(1200 words) They’d come to Stiffkey, on the Norfolk coast, to try to rekindle something of their relationship, but with Ruth immersed in her fictional romantic world, and him stalking the lonely marshes and empty beaches, they rarely seemed to meet when one or the other wasn’t tired. She could be irritatingly churlish too, which didn’t help, and he probably wasn’t much better, he admitted.
(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.
(1250 words) Three men sat around an open fire in front of a tent. It was a hot night, for the time was early August, and the place Central America. To the north, the twinkling lights in the distance told of Mexico City. To the south, the skyline was blotted out by a huge black shadow, rising like a pyramid from the rocks that strewed the district. Borkovski swigged on a sliver hipflask, “El oro, ¿Donde està?” The Mexican’s face split in a wide smile, a thick black moustache above whiter-than-white teeth. “The gold, señor, well, how should I know where eet is?” “Because your brother, Carlos, he’s suddenly driving around in a brand-new Cadillac.” “Carlos, he gamble. Maybe he win big?” “Look,” I said, “don’t play us for bloody fools! You disappear into the mountains for six months, barely a couple of pesos to rub together. Then suddenly you set up this trekking company and Carlos is swanning around in a silver machine like he owns the town!”
(1150 words) Miriam Jesney was a blonde, piquant thing of nineteen summers with no relations but Gilbert, a semi-mythical brother, on the Yukon, who had not found enough gold to send her any. She earned her living – two pounds a week – as a guitarist at the splendid tea parties of the Hotel Bemrose. “Hey, Miriam, honey, what was that thing you were playing tonight?” asked Hank Malone one evening, approaching her while she sat at the hotel bar, nursing a glass of white wine. Miriam smiled. Hank was OK, a lumbering, gentle giant of a man. “Well, which one? I played quite a bit of stuff.” Hank admired Miriam’s skin. It was like pink china, and her eyes, well, those huge green eyes, were like … like crystals! “That last one, a … a rippling type of thing.” “Why, that was a study in arpeggios, just different right-hand fingerings for the same chord progression. By an Italian gentleman named Ferdinando Carulli.” “Arp … arpeggios, what’s that?” Miriam looked into Hank’s open, honest face. “Know what a chord is, Hank?” “Yeah, sure … well, no, not exactly.”
(1200 words) The boy hesitated, a wild lost figure in the silence of the London Square. They were all against him, these tall remote houses with their sense of order and permanence. He came from the outside, from the dark and cold which was not allowed to disturb the peace of those lighted rooms, and the people who lived graciously behind them. From a world where a penny Oxo cube with bread might be supper, and a pennyworth of chips and a tuppeny slice of fried fish a banquet. The boy consulted a scrap of paper underneath a gas lamp, and then ran forward, driven by a concern greater than his fear of intrusion. He lifted the brass knocker, then struck it twice against its metal base. He stood shivering on the doorstep, feeling as out of place as a fish on a cloud. He wanted to run back into the all-enveloping black of the night but was determined to pass on the message. Not just for the shiny shilling he hoped to be paid – a veritable fortune – but out of respect for his friend and mentor, Kezia. The door opened, and a man in a black uniform with a white collar looked down at the boy. “Go away before I call the police.”
(1150 words) Bed and board taken care of for the night, it was getting on towards six o’clock, so I thought I’d buy myself a beer and go out and sit in a deck chair by the swimming pool to take a little evening sun. I went to the bar and got the beer, carried it outside, and descended through the lawns towards the pool. It was a fine garden with beds of azaleas and tall coconut palms, and the wind was blowing strongly through the tops of the palm trees, making the leaves hiss and crackle as though they were on fire. I could see clusters of big brown nuts hanging down underneath the leaves. “Hey, Johnny, Johnny Goodfellow!”
(1150 words) “Look, Mother, the clock is running backwards!” Tom Coggle pointed to the hands on the pilot room dial. Dr Martha Jane Coggle said, “The crash must have reversed it.” “How could it do that?” “I can’t tell you. I don’t know everything, son.” “Oh!” “Well, don’t look at me so disappointedly. I’m a pathologist, not an electronician.” Tom looked at his mother’s wrinkled face, her greasy white hair and tired eyes, “Time can’t run backwards, for Pete’s sake!” Martha reached up to caress her aged skin. “Oh, if only it could, Tom. I’d be young again!”
(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.