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A Cackle of Hyenas: Flash Fiction by Sandra Arnold
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Sandra Arnold: A Cackle of Hyenas

Art by Bernice Holtzman © 2022

A Cackle of Hyenas

by Sandra Arnold


Emerald found a table in the corner of the empty café, sat down, and took a tissue out of her bag. She was glad no one else was there to witness her tears. She closed her eyes and inhaled the peace and quiet of the place, thankful that it was too early for the lunchtime crowd. After buying a new spade at the hardware shop that morning, she needed a cup of Sergio’s delicious coffee before heading home to dig the hole for Max.

When her coffee arrived, she held the cup under her nose and closed her eyes again. She let her thoughts roam over the years of Max’s love, companionship, and loyalty. This was far more than she’d experienced from any human being. Which is why she’d chosen to live alone, just her and Max, ever since she’d got him as a skinny puppy from the animal shelter. They told her he’d been found on the bank of a river. He’d managed to get himself out of the sack in the river which contained the other four puppies. Now, fifteen years later, she was on her own again. Unless she got another dog. No. Max was irreplaceable.  

A noisy clatter at the door made her jump. She opened her eyes and turned to see two teenage girls stomp into the café, yank out a couple of chairs and plonk themselves down. One had green hair sticking up in spikes. The other girl’s head was shaved except for a blue tuft in the middle of her scalp. Their bare arms were covered in tattoos, their ears and lips perforated with studs. They ordered coffee and cake and one of them immediately began talking in a strident voice punctuated by shrill giggles while the other one contributed shrieks of what Emerald supposed was laughter. Their conversation filled all the space in the café.

“So then I was like . . . y’know?”

“Yeah, I know . . . I know!

“And so he gives me that look, you know?”


“Yeah! So then I was like, ya gotta be kiddin’, eh?”

“Shit! So what did he say to that?”

“So then he was like, wha’?”

“Fuckin’ dick!”

They both bent over their table, drummed their hands on it and hooted.

The blue-haired girl lifted her head, tears streaming down her face. “For fuck’s sake, eh? Awesome, eh? Fuckin’ dick, eh?”

“Yeah! Whoop-whoop. Fuckin’ dick!”

They bent over their table again and snorted, snickered, quacked, and clucked.

Emerald shook her head. She needed a word to describe the noises they made. She took out her phone and googled collective nouns. She scrolled down till she found it. A cackle of hyenas. She started to smile for the first time in three weeks. Ever since her conversation with the vet.

A woman and a small boy entered the café and sat at a table nearby.

The shrieks of the two girls continued unabated with each non-sentence gaining volume. Emerald considered telling them to quieten down. She gave herself a minute to imagine what their response would be and how she would deal with it. Then she jumped in fright as another kind of caterwauling overlaid the girls’ screams. She opened her eyes to see the little boy staring at the two girls as he gave an ear-piercing shriek. His mother flushed and put her finger to her lips. The little boy ignored her and screeched again, this time drumming his hands on the table. The girls stopped in mid-howl. They stared open-mouthed at the child. They stared at his mother. They stared at Emerald’s shaking shoulders. They glanced at each other, shot out of their chairs, heads down, and clattered out to the exit, banging the door behind them.   

The child’s mother leaned towards Emerald and started to apologise for her son’s bad manners. Emerald shook her head. “Oh, no. You’ve given me the best laugh in ages.” She smiled at the boy. “The last time I heard hyenas was at the zoo.” The mother laughed. The boy laughed. Emerald laughed. The sounds were neither loud nor harsh.

Outside the café she saw a young black Labrador tied up by a drinking bowl. She bent down to stroke his head and tell him he was a good boy. Inside her car she switched on the ignition. She glanced at the dog in the rearview mirror before driving away.



Sandra Arnold is an award-winning writer who lives in New Zealand. She is the author of five books, including The Ash, the Well and the Bluebell, Mākaro Press, NZ; and Soul Etchings, Retreat West Books, UK; and Sing No Sad Song, Canterbury University Press, NZ.  Her short fiction has been widely published and anthologised internationally. She has received nominations for The Best Small Fictions, Best Microfictions, and The Pushcart Prize. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Central Queensland University, Australia.


Bernice Holtzman’s paintings and collages have appeared in shows at various venues in Manhattan, including the Back Fence in Greenwich Village, the Producer’s Club, the Black Door Gallery on W. 26th St., and one other place she can’t remember, but it was in a basement, and she was well received.

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