The Assignment (One Crazy Day)

(800 words) Elvina hadn’t enjoyed it in the library, all those anonymous people staring at screens. Anyway, wasn’t it supposed to be about books in a library? Then there were the sour-faced, grey-haired women at the help desks, annoyed to have to look up and answer questions, and, of course, smelly old men reading the newspapers and farting. But her assignment had been to go the library and find a book, any book, but one on a subject she wouldn’t normally look at and relevant to the project. “Do you have a key for that glass case upstairs,” she’d asked. The woman at the desk had stared at her, squinting through thick lenses, irritated at having to break from her card-indexing. “What do you say?” Elvina found herself blushing as she repeated the question. The woman rummaged around for a key and got up, sighing heavily, “Oh, follow me then.”

A Kinder Cure

(800 words) “Commemorated for taking my clothes off! I want more than that. Go on, stick your needles in, make it hurt!” Henry Craig sighed, “One doesn’t stick needles in, one ‘introduces’ them. Please lie down.” The young woman lay on a couch. Through the open window she could hear the crashing of waves in the distance and, above her, the whirring of the ceiling fan took the edge off the almost-unbearable heat. What the hell was she doing here? Then she remembered. Amytal, Pentothal, Demerol, Nembutal, ‘Bennies.’ That’s what she was doing there.

Moonstones

(900 words) The light of hissing gas lamps lit up the old bookshop. Down below street level, Jeremiah Franklin looked up at the translucent street slab, sensing, more than hearing, raindrops spattering the paving stones, their noise barely perceptible through the door and windows above. It was four o’clock on a deadly dull Wednesday afternoon in December and Jeramiah felt inclined to close early, though the voice of his father, Harrold, rang in his ears, “Stay open to the advertised hour, lad, and people will trust your word … and your prices!” The bell rang and, before Jeremiah could ascend to the ground floor, a woman with a wet umbrella and an equally wet child, a young boy of about six, began to descend the stairs to the basement and Jeremiah’s desk. “Good afternoon, do you have such a thing as an atlas of Mexico and the South Americas?” she enquired.

Take Me to Your Leader

(1300 words) “Mother Mary and Jozuf!” exclaimed the old man, looking up at the dark sky. I swear I saw somethin’ fly past just now. Somethin’ white and round, real low. He took another swig from his bottle and turned back to the brazier. He wore a woollen hat, a dirty black greatcoat and brown boots with the soles almost worn through. If you had been near him you would have smelt a curious smell. A mixture of mould, sweat and urine. For that reason, he sat alone at the brazier. ‘Greetings earthman!’ The tramp heard the voice in his head and turned around. He almost fainted at the sight of the three strange figures standing at the edge of the light from the brazier. ‘Do not be alarmed. We wish you no harm.’ He stood up and found himself stumbling. “Good gawd, is this shum kinda joke?” ‘We wish to visit your leader.’

To Sleep, Perchance to Sleep

(750 words) I looked in the mirror and laughed. Where was my phone? I had to take a picture. My hair and face were covered with sticking plasters, holding sensors in position. Just below my chest was a black box into which were plugged perhaps thirty wires, attached to my head, neck and other parts of the body which seemed to have no connection to sleep. Lying in bed, it was hard to get comfortable, all the bulky connectors preventing me from lying in my usual foetal position. I lay, listening to the sounds of the hospital. There was a low hum from a fan somewhere, and outside, far off, a car door slammed in the quiet night. Then I was awake. All was silent. I looked at my phone. 2.13 a.m. I needed to go to the toilet.

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.”

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.