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.

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.

The Joy of Algebra

(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.”

Incident in a Park

(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!” 

If It Wasn’t for You

(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.

The Great God Laughed

(1300 words) Mr. Joseph Bowser was sick of life. He walked away from his unhappy home, sick not only of his own existence, but of everybody else’s, turned aside down Dog Kennel Lane to avoid the town, crossed the wooden bridge that goes over the canal to Blackstone’s Cottages, and was presently alone in the damp pinewoods and out of sight and sound of human habitation. He would stand it no longer. He repeated aloud with profanities unusual to him that he would stand it no longer. He looked around for somewhere to sit but the ground was damp, as were the occasional fallen trunks. Woe is me! he would’ve thought, had he been on passing terms with that expression. He walked, scuffing the fallen pine needles with his shoes until he reached a clearing. There, a log lay in the sun and afforded him a dry – or, at least, sufficiently desiccated – place to rest. He had determined to take his own life but now he regretted his lack of planning. He had neither knife nor pills nor rope. Short of headbutting a tree, he could think of no method to end his suffering. Perhaps if he held his breath? He could at least pass out. He closed his eyes and held his nose.

Alanis

(1250 words) “Maximus, Maxie!” Down at the edge of the breakers, I could see my little King Charles spaniel running along with something in his mouth. At my call, he hesitated, looking out to sea, his senses full of the foaming waves crashing on the beach, then he was running up the sand towards me, carrying whatever it was. He reached me and shook his coat, spraying my face with drops of salty water. “Oi, Max!” I wiped myself down and went to look at what he’d dropped on the sand. It was a piece of wood, thin and slender, worn smooth by years of abrasion. “Clever boy!”

The Mad House

(1300 words) “There is no such thing as a haunted house,” said I. “T’aint the house that be haunted, Mr. Rauland,” said the old man, “just the library.” I put down my valise and hung my coat and hat on a stand. “Whatever, there are no such things as ghosts.” “That’s what the last one said. Mr. Griffin, that was ‘is name,” said the old woman. Her hair was white but with a green tinge, as if mouldy, and her beady eyes were swollen and bloodshot. “Well, e’s in the mad ‘ouse now, is Mr. Griffin.”

Take Me to Your Leader

(1300 words) “Mother Mary and Jozuf!” exclaimed the old man, looking up at the dark sky. I swear I saw somethin’ fly past just now. Somethin’ white and round, real low. He took another swig from his bottle and turned back to the brazier. He wore a woollen hat, a dirty black greatcoat and brown boots with the soles almost worn through. If you had been near him you would have smelt a curious smell. A mixture of mould, sweat and urine. For that reason, he sat alone at the brazier. ‘Greetings earthman!’ The tramp heard the voice in his head and turned around. He almost fainted at the sight of the three strange figures standing at the edge of the light from the brazier. ‘Do not be alarmed. We wish you no harm.’ He stood up and found himself stumbling. “Good gawd, is this shum kinda joke?” ‘We wish to visit your leader.’

The Psychomanteum

(1200 words) But the change of pace and setting served me well. I quickly became absorbed in the works of the Swedish mystic, Emmanuel Swedenborg, and that ‘Magic of the West,’ the Qabalah. I came from France with letters of introduction to ‘persons of eminence’ but found these gentlemen (and ladies), though of a certain social standing, to be shallow personalities with feet of clay and a mere desire to see me perform feats for their entertainment – summoning spirits, remote viewing and so forth. Well, but three days ago, I returned to my suite to find a card pushed under my door. It had been torn in half and showed a partial seal of Solomon, one familiar to me. On the back, written neatly, was a message telling me to go to the high altar of St Paul’s cathedral the following day at midday precisely, where the remainder of the card would be given to me and where I would learn something of great interest. Intrigued, I did as the card instructed and the next day found myself at the altar in question, gazing around in awe at the enormous and opulent building, it being my first occasion there. “Monsieur L.?” asked a splendidly-dressed footman, quite startling me.

space invaders

Probably the Best Lager …

(800 words) Looked at financially, the arcade had been a massive money-spinner. From the days of Atari Pong through Pac Man to the twenty-five grand Tomb Raiders II, punters had poured in. Then came the meteorite and the arcades, along with seven billion people, had been wiped out. Now Sam stood at one of the only games that still functioned, a nineteen-seventies’ Space Invaders, attempting to zap the red spacecraft whizzing above the rows of aliens dropping bombs on his base. Bom-bom-bom-bom, faster and faster. “Damn!” His last laser canon was hit. Game over.