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.

Homecoming

(750 words) Here comes trouble, Kennard Ross thought, looking out of the window and seeing his son, Michael, coming down the garden path. He busied himself with shuffling papers on his desk. The door opened and Michael came in, looking around his father’s office-cum-shed, wondering at all the bookcases along one wall. What was the point of buying all those books and never reading them? “Morning, Dad,” he said. Kennard opened a drawer and took out a packet of cigarettes. Michael looked surprised, “I thought you’d given up?” Kennard extracted a cigarette and tapped it on the desk. Then he tapped it some more. “Is there anywhere I can sit?” Michael asked, looking over to a mound of mowers, cutters, and tools of various kinds. He supposed his father had a use for them, though he could barely remember him mowing the lawn, let alone cutting the hedges. Kennard put a cigarette to his lips. “Sit on the floor if you like.”

In Memoriam

(800 words) We all know how much we depend on our postmen and postwomen,” intoned Arthur, the vicar, concluding the eulogy, “and Barney was one of the best. Everyone loved Barney.” I looked around the packed church. There was Mavis McLung with her cheeky face surrounded by a mop of ginger curls, courtesy of L’Oréal. Then there was Carol Hardaker, her pug-like visage glaring around at the other villagers lining the pews, her bitchiness silenced through necessity for the time being. In the front row sat Maureen, Barney’s widow, dressed in a neat black two-piece with a black hat and veil. Her two teenage sons sat to her right, their eyes red and swollen. My wife, Sue, took my arm as we finally traipsed out into the graveyard and the warm sun of an early spring morning. “What a bunch of hypocrites,” she whispered.

The Coffin Club

(1000 word story) His head felt sluggish as he brewed a cafetière of coffee. Too many whiskies whilst pondering plot complexities and fighting with dialogue, he supposed. On his way to the downstairs toilet, he spotted a card pushed under the front door. That was odd. He bent down to pick it up, feeling the familiar stab of pain in his back, arms and knees. ‘The Coffin Club invites Ronald Knaggs Esq. to The Haunted Windmill for an evening of intrigue,’ it read. Knaggs rubbed his unshaven cheeks. The Coffin Club? He’d never heard of it, and as for the Haunted Windmill, well, there was only one windmill he could think of locally and that was rammed with a family of layabouts and barking dogs. As the coffee nudged his brain fog aside, he examined the card and saw that the meeting was the following evening and that the windmill was out on the coast, on an old saltmarsh, about half an hour’s drive away. Hmm. Thinking about it, maybe it might give him some ideas for Silver Flower? Almost breaking a tooth on a slice of burnt toast, he determined to go.

Memory Lane

(1200 words) It could have been right out of one of my own sitcom scripts. I received a telephone call late one evening from an old lady, Miss Jean Sycamore, if you please. She was most insistent that I undertake some detective work for her. I tried to tell her that I was a TV comedy scriptwriter and not a detective, but she said she’d heard I’d written some episodes for Detecting the Detectives, a CID spoof, and being that I lived locally, she was prepared to pay me a handsome price to find a lost object. So, the following morning I called round to her rambling country estate, Enderby Manor, where I was shown in by a crusty old butler who could have been acting in Toad of Toad Hall. “Madam, a Mr. Frederick Rossiter to see you,” he announced in a wheezing voice to a rake of a woman with a wild frizz of white hair. She got up from a sofa and peered at me. “Mr. Rossiter? No, I don’t think I know such a fellow.” “Look, Miss Sycamore, you phoned me last night. You told me you wanted me to find something for you. Something valuable I assume.” The old woman looked perplexed. “Did I? Did I really?” She stood staring into space for what seemed an age, then her frail body shook all over, as if she’d been given an electric shock, and she suddenly smiled at me. “Mr. Rossiter, thank you so much for coming. That’ll be all Porterhouse. I do apologize, Mr. er, … I’m afraid my memory isn’t what it once was. Now, please take a seat. Porterhouse will get you a drink. Oh, sorry, I sent him away, didn’t I?”

The Question

(1000 word story) “Mohammedan Mysticism, this sounds interesting. Edward Gall.” Gloria was up to her usual Amazon surfing. As if we hadn’t got enough books. “Mm,” I said. “Oh, seems it’s just an extract from Mysticism Throughout the Ages. 1946. Huh, this is just twenty-eight pages for thirteen quid, what a rip off!” It was gone midnight on an early September evening, and I was reading a ghost story in bed, The Horla. I could do without the click-clack of Gloria’s computer keyboard in the corner. “Come to bed.” “Flipping hell,” she exclaimed, “Greg, you’re not going to believe this, there’s a book here, well, it’s not really a book, it says two pages. Seven thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine pounds!” “What! That must be a misprint.” That made me put The Horla down in a hurry. I got up and went over to Gloria’s iMac and looked. Sure enough. The Question by ‘Librabis.’ There were a handful of reviews, all five stars, and from ‘verified purchasers’ too. They confirmed its brevity but gave nothing away, except to say it was ‘A spiritual essay, worth every penny of its hefty price tag.’

Kindness Hurts

(1000 words) So, there I was, just come out of the Castlehorn public ladies’ loo, when a woman stopped right in front of me. She was short and fat and clad in a flimsy two-piece summer outfit that looked as out of place as a homosexual in a monastery. Her face was bloated, and her lips were pale and thick. For all the world, she reminded me of Sheppard’s illustration of the toad, dressed as a washerwoman, in The Wind in the Willows. “‘Scuse me, Luv, I’m bursting. Could you look after Angel here whilst I pop into the ladies? I’ll be as quick as I can, and he’s as good as gold?” I looked down on a huge black dog at the end of the lead the woman was gripping with one pudgy hand. With the other, she clutched a large bag. I really didn’t fancy ‘dog sitting,’ but, having just done a ‘kindness workshop’ down at the local church, remembered their dictum, ‘Have faith in humanity.’