Bloody Mary

 

(1200 words) “Laura, this place is amazing,” said Mary, as we finally gathered in the spacious kitchen where I’d put a selection of drinks and nibbles out on the huge wooden table. Above us was a high open space and wooden beams where there used to be a loft. “It’s OK,” I said, “there’s only so much you can do with … space. I’d rather have people to be honest.” “What you need is a dog,” said Bethany I sighed. “Yes, I want a poodle but y’know, mum’s allergic to animal hair.” “I know what,” said Bethany, “you could borrow one for a month, while they’re abroad!” Ruby poured herself a generous glass of pinot noir, took a large gulp and let out a wine-scented belch. We all laughed. “Listen,” said Ruby, her face flushed with the alcohol, “d’you ever hear the story of Bloody Mary?” “No,” we said in unison.

How Long Is 24 Hours?

 

(800 words) Chimera, that was the name of the thing on my cup. A fire-breathing monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. Not something you’d want to meet on a dark night, or any night for that matter. I turned the cup around, watching the chocolate-coloured liquid swirl above the red mythological creature. How many times had I done the exact same thing, I wondered? Fifty, a hundred, a thousand even? Then it struck me, I was stuck in this one moment of time, forever drinking coffee out of this same cup, forever looking at the hideous beast and wondering of its provenance, pondering its manufacture, forever gazing around my cluttered kitchen - piles of papers, vitamins, medications on my table, washing up stacked in the sink.

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.

The Ballad of Johnny Fang

 

(369 words) There once was a lonely vampire, Johnny Fang was the poor fellow’s name. All he wanted was a young lass to love him, But, being dead, he was nobody’s flame. He’d wander at night through the graveyard, By the light of the silvery moon. Wondering how he could get him a gal, Who, at the sight of his fangs, wouldn’t swoon.

Animal Magic

 

(800 words) “David’s deer, where are they, mate?” A man in a dark green top and blue trousers stopped his work, brushing the floor of an animal enclosure. He eyed the young man – clad in dirty jeans and a grey hoodie – disapprovingly, “Père David’s deer, oh, they’re on loan for a few days.” “Well, they weren’t here last week neither. The bloke on duty said they were sleeping.” The zoo keeper sighed. “Well, animals have to sleep!” A girl with blonde hair in a pony tail joined them, linking arms with the young man. “Well, I went to see the giraffes and there was only one, in a smelly building. None out in the paddock.” The keeper began to brush the floor once more. “Well, what do expect me to do about it?”

Dust to Dust

 

(600 words) We proceeded into a corridor where the lighting was a garish strip-light, by contrast, but at least we could see the row upon row of dust-covered books that filled shelves from floor to ceiling. Little doubt what our brother had spent his money on over the years. They were nearly all hardbacks, some with streaks in the dust at their feet, where they had presumably been extracted in recent memory. I pulled one such out. A Practical Guide to Qabalistic Symbolism by Gareth Knight. It was in four parts, The Lesser Mysteries, The Greater Mysteries, The Supreme Mysteries, and, The Tarot, the latter coming as somewhat of a surprise. It looked complicated. And expensive.

A Lincolnshire Churchyard Revisited

 

(700 words) Three years after I’d watched the red kite circling above the graveyard, I once more stood at my father’s graveside in the quiet country churchyard. No sound, just a warm breeze on my face and white clouds moving silently in the blue September sky. The grey headstone was stained and the three years since I’d last remarked on it could have been ten. No gilding to the letters on the plain dull grey stone, worn by the rain, wind and ice in colder months, meant close examination was required to discover whose bones lay interred there.

Something Nasty

 

(900 words) My wife, Coral, had become rather ‘tubby,’ to put it kindly, fat to put it less-so, since the birth of our first child, Crispin, so I was pleased that after the Christmas festivities were over she began to take herself in hand. She’d leave little Crispin asleep with me or the babysitter to take an occasional walk, spurred on by the GetFit watch her mother had given her for Christmas. Well, I was tied up with a novel, the fourth in my series of Sargent Fosdick mysteries, and mighty pleased that Joe Public was finally shelling out his – or her – hard-earned to the relief of my long-suffering literary agent, Rupert. Anyway, for whatever reason I was finding it pretty hard going, trying to think of original twists and turns to the basically mundane ‘whodunnit’ plot, so was only vaguely aware of Coral’s increasing slavishness to the watch, just that the walks became daily, then daily jogs.

A Brush with Teeth

 

(1000 words) Known to my friends as a rather, dare-I-say, boring type – “Sammy doesn’t even have a television, he reads books!” –  and for someone who eschews festivities and hedonism in general, I surprise even myself with what I am about to reveal. How a staid bachelor-type, working in an admittedly mundane computing role, came to regularly indulge in an activity with a buxom young Thai, that is, well, what some might call downright kinky. But I digress.

Behind Locked Doors

 

(750 words) “Look Mr Sissons, I’m sorry, that part of the graveyard’s no longer used, on account of subsidence caused by badgers. Please see Fred, the sexton. He’ll show you where new graves can be dug and sort out the availability, bearing in mind the … ah … timeframe.” The Reverend Samuel Everson got up from the pew, feeling a certain trepidation and hoping the matter was now closed. Edgar Sissons was a big man and leader of the local council. He wore a long black coat of thick woollen material and barred the reverend’s way. “Look, Reverend, my Auntie Nellie’s buried in that far corner, as you know. It’s my desire that my sister Dolly be buried next to her, God rest her soul.” Samuel Everson felt his hands growing sweaty. “Look, Mr. Sissons, we all have the greatest respect for Dolly, but when all’s said and done, she wasn’t a regular churchgoer here, and as I say –” “Listen, Reverend, it’s my wish that Dolly be buried next to her kith and kin and from where I’m standing I see no good reason she can’t be.

TCASSS II on Audio

 

I'm very pleased to report that To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories has been produced as an audiobook, expertly narrated by Angus Freathy, the narrator of no fewer than 47 audiobooks featured on Audible! It runs for 9 hours and 32 minutes, and features the 'best of the blog' from July 2017 to December 2018 plus an extended 5000 word story, In Dulci Dubilo, not published on the site, an emotional roller-coaster of a story, stunningly brought to life by the audio rendition!