Monday, 6 May 2013

Trying out Flash Fiction: "Neighbourhood Watch"

Flash fiction has been around for a long time, and until recently wasn’t something that interested me. An opportunity came up, so I took it. And it was fun. A week after finishing the final edit of my first attempt, it was accepted for publication by Books of the Dead Press for their website. It’s called Neighbourhood Watch.

Go and read it, let me know what you think.

Having my head wrapped around The Shadow Fabric, a work-in-progress with a word count of 100k, it was a welcome break to tackle something smaller. In this instance, the requested flash fiction was 400 words.

From inception to Neighbourhood Watch

Twitter is an ideal place to meet like-minded people, and is where I met a guy called Viking Beard. Though I don’t think he came into this world with that name – David Eccles would be on his birth certificate. He tweeted a link to Books of the Dead Press, who'd featured his flash fiction, The Teeth Police. It’s a great story and inspired me to give it a shot.

With a flashing cursor and the echoes of a voice saying “And if you notice, everyone else’s bin lid is down” I began writing. Over a few days it grew, shrank, and grew again into a first draft. Then, the most important part: the series of redrafts. And this is where my editing technique, Burn Your Words, came into play.

This technique, I swear, was why it was successful. Writing is all about editing.

Shortly after submitting it to BOTD Press, I received an email from the editor, James Roy Daley, saying he loved my story and that I have a clean writing style. Apparently it was fine as it was –  my piece needed no further editing (which was a massive compliment in itself), and he wished to feature it on their site. He did. I was chuffed, to say the least. I didn’t tell him it was my first attempt at writing flash fiction. Though I’ve since owned up.

Having written, successfully, my first flash piece I know I’ll be writing more. I think there may be an addiction in the vein…

What is Flash Fiction?

According to Wiki, flash fiction is "...a style of fictional literature or fiction of extreme brevity. There is no widely accepted definition of the length of the category. Some self-described markets for flash fiction impose caps as low as 300 words, while others consider stories as long as 1,000 words to be flash fiction."

Flash, by definition, is something that moves or passes very quickly. And this is precisely what it is when linked with fiction: it’s a short, short story. Sometimes known as micro, sudden, mini, furious, fast, skinny, quick, or even postcard fiction.

It is not associated with Flash Gordon, or the DC Comic superhero Flash. Nor has it anything to do with detergent.

There are ‘arguments’ of a word count: it can be as short as a tweet (140 characters), or as long as what most competitions ask for: 1,500 words –  which to me is your typical short story. Flash could mean a page, which is somewhere around 300-400 words. For some it's 200, or even 800. Yes, it varies.

In case earlier you didn't click the link to BOTD Press site, here is the story in question:

Neighbourhood Watch

     I should’ve known there would be trouble with my neighbour when she ended our first conversation with: “And if you notice, everyone else’s bin lid is down.”
     I’d only just moved in, so of course there’d be more than the usual amount of rubbish.
    After that, there was the time I saw her nosing in my front window. Tiptoes, and everything. Her husband looked embarrassed, strolling away, ignoring her. She hadn’t realised I was walking down the road. He did. I wonder if he ever told her.
     Last week I spied them talking in hushed voices, eyeing my car. How was I to know she’d painted her name on the tarmac with invisible ink? Her car was further down the street. Was I in her parking space?
     A few days ago she’d called me by my name—my real name. Who had she been speaking with? I use several aliases. No one, apart from my mother, knows my real name.
     The day before yesterday there were scratching noises from next door, and I imagined her with an ear to the wall. No matter where I went in the house, the noises followed me. Had she somehow discovered what I do for a living? I sometimes take my work home with me, yet I’ve always been careful.
     Up until yesterday.
     I’d had a busy day, and returned home from a job that hadn’t turned out as expected. I leapt from my car, dropping the envelope. A few 50s spilled out. I’m such an idiot. When I snatched them up, I knew next door’s curtains twitched. Also, I realised my clothes were spattered in blood. It wasn’t mine.
     This morning there were footprints on my kitchen floor. Small ones.
     Immediately I pictured my neighbour on tiptoes, and remembered being amazed those tiny feet could support her large frame. Evidently she had a backdoor key to my house, left from the previous owner perhaps. Who knows? Again, I’d been an idiot: I should’ve changed the locks.
     A few hours ago I snuck in next door. I didn’t need a key, it’s what I do for a living, and I’m good at it. The two of them—I don’t know their names—died quietly.
     I’m always careful when disposing of my jobs. And tomorrow, my bin lid will be down.

Did you enjoy the flash fiction?

Here are the opening pages of The Shadow Fabric

Unable to blink, I shot a quick glance around the dining room. My heartbeat stormed my head. I had to get out of there, I had to leave the other men to it. These brothers had a lot of hate to throw around.
       The black fabric draped across the table and chair, tracing every contour. It flowed over the wood like liquid. Hugging tight whatever it touched, it turned everything into a shadow, a silhouette, a featureless dark blot of its former self. The way it moved defied physics.
       My throat clamped around a cry that came out a whimper.
       I had no idea what Stanley intended. The strange fabric didn’t travel far from his hand, and where the material ended, it rippled and pulsed, pulling further away, yet unable to claim more of its surroundings. The more it unfolded, the dimmer the room became. My skin itched as it sapped the light.
       Victor and Stanley stood facing each other: Victor, with his eyebrows pushed together, the ornate blade clenched in a fist, and Stanley, with his jaw tight and a twitch at the edge of his mouth. In Stanley’s grasp the fabric quivered, its material reminding me of the way midday sunlight reflects from the surface of a swimming pool, the ripples a criss-crossing of movement. It was peaceful to behold, hypnotic almost. But this thing was dark and stifling to observe.
       There was nothing remotely tranquil about this.
       I wanted to leave them to whatever absurd game this was…yet my feet refused to move. The familiar ache in my knee rushed through my body, drumming in my skull, telling me I was useless. Since the car accident the knee often was useless. I couldn’t leave Victor, I knew that. The man looked as terrified as I felt.
       “I hate you, Victor.” Stanley’s nose was no more than a thumb’s width from his brother’s.
       “No,” Victor gasped. His hand shook, his knuckles whitening around the knife. “Don’t!”
       I didn’t know who or what Victor spoke to. Was it Stanley? The shadows? The knife?
       In a blur of darkness, shadows coiling his arm, the blade slammed into Stanley’s chest. Blood spread and he staggered back.
       Victor’s eyes widened. Clutching the weapon, he stumbled from the fireplace, away from his brother. The knife slid out, sucking at the wound. A jet of scarlet misted the air, and then oozed.
       I could only see darkness…so much darkness, and my lungs went tight.
       The fabric—the Shadow Fabric—closed around Stanley’s buckling legs.
       The remaining material swept from the table, away from the violin case. Black tentacles whipped and grabbed Stanley. The darkness enfolded him as his eyes glazed over. It dragged his body along the carpet a short distance and tightened its grip.
       My jaw muscles twitched as I clenched my teeth.
       The Fabric began to shrink. Still in its embrace, the last I saw of Stanley was his dead stare.
       “Vic…” I whispered, and gripped the back of the sofa.
       My boss dragged his eyes away from the retreating shadows and stared at the knife. Behind him, the mantel clock hammered out several seconds before the weapon slipped from his hand onto the carpet, where it bounced with a red splash.
       He fell to his knees. “Oh God.”
       The Fabric vanished.
       I dashed across the room as much as my leg would allow and staggered to a halt beside him. Sobs wracked his frame as I grasped his bony shoulder.
       On the table next to where Stanley had been standing was the violin case, still open like a crooked yawn.
       A million thoughts tumbled through my head, but I couldn’t find the words. I’d been Victor’s chauffeur for no more than a day, and already I’d witnessed him stab his own brother. What the hell?
       I don’t know how long I remained like that, holding him, with light creeping reluctantly back into the room. Victor shouldn’t have been surprised that the shadows had taken his brother. After all, those shadows—the darkness—are associated with all that is dead…or should be dead.
       Silence clogged the air like we were buried in a tomb.
       For some of us, there is a moment in our lives where all we’ve believed real is whipped out from under us and we’re left to survive in a world that’s a lie. All the things in life we’ve taken for granted are sheathed in a weak veneer, behind which stands the shadows.
       For me, this was one of those moments.

Mark Cassell's dark fantasy novel is available
from all bookshops and also Amazon.


Author photo (c)Christopher Shoebridge
Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK with his wife and a number of animals. He often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines.

His debut novel, The Shadow Fabric, is a supernatural story and is available from Amazon.

Twitter: @Mark_Cassell Facebook:


  1. WOW! I love the flash fiction as well as the excerpt from your book. Excellent work

    1. Thanks, most kind of you to say. This was one of those stories that unfolded without me really thinking about it. For me, that's rare! :-)