Shooter Flash: “Where the Sun Doesn’t Shine” by Claire Schön

‘They’re at it again, sir?’

‘I do wish you’d call me Dick, old chum.’ I wince; it just doesn’t seem fitting for a prime minister, although often it does. As his press secretary, I spend a lot of time in the prime minister’s company. I am very much in the background, but what I do is essential, especially for this prime minister. I still pinch myself every now and then, to remind me sometimes of my luck and other times to bite my tongue.

‘Mary, can you bring me a knife for the butter, please,’ he shouts to Mary, a former lawyer and now his long-suffering personal assistant. ‘Always hovering around, that one, but never brings me the required utensils to eat these silly little breakfasts that she serves up.’

In front of him is a feast fit for a large family; he likes his food. 

Dick came in on a campaign for green and healthy England: more walking, less talking. To think that swayed the electorate. I suppose there wasn’t a great deal of competition after the last lot crashed and burned in a quiver of catastrophic contradictions. It seems everyone just wanted something simple and straight. Dick is simple alright, and we think he is straight. At least, his wife does.

‘Dick, the northern electorate are complaining that the promised infrastructure and development programmes are not being delivered. I’ve had an endless round of journalists requesting an update at today’s press conference.’

We are at the prestigious opening of the UK’s largest solar power station in Kent, another southern project. I’d told him we should time it better, but he needed to cover up the latest husband-swapping scandal involving the Minister for Children and Families and the Minister for Women and Equalities. Personally, I think the latter took it all a bit far, and the former had only been married five minutes and had no idea about children or families. However, they were ‘old chums’ of Dick’s from Oxford.

‘What do you think of this wallpaper, Sally? Jemima is in raptures about them both but can’t decide which. I’ll be buggered if I can see a difference, can you?’

I sometimes wonder if Dick might be colour blind. The press has been lenient on him up until now, describing his dress sense as ‘flamboyant’, but I can understand that Jemima must despair at times. 

I pick one of the wallpaper samples to move things along. We are running late for the power station.

‘Definitely this one, sir, um, Dick.’

‘Thanks, Sal. What would I do without you?’ I don’t feel important.

‘Getting back to the complaint from–’ 

‘The miserable northerners. Yes, yes. Well, what am I supposed to do if it is dull and dreary up there and the sun never shines? It’s a solar power station. That’s it! I’ll announce, at today’s press conference, that if they sort out their weather, they can have their own power station. Ball back in their court. We have to think of the environment, you know.’

I can just see the headlines now: Prime Minister tells north of England to stick their complaints where the sun doesn’t shine. I’ve just recovered from the last pounding from the women’s rights lot, after he tweeted that ‘some things are gender-specific, like mini skirts, you wouldn’t want men’s big, hairy legs peeping out of those, now, would you?

‘I take your point, Dick. You are the voice of reason. But we do need to keep them happy.’

‘Then let’s build another bridge for a high-speed train. The northerners can come and work down here, get a bit of sun and earn some money before they make their drab way back.’

He seems to have forgotten that I come from up north, although he persuaded me to lay the accent on thick for PR purposes.

‘The last bridge was very expensive, Dick, and we can’t stretch to a high-speed train.’

‘Then they will all have to drive.’ I am about to remind him of the environmental factor, which has slipped his mind again, but he ploughs on, enamoured by his own wisdom. ‘We will have to observe them closely; the universities up there aren’t as good as ours. Not sure what they learn in those neglected institutions.’

I went to one of those neglected institutions.

‘Mary, where is my butter knife?’ he screeches. ‘Honestly, it is a wonder that I can come up with such cracking ideas with this lack of competence from the waiting staff,’ he says in a lower, though not much lower, tone. Mary is in the same room, fussing with something or other in the corner. She leaves quickly. ‘She’s a northerner, you know.’ Mary is also not part of the waiting staff, but they refuse to travel with him after the cream cake incident.

‘Just put something together for me to read out, good girl.’

Mary joins us as we walk through the power station. She lags behind looking frazzled. 

The station is quite spectacular and in line with our environmental policy; I breathe a sigh of relief.

‘What’s with the sheep, gents?’

‘They provide natural vegetation control, and they are very cost-effective.’

‘Messy bleeders, though. Look at all this poop. And we need to think of the northerners. We’ll have to get rid of the sheep and replace them with northerners and petrol lawnmowers.’

I die inside. The head engineer leading us around is from my neck of the woods and an environmental expert. He looks livid, and I fear another press leak. My carefully scripted speech for Dick at the upcoming press conference might not cover this one.

‘Mary, I need a snack,’ Dick shouts, without turning. At that moment, my day is saved. The headlines I am dreading never materialise. They are replaced by events I could never have imagined:

              Prime Minister stabbed in buttocks with butter knife by PA

Thank you, Mary.

*

Originally from the UK, Claire Schön now lives in Austria. She studied German and Spanish and is now fluent in the former but useless in the latter. Claire started writing in her mother tongue in 2020 and has short stories, flash and micros published or upcoming in a number of anthologies including Funny Pearls, Fudoki Magazine, Blinkpot, Grindstone Literary and Reflex Fiction. She has been shortlisted and longlisted in various international competitions. Twitter: @SchonClaire.

Baur wins 2021 Poetry Competition with “Status Update”

Dominic Baur, a former history professor, has won the 2021 Shooter Poetry Competition with “Status Update”.

The poem earned first place for its layered allusions and linguistic associations, weaving together threads of meaning to conjure a strong sense of underlying narrative. “Status Update” is not only Baur’s first contest win, but his first poem to be published. Although he has previously published academic work in numerous journals, Baur began writing poetry only in retirement. “Perhaps I chose the wrong career,” he joked in an email.

Isabella Mead, who landed second place with her beautifully evocative poem “Great Aunt Audrey”, also came runner-up in Shooter’s 2018 Poetry Competition. She won the 2021 Julian Lennon Prize, the 2020 Bedford International Poetry Competition, and the 2019 Wells International Poetry Competition. She was a 2021 finalist in the Brotherton Prize for which her poetry will be published in an anthology with Carcanet. 

While “Status Update” will appear in print in Shooter’s forthcoming Dark Arts issue, both poems are currently available to read online, along with other past winners.

To subscribe to Shooter’s print edition or place an advance order for the Dark Arts issue, please visit the Subscriptions page.

Shooter Flash: “Roar” by Alison Wassell

A small child with two candles of snot dangling from her nose tugs at Maggie’s cardigan. She takes her thumb out of her mouth.

“Miss Elton, why is your shoes different?” Maggie, grabbing a tissue from the box on her desk, looks down at her feet. She is wearing one black shoe and one brown one.

“I was just testing you all, to see if anyone noticed,” she says. Having wiped the child’s nose she sidles toward the cupboard and pulls out the trainers she wears for PE. They look ridiculous with her tights and tweed skirt, but slightly less ridiculous than odd shoes.

It is a relief when the afternoon arrives, and she has an excuse to change into what she refers to as her “slacks”. The children form an orderly line, and she leads them into the hall. They find spaces and sit down. She does not even have to remind them, today, that a space is somewhere she can walk around them without standing on anyone else. She has them well trained.

Maggie gets down on her hands and knees. This takes longer than it used to. The children giggle. Maggie emits a ferocious roar. So ferocious, in fact, that a couple of the children recoil in fear. Maggie hauls herself into a cross-legged position.

“Who can tell me what kind of animal I was pretending to be?” she asks. Hands are raised and faces turn red as breath is held and children compete to be asked. Maggie smiles  as she tries to remember what question they are clamouring to answer. Lately this has been happening more and more. She chooses a girl with blonde plaits whose name eludes her.

“An elephant?” guesses the girl. Her classmates titter, and Maggie gives them a reproving stare.

“Not a bad guess, Eleanor,” she says. She remembers now, the girl’s name is Eleanor. Relief washes over her. Elephants are interesting creatures, she tells the children. It is said that they never forget. Maggie envies the elephants.

“Who wants to have another try?” she asks. She tells them she is thinking of an animal that is a member of the cat family. You can see them at the zoo. The male one has a sort of fringe of fur all round his face. Eager hands wave in the air again. Maggie points at a boy who has turned puce.

“Lion,” he says. She nods gratefully. Of course. Lion. She tells the class that they are going to practise being different animals. She turns on the music and off they go, growling and howling, screeching and tweeting. Some of them grow a little silly. She calms them with a single look. At least she has not yet lost the power to do that. She glances out of the window at the rainswept yard, and it occurs to her that she should have done playground duty this morning. Someone must have covered for her. Fear forms a fresh knot in her stomach.

In the classroom the children change back into their uniforms and Maggie distracts herself with the tying of ties and laces, the struggle to pull t-shirts over too-large heads, the battle to return two correctly named plimsolls to each PE bag. She re-plaits several heads of hair and carefully wraps a lost tooth in a tissue. She writes a note to the tooth fairy, hoping she will be generous.

As the children scramble to hang their bags on their pegs the Deputy Head appears at the classroom door. She surveys the chaos with pursed lips. Almost young enough to be Maggie’s granddaughter, the tasteful tattoo on her shoulder is visible through her white cotton blouse.

She summons Maggie with a jerk of her head. They need to have a chat, as soon as possible, she says.

“There are a couple of issues.” She turns and clip-clops away on her inappropriately high heels. The children gather on the carpet and Maggie selects a picture book to read to them. It takes a while for them all to be settled and Maggie fills the time dreading the meeting that lies ahead. She knows what the “issues” are. The forgotten playground duties, the day she arrived with two rollers still in her hair, the nonsensical lesson plans that seemed to have been written by someone else entirely, when she came to read them. Someone must have complained. She has let things slip. Her hands shake slightly as she sits up straight, setting an example. The class falls silent.

Maggie begins to read. It is one of her favourite stories, a tale she almost knows by heart. Today, though, the words jump about on the page and some of them have suddenly grown unfamiliar. She halts, stumbles and, mid-story, gives up and sets the book aside.

“Who has some news to share?” she asks the class, with a half-hearted attempt at cheerfulness.

She welcomes the home-time bell in a way that she never used to. She bundles her charges into their coats and matches them up with their book bags. Clinging weakly to the door frame she watches the last of them disappear through the school gates.

Maggie shuts her eyes for a moment. She remembers her mother, in the home, unable to remember the purpose of her own legs.

“I want to stand up, but I can’t remember how,” she had said, tears coursing down her cheeks. She had not recognised Maggie for the last five years of her life. Maggie is thankful, finally, for her childless state. 

She opens her eyes and stands up straight, preparing herself to face the Head and Deputy. She imagines their glee as they confront her with her shortcomings, and the gossip that, as thick as thieves, they will have about her later, over a bottle of wine.

Right now, though, Maggie is defiant. She stretches her jaws as wide as they will go and roars like a lion into the silence.

*

Alison Wassell is a short-story and flash writer who has been published in various places, both in print and online, including Retreat West, Reflex Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed, NFFD, FlashFlood Journal, and Litro.

Shooter Flash: “Showtime” by Chella Courington

It all started with the ring. Not the ring Radney gave Roshelle over lasagna in candlelight ten years ago in September. Nor the gold band he gave her a year later. But the wrestling ring he built in back of their split-level ranch home with blue shutters and salmon brick in Montgomery, Alabama. Radney wanted to be a professional wrestler since he first saw Hulk Hogan with a blond mane and protruding pecs glistening on TV. Roshelle wanted Radney to be one too. When she was a kid, her dad used to take her to the armory every other Saturday to sit in the front row and watch grown men in speedos pin each other to a bouncy floor. Their sweat soaked her red dress, cotton sticking to her legs. “How’s that for a good show,” her dad always said as they walked into the night, the air chilling her wet skin.

When Radney announced he was going to build the ring, Roshelle was elated, absolutely over the moon, hugging and kissing him as if it were their wedding night. They hauled posts and plywood, tires and turnbuckles, rope and tarp to their backyard, cutting away all the grass and shrubs for their dream. After six weeks of digging holes, fitting wood, and stacking tires, they had their ring – posts stained dark brown and the cushiony mat creamy white. To celebrate, they brought out their fluffy bed pillows and flamingo quilt bought at a sample sale to christen the mat under the stars. They didn’t even notice the mosquitoes.

Now was the time to begin sparring. Radney called three of his wrestling buddies, who said they were busy with wives or sons. But Radney heard them bluffing – they’d lost their love for the sport. No more long nights and yells for clinch fighting. His friends were scattered. No more sharing tales of how the Hulkster pinned Nick Bockwinkel for the last time. Like a kid who’d lost his first dog, Radney dragged himself to the kitchen and opened a Miller.

“Come on, I’ll spar with you.” In her gray shorts and burgundy T-shirt, Roshelle was eager to take to the mat. He knew she loved the sport, going to matches with her dad then with Radney, screaming until she could barely whisper.

“Sure, let’s go,” he said. “I’ll be easy on you.”

“OK. But you’re going to get all of me.”

They stepped into the ring ready for practice. She danced around him, one leg sliding into the other, tapping his chest but ducking before he could take hold. Finally, he grabbed her and tossed her against the ropes. She rebounded and came in low, dodged his kick and took his feet out from under him. Falling on him, her elbow knocked out his breath. Blood drizzling from his face, his lip split and his nose scuffed, he rolled over just in time to see Roshelle launch herself from the top of the post. As she descended, arms spreading like an angel and wind blowing through her hair, Radney realized that he had never loved her more.

 

Chella Courington is a writer and teacher whose poetry and fiction appear in numerous anthologies and journals including SmokeLong Quarterly, X-R-A-Y Magazine, and New Flash Fiction. A Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net nominee, Courington was raised in the Appalachian south and now lives in California. Her recent origami micro chapbook of poetry, Good Trouble, will be available soon at http://www.origamipoems.com.

New project: Shooter Flash

Now and again, writers ignore the length requirements for the magazine and we get submissions on the shorter side that are painful to reject. Sometimes we publish them anyway.

However, it became clear that we weren’t accommodating a lot of talented authors. In recognition of the abundance of brilliant short-short story writers out there, we’re excited to announce a new project: Shooter Flash. Now, we have a forum exclusively for authors of prose shorter than 1,000 words, with a rolling competition to spotlight one story each month on Shooter’s website. In addition to online publication, winning writers will receive £50, and their work will be included in an annual anthology sent to all of Shooter’s subscribers.

For guidelines and further details, please visit https://shooterlitmag.com/shooter-flash. Feel free to email shooterlitmag@gmail.com with any questions. And poets, no need to feel left out – the 2021 Shooter Poetry Competition is also currently underway.

We can’t wait to read your work – good luck!

Submissions open for Dark Arts

Submissions are now open for Shooter’s winter 2022 issue, themed “Dark Arts”.

We’re looking for stories, essays, memoir and poetry to do with enchantment and scheming, in any context. Black magic, witchcraft and wizardry are the obvious subjects, but we welcome wider interpretations of the theme: anything to do with political manipulation, backroom dealings, romantic plotting, duplicitous gamesmanship, or charismatic trickery is sought. As ever, whether rooted in realism or fantasy, supernatural or sci-fi, please ensure writing adheres to a high literary standard.

Writers should send short stories and non-fiction of 2,000-6,000 words and/or up to three poems, adhering to the submission guidelines, by the deadline of November 7th, 2021. Weave your literary magic, make us fall for your poetry, and grip us with your most masterful prose!

Escape issue brims with weird holidays & bizarre breakups for ultimate Covid-era evasion

During the Covid-19 era, escape has proven more difficult and perhaps, as a result, more craved than in “normal” times.

Given booming book sales since March 2020, evidently many people have achieved escape through imaginary means: armchair tourism of a sort more accessible than plane travel and foreign holidays.

Of course, there has been not just escapism to seek, but suffering to escape from as well. The series of lockdowns has forced unhappy couples to confront insurmountable differences perhaps more successfully ignored in ordinary times, when socialising with friends or disappearing to the golf course were distractions taken for granted. More seriously, rates of domestic violence have risen, with some women and children finding themselves dangerously confined with violent men.

Several contributors to this summer’s Escape issue have directly engaged with consequences of the coronavirus. Heather Holland Wheaton, in her opening story “I Wrote My Name on the Back of the Sky”, imagines a Covid-era opportunity to escape, quite literally, into great works of art. For a non-fiction take on transcending lockdown isolation, Alexandra O’Sullivan explores venturing into virtual reality with her son in her essay “Into the Net”.

Family dynamics and relationship breakdowns connect much of the work, not just in terms of people extricating themselves from marital bonds, but with regard to separation’s effect upon children as well. Jim Toal’s story “The Only Child” charts the experience of a boy sent to stay with his uncle near a remote coast while his parents hash out their divorce elsewhere. In “Saturday Night”, by Angelita Bradney, a rare date night combined with an accident at home pushes one woman to acknowledge the truth about her marriage.

A last-ditch holiday to repair a couple’s relationship following unbearable tragedy proves the final nail in the coffin in Colin Dunne’s “The Human Tower”. The issue’s second non-fiction piece, “Bittersweet” by Jennifer Furner, examines the conflicting tensions of early motherhood and the sense of guilt at needing time away from a young child.

At the more light-hearted end of the spectrum, a hapless holidaymaker finds himself caught up in a marital spat in Anthony Kane Evans’ “Faustine”, while the protagonist of “Meat” is forced to make the ultimate sacrifice in Kate Venables’ vision of the zombie apocalypse.

The Escape issue happens to begin and end with the only two pieces featuring neither family nor romantic relationships. Michael Pacheco wraps up the edition with his prison tale, “The Breakout Artist”, whose inmates find ways out other than over the jailhouse walls.

Throughout this edition’s pages, the poets (James McDermott, John Davis, Amy Malloy, Ann Weil, Sarah O’Connor and Beth McDonough) inject sharp jolts of insight, exhilaration and levity. Last but not least, the 2021 Short Story Competition winner, Lucy Thompson, drips a trail of sticky suspense through her compelling tale, “Honey”.

As it happens, Thompson’s story also fits the Escape theme: a woman trapped by her husband’s coercive control finds a most unusual source of liberation – and revenge. For a truly inventive way to flee an undesirable situation, look no further than this year’s winning tale.

Cover art by C R Resetarits

To order the Escape issue or sign up for a subscription, please visit the Subscriptions page.

The 2021 Poetry Competition is now open to entries, and the theme for the winter 2022 issue will be announced imminently  stay tuned!

Violent undercurrents propel winners of 2021 story contest

“Honey”, a suspenseful tale by Kent-based writer Lucy Thompson, has won the 2021 Shooter Short Story Competition, with Lisa Blackwell’s story “Daddy Longlegs” landing second place.

Thompson’s winning story gripped competition readers with its carefully woven depiction of domestic abuse, leading to a gratifying climax. In an email, Thompson described her inspiration for the story as “too much news”, saying that a radio program about coercive control merged with the sight of beehives at an unusual house to spark the story in her mind.

A former marketing executive, Thompson balances writing with the demands of her two teenage children, partner, and Labradoodle Maisie. Her work has appeared in Black Static, Dawntreader, Firewords and elsewhere, and she is currently working on her first novel. 

The competition’s second-place story, “Daddy Longlegs”, struck readers with its insightful, poignant suggestion of the cycle of violence and its effect on a young boy. Blackwell, a copy-editor living in London, has published fiction in the Bath Short Story Award Anthology 2019, MIR Online, TSS, Reflex Press, and elsewhere, and has also written poetry and plays. She is currently studying for a master’s degree in creative writing from Oxford University.

Both stories are available to read online, and “Honey” will also appear in Shooter’s forthcoming Escape issue. Huge congrats to this year’s winning writers!

Animal Love issue to benefit Spanish Stray Dogs UK

Late one night in March 2013, hungry and bedraggled after the flight from London to Malaga, I walked into a farmhouse kitchen in southern Spain and met one of the loves of my life.

There were other people around, but I only saw him. He made a beeline straight for me. Not tall, dark and handsome, but definitely two out of the three, and far more hirsute than the average gent. The connection was undeniable: We were drawn to each other right from the start.

So far, so romance novel, but there were some key departures from the genre. There was a significant age gap (he was only about six months old), but then I’ve always preferred younger men. Our embrace preceded speech: I knelt to the floor (he was also quite a bit shorter), he leapt into my arms, and I scooped him up into a full-body snuggle. Looking up at the owner of the cortijo, I said, “Oh, I love him! I want him!” She replied, “You want him? You can have him.”

Robbie, along with five other pups found dumped in the nearby streets, had been taken in at Cortijo Uribe. The British couple who ran riding holidays there had decided to rescue some of the region’s multitude of abandoned mutts and find them forever homes. I spent five days getting to know Robbie, forcing myself to consider the commitment: daily walking, feeding, companionship for most of the day, medical care, training and love, for the rest of his life.

Adopting Robbie certainly changed my life. The initial adjustment to a home-bound existence came as a bit of a shock; dogs inevitably curtail your freedom. But the bond we shared was a deep delight. Robbie saw me through family crises, romantic breakups, and seven house moves. He slept on my bed every night and curled near my desk while I worked. We rose together, adventure-walked together, dined out together. When my daughter was born in 2017, he endured the early years of noise and interrupted nights with stoical acceptance.

We moved from London to establish our family life in the countryside, where Robbie survived a severe gastric illness in early 2019 only to develop intestinal cancer the next year. At just turned eight, after a last supper of chicken and ham, Robbie died in my arms beneath a tree on the grass, with a jolt that I’ll never forget. As Anne Pinkerton writes in her essay “Humane”: “I howled like a wolf when it was over, stunned by the rapidity of the process and painfully bereft.”

The theme for Shooter’s 12th issue, Animal Love, happened to be set shortly before discovering Robbie’s cancer. Consequently, not only has the issue turned into something of a tribute to him, but in his honour ten percent of the issue’s profits will go to Spanish Stray Dogs UK, a registered charity working to rehome the abused and abandoned dogs of Spain. If you wish to learn more about the organisation’s work, make a donation, or consider adopting, please visit https://spanishstraydogs.org.uk.

I hope, as you read the stories and poetry in this issue, that you enjoy the transporting levity and engaging provocation of a lot of the pieces. These are, to say the least, difficult and isolating times for most of us, and we might like to read lighter fare than usual as a result. You will find plenty of heartening, diverting and insightful work in these pages. Please go to the Subscriptions page to order a copy.

If, like an increasing number of people during the Covid-19 pandemic, you do decide to welcome a dog into your home, I hope you will look into adopting one rather than buying a puppy, and weigh up the real commitment a dog requires. Many people, finding themselves at home more than usual, are currently acquiring dogs. While that seems like a good thing, if people then find, post-pandemic, that they no longer need to be home as much and therefore no longer wish to look after them, abandonment will rise as well.

One benefit of rescuing a slightly older dog, at least in my experience, is being able to skip the early period of intense housetraining. And if you think it would be a shame to miss the fluffy furball stage, let me assure you that, right up to the point it gets curled into a memorial locket, fur can become even softer over time with all that stroking.

– Melanie White

Jo Gatford wins 2020 Poetry Competition

Jo Gatford, co-founder of Writers’ HQ and author of White Lies (2014, Legend Press), has won Shooter’s 2020 Poetry Competition with “The Case Against Pockets for Women”.

Gatford’s poem plays on the historical lack of – or inadequate size of – pockets in women’s clothing, a sartorial gender disparity commented upon by many from Christian Dior to Invisible Women author Caroline Criado Perez. (The latter’s commentary on the subject recently led to YouGov research into the matter.) The poem’s ironic, imaginative argument and feminist bite made it the clear winner of this year’s contest.

Also embedding social commentary of sorts, Emma Wood earned second place with “I know you sent him to boarding school”, delivering an emotional gut punch with insightful observation and powerful imagery. Wood has just earned a Creative Writing MA with distinction from Surrey University, and writes poetry in between working on children’s adventure fiction.

A few other poets on the shortlist worthy of mention include David Butler for “Light Rail”, Marilyn Timms for “Miscarriage of Justice”, and Rod Whitworth for “Polyphemous”.

Jo Gatford is on Twitter at @jmgatford, and her website is www.jogatford.com. Emma Wood is on Twitter at @Emz_Wood.

Both winning pieces are available to read via the Competition Winners page, while “The Case Against Pockets for Women” will also appear in Shooter’s Winter 2021 edition (the Animal Love issue), which will be published in the new year. To subscribe to Shooter or place a single issue order, please visit the Subscriptions page.

We hope you enjoy the winning poems – feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments!