, ringing in a new year! This was a strange one, but I had fun writing it. Please enjoy!

The prompt and specifics are as follows:

  • Your story must begin at sunrise.
  • You must use the following words somewhere in your story: SIGNATURE, PATIENT, BICYCLE.
  • Your story must include a character who has to make a CHOICE.

We begin with a sunrise. The class gathers around the small window and stares in silent rapture as the darkness is slowly leeched away into brilliant reds and oranges and pinks. The ocean is still, only slight waves oscillating and sending winks of colour towards us. As the sun crests over the horizon, I instruct the children to put on the tinted lenses they’d been given. They watch, breathless, frozen in wonder as the sky lightens and crystalises into a clear blue.

Knowing that the show is over, I put on my widest smile and say, “Okay, kids, time to come away from the window.”

“Just a bit longer,” pleads Tom, the most outspoken of the gathered children. The others nod in agreement, all eyes fixed on the black shadows of birds that are now flapping serenely past the scene. Unlike us, they are leisurely, with nowhere they need to be.

My smile becomes strained at the corners. “Tell you what, if you still want to see later then we can come back, okay?”

This compromise seems to satisfy them, because they trail off to the next window with their eyes still lingering on the morning sky they’re leaving behind.

I press a button and the window shutter rises, revealing a different scene. The ocean here is rough: tall waves cresting and crashing onto golden sand. Dangling palm fronds sway and clatter together. The children, thankfully, are just as mesmerised by this scene, flinching back and gasping when each wave breaks upon the beach.

“Where do they go?” asks Paula, my favourite student.

“Back to the ocean,” I say. “The water was always part of the sea, it just wanted to visit land for a bit.”

Suddenly, surprisingly, something glides along the scene. It’s an alien silhouette, all angles and curves in all the wrong places. Like the birds, its pace is slow and sedate, unhurried.

The children are horrified. Most let out some sort of gasping scream, recoiling. Tom, in direct contrast, leans forward, eyes wide and fascinated. I am not surprised when he turns to me and asks, “What’s that?”

Knowing what I’ve been instructed to say, I choose to be honest instead. “A person on a bicycle,” I say patiently. Leaning forward I point out the various forms. “That’s their leg, their arm, their head. These are wheels in a frame, see? In olden times it was a way to get around quickly.”

“Can I have one?” Tom asks.

“No, sorry.” I push the button again and the screen flickers out before the shutter swings closed again. “There’s no room here.”

Tom lets out his signature disappointed sigh. The rest of the children exchange relieved glances. Paula offers, “Can we go back to the sun please?”

I agree. As the kids crowd around the first screen, watching the sun rise again, I look out of the window. Staring into the empty blackness of space that surrounds the ship that our forefathers sent off into the unknown depths.

Short Stories

The Gift

FuriousFiction for December 2020, the last of the year! I didn’t place for this month, but am still very proud of the story I wrote. Please enjoy!

The prompt and specifics are as follows:

  • Your story must include a GIFT of some kind.
  • Your story’s first sentence must contain only THREE words.
  • You must use the following words somewhere in your story: PALM, MATCH, ROSE.

furiousfiction December 2020

I’m very nervous.

More nervous than I really should be. The anaesthetist can tell, I think, because her eyes crinkle due to what I assume is a reassuring smile behind her mask. Although, it could equally well be a grimace, I suppose. 

“You won’t feel a thing,” she says. “I’ll make sure of it.”

“Thanks.” I flash a thumbs up and try to put the horror stories of waking up, paralysed but completely alert, from an anaesthetic from my mind. 

I do not succeed.

When they wheel me into theatre, I’m overwhelmed again by how white and bright and cold it is. There’s more people in here than I think is strictly necessary and I’m suddenly acutely aware of the gaping slit in the back of my hospital gown. If I sat up in this bed now, my crack would be completely visible to everyone. I debate wiggling the edges of the gown together, when the anaesthetic nurse asks me to do exactly that. I shuffle over to the other bed with heat in the cheeks of my face and a cool breeze on the cheeks of my arse.

The operating bed is deeply uncomfortable, slightly too narrow for me to feel fully secure. I grit my teeth as the anaesthetist jabs a thin needle into my hand—kindly ignoring my sweaty palm—-and secures the cannula without a drop of blood spilled.

“See you in a bit,” she says, her eyes crinkling again, and then warmth rushes up my arm and everything goes black.

When I wake up my hip is burning, a blossom of heat opening delicate petals of pain in my flesh. Shifting my leg brings a sharp spike into the arch of my pelvis. Thorns on the rose stabbing deep. I groan softly, and a nurse is there immediately with a cool glass of ice chips sweating in his hand.

“Go slow,” he says in a low, soothing voice. A spoon slips the ice into my mouth where it immediately melts on the dry heat of my tongue. “How are you feeling?”

“Hurts,” I say. The word seems to stick on my tongue, and I swallow hard. “I did okay?”

“Everything went really well.” He smiles at me. “You did a really good thing today.”

I give a weak thumbs up and drift back into the darkness for a while. 

When I’m recovered, they give me the chance to see the gift recipient. I didn’t know before, just got the call that I had matched with someone and was needed at the hospital in the morning. I had been nervous, of course, but I hadn’t hesitated to go down when they’d given me the time of admission.

Now, I step up to the window and wave a little awkwardly at the little girl sitting in bed on the other side. She has a cannula in her hand and tears on her cheeks and I am so grateful that I became a bone marrow donor.

Short Stories


FuriousFiction for November. This story made it to the long listed entries of the month, and I’m very proud! The prompt and specifics are as follows:

  • Each story had to take place at a HOTEL.
  • Each story had to include a PHOTOGRAPH.
  • And finally, each story had to include the following ‘blue’ inspired words: COLLAR, GLOOMY, POLICE, RHYTHM, SAPPHIRE.

It was a grimy little hotel. The type you’d expect in one of those dark, overly saturated superhero movies. Gritty realism. The rooms were small, with stained, peeling wallpaper and stains leaking through the ceiling. The sort of place I could imagine being shot. Or stabbed. Or strangled.

One of those violent ’s’ deaths.

The gloomy darkness outside was shattered by the pulsing lights of a police car. Ruby and sapphire bands dancing over the room in a regular rhythm. Certainly a familiar enough sight here. A drug bust maybe. Or a murder. Maybe just a welfare check, called by the receptionist. Or just a routine cruise by to break up any nefarious activity.

If I hadn’t been unable to sleep, no doubt the flashing lights would have woken me. As it was, I sat on the lumpy mattress and stared at the closed door to the bathroom. There was light leaking from around the frame, a flickering yellow light from an ancient, dirty fluorescent tube.

Lex couldn’t sleep in new places.

And so I couldn’t sleep in new places.

Soon, though, hopefully that would change. 

I checked my watch. Almost six. Soon the sun would start to rise and we could actually achieve what we’d come here to. 

My phone buzzed. Three words. “She can’t sleep.”

I smiled and typed back a response. “Same here.”

A few seconds before the reply came through. “Can I bring her over now?”

I tapped my phone against my chin for a second. Staring at the flickering light from the bathroom. My eventual response was an emoji.

While I waited, I busied myself around the room. Made the bed again, moved the overnight bags we’d packed and then not touched from the floor onto the hotel desk. I checked the photo again, wondering if she would really look that way, then waited by the window and picked at the painted windowsill.

In the end, I heard them before I saw them. The excited skittering was audible when they reached the top of the staircase and headed down the concrete path outside.

I threw the door open and the terrier sprinted inside. Brindle spots, sparkling eyes, lolling tongue and furiously wagging tail. The trainer snapped his fingers and the dog sat obediently. Whole body wiggling with excitement.

“Lex,” I called, resisting the urge to kneel down. “Daisy’s here.”

The bathroom door opened a crack. Huge, dark eyes peeked around. My daughter crept from the bathroom. Pointedly ignoring the gaze of myself or the trainer. Her eyes fixed on the dog we’d travelled across the state to pick up.

Daisy’s tail still wagged excitedly, but she sat calm and still as Lex approached and snapped the collar she’d been holding the whole time around her neck.

“Free,” the trainer said, and Daisy stood and immediately wiggled her way into Lex’s arms, lapping happily at her face. For the first time in too long, my daughter smiled totally unselfconsciously and hugged her new support dog tight.

Short Stories

Hold Her Under

Another FuriousFiction entry, this time for October 2020. The prompt and specifics for this are listed below:

  • Your story must include someone/something being caught.
  • Your story must include the following words (plurals allowed): OBJECT, WOUND, BAND, ELABORATE.
  • Your story’s final two words must be THE MOON (can be part of a larger sentence).

It was her monthly bleed that gave her away. Though she had worked hard to keep it hidden, eighteen months into the journey her internal calendar glitched and she woke in a pool of blood. The captain was alerted, and when she was stripped to search for wounds, her secret was revealed.

No women allowed on board. It was bad luck, so the superstitions said. 

Never mind that her hard work had prevented a capsize during that big storm the previous week. Or the rogue wave the month before. The whirlpools and shallow reefs and pirates. A thousand and one hazards that she had helped them avoid. She was one of the most valuable members of the crew — though when asked to elaborate on why that may be the case she was unable to.

She had an affinity with the water. That was all.

When they dragged her to the edge of the ship, naked and shaking and crying, she had tried to object. To plead. To beg for her life. They talked over and around her, these men she had called brother. Joking that her bleed would bring the sharks. That maybe if she floated they would count her as one of them and drag her back on board. Or consider her a witch and hold her under.

They bound her wrists and ankles with ropes laced with salt, heavy and swollen with sea water. Tossed her over the side of the ship. As she sank, the ropes seemed to fuse into an unbreakable band fixing her limbs together. And icy water filled her lungs. And fear faded to be replaced with the bright spark of fury, even as her breathing slowed to a stop.

She became the water. The waves. The sky stretching above the ocean.

Her screams, the lashing wind, whipping the white frothed waves to vicious stabbing points. Her tears, the salt that crusted every available surface, a thousand tiny blades ready to slice into unprotected flesh. Her fury, the unrelenting sun beating down, burning all in its path. 

Circling the seas, ships drew her ire. Her approach brought storms. Heavy clouds so dark they were almost black, blocking out the sky. Waves surged, tipped and tumbled ships like a mouse caught between the paws of a vindictive cat.

Sometimes she smashed these ships against the rocks. Crushed them to splinters and dragged them hungrily into the dark deep with her.

But sometimes, when the ship was firmly in her grasp, she would let it slide free and quieten the storm so they could pass. Those who had done no harm, had thrown no innocent to the ocean below. 

Because she did not swim alone. The other women who had been thrown overboard to appease some foolish superstition swam with her. Whispered their pain and fear to her, the one with the strength to avenge them.

And when the ocean was still and quiet, they floated together, pulled by the inexorable force of the moon.

Short Stories

No Signal

This was a short story prompt with one of my dear friends for the week of 19/09/2020. We picked a random setting, genre, and object that needed to be included.

  • Setting: The Open Road
  • Object: Phone
  • Genre: Horror

No signal. 

Chuck sighed and continued to trudge down the road. Slipping his mobile phone—still at 83% battery by some miracle—-back into his pocket. Blisters stinging on his heels and toes. His shoes were warm and wet, full of blood. Every muscle in his body felt stretched and weak. With each step his head pulsed in waves of agony. Overhead, the sun beat down mercilessly, a cruel spotlight in a sky so clear and pale it was almost white. 

The crash was far behind him. If he squinted, he could just make out the black smoke through the shimmering haze drifting off the hot tarmac. 

Mirage that was called.

Like an oasis in the desert. The promise of water. If he ran towards it it would evaporate into nothing, only for another pool to shimmer into life in the distance. It surrounded him. Taunted him.

He licked his lip. Dry and chapped. Tasting salt and copper. When he wiped his face, blood smeared on his hand. Was that from his nose? His mouth? Or had it already been there? He couldn’t remember.

How long had he been walking? An hour? Two? Enough for the blisters on his feet to have formed and burst, enough for the blood dripping from the cut on his forehead to dry and begin to flake. 

Another glance over his shoulder. Squinting. The crash was still there. Black smoke streaking up in the still air. He pulled his phone from his pocket and checked again. 

No signal.

He thought about the crash as he slipped the mobile back into his pocket. No other car. No fluffy bunny sitting on the tarmac forcing him to serve. He’d simply lost control of the vehicle. Close to one hundred and eighty kilometres per hour and the wheels had just lost traction. Brakes screeching uselessly as the whole car slipped one way. He flinched, remembering the thud as wheel left tarmac. The disorientation as the car had tilted. Time had slowed to a crawl. The world outside a blur as they’d rolled once, twice, three times, finally settling on the suddenly concave roof.

Chuck didn’t know how he’d pulled himself free.

One minute he’d been inside the car, dangling from the seatbelt that cut deep into his gut, the next he was outside with the blazing sun already burning on his face and smoke stinging his eyes and the choked sound of Liam’s screams ringing in his ears. 

That had stopped at least.

He was almost certain.

Slapping his hands over his ears, he took a few shambling running steps before the vicious spark of pain through his whole body forced him back to a slow crawl. Gasping at the hot, dry air. Stinging tears squeezed from his eyes. Using his fingertip, he hoovered up every drop, sucked them into his parched mouth. Couldn’t waste any liquid. 

“I’m sorry, Liam,” he said in a croaky little voice. Directing the plea to the empty, white sky, to the black streak of smoke behind him, to the (hopefully) silent body of his best friend. “Forgive me…”

He couldn’t dwell on it. No time for that. Had to keep pushing on. Had to get out of here. Just follow the road. One foot in front of the other. He’d find help eventually. 

Knuckling sweat out of his eyes. Sparing the briefest rueful glance up to the sky. When would the sun go down? It seemed to have barely shifted in the hours he’d been walking down this empty stretch of highway. Just like the crash never seemed to get further away. Like the mirage never stopped shimmering just ahead.

Not knowing what else to do, he pulled his phone out of his pocket and squinted down at the somehow perfectly intact screen. Still 83% battery, good. It wasn’t draining as fast as it usually did. His eyes flitted to the top left corner, to the single exclamation mark.

No signal.

Chuck sighed and continued to trudge down the road.