We've two new flash fiction stories for you now, from Margaret Killjoy with A Reasonable Place if You're Careful – an alarming excursion into urban, well at least rural, fantasy, and Heartache by Sarah Goldman taking us into the realms of magical realism.
A Reasonable Place if You're Careful
by Margaret Killjoy
Review of Stony Fork Campground in the Jefferson National Forest – Five out of Five
It's only twelve dollars a night. The mountains are beautiful, the trees are beautiful. A handsome little creek runs right through the campground.
I used to look forward to dying, back before I'd met the dead. The thought of death had been a comforting one. Death had felt like sleep, like oblivion. Oblivion is the place where forgotten things go. I've long wanted to forget, so I've always wanted to be forgotten.
I used to envy the mayfly its fleeting, flitting life. I envied the mouse, consumed whole by the snake. I envied my mother, dead these long years.
But there's a certain type of pine that only grows at the base of these Appalachian hills, recognizable by its silver needles, black bark, and deep red shelf mushrooms that grow along it. A few grow along the creek in the campground. Its inner bark is neither poisonous nor edible, and, as other reviewers have recommended, I ate a sliver of it while I was here. Now I have nothing, no one, left to envy.
I've learned there's no escape in death, no rest, no sleep. There's no peaceful island on the far side of some river of fire, no boatman. No heavenly gates, no reincarnation. I saw the dead. They're pitiful spirits, transformed by trauma, who wander helpless and bored. They sit under trees and gaze up at Godless skies. They wade in creeks and streams, un-cleansed and un-cleanable.
Their features and faces bear the weight of entropy, and they go from recognizable to shapeless over the course of centuries. Some must have walked across or under oceans, because I saw a samurai without a sword or words or love. I saw soldiers and peasants and runaway slaves and I saw the best people and the worst people. They're all dead and they're all undying.
The vision passed by morning, but it's been months and I still can't shake what I saw. I know what awaits us and I'll never sleep well again. Please ignore the other reviews that encourage you to eat the inner bark of those trees.
It's not safe.
But the bathrooms are clean and there's hot water for the showers. All the living people were amiable enough. I recommend this campground to anyone passing through southwest Virginia.
* Margaret Killjoy says her short fiction has been published by Stranger Horizons and Vice’s Terraform and is forthcoming from Tor.com. She is a 2015 graduate of Clarion West and can be found on Twitter at
@magpiekilljoy and at http://www.birdsbeforethestorm.net
by Sarah Goldman
Silva keeps her heart in a box, buried beneath the underbrush in her back garden. I know this because I saw her put it there, the night we both turned thirteen.
I asked her then how she got her heart out of her chest, and she said: What do you think, Anya? I used a knife.
Silva is not my sister, though our parents like to joke that she is. She was born a scant few minutes before me, five rooms down in the same hospital. Our fathers met while pacing and drinking vending machine coffee, and ever since, we might as well have been twins for all the time we spend together.
The night we turned thirteen, I sat on the edge of the fence that divided our yards. I watched Silva bury the box with her heart, and I rolled my eyes because I thought it was very like her: overdramatic and ostentatious and pointless.
I asked her then why she had cut her heart from her chest, and she said: What do you think, Anya? Now I will never be beholden to anyone.
At thirteen this seemed silly to me, and I told Silva so. She looked at me with her flat grey eyes, and told me I would not always think this.
Now I am eighteen, and I will never tell her that she was right.
I thought for years that what I felt was envy, and I suppose I do envy Silva. I envy that she does not feel as I do. I envy that her heart, locked in its box and not beneath her ribs, cannot attempt to beat its way inconveniently out of her chest in the way that mine does, whenever she is near.
The night we both turned sixteen, we sat on the fence between our homes, drinking the whiskey my father kept in the highest cabinet in the house.
I asked her then whether she would ever dig her heart out from where she had buried it, and she said: What do you think, Anya? Do I look like I will ever want to give my heart to anyone?
The spot is marked with an oak tree that I helped her plant, years ago. It is young still. Now, two weeks before we will turn nineteen, I steal a trowel from the shed in Silva's garden, and while the moon looks on I dig up the box in which she buried her heart.
The wood is cool against my fingers. Her heart is not so shocking a sight as it might be, next to dissecting cats in biology class. It is at least bloodless, and does not smell of ammonia. Her heart just beats, soft and reassuring.
I did not only steal a trowel from the shed in Silva's garden. I also stole a knife. It's clean, and gleams silver in the moonlight. Cutting open my chest is simple enough. It isn't so different from dissecting the cats, save a change in perspective. My ribs part easily, splayed like piano keys: long white bars with dark spaces in between.
When I cut it out, my heart is beating as steadily as Silva's.
At first it's hard to notice the difference, as I push my ribs back into place, one by one. But soon enough, my breathing comes easier and my chest feels immeasurably lighter, without the burden of a heart to weigh it down.
When I lay my heart in the box beside Silva's, nothing about it strikes me as poignant, or as anything other than necessary. Once I dreamed that Silva would give me this box, her heart still in it, or that perhaps I would steal it away. But now, I think she was always right, to hide her heart where no one can see it or touch it or grasp it.
Standing alone in her back garden, I bury the box again. I no longer envy Silva anything.
* Sarah Goldman a sociology student at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia, and sometimes she write things. she can be found online at http://www.sarahmgoldman.tumblr.com
New Poetry: vampires, gnomes, things that go bump in the night - and a hazy shade of shade of sea-serpent
Fresh free-to-read science fiction and fantasy genre flash fiction and poetry.