(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.
(1200 words) “Your mission, should you choose to accept it – but actually you don’t have any choice – is to go to 2034 to take out a gentleman named Eldred Banks.” “D’you mean, kill?” I asked. “Well, yes, if you put it like that.” “Why?” My controller smiled. “Well, let’s just say he’ll be in charge of a pretty nasty weapon, and it’ll be best for the future world if he’s not left to his own devices.” “How will I do it, then?” “Don’t worry about it. You’ll have help when you get there. It’ll be a piece of cake for a man of your talent!” “So where am I going, exactly?” He smiled. “Sunglasses and suntan lotion will come in handy, Tim. Tunisia.”
(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.
(1700 words) Oswald remembered his mother’s advice. “Never accept food from strangers.” “Why not mother?” he’d asked. “Well, if you buy it from Mr. Barmwell, the baker, you know he will have checked the ingredients and made sure they were all tip-top and wholesome. If you buy food from a shop, well they have important people who will have made sure the food is healthy and safe to eat.” “Yes, mother.” “But a stranger, well, they could have put poison in it, or worse!” Oswald scratched his head. “What’s worse than poison!” “Ah, well, there are potions that would turn you into a giant cockroach, or make your arms shrink to nothing, or turn everything you say into a scream of pain, or ….” “No, I won’t mother,” Oswald interrupted hastily, not wishing to hear further horrors. But now the wicked witch, for such was she, held out a crumb from the most delicious-looking cake Oswald had ever seen. “My mother said I mustn’t accept food from strangers.” “Ah, one little crumb can’t do any harm, surely?” Oswald, hesitated, then took the crumb from the old woman’s wrinkled hand and popped it into his mouth.
(700 words) I felt embarrassed. “Eavesdropper, moi?” The girl looked at me accusatorily, but with humour behind her pale grey eyes. She wasn’t pretty, not even attractive really, but she had ‘something.’ Her skin was quite dark, healthy looking, and she wore silver-rimmed glasses. Maybe it was her generous shape. Perhaps it conformed to a subconscious template we males lust after? “Well, what were you up to then?” She glanced back at her friend, a fat girl with bright blonde hair, presently shovelling spaghetti bolognese into her face, then looked me square in the eyes, raising her eyebrows.
(1400 words) I stared in total disbelief. I’d returned home from work to find my front door hanging from broken hinges and the whole house surrounded with yellow tape, stating POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS. I looked around. There were no police vehicles, that I could see anyway, and nothing happening at any of our neighbours’ houses. All seemed quiet and deserted. I ducked under the tape and went in. A table in the hall lay on its side, but in the lounge, everything seemed normal. Then I looked in the kitchen. It looked as if a giant arm had swept everything onto the floor. There were broken cups and plates strewn around everywhere. I spied a mobile phone amongst them, my son Jack’s, I thought. How odd. I picked it up and put it in a jacket pocket. As I did so, I noticed a dark stain on the brown kitchen carpet tiles, and what appeared to be speckles of blood all over the crockery. A saucepan on the stove, now cold, had a blackened base, as if it had boiled dry. “You’re not allowed in the house, sir!” I turned around and jumped out of my skin. A man stood in a yellow suit with a huge clear visor. Through it, I could see he was breathing with a respirator. He wore black rubber gloves and shoes. “What’s going on. Where’s my wife and son?”
(1450 words) Reaching the end, I closed my eyes and turned around on the plank by feel. Then I opened them again and looked back at Jessie, silhouetted against the top of the tall spire. I couldn’t see her face, just blonde hair blowing in the breeze, against the slate-grey tiles. She was stood on a platform close to the top of the steeple of St. Stephen’s church, Budhaven, one of the tallest in Britain. Above, on the very tip of the spire, a small but ornate metal cross surmounted a thick strip of copper lightning conductor which ran down the side of the steeple and ultimately into the earth. “You OK, Ben?” she called. I gave a thumbs-up sign. The plan was to photograph me for Facebook, standing at the end of a narrow plank with a four-hundred-foot drop below! Now, out here, the reality was a bit different. It was really quite breezy, it might be dangerous.
(1200 words) The weather was hot, the sky a clear, bright blue and the sun a burning orange disc. Most unusual for the English East-Midlands! I’d decided to take a drive out to the coast, having lived within striking distance of it for a couple of years, but whenever I’d previously thought of it, the weather had been cold and wet, the climate we normally endured. Now, it was as perfect as it was ever going to be. But the sea looked such a long, long way away. Hmm. I walked back to a nearby caravan park, proudly boasting its very own fish and chip shop, the English coastal obsession. The owner was friendly enough. “Oh, the sea comes well in, even up to the top of the dunes, just beyond the car park.” “Well, why isn’t it there now?” Apparently, it was the wrong season, tide, and/or year. I sat and ate my over-salted fish and chips on one of two benches, the totality of Skendlethorp’s visitor amenities, along with a rubbish bin, looking out to the distant sea. In the foreground was a huge sign warning of buried World War Two bombs and missiles in the currently-desiccated marshland that stretched out ahead. It stated that no reward would be given by the Ministry of Defence to anyone finding one. Well, that kind of made sense, they wouldn’t want to encourage idiots digging for unexploded bombs!
(650 words) “‘Clothes horses,’ that’s what she calls ‘em.” “Uh-huh.” “That’s all they do, walk up and down the deck, flaunting themselves.” “Uh-huh. That a problem, sir?” “Who, me? No … no, it’s just that she … that’s my wife, Josie, doesn’t like me looking at them. Says I shouldn’t ‘gawp at other women’s anatomy’!” The bartender wiped a glass, smiling wryly. “Well, you have to admit, sir, they’re lookers.” “They sure are. Those crazy long legs, long blonde hair, and low cleavage, showing their ripe mangos! What are they, dancers in the shows or something? I never see ‘em during the day, just the evening, ‘bout seven, I guess. Up and down, up and down they walk, eyes straight ahead. Till about eight.” “D’you ever get to speak to one?” “No, no, I mean, well they look too, er, haughty, I guess you’d say.” “Well, you’re wrong there, sir, it’s not such a big deal. Say hello, and pay ‘em a compliment. You’ll get a great big smile. And she’ll be happy to chew the fat with you!” “Really? Well, I guess I’d like to, but there’s Josie you see, she wouldn’t like it. Can’t say as I’d blame her.” The bartender put down the glass he was polishing, took another one from a shelf and poured a large shot of bourbon into each. “Here you are, sir, on the house!” “Why, that’s kind of you!” “You’re welcome, sir.” The bartender took a sip. “Look, sir, I’ll let you in on a little secret.” He winked.
(550 words) The sleek black police car pulled up, just ahead of a man, tall, leaning forward as he walked, as if forward motion was the only thing preventing him from toppling over. He had a distinguished face, probably handsome when young, thinning grey hair, silver steel-rimmed glasses, and a long nose. He looked up with surprise. Joshua got out of the police car. “Hi, Buddy, what are you doin’?” “Who, me? Just walking.” “Why? Don’t you know what’s on tonight? The final of The World’s Got Talent!” The man’s face looked blank. “I don’t watch TV.” “Don’t watch TV, you cannot be serious! Come on, man, everyone’s glued to the screen right now!” “Well, not me. I just wanted some … fresh air, exercise, you know.” “Actually, I don’t know, buddy. Think about Little Thelma, right now probably singing her heart out with The Nation’s Favourite Song. And you say you don’t wanna watch her!”
“Arabic garlic sauce, otherwise known as thoom. Freshly made.” Vernon Crowther held out a small glass bowl filled with something resembling a whiter version of mayonnaise. “It looks nice, sir,” said Jake Smeddlehurst. He was about twenty, tall and thin, with a pronounced jawline and black hair that flopped over his narrow face and passed his collar. His eyes were dark and sunken. They darted around furtively, avoiding the speaker. Vernon placed the bowl onto an occasional table, went back into the kitchen, removed his green and white striped apron and emerged, carrying a plate of vegetable slivers and Doritos. “Take a seat, Smeddlehurst.”
(850 words) Horncastle boasts a plethora of antique shops, from the smartest emporia of expensive furniture and rare porcelain to a converted church, shared by a number of dealers, with a myriad illuminated cases displaying bright, enticing jewellery and knick-knacks, to the chaotic and mind-boggling maze of bric-a-brac and junk that is Archer’s. But this picturesque town and its surrounding villages hold a dark secret. In the past two years, since January 2016, there have been twelve suicides, predominantly of young people under the age of twenty-one. An astonishing SIX times the national average.