The Stink and the Stridency

Categories Flash Fiction Contest Winner

Dropping light as ribbon from the mountain’s crown – a stream, looping and fish-full and beside it, cowslips and bugles and six strides on, a pretty parsonage and twelve more, banks of palisades buzzing with stings wild enough to throw an elephant clear into darkness.

Today was an anniversary – four years since Denis had begun work at the park. He’d been desperate, skint, cosseting a cold egg in a grotty cafe by the Thames when he’d spotted the vacancy in the small ads. He’d applied and despite the nebulous description and risible pay was delighted when an offer arrived. The next day he set off, leaving his family in London and promising to send for them once things were safe.

But things were never safe again.

Back then, the park had offered a bright and secure future, but things changed and now it heaved within its perimeter, an intransigent yet rootless settlement of cowed humanity and dwellings fabricated from the roughest materials – breeze blocks and corrugated iron, railway sidings and car doors.

Above it all, yoked to spiked pillars, rows of spotlights emitting beams so vivid they negated any utility and rather than expose the deprivation below or aid those lost along unctuous thoroughfares, they blinded and sanctified everything they touched. And always the paucity – food and water and new viruses each day, secreted in the fur of vermin fattened on a boundless supply of filth. And never any peace – each hour another announcement blasted from tannoys big as cruise stacks. Denis gritted his teeth as they rattled to life; blocked his ears as a slick voice issued forth from storms of feedback and static.

“Guys and girls…please be upstanding…we’re pleased to announce…no change detected…so get back to sleep, you fucking reprobates.”

Although Denis despised the incessant bulletins, the lights were worse, worse than the hunger and squalor, worse than the constant fear of choking. They twisted his heart with loneliness, with longing for home.

A home that may not even exist.

Five years since the film had leaked online – shaky footage of infinite mouths opening above lakes and meadows and then, claimed the witness, the air vanished ‘like gas from a soda bottle’. When more uploads surfaced appearing to endorse the first, the internet wrung its hands and decided: the holes were growing, expanding at pace.

Everyone was fucked.

Terror spread and panic ensued until salvation arrived in the shape of the nation’s favourite philanthropist – that renowned lover, fighter and thrice convicted tax cheat – Mr Jared J Jones. On a sweltering afternoon he summoned the press and whilst hovering over private gardens astride a strobing drone as Starry Starry Night blasted from speakers big as buses, he pledged to build new towns, new cities -“safe for you, safe for your family.”

But Jared had a problem, a pathological inclination to over-promise, especially in public situations and especially during those orchestrated by himself. Eventually, only one was built – Safeheart Park – in a condemned quarry nestled amid the foothills of Scafell Pike.

The park became a paean to poor planning – only half as large as required, constructed with untested technology and sealed and pumped with oxygen fleeced from every underfunded hospital in a two thousand
mile radius.

Due to the lack of space, prices soared and only those with the most fantastical means could afford to enter. They arrived with their riches stuffed into suitcases and after relinquishing them at the gate, were escorted away to thin and trembling prefabs.


When not working, Denis spent his days staggering from drink tent to drink tent, guzzling the carrot vodka the hooch traders brewed in butchered ATMs and sold in bags better suited to fairgrounds and goldfish. But not today, today he stayed home, bare legged at his table, writing letters he would never and could never send. When he’d finished, he laid his head down on wet ink and fell hard asleep.

At 5.30 he woke to the tannoy’s nascent crackle. “Good morning guys and girls, sorry not sorry to wake you, but it looks like we’ve got ourselves a pesky expansion, so buckle up cos we’re coming in.”

Denis Jumped, binned the letters and climbed into overalls. Once outside, he wedged the door with a sawn-off cat-back, pulled on his mask and with no emotions he could name, hurried away to his ship.

After raking mud from its windshield with a cracked CD, he climbed aboard, fired the engines and sailed out to the perimeter wall. Once he’d steadied the hull, he engaged the blades – hundreds of them, each thin as wicker and watched as they cropped and gathered the canopy, trimming the park inch by inch.

As he worked, his gaffer’s words returned – no different than peeling an orange, he’d said, but his gaffer was a liar, he’d never mentioned the stink and the stridency, the collateral damage.

Denis sailed on, conducting the ship down runnels to the far side of the park. Once out of sight, he flipped the beacons and launched himself against the tiller, slamming the bow through struts and into
the canopy. It burst free, seething and risen like a whipped beast from a circus top.

As it thundered on, Denis tore off his mask, gulping wildly, bracing himself for the grip of swooping, unseen hands. Behind him, movement – patterns forming from panic and all about, an industry of rain, against leaves and grass, splashing over rocks.

And warm that day.

And wonderful that day.

GJ Hart currently lives and works in London and has had stories published in The Molotov Cocktail, The Jersey Devil Press, The Harpoon Review and others. He can be found arguing with himself over @gj_hart.