(1000 words) Monastic-style beers were her favourite. Heavy, sweet, and above all, high alcohol! She peered through the small opaque panes of Oliver’s Beer and Books. No sign of anyone in the small cafe behind the faded yellow door. She pushed it open and a bell rang. Inside was a counter, and behind, shelves upon which stood perhaps twenty dusty brown bottles. Bold fonts on cream and blue labels displayed odd foreign names - Zundert, Achel, Gregorius, Westmalle, all ones that she was now familiar with. Perhaps too familiar? A coffee machine, all shiny bright steel and red levers stood at one end of the counter. The enticing odour of coffee was noticeable by its absence.
(950 words) Their mother's voice became serious. “Now the moon has gone through one cycle, it is time to make your own way in life. I will no longer be here to suckle you, and you must continue to wean on the fruits of the woods and farmers’ fields.” “But will we still see you, mother?” asked Blackberry, Sycamore’s brother, with a tear in his eye. “Yes, son, I will still frequent the same woods and fields, but it will only be a few moon-cycles before you will father leverets of your own. And just a few more before Bluebell, your sister, gives birth to her first litter.” “How exactly does that happen?” asked Sycamore, bemused. “You will find out son, never fear!” An older hare lolloped onto the moss. His coat had many curls and grizzled areas. Mother cleared her throat. “Now, I want to introduce someone to you. This is Uncle Ditch.”
(1000 words) I was sitting at a bar with Tom, my ex-husband. He was being pleasant, that’s why I should’ve known it was a dream. “I think Toni should go back to art school,” he was saying, as an alarm shattered the illusion. I fumbled for my phone under the pillow as the clouds of sleep reluctantly rolled away. Any messages? Just one, a destination alert. ‘9 miles to The Silent Woman.’ What the hell?!
(1000 words) “Be polite and listen carefully,” said the old man to his four daughters, “and don’t speak unless you’re spoken to!” Their names were Anshula, Bakula, Chandhini and Darshini. By the grace of God, they had been born exactly three years apart so that all four shared the same birthday – that very day, the first of November – unique in all the land. Anshula was sixteen, Bakula thirteen, Chandhini ten, and little Darshini just seven. Now they waited, dressed in splendid saris, Anshula in maroon, Bakula in ruby red, Chandhini in royal blue and finally, little Darshini in emerald green.
(950 words) “Oh, look, darling, we simply must get rid of this ghastly furniture!” Reginald Wright rolled his eyes. “What’s wrong with it?” “Well, it doesn’t match for starters! And this green – thing – is ancient! Look, let’s order a new suite from McIntyre’s. They can do us a custom job. Top-of-the-range leather and how about a deep ruby-red? It’d suit this room to a tee!” Reginald held his tongue. Melissa was always right. Why argue? Her mother had died and left them a respectable sum. Now Melissa had her eyes on this old pile, Dalefern Manor, along with its almost-equally-old furniture. He replaced the dusty white sheets over the suite.
(1000 words) I remember it was a Tuesday when I awoke to feel that something had changed. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. But I felt different, I didn’t know how. I looked in the mirror, then looked again in disbelief. My face wasn’t looking back at me! No beard and moustache, no kindly blue eyes (or so I thought), no curly blond hair. Instead, I could see the reflection of the wall behind me. What was going on? Was this some kind of practical joke? On impulse, I picked up my alarm clock and held it up in front of the mirror. There it was, ticking away, suspended in mid-air!
(1000 words) We’d come down to the stream to find there was no bridge. Instead, lumps of rock protruded from the water at semi-regular intervals. Stepping-stones. “We cross here,” announced Eric. “Hang on a minute, it looks quite deep,” said Jan. “And those rocks look slippery,” said Petra. “Come on, girls, you’re not scared of a little stream are you,” laughed Eric. “What say you, Saul?” “Well,” I said, “we can’t go back. I’ll go first.” I took off my boots and socks, stuffed the socks into the boots, tied the laces together and strung them around my neck. Then I rolled my trousers up to my knees. “Good luck,” laughed Eric, slapping me on the back.
(1000 words) One summer night, a man stood on a low hill overlooking a wide expanse of field and forest. By the orange crescent moon hanging low in the west, he knew it was near the hour of dawn. A light mist lay along the earth, but above it, tall trees showed against a clear sky, and far off, the small dark rectangle of a farmhouse lay visible through the haze. She’ll be asleep in her bed, he thought, feeling his body stir at the thought of naked flesh enmeshed in an eiderdown and the smell of a sleeping woman. He turned the freshly sharpened axe to a more comfortable position on his shoulder and began to walk the path down the hill, the path to the farmhouse, nestling there in the grey distance, perhaps half a mile away. As he trod the track in the silent early morning, the first birds began to stir. Soon, the deafening dawn chorus would be ringing out over the countryside. But before then, it would all be over.
(1000 words) “Where am I?” thought Donnie Jackson, looking out of his parents’ bedroom window on the morning of his fourteenth birthday. He gazed across an endless black plain towards towering mountains in the distance, all silverised by a huge moon filling the sky. The moon wasn’t ‘our’ moon, he thought, there were no maria, the lava plains clearly seen from Earth, and there were visible canyons. They must be huge, gigantic. And this moon was, what, maybe ten times as big in the sky? But where were his mum and dad?
(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.
(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.
(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.”