(750 words) Here comes trouble, Kennard Ross thought, looking out of the window and seeing his son, Michael, coming down the garden path. He busied himself with shuffling papers on his desk. The door opened and Michael came in, looking around his father’s office-cum-shed, wondering at all the bookcases along one wall. What was the point of buying all those books and never reading them? “Morning, Dad,” he said. Kennard opened a drawer and took out a packet of cigarettes. Michael looked surprised, “I thought you’d given up?” Kennard extracted a cigarette and tapped it on the desk. Then he tapped it some more. “Is there anywhere I can sit?” Michael asked, looking over to a mound of mowers, cutters, and tools of various kinds. He supposed his father had a use for them, though he could barely remember him mowing the lawn, let alone cutting the hedges. Kennard put a cigarette to his lips. “Sit on the floor if you like.”

To Sleep, Perchance to Sleep

(750 words) I looked in the mirror and laughed. Where was my phone? I had to take a picture. My hair and face were covered with sticking plasters, holding sensors in position. Just below my chest was a black box into which were plugged perhaps thirty wires, attached to my head, neck and other parts of the body which seemed to have no connection to sleep. Lying in bed, it was hard to get comfortable, all the bulky connectors preventing me from lying in my usual foetal position. I lay, listening to the sounds of the hospital. There was a low hum from a fan somewhere, and outside, far off, a car door slammed in the quiet night. Then I was awake. All was silent. I looked at my phone. 2.13 a.m. I needed to go to the toilet.

In the Van

(750 words) Suddenly realising the vehicle in front had stopped, I slammed my brakes on and felt the jolt through the pedal of the brakes slipping. I began to skid and through the layer of snow on the windscreen could see the approaching red rear lights of a van. There was a dull thud as I hit it. I got out of the car to the shock of cold air and wet flakes of snow on my face. A huge man got out and stood, examining his rear bumper.

Behind Locked Doors

(750 words) “Look Mr Sissons, I’m sorry, that part of the graveyard’s no longer used, on account of subsidence caused by badgers. Please see Fred, the sexton. He’ll show you where new graves can be dug and sort out the availability, bearing in mind the … ah … timeframe.” The Reverend Samuel Everson got up from the pew, feeling a certain trepidation and hoping the matter was now closed. Edgar Sissons was a big man and leader of the local council. He wore a long black coat of thick woollen material and barred the reverend’s way. “Look, Reverend, my Auntie Nellie’s buried in that far corner, as you know. It’s my desire that my sister Dolly be buried next to her, God rest her soul.” Samuel Everson felt his hands growing sweaty. “Look, Mr. Sissons, we all have the greatest respect for Dolly, but when all’s said and done, she wasn’t a regular churchgoer here, and as I say –” “Listen, Reverend, it’s my wish that Dolly be buried next to her kith and kin and from where I’m standing I see no good reason she can’t be.

Four Red Roses: A Valentine Story

(750 words) Sandra Malone sat staring at her laptop. On the left side, a heart with a ribbon around it and the words, ‘To My Valentine.’ On the right, a blank page anticipating her inspired verse. She sighed. She’d needed the work and, as a poet – of sorts, had been recommended to Gibson’s Cards to crank out twenty Valentine verses and messages. After a morning’s work, trying to think of original lines using ‘Valentine,’ ‘please be mine,’ ‘heart,’ ‘never part’ and such, she was sorely tempted to rhyme ‘heart’ with ‘fart.’ That’d make Gibson’s sit up!

Ask and It Is Given

(750 words) “Walnut looks good – feast your eyes on this!” Tabby held up a brochure of baby grand pianos. All gloss and gorgeous swirling grain. “Very nice, but you’re forgetting three things.” “What?” “One, we live in a tiny flat, two, you can’t play the piano, and, three, we don’t have any money!” Tabby’s smile faded. “Well, I’m now creating my own reality through the Law of Attraction.” “So you keep saying. I don’t see any changes.” “The universe takes time to give you the things you ask for. They’ll come when they’re ready to come.” “Bollocks!”

Something to Do With the Sea

(750 words) Credited, usually, with the patience of a saint, I was nevertheless tested at times. “I’m looking for a book.” I looked up from my desk at the back of the shop, where I was cataloguing a copy of Pepys’s diary, bound in worn morocco leather that had no doubt, decades earlier, been an impressive maroon. The man was tall, ascetic, with a boyish face. His black hair was neatly parted and his nose was thin and pronounced. Ominously, he sported a dog-collar. “Ah, yes, what’s it called.” “Oh, that I’m not sure about. It’s quite a long title.” “Well, who’s it by? I can look it up for you.” “Ah, hmm, the name escapes me right now.” He gazed around the shelves intently, as if it were his first venture into a second-hand bookshop. I felt the first bubblings of annoyance. “Well, look, what’s it about. Is it fiction or non-fiction?”

The Diogenes Syndrome

(750 words) Saunders – no one seemed to know his Christian name, or even if he had one – lived in our village, and was reasonably infamous. They said that when sober he was intelligent, well spoken, and witty. He came from a very wealthy family, a household name indeed. When drunk, however, he didn’t wash or shave, was without principles of any kind and would shout vile insults at innocent passersby, whether he knew them or not. Unfortunately, he was nearly always drunk. Well, I’d heard stories about him – hurling abuse in the local pub (before being banned), somehow storing a large boat in his back garden which squeezed through his neighbour’s gates with just millimetres to spare, keeping rubbish in sacks in the garden, and barging into his neighbour’s house, dressed only in underpants, when the neighbour was entertaining guests.

A Kind of Peace

(750 words) “Hello, Darling, did you have a good morning?” “It’s half past twelve.” “Yes, I know it is. Is that a problem?” “I’m due at the dentists at two and I asked you to be back by twelve. I wanted to pop round to my mother’s first.” “For God’s sake. It’s only a twenty-minute drive to your mother's and twenty minutes to the dentist. You can still spend an hour gassing.” “No I can’t. She’s got to go out at one. That’s why I asked you to be back at twelve. Don’t you ever listen?” “Sorry, are you sure you told me?” “Of course I’m sure! Now I’ll have to go afterwards, so I’ll be pushed to pick the kids up.” “I can pick the kids up.” “No, I want to make sure they get home in one piece.”