"Flowers for Emily" by David Lloyd
Conor feels exhausted. He sits in the undertaker’s office smelling the embalming fluid that’s drifted in from the mortuary next door. Six back-to-back funerals have left him feeling like there’s no beauty left in the world. Two of the services were for young people, both killed in the same automobile crash.The upturned vehicle lay in the ditch as they slowly drowned in the flood waters. It's a small town and he knew both of them. His hay fever’s been triggered by the lilies which crowned all the coffins today. He looks at the calendar on the wall knowing that his vacation is still three months away. Those days by the lake will restore him as he sits and watches wildlife capturing their movement with his camera. Then he starts to sneeze repeatedly. He struggles to breathe and reaches for his inhaler shoved in the back of his desk drawer.
As the clock chimes 7pm he remembers it’s his partner’s birthday and he’s forgotten to buy a present. He locks up and walks towards the park as the sun begins to adopt a tangerine hue. The gates are locked. He climbs over, lands awkwardly, staggers forward and starts to pick all the bluebells he can lay his hands on. He carries them gently, lays them down, creates a bouquet and the world changes. Afterwards as he walks home he sneezes and sneezes. His eyes fill with tears.
"The Darkness" by Daria Campbell
She huddled in the front room behind the couch, the only sounds coming from the dying fire in the stone hearth, the soft swing of the clock pendulum, and her shallow, rapid breath. It was out there. She knew it.
Minutes ticked by and she could see the hands on the grandfather clock move....two....five..... She had heard its heavy breath at the windowsills before, seen the glint of its blood covered teeth through a slit between the closely drawn curtains. It would come for her. Would this be the night? It had taken so many that she loved, so much of her family. The heavy footsteps on the worn boards of the front porch made her jump. It was there.
She tightened the grip in the shotgun, knowing full well that neither the weapon nor the wooden door would help if the Darkness was determined to take her like it had her father. Others had escaped, though not without scars. She had made up her mind long ago that she would fight until her last breath. She would not go quietly into the night.
The footsteps retreated suddenly. She sagged against the couch as tears of relief seeped out of her eyes. Stiffly she stood and replaced the shotgun above the door. It would not be tonight.
"Watching Lucy" by Matthew Shepherd
Contentment has been eluding me for some time, but its first vestige is creeping through me now. I’m laying back in a comfortable chair, the sun is warming my cheeks and I have nothing to do except watch Lucy.
She is lost in her own thoughts, joyfully playing a game, enjoying her independence, wandering around the garden. In that floral dress, the resemblance to Rebecca is unnerving. I have learnt to deal with such reminders and I am pushing this one away expertly.
Lucy appears to be conducting a symphony by waving a dandelion in the air. The stem gets limper with each movement until the sticky white sap on her fingers becomes too much and she tosses the weed onto the grass.
A whisper of wind distracts Lucy from inactivity and she ambles her way to the flower bed. She picks up a stone and mutters to herself before placing it back very deliberately at a new angle. She accompanies it with a clod of parched soil, a twig, a dried leaf and an empty snail shell before heading towards the old railway sleeper.
It’s too heavy for her to lift so I jog across the lawn to help out. Together we raise the wood.
“No, it’s not there either,” she says.
“What’s not there, special girl? What are you searching for?”
Lucy looks back at me, apparently surprised by my need to question her.
“Mummy’s love, of course, daddy.”
The narrowing of my brows encourages her to explain.
“Before she died, she said her love for me would always be everywhere I go. I can’t find it, daddy. Was she lying?”
Happiness begins to drain through the soles of my shoes and I wonder how to start.