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No Rehab for Wizards

I cut off one of my eyelids today. It was definitely worth it.

“Now why on Earth would you want to do something like that?” Mum asks.

I shake my head, tut. “So I can control manatees,” I say.

“And what do you want to control manatees for?”

I shrug and turn the volume up on Match of the Day. Mum never gets me. She was banging on the other day about how I need to go into rehab. “There’s something not right about you, boy,” she said. “You’re always chopping bits off yourself. It’s not right.”

I tried to tell her there’s no rehab for wizards. Magic always has a price: a sacrifice of flesh always has to be made. A chunk of skin off your arm will give you control of a mayfly, but what’s the point in that? At least manatees have got a half-decent shelf-life.

I was telling her the other day about these wizards around Birmingham way who kill dogs and badgers for their magic. I asked if she’d rather me do that. She just cried.

The thing people don’t realise about using animals is that if you want to take control of dog, you have to kill about thirteen or fourteen of them. And even then, you only get to control one of those shitty little yappy ones. Seems pointless to me.

When Mum had a go at me for lopping off my little toe a couple of weeks back, I made a joke that I’d sacrifice her if she carried on having a go at me. She cried at that as well, and I really only meant it as a joke. Thing is, though, the more I think about it, the more it seems like a good idea.

I’d have to work out how strong the magic would be if I did it, though. I’m assuming it would be a bit like with the dogs. Kill a whole bunch of people to take control of a shitty one? I’d get in trouble for sure. But I’m thinking it’d probably count for a lot more if it’s your own mum. It must do.

I turn off Match of the Day and go upstairs.

“And where do you think you’re going?” Mum asks. “You’re not going to chop any more body parts again, I hope? What would your father say if he could see you now with all them bits hanging off?”

I turn back and smile. “I’m just going for a wee,” I say. “Stick the kettle on will you?”

When the kettle starts to boil, I reach behind the toilet and pull out my blade. I run my finger across its edge and grin as a small cut opens along my fingertip.

“Your tea’s on the hearth,” Mum says, shouting up the stairs.

“Coming.” I tuck the blade under my hoodie.

Limping back downstairs, I see Mum has put Eastenders on. “You don’t mind me watching this on catch-up do you?” she asks. “You’d turned your football off.”

“It’s fine,” I say.

I stand behind her and look down at her grey-streaked hair. I take the blade and bring it across her throat. She makes a weird gurgling noise.

I panic and run to the kitchen to grab some tea towels and kitchen roll. I try dabbing at the blood, but it makes a right mess.

Mum always said that when I started to get into one of my panics I should stop, take a deep breath, and have a nice cup of tea. So I sit down on the opposite sofa and sip my tea, my eyes half on Eastenders and half on my mum bleeding out all over her nice cream carpet.

If I let her keep bleeding, it will stop eventually. Then it will dry and be easier to mop up. I really don’t want to ruin any more tea towels, so it’s probably for the best to wait.

Then I remember: I’d forgotten to do the incantation. What a complete waste of time.

I turn Match of the Day back on. At least I still had my manatee.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.

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Taking on the Ray Bradbury Challenge

I’ve decided to take on the Ray Bradbury Challenge. The Challenge is designed to encourage authors to improve their reading habits and write more short fiction.

Stephen King wrote that if you do not read, you have no business writing. Nothing has taught me more about the craft of telling stories than reading the work of others. My hope is that by committing to the Challenge, I’ll be a better storyteller as a result.

The Ray Bradbury Challenge is as follows:

1) Write a short story a week for 52 weeks.
2) Read a short story, a poem and an essay every day for 1,000 days.

I’m severely visually impaired, so I do my ‘reading’ either in an audio or ebook format. I usually read one or two novels and two or three short stories each week, but seldom read poetry.

To fulfil the essay requirement, I will count listening to podcasts such as TED Talks, seminars by the Long Now Foundation, Skeptoid, BBC World Service’s Witness, BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, BBC Radio 3’s The Essay and the like.

I will document my progress on this blog and encourage you to join me in this Challenge.

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King of the Trees

Emily was King of the Trees. A little boy gave her the title – he was King of the Train.

She didn’t know the species names. She called her tree Paramine. It was the big one in the centre. She sat in its branches and surveyed her kingdom.

The other trees were short and thin. They were no more than twigs strapped to stakes with black rubber ties. She called them Paranagents. They weren’t impressive, but this was her domain. This was her realm.

Her trees bore no fruit so she ate burgers and chicken wings left as offerings by passing visitors. They respected her.

She looked for monkeys, but there were no monkeys. She told a half-remembered joke to those who passed beneath her tree. Something about a monkey being stapled to a dead monkey. Emily laughed as she told the joke, but always got lost in the words. She gave no punch-line, only a statement of fact.

She shouted at those who refused to pay tribute or pledge allegiance. A man from the council told her she was trespassing. She told him she was the King of the Trees.

She wore a dress made of leaves and fast food wrappers, and wove sticks and ladybirds through her hair. When she wasn’t performing her royal duties, she worked as a receptionist. Her boss smiled at her and her customers smiled at her. It was a tattoo shop, so people thought she was being alternative. She wasn’t being alternative – she was King of the Trees.

The day came when the man from the council returned – this time with police and a court order. They did not offer tribute or pledge fealty. They told her a complaint had been made.

She told them to bend the knee and to respect her kingdom. They did not respect her.

Emily shouted and spat as the police dragged her away by the armpits. She told them she was King of the Trees. She told them her brother was King of the Moon and her mother was King of the Bears. But they did not listen.

They told her she could never step foot in that car park again.

Emily vowed vengence. Emily declared war.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.

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To Grip the Bright White Chains

Staring across the ocean waves reflecting a sky the colour of hung meat, Elsie thought about all the children she could save. She coughed as a chill wind changed direction, bringing with it the smell of washed-up fish.

Elsie turned, as a boy shuffled toward her with purple-rimmed eyes. The boy looked like every other addict: dishevelled, dirty, desperate, dead. Elsie knew he was beyond saving.

The boy crouched on one knee then swung a grubby rucksack from his shoulder. “You got the prez?” he said.

Elsie nodded. “Three caps. I assume you’ve got what I asked for?”

The boy looked up at her as he unfastened the rucksack. “This stuff wasn’t easy to get hold of.”

Elsie pursed her lips and glowered at the boy. “A deal’s a deal,” she said. “If you want the caps–.”

“Fine, fine.” The boy scratched at his matted hair. He lay the items out on the mottled concrete. A smile crept over Elsie’s face.

“Real. Unopened.” Elsie knelt down on creaking knees to touch the pair of tins. “This is good work, but I asked for a brush.”

The boy frowned as he groped inside his rucksack for several seconds, then pulled out a paintbrush. “It’s not perfect,” the boy said. “It’s the best I could find.” He handed Elsie the paintbrush with trembling fingers. It was sticky to the touch and coated with long-dried drips of paint. Its bristles were uneven and some were missing.

Elsie placed the paintbrush into her shopping trolley, tucking it between a roll of plastic and a coil of blue rope.

The boy lifted the tins into the trolley and stood before Elsie. She dropped three plezerra capsules into the boy’s outstretched hand. He nodded, turned and ran. Elsie shook her head and sighed as the boy descended a ladder and over the sea wall.

Pushing her trolley, Elsie looked across the water slick with oil and algae. The trolley’s wheels squeaked and snagged on stones and discarded plastic as it clattered along the promenade. Turning left, she pushed the trolley uphill along a street lined with boarded-up and barricaded houses.

She thought about the boy, about the drugs. He would feel wonderful for a day at most, then be back on the streets, stealing and whoring; each day bringing him closer to an early death. The demand was there – the demand was always there. It was better for the drugs to come from her than from a violent street thug.

Turning right, Elsie walked down an alleyway. She shouldered her way back through a gate and closed it behind her. She gripped the trolley as she regained her breath. Feeling the twinge in her back, she lifted the tins from her trolley.

Elsie surveyed her months of work. Bees buzzed around her while she inspected her bed of chrysanthemums, the red and pink blooms swaying gently with the wind, their fragrance tickling her nose and bringing to mind memories of carefree, more playful times.

She walked over to her bench with varnished wooden slats and framing of curled wrought iron, glossy and black and detailed with images of leaves and twisting vines. The slats creaked as they took her weight, and Elsie looked over to the strawberry plants climbing the wall. The berries were weeks from ripening.

The tins were the finishing touch. Rummaging through her trolley, Elsie found a flat-head screwdriver and used it to lever-open the first lid. She lingered on the old, familiar smell, a fresh smell she had not experienced for many, many years. She wiped the brush with a cloth and dipped it into the white gloss paint, brilliant and gloopy. Satisfied, she watched the paint fall in slow, deliberate drips from the brush and back into the tin.

Moving the tin over to the first pole, Elsie set to work applying the paint, grinning as it clung skin-like to the rust. She looked up at the chains hanging from the top beam and decided she would paint them too. She worked until the sky went dark and the air dropped cold.

Elsie rushed to her garden early the next morning to see the paint had dried. She knew her work was complete. She stepped out through her gate as the sun emerged in the hung meat sky.

She approached a pair of children begging on the corner: a boy and a girl no older than six.

“I’ve got something to show you,” Elsie said.

The children stared up at her and scowled. “Piss off,” the girl said.

“You’ll like it,” Elsie said. “I promise.”

The children exchanged furtive, suspicious glances and rose to their feet. The boy regarded Elsie for a long moment before nodding to the girl.

“Okay, but if you try anything funny,” the boy said, patting a blade on his belt.

The children followed. Elsie opened her gate and welcomed the children into her garden – their garden.

“Whenever you feel sad, whenever you feel desperate, I want you to come here,” she said. “If you ever feel tempted by plezerra, come here instead. This is your sanctuary.”

“This is for us?” the boy said.

“For you, for any child who needs to feel safe.”

The children smiled. “What’s that do?” the girl said, gesturing past Elsie.

“I’ll show you. It’s perfectly safe.” She signalled for the girl to sit on the wooden seat and for her to grip the bright white chains.

“Hold on,” said Elsie as she walked behind the girl. She pushed her and the girl swung up and back, up and back. Elsie felt the girl stiffen for a moment. Then the girl laughed. Then the boy joined in.

Elsie wiped a tear. It had been a long, long time since she had heard the laughter of children.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.

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Eating

Grandma was delicious. It was probably the paprika that gave her that extra bite. Her funeral was boring, but once the vicar had finished telling us about a woman he’d never met, the eating was wonderful.

It’s a tradition in our family to specify a recipe as part of your will. I’ve opted for a rosemary crust and three-bean salad.

To share yourself with your neighbours and loved-ones brings everyone closer together. It’s nice.

It’s when things get impersonal that I start to feel a bit weird about it. Take today: I had a great conversation with my cousin while we were working on the marinade. The last time we’d spoken was at uncle Jeff’s eating. He went for the full-on cajun-spiced, flash-fry. He was probably terrible for you, but he was so tasty. It was a real treat.

There was a woman who lived near my mother who died. She had no children or relatives. She was isolated, very lonely. It was sad.

Once the pathologist was done bagging and tagging, and the coroner released the body, she was sent in small parcels to the food-banks around the city. I don’t have a problem with this per se, but there’s something lost. It shouldn’t just be about recycling.

It’s like when there was the fire at that nursery. You couldn’t tell one toddler from another, and no one really wants to be eating some stranger’s kid. So they were shipped off to feed prisoners. I get that this is a good thing. I’m probably just being a snob, but I just find it a bit creepy.

I found out recently that my great aunt Maude is dying, and she’s opted to be stir-fried in walnut oil with garlic, chilli and ginger. I hope she hurries up: I love Chinese food.

This text is copyright 2016 by Jon Cronshaw, released under a BY-NC-ND Creative Commons Licence.

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Introducing the Short Science Fiction Review.

The Short Science Fiction Review is a podcast dedicated to providing short reviews of short science fiction stories.

I will review short stories and novellas by a diverse range of authors, from the earliest scientific romance tales to new voices in the genre.

The authors covered will reflect my own tastes. I enjoy science fiction works that are thought-provoking, mind-bending, political, satirical, or explore an interesting idea, concept or piece of technology.

It is highly unlikely that I will review stories about monsters, dinosaurs, or zombies; hard, technical scientific concepts; or action/adventure.

All of the works reviewed will have been published in established magazines or anthologies. My aim is to make the reviews sufficiently free of spoilers.

I’d love to hear from other short story fans for discussion and recommendations. You can follow me on Twitter @jlcronshaw, friend me on facebook.com/jlcronshaw or follow my Goodreads profile.

You can subscribe to the Short Science Fiction Review on iTunes HERE.

The Bradbury Challenge: Day 008

Short story: After the Race by James Joyce (1914), listened to on the Morning Short podcast. Recommended.

Poem: Snake by D. H. Lawrence, listened to through Librivox. Recommended.

Essay: The Price of Shame by Monica Lewinsky, listened to on the TEDTalks podcast, from March 2015. Highly Recommended.

The Ray Bradbury Challenge: Day 007

Short story: The Judgement by Franz Kafka (1912), listened to on the Morning Short podcast. Recommended.

Poem: The House of the Soul: Lay by Dororthy L. Sayers, listened to through Librivox. Recommended.

Essay: The Genius of Disability: Brian Pearce – Why do I Paint? listened to on BBC’s The Essay podcast from January 2015. Recommended.

Short story 2/52 written.

The Ray Bradbury Challenge: Day 006

Short story: Waiting for the Zephyr by Tobias S. Buckell, from the 2008 Wastelands anthology, edited by John Joseph Adams. Recommended.

Poem: Black Flowers by Norma Mole, listened to on the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Now podcast, from August 2016. Recommended.

Essay: Studio Ghibli, listened to on the BBC’s Witness podcast from August 2016. Recommended.

The Ray Bradbury Challenge: Day 005

Short story: The Coffee House of Surat (1893) by Leo Tolstoy, listened to through Librivox.

Poem: Mole by Aldous Huxley, listened to through Librivox. Recommended.

Essay: The Power of Fiction by Will Self, listened to on the BBC’s A Point of View podcast from February 2015. Highly Recommended.

Ellen Klages – Goodnight Moons (2011)

Ellen Klages’ short story Goodnight Moons was first published in the anthology Life On Mars: Tales from the New Frontier, edited by Jonathan Strahan (2011).

Goodnight Moons tells the story of the woman who gives birth to the first child on Mars.

Have you read it? Leave a comment below or get in touch on Twitter @jlcronshaw.

If you enjoy these shows, please consider leaving a review on iTunes or your favourite podcast platform.

You can subscribe to the Short Science Fiction Review on iTunes HERE.

The Ray Bradbury Challenge: Day 004

Short story: Goodnight Moons by Ellen Klages, from Life On Mars: Tales from the New Frontier, edited by Jonathan Strahan (2011). Highly Recommended.

Poem: Goblin Feet by J. R. R. Tolkien, listened to through Librivox. Recommended.

Essay: When we Design for Disability, We all Benefit by Elise Roy, listened to on the TEDTalks podcast from July 2016. Highly Recommended.

Short story 1/52 written.