Take the cake of contemporary fiction, please. And consider flash fiction to be the costumed devil bursting out when we least expect it. Flash fiction, sudden fiction, or microfiction - a devil parading under many names - can with its flash undo any sanctities we may still possess at this late date about how time operates in narrative, since it treats time - narrative's great Holy of Holies - like a hyperpolymerized reptilian children's toy, stretching only to rebound in your hand with a sting. With pacing, economy, the vaulted space between one sentence and the next, Rainbow Children suggests entire worlds, doing so with a commitment toward the agreements made within any single, deceptively simple dimension. Read this story to find its Lord of the Flies-like potential energy: children's cruelty toward one another, hierarchical agreements, the viewpoints of the children's world versus those of those off-screen adults. Urgent and robust, the story functions as preamble for a cliffhanger. A mother has locked up a few children; the children master the fish and one another; a neighbor's house burns. An American-style lurid gothic conveyed in lucid, British-tinged cadence. Would Ian McEwan not have a field day? Or: what's not to love about this wee costumed devil?
- Edie Meidav

Rainbow Children

By Althea Hannemann


There are three of them. Children, that is; there are only two fish. Common goldfish, happy fellows, rotund and good-natured as if all the world were cakes and ale. The children feed them but only under supervision, because fish often overeat. “They don’t know when to stop,” the mother says. The possibility that the fish will chew and swallow, chew and swallow, on and on until their blocked bellies burst, intrigues. More captivating, however, is that the fish might someday kill and eat each other. A classmate of Andrew’s told him of fish that hate other fish, will fight a brother to the death. Andrew has so vividly described to the others, his sister Julia and his friend Will, the pitched battles the fish might have, that each day when they awake to find the water clear of blood it seems supernatural, uncanny, the calmness of the pets a revenant rather than an omen.

Right now Julia and Andrew and Will are looking at the fish in their bowl, urging them to on to their sanguinary future. Also there is a fire at a house down the street. The children are actively uninterested in the fire, mostly because they are angry. When the mother saw it, the glow from the windows, and heard people screaming from the lawns to either side, she ran out of the house and locked the door behind her so that Will and Julia and Andrew cannot follow her. “Stay here!” she said. “I’ll be right back. Don’t you move, don’t move. You’re fine here.”


Will has orange hair, an absurd color that looks like tangerines seen in half-light at the bottom of a brown paper grocery bag. He is also well overweight, so adults consider him fat and funny looking. Will is always at the house. He stays over sometimes. His mother is friends with the mother, and has issues. To Will his hair is merely hair-colored, standard, as skin color can only be his freckled pink. But he is far more specific in regard to every other shade. For example the fish are orange, not gold. Never didactic, he nonetheless calls them orange fish so often, at every sensible or senseless opportunity, that the refusal of his playmates to echo the name has become a quiet, adumbrate disagreement.


“We have to leave the house.” Will has squeezed his fubsy torso behind the fishbowl, sticks now between the table on which it sits and the window it looks out upon. “You’re supposed to leave the house when there’s a fire.” Through the distorted porthole of the bowl the back of his head exactly matches the scales in the bowl, oriflamme. The light outside has changed, the smoke from the burning house combining with dusky afternoon clouds to mask the sun.

 Julia shakes her head, but only once, then freezes with it tilted still. She looks like thinking rather than refusing. Will says it again. They don’t let Will run things.


In the back yard is a trampoline. It is far enough away from the house that a child who falls from it will hit grass instead of patio or siding. Trampolines come with rules: no mean bouncing, no jumping at the edges where feet get caught in stretching springs and heads clump on a metal edge. And only two jumpers at once.

 “We can go out the back window,” says Will. “And land on the trampoline.” He has never said anything so obviously visionary, his sagacity slips by on color and image alone: a tree in the dark is a man with his hands out, stroking his crouching bush of a cat, or Julia’s vomit exactly matches grass clippings left for two hours on asphalt, some of which he brings to her sickbed as a sample. Now he sees the coming minutes as they must be: people escaping from fires jump onto trampolines.


From the front window they can see the smoke still streaming. They do not look at the fire. They are still angry, and the mother is still there. A fly perches on the lip of the fishbowl. “We can’t leave the orange fish,” says Will. He brings the bowl back to the other window, above the trampoline.  


“You go first,” says Julia. They have raised the window, pushing insistently on the mullions, then pulling in the screen.

 “No. The fish go first.” Will has poked his head out while Andrew watches. Fifty head lengths to the ground. “They can’t jump out themselves.” It’s true. When the children are gone, when they leap out the window as they plan to, the fish will be stuck. Will reaches in and pins one against the glass wall but recoils from the feeling of a silky, vegetal crushed fin. He tilts the bowl to drain the water out the window; what he pours dribbles off the lip and down the front of the bowl, sloshes back off the sill.

“The fish should go out in their house,” says Andrew. “Their house moves.”


Through the air they fly, though from the ground it would look like a fall. From the trampoline the arc seems a bombardment, the projectile spewing waste as it turns, though Will poured out almost all of the water. It hits the trampoline on the very place to avoid, the springs; it bounces, rises, and a fish emerges from the mouth as it turns and birls toward the black net’s center. The other fish remains inside, a silvery prize stuck sodden to the side when finally the bowl comes to rest. Once out the window the fish looked less orange, likely because of the light. Later they are retrieved, white now, whether from fear or blood loss or tissue death can no longer be determined. Perhaps they turned white in midair, the children watching them like portents, while from the house down the street small charred lumps are pulled, black.