Shooter Flash: “Third Date” by Crystal Fraser

By the time the moths appeared, it was too late. Somewhere, buried in the folds of scratchy wool and inherited cashmere, immune to desiccated lavender and scent-faded cedar balls, eggs had already been laid. Larvae, microscopic, fed on the fabric, ate through it and, come spring, took flight in winged form. The small brown moths were the worst: a sure sign of holes to come.

Nina had already spied several of the pests that week. Now, she closed in on one marking her apartment wall, a tan smudge almost camouflaged upon the scarred, flaking paint. The moths never moved quickly; even if they did fly off, they fluttered weakly, like dust swirled by a subway gust. This one stayed put. Nina plucked it, rolled her fingers together and brushed off the remains. Particles of wing, paper-thin, drifted into the trash can beside her easel. It was too late to save one of her few pairs of silk underwear; with a little more larval lunching, Nina might pass it off as a crotchless panty. But she could, at the very least, take revenge.

She held up the undergarment towards the light filtering through the smut-greyed window, which was large but, as it overlooked the subway line and the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, enabled more soot- than sun-trapping. Little holes sprayed the fabric as if it had been caught in a miniature drive-by. Given the amount of attention men had paid to her lingerie in recent years, it didn’t much matter; Nina may as well go commando. She felt mournful all the same, balling up the underwear and tossing it the way of its muncher. It was a relic of years past, a time when someone might have admired her in it but, despite the leaner body of youth, she hadn’t had the courage to flaunt it. Just to buy lingerie on rare occasions, to please herself. And now that she had dug it out to consider wearing it, it was no longer an option.


Crystal Fraser’s stories and essays have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, MacGuffin, The Iconoclast, Potato Soup Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere. She teaches high school history in Indianapolis, where she lives with her husband and two kids.

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: “Gentleman’s Relish” by A. S. Partridge

Ryan scrolled through his cache of hotties, looking for the girl eating watermelon. He’d accumulated mostly blondes and the golden manes blurred into a comet streak down the screen of his phone. Quickly, he scanned for the flash of crimson. He needed a quick reminder before their date, for which he was going to be late. Not that he cared.

There: the juicy bite, the tilt of the head, the sexily blackened eyes stopped him like a traffic light. Jana. They’d been messaging for about two weeks. The usual banter, followed by sexting, plus a bonus shot of her in a latex nurse outfit. 

Conveniently, Jana had agreed to meet him at the Looking Glass Cocktail Club, right around the corner from his apartment building, a new five-story development thrust up against a railway arch down a dingy Shoreditch side street. Ryan pushed into the cocktail bar and immediately spotted his date, perched at a corner table, crossed legs punctuated by four-inch stilettos.

“Heyyy,” she squealed, struggling upright to smooch him on the cheek and enveloping him in a fragrant mist.

“Jana. Good to finally meet you.” Ryan deepened his voice slightly. “Can I get you a drink or,” he nodded in the direction of her fruity concoction, “are you okay for now?”

“I’ll have another,” Jana purred, twisting a lock of hair around her finger.

Ryan went to the bar and ordered his usual, a Gentleman’s Relish – gin, something ginger, rhubarb bitters and a splash of tonic – and a Twisted Sister for Jana, with its exclamations of citrus rind. By the time they’d covered the standard topics of work, travel, and where they’d grown up, Jana was leaning into him, fingering the edge of his jacket.

“Your texts were really funny,” she said, “but I didn’t realise what a sweetheart you’d be in person.”

“No-one at work knows that about me,” Ryan sighed, looking deep into her eyes. “They all think I’m a robot. But I feel comfortable with you. You have such a calming energy.” Jana’s eyes grew large as she smiled back at him: widening pupils, a sure sign of attraction.

“Let’s get out of here,” he murmured.

Jana seemed amused to discover how close by he lived, but she more than willingly tottered over to his place. They kissed in the lift, and by the time Ryan opened his front door, Jana was clawing him like a cat on a scratching post.

He’d tidied up beforehand. The duvet – a masculine brown – was smooth on the bed. The side lamp cast a dim glow. Ryan pulled her onto the bed and resumed kissing her, stroking her back until she was ready for more. Soon enough, Jana rose and started tugging at the buttons of his shirt. He eased off her top, plucking open the buttons of her jeans in preparation, then turned his attention to her chest. As he ran his hands over her curves he realised, with disappointment, that her bra was heavily padded. Quickly he reached around to unhook the back but as the bra fell away, Jana flattened him and pressed her mouth ardently against his.

He let her writhe around on top of him for a while, then flipped her over and reached into her jeans. Jana’s hips began moving more violently against his hand and soon she yanked herself upright, peeled off the rest of her clothes and began tugging at Ryan’s trousers. She seemed pretty intent; he might get away without using a condom. She wasn’t pausing. He was just going to let her ride.

When it was over, Jana collapsed beside him. She was panting and sweaty, but Ryan didn’t mind, now that it was finished. He let the dopamine wash him into a doze.

Later, he woke to Jana padding back from the bathroom, fully dressed.

“Hey,” she whispered, leaning over him. “I have to go.”

“Okay,” he said, feeling relieved. It was still ridiculously early; the sky past the edge of his blind glimmered weakly against the dark steel of the elevated railway tracks.

“Thanks,” she said, lowering to kiss him.

“Thank you,” he stirred himself to utter with sincerity.

The next few weeks were rammed as usual. He fit in a few fresh Tinder dates, keeping up the rotation. He thought about following up with Jana, but decided not to bother.

He was snatching lunch in the middle of a frantic day of meetings when his phone pinged and the watermelon materialised on his screen.

Hey Ryan, hope you’re well. Can we meet up this weekend?

Ryan smirked, fingers hovering. She’d probably been waiting for him to contact her while the frustration built to volcanic proportions. Why not see her a second time, he figured, starting to tap a reply. Toss her a pity bang. Then delete her.

He met Jana for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant along the roaring Kingsland Road. He was there first this time and failed to recognise her when she walked in, wearing a blue sweater, flats and a bare face. Pretty cocky to make no effort, he thought. She strode over and coolly kissed him on the cheek. Where was watermelon girl? All her flirtiness had dissolved.

“Red or white?” he asked, feeling disgruntled. He took his time scanning the menu. Not much of a face to look at tonight anyway.

“I’m not drinking,” she said, settling down. He could feel her eyeing him. Jesus, was she about to give him a hard time? Ryan figured he’d get a glass of the more expensive Sauv Blanc, if he was just buying for himself. A large glass.

“Maybe I should get a bottle anyway,” he said, trying to shift the mood. “I’ll drink for two.” Her face split into a satisfied grin. At last. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.

“Perfect,” she said, opening the menu, “as it turns out that I’m eating for two.”


A. S. Partridge has published poetry, flash fiction, and short stories in numerous magazines including Aurora, Malahat Review, Popshot, Scribble, and others. She lives in Edinburgh, where she is working on a satirical novel about motherhood.

(Photo by Dainis Graveris on SexualAlpha)

Shooter Flash: “The Torturer’s Dog” by Edward Barnfield

“Look at him. Look at him.” 

Makis points a bony finger to the door, and we watch together as his dog, a dirty grey terrier, circumnavigates the sides of the room to reach us. 

“Going blind, you see. Old dogs, they stick to the walls.”

It takes about a minute for the animal to reach the sofa, and once it arrives it squats, pathetically, unable to summon the energy to jump to its master. Makis takes pity and lifts it to his lap. 

“Time beats us all in the end,” he says, scratching its raw pink belly.   

The apartment has high windows and art deco details, a sense of old-world expense, but most of the furniture is as raggedy as the dog. There are no curtains, and I’m distracted by movement on the balconies opposite. This neighbourhood has aggressively resisted the gentrification that has reshaped the rest of the city, and my eyes are drawn to a thin man in a red vest sunning himself. Makis points to my recorder, moves the moment along. 

“You have questions?” he says. 

“I’m interested in why you think you were recruited. What did they see in you?” 

He sighs and strokes the dog’s neck, and it makes a soft noise like a horse’s whicker. For a moment I think he’s going to go silent, or ask me to leave, and then –

“They picked good boys. Obedient. Families.”

“Middle class?” There’s a sneer in my voice I hope he doesn’t catch. 

“No, no. I don’t think there were three years of schooling between us. Just working boys who could swing a hammer. Who cried when they threatened our families.” 

“And did they?” 

He manoeuvres his pet onto a faded green cushion and rolls his sleeve up. There are five or six old scars on the back of his arm, thick as zebra stripes. 

“You want the communists to rape your sister, boy?” His voice is harsher, the memory of an old tormentor thickening his accent. “These were all in the first week. They heated a metal bar on a brasier, and you had to sit there and watch it glow.” 

I’d heard the stories, of course. The colonels wanted malleable young conscripts to help with interrogations. They sought out the illiterate and the apolitical, finding kids as young as fourteen and putting them in uniform. Of course, if your objective is brutality, you first need to brutalise. 

“Everything they wanted us to do, they did to us first,” he says. The scarred arm moves to pet the dog. 

“How long before they put you in the Special Interrogation Section?”

“A few months. They knew, you see, that I’d do what they ordered.” 

“How many men do you think you interrogated while you were there?” 

Makis sits back, stares out of the window. The man in red has moved inside, so I’m not sure what he is looking at. I wonder if I should repeat the question. 

“I wanted to be a painter when I was a child. Can you imagine? Six brothers, three sisters, yellow fever all over the countryside and I wanted to paint. Where could that idea have come from?” 

The anecdote hangs there, and for an uncomfortable moment I feel a swell of pity for the man, old and alone and unable to unravel his own mysteries. We always think of the lives of others as linear, but our own experience refutes that. Memories loom large, and the pain of long-ago wounds returns, until you’re left clinging to the walls because you can no longer see clearly.

Then I remember my purpose. 

“Makis, how many?” 

His gaze moves from the window and back to me. His voice drops to a whisper.

“Too many to count.” 

“Did you interrogate the politician, Konstantopoulos? The army major, Moustaklis? Did you know he never walked or spoke again after his release?” 

 “I don’t –”

“Do you remember the slogan on the walls, Makis? Do you remember what it said?” 

I’m conscious my tone is too angry now, and that my interviewee is staring at me with fresh eyes, wondering who this middle-aged woman in his armchair might really be and whether her journalistic credentials can be trusted. 

He shakes his head, silent. 

Those who enter here, exit either as friends or as cripples. Do you remember that?” 

The dog picks up on the tension in the room and growls faintly without raising its head. 

“Miss, I’m sorry. I’m an old soldier on a pension who volunteers at an animal shelter. That’s all. I made a full account of my actions to the tribunal, and even that’s been forgotten. Who I was, before this… It’s all gone. Why are you interested?”  

“They said you were the worst, Makis. The ones who survived, they said you were the cruellest on the punishment block.” 

“But they are gone too, my dear. Prisoners and guards, colonels and radicals. What does pain matter a generation later?” 

On one level, he’s right. The building that housed the Special Interrogation Section is now a museum celebrating the life of a leader of the liberation movement. The park behind it, where they dumped the bodies of those who couldn’t take any more, has three branded coffee shops and a fitness area. 

But then I think of my own experience, a father’s face I only knew from photographs. I think of how my mother withdrew from the world and stayed hidden even after the junta fell, and how – when she died last month, just shy of her centennial – she told me she had never forgiven them. I think of the hammer in my handbag. 

The dog stretches and half-rolls, half-falls off the sofa. It trots to me, its nose cold against my bare legs. Despite myself, I pat behind its ears. 


Edward Barnfield is a writer and researcher living in the Middle East. His stories have appeared in Ellipsis Zine, Lunate, Strands, Twin Pies Literary, Janus Literary, Third Flatiron, The Molotov Cocktail, Roi Fainéant Press, Leicester Writes and Reflex Press, among others. He’s on Twitter at @edbarnfield and Instagram at barnfieldedward.

Shooter Flash: “Free Solo” by Zach Sager

The rock loomed above Martin in the early morning sun, a vertical gray crag. After months of distractions he was finally upon it. The dark crevices felt warm beneath his powdered hands. His fingers curled into the holds, steadying his body, feet reaching for the slight ledges that jutted from the ragged rockface.

Climbing purified Martin’s mind. Thoughts of his ailing mother, his distracted wife, his teenage daughters, his precarious job – all fell away. In the moment there was only his grip upon the rock: the unyielding fact of it beneath his flesh, ascent his singular goal. Nothing else mattered when he was climbing, only the inching upwards, the pressure and push to scale the wall or the rock or the mountain. To daydream, to fret, to relax meant to fall.

Rachel had never shared his passion, but she’d accepted his disappearances on weekends and the occasional evening. She’d argued with him about the free solo documentary, but he’d imagined the sense of ultimate freedom, of exhilaration, that such feats must generate, and since watching the movie he’d been unable to shake his yearning. He’d always climbed with ropes – strapped into his harness, double-checking his safety gear – but not today.

At the start of his climb he’d felt a shiver of awe, but also excitement, looking up at the towering crest. He’d spent some time running his hands over the rock and contemplating his route. He felt light in his t-shirt, no dangling straps or clanging carabiners. Today he would push himself beyond his usual limits. He would taste the liberation of the free soloists.

Martin proceeded steadily, careful yet in the zone, testing footholds and feeling for cracks. He made slow but sure progress, looking neither down nor up but at the next portion of rock before him. His mind cleared; the rest of life drained away. There was only the pump of his blood and the strain of his muscles, a light breeze at his back and the faint fluting of birdsong in the background.

The crest of the crag remained far above him when Martin felt his arms begin to tire. Despite climbing since boyhood, middle age was taking its inevitable toll; his strength was not what it used to be. A ripple of panic intruded on his concentration and a cold sweat broke out across his brow. Reaching for the next hold with his toe, his leg began to scrabble against the rock, then seized up, and Martin felt himself begin to slip.

His sense of willpower and liberation flipped to full-bore fear as thoughts came rushing back: What would his girls do if they lost their father? How would his family cope with the trauma of sudden loss? How could he have been so cavalier with his safety? All in pursuit of an adrenaline rush. How could he ever have thought that might be the pinnacle of experience, when so many things were more important?

These things and more flashed though Martin’s mind as he came off the rock. His body scratched and bumped against the sharp surface; as he fell nine feet to the ground, he felt somehow absolved by the scrapes and bruises. They would tether him to his renewed perspective and, next time he came to climb the crag, he could go farther, knowing that he had brought his ropes.


Zach Sager is an attorney who lives in Delaware with his Boston Terrier, Heff. He writes, and climbs, in his spare time. This is his first published piece of fiction.

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.

Issue 15: Out West

I was once an Eastern greenhorn, a city girl lured to the Rocky Mountain West by the promise of big skies and open ranges, rodeo riding and cowboy culture. I found myself in a small town in a sweeping landscape, where the sense of space expanded inner horizons as much as outer ones. Years later, back in England, I made another westward move (admittedly on a more modest scale), from London to the green hills of the Cotswolds.

The allure of the West, of wild(er)ness and migration, underpins much of Shooter’s Out West issue. Some of the edition’s writers celebrate classic aspects of Western mythology (horses, reinvention, seeking a better life), while others confront its downsides (toxic masculinity, guns, prejudice). Beyond myths conjured by pioneer history and movie lore, the issue sifts through these ideas to explore personal, nuanced elements of the American West. And beyond that fabled frontier, writers examine East/West culture clashes and mind-expanding experiences in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and even Sudan.

One piece that does so with a satisfying dose of humour is Georgia Boon’s opening story, “West Country”, about an actress sent to the south-western corner of England to bond with her equine costar. Horses also feature in “Nice Riding” by Becky Hansen, her memoir about a simple yet potent accolade from a straight-shooting cowboy.

The issue’s other two pieces of fiction explore darker aspects of the theme. Zachary Kellian depicts the toxic masculinity within a group of Nevada desert dowsers in “Set in Stone”, when one of the drill workers is forced to come to terms with his sexuality. Annie Dawid, in “Acts of Nature, Acts of God”, imagines a Wyoming coroner’s struggle following the gun death of a ten-year-old boy.

Travelling abroad gives rise to very different experiences for two of the issue’s non-fiction authors. In “What’s in a Name?”, Parnian Sadeghi writes of the challenge to her identity after moving from Iran to the U.K. For Barbara Tannenbaum, visiting New Zealand from California following a cancer diagnosis leads to an uplifting revelation.

Abundant poetry rounds out the issue’s prose (for the first time featuring an equal number of fiction and non-fiction pieces). Sally St Clair and Callista Markotich take inspiration from history and literature in “Californian Bone Soup” and “Language Lorn, Riding to Mexico”. Dreams of travel infuse Nicholas Hogg’s “Mariner”, while Millie Light conjures a strong sense of place in her two Cornish poems. Sinister elements lace Meghan Kemp-Gee’s “The Fugitive” and Richard Lister’s Darfur-set poem “Apart”. In “The Student with Spurs”, David M Schulz conveys the limitations of the Western dream, while John Laue rounds out the issue with some whimsical yet lucid Californian haiku.

Finally, don’t miss Lynette Creswell’s historical fiction, “Malkin Tower”, winner of the 2022 Shooter Short Story Competition. Inspired by the 1612 witch trials in Pendle, northwest England, Creswell conjures a compelling, suspenseful tale with a vividly murky setting. The story revolves around a young girl forced to testify against her mother and sister, who stand accused of witchcraft. “Malkin Tower” underscores that injustice can occur in any era – or, as other work in this edition shows, at any point on the compass.

Cover art by C R Resetarits

To order a copy of the Out West issue, please visit the Subscriptions page.

The 2022 Poetry Competition is now open to entries, and the theme for the winter 2023 issue will be announced imminently online!

Shooter Flash: “Greed” by James Hancock

At night, a child’s bedroom is a grey gloom of pretty things shrouded in shadow: an assortment of daytime toys waiting quietly as children sleep in the half-light. Maisie and Martin’s room was no different. Normal in every way, except for the faint glow of silver-pink light that floated in from between their bedroom curtains. A soft aura of minuscule powder sparkles and the shape of something small and magical within the light. A fairy.

Butterfly wings worked to a blur, carrying the visitor over to Maisie, where it hovered, and without a sound, gently lifted the girl’s pillow to exchange tooth for coin.

But it was interrupted.

Maisie’s eyes opened and she smiled. The menacing smile of a six-year-old missing her two front teeth.

“Gotcha!” Martin shouted with delight, and as the tooth fairy turned to face the boy in the next bed, he blasted her with a jet of fly spray. The tooth fairy coughed, covered her face with tiny hands, and flew away in retreat. Straight into a box, which Maisie instantly lidded shut. Captured!

“It worked,” Maisie chuckled, and gave the box a shake.

Martin wrung his hands together and grinned. “How much money do you think a tooth fairy carries?” He took the box from his sister and put his ear against it.

Maisie reached under her bed and produced a zip bag of wicked things. “Let’s find out,” she said, pulling a penknife from the bag and passing it to her brother.

Cutting a slit in the lid, Martin brought his lips close. “Listen here, little fairy. Post your coins through that gap. All of them. Or else!”

“Or else we’ll throw the box, and you, on the fire,” Maisie added.

“Please,” came a soft whimper from within.

“Do it!” Martin snapped, then gave the box another shake. “If you want to go free, you better do as you’re told.”

“And hurry up about it,” Maisie added.

A moment of quiet as the dazed prisoner recovered her bearings, then a small gold coin slid out through the gap. Cackling with glee, Maisie snatched it up and examined it. Another coin followed the first. Then another. And another. Coins continued to emerge through the slit in the box lid, instantly grabbed by greedy fingers.

Then the tiny voice came again: “There are no more.”

“You sure?” Martin growled in a threatening tone. “We don’t like tricksters.”

As Martin began counting their stolen treasure, Maisie leaned in to whisper, “We punish them.”

“I promise.” A sniff followed the timid voice. “Please let me go.”

Maisie picked up her penknife and tested the sharpness of its point with a finger. “Well?”

“Thirty-five,” said Martin. “Good enough?”

Maisie thought about it for a moment, clicked the penknife shut, and gave a nod.

Once again, Martin pushed his lips to the lid. “No funny business or we’ll clip your wings. Okay?”

A frightened murmur: “Yes.”

Martin lifted the lid, and the fairy darted out in a flash. A silver-pink blur, then darkness as the fairy disappeared behind the curtains and was gone.

Maisie and Martin laughed triumphantly. They scooped coins, penknife, and fly spray into the bag of wicked things and climbed back into their beds, their fiendish plan a great success.

Come morning, the twins awoke from a night of vivid dreams and peeled their faces from blood-caked pillows. Screams rang out as fingers pawed at deep holes in raw toothless gums.

Another visit had concluded matters, and the greedy children had paid their debt in full.


James Hancock is a writer/screenwriter of comedy, thriller, horror, sci-fi, and twisted fairy tales. A few of his short screenplays have been made into films, and he has been published in print magazines, online, and in anthologies. He lives in England with his wife and two daughters. And a bunch of pets he insisted his girls could NOT have.

Witch trials inspire 2022 story comp winner

Lynette Creswell has won the 2022 Shooter Short Story Competition with “Malkin Tower”, a tale inspired by the Pendle witch trials of 1612.

Shooter’s competition readers and judge, editor Melanie White, were quickly caught up by Creswell’s suspenseful storytelling and vivid 17th-century setting. In an email, Creswell wrote, “I felt compelled to write the story after hearing the true events of Jannet Devices, a local nine-year-old girl who in the 17th century sent ten innocent souls to their deaths.”

Creswell, who lives in Lincolnshire, has published several fantasy and romance novels (including Sinners of Magic, the first of a trilogy), as well as a children’s book, Hoglets’ Christmas Magic. Her story “A Slice of Cake” won the Society of Women Writers and Journalists’ short story competition in 2019.

Dean Gessie came runner-up in Shooter’s story competition with “Nobody Knows How Much You Love Him”, a tale about a child’s illness skilfully interwoven with metafictional allusions. Gessie, a Canadian author and poet, has won numerous international awards for his writing, including this year’s Aesthetica Creative Writing Award for poetry. His short story collection, Anthropocene, won an Eyelands Book Award in Greece and the Uncollected Press Prize in Maryland, USA.

One story also earned an honourable mention this year: Jeremy Smith’s “Pulpit Politics”, for its deft handling of topical immigration themes. Smith, a charity administrator who lives in London, has been published recently in Popshot Quarterly.

Both “Malkin Tower” and “Nobody Knows How Much You Love Him” are available to read online, and “Malkin Tower” will also appear in Shooter’s forthcoming Out West issue. Congratulations to this year’s winning writers!


Shooter Flash: “The Cleaner” by Sam Szanto

Carys attacks the master bedroom with a Henry hoover, tucks the sheets – ‘hospital corners’, her mother whispers from beyond the grave – and changes the pillowcases, one of which is streaked with what appears to be spray-tan. She also picks up a pair of frilly knickers and worries a stain on the carpet until two pairs of latex gloves are ruined. Then she takes two white towels from the ensuite and folds them into swans to go on the bed; she saw it done in a film about Japan and regards it as her special touch. It eats into her limited time but makes her clients feel special. 

The kitchen is next. Deflating helium balloons bob, including an ‘18’. It must be for the daughter, Isla. She was 13 when Carys first came here. Carys was employed by an agency then called Mrs Mop.

Carys is blitzing the work-surfaces as the client, Morgana, appears. It’s the first time she’s seen her today: Carys was given a key after two years’ weekly service. Morgana is wearing purple Lycra and carrying her iPhone in its glittery purple case. She looks tired, yellow skin under her eyes.

‘I’m making coffee if you’d like one?’ she asks.

Carys has a rule not to accept hot drinks from clients, so declines as she always does. Morgana turns on the coffee machine. Carys brushes away food scraps, takes the plastic and glass recycling to the bins outside, sweeps and bleaches the floor. Morgana drinks her cappuccino and talks about Isla’s party at the weekend. Carys makes appropriate noises in response. Morgana is one of only a few clients who talk to her while she’s working; she suspects the others hide, or pretend to be very busy at their laptops; but she has seen games of solitaire on the screens. Once, at the end of a shift, she passed a café and saw the client whose house she had been cleaning sitting in front of their laptop.  

Kitchen finished, Carys takes her cleaning supplies to the family bathroom. Morgana follows to the threshold.

‘Hey,’ she says, ‘you’re married?’

Carys starts; had she talked about her husband? She had a dream about him the night before and its cobwebs have clung to her all day. Then she follows Morgana’s gaze to her ring finger; her hands are usually concealed by latex gloves but she’d just run out.

‘Yes,’ Carys says, ‘married for fifteen years.’ 

Morgana doesn’t need to know that her husband died three years ago, after the black tentacles of cancer latched onto him.

‘Ahh, quite the stretch.’ 

Morgana wants to hear more; Carys doesn’t want to say more.

After a pause, Morgana starts talking about her husband. Now that the lockdown rules have been lifted, he is in the office almost every day and out a lot in the evenings.

‘It’s like he doesn’t want to spend time with us,’ Morgana moans. ‘I’m sure people aren’t meant to go back to work full-time in offices even now.’

‘I’m sure he’s very busy,’ Carys says meaninglessly.

She removes the plastic bag from the bin, stuffing the tissues that were on the floor into it. Her hands brush against a plastic stick. She shouldn’t look, but she does. There are two pink lines on the stick. It could be a Covid test, but the ones she has used have C and T on them. Morgana is looking at her phone, so hasn’t noticed. Carys wonders whether to tell her about what might be a pregnancy test, but what if it is Morgana’s rather than Isla’s? Despite the amount of time she has spent listening to her client, she doesn’t know how old she is: she could be anywhere between 35 and 45. 

Carys ties the handles of the bag and places it outside the bathroom. She washes her hands for twenty seconds, singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice in her head. Then she sweeps up the hair on the floor, sluices water, scrubs sink-grime and tackles shower-mould. Morgana’s phone rings, and she walks away to answer it.

In the hall, Carys feather-dusts photos of Isla at various ages. She sprays glass cleaner on the wedding photo of Morgana and her husband Al. In the photo, Morgana is wearing a surgical-white gown with a sweetheart neckline, which Carys knows was handmade in London, and clutches a bouquet of deep-red roses; Al wears a matching red tie and button-hole rose. Carys and her husband don’t look like that in their one wedding photo. They married on a trip to Scotland, witnessed by two registry office staff, one of whom had taken the photo. She wore a pale blue dress, her husband a checked shirt. Their daughter was born nine months to the day later. Has she ever told Morgana she has a daughter? Clemmie is the same age as Isla; Carys cannot imagine her daughter with a baby.

Carys’s final task is the living room. They have a cat the colour of Morgana’s wedding dress, and Carys lint-rolls its hair off the sofa. She feels a pang as she does it – her fingers are a bit arthritic now.

The four hours (plus ten minutes, which she won’t be paid for) are up. Carys calls to Morgana that she is leaving; Morgana shouts goodbye from upstairs. The cat gives a sad-sounding miaow.

Carys wipes her sweaty face with a piece of kitchen roll, lugs her bucket and brushes to her car, and drives away. One more client to go, and then she can clean her own home. 

As she drives down Morgana’s road, she passes a car parked at the far end. She recognises the man on the driver’s side from the wedding photo she has just dusted, but not the woman. They do not see her.


Sam Szanto lives in Durham. Almost 40 of her stories and poems have been published or listed in competitions. In March, she won second prize in the Writer’s Mastermind Story Contest. She was a winner in the Literary Taxidermy awards, won second prize in the Doris Gooderson Competition 2019, and third prize in the Erewash Open Competition 2021. She won the 2020 Charroux Prize for Poetry and the First Writers International Poetry Competition.