(850 words) 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.
(800 words) 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.
(850 words) 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.
(800 words) 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!”
(850 words) 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.”
(850 words) “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!
(800 words) 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?”
(850 words) 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!
(850 words) “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.
(800 words) “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!”
(800 words) “‘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.
(850 words) 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?”