Content Warning: Murder, Snakes, Racism.
In this episode we have three fantastic short stories. First we dip into a murder mystery for a brush with danger. Then we tend to snakes with a higher purpose. Finally we travel with a young Filipino author as she confronts her dreams.
We would like to thank Winfrey Padlan for voicing Marisa.
Author's social media:
Jack Dowd - https://jackdowdswritingblog.wordpress.com/
Niles Reddick - https://nilesreddick.com/
Ceth Isle - https://www.facebook.com/princethomas.sinel?comment_id=Y29tbWVudDo2MzY1MTA3Mzg1MzI3OThfMTY4ODc1OTkwNDg5Nzc4MA%3D%3D
Hello and Welcome to ‘Scintillating stories’ in this show we read short stories by a variety of authors.
Today we are reading three pieces of flash fiction.
Jack Dowd graduated from London South Bank University with a BA Hons in Creative Writing in 2015. After graduating, he had several short stories published, including one story which won first place in the Metamorphose’s Science Fiction Short Story Competition. In 2018, he self-published his novel, Empty Nights. Jack writes micro fiction, flash fiction, short stories, novels and novellas, and also occasionally turns his hand to plays and screenplays. Although he writes in most genres, he generally finds himself penning thrillers, horrors and mysteries.
By Jack Dowd
‘I’m starting on the clam bra now.’
Amos glanced at the design. The mermaid was perched on a rock, hands removing the shells that covered her breasts, scarlet hair trailing down her back.
‘How are you finding the pain?’
He caught sight of Jason’s wild grin in the reflection of the mirror and thought that if anything, the man was enjoying it. Clients wouldn’t normally volunteer themselves for an eight hour tattoo session yet Jason had seemed insistent on the idea. Amos thought about his client’s deposit, allowing him to fast track the waiting list, and wondered if it would allow him to pay this month’s rent.
‘Hot, ain’t it? They said on the news that the heatwave’s gonna get worse.’
Jason’s only response was a grunt. Amos studied Jason’s other tattoos, both of beautiful women who Jason had claimed he’d sketched himself. He had designed the mermaid in such a position that when he flexed his arm, her lips would pucker into a kiss.
‘Don’t mind if I open the door, do you?’
When Jason failed to reply, Amos lowered his tattoo gun and propped the back door open with a fire extinguisher.
As he returned, a bell jingled from the reception area. Amos ignored it, picked up his gun and began to outline the mermaid’s elbow.
After a moment, the bell sounded again. A voice from the other side of the curtain spoke.
‘Hello? It’s the police.’
Amos swore, lowered the tattoo gun again and peeled off his gloves. ‘My receptionist’s probably nipped outside for a smoke. You stay here, ok mate?’
‘What? How long you gonna be?’
‘Not long,’ he shrugged, surprised that Jason had broken his near silence since the start of the session, ‘I’ll be back as soon as I can. Stay still so the ink doesn't run.’ As the curtain swept back behind him Amos was certain he heard Jason cursing.
Two police officers were waiting at the counter. Amos saw that the first had his hand poised over the bell while the second was admiring what Amos considered his masterpiece, a framed photograph of a bodybuilder with a crimson dragon emblazoned on his chest.
‘Are you the owner, sir?’ The officer at the desk asked.
Amos saw that one of the officers had knocked the front door’s wedge aside when they entered. The shop door had swung shut, trapping the humid air.
‘You shouldn’t leave your shop front unsupervised,’ the second officer said.
‘I have a receptionist,’ Amos said and spied the temp through the shop window, a cigarette dangling between her fingers. She was chatting into a phone, leaning against a lamppost, her back to the shop.
‘Are you aware of the incident that took place in the early hours of this morning, at the other end of the high street?’ the first officer asked.
‘A girl was murdered leaving the nightclub down the road, Innocence.’
‘Oh my god, are you serious?’
‘I’m afraid so. We were hoping to look at your security camera outside.’
‘That’s been broken for months,’ Amos said, ‘keep meaning to have it fixed but never found the time, y’know?’
The two officers exchanged a disappointed glance. ‘We also have reason to believe,’ the first officer continued, ‘that the victim may have been familiar with your shop.’
‘What? You mean she was tattooed here?’
‘Her family says so. Her name is Emilie Hacking. If we showed you a picture do you think you would recognize her?
‘I dunno, depends how long ago she came in. I’ve been in this shop for three years now, I’ve tattooed hundreds of people.’
The officer took out a tablet and loaded an image. A girl in her mid-twenties with dyed red hair and matching lips smiled up at Amos. Judging from the patches of coloured light behind her, Amos guessed the picture had been taken inside a nightclub.
‘I don’t think I know her. Sorry.’
‘She was a student at the Moresborough Art College. She had a tattoo of a black star on her left wrist.’
The police officer swiped the screen and a new image appeared. The photo showed a black star on the inside of a wrist, wrapped in cling film. The skin around the tattoo was still inflamed.
‘Stars are the most common tattoo and the wrist is one of the most popular body parts, sorry. I can search the computer if you like, see if I’ve got her name on record?’
The police officer nodded and Amos booted the computer out of standby mode. He spotted the temp grinding the stub of her cigarette into the pavement and made a mental note to call her agency. As he clicked into the database he noticed the curtain to the studio flickering.
The fire door.
‘Sorry, can you pop that doorstep back in place?’ he asked, as the second officer took a step towards the curtain.
The officer obliged.
‘I’ll tell you what, the muggings and attacks around here are ridiculous,’ Amos said as he clicked into the search field. ‘Wasn’t some other girl killed last month?’
‘Yeah,’ the first officer said.
‘Is it like… a serial killer or summat?’
‘Our investigation is ongoing,’ the second officer answered.
Amos looked back at the computer screen. ‘Found her. Emilie Hacking. I did her tat four months ago but I’ve not seen her since.’
The first officer scribbled in his notebook.
‘I always see the partygoers walking past,’ Amos continued, ‘but I don’t pay them much attention, y’know? I’m used to them. Actually, I saw a couple of strange looking ones yesterday.’
‘Innocence was holding a fancy-dress event last night,’ the first officer said. ‘We think Emilie went dressed as a mermaid.’
From within the studio, Amos heard the fire door click shut.
Niles Reddick is author of a novel, three collections, and a novella. His work has been featured in over 500 publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader, Forth, Citron Review, Right Hand Pointing, Nunum, and Vestal Review. He is a three time Pushcart, a two time Best Micro nominee, and a two time Best of the Net nominee. His newest flash collection If Not for You has recently been released by Big Table Publishing.
Taking up Serpents
Her husband said that if the snakes had been well-fed before Sunday service, they likely wouldn’t bite as many of the congregation who came to the country church outside Sand Mountain, Alabama. Laura Francis hadn’t grown up as part of a holiness church that believed in taking up serpents, and she didn’t believe what she figured to be a misinterpretation of biblical text, but Sam had slithered into her life with his hypnotic green eyes, and a lumberjack body.
Once they married, one of her responsibilities was lifting the mice by their pink tails from their cage and dropping them into the snake aquariums. His responsibility was combing the mountain sides, searching under rocks for copperheads, listening for rattlesnakes, and capturing them in a burlap sack. She didn’t mind feeding them, but she told Sam that she wouldn’t take up serpents in or out of church. She perched on a stool and watched one of them slither through the wood chip bedding and swallow the mouse whole, its mouth expanding, and then seeing the whole mouse inside the distorted body. Occasionally when mice weren’t in stock, she had to feed baby chicks to the snakes. The fluffy yellow chirpers weren’t nearly as easy to watch get swallowed because Laura Francis knew they had potential to grow and provide eggs. Mice didn’t seem to have a purpose that she could distill.
Laura Francis sat on the third row in church, far enough away from the front to avoid the gyrating spirit-filled members who in their fit of dancing might drop a snake or lose their grip, from where their thumb and pointer finger pinched the triangular head from each side, and fling it to the floor or into the up-close audience. When one landed and coiled on the pine pew where she had been sitting, she stood and rocked back and forth into the aisle to the beat of the music of drums, piano, guitar, and banjo. Laura Francis was a quick study and threw her arms and hands up into the air and danced backward to the last row until the music stopped, and Sam wiped sweat with a white handkerchief he kept in his pocket. Then, she took a seat on the back pew and never moved back to the front on successive Sundays. When Sam questioned her over supper one night, she told him. “I feed them and that’s all I’m going to do.”
The next week, Sam rattled the cages and told the members, “Laura Francis feeds these snakes, and they are getting fatter and happier.” Laura Francis didn’t know if a snake could be happy, but she knew that Sam was hoping to stave off any questions from church members about her faith since Laura Francis had moved to the back row a nd hadn’t handled snakes.
When Sam was loading the cages for church one Sunday, he was bitten. Laura Francis rushed him to the emergency room, but the venom quickly spread through Sam’s body, and within two days, he was dead. The congregation gossiped about his faltering faith, and there was a small funeral at the church. One of the members came to get the snakes and the mice and take them to his farm, and Laura Francis listed their land and small house on the mountain for sale. She moved to Huntsville and joined the Episcopal church, where the only things she would take up would be the Bible, the hymnal, and the communion wafer and wine chalice.
Ceth Isle is a young Filipino literary artist living in Manila, Philippines. With cum laude, he majored in Literature and minored in Language. As a student journalist and independent writer, he has published English and Tagalog poems, fiction, and nonfiction. Internationally, his works have appeared in India, the United States of America, Canada, and Scotland. He also joins writing groups, contests, workshops, and attends seminars. Further, he is a freelance writer providing writing services open to all Filipinos. Now, he plans to invest in graduate studies on creative writing.
A Midnight Call
by Ceth Isle
Age, sex, location—ASL—the information Marisa provides on the first day she and Tyler talk through chats. Oh, she knows it, really. It’s the thing, anyway.
Marisa has heard many stories about Filipinas successfully pursuing American boys
through different social media platforms, not to mention dating apps. Back in the Pearl of the Orient Seas, she used to hear about this girl who’s always on the phone talking to her afam (basically a slang term for a foreigner). She used to witness other women having these Fil-Am (Filipino-American) relationships. Now, they all have a lot to say about their love stories with Americans.
American boys love Filipinas. That’s what Marisa has seen on TV, radio, and in movies
in the Philippines. They like Asians; they love Filipinas. That’s the hope for women like Marisa.
It’s an opportunity to have Fil-Am kids, migrate to the US, and never suffer again. But for Marisa, it’s also love.
Those are stories. Marisa has seen on social media how happy and lucky those women
are. Now that she’s in New York City, fulfilling her dream to be a writer, she finally
tries to connect with American boys.
Tyler wants to know more about her, she could tell. After hours of chatting, he suddenly
calls. This call is one of the trials she has had with a few boys. Prepared, she picks up the
phone and hears and feels Tyler’s voice, fresh air in the star-spangled, New Yorker midnight.
And when she speaks, the man—just like many Americans—hears her Philippine English, so he
asks. “Ah, yes, Asian,” Marisa confirms. On both ends, silence is all that is heard. He asks for
specificities—almost as if it wasn’t a question but a declarative disgust. “Well, I’m Filipina and
brown,” she says, confused.
The next tone felt and heard is the death of Tyler’s call. The sound then reverberates in
Marisa’s ears as if they were invalidated and deserving to hear death. Her hands feel suddenly tired, and she puts her cellphone down. She recognizes the starry sky and the skyscrapers fashioned with lights.
She almost hears small lively noises from outside: she knows how awake the city is even
during this hour. She then notices the silence and her dimly lit apartment. Sitting on the couch,
in her sleepwear, she looks at every corner. She knows. She belongs here, if not to a young man like Tyler.
Thank you so much for listening. Our Halloween competition is open till the 1st of september. We’re holding a competition to hunt for truly haunting writing. Entries should be prose fiction, non-fiction or poetry and should fit the theme of ‘Halloween’. Think ghosts, ghouls, and goblins, witches, werewolves and warlocks.
The winner and runners up of our Halloween competition will receive a cash prize and be featured on our podcast each week in October leading up to Halloween. Find out more details of the ‘tricks and treats’ on offer on our website. There will be a link in the description.
We’re just dying to read your submissions!
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