(1200 words) It could have been right out of one of my own sitcom scripts. I received a telephone call late one evening from an old lady, Miss Jean Sycamore, if you please. She was most insistent that I undertake some detective work for her. I tried to tell her that I was a TV comedy scriptwriter and not a detective, but she said she’d heard I’d written some episodes for Detecting the Detectives, a CID spoof, and being that I lived locally, she was prepared to pay me a handsome price to find a lost object. So, the following morning I called round to her rambling country estate, Enderby Manor, where I was shown in by a crusty old butler who could have been acting in Toad of Toad Hall. “Madam, a Mr. Frederick Rossiter to see you,” he announced in a wheezing voice to a rake of a woman with a wild frizz of white hair. She got up from a sofa and peered at me. “Mr. Rossiter? No, I don’t think I know such a fellow.” “Look, Miss Sycamore, you phoned me last night. You told me you wanted me to find something for you. Something valuable I assume.” The old woman looked perplexed. “Did I? Did I really?” She stood staring into space for what seemed an age, then her frail body shook all over, as if she’d been given an electric shock, and she suddenly smiled at me. “Mr. Rossiter, thank you so much for coming. That’ll be all Porterhouse. I do apologize, Mr. er, … I’m afraid my memory isn’t what it once was. Now, please take a seat. Porterhouse will get you a drink. Oh, sorry, I sent him away, didn’t I?”
(1200 words) “How did you sleep?” asked Janet, my best friend and roommate, on a sightseeing holiday in Spain. “Not well.” I grimaced. “I had bad dreams, like there was something on top of me, something heavy.” “Oh, that’s not nice.” “It felt like an animal or something, all hairy, then there was this awful face, I can’t begin to describe it. Like it had a beak. Ugh.” “Come on, Sally, let’s go down for breakfast, forget it, it was just a silly nightmare. I slept like a log!”
(1200 words) “Use some common sense,” I said, “the dead don’t send text messages!” Bunty looked up at me. She looked shaken and her voice was tremulous. “I know, Frank, but it says Harriet Harding. ‘Hi Bunty, greetings from heaven! Look, I need you to do something for me. More later. Xxx’ That’s how she always signed off, three kisses, x’s, the first one in capitals.”
(1200 words) “Laura, this place is amazing,” said Mary, as we finally gathered in the spacious kitchen where I’d put a selection of drinks and nibbles out on the huge wooden table. Above us was a high open space and wooden beams where there used to be a loft. “It’s OK,” I said, “there’s only so much you can do with … space. I’d rather have people to be honest.” “What you need is a dog,” said Bethany I sighed. “Yes, I want a poodle but y’know, mum’s allergic to animal hair.” “I know what,” said Bethany, “you could borrow one for a month, while they’re abroad!” Ruby poured herself a generous glass of pinot noir, took a large gulp and let out a wine-scented belch. We all laughed. “Listen,” said Ruby, her face flushed with the alcohol, “d’you ever hear the story of Bloody Mary?” “No,” we said in unison.
(1200 words) But the change of pace and setting served me well. I quickly became absorbed in the works of the Swedish mystic, Emmanuel Swedenborg, and that ‘Magic of the West,’ the Qabalah. I came from France with letters of introduction to ‘persons of eminence’ but found these gentlemen (and ladies), though of a certain social standing, to be shallow personalities with feet of clay and a mere desire to see me perform feats for their entertainment – summoning spirits, remote viewing and so forth. Well, but three days ago, I returned to my suite to find a card pushed under my door. It had been torn in half and showed a partial seal of Solomon, one familiar to me. On the back, written neatly, was a message telling me to go to the high altar of St Paul’s cathedral the following day at midday precisely, where the remainder of the card would be given to me and where I would learn something of great interest. Intrigued, I did as the card instructed and the next day found myself at the altar in question, gazing around in awe at the enormous and opulent building, it being my first occasion there. “Monsieur L.?” asked a splendidly-dressed footman, quite startling me.
(1200 words) At Stamford Brook a couple got on and sat at the far end, and an elderly woman took a seat opposite me in the otherwise empty carriage. I looked up. She wore a smart silver-grey jacket and trousers, and a matching headscarf over curly white hair. I watched her take out a small notebook filled with tiny writing in a neat blue hand that went right to the edges of the pages. With a pencil she began to underline certain sentences and paragraphs. I watched her at her self-appointed task and the more I watched, the more I wondered. It couldn’t be, surely? The woman looked up over pince-nez, sensing my stare. an imperceptible smile playing on her rouged lips. Then she went back to her underlining. Finally, I could stand it no more. In a hushed tone I said, “Excuse me, do you know you’re the spitting image of … of the Queen?” She put her book down and looked at me over her glasses with piercing blue eyes. “That’s one way of putting it.” She gave a small smile. “And who are you?”
(1200 words) “Your mission, should you choose to accept it – but actually you don’t have any choice – is to go to 2034 to take out a gentleman named Eldred Banks.” “D’you mean, kill?” I asked. “Well, yes, if you put it like that.” “Why?” My controller smiled. “Well, let’s just say he’ll be in charge of a pretty nasty weapon, and it’ll be best for the future world if he’s not left to his own devices.” “How will I do it, then?” “Don’t worry about it. You’ll have help when you get there. It’ll be a piece of cake for a man of your talent!” “So where am I going, exactly?” He smiled. “Sunglasses and suntan lotion will come in handy, Tim. Tunisia.”
(1250 words) Say nothing when Ruth comes in, Brodie Somers told himself. There she was, tall, slim, long blonde hair blowing in the freshening wind. She was laughing, smiling at him. Robbie McClelland, the wretched layabout, lolling in his open top Mazda. With his black leather jacket and hair greased back he looked like a reject from Happy Days. An all-round bad influence on his daughter, Brodie thought. Ruth waved to Robbie as he roared off inland, down the little lane. Against the gulls calling, the waves rolling on the beach, and the rustling grass on the dunes, the intermittent noise of Robbie’s revving engine as he careered back into town was like an insult to the quiet countryside, like someone throwing a dog turd in your face. He hurriedly put the binoculars away as the door opened and Ruth came in.
1200 words) Say what you like about Charles – and plenty of people had plenty to say – but before Charles came into my life Dominic had been a nightmare, fighting all the other kids at school, ranting and raving at home, and refusing to help out or tidy his room; in short, a real devil child. But he looked up to Charles, saw him as a kind of hero, which he was in a way I suppose. Charles would give Dominic little jobs to do – cleaning his crampons, coiling his ropes, helping to sort out the mountaineering gear he’d stowed in my shed, all those bits and pieces that had names I suppose, but looked like junk to me. And, of course, Charles would show us photos of his expeditions – Kanchenjunga, Cho Oyu, Manaslu, Nanga Parbat and so on, mostly names that meant nothing to me back then.
(1200 words) Tunsgate Green stood, thinking of Ruth back in the cottage, typing away at her wretched manuscript. Some romantic nonsense, mainly to make up for the total lack of it in their lives, he imagined. Once she’d been young, vivacious, sexy even. He snorted. Hard to imagine that now! Their love life currently resembled this salt marsh - dead flat. He gazed over the dry beige marshland to the distant level horizon, the faintest deep blue ribbon set against the pale blue sky indicating the start of the North Sea, next stop the fjords and islands of western Norway, 400 miles away.
It was midday, the sun’s yellow disc was high in the clear-blue, summer sky and it was sweltering. The heat burned into every cell of my body and mind. I could feel my back beneath my rucksack wet with sweat, and drops of it ran down my face from time to time. The grass beneath my walking boots was dry and brown, there’d been little rain for weeks. “I think we should take a break, it’s too hot.” My girlfriend, Sara, turned to me. Her eyes were hidden by dark black sunglasses but her face was pink and beads of moisture covered her sunburned forehead. Dark pools stained her T-shirt under the armpits. I looked around at the desolate moorland – parched grass with the odd brown rock, all that was visible to the horizon in every direction. There was no sign of life, no sheep, no birds, nothing. “Look, we can go and rest on those rocks over there,” said Sara, pointing to a jumble of boulders in the far distance, off to one side.
While I wait for news, and now my hands have stopped shaking, I want to record the incident that happened tonight.
My parents had gone into London to see an opera and are still not back at nearly half past midnight. They said I could have a couple of schoolfriends around as long as we promised to be ‘sensible.’ Fat chance! So, Shelley and Julie had called round, together, about seven o’clock. They’d brought some DVDs and Julie had snuck a couple of bottles of beer from her brother’s stash. Shelley had brought a large carrier bag. Like all teenage girls, we swapped news and giggled about the boys we fancied, then sat in the lounge and put on a DVD, The Omen.
Well, it was pretty scary, and nasty too, the way people got killed, being sliced in two by a faulty lift and crushed between train carriages, just two examples. When it had finished, Shelley said, “God, that was horrible. Look, I brought something we can play, I’ll go and get it.” She headed for the kitchen.