Lamb Chop

(1200 words) The boy hesitated, a wild lost figure in the silence of the London Square. They were all against him, these tall remote houses with their sense of order and permanence. He came from the outside, from the dark and cold which was not allowed to disturb the peace of those lighted rooms, and the people who lived graciously behind them. From a world where a penny Oxo cube with bread might be supper, and a pennyworth of chips and a tuppeny slice of fried fish a banquet. The boy consulted a scrap of paper underneath a gas lamp, and then ran forward, driven by a concern greater than his fear of intrusion. He lifted the brass knocker, then struck it twice against its metal base. He stood shivering on the doorstep, feeling as out of place as a fish on a cloud. He wanted to run back into the all-enveloping black of the night but was determined to pass on the message. Not just for the shiny shilling he hoped to be paid – a veritable fortune – but out of respect for his friend and mentor, Kezia. The door opened, and a man in a black uniform with a white collar looked down at the boy. “Go away before I call the police.”

Wounded Walking

(900 words) “What are you talking about, I don’t have a sister!” Maurice Humphries was taken aback. Surely this gentleman, the last of the group to arrive, was the Reverend Herbert Galton? Apparently to be accompanied by his sister, Dolly. “You are Reverend Galton, are you not?” “I am Colonel Galton. Kenneth. The reverend is my brother.” Humphries regarded the motley crew of walkers gathered underneath the old railway bridge at Woodman’s Hyde. They stood, shuffling, fiddling with maps and compasses, clad in brightly coloured tops sporting names such as North Face, Berghaus and Patagonia. The colonel, by contrast, wore a Barbour jacket and high leather boots, looking for all the world as if he were going on a pheasant shoot. “Oh, I don’t have you on the list,” Humphries said. “No matter,” snapped the colonel, “you can put me on it now.”

No Place Like Home

(1000 words) “Where am I?” thought Donnie Jackson, looking out of his parents’ bedroom window on the morning of his fourteenth birthday. He gazed across an endless black plain towards towering mountains in the distance, all silverised by a huge moon filling the sky. The moon wasn’t ‘our’ moon, he thought, there were no maria, the lava plains clearly seen from Earth, and there were visible canyons. They must be huge, gigantic. And this moon was, what, maybe ten times as big in the sky? But where were his mum and dad?

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.

Vigil in the Snow

(1300 words) Our breath misted in the air as our horse Blacklock made his way along the track leading to Billinghay Manor. We’d made good time, under three hours for the fifteen miles, but even with the thick rugs and blankets, the cold wintry weather was beginning to penetrate my bones. “Come on, Blacklock,” called Charles, tugging on the horse’s reins, “afore we catch our deaths of cold.” There was a thin crescent moon, low in the sky, and the stars were largely blotted out by ominous clouds, pregnant with snow. Blacklock’s clip-clop on the track into the village rang out into the hollow night like rifle shots. Apart from the occasional hoot of an owl, which made me jump, there was otherwise no sound in the suffocating darkness. Distant church bells sounded six times as Blacklock pulled us into Billinghay but early as it was that winter evening the place seemed deserted. Save for a handful of candles burning in windows of dark, friendless houses there was no sign of a soul.

Scene in a Tent

(600 words) The tent flap opens, and Trevor comes in. Everyone’s here now. Everyone, that is, except Alan the group leader. He’ll be sorting out logistics with the mule team. Eating with them too. I give Trevor a bright smile from beneath my red baseball cap, holding out my plastic plate to Muhammed as he serves from a huge bowl of lamb and vegetable stew.

Smitten

(800 words) I have collected in my time – to the chagrin of my dear beloved husband, Cyril – snow globes, porcelain cats, and Tommy guns, and perhaps I should explain what happened to these old collections before I proceed to my newest hobby. My Tommy gun collection may be regarded as having been discontinued since I collected only two, the second and final one as long ago as 2003. Not only are they hard to come by and very expensive, but they are also highly illegal.

Tales of Aphrodite

(900 words) “Are you serious? Do you really believe a machine can think?” I got no immediate reply; Maltravers was apparently intent upon the coals in the grate, touching them deftly here and there with the fire-poker till they signified a sense of his attention by a brighter glow. Finally, he settled back into his armchair. “I believe it possible, Hugh. Why not?” “Why not?” I exclaimed. “Well, because … because a machine is just nuts and bolts, or electric circuits, whatever. A machine doesn’t have a mind.” “Ah, but how would you know?” Maltravers took a cigarette from a silver case and tapped the butt on it several times. A singular habit he had developed.

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.