(950 words) Their mother's voice became serious. “Now the moon has gone through one cycle, it is time to make your own way in life. I will no longer be here to suckle you, and you must continue to wean on the fruits of the woods and farmers’ fields.” “But will we still see you, mother?” asked Blackberry, Sycamore’s brother, with a tear in his eye. “Yes, son, I will still frequent the same woods and fields, but it will only be a few moon-cycles before you will father leverets of your own. And just a few more before Bluebell, your sister, gives birth to her first litter.” “How exactly does that happen?” asked Sycamore, bemused. “You will find out son, never fear!” An older hare lolloped onto the moss. His coat had many curls and grizzled areas. Mother cleared her throat. “Now, I want to introduce someone to you. This is Uncle Ditch.”
(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 there along our way. Ahead, in the distance, across miles of flat, arid, semi-desert scrubland, lay a low range of hills, our destination.
(850 words) With a heavy heart, I’ve decided to set down here an event from my distant youth, one that’s been troubling me for many a year. I’m now five years short of my century, not long for this Earthly plane and I need to get it off my chest. Well, it would have been back in about 1933, those inter-war years I so fondly remember, when hope burned in all our breasts, and optimism exuded from every pore. We’d gone on a school trip to South Wales and were staying in a youth hostel, a converted lifeboat house.
(950 words) “Oh, look, darling, we simply must get rid of this ghastly furniture!” Reginald Wright rolled his eyes. “What’s wrong with it?” “Well, it doesn’t match for starters! And this green – thing – is ancient! Look, let’s order a new suite from McIntyre’s. They can do us a custom job. Top-of-the-range leather and how about a deep ruby-red? It’d suit this room to a tee!” Reginald held his tongue. Melissa was always right. Why argue? Her mother had died and left them a respectable sum. Now Melissa had her eyes on this old pile, Dalefern Manor, along with its almost-equally-old furniture. He replaced the dusty white sheets over the suite.
(900 words) Monastic life had its ups and downs. At first, it had been quite exciting, rising at 4.30 in the old Abbey in the summer, seeing mist covering the expansive lawns, whilst a golden glow on the horizon diffused over the orchard. Opening a window with its ancient leaded panes and breathing in that air, the air of creation. Taking it deep, deep into the lungs, holding it, thanking God for this life, and exhaling with gratitude. As the months went past and summer turned to autumn and autumn turned to winter, it wasn’t quite so exciting. The attraction of getting out of a warm bed onto stone-cold flags, and seeing your breath misting in the candlelight, not so appealing. Then a trip down a dimly lit corridor to fetch a jug of hot water for washing and shaving. Today, there was something wrong, the water was freezing cold, an ordeal to do my ablutions. Then out into the cold wind of the cloisters to the church and Vigils, the first service of the day. Brother Cecil greeted me, his double chin wobbling beneath his round pink face. “Having a lie-in Brother Paul?” “No, the water wasn’t heated, it took me longer.” Brother Cecil’s laugh sounded like a dog barking. “When I was a novice the water was never heated!”
(900 words) “What are you talking about, I don’t have a sister!” Maurice Humphries was taken aback. Surely this gentleman, the last of the group to arrive, was the Reverend Herbert Galton? Apparently to be accompanied by his sister, Dolly. “You are Reverend Galton, are you not?” “I am Colonel Galton. Kenneth. The reverend is my brother.” Humphries regarded the motley crew of walkers gathered underneath the old railway bridge at Woodman’s Hyde. They stood, shuffling, fiddling with maps and compasses, clad in brightly coloured tops sporting names such as North Face, Berghaus and Patagonia. The colonel, by contrast, wore a Barbour jacket and high leather boots, looking for all the world as if he were going on a pheasant shoot. “Oh, I don’t have you on the list,” Humphries said. “No matter,” snapped the colonel, “you can put me on it now.”
(900 words) “Are you serious? Do you really believe a machine can think?” I got no immediate reply; Maltravers was apparently intent upon the coals in the grate, touching them deftly here and there with the fire-poker till they signified a sense of his attention by a brighter glow. Finally, he settled back into his armchair. “I believe it possible, Hugh. Why not?” “Why not?” I exclaimed. “Well, because … because a machine is just nuts and bolts, or electric circuits, whatever. A machine doesn’t have a mind.” “Ah, but how would you know?” Maltravers took a cigarette from a silver case and tapped the butt on it several times. A singular habit he had developed.
(900 words) Early morning mist rose from the lawn as the funeral director led me into the mortuary. “Have you ever been in a mortuary before, sir?” “No.” “It’s cold.” He unlocked the door and led me into a large white room where racks stood against the far wall. There were six units, each consisting of three tiers on a moveable base. All but two tiers were occupied with white-shrouded objects. I made that sixteen dead human bodies. I deposited my holdall on a table. “Here’s his clothes.” The director looked through them, raising his eyebrows at the shoes. “Joe was a postman. We thought he’d like to be buried in his work shoes. He loved his work.”
(900 words) On the transatlantic flight, the valuable cargo was in a briefcase in a sealed blue bag, wedged between two security guards. Sleep and toilet breaks were taken in turns, so the precious cargo was not left alone for a second. Well, that was the theory …. “I’m heading for the bathroom,” said George Holland. “Huh?” said Sol Ferriss. “The little boy’s room, y’know.” “What?” “The restroom!” Ferriss laughed, “Oh, you mean the bog!” “You Brits!” Holland said as he got off his seat in a hurry and disappeared. What the hell was in this briefcase? wondered Ferriss. All he knew was that it had been a big … well, huge operation.
(900 words) End of life is never easy, Alfred Marwood thought. But at least he could have the television as loud as he liked now, without Susan’s nagging. “The televisions a bit loud, Alfred, can’t you turn it down?” And then there was the dishwasher. He’d never known there was a wrong way to empty it before Susan. And come to think of it, there were a dozen other things he’d miss about his wife like a hole in the head. He sighed and knocked on the door.
(800 words) “Commemorated for taking my clothes off! I want more than that. Go on, stick your needles in, make it hurt!” Henry Craig sighed, “One doesn’t stick needles in, one ‘introduces’ them. Please lie down.” The young woman lay on a couch. Through the open window she could hear the crashing of waves in the distance and, above her, the whirring of the ceiling fan took the edge off the almost-unbearable heat. What the hell was she doing here? Then she remembered. Amytal, Pentothal, Demerol, Nembutal, ‘Bennies.’ That’s what she was doing there.
(900 words) The light of hissing gas lamps lit up the old bookshop. Down below street level, Jeremiah Franklin looked up at the translucent street slab, sensing, more than hearing, raindrops spattering the paving stones, their noise barely perceptible through the door and windows above. It was four o’clock on a deadly dull Wednesday afternoon in December and Jeramiah felt inclined to close early, though the voice of his father, Harrold, rang in his ears, “Stay open to the advertised hour, lad, and people will trust your word … and your prices!” The bell rang and, before Jeremiah could ascend to the ground floor, a woman with a wet umbrella and an equally wet child, a young boy of about six, began to descend the stairs to the basement and Jeremiah’s desk. “Good afternoon, do you have such a thing as an atlas of Mexico and the South Americas?” she enquired.