Well, it’s been three years since To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories was published on Amazon, and following on from the success of that title, plus To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories and Bound in Morocco: A Short Story of Intrigue, (both published in 2017) it is my pleasure to announce the publication of not one, not two, but THREE new titles! This time, I have curated stories on the themes of humour and the supernatural from ‘the best of my blog,’ re-read and revised, plus unpublished stories. 40 stories on each theme have been collected into two volumes; Letters from Reuben and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Mirth, and The Window Crack’d and Other Stories: 40 Little Tales of Horror and the Supranatural.
(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.
(800 words) “Lie down and die, why don’t you!” Clydie James shouted at a large black dog that had begun barking at her in the street. It was late afternoon, with heavy silver clouds looking bigger than cornfields, and presently it began to rain. Big round drops fell, still in the sunlight, on the hot tin sheds and sidewalks of the little town of Faraday. A hen and her string of yellow chickens ran in great alarm across the road, whilst the dust turned river brown. “Nobby!” An old man called the dog’s name, and – to Clydie James’s relief – they both disappeared.
(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!”
(550 words) “Cloak and dagger man?” asked Clunch. “My name is Grey, Parma Grey,” I replied, “like a mouse’s back, and I have a cloak, incarnadine in hue, but, alas, no dagger.” He gave that queer, lopsided grin of his. “Ah, Mr. Grey, immortalised throughout our fair islands. Do come in.” I followed Clunch into a blue pavilion. The Ministry of Covert Warfare’s idea of keeping a low profile. “Hardly immortalized, I’m supposed to be a secret agent!” Clunch gave a throat-clearing splutter as he pressed a lift button. “Ah, but immortalized amongst we secret people, the cognoscenti of the garotte and poisoned umbrella!” I tried to suppress a smug smile as the lift proceeded downwards.
(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. He 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. “Get yourself some whisky on me.”
(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.
(700 words) Parish work is immune to dates. It has to be done three hundred and sixty-five days a year. For that very reason, Freddy Bucket sat up in bed and turned on the bedside lamp. Christmas is a very sad day of the year, he thought. Of all the millions of people in London, I am practically the only one who has to get up in the cold black of 6 a.m. on Christmas Day in the morning. I am practically the only one.
(400 words) There’s snow on the steeple, and frost on the ground, Sweets for a penny and crackers for a pound. And a long woollen stocking at the foot of the sheets, Waiting for Santa to fill it with treats. Downstairs, there’s milk and mince pies on the table, For Santa to eat, whenever he’s able. Then sleepy eyes close, an end to resolve, The conundrum of Santa, the mystery to solve.
(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.
(950 words) Lighted from above by three bright spotlights, a dartboard was mounted on the yellowing paint of a wall in The Golden Calf. It stood in a corner, housed in a cabinet with blackboards for scoring on the inner side of each cabinet door. It was only Thomas Scaman’s second visit to The Golden Calf, having moved to the village of Little Muchly with his wife, Judith, just two weeks earlier. Their first visit had been at lunchtime and the pub had been full of jovial families with their kiddies. Tonight, he’d fancied a pint, and leaving Judith to her writing he’d headed down the lane to the pub, expecting to be met with a friendly greeting and to make new pals over a game of ‘arrows.’ As a former league player, he expected to be met with, well, a kind of hero’s welcome, he told himself. Instead, he opened the door onto an empty, sparsely furnished, and equally sparsely populated bar.
(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!”