short stories


Short Story of the Month:

The Broken Nazi

by Chris Wilson

‘So Kitten had been trained like a Pavlovian doggie from an early age to equate a hit of crack with a cock ramming down her esophagus; it’s like strawberries and cream to her. But Pigpen’s in new territory, now he’s just a walking residue of a psychotic breakdown – he’s a testament to the powers of crystal meth’s ability to shed the illusion of humanity and leave just a husk in its place and somehow I kind of realised the sweetness of the incongruity I was witnessing in front of my eyes. A breaking down of cultural perceptions and belief systems; here was a white Nazi redneck from Modesto, he could have been Charlton Heston’s grandson, being pinned to the wall by a six-foot-two black male transvestite with fake tits and wearing a spandex leotard, who’s got her thumb up his asshole wriggling it about while she sucks down on his white pride cock and both of his Nazi balls and he’s helpless to do anything but roll his eyes and groan as he comes in spurts and rolls his jaw in dumb zombie circles.’ 

For observers of ‘natural law’, there’s a lesson to learn in everything – if one only cares to see. Every element, every plant, tree, animal and human being – each has an ‘essence’, a centre of gravity from which they can never escape. A fly, for instance, is attracted to shit. Will always be attracted to shit. It’s hardwired – literally, in the DNA. And so the takeaway here is…don’t be like a fly. Emulate instead, the honeybee. Of all creatures, none is more careful to distance themselves from the crap of this world; none more dedicated in seeking out only that which is pure. But here’s the rub – dirt is, well, attractive. Being good can satisfy but being bad is thrilling. The only emotion purer than love, is hate. Those who get in the ring and fight, sweat and bleed for that extra 1%, won’t ever know the bliss of abandonment, of simply throwing in the towel. From a certain perspective, sobriety is an insane lifestyle choice. Something which the characters in Chris Wilson’s short fiction collection, The Glue Ponys, would fully endorse. 

Wilson’s collection is about human flotsam and jetsam. The dedication reads: ‘This is a book about the broken and discarded, the lost and wandering of America, with whom I shared some moments on the way to the abattoir.’ But stories exclusively featuring combinations of the homeless, junkies and prostitutes (and sometimes all three in one), is a curious fetish. What is the author trying to say? Is this fiction as social commentary, are his motley crew mere pawns for humour, or is Wilson just, well – partial to a bit of dirt? This puzzle at the heart of The Glue Ponys – one that is admittedly less about the stories per se than their ‘politics’ – is (rather cleverly) never answered. But here’s my punt: it’s all three. Which if true is, in and of itself, standout. Wilson has chosen to tell stories about young and dumb girls in porn, and old and even dumber men getting stabbed in the arse (literally, not figuratively) – and not place any commentary front & centre. There is no searing tirade against the ruling classes, nor solemn hymn for the Proles. Instead of heavy emoting, mental anguish and moral dilemmas, there is humour. Were any of the above not true, it’s likely that my short story of the month, The Broken Nazi, would open with something other than ‘Kitten was an ugly bitch.’ This story of uhm, an unlikely coming together, works precisely because it’s un-heavy – because it’s light and free. If your inclination is to feel sympathy for Kitten and pals, don’t waste your energy – the outlook of the piece is such that if anyone needs feeling sorry for, it’s ‘us’ – smug in our Barratt boxes, and convinced that there are better things to do than get high, before being sucked off by a transvestite. That’s not to say that political commentary is wholly absent, and neither is it soft-peddled – rather, it’s opaque: ‘…Kitten had been trained like a Pavlovian doggie from an early age…’ For all that this one line says, well – un-pack that Pandora’s box yourself. And that, friends, is how the best fiction rolls.   

I’m a fan of Tangerine Press – another of their publications, the late season by Stephen Hines, was my favourite short story collection of 2017. There’s a special thrill in stumbling across a new voice, and Wilson’s skill in revealing fundamentally broken lives, and not demand that his reader spend the whole-time self-flagellating – well that’s a pretty good trick. But to then give them space to laugh – laugh with and laugh at – and then (and only then) maybe wonder about the ‘before’ and ‘after’ for these ghosts… Well, that’s art.

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Reviewed and recommended by Tamim Sadikali

The Glue Ponys (Tangerine Pressby Chris Wilson was originally released in August 2016. Buy now.




Should be a big year for Open Pen, we’re publishing a poetry collection by Scott Manley Hadley. It’s a real book because it has a spine. Just like Scott’s poetry.

Marshmallow hot choc copywriting aside, this really is a big year for us, we’ve got a few novelettes up our sleeve and we should be able to let you know more about that in the coming months, a Summer party, launches, podcasts, and more copies of Open Pen going to more stockists than ever before. That’s true of Open Pen Issue Twenty-One, which hits our bookshops (and is FREE as always) Saturday, April 21.

In its pages you will find the following fiction by the following writers:

What Happened at the Squash Club on 23 April 1982 – Amanda Quinn
An Act of Faith – Ian Green
Session 3 Homework – Janelle Hardacre
Fumes – Abigail Fish
Promotion – Anthea Morrison
External Audits – Sam Hurcom

And the London Short Story Prize winning

Dead Yard – Maria Thomas

All that fiction is introduced by Fernando Sdrigotti, author of Dysfunctional Males (La Casita Grande Editores) and Issue Seventeen’s cover author. True to form, Sdrigotti finds himself emoting a warmth of feeling for our literary landscape with such lines as:

You could and should be pardoned for thinking literature is dead, that it metamorphosed into a column on an Excel file, or the filling of a sandwich served at the bestest writerly conference, where toilets get clogged on the last day, and literature stinks worse than the final question in every panel, but hey networking!

All that, still free, in your bookshop April 21. Not stocked in your bookshop? Tell them about us. Tell us about them. You’ll also note that you can now subscribe to Open Pen for just £10 for four issues.

Thanks for supporting Open Pen. Read. Write. SUBMIT.


OP16_COVERWe’re delighted to be getting back to our raison d’être – your free copy of Open Pen Issue Sixteen will be hitting bookshops Saturday, 28th May.

INSIDE: ‘Invisible Monsters’ is a deeply touching fictional account of dealing with a lifelong condition. Congratulations to Bangor University’s DeAnn Bell for that story, which receives the full cover treatment from illustrator Josh Neal. Bell’s short piece is joined by Falkirk’s Andrew Newall with his claustrophobic ‘Writer’s Block’, Dubliner Emmet Vincent’s short and sharp flash piece ‘The John Lewis Christmas Ad’, as well as a return to the pages of Open Pen for co-Dubliner (and London resident) David McGrath with his eye-watering short story, ‘Naked’, which is the kind of story that gets us banned from shops. Thanks, David.

Guest editorial is provided by award-winning playwright Barney Norris, whose debut novel ‘Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain is out now. N Quentin Woolf’s latest outing for Open Pen trumps all other dissections of Trump you’ve read. ‘Bookshop Focus’ comes courtesy of Joe Johnston who writes enthusiastically about Hackney’s Burley Fisher Books.

Open Pen Issue Sixteen is a sort of majestic fishy gold, coloured thus.

Finally, you can now subscribe to Open Pen Magazine if you can’t get to one of our stockists. Details here.