The Power of Then

(800 words) The Speaker’s voice was as loud as empty beer trucks in a stone street, and the people at the meeting were jammed up close, cobblestones, that great voice booming over them. Lexor was somewhere on the other side of the hall. She had to get to him.

The Magician

(1400 words) In a town in Morocco lived a man named Gilad Hebron. Having no other means of gaining a livelihood, he used to ride every day into the forest to cut wood, which he would then hawk around the streets for sale. One day, upon returning to the town, Gilad encountered a man on a white steed, accompanied by a number of other men, mounted upon fine horses and dressed in jackets of leather and chain mail. “Greetings!” called out the white-horsed man. “What sellest thou?” “Why, sir, I have firewood of the highest quality. ‘Tis true, a little green, but it will burn brightly, once the smoke has diminished.” “My name is Augustus de Casablanca, and my men are knights of the Court of Casablanca. We are headed homewards but it has just come to our attention that the bridge over the Gorge de Mort was damaged recently by a most tremendous storm.” Gilad bowed. “Well, I hope that your way will not be too much disadvantaged, and I wish you ‘bon voyage,’ Sir Augustus.” “Well, my good man, it could be that the gorge is somewhat impassable and some excellent firewood may help to summon assistance from the natives who dwell on its far side. I would therefore desire that you accompany us thus far!” Not really understanding how firewood would help cross a gorge but thinking that he might be rewarded handsomely for his co-operation, Gilad let the men transfer the wood to their horses.

A Sliver of Silver

(800 words) Donnie Jackson went to bed feeling elated. Tomorrow was his fourteenth birthday and his mother had told him they’d be taking him somewhere for a special surprise. He lay in bed, listening to the traffic on the nearby motorway. Donnie likened it to the relentless waves on the shore at their summer home on Morton Island. He wondered where they would take him? Maybe to the climbing centre? He’d made noises about wanting to learn rock climbing. Or maybe they’d arranged a secret outing with his friends? To the bowling alley, maybe to the skate park? But his best friend Marty Chang had seemed normal at school. Not like he was hiding a big secret. And he knew Marty better than anyone. He hoped it wouldn’t be a trip to a boring museum or art gallery. The thought of that made a funny feeling in his stomach. Like he was going to puke.

Love Sweet Love

(1000 words) He took a knife and slit the tape that had been holding the cardboard box shut for the last twenty-five years. He poured out a glass of red wine, thick as blood and with an odour of marzipan. Taking out an envelope of photographs, he began to look through them, a quarter of a century collapsing like a house of cards. There she was, in various stages of undress, an inverted ‘V’ of dyed auburn hair framing a smiling brown face. As he looked through them, Rohani on the toilet, naked in the shower, laughing in a university class photo, he realised perhaps why he’d loved her so much. That smile, visible in nearly every photograph, exuded laughter and warmth and, yes, joy. Plain simple joie de vivre. Of course, she’d known how to use that slim brown body and those smiling red lips; she was the best lover he’d ever had. Better not go there. But now, perhaps for the first time, he realised it was more than that. It had been about her presence, just having her with him, having fun together, something that had been sorely missing from his life.

Martha Versus the Giant Earwigs

(1150 words) “Look, Mother, the clock is running backwards!” Tom Coggle pointed to the hands on the pilot room dial. Dr Martha Jane Coggle said, “The crash must have reversed it.” “How could it do that?” “I can’t tell you. I don’t know everything, son.” “Oh!” “Well, don’t look at me so disappointedly. I’m a pathologist, not an electronician.” Tom looked at his mother’s wrinkled face, her greasy white hair and tired eyes, “Time can’t run backwards, for Pete’s sake!” Martha reached up to caress her aged skin. “Oh, if only it could, Tom. I’d be young again!”

Maggie’s Farm

(1000 words) Quite suddenly there was no more road. It ran down the valley like any other road and then past a broad field of wheat, standing alone. It came up beside the small white house that belonged to the wheat field and then just faded out, as though there was no more use for it. Jesse Harding pulled the old car up. “Sorry, kids, I must’ve taken a wrong turn.” Simon turned his freckled face up to the sun. His pale blue eyes were almost translucent and the pupils like pinpricks of black ink. “I’m tired, dad. Is it much further?” Jesse looked down at his young son, then at Lucy, his daughter, a couple of years older, fourteen, going on twenty-four. “Not much further, son, we’ll be at the hostel before it goes dark.” “Hostel!” exclaimed Lucy, “Why can’t we stay at a proper hotel? Somewhere with clean sheets and … and room service!” “Now, you know why,” said Dolores, Jesse’s wife, “times is hard right now, but your dad’s got a new job starting soon.” She crossed her fingers underneath her pale green dress. It was hard to tell if that was its actual colour or faded through the endless passing of time. Jesse looked at the white house. All the windows were covered with blinds. Opposite the house was a freshly sown field of green shoots. But there was nowhere else to turn the car. With a slight feeling of trepidation, he backed the car onto the edge of the field, feeling the slight give of the earth before he straightened back up onto the road. Just then, a woman emerged from around the house. Jesse felt he wanted to stamp on the accelerator and get the hell out of there, but out of politeness, he pressed a button to wind the window down. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, I had to turn the car around somehow. We’re heading for Castle Tor; we’re staying the night.” He felt embarrassed.

The Hard Part

(1000 words) It was in my eighth year, shortly before my birthday, that my mother took me to live with her mother, Françoise, in Woodhall Spa. In my perception, we were one moment walking along the beach in Skegness, past huge black rocks like giant Tourmaline tumblestones, that I later learned were to stop the sand from being eroded, and the next, we were beside my grandmother’s swimming pool, the clear water azure and alluring. At that time, I did not recognise we had crossed a border between worlds.  I was soon enrolled at St. Cuthbert’s, a private school for girls, situated within acres of green lawns, cricket and football pitches and its own private woodland, where small-leaved limes rubbed shoulders with the wild service tree and where a little wooden pergola displayed a plaque dedicated to the school’s founder.  “Christiana, you and Anne are to share a tent.” So said Brother Joseph, a teacher I disliked on account of his yellow eyes and spots, like boils, that seemed to cover his cheeks. I was ten years old now, aware of changes in my body that I didn’t completely understand. We were camping in the school arboretum over the weekend. It was June and it seemed like summer would never end. I looked over to Anne and we both smiled. “OK.”

The Moon and the Arrow

(400 words) Old man Tatum had been dreaming of his grandchildren, Sonny and Sarah. They’d all been treading dry pine needles in a huge forest, on their way somewhere. He couldn’t remember where. Then he was aware of pressure on his legs. In an eye blink, he realised someone was sitting on the bed. A young woman, skin as pale as the full moon burning through the curtained window. He thought his heart would pound right out of his chest, then she smiled, and suddenly he was calm.

A Triangle Across the Sky

(600 words) Martha Longthorn sat at the reception desk of the Beconsby Chronicle. She opened a desk drawer and took out a black crystal. She lifted her skirt and held the crystal between her legs. Outside, a few passersby went past on their anonymous business. Then she noticed a man on the opposite side of the street, looking across at the Chronicle office. He wore a beanie hat and a long dark-green jacket. A carrier bag dangled from one hand, whilst the other clasped a walking stick. He started to cross the road towards her. She hurriedly replaced the crystal in the drawer.