(800 words) “David’s deer, where are they, mate?” A man in a dark green top and blue trousers stopped his work, brushing the floor of an animal enclosure. He eyed the young man – clad in dirty jeans and a grey hoodie – disapprovingly, “Père David’s deer, oh, they’re on loan for a few days.” “Well, they weren’t here last week neither. The bloke on duty said they were sleeping.” The zoo keeper sighed. “Well, animals have to sleep!” A girl with blonde hair in a pony tail joined them, linking arms with the young man. “Well, I went to see the giraffes and there was only one, in a smelly building. None out in the paddock.” The keeper began to brush the floor once more. “Well, what do expect me to do about it?”
(800 words) I stood at the front of my local Spiritualist Church, an honoured guest. “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you about my brother, Justin, and how he’s come back from the spirit world to give us all a message of hope.” There was a polite hush. “But before Justin speaks, I’d like to say a little bit about him.” Thirty pairs of eyes looked up at me with eager anticipation.
(800 words) Sprong and Brackett was distinguishable from other shops by the broomsticks, pointed hats and mountain of strange bric-a-brac in its bowed windows. Candles, crystals, and incense sticks rubbed shoulders with figurines of nature spirits, oracle cards and pendants of all shapes and sizes. Marcy pushed the door open and a bell rang. No one was around. She went through to the back and saw a small glass phial on a table. She put it in a pocket and left an envelope in its place. Then she hurriedly exited the shop.
(800 words) “Third row, third on the left.” The girl tore his ticket, then looked through Orlando Humphries as if he didn’t exist. Just as he liked. Orlando made his way down the hallowed aisle of the Wigmore Hall, a small but prestigious concert hall in London, England. The room was buzzing, the audience chattering … Continue reading Six Silver Moonbeams
(800 words) “Attribution theory, Michaels, that’s what I’m on about.” “Huh?” “You ascribing this holdup to external factors, to that goddamn Fight for the Earth brigade!” “Well, why else have they stopped drilling then?” “Maybe, something internal, like the idea that it’s dangerous, something we shouldn’t be doing.” “Why wait till now then?” Cooper took a last lungful of smoke and threw the cigarette stub onto the snow where it glowed like a used firework. “I dunno, anyway, one way or the other, Leibowitz has pulled the plug.” Cooper looked over to the towering rig among the jumble of huts, lights glowing in the otherwise dark landscape with just the snow-covered mountains in the distance for company. Beyond them lay Dawson city, the nearest thing to a town for hundreds of miles.
Word had it that Douglas Whiting wanted to kill someone. Someone, anyone, just to see what it was like. And it got back to him that, yes, a man named Norman Oliver was happy to be the victim. Well, perhaps not happy exactly, more resigned, his cancer untreatable.
So, early one evening Whiting knocked on Oliver’s door. A shabby door in a shabby house in a shabby street in a shabby town. Oliver answered the door and Whiting saw the man matched his surroundings, unshaven, a green cardigan with holes in it, old chequered trousers and worn-out slippers.
“Hello, you must be the man who’s come to kill me,” Oliver said.
Whiting looked Oliver in the eyes. “That’s right. You haven’t changed your mind?”
“Oh no, no, not at all. Come in, please come in.”
Compassion, word of the day, thought Stanley Brown. It was something he wasn’t used to feeling, but here he was, about to walk up a stranger’s drive. He quickly combed his hair, then with a brown-paper-wrapped package tucked into the pocket of an old great coat he walked briskly up to the porch, noticing the peeling white paint and patches of mould on the woodwork. There she was at the window, the thin wrinkled visage and the halo of white hair, peering out, a look of incredulity on her ancient face. He pressed the doorbell and heard a distant answering chime. The face disappeared from the window.
Looked at financially, the arcade had been a massive money-spinner. From the days of Atari Pong through Pac Man to the twenty-five grand Tomb Raiders II, punters had poured in. Then came the meteorite and the arcades, along with seven billion people, had been wiped out.
Now Sam stood at one of the only games that still functioned, a nineteen-seventies’ Space Invaders, attempting to zap the red spacecraft whizzing above the rows of aliens dropping bombs on his base. Bom-bom-bom-bom, faster and faster. “Damn!” His last laser canon was hit. Game over.
It was a beautiful day, thought Mr. FtF as he sat on the patio with his newspaper waiting for his wife to come down. Why did it always take her so long to get ready in the morning, he wondered? All that … preening! He put his paper down and gazed at the canal that flowed past the bottom of their garden. Purple liquid sparkled in the light of the two suns in a way that never ceased to amaze Mr. FtF. It depended on their positions relative to each other he supposed, as he sipped his kaffa.
Franklin’s father-in-law, Hamish McLeish, was something else; an ex-Sergeant Major who made his dislike for Franklin no secret. “The day my daughter marries a scatter-brained poofter poet is the day I hope I’ll be six feet under!”
Gregory padded along outside our patio doors, a young rabbit, obviously alive, suspended obscenely from his jaws. It hung there, almost touching the ground, petrified and staring blankly ahead as it swung from side to side, its silky brown fur ruffled by the breeze.
Like a little girl abducted from outside her school by a ghoul lusting for fresh lean meat, or a shrieking schoolboy plucked from his bed through an open window by the enormous hand of a ravenous giant, the rabbit was doubtless heading for the same fate.
“Oh my god, Paul, not another!” exclaimed Amanda, coming into the sun room. “He had one yesterday and I saw him with another one a couple of days ago. That poor little rabbit.”
“It’s nature. That’s what predators do, catch and kill their prey.”
“How’s young Sammy?” Uncle Ambrose would ask, on infrequent visits from his current abode in Paris, ruffling my hair with long bony fingers that hurt my scalp. His appearance always seemed to coincide with unspecified absences of my father, I noticed.
A moment later, he’d be unpacking his trunk. I would watch in awe as he unfolded his clothes and hung them in a huge wardrobe made of walnut. Green corduroy trousers, burgundy waistcoats, huge knitted sweaters in royal blue and cloaks of crimson. He was no shrinking violet!
Helena would go out every Friday night to meet Tom, a man who lived in an old railway signal box. He’d collect provisions from supermarkets, stuff that was beyond their sell-by date, and that they daren’t re-date. Let the tramps and ‘down-and-outs’ take the risk. Tom, Helena and sometimes a companion or two would drive a converted van out to a railway bridge and, beneath it, give out cups of soup, burgers, and re-heated chips to the down-and-outs who existed there. She felt a rising anger. “Aim higher than helping those in need, you mean?”
As the train gathered speed, Patrick Skerry suddenly remembered he’d forgotten to buy a car park ticket. He felt his face flushing. What to do? He looked across to an old lady with a wrinkled face, chewing her lip whilst staring blankly out at the blackened, graffiti-strewn buildings flashing past. She wouldn’t know what to do, probably start on an endless yarn about some wretched grandchild.
Then another thought hit him. Had he locked the car? He felt sick in the pit of his stomach. Surely he had? But, after all, he’d been in such a rush for the train he’d forgotten to buy a car park ticket!
“God in a box, gimme a break, I've been writing my balls off all morning!”
“Come on, you pwomissed. Anyway, how long does it take to write a five-hundred-word story for God’s sake?”
“All morning – if it’s for a magazine; it’s gotta be just right.”
“Well, what’s it about?”
“It starts like this. ‘You’re not going to eat that thing raw, are you?’ asked Prunella.
Jack laughed. ‘If it’ll keep still long enough!’”
“Yuk, what’s next?”
“You’ll have to buy the magazine to find out!”
“I think I may not bother. Now come on, Uncle Doris is waiting.” I sniggered at our private joke.
“Christ, Jesus wasn’t a patch on this guy, I’m tellin’ you, Harve!”
“C’mon, Daniel, you’re kiddin’ me, right?”
“I’m tellin’ you straight, he puts his hands on their shoulders, closes his goddamn eyes and two minutes later they’re healed. Cancer, heart disease, squints, you name it!”
“And you've seen this?”
“Goddamn right I've seen it. I seen it with my own eyes! Saul came to me first thing Monday morning. ‘Daniel, you ain’t gonna believe it,’ he said, ‘I took momma to see this new healer guy. After two minutes with the guy – Abraham he’s called – Wham! Her cataracts were gone!’ So, I took myself out to Shady Creek. He’s got a big tent set up. I watched for mebbe half an hour. Everyone he touched came away healed, I swear to God!”
“‘Course, it might have been a false one, to throw us off the scent,” said the constable.
“Maybe. These bastards are clever … Hi, who’s that?” said the inspector.
A dark blue Range Rover had just pulled into the car park at Strubby House. A woman in a red coat and matching hat got out, waving. “Cooee.”
Thirty minutes earlier, the two policemen, accompanied by a police artist, had taken the path from Strubby House to the Dower House. The latter was a square Georgian pile with tall, narrow windows. Against the gloom of the sinking winter sun it looked like an enormous tomb.
The path, an uneven gravel walkway, strewn with wet leaves, was lined by heavily pollarded beech trees on either side. Their stunted, blackened branches reminded the inspector of photographs of Holocaust victims, dumped in mass graves.
On the top shelf were antiques and bric-a-brac, and in the centre, an oil painting of a young woman in a white summer dress, standing in a garden amongst a rainbow of blooms. The price tag said £500. Thank God it hadn’t been sold! He pushed the door open and went up to the counter.
A small, wiry man appeared. His face was blotchy, and his eyes small and bloodshot. A thin grey stubble covered his cheeks and chin, and beneath a pointed nose, crooked yellow teeth formed something that might have been a smile. “Can I help you, sir?”
Suddenly, he slammed the brakes on. There, lying on the track about a hundred metres away was what appeared to be a young woman, wearing a white dress and hat. The shunter ground to a halt and he jumped out. A blast of roasting summer air hit him in the face. Man, was it hot!
He approached the woman. Her eyes were open. He thought she was the prettiest thing he’d ever seen. Early twenties, huge blue eyes, high cheekbones and full lips.
She gave a weak smile, showing pearly white teeth. Her dazed vision took in a hulk of a man, wearing shorts and a fluorescent yellow jacket, beads of sweat glistening on a bare, muscled chest. His face wasn’t young, but kind-looking. “Hi,” she murmured.
(800 words) “Invisible ink, Mrs. Parsons.” Elizabeth Parsons, holding a sheaf of blank paper, looked up at Mr. Umbridge, an expression of confusion on her pink face. “But why?” “Believe me, I don’t know, Mrs. Parsons. But your husband assured me that it would be visible under ultraviolet light. Alas, we have no such source on the premises. But I’m sure you’ll be able to buy one, or perhaps borrow one for the duration required.” “Do you know what he wrote?” “That I do not, Mrs. Parsons, and if I did, I’m afraid I still couldn’t tell you. It would breach client confidentiality.” “But surely now he’s dead?” “It matters not, Mrs. Parsons, the principle is paramount. However, …” He paused, gazing out above the bags under his eyes into Elizabeth Parsons’ bright blue orbs.