The Unexpected Visitor

(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.

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 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.

Behind the Brown Curtain

(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. Stein 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.

The Miner

(1000 words)

Originally built nearly two hundred years earlier, the substantial farmhouse had withstood all weathers. Until now. Yasmin Hill looked back in the distance to the roof just visible above the floodwater, then to Tom, his old face furrowed in concentration beneath the miner’s helmet as he rowed them out further and further away from her home, or what had been her home.

“We’re at sea now, young ‘un,” he said after a while.

The sky was the colour of mud and heavy drops of rain fell intermittently, spattering Yasmin’s thin bare legs and anorak, the hood pulled tight over her blonde hair. “How do you know?”

The rain ran in rivulets down Tom’s helmet, then were soaked up by the collar of an old duffle coat. “I can tell by the tide, it’s growing stronger.”

The Window Crack’d

(650 words)

There’d been no problem getting a gondola ride. For the second day, a thick white mist hung in the air over the city and at the gondola station at San Moisè the vessels had loomed out of the fog like Viking ships. A man in a pink T-shirt with horizontal red stripes and a body-warmer had appeared from nowhere. “You wanna ride, signor e signora? Is foggy. I give you special price of sixty euros!”

Full Fathom Five

(1300 words)

I stood at the railing, gazing out to the haze of the distant level horizon. The sea was calm, low deep blue waves undulating slowly, barely hinting at their potential ferocity. Ahead and far below me was the bow of the cruiser, where people, ant-like, sat by an unusually empty pool. I sighed and thought of Janie. Bitch!  We’d had problems, sure, who doesn’t? But her leaving had come as a shock.
It was Valentine’s Day, of all days, and I’d ordered some Adrenaline roses, her favourites. Unexpectedly, a silver BMW had pulled up, and I'd recognised Andy, her gym trainer, his dyed-blond hair swept over in an attempt to look youthful. Obviously it had worked. Janie appeared. “Look Steve, I don’t want a scene. I’m leaving. Me and Andy … I’ll be in touch about my things.” She’d looked embarrassed and hurried out, clutching her sports holdall, before I’d had time to reply. I watched her get into the car and kiss him. They drove off without looking back. Just then the flower delivery van had turned up. I’d taken the roses and thrashed them to pieces in the back garden with tears streaming down my face.