Shooter Flash: “The Oak” by Jennie Stevenson

“And this is you,” says Eva, showing me into my new home.

It’s pleasant enough – The Oaks is very upmarket – but we both know what it really is: death’s waiting room. My things, already delivered, are the pitiful sum of an entire life: trinkets, books, photo albums I haven’t opened in years. At least my wardrobe is a rainbow of velvets and silks.

A vase of spring flowers stands on the table, from Eva, and my eyes prick with tears. How long has it been – if ever – since someone gave me flowers?

There’s a soft thwock from outside: my flat, on the first floor, overlooks the tennis court. A man in tennis gear is exiting the court, an elderly woman on each arm, laughing. His hair is white, but his shoulders are broad, his arms still muscular and tanned. 

“Found the quarterback,” I murmur. The kind of guy who would never notice me.

Eva laughs. “That’s Tom. He’s quite popular with the ladies.” I bet.

My new doctor arrives. I notice Eva stealing glances at him as he checks over my medical records, and I don’t blame her – if I were a few years younger, I might have flirted with him myself.

They leave and the room feels empty. I need some air.


When I reach the huge oak in the centre of the retirement village, I stop to rest my aching hips on the bench curving around its trunk. A voice startles me: the jock, a ribbon of sandpaper between his fingers.

“Hi. I’m Tom.”

He’s carving ornate patterns on the arm of the bench: leaves, flowers, birds.

“Oh! It’s beautiful. You’re a woodworker?”

He smiles. “Used to be. Still am when my hands let me. You?”

“I’m… I used to be a travel writer.”

He sighs. “I would have loved to travel. What was your favourite place?”

I laugh. “I can’t choose. It would be like choosing a favourite child.”

“Tell me about them.” So I do. I tell him about haggling for spices in the crowded passages of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, the drifting cherry blossom in Kyoto in spring, the dizzying cliffs of the Italian riviera. After a while he stops carving, closes his eyes and listens so intently I think he’s fallen asleep.

When I’ve finished, he asks, “Do you play chess?” When I say no, he laughs and says he’ll teach me. “Same time tomorrow?”


His chess set is exquisite. “I’ll make you one too,” he tells me. “My shelves are full, and if I offer to make anything for the ladies here they’ll only get the wrong idea.” Subtext: he can offer one to me, because he couldn’t possibly be interested.

“No grandchildren?” I ask, lightly.

He sighs. “No. I never – met the right person. I was engaged once, but for the wrong reasons, so I broke it off. You?”

“No. Same.” Our eyes meet – a fleeting understanding? Or am I kidding myself?


As the branches above us turn green, he teaches me to play chess, and then he carves a set for me. I bring my photo albums, the pages sticking together, and show him places I’ve been and known and loved, and sometimes he carves and sometimes he just closes his eyes and listens. 

Then he brings his photographs to show me: cribs that will become family heirlooms, a bookcase for an eccentric professor, a couple of fiddles he made just for the challenge of it.

One day, we find a couple locked in an embrace on what I’ve come to think of as our bench: Eva and the doctor. I wink at her as they disappear toward the doctors’ quarters.


Eva stops by our bench a few weeks later, smiling as she looks from one to the other of us. Above, the leaves are just starting to turn.

I ask about the doctor and she tells us that they’ve split. “I want to focus on work… and honestly? He’s kind of a dick.” 

Tom laughs heartily, but after she’s gone, his mood turns. “Sex before marriage, career before a relationship… It’s a different world to the one where we grew up. Makes me wonder how things could have been different…” He sighs. “In the next life, I guess.”

“Do you believe in reincarnation?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know. I just want to believe I could have a do-over. It’s only when you get to the end you realise what really matters.”

“What would you do differently?”

He shrugs again. “Travel?” He places his hand next to mine, and my blood fizzes. “Be braver.” He slips his hand over mine, and my heart judders in my chest. “And I hope… I hope I would have met you sooner.”

I turn toward him, and our eyes meet, and then he kisses me. And I’m aware of everything and nothing: the thousand sighing leaves above us, his hand cupping my face, the solid bench beneath us and the beating of my heart. He breaks off and smiles at me. “Same time tomorrow?”


I’m woken by hammering on my door. The world outside is cold and grey, shrouded in fog.

Eva. She’s holding something in her hands, but it’s her eyes I notice first: they’re swollen and red.

“I’m sorry. This should get easier, but it never does. And I wanted to be the one to tell you.”

His huge heart: a massive heart attack.

“I think he would have wanted you to have this.” 

She hands me the object: a carving of two figures on a bench, hand in hand, their foreheads touching, one with broad shoulders and still-muscular arms. I see the sharp crease in my trousers, the scarf in my pocket, my neat goatee: how clearly he saw me. How much love went into this. How much time we wasted. And across the bottom, the flowing inscription: To Jack, until the next life. All my love, Tom.

*  *  *

Jennie Stevenson is an English graduate currently working as a freelance content writer. Born and brought up in the north of England, she now lives in southern Sweden with her husband, where they are comfortably outnumbered by their children and pets.

Shooter Flash: “Haunted” by Lucy Brighton

I didn’t think I would be the kind of ghost that haunts people, but here I am. I still go to school every day like I did before. What else is there to do? I keep hoping I will meet some other ghosts to show me the ropes. No luck so far.

When I first rose from the spot where I’d fallen, I looked at the scene. A noose swung from a bare tree branch. I imagined people gathered around professing a love for me in death that they never showed in life. I imagined my mother, dressed in black of course, wailing at the senseless loss of it all. And I was sure there’d be a memorial Facebook page; there’d been one a few years ago when April, three years older than me, had died in a car crash. 

I waited three hours before I realised that nobody was coming. So, I went home. I walked past my mum, sitting on the sofa with her coffee cup full of whisky and fooling nobody. She said nothing. Obviously. 

When I woke the next morning, I logged onto Facebook, eager to see if my memorial page was up. It wasn’t. They probably haven’t found me yet, I thought. 

That was three days ago. I walk the quiet corridors of my school, almost empty now that everyone else is in lessons. Sometimes I go to class; sometimes I don’t. There doesn’t seem much point in learning anything. I can’t imagine ghosts have to take GCSEs. I think again how much I wish there was someone else like me I could talk to, who I could ask about these changes, maybe someone to hug me.

Nobody hugged me before the rope on the tree. Nobody raced to my rescue to talk me down, like they do on TV. It was a quiet affair; the only sound was the rustle of autumn leaves in the wind. 

“Watch out,” I shout as someone ploughs into me, almost knocking me over. Then I remember my situation and feel ridiculous. They can’t see or hear me, so what’s to stop them even walking straight through me? 

I don’t stay in school long today; it’s too hard watching the others at break time. Their laughter and togetherness wrenches at whatever constitutes a heart for a ghost. 

I don’t go home either. The last two nights have been insufferable. I sat on the same chair as always; Mum, saying nothing, drank her whisky and watched the soaps. She never even cries. Maybe it’s her way of coping, I tell myself. 

I head to the graveyard. I mean, seems apt for a ghost, right? I count the rows: twelve rows down, fifth grave along. I sit beside the grave and touch the headstone, surprised that it feels cold to my touch. 

“It’s me, Dad,” I say, then look around to see if he’s there. He would make the perfect ghost guide. We could be together again at last.

“It’s Sophie, Dad. I’m dead now too so you can show yourself.”


I think it will probably take time for him to get to me from wherever he is. I didn’t notice any passage of time, personally: one minute I was climbing the tree with the noose around my neck and the next I was a ghost. Maybe Dad goes to work, like I go to school, out of habit, for something to do. I wouldn’t even know how to get there – which bus would I catch? No, I better wait here. 

I sit for a long time. There’s a brief flurry of activity around sunset when people seem to walk their dogs. Then silence. I shuffle around on the cold grass. 

I feel certain he will return here when it gets really late. I let the excitement fizz inside me like popping candy. I picture his strong arms and his curly rust hair. And mostly, I think of his smile. It’s been almost a year and the picture of him in my mind is fading a little but the smile is burned into my mind’s eye. I know he will look the same, not like some ghoul from a horror film, because I still do. I haven’t changed a bit.

There’s a rustle. I listen, desperate for the tread of his heavy boots. The sound grows, definitely movement. Panic seizes me for a second. Maybe it’s a bear or a fox. So what if it is, I think, what harm can it do me now. I puff out my chest. 

Human steps. I could burst with anticipation, like a thousand Christmas mornings. I’m finally going to see Dad again.

Instead, in the moonlight, the person reveals itself as Mum. 

“Sophie,” she says, her voice heavy with tears.

Maybe she comes here to talk to us both.

“Sophie,” she says again, moving closer.

She can’t actually see me, so I stay put. 

“I’ve been worried, Sophie,” she says and crouches down beside me.

I look around the empty graveyard. 

“It’s time to come home, sweetheart,” she says and puts her arm around me. I can feel it – the weight of her arm and the warmth of her breath. 

“It’s time to come home, Sophie,” she says again, standing and pulling me up with her.

“I just wanted to see him again, Mum,” I say, following her toward the gate. 

“I know,” she says. “I know.”


Lucy Brighton is a Northern-based writer who has completed an MA in Creative Writing at Leeds Trinity University (Distinction). Her work has been published in Writers Forum, Journeys: A Space for Words, and Henshaw Press’s second anthology, as well as various websites and online magazines.