(850 words) Compassion, word of the day, thought Stanley Brown. It was something he wasn’t used to feeling, but here he was, about to walk up a stranger’s drive. He quickly combed his hair, then with a brown-paper-wrapped package tucked into the pocket of an old great coat he walked briskly up to the porch, noticing the peeling white paint and patches of mould on the woodwork. There she was at the window, the thin wrinkled visage and the halo of white hair, peering out, a look of incredulity on her ancient face. He pressed the doorbell and heard a distant answering chime. The face disappeared from the window.
1200 words) Say what you like about Charles – and plenty of people had plenty to say – but before Charles came into my life Dominic had been a nightmare, fighting all the other kids at school, ranting and raving at home, and refusing to help out or tidy his room; in short, a real devil child. But he looked up to Charles, saw him as a kind of hero, which he was in a way I suppose. Charles would give Dominic little jobs to do – cleaning his crampons, coiling his ropes, helping to sort out the mountaineering gear he’d stowed in my shed, all those bits and pieces that had names I suppose, but looked like junk to me. And, of course, Charles would show us photos of his expeditions – Kanchenjunga, Cho Oyu, Manaslu, Nanga Parbat and so on, mostly names that meant nothing to me back then.
(1100 words) “Say it ain’t so, Joe, please say it ain’t so,” Samantha Muir sang whilst hanging out leather belts in the Ladies’ Clothing department of Jacksons. “That's not what I wanna hear, Joe. Ain't I got a right to know?” She hesitated. Why was she singing that? Her mind flashed back to a scene when she was nine years old, her little brother Joe coming to her with blood pouring from his nose. An older boy, Terry, had punched him in the face at the bus stop after school. “Excuse me, young lady, are you serving or dreaming?”
(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.
(850 words) It was a beautiful day, thought Mr. FtF as he sat on the patio with his newspaper waiting for his wife to come down. Why did it always take her so long to get ready in the morning, he wondered? All that … preening! He put his paper down and gazed at the canal that flowed past the bottom of their garden. Purple liquid sparkled in the light of the two suns in a way that never ceased to amaze Mr. FtF. It depended on their positions relative to each other he supposed, as he sipped his kaffa.
(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!”
(700 words) We approached across sandy concrete to the faded green panels of the kiosk. Behind the counter, bustling around, moving cups and plates and things, a lady with a thin face and grizzled curly hair, the Loreal-colour long since faded. She smiled, her teeth falsely white against her brown, wrinkled skin. “Hello.” “Hello,” Joy said, “it’s been a long time since anyone’s been open on the beach. Me and Tony, er, my husband, we walk along here most days.” The lady compressed her lips, “Well, it’s exactly a year today since my Fred died, I figured I should do something to mark his … passing.”
Martha came back from the ladies’ loo, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “You’ll never believe who’s in the Gin Room!” “Who?” “That actor, what’s his name, you know, the one who looks like Tom Hanks.” I racked my brains. “Oh, you mean the one who was in that film, oh, what was it called? About the air force, you know.” “Yeah, that’s the one. Ooh, he’s so dishy.” I took a sip of my vodka and lemon. “Actually, I don’t care for him.” I put my glass down. “I always think Vodka smells like cement glue, don’t you? You know, that stuff boys use to glue kits together.”
(900 words) The day had started off fine – an early spring breeze, the snow crisp, its crystals gleaming in the sunshine and little icicles dangling from the pines. The girls were happy, pulling Jacob’s gear and some supplies on a small sled, whilst singing camp songs. “With my hand on my head and what have I here, this is my brainbox, Oh I do declare ….” After photographing an ice-lake and the unexpected success of snapping a pair of bull moose sizing up for a fight over a female, it had suddenly grown dark. Jacob eyed the oppressive snow-laden clouds overhead. “Come on, kids, better head back to the Land Rover.” Charity’s huge brown eyes looked up at him from beneath a green bobble hat. “How far is it, dad?” “Only a mile or so,” he improvised. “Come on, let’s get back.”
(600 words) Dr. Rowina Scott stood at an enormous round window, gazing in awe at the towering pyramidal blocks a thousand stories high that dominated the city. She never grew tired of looking at them nor ceased to wonder at their immensity. Multi-coloured sky pods darted around and between them. A bleep from her pager jolted her out of her reverie. The director, Dr. Abraham Klein, wished to see her urgently. What the hell did the old bugger want?
(500 words) As a man who’d been almost stone-deaf since birth, meeting women was something out of Christian Brown’s comfort zone. They may have smiled, but from their eyes, and replies, he knew he was less than intelligible. Now he was shown to a seat in the Koh-I-Noor restaurant. He took a deep breath and looked around at the mainly empty seats, then at his watch. 7.55 p.m. His councillor and psychologist, Susan, had arranged a blind date for him with a lady called Stephanie. She’d told him nothing about her, just that she was attractive, divorced and in her early forties.
(1100 words) “Well, lookee here, we’ve got ourselves a midget!” laughed Tanner Sutherland, standing behind her in the dinner queue on her first day. She turned around. “Well, lookee here, we’ve got ourselves an ugly moron!” There was laughter and a few soldiers gathered around to watch the scene. Tanner’s face was red with rage. “There shouldn’t be no women in our army, especially not little shortarses, you’d be no good in close combat.” Rowena pulled out of the queue and stood facing Tanner, balancing lightly on the balls of her feet. “Hey, lay off her, Tanner,” said Norton Breakspear, “it’s brains, not brawn we need in the Corps. You seem to be lacking in the first department, bud.” Tanner ignored him. “Looks like we got us a feisty one!” Rowena knew she’d have her work cut out to beat up this creep. “Tell you what, soldier, you know anything about pie-eating?”
The Moonlit Garden, a play for five voices (2000 words) Martin: Actually, my dear, I had a rather odd dream. Would you permit me to recount it? Rebeca: Of course. I’m intrigued! Martin: Well, there I was in a garden. It was night and there was a gibbous moon in the sky, turning the garden to silver. There was a fountain made of brick, with a large shallow pool around it, the whole set in a large depression off from some lawns. Rebecca: How lovely! Martin: Well, that’s the odd thing, the brickwork was old and the fountain nozzle bent and dry. The cement pool around it was cracked, with weeds poking through in places. Rebecca: How odd. Martin: Yes, as I looked around, everything seemed overgrown, as if time had forgotten the garden. But then I heard singing, soft gentle voices. I walked up from the fountain to a lawn, and there were women in long dresses, and with their hair unfettered and flowing free. They were beautiful, smiling, holding out their hands; wanting me to join with them in a circle.
(1100 words) “Can I help you, sir?” It was an older man, not one of the ‘dolly birds’ who normally grace the teak-veneered desks of such establishments. He had long grey sideburns, sliver rimmed glasses, short grey hair, cut neatly with a side-parting, and a look of resignation. A desk sign said ‘Mr. Jack Seddon,’ followed by a string of post-nominal initials. Danny looked around. ‘I’d like a house, a big one with a garden, trees, that sort of thing.” Seddon looked the youth up and down. Skinny blue jeans, black loafers, a black T-shirt with the logo FCUK and a black leather jacket that looked like it had previously belonged to a hell-raising ‘Rock ‘n’ Roller’ – or two. “I see, sir, and are you a first-time buyer?”
(1100 words) “Rumours are, the Jones brothers are coming back,” said Christine, my wife and best friend. I put my coffee down onto the table in slow motion. “Tell me you’re joking.” “Sorry Tony, that’s what Shirley just told me.” Christine had just returned from having her hair cut by a lady with her ear to the ground, and her head up her arse. But Christine’s hair looked nice, I had to admit. “I heard they were doing alright in The Smoke.” “They were, or are, I should say. Shirley keeps in touch with Babs. Says they control south from The Monument down as far as Cannock Town. They’re leaving Smiler in charge. He’s rounded up some new men, … real hard men, she says.” I looked at my face in the mirror. It was almost white. “Oh,” was all I could say. “Yeah, anyone who doesn’t pay on time gets three strikes. The first is on the body, so the bruises don’t show. Second is the face, so everyone knows.” I hesitated to ask what the third was, but Christine told me anyway.
(800 words) Franklin’s father-in-law, Hamish McLeish, was something else; an ex-Sergeant Major who made his dislike for Franklin no secret. “The day my daughter marries a scatter-brained poofter poet is the day I hope I’ll be six feet under!”
(750 words) Sandra Malone sat staring at her laptop. On the left side, a heart with a ribbon around it and the words, ‘To My Valentine.’ On the right, a blank page anticipating her inspired verse. She sighed. She’d needed the work and, as a poet – of sorts, had been recommended to Gibson’s Cards to crank out twenty Valentine verses and messages. After a morning’s work, trying to think of original lines using ‘Valentine,’ ‘please be mine,’ ‘heart,’ ‘never part’ and such, she was sorely tempted to rhyme ‘heart’ with ‘fart.’ That’d make Gibson’s sit up!
(900 words) “It’s up there somewhere, Val,” said Edward, waving his hand towards snow-covered mountain peaks, far beyond the valley that held the roadside café we’d pulled up at. I put a mug of pungent coffee down onto a weathered wooden table, it was too hot to hold in any case, and with my binoculars, scanned the forests of snow-laden pine trees, the bare, grey stone crags and endless snowfields. It looked like I could reach out and touch them, yet when I put the binoculars down, the mountains seemed impossibly distant. “I don’t see anything.”
(500 words) He looked around, then, with no one in sight, leapt over the six-foot fence and sat on the roundabout. He took a key ring out and played with the cold metals, toying with ideas. Finally, randomly flicking through them, ‘Fuck it,’ he thought. Holding one tight he began to kick the ground, the roundabout spinning in response. “Make the connection. Make the connection!”
(850 words) Gregory padded along outside our patio doors, a young rabbit, obviously alive, suspended obscenely from his jaws. It hung there, almost touching the ground, petrified and staring blankly ahead as it swung from side to side, its silky brown fur ruffled by the breeze. Like a little girl abducted from outside her school by a ghoul lusting for fresh lean meat, or a shrieking schoolboy plucked from his bed through an open window by the enormous hand of a ravenous giant, the rabbit was doubtless heading for the same fate. “Oh my god, Paul, not another!” exclaimed Amanda, coming into the sun room. “He had one yesterday and I saw him with another one a couple of days ago. That poor little rabbit.” “It’s nature. That’s what predators do, catch and kill their prey.”