Archive for flash fiction

The exquisite leaf

Posted in stories with tags , on March 18, 2013 by Richard Holt

Walter Chang knew, as soon as he opened the door, that they’d been again and they’d keep returning until they had what they were seeking. Not much was disturbed except the smell of the room. The teak shelves and cabinets that hid every inch of wall stood just as always and the tins and jars of tea of every exotic kind. There was a particular smell that came from the room being undisturbed at night and the first breath of it each morning was all he needed to get his aging bones through another day of measuring and tasting and selling.

He came as usual from the temple on the hill. As soon as he opened the shop door he knew the portents had been right. They’d been back.

Chang’s had survived through three generations, through revolutions, wars, extortion rackets, economic highs and lows and times when it seemed no one valued the teas upon his shelves and the business would die with its aging cutomers. But new generations discovered the subtle beauty and when they did Chang’s had always been there for those seeking the finest and the strangest.

Most of his teas were sold fresh or aged briefly. But there were a few that were kept like fine red wines. Some were pre-revolutionary, picked in the days of the Europeans, compressed into tight inky dark wheels like hashish and wrapped in leaves and string, they were the teas of connossiers, rare in every sense and extremely valuable.

Chang went to the safe. This time it had been opened. They’d taken some of his best. But they hadn’t found what they’d been after. The safe was his last line of protection. They would not be so discrete next time. Walter Chang felt beneath the countertop of a cabinet his great grandfather had made. He found the wooden latch that released the secret panel and the drawer within it. Inside was a centruy-old 24-inch wheel of the finest aged tea ever picked and pressed. It was the only one in existence, rumoured more than known. He knew exactly what he would do. He had been imagining this day. With the tea in a simple calico bag he headed for the train station. By afternoon he would be at the house of his most valued customer, Zhou Lu.

Zhou was a collector as well as an afficianado. He would pay any amount for the tea. But he would pay Walter only a cup made from a few of the leaves scraped from the edge of the wheel. They would drink together, for that was what tea was for. Then they’d re-wrap the wheel. Their single taste would suffice for the rest of their lives. For Walter that would not be so long, for that tea, his grandfather had told him, would be his family’s curse and their salvation. Zhou would see that Walter’s grand children, who drank only coffee and soft drinks and knew nothing of the exquisite leaf, would be well looked after. Walter would taste what had been forbidden so long and then he would be prepared for another life. This was how he had always known it would be.

A great resource for writers seeking publication

Posted in OPPORTUNITIES with tags , , on March 13, 2013 by Richard Holt

Flash Fiction Chronicles Flash Fiction Markets page is a fantastic resource. It’s comprehensive, kept up to date and features links to numerous projects, and publications that publish shorter forms of fiction. It’s also sorted by word length which makes it really easy to use.

Visit the Flash Fiction Chronicles and click the Flash Markets link on the main menu. While you’re at it also check out the site’s great writing, commentary and resources.

20 things I’ve learned about writing microfiction

Posted in WRITING TOOLS AND TIPS with tags , , on March 13, 2013 by Richard Holt

20 things I’ve learned about writing microfiction is a document created for workshops for microfiction writers. It represents some of the most important lessons I have learned as a writer of microfiction.

The Crimson Damselfly

Posted in stories with tags , on March 1, 2013 by Richard Holt

Maybe I’ll wait forever. Men come to me offering the world for my love. But I cannot truly love them. None of them has yet known the answer.

How do you make a Crimson Damselfly? I ask. The best say simply, give it wings, which is a good answer in the face of ignorance. Others check Google, but they won’t find out there. And there are those who say, hmmm, lets see. I know. Get a damselfly and then… and they perform the last bit. Whack. They have no idea.

Tony, at least, asked for time to find out so I spent a year with him until he gave up. I stayed with Serge too, travelling, always laughing. He promised he’d give me an answer by the end of the year. But the year came and went.


When I was a girl I’d creep to the den if Dad was down there. Even though I’d be as quiet as a mouse, and even though he never looked up or saw me, Dad would say, Nina, is that you?

I’d pull up the spare chair and watch as he worked away. Each fly would take him hours, binding, twisting, shaping, colouring. After all that work he might snag it first cast and lose it or fish all day with it and never catch a thing until he changed to a cheap one from the tackle shop. It didn’t matter to him. What mattered as he worked away, was that every river he’d ever fished came back to him and I’d sit in the shadow off to the side of his workbench while he painted pictures of beautiful wild places so vivid they invited me in. He’d time his stories to finish just as he was putting on the finishing touches. Then he’d hold his delicate lure against the light and say, see, Nina, the secret is to think like a fish. That’s how you make a Crimson Damselfly.

I know I’ll always be a trout fisher’s daughter, happy alone in the flow of a stream. And the best times I’ll ever have are past me already, in the clutter of our suburban basement with my quiet, methodical father and the stories of the rivers of his mind.

The turtle and the crow

Posted in stories with tags , on March 1, 2013 by Richard Holt

‘Two brothers were returning to their people’s land and they stopped at a beach to catch turtles rather than arrive without gifts. One of the boys was hard-working and patient. He built a clever trap and waited all night. Just before dawn a good-sized turtle fell into his trap. He tied the turtle up so he could carry it back to his people.

The other boy was lazy. His trap was made badly. As soon as he’d finished it he fell asleep. At daybreak he woke to find his trap washed away by the tide. So he waited until his brother was away collecting fresh water. Then he stole the boy’s turtle and walked off with it. A crow had been watching from a gum tree above. It flew down and took the form of an old woman who appeared on the track in front of the lazy boy.

‘That’s a good turtle,” she said. “Did you catch it yourself?’

‘Yes,’ said the boy.

‘That’s good,’ said the old woman. Because in this valley a person who takes something that is not theirs will be banished forever.’

The boy wasn’t scared of the woman’s threats. Yes, he had stolen the turtle, but he was just passing through and he didn’t mind being banished because he never wished to return anyway. So he laughed and turned away, ready to leave.

‘And if they are so arrogant as to steal something else and take it from here the penalty is worse. They’ll be forced to scavenge forever for their living, taking only the scraps that have been left behind by others.’

‘The boy laughed again at the old woman, hoisted the turtle on his back, and began striding away. ‘

‘How did you catch it?’ the old woman called after him.

The lazy, stupid boy stopped and, putting the turtle down again, he turned back to her. He told her proudly how he’d dug a deep trap which he’d watched all night until just before dawn when the big turtle had headed up the beach and as soon as it fell into his trap he raced out and quickly tied it up.

He was just finishing his story when he was surprised to see the old lady’s back bend and her curly black hair flatten. She was changing back into a crow. ‘So that’s your story?’ she said, before her mouth became pointed and too hard to make words.

He realised too late that it wasn’t his story at all; he’d taken that just like he’d taken the turtle. He went to pick up the turtle and run but when he reached down his hands were covered in feathers. A moment later the good brother came around the corner of the track. All he saw was his turtle on the ground and a pair of crows dancing either side.

Six by six: the architect’s wife

Posted in stories with tags , on February 26, 2013 by Richard Holt

‘Everything ordered and tidy,’ he’d said.

She kept his word. Orderly rows.

Book boxes, clothes boxes, junk boxes.

She placed them side by side

on the pavement with a note.

Neat enough for you, Harry? – Jan

How they love her

Posted in stories with tags , on February 24, 2013 by Richard Holt

It’s that time when students finishing years of school, moving towards an unknown adulthood, write messages of devotion in texta on each other’s uniforms. There’s a girl at my bus stop covered like that as if all the good will in the world is there for her. Her name is Chrissy. How do I know? I read the back of her school shirt. ‘Best wishes, Chrissy. Always friends’; ‘Chrissy is Ace’ (beside an Ace of Spades). And a poem of sorts that makes me smile and remember, because at my age sometimes you start forgetting no matter how hard you try not to. ‘Missy Chrissie, Makes me Dizzy, Because she is so, good to Kissy.’

The afternoon is warm. People going about their normal, unchanging days circle around her. Once they were her, with the world before them. Once the messages of love and devotion were for them. Now they come and go, come and go, like I do and I hope for Chrissy something more than that.

As if she knows my thoughts she turns. Her eyes are not bright but bloodshot, her pretty face blotchy from the invisible anguish of having somehow fallen so quickly from such love. And the people like me, coming and going, circling around her, care nothing, and in this peak-hour crowd the messages mean little, for she is completely alone.


Posted in stories with tags , on February 20, 2013 by Richard Holt

Vin Donatello died the way he would have expected, a car chase, a hail of bullets. The only kink in the script was his kid brother. Robbie was the good one – a real family disappointment. He wasn’t supposed to be there.

Vin blinked in the blinding white of the first moment of his afterlife. An amazed, ‘Jesus Christ!,’ escaped before he could check himself. He waited for the consequences. There was no lightning. No sudden fall. His eyes adjusted to the scene. It was all there. The clouds. The filmy white gowns of the figures circling serenely around him. The little fairy wings. ‘Where am I?’ He said it almost to himself. Then a thought occurred to him. ‘No, no. There’s been a mistake. This is Robbie’s spot. I need to talk to someone.’

‘That’s how it starts,’ said a voice nearby.

‘I’m not supposed to be here.’

‘Where do you reckon you are mate?’

‘I’m…I…Heaven I guess. But I…’

‘Men’s Cloud Number 9, Mate. Ethereal as all hell. That’s the point. Always with a twist. You’ve copped a ripper. Doubt. I don’t envy you. Well strictly speaking I do. You see that’s me right there. Envy. But doubt; that’s not bad.’ The speaker, a swarthily angelic man with a long facial scar, whistled like a cartoon bomb.

‘I don’t believe you!’

‘See. Doubt. Like I said. Live with it mate. Eternity.’

‘No. It’s Robbie’s. He never did anything wrong. He deserves this.’

‘Does he? Reggie Castle’s the name. Envy’s the game. Jealous of everyone and everything. How’d you get such a nice gown, anyway? Look at the cut of this one.’


‘See. Even here. Can you believe it? Oh no, sorry. Doubt. Still I’d swap places if I could.’ His handshake had a fraternal familiarity. ‘Over there is Carson, merchant bank CEO…you know…before.’ He gestures towards a man who continuously alternates between being seated on his fluffy cloud seat and standing up from it. ‘Can’t make a decision to save his life. Well you know what I mean.’

‘What do you all do here?’ Vin could feel a curtain of melancholy descending over him.

‘Do? What do we do? There is nothing to do, mate. It’s a bloody cloud. We suffer. That’s what we do. We beat ourselves up. Doubt, envy, guilt, uncertainty, unattainable desire, regret. Doc Roberts over there relives his whole life the way other people saw it. Niggles, mate. His bloody water torture.’


‘Him. The big G. Geeze, he sure got this bit right.’


Robbie Donatello blinked in the hot red light. Psychedelic flames flicked around him. Music pumped loud. Beneath his rocky vantage point bodies writhed in unison to the beat. Beyond them a feast of food and excess sprawled into every corner of the cavernous space. A young woman, a wicked flick to her pretty smile, knelt beside him. ‘Persephone,’ she whispered, helping him to his feet. ‘Glad you could join us. I’ll show you around.’

The king of sideshow alley

Posted in stories with tags , on February 18, 2013 by Richard Holt

Custer sleeps all day, waiting for the first spruiker, the diesel splutter, the disco blare, the crowds. There’ll be hot dog stumps in the dust soon enough. He’ll swagger beneath the crush.

He nuzzles Mikki’s legs as she’s unhooking a giant panda from her top row. Someone’s got lucky. Someone’s calling themselves the King of the alley. Someone’s got a girl beside him with cropped hair and platform shoes and a panda under one arm and she’s pulling him close with the other. Custer watches.

Custer follows them. The King and his girl. He slinks past the fake tattoo tent. Ten year-olds clammering to look like B-list heroes. The King and his girl buy fairy floss and smoke cigarettes and flick their butts onto the dodgem track.

At the ferris wheel Custer trots forward to greet the King.

‘G’day fella,’ says the The King, scruffing Custer’s nut. Gotta be good with dogs and guns, he reckons. Yeah. Mongrel dogs and slug guns and tin ducks in a row. Ping, ping, ping, ping. Sweet.

Custer notices the ride attendant distracted by cackling teenage girls. The King sees too.

‘Quick.’ He jumps past the queue of outraged families, dragging his girl with him. She yells and pulls her arm away and calls him stupid.

Custer bristles. Readies himself. The crowd parts as the wheel advances. The King and his girl still arguing as they start to move. The panda is mute at the girl’s side, its legs hanging limp. Custer picks his moment well. He leaps as the big wheel jerks to a stop.

Hot dog stumps might be good enough but Mikki’s treats win every time. As she lifts the returned Panda back into the top row Custer settles under the whirring arms of the Twister with his new bone.

The secret-sifter

Posted in stories with tags , on February 12, 2013 by Richard Holt

Something else I remember that’s gone now is bets scrawled by hand by bookmaker’s clerks. Their elaborate crayon swirls held everything a bookie needed to know; the race, the horse, the type of bet, the odds and the amount wagered. They were like coded messages. Secrets.

My family weren’t racing people. Instead I’d head across town during winter to watch football matches with my grandfather. On the way home my tram stopped outside the track.


The lining of his dirty gabardine coat bulges full of discarded hopes. I’m mesmerised. Though I’m just a boy I can tell this man’s connection to the world the other passengers share has withered until it’s barely a thread. He ignores everyone including the conductor. Everyone ignores him. In the bubble of his pungent self-possession he spreads across the space that spreads around him. Then the tickets emerge in clumps from the depths of his coat. He processes them like a machine. In his crumpled head he might retain little of his past. But he remembers every result from every race at the track today. Tote tickets and bookie stubs fall around him like dirty snow. The conductor scowls, but maintains his distance. No one watches but me. He sees me staring his way. His grin, toothless and vacant, is fleeting. He pulls another clump of tickets from his coat, lingering on one that looks as if it’s been picked from the mud. He holds it to the light, smiles, then pushes it into the side of his shoe. I figure he deserves it. All that work collecting and sifting.

It never occurs to me that this might be a show of victory for my sake alone. But just a show nevertheless. Even a secret-sifter, I realise now, might feel the need to prove the worth of what he does.