Nicolas Ridley, Featured Author

Virtually Identical



‘I shan’t introduce you to my sister,’ said Kate. ‘You’ll fall in love with her. Then I’ll have to hate you.’

‘Fine,’ I said.

(I’m used to Kate’s pronouncements.)

We were driving to Sussex. Having decided to marry me, Kate felt I should meet her parents.

‘You and your sister,’ I said. ‘Are you alike?’

‘We’re virtually identical.’


‘Stop the car,’ said Kate. ‘There by those bushes. I need to change.’


I find it captivating: Kate’s ability to transform herself. From brisk solicitor to untamed party-animal. From formal dinner guest to fun-runner in baggy shorts and shapeless t-shirt. The Kate, who now appeared in a black skirt and white blouse, was the dutiful daughter.


‘I must warn you,’ said Kate. ‘My parents are prudes.’

To me they appeared courteous, welcoming, perfectly charming.

‘Samuel will be sleeping in the guest bedroom,’ said Kate.

(Another of Kate’s pronouncement.)

Did I see Kate’s mother raise an eyebrow?


‘Don’t come looking for me in the night,’ said Kate. ‘You’ll end up in someone else’s bedroom.’

Kate’s father’s generous measures of single malt meant that I fell deeply asleep, but I woke up immediately when the bedroom door creaked open.

‘Don’t turn on the light.’

I didn’t.

In the morning, she’d gone.


‘Were you alright last night?’ said Kate.

‘Last night?’

‘By yourself in your lonely little bed.’

‘By myself? But didn’t you …?’

‘Didn’t I what?’

‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘I slept fine.’


‘Who are you?’

‘Me?’ I said. ‘I’m the bridegroom.’

‘I thought you looked familiar,’ she said. ‘I’m Aunt Astrid. I’m potty as an aspidistra. Did you know there was madness in the family?’

‘Really?’ I said, looking round the marquee. ‘Tell me. I haven’t met Kate’s sister yet. Is she here somewhere?

‘Sister? Kate has no sister. Kate’s an only child.’


by Nicolas Ridley


Unarmed Combat



It’s a pleasant day in early April. Winter is no more than a memory and today we are learning how to kill people. Or maim them. Maybe both. I’m not sure yet.

Together we chant the sergeant’s mantra:





Last January we slept in our boots on Dartmoor. We learnt the lesson on the first morning. If you leave your boots outside the tent, they freeze like solid blocks of ice. The answer is to keep them on all night. This means lying on your back in your sleeping-bag with your feet pointing upwards. It’s awkward at first but you get used to it. When you’re fourteen-years-old, sleeping isn’t usually terribly difficult.





This spring the school’s Combined Cadet Force is camping in the Thetford battle area. We have spent much of the week crawling through damp bracken and sheep’s droppings but we’ve camped in many worse places and will do again.

This afternoon a group of us has volunteered to undergo training in unarmed combat. It sounded more fun than signals, mortars or map-reading. We are in the care of our instructor: square, unhurried, amiable, Sergeant Jones.

Methodically, almost languorously, Sergeant Jones disarms, disables and dispatches us by numbers.

‘You take the arm. You break the arm. You twist the wrist. And over he goes.’

Perhaps it’s a little chilling but it’s also oddly hypnotic.

‘You take the arm. You break the arm. You twist the wrist. And over he goes.’

One at a time, we rush at Sergeant Jones with wooden weapons. Step-by-step — cool and unflurried — he goes about his business.

‘You take the arm. You break the arm. You twist the wrist. And over he goes.’

I’m not certain what we’re learning except that Sergeant Jones is the master of his craft. If we have to watch him very much longer, we may become bored and rather restless but, for the present, it passes the time.





All afternoon the sun shines down on us benignly. Tonight the damp bracken and sheep’s droppings will remain unfrozen and we will sleep peacefully in our socks.


by Nicolas Ridley

Nicolas Ridley has lived and worked in Tokyo, Casablanca, Barcelona, Hong Kong and Paris and now lives in London & Bath (UK) where he writes fiction, non-fiction, scripts and stage plays. A prize-winner and Pushcart Prize nominee, his short stories have been read at Liars’ League (London), Rattle Tales (Brighton), The Speakeasy (Bath), The Squat Pen Rests (Swindon), Story Friday (Bath), The Story Tales (London), Storytails (London) and Talking Tales (Bristol). Others have been published in London Lies, Lovers’ Lies & Weird Lies by Arachne Press (UK), Ariadne’s Thread (UK), Barbaric Yawp (USA), The Linnet’s Wings (Ireland), Litro Magazine (UK), O:JA&L (USA), Rattle Tales 3 (UK), Sleet Magazine (USA), The Summerset Review (USA), Tales from a Small Planet (USA), Tears in the Fence (UK) and Black is the New Black & True Love by Wordland (UK). Godfrey’s Ghost, his biographical memoir, is published by Mogzilla Life.




I carry two things with me at all times: mace and paranoia. I’m always looking over my shoulder. Always expecting the worst. Is that my shadow or a stranger’s? Is that man jogging or hunting for someone weak? Am I about to be mugged or hit on? There’s no sad back story here. I was never attacked. Everyone I love is still alive. I just remember watching the news before school every morning. There was always a blurb on the Christian Newsom murders. Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. It always showed the same picture. A young woman with blonde hair, only a shade lighter than my own hair, smiling next to a boy wearing a Tennessee baseball cap. They were young. Happy. Alive. The murder was never explicitly described on TV. They only ever said “heinous.” It was a heinous crime. It was a heinous crime that happened in the same town where I rode my bike. The same town where my dad parked his car. The same town where my mom worked late. I didn’t read the details of the crime until years later. I regretted it. The dark is so much scarier when the monsters are real. And when the monsters are people, people whose bones are likely the same color as mine.

Last night I was walking home from the park. I wasn’t alone, I had a man beside me. But so did Channon. I kept turning my head back and sizing up the men on the sidewalk. Joe watched me jump at shadows, and I could see him wondering, asking why. We were less than a block from campus and there was a man leaning against a tattoo parlor. He was watching us, his fist tapping the brick wall. My mace was buried in a bag. I didn’t have any money for him take. He would take my laptop, all of my writing, and maybe my phone. Maybe that would be all. Maybe I could leave with my body intact. The man turned from the wall and entered the tattoo parlor. As we walked by I kept craning my head back. I wanted to be certain.

When I got back to my room I told a friend about the man leaning against the tattoo parlor. She said I was just paranoid. Later that night I researched the difference between pepper spray and mace. I learned that pepper spray causes more pain. I went on Amazon to make sure mine was pepper spray. It is. And I added a purple stun gun to my wish list.


by Sophie Ezzell

Sophie Ezzell was the winner of two Maier Writing Awards for her works in fiction and poetry. She is currently pursuing a degree in Creative Writing from Marshall University, where she also serves as Poetry Editor for its literary magazine, Et Cetera.

Why I’m okay with the C on my first French test, in thirteen footnotes

Because it takes two extra steps to add accents with my keyboard and I “don’t have that kind of time.”[1]

Because “I hate to tell you this, but I have a gun,”[2] and “Could you sound a little less angry?”[3] and “I’m telling you, watch out for that bitch.”[4]

Because, “[security officers] became suspicious when they saw the suspect following women through the store”[5] and “We’re so grateful for those who have stuck with us during this time. They know who they are.”[6] and “He’s still the best man I know.”[7]

Because, ‘When she tried to scream, she said, he put his hand over her mouth.” [8]and “Is this judge a really good man? And he is. And by any measure he is.”[9]

Because fluent, cadenced nonsense used to tumble from my toddler’s mouth like birdsong.

Because “there are very fine people on both sides”[10] and “3,000 people did not die in Puerto Rico.”[11]

Because “when you finally realize that you do not need to understand everything said, you will know victory.”[12]

Because of the plane trees.

Because “Hey man, I feel like if you’re going to criticize this country, you know, you can just leave.”[13]

Because it’s so far away from everything I’ve ever known and also, it’s so far away from everything I’ve ever known.

Because I understand too much of my mother tongue.

My mother



[1] Anne Lamott

[2] My assailant. December 15, 1989.

[3] Faculty Meeting, April 2012.

[4] Former Colleague, April 2017.


[6] Former friend, former Vilonia teacher, Facebook post.

[7] Former friend, former Vilonia teacher’s wife, e-mail correspondence.



[10] Donald Trump.

[11] Ibid.

[12] How to Get Really Good at French. Polyglot Language Learning, 2017.

[13] Overheard, University of Central Arkansas Fitness Center, September 11, 2018.


by Stephanie Vanderslice

Stephanie Vanderslice is a prose writer and creative writing professor at the University of Central Arkansas. Publications include Ploughshares Online, EasyStreet Online, So to Speak and many others, as well as several books such as The Geek’s Guide to the Writing Life (Bloomsbury 2017).

The Line, or, An Unreliable Narrator of the Short Ride Home

My son today is anarcho-Marxist and looks towards a world of fractured power. On the way to school he laughed at the rationale behind a thin blue line; a line he’s certain will and should self-implode.  I feel like there’s an even thinner line between how people see me and what’s happening inside; maybe it’s the color of a two-way mirror.  On one side there used to be a bougie white woman with bohemian tendencies, a well-read Northeastern WASP, and on the other was sharp teeth, madness, the unpredictable danger of an inappropriate turn of phrase; blood-crusted fingernails; cake for breakfast.  Then someone flipped a switch, maybe me, and the line separated instead an inner composed sophisticate and an exterior mess, a person who has lost track of how to wear her face.  Strange fluids burbling out of unnatural orifices, oops!  Yet when I turn to plug one, chunks of flesh fall away, revealing open tombs of dead promises and unfinished thoughts. But that’s just right now; in a few hours the key will be properly in the ignition, engine on, and I’ll pick up my kid; he’ll complain about plutocracy and play me bad punk from his phone, gleeful, knowing or not knowing that his driver is an unreliable narrator of the short ride home.


by Abigail King

Abigail King lives, writes, and eats radicchio in Austin, Texas.

She’s My Lady Friend

Grace lives up the street. Every morning she gets into her mint condition 1982 Plymouth Reliant and drives two blocks down the street where she spends the day with Gary, her gentleman friend. Grace is a spritely 89. She is robbing the cradle a little with Gary who is only 78. Gary is homebound. Diabetes took his vision. They both have grandchildren and great grandchildren of children who left this little town long ago. Widow and widower, they spend their days together. She cooks for him. “Having someone to enjoy the food is the only fun in cooking anymore.” They are intimate. “Our children think we should marry but phooey on that!” They never spend the night. “I need my beauty rest!” She takes him to church and to the Elks club for pinochle and for coffee and pie at the little café so they can get the gossip from the coffee clutch.  Gary always has pie, diabetes be damned. She reads the local paper aloud and plans their attendance at funerals. She has a little box of sympathy cards at the ready and an envelope of laundered and pressed five dollar bills. She always gives one in memory of the deceased to the church’s radio broadcast, unless a memorial fund is specified. She includes Gary’s name with her own on the card.

Late one afternoon, after she divvies the roast, mashed potatoes and gravy into separate containers for their meals throughout the week, and puts a couple in the freezer as well, Grace tells Gary she needs a nap before driving home. While she dozes in the floral print recliner, he listens to a cooking program on television. The woman cooks from her kitchen on a ranch, and a husband, children, and a widowed father-in-law are always brought in to eat what she makes, usually after chores or school or some play activity. They are always happy. He likes the show for the stories of ranch life that go with the food. It puts him in mind of his life, before the kids grew up and moved away, before Nettie died, before he’d sold the ranch and moved to town, before he’d lost his vision.

He says, “I was listening to the Pioneer Woman and thinking on the old times.” He says this over and over in the next couple of days to anyone who will listen, to his children, to himself while he waits in the corner of the family room at the church. He thinks on it during the Psalm and the hymns, and still beside the grave where disturbed soil gives scent to his sightlessness. His daughter helps him find the casket with the flowers he’d asked her to buy. The people whisper in the church basement over casseroles and bars, “Grace was always so good to him,” and “What will Gary do now?”


by Tayo Basquiat

TAYO BASQUIAT is a writer, teacher, adventurer, scavenger, and Wilderness First Responder. He gave up tenure as a philosophy professor to pursue an MFA in creative writing at the University of Wyoming. His work has appeared in Superstition Review, On Second Thought, Northern Plains Ethics Journal, the Cheat River Review, Proximity Magazine, and in a growing portfolio as producer of Wyoming Public Media’s “Spoken Words” podcast.

A Distaste for Nostalgia

My father’s father died four years before I was born. Dad reacted by hoisting a massive trunk containing the man’s every worldly possession into the backyard trash barrel and setting it on fire. Mom, who had talked him out of destroying family heirlooms on other occasions, arrived at the pyre too late to protest. She could only stand near the blaze, chastising my father ineffectually, watching relics succumb to engulfing flames.

“The antique trunk alone was worth a fortune,” Mom said. She recalls its contents: Dad’s baby dress, a shift of cotton lawn. A yellowed blanket. A gold ring set with a turquoise stone the size of a grain of rice.

Photos of his parents and grandparents. There was even one of Evelyn, the sister who had died of some unnamed disease at the age of six, leaving behind a corpse the size of a doll’s.

“Why’d he do it?” I asked.

“Because if it’s gone, he doesn’t have to think about it.”

My grandfather, according to family legend, was a layabout. He’d had a stroke in front of the television at the boarding house where he stayed, bottle of bourbon in hand. For half a day the other residents assumed he’d passed out.

I get my dad’s distaste for nostalgia.

There was that Christmas that was perfect. My cousins and I spun wooden tops on hardwood floors as the fireplace raged and cookies baked in the oven. It would forever hover there, a reminder of what Christmas would never be again. More often Mom and Dad, bound for grandma’s, would turn the car around after some knock-down, drag-out argument.

What will trigger tears is unpredictable now. I toss our wedding scrapbook into a pile in the garage but feel a pang when I throw away your moth-ridden Yoda shirt.


by Shannon Thrace

Shannon Thrace is an IT professional, a grad student pursuing a master’s in English, and a devotee of farm-to-table restaurants, summer festivals, all-night conversations and formidable philosophy texts. She is passionate about unplugging, getting outside and seeing the world.

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