Love Sweet Love

(1000 words) He took a knife and slit the tape that had been holding the cardboard box shut for the last twenty-five years. He poured out a glass of red wine, thick as blood and with an odour of marzipan. Taking out an envelope of photographs, he began to look through them, a quarter of a century collapsing like a house of cards. There she was, in various stages of undress, an inverted ‘V’ of dyed auburn hair framing a smiling brown face. As he looked through them, Rohani on the toilet, naked in the shower, laughing in a university class photo, he realised perhaps why he’d loved her so much. That smile, visible in nearly every photograph, exuded laughter and warmth and, yes, joy. Plain simple joie de vivre. Of course, she’d known how to use that slim brown body and those smiling red lips; she was the best lover he’d ever had. Better not go there. But now, perhaps for the first time, he realised it was more than that. It had been about her presence, just having her with him, having fun together, something that had been sorely missing from his life.

Maggie’s Farm

(1000 words) Quite suddenly there was no more road. It ran down the valley like any other road and then past a broad field of wheat, standing alone. It came up beside the small white house that belonged to the wheat field and then just faded out, as though there was no more use for it. Jesse Harding pulled the old car up. “Sorry, kids, I must’ve taken a wrong turn.” Simon turned his freckled face up to the sun. His pale blue eyes were almost translucent and the pupils like pinpricks of black ink. “I’m tired, dad. Is it much further?” Jesse looked down at his young son, then at Lucy, his daughter, a couple of years older, fourteen, going on twenty-four. “Not much further, son, we’ll be at the hostel before it goes dark.” “Hostel!” exclaimed Lucy, “Why can’t we stay at a proper hotel? Somewhere with clean sheets and … and room service!” “Now, you know why,” said Dolores, Jesse’s wife, “times is hard right now, but your dad’s got a new job starting soon.” She crossed her fingers underneath her pale green dress. It was hard to tell if that was its actual colour or faded through the endless passing of time. Jesse looked at the white house. All the windows were covered with blinds. Opposite the house was a freshly sown field of green shoots. But there was nowhere else to turn the car. With a slight feeling of trepidation, he backed the car onto the edge of the field, feeling the slight give of the earth before he straightened back up onto the road. Just then, a woman emerged from around the house. Jesse felt he wanted to stamp on the accelerator and get the hell out of there, but out of politeness, he pressed a button to wind the window down. “I’m sorry, Ma’am, I had to turn the car around somehow. We’re heading for Castle Tor; we’re staying the night.” He felt embarrassed.

The Hard Part

(1000 words) It was in my eighth year, shortly before my birthday, that my mother took me to live with her mother, Françoise, in Woodhall Spa. In my perception, we were one moment walking along the beach in Skegness, past huge black rocks like giant Tourmaline tumblestones, that I later learned were to stop the sand from being eroded, and the next, we were beside my grandmother’s swimming pool, the clear water azure and alluring. At that time, I did not recognise we had crossed a border between worlds.  I was soon enrolled at St. Cuthbert’s, a private school for girls, situated within acres of green lawns, cricket and football pitches and its own private woodland, where small-leaved limes rubbed shoulders with the wild service tree and where a little wooden pergola displayed a plaque dedicated to the school’s founder.  “Christiana, you and Anne are to share a tent.” So said Brother Joseph, a teacher I disliked on account of his yellow eyes and spots, like boils, that seemed to cover his cheeks. I was ten years old now, aware of changes in my body that I didn’t completely understand. We were camping in the school arboretum over the weekend. It was June and it seemed like summer would never end. I looked over to Anne and we both smiled. “OK.”

The Coffin Club

(1000 word story) His head felt sluggish as he brewed a cafetière of coffee. Too many whiskies whilst pondering plot complexities and fighting with dialogue, he supposed. On his way to the downstairs toilet, he spotted a card pushed under the front door. That was odd. He bent down to pick it up, feeling the familiar stab of pain in his back, arms and knees. ‘The Coffin Club invites Ronald Knaggs Esq. to The Haunted Windmill for an evening of intrigue,’ it read. Knaggs rubbed his unshaven cheeks. The Coffin Club? He’d never heard of it, and as for the Haunted Windmill, well, there was only one windmill he could think of locally and that was rammed with a family of layabouts and barking dogs. As the coffee nudged his brain fog aside, he examined the card and saw that the meeting was the following evening and that the windmill was out on the coast, on an old saltmarsh, about half an hour’s drive away. Hmm. Thinking about it, maybe it might give him some ideas for Silver Flower? Almost breaking a tooth on a slice of burnt toast, he determined to go.

The Question

(1000 word story) “Mohammedan Mysticism, this sounds interesting. Edward Gall.” Gloria was up to her usual Amazon surfing. As if we hadn’t got enough books. “Mm,” I said. “Oh, seems it’s just an extract from Mysticism Throughout the Ages. 1946. Huh, this is just twenty-eight pages for thirteen quid, what a rip off!” It was gone midnight on an early September evening, and I was reading a ghost story in bed, The Horla. I could do without the click-clack of Gloria’s computer keyboard in the corner. “Come to bed.” “Flipping hell,” she exclaimed, “Greg, you’re not going to believe this, there’s a book here, well, it’s not really a book, it says two pages. Seven thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine pounds!” “What! That must be a misprint.” That made me put The Horla down in a hurry. I got up and went over to Gloria’s iMac and looked. Sure enough. The Question by ‘Librabis.’ There were a handful of reviews, all five stars, and from ‘verified purchasers’ too. They confirmed its brevity but gave nothing away, except to say it was ‘A spiritual essay, worth every penny of its hefty price tag.’

Kindness Hurts

(1000 words) So, there I was, just come out of the Castlehorn public ladies’ loo, when a woman stopped right in front of me. She was short and fat and clad in a flimsy two-piece summer outfit that looked as out of place as a homosexual in a monastery. Her face was bloated, and her lips were pale and thick. For all the world, she reminded me of Sheppard’s illustration of the toad, dressed as a washerwoman, in The Wind in the Willows. “‘Scuse me, Luv, I’m bursting. Could you look after Angel here whilst I pop into the ladies? I’ll be as quick as I can, and he’s as good as gold?” I looked down on a huge black dog at the end of the lead the woman was gripping with one pudgy hand. With the other, she clutched a large bag. I really didn’t fancy ‘dog sitting,’ but, having just done a ‘kindness workshop’ down at the local church, remembered their dictum, ‘Have faith in humanity.’

Opportunity Makes a Thief

(1000 words) After William Millington had known Frances Brader in Lincoln, England, for a few months, he began to think of her as The Widow. She always wore black, and he was given the feeling, by a certain disarrangement in her apartment, that the undertakers had just left. This impression did not stem from malice on his part, for he was fond of Frances. They were the same age, and during their first summer in the city, they used to meet after work and drink martinis in places like No Problemo and the Drill Hall and have dinner and play chess at Corcoran’s. “You know, Fran, you never did tell me why you always wear black,” William said one evening, moving a white knight into position in the centre of the board. Frances let out a puff of air. “That was the one move I was hoping you’d miss!” She took a sip of vodka martini. “Well, did you?” William insisted. Frances looked at the chessboard and sighed. “That was a damn good move, Bill, you’ve shut me down something rotten.” “Well?”

A Question of Semantics

(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.

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