Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): The Legs

The Legs

by Zoe Chater

As Essi takes another step, and another, she pats each thigh with her tiny hands, squeezes a little. Just to check.

“Nope!” she chirrups to herself, and, standing straight again, she plods a little further into the garden. Mums, following behind, share an amused smile and continue to talk. As the words jump forward to meet her, Essi only catches a few. “Funny.” “Mittens.” “Munchkin.”

Essi taps each foot down purposefully, making firm thuds with the soles of her wellies on the damp ground. “Nope!” No signs yet, she thinks, and treads more softly now, though still in bits and starts. She’s scanning the grass and borders intently, spotting little curious treasures. Fallen catkins from the hazel tree are funny, crunchy caterpillar-like things that fall apart when squeezed. She wants a few for the pocket of her grey bubble-coat. Blossoming snowdrops are lovely little lamps peering down into the soil, and she wants to pick off flower heads with delicate fingers. However, beneath yellow mittens, her hands can only settle for stroking her finds gently until little flecks of dirt catch in the wool.

“Hop! Skip! Jump!” Essi shouts suddenly, and starts to jump dramatically, nearly toppling over as she lands. Mums are laughing. Mums don’t know that Essi, still testing out her legs, is expecting at any moment to begin a magical transformation. This is, after all, her very first Leap Day. Mum Emma told her yesterday as she was tucking her in, and again this morning, Mum Alice was making breakfast and said “Happy Leap Day!” Essi has wild and detailed visions of what’s to come. She will, for one day, develop the great, strong, muscular legs of a kangaroo. Or, possibly, she will sprout funny spindly elbow-legs like a grasshopper. Or perhaps from the arches of her feet curls of springs will grow and she will bounce on them like Tigger’s tail. Soon enough she will bound up higher than the trees, the house, into the clouds, and look the birds right in the face.

As she nears the pond, her leaping vision is brushed away by a slight rustling sound. She fixes her eyes towards it, near the green fuzzy rock at the water’s edge. She spots a touch of movement in the greenery and lets out the tiniest “Ooh!” before instinctively muffling her mouth with the damp wool of her hands. Mums, too, stop still in mild anticipation.

The ferns waft and there is a wriggling from between the leaves. A muddy-coloured friend hops out into view and then again once, twice towards Essi, stopping inches from her feet. He has wet skin and bug eyes and a fleshy, throbbing chin.

“Aah!” she squeals into her glove, “A frog!” The startled critter propels himself off, displaying his magnificent hind legs and soaring into the pond with a splash. “Look, the legs!” It all makes sense now, Essi thinks, quite pleased with herself. She’s never seen a leap frog before.

Zoe Chater is a physics teacher by day, wannabe writer and mushroom enthusiast by night.

Our Reader said:

This story is very cute while also utilizing the title in a humorous and playful manner.

Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): The Deportation Letter

The Deportation Letter

by Kirtan Savith Kumar

Deportation Order

Issued by: Virginia General District Court
Date: 07-12-2019
Case Number: ZB 81-9268 H-09
In the matter of Pasha Geeta Kumar
A national or citizen of The United States of America
Country of Deportation: India

On the basis of evidence adducted from affidavits and recorded testimony, the above-named person is a member of a prohibited class described under Title 516, General Immigration Code, sections 8, 29, and 65. They cannot or do not fulfil or comply with the conditions or requirements of section B of the Regulations of Citizenship Act of 1997. The individual shall be scheduled for deportation on 01-03-2020.



I can’t bring myself to finish the letter.

Neither can my sister, Aditi. She storms off into the kitchen before I can finish reading it, her eyes brimming with angry tears.

I follow her in and perch on a barstool, still trying to calm my nerves, which flutter about like butterflies. I take deep gulps of air, trying to maintain my composure, but it doesn’t work. I know full well nothing will ever be the same again.

Aditi, meanwhile, can’t sit still. She paces about the kitchen frantically, the heels of her stilettos clicking angrily against the parquet floor.

Suddenly, she stops, and meets my eyes. “Is Mum an illegal immigrant?” she asks, the words barely above a whisper.

“No way.” The words come spilling from my mouth before I can even rationalise what I’m saying. “There must have been a mix-up.”

I don’t know if what I’m saying is true or false. It’s a poor attempt at trying to defend Mum, at making sense of what we’ve just read.

Aditi continues staring at me. “Aisha…” she says, almost pleadingly. But I don’t know what she wants me to say. Does she want me to admit the possibility that Mum was a stowaway? Does she want me to continue spinning lies to comfort her?

“We need to do something,” I say at last.

“There’s nothing we can do. Mum will…” Aditi begins, but she can’t finish her sentence. And neither can I.

We lapse into silence, the kind so profound and deafening it needs to be broken:

“2020’s a leap year, you know,” Aditi says suddenly.

I stare at her, baffled.

“It’s an extra day for Mum to stay here with us,” Aditi clarifies, “And then she’ll leave on March the first.”

I didn’t know that.

“That’s one good thing,” I finally say. “One extra day with Mum.”

“One more day to make memories with Mum,” Aditi continues. She takes the letter from my hand and reads it again.

“We’ll have to tell Mum, right? At some point, I mean.” Aditi whispers.

As soon as she says it, we hear the door creak open. Mum’s back from the wet market. She enters the kitchen, smiling blissfully. By then, Aditi has slipped the letter into her jacket.

“Any mail?” Mum asks, unpacking the groceries.

Aditi and I dart a glance at each other.

“Not yet.”

Kirtan Savith Kumar: A student of the Humanities Programme in Hwa Chong Institution, Singapore, Kirtan enjoys collecting vintage stamps in his free time.

Our Reader said:

The usage of “deportation letter” (that might or might not be real), along with the dramatic prose that follows it, creates a very dramatic written work.

Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): The Cycle

The Cycle

by Anthony Timofte

The flashing of the blue lights and the screeching of the sirens had already began to stir  up a frenzy between the doctors and nurses who were scurrying all around the theatre. Panic set in: they were working against time to help the young man fight for his life.

Ben Rogers, the young rider, had been looking forward to his trip on his new two-wheeled machine: he was going cross-country to visit family for the holidays.

Ben worked as a financial advisor in the city and had recently been putting in extra hours, saving up for his trip. He hadn’t seen his family in some time as the winter has made travel impossible. But now spring was nearly here: it was the end of February, and a leap year, no less. He felt hope for the year ahead, the budding flowers, the cycle of life just beginning.

He had always been a fan of motorcycles, from casual riding to racing. He had owned plenty throughout his life, the only difference now was that he’d got his current bike brand new: he had saved up for months to be able to afford his dream bike. And this weekend he had been looking forward to the 300-mile trip: he set off early on Saturday morning, with the sun breaking its first light.

He left home with a rush of adrenaline, and hit the highway with ferocious intent, his hand twisting this accelerator. The sun rose higher, and its warmth made the ride all the more enjoyable. It was almost lonely on the highway, Ben barely saw another vehicle for a hundred miles. But then, out of nowhere, a truck careered onto his side of road, and the head-on collision had sent Ben and his bike spinning into the air.

The paramedics strapped Ben to the stretcher and hurried him at speed to the nearest hospital. His family had been called and were on their way when things took a turn for the worse: Ben was in critical danger.

As the doctors and nurses continued their excruciating work, trying to stop his internal bleeding, life dripped from Ben. His unconscious mind swam, his emotions and memories seeping away. He saw a light, and he heard familiar voices, the voices of his family begging and praying for Ben to get well, to recover. But as the hours passed it was becoming clear that this was not going to happen: there would be no miracles.

Ben saw a white tunnel, and as he started to walk towards it the voices faded. The noises of the machines by his bed were nothing more than a dim beeping. He walked further into the tunnel, and then he heard sighing, crying, and voices loud with joy. The light came into focus. The doctor announced, ‘Congratulations, you have a healthy bouncing baby boy.’

Anthony Timofte: I’m not an author or published writer, I just wanted to enter the competition.

Our Reader said:

The plot is simple, but its simplicity makes it very quaint.

Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): Spaces


by John West

It started when Neil took offence at yet another inane Facebook post. Something about the gender politics of midget mudwrestling. The instant he expressed his digital outrage, the shark took his face from eyebrows to chin.

That’s what we called them. Sharks. Not at first. At first, we stood wide-eyed and open-jawed, wondering where our friends’ faces had gone.

I believe Neil was the first. As his faceless body collapsed onto Delta Park’s disc golf course, bloodying the manicured green, I remember checking my watch and noting the time. Twenty-nine minutes past two. Of course, this was on the twenty-ninth of February, when the world changed.


Some say for the better.

But they only say it in private. Behind closed doors. Usually in the dark. With no cellphones nearby.

It took a long time for people to accept that, the cellphone connection. I mean, it was obvious from the start. Take offence, let something trigger you, and before your friends had a chance to dislike your comment you’d be bleeding out into your milky latte.

Emotions attracted them, you see. Particularly outrage. And indignation.

When the news broke, it went viral. In the farthest corners of the internet, people took offence to having their faces ripped off by invisible inter-dimensional predators.


The sharks launched a feeding frenzy that left most under-thirties unidentifiable and no longer capable of expressing outrage, digitally or otherwise.


Those of us still alive by the third of March had developed a more tolerant attitude online. With the odd messy exception, we were no longer triggered by anything we read. Not even the government’s complete failure to prevent or even explain the attacks.

Small groups of survivors around the world communicated calmly amongst themselves, often dictating their messages from a distance.

Then the second wave hit and put an immediate stop to that.


We called them space beasts. Spaces, for short. Not because they came from outer space. We had absolutely no idea where they came from. But we knew what summoned them.

Spaces. Unnecessary spaces at the end of sentences, normally left after accepting a predictive text suggestion. Double spaces between words were just as bad.

If grammar Nazis had a face, it was blank and cross-eyed. Those of us who survived those first three days were understandably shaken. Anyone still determined to use a cellphone was not fully focused on spelling or punctuation.

The Spaces came as soon as messages were sent. Senders had a chance to edit them, to use the backspace key first. But years of sloppy typing habits took a toll.

People would be smiling, chatting, then the blank look crossed their face, and their eyes, and they dropped. Comatose. Brain-dead.

Took our brightest minds a few days to figure this one out. Most of us had already stopped using cellphones completely. The extremists even took a stance against writing, in any form. But then we’d be unable to pass this on, as a warning for future generations.

John West: Born in Scotland, I now spend my days managing client finances, writing novels and short stories, and growing old disgracefully.

Our Reader said:

This work of prose is effective because it references historical events to remind readers to learn from the past while also striving for a brighter future as well as enjoying the present moment.

Reader’s Choice (shiver): Evolution or Murder in the Forest?

Evolution or Murder in the Forest?

by Isabel Flynn

The old Mountain Ash stands at ease feeling her life force energy. With her roots gathering strength grasping the earth tightly, she takes one deep breath. A quiver goes up her mighty trunk, taken up by the branches and the lowest leaves fluttering in excitement. The shiver vibrates upward through all the leafage escalating faster and faster until it explodes out of the crown. Tiny vibrations fill the air with the joy of the morning, golden motes fly high and dance amongst the wind curls. There is electricity in the air. The ice crystals in the ‘toffee pulled’ nimbus streaks join the dance of summer.  The sun smiles.

Deep in her heartwood the tree is alive. Life has been good. Mistletoe caresses the canopy, and thick mats of moss provide tender comfort.

But communication has come through the feeder roots in the soil system from the other trees at the front. The foresters have returned and are culling what they deem dangerous. As her branches dip slowly up and down, trickles of water move up arteries to hydrate all of her individual parts. All work together synthesising a lullaby.

But she knows now there will be no more naps when drowsiness hits in the afternoon heat. At ninety-seven metres she is the tallest of the Eucalyptus Regnans in her community and proud of the fact she has lived to over two hundred and fifty years. She has buttressed herself to the forest floor for survival from wind, rain, snow and fire. Luck has also played a part in that she grew up in a distant corner. She was not harvested for the building industry where her name would have changed to ‘Tassie Oak’.

In Autumn, she blossomed snow white posies which evolved to gum nuts holding seeds ready to spill and generate her descendants. Now she prepares herself for the inevitable.

She shakes her head and the dried seed pods tumble.  She listens to the tinkle of the tiny nuts as they are carried to their birthing places by the evening breeze. One final murmur to her friends, a farewell sigh and she folds her foliage inward giving herself over to quiescence.

Isabel Flynn: I am new to writing and loving it too much. It has become a late addiction for this septuagenarian.

Our Reader said:
This sad story is told by a tree about to be cut down. It is very topical as we now understand that trees communicate and deforestation is such a force in global warming. Beautifully written.

Reader’s Choice (shiver): Wanted


by Jess Chua

Ad posted: 14 June
Subject: Victim Wanted

Want to do something new this Sunday?
It’ll blow your mind!
No, really.
I have a murder fantasy that I’d like to make a reality.
What’s it like to kill?
I want to know / I need to know.
I’m dead serious.
I’m not wasting your time / don’t waste mine.

P.S. No cowards.

* * *

Date: June 15, 10:34 AM
Subject: Your Post

Interested in your ad. What’s the method you’re thinking of?

I’m no stranger to suicidal ideation. Too much going on in the world and all that. I swing like a pendulum… hopeful one minute and hopeless the next.

Would you consider making a compassionate killing? I’d like to go painlessly. So a clean shot in the head would be mandatory, if I caught your drift with blowing someone’s mind.

* * *

Date: June 15, 5:34 PM
Subject: Re: Your Post

Hey man,

Clean shot is the intent. Don’t like any messes. Like Chigurh in No Country for Old Men.

Time and Place: Tomorrow / Sunday, 11PM. Abandoned backwoods church before Gaitskell Cove.


* * *

Date: June 15, 10:14 PM
Subject: Re: Your Post

Good. See you tomorrow.

* * *

Date: June 16, 11:34 PM
Subject: Re: Your Post

Where you at?

* * *

Date: June 16, 11:44 PM
Subject: Re: Your Post


You all right? I was just playing when I made the ad.


* * *

Date: June 17, 12:00 AM
Subject: Re: Your Post

I have your IP address. I know your location based on Google Earth.

You asked for no cowards—I take commitments seriously.

I’ll show you how it’s done, with you in the hot seat 🙂

I think that’s only fair after your no-show.

Jess Chua‘s short fiction has appeared under a pen name in Cha Journal and Akashic Books. More at

Our Reader said:

This story is cleverly told through a series of emails from a would-be murderer and their volunteer victim. The cold, impersonal language of the murderer perfectly suits the storyline. The reader is left fearing for the murderer when the tables turn.

Reader’s Choice (shiver): The Imaginary Friend

The Imaginary Friend

by Robbie Porter

When I was little my parents decided to move. They said the old place was too small, and they wanted both of us kids to have our own rooms. I never wanted to leave. When the removal van came I threw a tantrum, throwing myself on the floor and screaming.

I knew in my bones that things would never be the same again.

The new house was on a housing estate. We lived on Galalaw Road, which I’m told comes from ‘Gallow’s Law’. It’s where they used to hang horse thieves and the like back in the day, at least according to the older folk.

The older folk had a lot to say. They told us about how ‘the deil’ would go on his ‘nightly wanderings’ about the neighbourhood, looking to catch young children unawares and lead them astray. Best not to be out too late, they said. Much better to be safely home and tucked up in bed.

I never made the acquaintance of ‘the deil’, but I did make a friend soon after moving in. I can’t remember his name or what he looked like. I remember telling mum about him, and mum telling dad that I was ‘sensitive’, whatever that means.

My friend lived at the bottom of the garden. I would go down there and visit before school and first thing after getting home. He lived in a bush, and I although I couldn’t see him I could hear him in my head. He could be quite mean, and sometimes got me into all kinds of trouble.

Once he told me to leave the bath taps on so we could race our paper boats down the stairs. Then he wanted me to sneak into the kitchen when mum was making mince and tatties and drop earthworms into the mince. Worst of all was the time he told me to burn the house down, so I found some matches and tried to light them. When I finally managed to get some dry leaves and twigs smoking in the middle of the bedroom floor my sister panicked and went to tell Dad. I felt the bottom of Dad’s slipper that night.

Soon after, we moved away: Mum said we had to make a new start, for us kids’ sakes.

Now I’m a dad myself.

Little Jack was at the bottom of the garden; I could hear his reedy voice talking to… who was he talking to?

“But I don’t know where to find any matches.”

Robbie Porter is a lecturer and charity worker from Worcester, England.

Our Reader said:

A chilling story of a little boy with a dangerous imaginary friend. An eerie tale.

Reader’s Choice (shiver): The Caller

The Caller

by Marsha Webb

Christine shut her front door, locked it, checked the lock again, then went through the house looking behind the curtains and doors. After all her checks were done she gave an involuntary shiver and turned on the television.

A text message startled her, she took a deep breath and looked at the phone – unknown – she opened the text. “I saw you today wearing a new coat, you’ve just got home, enjoy your evening.” Christine’s heart accelerated. She was shaking, close to tears.

She couldn’t keep living like this.

“Who are you?” she typed, staring anxiously, waiting for the reply.

This had been happening for a month now and It was taking its toll. She was blocking the numbers, but the next day the messages would come from a different number.

Christine lived alone in a two bed flat, she had been happy and content in her own space until this happened.

The phone beeped again. “You don’t know me but I know you, I watch you, always.” Christine burst into tears and walked around the flat checking the locks again and again.

Suddenly the phone trilled to life, prompting a wave of fear and dread that almost took her breath away. The screen flashed up – Mark. Relief flooded through her, Mark had become a good friend recently, they had met online had a few dates, then both decided they would be better off as friends.

“Mark,” she answered tearfully.

“Christine what’s the matter?” Mark’s concern started the crying again.

“He’s watching me, I’m so scared,” Christine sobbed.

“I’m on my way,” Mark replied firmly.

Christine put her phone down and saw another text: “I know you’re alone, maybe I’ll call on you tonight?” She blocked the number with trembling hands, then paced the room until Mark arrived.

As soon as Mark walked through the door Christine sobbed in his arms. “I’m so scared, Mark.” She showed him the last text.

“Look, Christine, I’ll stay tonight and you should go to the police first thing tomorrow and show them everything.”

“They won’t do anything because he’s not done anything physical to me. And his phones are just pay-as-you-go – they’re not traceable,” Christine blurted out.

Pulling herself together, she went into the kitchen to get Mark a drink. She felt much calmer now he was here.

Mark followed her. “Go and lie on the sofa for an hour watch some TV. I’ll make us dinner. Why don’t you leave your phone with me and if he rings again I’ll answer it – give him a piece of my mind.”

Christine was exhausted, her sleep was disturbed and fretful every night, so she agreed, and gratefully lay on the sofa and closed her eyes.

Mark put a pan of pasta on the stove and quietly checked on Christine, she looked peaceful. He picked up her phone, scrolled through the messages, pressing delete on each one. He took his burner phone from his pocket and deleted the messages there too. He would destroy it later, when he was finished here.

Marsha Webb: I am currently a high school teacher who has been writing about two years. I had my first novella published recently, it’s called “You can choose your sin…but you cannot choose the consequences”.

Marsha Webb’s story, ‘The School Trip, featured in our anthology Museum Collection, published by Enliven Press in December 2019. You can buy your copy (paperback or kindle) here.

Our Reader said:

This is a cleverly constructed story. Through the writing we feel her anxiety. I didn’t see the twist at the end coming!

Reader’s Choice (shiver): Not a Single Shiver

Not a Single Shiver

by Alice Coen

I open my eyes. It takes a minute to come back to reality, remember where I am, remember what happened. All that remains from the previous night is a bunch of remote images and blurs. And, of course, the man lying under the sheets, next to me.

I do this sometimes, turn off my mind and my feelings, go for a rampage, disappear for a day or two. I’m not a loner, I have friends, but they don’t deserve to be pulled into my affairs.

I stand up and open the blinds to discover a beautifully sunny morning, illuminating tall mountains in the distance and the crowns of what seem like a million trees nearby. Still only wearing my dark blue lacy underwear, I walk to the other side of the bed. I chose well. My date from the night before was incredibly handsome, tall, dark hair, blue eyes. Deadly combination, isn’t it? I reach under the sheets and pull out the knife from his chest. I can’t believe I actually used this expensive antique on a cheap one-night-stand.

I get in the shower, his blood still on my hands and face. The chunks of my memory start coming together. I relieve those few hours while I let the hot water wash away my sins.

“If you’re gonna keep staring at me with those eyes for the rest of the night you better buy me a drink,” I said to the attractive stranger sitting next to me at the bar.

It’s weird. How some people like to seem confident and rebellious, until you actually confront them face to face. Then, they might just as well be a furry little bunny staring at you with scared, watery eyes.

So I continued: “Are you worried I might be too much for you?”

“I’d like to find out.”

I don’t know what it is. It gives me a calm feeling to know I have that kind of power over someone. I wasn’t always like this. I used to have respect for human life, but I was taught early enough that life is a game, that only a certain type get to win: the strong ones, the ones with no respect for human life.

“I’m staying at a motel not far from here. Want to just skip the formalities?”

So the shy, handsome man came back to my room, intrigued and scared at the same time. I didn’t plan what I was going to do. Sometimes I do things I shouldn’t do, but who’s gonna tell me not to?

I step out of the shower, wrap myself in a warm towel and go back to the bed. After spending half an hour watching meaningless TV dramas I put on my little black dress from the night before, gather my purse, shoes and keys and step out the door and into my car. As I start the engine and the village starts to fall behind, so do the memories of my most recent conquest.

Alice Coen: I’m a 16 year old Italian girl living in Germany. Mostly writing short stories and poetry.

Our Reader said:

This story is told in cold, unemotional language reflecting the calculated way the protagonist selects and murders her victims.

Winner (shiver): My First Ice Cream

My First Ice Cream

by Shalom Jacobs

Mum once said ice cream tasted like dreaming: sweet as the moment before bad things happen. But ice cream was always three food tokens too expensive when I was little. So I never got the chance to eat ice cream and didn’t get what she meant.

I’ll never forget how it tasted the first time I finally had it.

I was ten, tall for my age. I had a splash of freckles that I hated because Dad would tease me by playing dot-to-dot on my cheeks whenever I was concentrating on the wireless.

That day, school let out early. They said on the wireless there might be an air raid later, so our teacher said we should go home. I didn’t though. I know I should have. But really wanted to hang out with Carrie, my best friend, at Mr Lippy’s grocery store.

Anyway, Carrie and me were flicking through magazines when the bomb hit my street.

Everyone heard it.

When I got home, my bedroom was burning. Loud, screechy sirens bellowed out from nowhere and everywhere at once. Our roof, which Dad was always fixing up, had crumbled in on itself like a deflated balloon.

I found something shiny and warm in the rubble, something that reminded me of Mum. It was sticky, and it smelt like burnt roast dinner. The smell made me retch a few times, but I couldn’t let go—so took it and walked away.

Mr Lippy brought me inside his shop when he saw me coming. He tried to take away my horrible treasure when he realised it was dripping on his floor. So I slid Mum’s special ring off her finger first.

It was a little tricky because her wrist was now a bit burned and swollen. Bits of bone poked through the skin on some of her fingers too, like little whitish-red splinters. But I managed to twist the ring around them somehow.

Mr Lippy wanted to clean me up, but he couldn’t unclench my hand from around Mummy’s ring.

He didn’t understand, I didn’t want to open my hand, not even to wash the blood off. My palm had this warm and itchy tingle. It felt as if Mum had been holding my hand before, instead of me holding hers, and she still was.

I didn’t like it.

To open up my hand, Mr Lippy gave me an ice cream. He pushed the pointy tip of the cross-patterned cone into the curl of my fist. It dug in and slowly forced a separation into my fingers. The ice-cream poured a chill into my palm.

That chill replaced the tingly, itchy sensation in my skin and chased off the sticky heat that wouldn’t go away until I couldn’t feel Mum’s ghostly warmth in my hand anymore, just icy numbness.

Eventually I stopped feeling altogether and just ate my ice cream. It tasted like before the sirens.

After, Mr Lippy took me home to stay with him and Mrs Lippy while the authorities searched for Daddy.

Shalom Jacobs is a creative writer with a love for stories in all forms: be it words, drawings, drama, poetry, etc. A new girl on writer’s block with a 1st class degree in creative writing, she’s worked as an English teacher and in digital marketing. Now she hopes to return to her creative craft, plant roots and grow.

Our Reader said:

This story stayed with me long after I’d finished reading it.  The horror is underplayed, the description of it using child-like language entirely appropriate to the character. A well written and haunting story.