Learning the Alphabet: A Memoir


(900 words) Resemblance to a schoolmaster gone for the moment, Dad would appear, jaunty, as if holding a big secret, which in a way I suppose he was. “Listen, children” – he never called us ‘kids,’ they were for goats, apparently. “We’re going to grandma’s next week.” My sister Helen, brother Steven, and I would … Continue reading Learning the Alphabet: A Memoir

Something Nasty


(900 words) My wife, Coral, had become rather ‘tubby,’ to put it kindly, fat to put it less-so, since the birth of our first child, Crispin, so I was pleased that after the Christmas festivities were over she began to take herself in hand. She’d leave little Crispin asleep with me or the babysitter to take an occasional walk, spurred on by the GetFit watch her mother had given her for Christmas. Well, I was tied up with a novel, the fourth in my series of Sargent Fosdick mysteries, and mighty pleased that Joe Public was finally shelling out his – or her – hard-earned to the relief of my long-suffering literary agent, Rupert. Anyway, for whatever reason I was finding it pretty hard going, trying to think of original twists and turns to the basically mundane ‘whodunnit’ plot, so was only vaguely aware of Coral’s increasing slavishness to the watch, just that the walks became daily, then daily jogs.

Stars in Her Eyes


(900 words) She wore khaki shorts and short ankle socks with brown leather boots, the old-fashioned kind. I noticed her breasts were small and hard from the petite lumps they made in the drab grey and olive-green T-shirts she wore. She walked with long strides of her slim, tanned legs, reminding me of a giraffe. There was something mysterious about her. “She has stars in her eyes, Phil,” said Tom, “and she has a sadness about her, I don’t know why, she doesn’t say much.” “Where’s Tom and Sally?” I asked her. Ilka kept her eye on the path, looking straight ahead. “Sally’s got diarrhoea. Tom’s staying with her at the Gite d'Etape. A couple of guys from the mule team will pick them up later.” She spoke softly, with an accent I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps Swedish or Norwegian? “I’m sorry to hear that. Food hygiene is rubbish here, isn’t it?” Ilka didn’t reply. She just kept walking with those long, tanned strides. I walked alongside, hoping she wouldn’t mind.

Dinner with the Colonel


(900 words) The door opened and Sue came in, carrying a basket of eggs. She pecked me on the cheek, put the eggs on a worn oak table and plumped herself down in an old armchair. “Well, I just had an interesting chat with Mavis in the shop.” “Oh.” “Yes, she said she was surprised not to have seen us at the service on Sunday.” “Why? We’re not religious.” “Yes, I told her that but she said the rest of the village was there and we were 'conspicuous by our absence'.” “Bloody hell, so now I’ve got to go praying to keep in with Clay Hill, have I?” Sue sighed. “Look, darling, it’ll only be once a week. Sing a few hymns, smile at people and we’ll be out in an hour. Anyway, Reverend Phillips has invited us to dinner tomorrow night.” “I’m playing darts with Tom tomorrow.” “Not anymore you’re not.”

The Wager


(850 words) The room blurred into focus and I could see a short, fat, brown nurse looking at me curiously. “Is it that bad?” I asked. She tried to smile but failed. “Many burns patients make good recovery from facial disfigurement,” she said. “Great.” She patted my hand. “We’ll look after you, don’t worry.”

Down and Out


(900 words) It was easy to ignore a down-and-out, someone who represents a world you don’t want to know about, when you were streaming past with other cinema-goers. Not so easy now the streets hereabouts were empty and there were just the two of us and the poor soul under the bridge, sitting staring into space in the chill October air. I walked over to the canal that ran beside the path and gazed into the black water, wondering if anything was alive in that strange, dark, oil-polluted world. Far off,  the clock in the town square struck the chime for a quarter to eleven. Suddenly I heard a scream.

The Boy in the Attic


(900 words) “Word of advice, young lady.” Shannon Morris pulled a face. “What, Dad?” “When Granddad tells you it’s time for bed, it’s time for bed, d’you understand?” “Oh God, they go to bed so early. Granddad thinks half past nine is late!” “Look, they’re good enough to look after you for two weeks. Feed you, wash your clothes, drive you into town; the least you can do is show them some respect. D’you hear me, young lady. Hey …” But she was already heading for her bedroom.

When the Fat Man Croaks


(900 words) “Death, I am not keen on, overmuchly,” said Donut Dave, turning a funny shade of yellow. “Well, I’m only passin’ on what I heard last night at Max’s,” I said. “Seems Big Cyril and da boys is out lookin’ for you. On account of you visitin’ Missy Cymbeline Banks, Cyril’s best gal.” “Sure, I seen her, but only to measure her up for a trombone, says she wants to learn in secret like, give Cyril and the boys a big surprise at the club one night.” Donut was a hot jazz piano player, so I guessed there was some truth in his story. “Well, the way I hear it, Cyril’s gotta surprise in mind for you, he’s gonna be measurin’ you up – for a pair of concrete pyjamas!” There was a knock on the door and Donut looked around frantically for somewhere to hide.

Sink or Swim


(900 words) Agnes stood at the edge of the assembled villagers gathered around the old stone bridge. On the bridge stood Matthew and Tobias, both blacksmiths, and Thomas the cobbler with his half-witted son, Jacob. The latter wore a leering grin as the two pairs of men lowered two women, tied around with ropes, into the scum-covered river Lud that formed a pool below the bridge. A cheer went up as they were dumped unceremoniously into the water. “Now we’ll see as they’ll sink or no!” laughed Susanna, the village candlemaker, then all fell silent as bubbles rose from the submerged bodies.

The Great and the Good


(900 words) I’d been distracted, adjusting my rear-view mirror, when this old codger had just lurched onto the zebra crossing out of nowhere. I wasn’t drunk but admittedly a couple of glasses of Shiraz at the theatre had perhaps dulled my reactions. Hannah and I looked and dressed alike so when we’d stopped the car, it was obvious he wasn’t sure who the driver had been. I breathed a sigh of relief as she did the ‘decent thing’ and saved my political career, ‘confessing all’ to the ambulance driver and the police.

The Old Fuse Trick


Martha came back from the ladies’ loo, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “You’ll never believe who’s in the Gin Room!”
“Who?”
“That actor, what’s his name, you know, the one who looks like Tom Hanks.”
I racked my brains. “Oh, you mean the one who was in that film, oh, what was it called? About the air force, you know.”
“Yeah, that’s the one. Ooh, he’s so dishy.”
I took a sip of my vodka and lemon. “Actually, I don’t care for him.” I put my glass down. “I always think Vodka smells like cement glue, don’t you? You know, that stuff boys use to glue kits together.”

Having the Family for Dinner


(900 words)

The day had started off fine – an early spring breeze, the snow crisp, its crystals gleaming in the sunshine and little icicles dangling from the pines. The girls were happy, pulling Jacob’s gear and some supplies on a small sled, whilst singing camp songs. “With my hand on my head and what have I here, this is my brainbox, Oh I do declare ….”
After photographing an ice-lake and the unexpected success of snapping a pair of bull moose sizing up for a fight over a female, it had suddenly grown dark. Jacob eyed the oppressive snow-laden clouds overhead. “Come on, kids, better head back to the Land Rover.”
Charity’s huge brown eyes looked up at him from beneath a green bobble hat. “How far is it, dad?”
“Only a mile or so,” he improvised. “Come on, let’s get back.”

Seeking Villa Nowhere


(900 words)

“It’s up there somewhere, Val,” said Edward, waving his hand towards snow-covered mountain peaks, far beyond the valley that held the roadside café we’d pulled up at.

I put a mug of pungent coffee down onto a weathered wooden table, it was too hot to hold in any case, and with my binoculars, scanned the forests of snow-laden pine trees, the bare, grey stone crags and endless snowfields. It looked like I could reach out and touch them, yet when I put the binoculars down, the mountains seemed impossibly distant. “I don’t see anything.”

Remembrance


(900 words) “Covered in shit, not in glory, that was the reality. The trenches … well, you can’t imagine the stench of them, and wet – water everywhere. They never seemed to dry out, even in summer. Then they’d stink even worse, like a toilet with piss all over the floor. “Our boots would be soaked and the socks our mums had insisted on giving us – in bagfuls – would be wet through, too. We’d laughed at them – ‘why are you giving me all these bloody socks? I do know how to wash socks, you know!’ – but you know what, when push came to shove, dry socks were like bloody gold dust out there. “And then Fritz would start shelling us. We’d be huddled down in the mud whilst the sky lit up, just like fireworks. Every now and then you’d hear a scream and you knew some poor sod had just bought it.

Your Head in Our Hands


(900 words)
“Remove any doubts from your mind, Mrs. Hawking. Our facilities here at Newton Cryonics are state-of-the-art. True, there may have been one or two, er, hiccups at the beginning, elsewhere, but you can have total faith in us, our cryogenic process has proved its reliability.”
“Alfred’s finding it hard to breath now. He’s not got long ….”
“Ah, good, now Miss Kelly outside will go through the protocol and form-filling with you. There’s just one thing. Did he want the full body or just the head?”
“Oh, what would you recommend?”
“Well, for most it comes down to price. Keeping the whole body at minus two hundred degrees is considerably more expensive over the long-term than just the head.”
Mrs. Alexa Hawking looked out of the window at the huge concrete hemisphere ensconced among neat lawns and flowerbeds that stretched out ahead. She fingered her white hair nervously. “Oh, just his head …. How long …?”
Dr. Zanoun gave a wry smile. “I can’t give you any definite figures, Mrs. Hawking. It could be a hundred years, it could be five hundred ….” He made a gesture as if juggling invisible balls. “But rest assured, your husband’s head will be safe in our hands.”

Evil versus Evil


(900 words)

“Hey, Johnny, Billy Stone’s going to get you after school.” It was Tony ‘Smiffy’ Smith.
“What?!”
“Says you’ve been messing about with his sister and he’s going to give you a fat lip.”
I felt a sudden queasiness in the pit of my stomach. “I talked to her at the bus stop. That’s all.” Susan Stone was pretty, intelligent and friendly, everything her brother wasn’t. I often wondered if they had the same parents.
“Says he’s going to knock your teeth so far down your throat you’ll have to stick a toothbrush up your arse to clean them.”

The Artifact


(875 words) ‘Out in space no-one can hear you scream.’ Well, Alice could hear screams all right. Her three year old twins, Adam and Toni, fighting. Adam wailed as Toni held an angry-looking, bright-blue shark just out of his reach. Being taller, she would lift it higher, just beyond his grasp, as he jumped up … Continue reading The Artifact

The Visitation


(900 words) “Head for the hills, ‘cos I’m looking for thrills …,” sang Hamish, his Scottish burr prolonging ‘thrills.’ “I could use some of those,” laughed Julia, a short, stocky woman in her sixties. I hoped she didn’t have me in mind. The sun was sinking, lengthening the shadows of saguaro cacti, towering here and … Continue reading The Visitation