(900 words) Resemblance to a schoolmaster gone for the moment, Dad would appear, jaunty, as if holding a big secret, which in a way I suppose he was. “Listen, children” – he never called us ‘kids,’ they were for goats, apparently. “We’re going to grandma’s next week.” My sister Helen, brother Steven, and I would … Continue reading Learning the Alphabet: A Memoir
(1000 words) “Calm down now and listen up,” said our sixth form tutor, Miss Hughes. “That includes you, Kara Simons.” She jabbed a finger in my direction. "Now, today's the first of our career sessions and I’m pleased to welcome our two guests to speak about their careers and what you could expect if you were to follow in their footsteps.” I looked from a twenty-something woman in a pink two-piece to a man of a similar age, clad in camouflage get-up, olive green with grey-white bits. He wore a green beret with two rows of little white and red squares at the bottom, and a thick black belt. His lips were thin and he looked around the classroom with disdain. “This is Miss Cheskin,” said Miss Hughes, gesticulating to the woman. “She’s here to talk about a career in retail sales.” The woman stepped to the front and gave a bright smile. “So, how many of you like the idea of working in a department store? Hands up.” A plain spotty girl, Ruth Smith, lifted a fat arm up. “Wouldn’t mind.” “I wouldn’t want to be served by you!” said Johnny Harris. The class laughed. “That’s enough, Harris,” snapped Miss Hughes. “Please carry on, Miss Cheskin.”
David’s star, the mission. Forty years, the duration. Della King walked into the cavernous viewing gallery and gazed out at the unfathomable number of brilliant, glowing stars, feeling numbed by the vastness and mystery of space, yet knowing that every one of those sparkling, luminescent dots was catalogued and its complex code number registered in the ship’s computers. “Hi, I’m Andrew Mokalis.” A white-suited man joined Della. “It’s amazing isn’t it. I could look out of this viewing window for hours.” They sat down on opposing sofas, a table housing a holographic image of the ship and its position in space, separating them. Della wore an identical white coverall. “Drink?” asked Andrew.
(1200 words) “Laura, this place is amazing,” said Mary, as we finally gathered in the spacious kitchen where I’d put a selection of drinks and nibbles out on the huge wooden table. Above us was a high open space and wooden beams where there used to be a loft. “It’s OK,” I said, “there’s only so much you can do with … space. I’d rather have people to be honest.” “What you need is a dog,” said Bethany I sighed. “Yes, I want a poodle but y’know, mum’s allergic to animal hair.” “I know what,” said Bethany, “you could borrow one for a month, while they’re abroad!” Ruby poured herself a generous glass of pinot noir, took a large gulp and let out a wine-scented belch. We all laughed. “Listen,” said Ruby, her face flushed with the alcohol, “d’you ever hear the story of Bloody Mary?” “No,” we said in unison.
(800 words) Chimera, that was the name of the thing on my cup. A fire-breathing monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. Not something you’d want to meet on a dark night, or any night for that matter. I turned the cup around, watching the chocolate-coloured liquid swirl above the red mythological creature. How many times had I done the exact same thing, I wondered? Fifty, a hundred, a thousand even? Then it struck me, I was stuck in this one moment of time, forever drinking coffee out of this same cup, forever looking at the hideous beast and wondering of its provenance, pondering its manufacture, forever gazing around my cluttered kitchen - piles of papers, vitamins, medications on my table, washing up stacked in the sink.
(1200 words) But the change of pace and setting served me well. I quickly became absorbed in the works of the Swedish mystic, Emmanuel Swedenborg, and that ‘Magic of the West,’ the Qabalah. I came from France with letters of introduction to ‘persons of eminence’ but found these gentlemen (and ladies), though of a certain social standing, to be shallow personalities with feet of clay and a mere desire to see me perform feats for their entertainment – summoning spirits, remote viewing and so forth. Well, but three days ago, I returned to my suite to find a card pushed under my door. It had been torn in half and showed a partial seal of Solomon, one familiar to me. On the back, written neatly, was a message telling me to go to the high altar of St Paul’s cathedral the following day at midday precisely, where the remainder of the card would be given to me and where I would learn something of great interest. Intrigued, I did as the card instructed and the next day found myself at the altar in question, gazing around in awe at the enormous and opulent building, it being my first occasion there. “Monsieur L.?” asked a splendidly-dressed footman, quite startling me.
(369 words) There once was a lonely vampire, Johnny Fang was the poor fellow’s name. All he wanted was a young lass to love him, But, being dead, he was nobody’s flame. He’d wander at night through the graveyard, By the light of the silvery moon. Wondering how he could get him a gal, Who, at the sight of his fangs, wouldn’t swoon.
(800 words) “David’s deer, where are they, mate?” A man in a dark green top and blue trousers stopped his work, brushing the floor of an animal enclosure. He eyed the young man – clad in dirty jeans and a grey hoodie – disapprovingly, “Père David’s deer, oh, they’re on loan for a few days.” “Well, they weren’t here last week neither. The bloke on duty said they were sleeping.” The zoo keeper sighed. “Well, animals have to sleep!” A girl with blonde hair in a pony tail joined them, linking arms with the young man. “Well, I went to see the giraffes and there was only one, in a smelly building. None out in the paddock.” The keeper began to brush the floor once more. “Well, what do expect me to do about it?”
(600 words) We proceeded into a corridor where the lighting was a garish strip-light, by contrast, but at least we could see the row upon row of dust-covered books that filled shelves from floor to ceiling. Little doubt what our brother had spent his money on over the years. They were nearly all hardbacks, some with streaks in the dust at their feet, where they had presumably been extracted in recent memory. I pulled one such out. A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism by Gareth Knight. It was in four parts, The Lesser Mysteries, The Greater Mysteries, The Supreme Mysteries, and, The Tarot, the latter coming as somewhat of a surprise. It looked complicated. And expensive.
(700 words) Three years after I’d watched the red kite circling above the graveyard, I once more stood at my father’s graveside in the quiet country churchyard. No sound, just a warm breeze on my face and white clouds moving silently in the blue September sky. The grey headstone was stained and the three years since I’d last remarked on it could have been ten. No gilding to the letters on the plain dull grey stone, worn by the rain, wind and ice in colder months, meant close examination was required to discover whose bones lay interred there.
(900 words) My wife, Coral, had become rather ‘tubby,’ to put it kindly, fat to put it less-so, since the birth of our first child, Crispin, so I was pleased that after the Christmas festivities were over she began to take herself in hand. She’d leave little Crispin asleep with me or the babysitter to take an occasional walk, spurred on by the GetFit watch her mother had given her for Christmas. Well, I was tied up with a novel, the fourth in my series of Sargent Fosdick mysteries, and mighty pleased that Joe Public was finally shelling out his – or her – hard-earned to the relief of my long-suffering literary agent, Rupert. Anyway, for whatever reason I was finding it pretty hard going, trying to think of original twists and turns to the basically mundane ‘whodunnit’ plot, so was only vaguely aware of Coral’s increasing slavishness to the watch, just that the walks became daily, then daily jogs.
(1000 words) Known to my friends as a rather, dare-I-say, boring type – “Sammy doesn’t even have a television, he reads books!” – and for someone who eschews festivities and hedonism in general, I surprise even myself with what I am about to reveal. How a staid bachelor-type, working in an admittedly mundane computing role, came to regularly indulge in an activity with a buxom young Thai, that is, well, what some might call downright kinky. But I digress.
(700 words) John Gamble looked at his son, Ian, with pride. He’d grown into a fine young man, just started at a prestigious architectural company after his degree, and here he was with Gloria, his charming new girlfriend. John admired Gloria’s long, chestnut hair, her perfect smile, appreciated her intelligent conversation, and, dare he admit … Continue reading The Listening
(750 words) “Look Mr Sissons, I’m sorry, that part of the graveyard’s no longer used, on account of subsidence caused by badgers. Please see Fred, the sexton. He’ll show you where new graves can be dug and sort out the availability, bearing in mind the … ah … timeframe.” The Reverend Samuel Everson got up from the pew, feeling a certain trepidation and hoping the matter was now closed. Edgar Sissons was a big man and leader of the local council. He wore a long black coat of thick woollen material and barred the reverend’s way. “Look, Reverend, my Auntie Nellie’s buried in that far corner, as you know. It’s my desire that my sister Dolly be buried next to her, God rest her soul.” Samuel Everson felt his hands growing sweaty. “Look, Mr. Sissons, we all have the greatest respect for Dolly, but when all’s said and done, she wasn’t a regular churchgoer here, and as I say –” “Listen, Reverend, it’s my wish that Dolly be buried next to her kith and kin and from where I’m standing I see no good reason she can’t be.
I'm very pleased to report that To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories has been produced as an audiobook, expertly narrated by Angus Freathy, the narrator of no fewer than 47 audiobooks featured on Audible! It runs for 9 hours and 32 minutes, and features the 'best of the blog' from July 2017 to December 2018 plus an extended 5000 word story, In Dulci Dubilo, not published on the site, an emotional roller-coaster of a story, stunningly brought to life by the audio rendition!
(900 words) She wore khaki shorts and short ankle socks with brown leather boots, the old-fashioned kind. I noticed her breasts were small and hard from the petite lumps they made in the drab grey and olive-green T-shirts she wore. She walked with long strides of her slim, tanned legs, reminding me of a giraffe. There was something mysterious about her. “She has stars in her eyes, Phil,” said Tom, “and she has a sadness about her, I don’t know why, she doesn’t say much.” “Where’s Tom and Sally?” I asked her. Ilka kept her eye on the path, looking straight ahead. “Sally’s got diarrhoea. Tom’s staying with her at the Gite d'Etape. A couple of guys from the mule team will pick them up later.” She spoke softly, with an accent I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps Swedish or Norwegian? “I’m sorry to hear that. Food hygiene is rubbish here, isn’t it?” Ilka didn’t reply. She just kept walking with those long, tanned strides. I walked alongside, hoping she wouldn’t mind.
(1100 words) It was evening on a cold, windy New Year’s Eve as Stephen Stein made his way along the drab downtown high street. There were few people about and the shops were closing or closed. Stein caught a glimpse of himself reflected in a dark store window. A wild mop of straggly grey hair, a thick beard of matching grey with touches of white, a black greatcoat, stained and smelly, and heavy brown boots, scuffed by hundreds of hours of tramping the streets. Stein adjusted an incongruous chequered yellow scarf at his neck, brand new, it even had the price tag – thirty pounds. He’d found it in a bin, put out for collection. Now he rolled it and put it in a pocket in case someone had second thoughts and came looking for it. “Hi Stevie boy, Happy New Year!” It was Robbie, the owner of the laundromat, a genuinely kind-hearted guy and one of the only people in this small town full of small-minded people who’d give him the time of day. Stein pulled his gaze away from the window and his eyes glinted at the twenty-pound note held out to him.
(900 words) The door opened and Sue came in, carrying a basket of eggs. She pecked me on the cheek, put the eggs on a worn oak table and plumped herself down in an old armchair. “Well, I just had an interesting chat with Mavis in the shop.” “Oh.” “Yes, she said she was surprised not to have seen us at the service on Sunday.” “Why? We’re not religious.” “Yes, I told her that but she said the rest of the village was there and we were 'conspicuous by our absence'.” “Bloody hell, so now I’ve got to go praying to keep in with Clay Hill, have I?” Sue sighed. “Look, darling, it’ll only be once a week. Sing a few hymns, smile at people and we’ll be out in an hour. Anyway, Reverend Phillips has invited us to dinner tomorrow night.” “I’m playing darts with Tom tomorrow.” “Not anymore you’re not.”
(950 words) Cattle auction car parks aren’t the kind of place where I’d have expected to pick a girl up, but there I was at the ticket machine waiting for a young woman in a brown raincoat to finish, when she turned to me with an exasperated look. “I’m sorry, I just got a new car and I can’t remember its number plate.” I smiled. “I have that problem too!” I pulled out a business card and turned it over to show my registration. She laughed. “Ha ha, that’s a good idea. I’m just going to guess for now. It’s not that important, it’s free anyway.” She stabbed the letter pad once more and I noticed she was left handed and wore no wedding band. She took her ticket and smiled at me. “Do you come here often?” I laughed but the irony seemed to pass her by. “Tuesdays and Fridays usually, when there’s no auction on.” “I only come when the auction’s on normally, I help lead the animals.” She spread her hands out wide. “Did you know a bull’s erect penis is thirty-eight inches long?”
(800 words) I stood at the front of my local Spiritualist Church, an honoured guest. “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you about my brother, Justin, and how he’s come back from the spirit world to give us all a message of hope.” There was a polite hush. “But before Justin speaks, I’d like to say a little bit about him.” Thirty pairs of eyes looked up at me with eager anticipation.