A Kinder Cure

(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.

Moonstones

(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.

Blue Is the Colour

(900 words) Can you imagine a world without colour? Dull, monotonous, and depressing are words that come to mind. I’d been a councillor for the past ten years, though my husband, Eric, hadn’t approved. “Why concern yourself with other people’s problems, don’t you have enough of your own, and what about me and the kids?” Well, actually, I did have problems, Eric had problems, our kids Sonny and Kara had problems, but they were nothing, and I mean nothing, compared to the problems of people I dealt with through my social services work. How can you compare not having enough space for a pool table to someone with cancer, their kids addicted to heroin, being evicted from their grotty flat and being confined to a wheelchair? Now, that was a problem!

A Hairy Godfather Calls

(900 words) - “You’ve got thirty seconds to explain to me what you’re doing here,” Rebecca Anniston said, staring in disbelief at the man in the sample lab. It was a secure area, no one should be here, let alone a scruffy, bearded man with a long multi-coloured scarf around his neck. “Or I’ll call security.” She pulled a paging device from her pocket. “Now steady on, lass, steady on.” The man’s face lit up with a beam. “Maybe I’m here to help you.”

Boys and Their Toys

(900 words) “You got a minute, Eunice?” It was Beryl, the boss’s secretary. “Sure.” Eunice relaxed, looking at the clock and noting it was only ten minutes till lunchtime. “What’s on your mind, hun?” Beryl was a sweetie, no mistake, and Eunice always had time for her. Beryl smoothed her olive-green linen skirt down over her hips and took a seat. She looked around to make sure no one in the sparsely populated office was within earshot. “Look, it’s Vashti.” Eunice felt shocked. Vashti seemed a quiet, kind type. “Why, what’s up?” Beryl blushed. “Look, nothing’s wrong, it’s just … it’s just…” “C’mon, spit it out, hun.” “Well, it’s just … it’s just,” Beryl lowered her voice, “Vashti’s building something in our backyard, something … huge.”

Contact

(900 words) The day my life changed was the day the lives of everyone changed. Finally, there was irrefutable, cast-iron evidence of extra-terrestrial civilisation. Evidence that couldn’t be fobbed off by governments as weather balloons, Venus, hallucination or just being plain drunk. But for me it was different. There I’d been, watching the whole shebang from my weightless viewpoint, floating around the International Space Station or ISS. “Hey, Jabez, there it is. I’ve got it on the viewing screen!” astronaut Vladimir Chekhov exclaimed. “Wow. Let’s have a look.” There, on our wall-to-wall cinema was a tiny pinprick of light, still tens of thousands of miles away but, without doubt, on its way to good ‘ol Planet Earth.

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 … 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.