They Are All Vicious

by Ashley Bird

Footsteps follow me along the dark street. Their steady clicking matches my stilettos. I look around; barely moving my head. Shadows cover everything, making everywhere a nook to crouch in. My mind struggles against a tide of thoughts and fears. Drowns in them.

are they speeding up how long have they been there what do I do

Moments of held breath crawl by as I strain to hear without distraction. This only brings my heartbeat to the fore. The two beat rhythm drumming in my ears is deafening. From way back in the past I hear my mother’s voice.

She has been dead a long time, my mother. She died when I was seventeen but was gone long before that. I am only left with memories. One afternoon, when I was eight or so, I went into our kitchen. She was sitting at the old wooden table, dented and scratched, under a cloud of medicinal smelling liquor. As I passed, her scrawny arm reached out and bony fingers gripped my wrist. Her face scared me. The hair that framed it was wild and unwilling. Her cheeks were sharp but it was her eyes that scared me the most. Circled in darkness, when I gazed into them I saw nothing.

“They are all vicious” she said.

My mother said more but it is those words that stuck with me.

They are all vicious. They are all vicious. A mantra that affected my entire life. I heard it inside as a young teen in the park, coyly practicing my flirting with boys. When I grew a little and went to my leaving prom, as my date walked me home, it streamed through my head. After I left for university and started going out until early morning, it was in the backseat of the taxi with me. Always and still those words follow me. They are my mother’s spirit, both protecting and haunting. How could I blame her?

I catch his scent on the breeze; a musky aftershave that lingers in the nose. He must be closer now. I want to cough but hold it in and feel the scratch at my throat. Up ahead a street light stands out like a beacon. A dome of orange light fighting against the shadows. I see it with those words running riot in my head.

they are all vicious they are all vicious they are all – enough

When I reach the light I stop and pretend to check the watch my mother left me. The footsteps draw closer. I look up and see his face come together out of the shadow. I look him in the eye, defiant, brave. He offers a near imperceptible nod and smiles. It is a warm smile full of friendly teeth. The smile of someone without a worry in the world. Of someone that has never had to hear the words they are all vicious.

Ashley Bird is a short story writer living in Newport, South Wales. He is in the last weeks of a degree in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Wales. After that, who knows. Anyone want to hire a guy that loves writing stories?

A Thing So Small And Beautiful

by Adam William Inglis

He held the front door handle with the finesse of a safe-cracker, but as it turned, it let out its customary squeak, the exact sound he’d tried to avoid.

“You going out, Steve?” Emily called from the kitchen.

“I won’t be too long, just popping into town.”

“Don’t forget your coat. The telly says it’s bitter out.”

“Nah, I’m ok.”

The metallic clink of a saucepan that followed rang like audible punctuation. Whatever she’d been doing in the kitchen was over. Emily hustled past him, and up the stairs, flashing her finest ‘I know best‘ smile.

“You won’t be able to—”

After Emily disappeared, there came a low, loud noise, not unlike a trumpet when blown out of tune. And then again, before she reappeared on the stairs holding the grey woollen overcoat she’d found in the local charity shop.

“Did you drag the chair?” He chuckled.

“Don’t make fun of me,” she pointed. “I’m short.”

“You’re not short of anything; you just have little legs.” He smiled at that, knowing that five foot three was a perfectly average height for a woman.

“Never mind that, why are you dressed so smart? Do you have a job interview you’ve not told me about?”

“No, I just fancied a change from the usual hoody and jeans combo.” The whiteness of the lie spread across his face. He never lied to her.

She didn’t seem to notice.

“Well, you look lovely!” She looked him over, watching him tug the overcoat over his slim shoulders. “Any chance my handsome fella could grab some food and bits while he’s out?”

Before he could answer, she retrieved a folded list from the kitchen. It had a noticeable dark scribble beneath the page, the original word still visible through the back.

“Change your mind about the Nutella?”

“Too many calories, we need to eat better food.”

He heard cheaper food, but before he could dwell any further, she prodded his stomach, finding nothing but his belly, and giggled.

“Besides, you never know when someone may want to sweep me off my feet,” she continued, before tiptoeing to plant a delicate kiss on his bearded cheek.

“Who am I to say ‘no’ to one so small, and so beautiful,” he grinned. ‘I’ll be a little longer in that case.”

Just what I need.

* * *

His arms and feet ached, the shopping list had been longer than it looked. His pockets were in juxtaposition to the four Tesco carrier bags digging into his palms. He’d saved a little money by walking into town today, and it was a trip he’d become used to since avoiding the bus to work.

Just after noon, with the sunshine attempting to highlight precious things in a variety of differently named, boutique-style shop windows, Steve found the shop he’d pictured as he put on his smart trousers, shirt, and belt, some hours earlier.

The door buzzed twice. Once as Steve lumbered in with his shopping, and again—longer this time—as the door closed behind him.

“Good afternoon, my boy,” came the cheerful voice of an aged shopkeeper. “What can I help you with today?”

As Steve looked over the cabinets and the items tagged within, his heart began to wilt. Not unlike the handpicked rose poking from his inside jacket pocket

“Are you ok, you’ve gone a touch pale?”

“Y—yes, sorry, I just need to catch my breath.” He shrugged as if to show the shopkeeper the weight he carried.

“Here, sit down a moment.” The shopkeeper offered a fold-out seat, placing it beside the counter.

After regaining some of his composure, and feeling somewhat daft with his bags of budget shopping, smartest clothes, dying rose, and too little money, he stood up to leave.

“Thank you; I’m ok. I’ll be out of your way.”

“Oh now I see,” said the shopkeeper, tilting his head as he looked at the rose. “Don’t you worry about that, wait there just a moment longer.”

Ashamed, Steve remained still, like a faithful dog brought to heel. The anxiety only increased when the shopkeeper returned.

“Here we are,” he said with a flourish, exactly the type one might expect from a magician, as he lay a little tray upon the glass counter. “These aren’t new, but believe me, when they’ve been through my hands, in my workshop; they’re better than new.”

The grandfatherly tenderness of the shopkeeper did little to lift his spirits, but rather than excuse himself and seem ruder than he already felt, Steve looked in the tray.

His mouth fell open, utterly dazzled. Inside the tray was one item. A small, silver-coloured ring, with a bright–albeit–small, twinkling stone.

“It’s perfect,” he said, surprised to find that his words were true.

“Thank you, it’s quite special, this one. You see, it’s been waiting for someone for quite some time.”

“There’s no tag, how much is it?” His stomach tensed.

“No need to worry about that,” he smiled. “How much can you afford?”

Steve told the jeweler the exact amount left in his bank. To the penny, as his wallet seemed to heat his trouser pocket, empty but for a single debit card.

“I will accept no more than one-third of that, if you promise to pop next door and buy her flowers, too.”

So with four bags of shopping and a bouquet of fresh roses tucked under one arm, he walked home thinking of the ring, his words, and her answer. Carried on the wind, he heard the shopkeepers parting words as if he walked beside him.

“You needn’t fret about that, my boy, how can one say ‘no’ to something so small, and so beautiful.”

Adam William Inglis is a short fiction enthusiast who enjoys experimenting with unfamiliar genre and styles. He is also a keen poet with a passion for rhyme. His favourite novel is Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ and believes that even the bleakest moments are capable of hiding staggering beauty. His featured work, blog, reading list, and bio can be found at and he is always happy to chat on Twitter @AWInglis