(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.
(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.
(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.”
(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.
(650 words) Weighed down with concerns, financial and otherwise, that to anyone dying of a horrible disease would no doubt seem trivial, I was surprised and, in a way, relieved to hear from my old friend Marmaduke Fortescue one evening. “Stephen, you must come and meet my new bride … yes, that’s right, I’m married!” … Continue reading The Bride
(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.
(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?”
(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.’
(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.’
(1200 words) “How did you sleep?” asked Janet, my best friend and roommate, on a sightseeing holiday in Spain. “Not well.” I grimaced. “I had bad dreams, like there was something on top of me, something heavy.” “Oh, that’s not nice.” “It felt like an animal or something, all hairy, then there was this awful face, I can’t begin to describe it. Like it had a beak. Ugh.” “Come on, Sally, let’s go down for breakfast, forget it, it was just a silly nightmare. I slept like a log!”
(1250 words) James sat at the dining room table. It was after school on Monday and a mathematics tome lay open in front of him. Through the window, he could see the garden and, in the distance, the little pond with the red garden gnome perpetually fishing. The door opened. “James, how are you getting on with your homework?” “Oh, I’m stuck on these quadratic equations.” His stepfather’s thin lips compressed. “Don’t you pay attention in class? Every schoolboy knows the square on the hypothenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides. Or at least they did when I was your age!” James looked at his stepfather’s bulging eyes, his round red face and his black hair, that looked like it had been painted on. “I’m just no good at maths, dad. Look, let me go out with my friends, you know they’re going to clown school tonight.” John-Henry Schwartz almost exploded. “Clown school! That’s the height of your ambition is it, lad? Look, your mother and I want to see you top of the class in science, and that all starts with maths. So, from today, this is the plan. You get home from school, you have a glass of milk and two cookies, then we want a solid two hours’ study from you before dinner, then after dinner you can do your normal homework.” James looked up, his heart pounding and his palms sweaty. “That’s not fair!” “Mondays, algebra, Tuesdays, geometry, Wednesdays, trigonometry, and Thursdays, calculus.” “Oh, I get Friday off then?” James asked, hopefully. Clown school was Mondays and Fridays. John-Henry glared at his step-son. “No, you don’t. Do you think I got where I am, the CEO of an international company, by going to goddamn clown school? No, Friday is field theory.”
(900 words) Early morning mist rose from the lawn as the funeral director led me into the mortuary. “Have you ever been in a mortuary before, sir?” “No.” “It’s cold.” He unlocked the door and led me into a large white room where racks stood against the far wall. There were six units, each consisting of three tiers on a moveable base. All but two tiers were occupied with white-shrouded objects. I made that sixteen dead human bodies. I deposited my holdall on a table. “Here’s his clothes.” The director looked through them, raising his eyebrows at the shoes. “Joe was a postman. We thought he’d like to be buried in his work shoes. He loved his work.”