(1250 words) “Maximus, Maxie!” Down at the edge of the breakers, I could see my little King Charles spaniel running along with something in his mouth. At my call, he hesitated, looking out to sea, his senses full of the foaming waves crashing on the beach, then he was running up the sand towards me, carrying whatever it was. He reached me and shook his coat, spraying my face with drops of salty water. “Oi, Max!” I wiped myself down and went to look at what he’d dropped on the sand. It was a piece of wood, thin and slender, worn smooth by years of abrasion. “Clever boy!”
There’s no moon. Black waves heave and collapse, frothy foam sighing over a myriad of pebbles, like some gigantic water feature. Peeling our clothes off, it feels like we’re doing something illegal. Shauna is a luminescent blob. “Should we go in?” she asks, her timbre saying ‘Let’s go home.’
(1300 words) “There is no such thing as a haunted house,” said I. “T’aint the house that be haunted, Mr. Rauland,” said the old man, “just the library.” I put down my valise and hung my coat and hat on a stand. “Whatever, there are no such things as ghosts.” “That’s what the last one said. Mr. Griffin, that was ‘is name,” said the old woman. Her hair was white but with a green tinge, as if mouldy, and her beady eyes were swollen and bloodshot. “Well, e’s in the mad ‘ouse now, is Mr. Griffin.”
(900 words) End of life is never easy, Alfred Marwood thought. But at least he could have the television as loud as he liked now, without Susan’s nagging. “The televisions a bit loud, Alfred, can’t you turn it down?” And then there was the dishwasher. He’d never known there was a wrong way to empty it before Susan. And come to think of it, there were a dozen other things he’d miss about his wife like a hole in the head. He sighed and knocked on the door.
(1100 words) “Commemorated we were. Commemorated by the king!” said the captain, sweeping an arm out and knocking a glass of water onto the floor, so that it shattered and made everyone jump. “What king was that?” asked Maurice Henry, as an orderly attended to the mess. Captain Sugar puffed on a long cigar. “Why, the king of Liberia of course! On account of us picking up the biggest load in Trinidad in 2014. February it was, eleven thousand containers. Can you imagine it, eleven thousand! Like a fifty-mile long freight train!” “Grandpa, can we go now?” Maurice, just about to ask what the king of Liberia had to do with Trinidad, looked down at his granddaughter, Phoebe. He could see she was tired, in no mood to hear another night’s boastful stories from Captain Sugar. He looked at the captain and raised his eyebrows.
(800 words) It was late in the afternoon when the bus stuttered to a halt outside the old hotel in the foothills. The town square was deserted, save for a cow in the shade of the once-imposing colonial buildings, swishing its tail by a water trough. Inside, we sat on worn leather sofas in a huge vestibule, cooled by the blades of an enormous fan above. “Buenos dias,” I heard a concierge say to our leader, West. “What’s your name?” a bespectacled woman asked me. Her hair was held back in a grey pony tail and her bare legs and calves were brown and pudgy. “Mine’s Norma.” “Oh, it’s Colin, pleased to meet you.” Though I wasn’t really.
(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.”
(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.
(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.
(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.’
(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.
(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.