The Stranger

(950 words) We chatted about this and that, the state of the hotel and whether it’d be possible to restore it. “The desert wants its land back. It has a mind and a will of its own,” she said. I was a farmer, arable and dairy cattle, used to co-operating with the land. It was no use fighting it. “I can understand that.” I brought us both refills from the bent old man’s enormous tea pot, then Olive asked me if anything strange, maybe supernatural, had ever happened to me. I laughed. “Not that I can think of, I’m not one for mumbo jumbo.” Olive’s wide blue eyes twinkled. “Well, I’ll tell you anyway. See what you think.” “Be my guest.” “Well, where I live, there’s a playing field opposite, a small one with an area of swings and slides for kiddies.” I sipped my tea, it was hot and sweet.

The Luck of the Draw

(950 words) A young woman in a rustic green smock stood behind a tombola. She smiled at me. “Try your luck, sir? It’s to raise money for the donkey sanctuary.” That explained why there were pictures of donkeys everywhere. “What do I have to do?” “It’s fifty pence a ticket, or five for two pounds. If it ends with a five or a zero it’ll be a winner, then you just match it with the prize.” “Sounds complicated.” I winked. “Go on, I’ll have five.” Two were winners. The first was a hefty volume of Longfellow verse. I’d rather have won a hole in the head. “Look, can I pick it up later? I don’t want to lug it around the fair.” She gave me a pearly smile. “I’m here till five. Oh, that’s strange.” “What’s up?” “Oh, the ticket on your other prize is on the table. It must have fallen off this.” She held up a wooden bracelet.

Worse Things Happen at Sea

(950 words) “Sorry, you’re the first person I’ve spoken to in ten years.” Her voice was cracked, dry like an empty pitcher left out to desiccate in the sun. Jack Whitney looked down at the bedraggled young woman. Her hair was long and matted, perhaps once a dark blonde. Her face could be attractive, he … Continue reading Worse Things Happen at Sea

There Was None Bolder

(1000 words) “Calm down now and listen up,” said our sixth form tutor, Miss Hughes. “That includes you, Kara Simons.” She jabbed a finger in my direction. "Now, today's the first of our career sessions and I’m pleased to welcome our two guests to speak about their careers and what you could expect if you were to follow in their footsteps.” I looked from a twenty-something woman in a pink two-piece to a man of a similar age, clad in camouflage get-up, olive green with grey-white bits. He wore a green beret with two rows of little white and red squares at the bottom, and a thick black belt. His lips were thin and he looked around the classroom with disdain. “This is Miss Cheskin,” said Miss Hughes, gesticulating to the woman. “She’s here to talk about a career in retail sales.” The woman stepped to the front and gave a bright smile. “So, how many of you like the idea of working in a department store? Hands up.” A plain spotty girl, Ruth Smith, lifted a fat arm up. “Wouldn’t mind.” “I wouldn’t want to be served by you!” said Johnny Harris. The class laughed. “That’s enough, Harris,” snapped Miss Hughes. “Please carry on, Miss Cheskin.”

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.

Happenstance

(950 words) Cattle auction car parks aren’t the kind of place where I’d have expected to pick a girl up, but there I was at the ticket machine waiting for a young woman in a brown raincoat to finish, when she turned to me with an exasperated look. “I’m sorry, I just got a new car and I can’t remember its number plate.” I smiled. “I have that problem too!” I pulled out a business card and turned it over to show my registration. She laughed. “Ha ha, that’s a good idea. I’m just going to guess for now. It’s not that important, it’s free anyway.” She stabbed the letter pad once more and I noticed she was left handed and wore no wedding band. She took her ticket and smiled at me. “Do you come here often?” I laughed but the irony seemed to pass her by. “Tuesdays and Fridays usually, when there’s no auction on.” “I only come when the auction’s on normally, I help lead the animals.” She spread her hands out wide. “Did you know a bull’s erect penis is thirty-eight inches long?”

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 Telos Project

(950 words) “Attribution isn’t my favourite word right now, Dad.” Sandy said, taking her essay back from me. She smoothed her ginger hair and her snub-nosed, freckled face looked down at her feet. “Look sweetheart, if you’re going to use someone else’s work in your essay, you have to give credit to the author. If … Continue reading The Telos Project

Fire Words

(1000 words)

One tall, lanky shape was the loathed silhouette of Mark. Whenever no one was looking, he’d say, “How’re you going, Jack,” and either punch me on the upper arm or pinch the skin on my forearm. I swear, sometimes after an evening with Mark, my arms were literally black and blue. I’d complained to mum and dad but they just said, “Don’t make a fuss, he’s only playing. Don’t be a softie.”

Softie! My arms REALLY hurt!

I took the firework to the opposite corner instead, and with my own torch, stolen from the Scouts, read the label. WARNING. I ignored the rest, spotting the fuse. It was only a firework after all.

It’s Dark in Here

(1000 words)

“Where’s the key for the wardrobe in the spare room?”
“What … why?”
My wife, Jane, looked down at the carpet. “Oh, uh, I just fancied looking inside. Who knows what’s in there?” She gave an unconvincing laugh.
“What’s Lucy been saying?”
“What?”
“Come on, what’s that girl been imagining this time?”
“Look, Tony, I’m worried about her. First there was that nonsense about Roman soldiers under the bed, now this.”
“Now what?”
“Well, she said not to tell you, that you’d be cross.”
I felt a twinge of guilt. Perhaps I had been less than sympathetic over the soldier episode. But Lucy was eleven, for heaven’s sake. “Come on, out with it.” I smiled. “I won’t be cross, promise.”
“Well, she said she heard whispering from it.”
“What?"
“She said it said ‘Let me out, it’s dark in here.’”

Gender Concerns

(1000 words) Feeling a little apprehensive, I went into the hotel, passing a smiling receptionist, then through to the bar and restaurant area. Smartly-dressed family groups ate at tables or sat in a more casual area with sofas, easy chairs, and leafy potted trees, drinking coffee or sipping wine. Quiet jazz music played in the background. For some odd reason I suddenly had an image of a group of skinheads bursting in, all braces, high Dr. Martens and shaven skulls. Up-ending tables and hurling them around, smashing glass and porcelain alike. People screaming as jabbing fists and thudding boots left a trail of broken and bloodied bodies. Fortunately, nothing like that occurred, and the sound of a gentle, tinkling jazz piano solo was all there was to be heard. At one table sat a young woman, conspicuously alone, looking at her phone. That must be my blind date, I thought, Jules. As I grew closer, she looked up, put her phone down and smiled. “Hello, are you Vincent?”