(1100 words) “Y’know, Liz,” said Charles one evening, “there’s a guy at work, he’s got a sure-fire idea to make one helluva lotta big-time dough!” Elizabeth Soulby raised her eyebrows. “Yeah, his name is Stanley, got an uncle by the name of Matthias Dale, a big shot in the aircraft business. Anyway, seems this Mr. Dale is offering shares in the first flight to Mars!” Elizabeth Soulby raised her eyebrows even higher. “Honestly sweetheart, this Dale guy knows what he’s talking about, got contacts in the air defence business.” Elizabeth squared her shoulders and put her hands on her hips. “Well, what the hell does this guy know that NASA doesn’t know then!” Charles sighed, “Simply this, he doesn’t have a million and one regulations holding him back. And he has Fan Evans on his team.”
(1000 words) After William Millington had known Frances Brader in Lincoln, England, for a few months, he began to think of her as The Widow. She always wore black, and he was given the feeling, by a certain disarrangement in her apartment, that the undertakers had just left. This impression did not stem from malice on his part, for he was fond of Frances. They were the same age, and during their first summer in the city, they used to meet after work and drink martinis in places like No Problemo and the Drill Hall and have dinner and play chess at Corcoran’s. “You know, Fran, you never did tell me why you always wear black,” William said one evening, moving a white knight into position in the centre of the board. Frances let out a puff of air. “That was the one move I was hoping you’d miss!” She took a sip of vodka martini. “Well, did you?” William insisted. Frances looked at the chessboard and sighed. “That was a damn good move, Bill, you’ve shut me down something rotten.” “Well?”
(850 words) It was a spring day, and the writer sat on a bench under the station clock. He took a deep breath, revelling in the sensation of rebirth in the warm air. In the distance, far off, below the backdrop of craggy, pine-covered mountains, he could just make out a dot that signified the oncoming train. He was very old, and his thin frame seemed lost within the baggy grey suit he wore. He looked up at the clock, where the thick black minute hand against the white disc had just passed 11.50. Yes, the train would be on time.
(700 words) Who would’ve thought it? On the old wooden noticeboard, behind mouldy glass, it said that the poet Tennyson used to sit under the tree, reading his immortal words to the, doubtless bemused, villagers. What tree? I wondered. Then I noticed that the verdant mass of foliage and ivy behind the notice board hid an ancient hollow trunk, all that remained of a no doubt impressive oak, that could indeed have housed Tennyson and not a few peasants below its enormous branches and splendid canopy, albeit two hundred years earlier.
(1200 words) “Use some common sense,” I said, “the dead don’t send text messages!” Bunty looked up at me. She looked shaken and her voice was tremulous. “I know, Frank, but it says Harriet Harding. ‘Hi Bunty, greetings from heaven! Look, I need you to do something for me. More later. Xxx’ That’s how she always signed off, three kisses, x’s, the first one in capitals.”
(1250 words) I set this story down, by way of a confession if you like, not expecting it will be believed, but, if possible, to prepare a way of escape for the next victim. He perhaps may profit from my misfortune. My own case, I know, is hopeless, and I am now in some measure prepared to meet my fate.
(800 words) “Lie down and die, why don’t you!” Clydie James shouted at a large black dog that had begun barking at her in the street. It was late afternoon, with heavy silver clouds looking bigger than cornfields, and presently it began to rain. Big round drops fell, still in the sunlight, on the hot tin sheds and sidewalks of the little town of Faraday. A hen and her string of yellow chickens ran in great alarm across the road, whilst the dust turned river brown. “Nobby!” An old man called the dog’s name, and – to Clydie James’s relief – they both disappeared.
(1350 words) “May I ask you a personal question?” A young woman with long, bright-blonde hair had approached me in the park. “What? Why?” “Oh, there’s just something I’d like to ask you.” “What, then?” “How long is your penis?” “What kind of question is that!” “Just a question.” “Yes, I know that, but why do you want to ask it?” “Why do I want to do anything. I dunno, I just do.” “Well, how long is a piece of string?” “I don’t know how long a piece of string is! It’s as long as it’s long, I suppose. My name’s Ezer.” In the distance, two men in white coats, running in our direction. The alarm bells rang. I gestured in their direction. “Look … Ezer … I don’t know what your game is but do you know those men? “ A look of horror came over her face. “Look, we gotta run!”
(550 words) “Cloak and dagger man?” asked Clunch. “My name is Grey, Parma Grey,” I replied, “like a mouse’s back, and I have a cloak, incarnadine in hue, but, alas, no dagger.” He gave that queer, lopsided grin of his. “Ah, Mr. Grey, immortalised throughout our fair islands. Do come in.” I followed Clunch into a blue pavilion. The Ministry of Covert Warfare’s idea of keeping a low profile. “Hardly immortalized, I’m supposed to be a secret agent!” Clunch gave a throat-clearing splutter as he pressed a lift button. “Ah, but immortalized amongst we secret people, the cognoscenti of the garotte and poisoned umbrella!” I tried to suppress a smug smile as the lift proceeded downwards.
(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. He 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. “Get yourself some whisky on me.”
(1700 words) It’s amazing how clear your mind becomes when you know you only have two minutes left to live. My first thought, as I found my car careering down the steep side of a reservoir, was how unjust it was, that I should lose my life to a crazy lorry driver. My second was my lifetime fear of drowning, of gasping and choking and sucking freezing water into my nose, mouth, and lungs. My third was to brace myself in case the airbags inflated. I gripped the steering wheel tightly with both hands as panic hovered in the wings. There was a jolt as the car hit the water, but the airbags didn’t deploy, thank God. Then creaking and gurgling as water rose over the windscreen and the car began to sink down and down and it grew darker and darker. The floor of the vehicle began to flood soaking my shoes and tights with icy water. There was a smell like the drain in my back yard. I guess my pancreas was pumping adrenalin into my bloodstream like nobody’s business. Time seemed to stop. Do I open a door or a window? Then the car jerked, there was a sucking sound, and the water was halfway to my knees, and I was back in the moment. Through the windscreen, I could see shafts of light through the water but nothing tangible. Nothing that resembled the bottom, anyway. I felt a hot sensation between my legs and realised I was peeing in my panties.
(700 words) Parish work is immune to dates. It has to be done three hundred and sixty-five days a year. For that very reason, Freddy Bucket sat up in bed and turned on the bedside lamp. Christmas is a very sad day of the year, he thought. Of all the millions of people in London, I am practically the only one who has to get up in the cold black of 6 a.m. on Christmas Day in the morning. I am practically the only one.