(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.’
(1100 words) Seen at the top clubs and casinos, always with a glamorous woman on his arm, usually a different one each time, he was ebullient, witty, handsome and, at a time when the usual darts stars were stretching their XXL nylon darts shirts to the limit with enormous beer bellies, Sam, though he liked his ‘ciggies,’ appeared slim and fit. Everyone said he was a lovely man. It was only when he was under the influence of alcohol that he became abusive, aggressive, and gargantuan-headed. As Roger Merrill, doorkeeper at the Ritz, says of him, “We all loved Sam when he was sober. He could do great impersonations – Prince Charles, The Fonz, Shirley Temple, Fred Flintstone, you name it. Then you could give him a dart and he’d put an apple on someone’s head, usually a good-looking girl, and throw the dart right into the middle of it from ten feet away!” “Did he ever miss?” I asked. “Not when he was sober.” Roger gave a wry smile. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t very often.”
(1100 words) “Y’know, Liz,” said Charles one evening, “there’s a guy at work, he’s got a sure-fire idea to make one helluva lotta big-time dough!” Elizabeth Soulby raised her eyebrows. “Yeah, his name is Stanley, got an uncle by the name of Matthias Dale, a big shot in the aircraft business. Anyway, seems this Mr. Dale is offering shares in the first flight to Mars!” Elizabeth Soulby raised her eyebrows even higher. “Honestly sweetheart, this Dale guy knows what he’s talking about, got contacts in the air defence business.” Elizabeth squared her shoulders and put her hands on her hips. “Well, what the hell does this guy know that NASA doesn’t know then!” Charles sighed, “Simply this, he doesn’t have a million and one regulations holding him back. And he has Fan Evans on his team.”
(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.”
(1100 words) “Commemorated we were. Commemorated by the king!” said the captain, sweeping an arm out and knocking a glass of water onto the floor, so that it shattered and made everyone jump. “What king was that?” asked Maurice Henry, as an orderly attended to the mess. Captain Sugar puffed on a long cigar. “Why, the king of Liberia of course! On account of us picking up the biggest load in Trinidad in 2014. February it was, eleven thousand containers. Can you imagine it, eleven thousand! Like a fifty-mile long freight train!” “Grandpa, can we go now?” Maurice, just about to ask what the king of Liberia had to do with Trinidad, looked down at his granddaughter, Phoebe. He could see she was tired, in no mood to hear another night’s boastful stories from Captain Sugar. He looked at the captain and raised his eyebrows.
(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. Stein 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.
I headed upstairs to the reference library, further annoyed. There was just one other person there, a down-and-out type reading The Sun, having chosen to eschew the nearby pile of ‘erudite’ newspapers.
I went to an interesting section on ‘supernatural’ subjects: ghosts, UFO’s, angels, demons and the like. Perusing the shelves, I noticed a large tome with Demonology in red gothic lettering on the pale blue spine. There was no dust jacket. Seating myself on a comfortable chair, I began to read. Well, seems there was something called The Lesser Key of Solomon, an anonymous 17th century ‘grimoire’ apparently, that included the ‘conjuration of demons’ ...
“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?”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.
“What time do you get off?” the girl had asked me. Surprised, I’d turned from flipping a burger. She was tall, slim, with blonde hair in a short pony tail.
“I’ve a break in twenty minutes. Why?”
“Can we chat? I need a favour.”
The next twenty minutes had crawled past. I could see the girl sitting in a corner, fiddling with her phone. What the hell did she want?
“Look, my name’s Martha, I come here sometimes, you’ve served me a couple of times,” she said when I was free to join her.
Now I came to think about it, she did seem somewhat familiar, but then we served a lot of people.
“You seem a nice guy and I need someone to do me a favour.”
“My sister phoned me to say she’s mislaid her house keys. I’ve got a spare but I’m a nurse and I’m needed on the other side of town, I’ve really gotta go. Like, now.”