The Stranger

(950 words) We chatted about this and that, the state of the hotel and whether it’d be possible to restore it. “The desert wants its land back. It has a mind and a will of its own,” she said. I was a farmer, arable and dairy cattle, used to co-operating with the land. It was no use fighting it. “I can understand that.” I brought us both refills from the bent old man’s enormous tea pot, then Olive asked me if anything strange, maybe supernatural, had ever happened to me. I laughed. “Not that I can think of, I’m not one for mumbo jumbo.” Olive’s wide blue eyes twinkled. “Well, I’ll tell you anyway. See what you think.” “Be my guest.” “Well, where I live, there’s a playing field opposite, a small one with an area of swings and slides for kiddies.” I sipped my tea, it was hot and sweet.

Opening the Third Eye

(800 words) “Good afternoon, could you point me in the direction of the travel books please?” he asked. The woman was slim, neat, and quite pretty, he admitted, despite her pointed lack of make-up. She gave a friendly smile, got up and took him down a short, well-lighted corridor to the required area. Just then, the shop bell rang and a young woman entered with a small child in tow, a boy of about six. “Did you know you’ve got one of them square face things sprayed on your shop?” The shop lady sounded anxious. “What? No, I didn’t. What does it mean?” “I dunno, just I heard there’s been a few appearing round town. They say it’s to do with gangs.” “What do you mean, gangs?” “I dunno, something to do with an initiation rite, you know, to join the gang.”

Beach Bum

(950 words) Sarah took the food to the old woman then returned to the café, startled to see two men waiting for her. They were well-built, strong-looking, unfriendly, she thought. Both were dressed in black suits with white shirts open at the collar. Both wore dark glasses. One proffered a photograph. “Have you seen this man?” Sarah looked and felt sick.

In the Van

(750 words) Suddenly realising the vehicle in front had stopped, I slammed my brakes on and felt the jolt through the pedal of the brakes slipping. I began to skid and through the layer of snow on the windscreen could see the approaching red rear lights of a van. There was a dull thud as I hit it. I got out of the car to the shock of cold air and wet flakes of snow on my face. A huge man got out and stood, examining his rear bumper.

The Luck of the Draw

(950 words) A young woman in a rustic green smock stood behind a tombola. She smiled at me. “Try your luck, sir? It’s to raise money for the donkey sanctuary.” That explained why there were pictures of donkeys everywhere. “What do I have to do?” “It’s fifty pence a ticket, or five for two pounds. If it ends with a five or a zero it’ll be a winner, then you just match it with the prize.” “Sounds complicated.” I winked. “Go on, I’ll have five.” Two were winners. The first was a hefty volume of Longfellow verse. I’d rather have won a hole in the head. “Look, can I pick it up later? I don’t want to lug it around the fair.” She gave me a pearly smile. “I’m here till five. Oh, that’s strange.” “What’s up?” “Oh, the ticket on your other prize is on the table. It must have fallen off this.” She held up a wooden bracelet.

Revelation

(800 words) Fish, a wet cold fish, that’s what Lazarescu reminded her of! The lights were on now and the audience on their feet giving rapturous applause. Rapturous applause for a lacklustre concert – to put it mildly! Freshny was on his feet, clapping for all his worth. He looked down at her, his eyes saying ‘Why aren’t you joining in this standing ovation?’ Matilde stood up and hit her hands together, watching the bald-headed old man bow and bow; surely, he’d barely be able to move tomorrow, she thought. She’d never enjoyed the scrape of the cello, but Freshny had got her a ticket. Made a big deal of it. Surely she’d heard of Lazarescu, the most famous Romanian cellist of all time? Then a look of incredulous disdain when she’d said that, no, she’d never heard of him.

Above the Volcano

(600 words) Alma stared out at an alien landscape, knobs of black volcanic rock formed into bizarre shapes and covered with moss. Somehow, in places even grass. She heard the roaring engine of her transport in the distance and breathed a sigh of relief, soon spotting the Land Rover driving along the narrow coastal road towards her. Then there was Gunnar, smiling. “Hop in,” he said in perfect English. As the vehicle powered its way to the unimaginable rendezvous, she thought of Hy and his love for Iceland. Perhaps that was why she was here again, she admitted to herself. Hy and his obsession with geology, his disdain for her and Charles in their ‘boring, suburban world,’ the world that had funded his education of course, but no matter, in his view. Then there’d been Vanessa and the crazy accident.

Blue Is the Colour

(900 words) Can you imagine a world without colour? Dull, monotonous, and depressing are words that come to mind. I’d been a councillor for the past ten years, though my husband, Eric, hadn’t approved. “Why concern yourself with other people’s problems, don’t you have enough of your own, and what about me and the kids?” Well, actually, I did have problems, Eric had problems, our kids Sonny and Kara had problems, but they were nothing, and I mean nothing, compared to the problems of people I dealt with through my social services work. How can you compare not having enough space for a pool table to someone with cancer, their kids addicted to heroin, being evicted from their grotty flat and being confined to a wheelchair? Now, that was a problem!

Apple Cider

(800 words) When she looked up she saw the angel. He towered above her, shrouded in a black cloak and hood, looking down at her. In the light of the flaming torch he held, she saw his face was young, almond-shaped, his full lips pursed, as if intending to speak, … or about to kiss her. She felt a wave of the most glorious love she’d ever felt, washing over her, the best feeling she could ever remember. “Am I dead?” Looking around, she saw they were surrounded, almost cocooned, by a golden light. She felt completely at peace and asked the question without hesitation. The angel smiled. “If you were dead, would you be able to speak to me?” “Well, you know what I mean, ‘not alive’.” “Of course you’re alive. You see, you hear, you think!” “But, where are we, where’s Apple Cider?”

A Hairy Godfather Calls

(900 words) - “You’ve got thirty seconds to explain to me what you’re doing here,” Rebecca Anniston said, staring in disbelief at the man in the sample lab. It was a secure area, no one should be here, let alone a scruffy, bearded man with a long multi-coloured scarf around his neck. “Or I’ll call security.” She pulled a paging device from her pocket. “Now steady on, lass, steady on.” The man’s face lit up with a beam. “Maybe I’m here to help you.”

The Five-Year Welcome

(650 words) Orlando Flinton pulled a face. “We must be crazy!” The other Earthman, Ricky Kiyosaki, who had been gazing out of the viewplate at the green and gold alien vista, glanced around at Flinton’s remark. “Huh?” By this time, the spaceship had finished jiggling and now stood firmly on Deiphobus soil, and Flinton was beginning to doubt his sanity. “Look,” he said, “we thought we were special, you know, a big deal being selected for this mission, ten years training for it, and now we’re here, guess what? I don’t feel anything. I could be at home, back on Earth, watching the big game and drinking Coors with Jenny. Instead of risking my life on this crummy planet!”

Boys and Their Toys

(900 words) “You got a minute, Eunice?” It was Beryl, the boss’s secretary. “Sure.” Eunice relaxed, looking at the clock and noting it was only ten minutes till lunchtime. “What’s on your mind, hun?” Beryl was a sweetie, no mistake, and Eunice always had time for her. Beryl smoothed her olive-green linen skirt down over her hips and took a seat. She looked around to make sure no one in the sparsely populated office was within earshot. “Look, it’s Vashti.” Eunice felt shocked. Vashti seemed a quiet, kind type. “Why, what’s up?” Beryl blushed. “Look, nothing’s wrong, it’s just … it’s just…” “C’mon, spit it out, hun.” “Well, it’s just … it’s just,” Beryl lowered her voice, “Vashti’s building something in our backyard, something … huge.”