(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 Alfred Marwood. “The little boy’s room, y’know.” “What?” “The restroom!” Marwood 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 Marwood. 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.
(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!
(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.”
(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.”
(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.
(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
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.