I Dream of Diwana


thali 2

(850 words)

“Impressive isn’t it?” I smile.
“Oh gosh, have I got to eat everything?” says my wife, Laura.
In front of each of us lies a circular metal tray, in the centre of which stands a bowl of steaming rice. The grains are tiny, some coloured red, yellow or green. Surrounding it are small metal pots containing vegetables – some plain, some battered and fried, in a variety of sauces. One pot contains chopped tomato, cucumber and raw onion, and another, plain yoghurt. The restaurant is full of the aroma of curry and I’m salivating like crazy.
“Would you like anything to drink sir?” smiles a young Indian girl with deep brown eyes, darker than her dusky skin.
“Can I have Cobra please?” Laura asks for mineral water.
“I remember the first time I came here I ate the shrikhand with my curry! I didn’t realise it was a sweet.” I laugh, indicating a pot, half full of a thick yellow paste, inconspicuous amongst the others.
I serve myself rice, curried cauliflower, and some small pieces of potato in a thin, greasy-looking sauce. “Wow, this is hot!” I exclaim. They’d not spared the chilli! I spoon a generous portion of yoghurt on top. It’s delicious, my taste buds overwhelmed by the fiery, aromatic experience.
It’s September 1987, the seventh year of my marriage to Laura. The first years had been wonderful, although marred by frequent fights, but isn’t that usually the way? Her long dark hair still looks glamorous, but the pretty face has grown rounder and the pounds have piled on. Health problems abound with increasing frequency. Still, ‘Till death do us part ….’
“Impressive isn’t it?” I smile.
“We have bigger thalis in Gangtok!” says my partner, Lhamo.
“Really?”
She laughs, shaking her red-brown bob, her hooded cat-like eyes twinkling.
It’s September 1997 and once again I’m in Diwanas. I haven’t been here for ten years, but it’s like a time warp, everything seems exactly the same, even the waitress.
Lhamo isn’t eating a thali. Instead, she has a dosa, a long, rolled pancake, fried and filled with spiced potato, lentils and onion.
The restaurant’s packed, as always. A small queue stands by the door, resignedly waiting for a vacant table.
Lhamo looks apprehensive. “I need to tell you something.”
I know what’s coming. I’ve heard it often enough. “What?”
“I’m leaving, going back to Rasheb.”
I could save my breath. “Why?”
“I miss Ahmed. He needs me.” Her eyes mist over.
I take a mouthful of Cobra, close my eyes, and swill it round my tongue with my mouth slightly open. The light hoppy flavour mingles with those of butterscotch and dandelion. It’s amazing what you find when you really focus on something. Back to reality. “Please don’t go.” And I mean it. Despite all the problems with her estranged husband and her collusion with him, I really love her.
We’d met at a theatre group in our small town. There were a handful of good actors, the rest of us weren’t any great shakes. To my astonishment she’d taken a shine to me, saying I reminded her of Robert Redford, and it was only weeks before she’d moved in, leaving her fifteen year old son and husband gnashing their teeth. Soon that slim brown body and her willingness to please had made every bedtime an exquisite experience.
“Impressive, isn’t it, sir?” The Indian holds out the huge aubergine I’d been eying up outside his shop. “Only seventy five pence sir!”
I laugh, not wanting to lug vegetables around London, and tell him so.
“We’re open till 10 p.m. sir. You pick it up later!”
“Maybe.” I smile.
It’s September 2017, and I’m back in Drummond Street, just around the corner from Euston Station, inhaling the wonderful smell of curry that always envelopes the area. I pass other greengrocers, admiring the colourful displays of unrecognisable vegetables outside. Curious, I look at something resembling a bent white courgette, about 18 inches long. I wonder what it’s called and where it comes from?
Passing two Indian restaurants I reach the Ambala Sweet Centre. I remember how Laura and I would buy boxes of delicious sweets there – made from condensed milk, coconut and suchlike, flavoured with spices. My mouth waters at the thought of gulab jamun, small cardamom syrup-soaked doughnuts. I ask myself why Indians aren’t enormously fat?
I walk a little further to Diwana Bhel Poori House. As usual, it’s packed, even though it’s only 7 p.m. I’d like to go in. But not on my own. I gaze through the window at the crowded tables where I’d sat with Laura and Lhamo. A waitress is serving plates of steaming dosas. A car drives past playing Michael Jackson on the radio – Bad.
Suddenly it seems like yesterday. I wonder where they are and what they are doing right now. I feel an ache in my guts, of nostalgia and loneliness.

I walk back the way I came. Thankfully my mood lifts. Never mind Laura, Lhamo and the rest of those damned women, I’m going to buy that aubergine!

 

 NB. There is a 2000 word version of this story. Please click HERE to read.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 160! 

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

Promise Her the Moon


1 taj mahal

(800 words)

“Be polite and listen carefully,” said the old man to his four daughters, “and don’t speak unless you’re spoken to!”
Their names were Anshula, Bakula, Chandhini and Darshini. By the grace of God they had been born exactly three years apart so that all four shared the same birthday – today, November 1st – unique in all the land.
Anshula was 16, Bakula 13, Chandhini 10, and little Darshini just seven. Now they waited, dressed in beautiful saris, Anshula in maroon, Bakula in ruby red, Chandhini in royal blue and finally, little Darshini in emerald green. Their mother was considerably younger than her husband and now stood, nervously adjusting their saris and combing their long black hair. “He’ll be here soon. Be sure to stand straight and smile!”
There was a knock on the door which made them all jump. The old man answered it to a messenger, who proclaimed, “The Great Prince will be here within the quarter hour, he approaches the edge of town.”
“Thank you,” said the old man, handing the messenger a coin. He turned to his daughters. “You may sit until his Royal Highness arrives.”
The daughters sat down on two long sofas in the large, high-ceilinged chamber. The family were not rich but by virtue of the daughters’ shared birthday, they had acquired a certain fame. People would visit them, regarding them as holy due to the coincidence, and were accustomed to leaving gifts of money, sides of meat, fine wines and the like.
 –
PLEASE NOTE: AS OF 11TH DECEMBER 2017 THIS STORY, IN A SLIGHTLY EXTENDED VERSION, HAS BEEN SUBMITTED TO SEVERAL PUBLISHERS FOR CONSIDERATION AS A CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK, SO I’M REMOVING IT FROM THE BLOG FOR THE TIME BEING.
I’LL POST UPDATES HERE REGARDING ITS PROGRESS (IF ANY!)
[Nov 2019] This story is available in the full, extended version, in my book To Cut a Short Story Short, vol. II: 88 Little Stories
 –

From: manuscripts=highlights.com@email.submittable.com <manuscripts=highlights.com@email.submittable.com> On Behalf Of Highlights

Sent: 25 April 2018 17:03 To: Simon Wood Subject: PROMISE HER THE MOON

Dear Simon,

Thank you for sending us PROMISE HER THE MOON. We have had an opportunity to give it careful consideration. Although we enjoyed reading it, unfortunately, it is not suited to our present needs. Please remember that what we decline here may be eagerly accepted elsewhere. We wish you every success as you seek a home for PROMISE HER THE MOON at another publishing house.
All the best,
The Editors





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.


Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

To Cut a Short Story Short – The Book!


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I’m very pleased and excited to announce that the ‘best of my blog,’ in the form of 111 stories, has just been published on Amazon in paperback as To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories.

All the stories have been rechecked, and revised where applicable, and the book has over 250 pages. It also includes a 4000 word ‘bonus story,’ a ‘horror comedy,’ which will NOT be appearing on my blog. It is priced at just £8.99/$10.99.

A Kindle eBook version is also available at only £3.69/$3.99 and features a clickable contents list for quick access to any story.

In both versions the word count for each story is given in the contents table for ease of selection.

Description:

A young magician in a pub opens his hands to release a cloud of tropical butterflies; a female bookseller is forced to attend a dance in drag to atone for a misdemeanor; a lonely man searches for a mysterious woman on a cruise; four school friends experience terror on a caravan holiday, and a macabre stranger wanders the streets at midnight, stealing dreams.

Ranging from just 100 up to 4000 words, these and 106 other memorable little stories are found in this eclectic and tantalizing collection by Simon J. Wood.

To Cut a Short Story Short preview

[2nd Sep 2017] Also, I’m excited to announce that a talented voice actor/narrator, Angus Freathy, is producing the above book of short stories as an audiobook! It will be available on Audible, Amazon and iTunes by mid-November, just in time for Christmas! His ‘voices’ really bring the stories to life!

Angus Freathy audiobooks/samples

Angus Freathy bio/samples

Bound in Morocco

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The longest story on my blog (which is not included in the collection above) has recently been published separately in paperback and Kindle eBook. Entitled Bound in Morocco, it has 42 pages in the print version. It is priced at just £4.69/$5.99 for the paperback and only £1.99/$2.99 for the Kindle eBook.

Description:

Marcus Slater decides to forgo the cold, wet, wintry weather of England to join a walking party in the sunny climes of Morocco. There, against a backdrop of the curious, ancient towns of southern Morocco he meets the enigmatic Sylvia and finds himself embroiled in a game he cannot possibly afford to lose.

Bound in Morocco preview

Both books have wonderful covers and the paper quality is lovely. Highly recommended, and they make the perfect gift too! 🙂

Both books are available in paperback and Kindle eBook form on Amazon, worldwide.

Taylor Maid


sex-robot-10-19-15-1

(600 words)

“Imitated by many, matched by none!” Professor Norman King exclaimed, proudly gesturing to an image of a young woman on a screen behind him. “Bonita!“
There was a round of applause and knowing smiles were exchanged among the audience.
The professor stood at a lectern. He was tall, slim, tanned and had neat grey hair. He wore silver-rimmed glasses. To his right a sheet covered a figure, about five feet high.
“Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, what you’ve all been waiting for. Incidentally, we decided against Bonita mark 2.”
Polite laughter.
“So please meet… Fleur!” He pulled the sheet back and there was a gasp of astonishment. There stood a beautiful young woman of about 25 in a sleek red dress. She smiled and the professor passed her a microphone.
”Hello Ladies and Gentleman.” She spoke with a soft musical voice. “It is lovely to meet you. I am pleased to be the new flagship ‘companion’ of NJK Robotics Inc. I have been equipped with the very latest in artificial intelligence, hundreds of nano-servos for realistic motion and facial expression, and a new and unique, er, ‘internal manipulation’ device.” She laughed a mellifluous laugh.
There was a huge round of applause, then the professor continued with technical information – lifting ability, charging times and options such as skin and hair colour, breast size etc. Finally, he discussed typical jobs the robot could do – washing up, cleaning, ironing and, of course, the ‘pleasure’ functions.
“Now, before I take questions, the all important one. How much does she cost? Well the fantastic news is that the price simply consists of a negotiable deposit and a rental starting from just £100 a week – terms and conditions apply – and she is fully upgradeable, included in the rental. A catalogue is available with full specifications, but now, are there any further questions?”
“What are the main differences between Bonita and Fleur?” asked a scientific correspondent type, wearing huge black-framed glasses below a halo of wild blond hair.
“Well, primarily improved skin quality, movement and intelligence. She has improved learning capabilities too and some test models have learnt to drive and, indeed, passed the driving test on their first attempt!”
An excited murmur went around the hall.
“Can she be employed in a salaried capacity by a third party?” asked the same journalist.
“Yes, we are negotiating with the department of employment. She’ll have to be registered for tax and national – humanoid – insurance, then she’ll be eligible to undertake suitable paid employment on your behalf. You’d be entitled to keep 90% of all income, the remainder will go into an account for her personal use.”
“Blimey!” exclaimed a huge man in a patterned smock and leggings so wide they looked like pillars.
The audience laughed.
A middle-aged lady asked shyly, “is there going to be a male version?”
The professor smiled. “Yes, the first prototype is being tested as we speak. We hope to release ‘Kenny’ within six months.”
The woman spoke again. “Will he be customisable, er, down there.” She blushed furiously.
“Yes, I think you’ll find Kenny an, um, impressive companion, the professor said to general laughter. Several other women hurriedly raised their hands but the professor gestured for them to wait. “I wonder, could I just get a feel for how many might be interested in a Fleur or a Kenny? Please raise your hands.”
About three quarters of the audience did so.
“Ah, I should just add that we are also working on ‘Taylor’, a model with both male AND female, er, ‘characteristics’.”

Discretely, the remaining hands crept up…



Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 120! 
 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Contents – To Cut a Short Story Short – 20th Mar 2017


Here the stories are listed according to the categories in the menu, namely 100 word stories, 200 word stories, 300-600 word stories, longer stories, TASWG, excerpts and blog (links open in new window/tab).lilnks open in nw 

stone horse

100 Word Stories

1

Don’t Mind the Police!

30th Nov 2015

2

Dream of a Stone Horse

30th Apr 2016

3

Dumb

31st Dec 2015

4

Femme Fatal

31st Jan 2016

5

Life on Mars

31st Oct 2015

6

Speechless

31st Mar 2016

7

The Final Mystery

31st Oct 2015

8

The Majorette

Sep 30th 2015

9

The Suspect

30th Nov 2015

10

What the Devil?

29th Feb 2016

11

Yesterday’s News

30th Sep 2015

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

John Hancock Center's Tilt

200 Word Stories

1

A Controlling Interest

10th Jul 2016

2

A Dartmoor Childhood

15th Nov 2015

3

A Design for Death

3rd Apr 2016

4

A Friend in Need

24th Jan 2016

5

A Night on the Clown

17th Apr 2016

6

A Personal Experience

18th Oct 2015

7

Ad Pacem

24th Jan 2016

8

Addressing Impatience

22nd Sep 2016 

9

Adrenaline Junkie

26th Jun 2016

10

All Change

24th Jul 2016

11

Amid the Winter’s Snow

29th Sep 2016 

12

Another Splash

15th May 2016

13

Bouncers!

6th Mar 2016

14

Chivvers’ Foibles

29th Aug 2016

15

Cilice Sod

7th Aug 2016

16

Cocksure

12th Jun 2016

17

Death of a Dear Friend

24th Jul 2016

18

Double Trouble

20th Mar 2016

19

Duck Surprise

21st Feb 2016

20

Encounter on London Bridge

18th Oct 2015

21

Fox Meat in Aspic

13th Dec 2015

22

Hen Morning

1st Oct 2016 

23

Hopes and Arrows

17th Apr 2016

24

If Two Witches Were Watching…

10th Sep 2016

25

Incident at Clibbon’s Farm

24th Jul 2016

26

Legless in the Park

15th May 2016

27

Little Pricks in the Night

18th Sep 2016

28

Lobar Limbo

13th Dec 2015

29

Marley’s Spirit

6th Sep 2016

30

Mementoes

7th Aug 2016

31

Mind Your Subconscious!

27th Dec 2015

32

Mirror Man

12th Jun 2016

33

Miss Chan Takes a Trip

27th Dec 2015

34

Mysterious Ways

3rd Apr 2016

35

Nibiru

29th Nov 2015

36

Orwyn’s Ring

7th Feb 2016

37

Peer’s of Wigan

29th Nov 2015

38

Play with Emotions

27th Dec 2015

39

Rest Room

1st Nov 2015

40

Reunited

15th Nov 2015

41

Seeing What Isn’t There

26th Aug 2016

42

Sheldon’s Secret

21st Feb 2016

43

Si Vicium In Petasus

1st May 2016

44

Take A Long Holiday..

10th Jan 2016

45

The 100th Story

24th Sep 2016 

46

The Blob from Outer Space

7th Feb 2016

47

The Coffee Break

6th Mar 2016

48

The Girl from the Labyrinth

10th Jul 2016

49

The Neighbour

15th Nov 2015

50

The Other Woman

26th Jun 2016

51

The Real Doctor Lamont

1st Nov 2015

52

The Saltby St. Mary’s Murders

1st May 2016

53

The Scrying Game

29th May 2016

54

The Story of a Bullet

10th Jan 2016

55

The War and Starvation Diet

20th Mar 2016

56

Tiger Tiger

29th Nov 2015

57

Titus

29th May 2016

58

Where is Your Mind?

10th Jan 2016

boy-girl-holding-hands

300 – 600 Word Stories

title

‘publication’ date

no. of words

1

A Flick of the Knife – A Halloween Story

30th Oct 2016

600

2

A Labour of Magick

13th Feb 2017

600

3

A Saucerful of Bullshit

27th Oct 2016

400

4

Amid the Winter’s Snow – 500 word version

7th Nov 2016

500

5

Blind Panic

15th Mar 2017

600

6

Clarissa’s Missives

8th Feb 2017

600

7

Copperwood

27th Feb 2016

500

8

Erection and Resurrection

10th Nov 2016

600

9

Falling for the Boss

25th Mar 2017

500

10

Flip Side

3rd Feb 2017

600

11

Heartless Desires

14th Apr 2017

600

12

Here Comes the Sun

7th Dec 2016

500

13

If Two Witches Were Watching – 400 word version

9th Apr 2017

400

14

Inventions Я Us

1st Sep 2016

300

15

Killer on the Road

20th Dec 2016

500

16

Lucifer’s Kitchen

29th Jul 2016 

500

17

Luck of the Devil

12th Nov 2016

500

18

Medium Rare

20th Oct 2016 

300

19

New Year’s Eve Ritual

19th Jan 2017

500

20

Playing God

16th Oct 2016

300

21

Saint Teresa of Woking – 600 word version

1st Feb 2016

600

22

Scene in a Lincolnshire Churchyard

10th Mar 2017

500

23

Steal a Little Dream

3rd Nov 2016

500

24

Taylor Maid

30th Mar 2017

600

25

Teeth Can Wait

25th Mar 2016

500

26

Tetford, No Ordinary Village

27th Jun 2016

500

27

The Black Swan

29th Oct 2015

590

28

The Downfall of British Journalism

28th Feb 2016

500

29

The Fabled Fox

24th Jan 2017

400

30

The Hollow Santa

25th Dec 2016

500

31

Tiny Demons

3rd Dec 2016

600

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Longer Stories

title

publication’ date

no. of words

1

A Merry Dance

29th Dec 2016

1000

2

Black Swan, Green Lizard

15th Dec 2016

700

3

Bound in Morocco: Part 1 – ‘Welcome to Marrakech!’

17th Jan 2016

7224

Bound in Morocco: Part 2 – Blue Painted Rocks

17th Jan 2016

 

Bound in Morocco: Part 3 – 50 Jour a Tombouctou

17th Jan 2016

 

Bound in Morocco: Part 4 – Ibrahim

17th Jan 2016

 

Bound in Morocco: Part 5 – Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack

17th Jan 2016

 

4

Don’t Know What to Write?

23rd Feb 2017

800

5

Elf Service

14th Jan 2017

700

6

Fibonacci ‘n’ Chardonnay

11th Dec 2016

700

7

Full Fathom Five

5th Mar 2017

1300

8

Gone Fishing

29th Jan 2017

700

9

Ringing the Changes

1st Mar 2016

1750

10

Saint Teresa of Woking

22nd Aug 2016

1167

11

The Rump of Midas

9th Jan 2017

700

12

Voices from the Ether

11th Dec 2015

1000

13

Zip It!

4th Jan 2017

900

nuns-having-fun-12

TASWG (Tetford and Salmonby Writers’ Group)

1

Are You Being Served?

10th Apr 2016  – TASWG

1414

2

As Jehovah is My Witness – dialogue

8th May 2016  – TASWG

231

3

Biggest Brother – SF plots

12th Jun 2016  – TASWG

459

4

Get in the Habit!

12th Jun 2016  – TASWG

500

5

Legend of the Sprogge – poem

14th Feb 2016 – TASWG

216

6

Love, Let Us! – acrostic poem

14th Feb 2016  – TASWG

62

7

Mortal Gods – cover art description

14th Feb 2016  – TASWG

390

8

My Name is Ian Z McPhee

10th Apr 2016  – TASWG

627

9

Out of the Woods – story with/without clichés

13th Mar 2016  – TASWG

400

10

Stripogram Girls – potential plots

13th Mar 2016  – TASWG

604

11

Summer is Springing Up – descriptive passage

8th May 2016  – TASWG

252

12

Terrace with Tortoises – scene description

13th Mar 2016  – TASWG

321

13

The Roaring Sun – poems

12th Jun 2016  – TASWG

67

14

Walls Have Mouths

10th Apr 2016  – TASWG

782

15

Where Am I? – riddle

8th May 2016  – TASWG

91

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Excerpts

1

Having a Laff (20 short extracts from published posts – humour)

18th Feb 2017

1000

2

Hibars and Lobars (20 short extracts from published posts – SF/fantasy)

30th Dec 2016

850

3

It’s Supranatural! (20 short extracts from published posts – supernatural)

4th Apr 2017 (scheduled)

1000

4

So Many Ways to Die (20 short extracts from published posts – horror)

29th Nov 2016

1000

5

Tiny Yellow Kites (20 short extracts from published posts – general)

4th Sep 2016

800

6

Violets are Violet, Letters are Read (20 short extracts from published posts – general)

6th Oct 2016

1200

dream reader picBlog

1

Onwards and Upwards

24th Aug 2016

500

2

Titillating Titles and Tantalizing Taglines.

27th Aug 2016

300

3

This Post is Dedicated to You, Dear Reader 

3rd Sep 2016

500

Having a Laff (excerpts)


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20 Little Excerpts from the Humorous Side of My Blog

(links open in new window/tab)

It was a dull claustrophobic December day and flakes of grey-white snow were settling on the terrace behind King’s Antiquarian Booksellers. Maggie Swann, matriarch of Swann’s Rare Books, crossed it to enter an annex. Inside, in eerie silence, anonymous leather-bound volumes filled dusty bookcases. –  A Merry Dance (1000 words)

Deeply absorbed in my lunch at Olive’s, I heard my smartphone buzz with a message. ‘Please bring October figures to the Saudi meeting. Vernon.’
Damn! I’d forgotten it’d been rescheduled; I had just ten minutes! I ran outside to a nearby taxi rank, ominously vacant. – A Night on the Clown (200 words)
Vulgarity is the poor man’s religion!” said Sheldrake, battling against the loud chatter and raucous laughter of the Crown and Anchor’s early evening trade.
“Who said that?”
“Oscar Wilde.”
“No he didn’t!”
Sheldrake banged the table. “Well he should’ve done!” – Chivvers’ Foibles (200 words)
After the office I’d address my lascivious thoughts of the women there. I had my little ‘collection’ – hair shirts, a lightweight five-tailed ‘discipline’, and others. Dissatisfied with Hail Mary’s and the like, I’d mop up the blood with an old towel. Perhaps I was a little…odd? – Cilice Sod (200 words)
‘Parker’, that’s what they calls me, on account of I’m a nosy sod, know what I mean. Anyways, I’m a pot-man at the Universe club and the guvnor tells me to ‘keep an eye out for anything untoward’, know what I mean? – Cocksure (200 words)
“Police state, that’s what this bloody place is becoming!” Arthur complained, looking up at the mandible poking incongruously from beneath a peaked cap.
The policeman’s protruding eyes swivelled down at him… – Don’t Mind the Police! (100 words)
“World domination’s never actually been my bag dear boy,” said Charles, striding across his study in a purple dressing gown and paisley cravat. “And there’s my bad back and dicky heart to think of, you know.” – Double Trouble (200 words)
I took a short cut through the adjoining park, passing along a walkway, bounded by burgeoning shrubs, to a fountain, sparkling amongst pink rosebushes. A statue of Pan stood nearby.
I enjoyed the gentle sound of water. Then, something black loomed, I looked up and saw two nuns. Their countenances were grim and masculine. –  Get in the Habit! (500 words)
“Excuse me, I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation.” A lady in a long red dress stood at our table. “Only, my husband and I have a disagreement.” She gestured to a corner of the crowded restaurant, to a man with coiffured white hair. “And we’d like you to decide who’s right.” – Hopes and Arrows (200 words)

Through Lincs’ fair wolds, did roam at large
the evil Sprogge, oh loathsome beast!
Half plant, half man, half monstrous thing
on teeny tods did feast.

Past Tetford Church the Sprogge did lurch,
its eyes did mulder and burn.
It munched upon a teeny tod
then tavern-wards did journ.

Legend of the Sprogge (poem)
Hating the idea, I am nevertheless obliged to cooperate with Mellors’ latest ‘prank’, another outrageous practical joke for his YouTube channel.
I hide behind a tree with my video camera focused on him. He sits, smirking, on a camping stool at the side of a path. In front of him lies Frank, especially selected on account of his prosthetic leg. – Legless in the Park (200 words)
‘Pulpit John’ was the title of a colourful biography, published by St. Patrick’s Church, about Father John McCormick. Garlic on his breath now wafted through the confessional screen there.
“Bless me Father…” – Mysterious Ways (200 words)
“Wigan’s the place for podiums!” said Sue, waving her baton at an imaginary orchestra.
“What about Amazon?” her sister Shirley replied.
“I want to go to the podium shop!” The baton flew across the room hitting the cat, Dr. Evil, on the head. – Peer’s of Wigan (200 words)
The audience hushed and the curtain opened. A woman sat at a table drinking Blossom Hill chardonnay and reading a letter. “Oh my God!” she exclaimed, standing up and bursting into tears.
A door opened and a teenage girl dressed in torn jeans entered. “Mum, I need twenty quid!” – Play with Emotions (200 words)
Goddamit! The president recalled the previous evening when he and the First Lady had hunkered after a chicken curry. An aide had been sent out for a native Indian dish, returning with something aromatic and fiery. Very fiery.
“OK, …I need the rest room…” – Rest Room (200 words)
In the bar were about a dozen people seated on wooden benches at old oak tables – the furniture looked like it had been there since the pub was built. At the back of the room a small fire burned in a large fireplace, surrounded by bottles, horse brasses, unrecognizable farm implements and other dust-covered relics of the rural past. – The Black Swan (590 words)
From a speck of jelly-like substance, the organism had doubled its size every hour. Now just twelve hours later, it was pushing up the laboratory ceiling, a huge white blob of viscous cellular material. – The Blob from Outer Space (200 words)
Holmes took out a magnifying glass and looked carefully at the marks.
“One and five eights between the studs Watson. Don’t you see – the Bridlington quartz mine!”
“Good Lord Holmes! But…?” – The Final Mystery (100 words)
She looked at herself in the mirror. Long brown hair, good skin. Not much wrong there. Maybe it was her breath? She cupped her hand over her mouth and nose, inhaling the odour of garlic – but who didn’t like garlic?! – The Neighbour (200 words)

She thought of her little village, Saltby St. Mary’s, recalling balmy summer evenings at the cricket pitch, sipping champagne by the walls of the ancient church, only the occasional ‘thwack’ of willow on leather breaking the peaceful silence. – The Saltby St. Mary’s Murders (200 words)



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The Hollow Santa


santa-booty
(500 words)
Christmas 2026, and we had our best tree ever! It was green and frosted silver, perfectly proportioned and reached right up to the ceiling. Its branches were adorned with opalescent silver and golden balls, crimson poinsettia sprays and gold-frosted holly leaves. Giant white snow flakes twinkled in the light of red candles, suspended in the tree. A small railway track threaded its way through the branches and every few minutes tiny headlights would announce the appearance of a train.
“Oh look!” squealed my daughter Nancy. With her padded bra, make up and hair extensions, she was twelve years old going on twenty. “This one’s a steam train. With elves!”
The tiny vehicle appeared, puffing clouds of white smoke and a carriage full of green-clad ‘little people’ waved to us and cheered.
At the top of the tree stood a beautiful angel, her wings and arms tinged with snow. Every so often she would smile and bow, fluttering her wings. In her left hand she held a sprig of mistletoe.
At the base of the tree lay a pile of presents, beautifully wrapped in grey, silver and gold with simple curly ribbon and evergreen pieces.
“Which ones are mine?” Desmond, my nine year old son asked eagerly.
“Those five on the right,” I said.
“That’s not fair, he’s got more than me!” said Nancy.
Suddenly the lights flickered with a momentary power fluctuation and the tree vanished, leaving just the presents looking forlorn on a bare expanse of parquet flooring.
“Hey, what’s going on?” exclaimed the children in unison.
“Sorry kids, looks like I need to reset the tree.” I went to the control box and flicked a switch on and off. Magically, a silvery light flickered, and wham!  the tree was back.
“Ho ho ho!” A huge sled, laden with presents and pulled by four pairs of reindeer appeared through the wall. It stopped in front of us and I could see and smell the animals sweat. These holograms just kept on getting better!
There were two figures seated at the front. A gentleman dressed in red with a huge white beard and a red hat, and an attractive young brunette in a short red fur-trimmed skirt.
“Well Merry Christmas to you all!” said Santa stepping off the sled and patting a reindeer.
“Merry Christmas Santa!” said Desmond.
“Don’t be stupid, he can’t hear you, he’s not real!” said Nancy.
My wife Lucy appeared. “Now, now Nancy, don’t spoil things.”
“Well, have I got a treat for you!” said Santa, holding the young lady’s hand as she got off the sled. I noticed her tunic seemed to be under some stress. She smiled, and started to unbutton it, revealing large breasts in a skimpy red bra. Meanwhile Santa was unbuttoning his trousers.
“For God’s sake, turn it off!” shouted Lucy.
I lunged for the control panel just as I heard the children gasp. Damn!  It looked like I must have left it set on the ‘adult’ version…

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Fibonacci ‘n’ Chardonnay


fibonacci-spiral
(700 words)
Suzy tries to control herself, not wishing to give in to animal instincts. Yet. Her new ‘date,’ Stephen, gestures out through the Alfa Romeo’s window. “You can see it’s mainly built on one floor. It has a special layout, it’s perfectly rectangular.”
She can’t believe her luck. Her internet date, for once, turned out better, far better, than expected. Attractive, wealthy, intelligent and damn sexy!
He gets out and opens the car door for her. What a gent!
As she gets out her skirt rides up, flashing damp knickers. Did he notice? Better let him make the first move though. She doesn’t want him to think she’s a scrubber.
They enter a square foyer with a large painting of sunflowers in vibrant acrylic yellow.
“Suzy, come into the study, I’ll get you a drink.”
Books line two walls. On the other two are framed certificates. She examines one – Archibald S. Clarke. First prize. Interschool Mathematics Competition 1976. She sees him looking embarrassed. “Is that you?”
He laughs, taking a book from a shelf, ‘The Fibonacci Conundrum’ by Stephen A. Clarke. “My first book! Yes, I relegated Archie to second place. What would you like?”
“Can I have white wine please, chardonnay if you’ve got it. What’s it about?” She tries to seem interested, her mind anticipating the carnal pleasures hopefully to come.
He pours her a large chardonnay. Scotch for himself.
“Take a seat.” He gestures to a sofa in deep ruby-red leather. “It’s about a very interesting series of numbers.”
“Oh.” She feels embarrassed. She was bottom at maths in school. Still, she had the biggest boobs, so she was popular with the boys. She’d lost count of the number of ‘knee-tremblers’ behind the cycle sheds. She sips some wine. “This is heavenly.”
“Oh good.” He continues, “it’s basically simple. If you can add two numbers together!”
Hmm! She forces a laugh.
“It starts with one, then one again, then the sum of those, two. Then you keep adding the previous two numbers together. So the next number’s three, then five, eight, thirteen, twenty-one and so on.”
She giggles. “If you say so!”
“This house is designed using those numbers! Let me show you round!”
God, I hope this doesn’t take long! There’s only one room she’s interested in.
“So, as you come in there are three small cupboards, one foot square and two foot square. Then there’s a cloakroom and toilet, three foot and five foot square. With me so far?”
“Sort of!” She thinks he might be a weirdo.
“The entrance hall’s eight foot square, and then this study’s thirteen foot square.”
“Uh-huh”
They pass into a beautifully appointed kitchen/diner. “This is twenty one foot square.”
“Oh, Stephen, it’s lovely!” Despite her misgivings she can just imagine serving beef bourguignon with artichokes to his admiring friends there.
“Finally, the pièce de résistance!” He opens the door to a huge room, reminiscent of an art gallery. It has a wooden floor and paintings all around the walls. “I painted some of these myself.”
“Wow!”
There are pink and turquoise sofas, and a grand piano.
“Thirty four foot square!” He smiles into her deep blue eyes, as if he’s only just noticed her. In the corner an elegant spiral staircase leads upwards. “That goes to the bedroom and bathroom. Would you like to have a look. I’m afraid they’re not built to Fibonacci series specifications.” He laughs.
“Thank God for that!”
She can’t restrain herself any longer and kisses him on the lips, holding him tightly and letting her tongue intertwine with his.
Suddenly a telephone rings and he answers. “Hello, Stephen Clarke…oh…well, I thought you weren’t…um, not really right now…oh, y-yes, of course…yes, see you later.” He turns, blushing furiously. “I’m frightfully sorry, that was my, er, sister… She wants to stay tonight. I couldn’t say no, she’s, having, um, marital problems right now.”
Suzy feels numb with shock.
“You’ll have to go I’m afraid. She’s very prudish. There’s just time to run you home. I’m really sorry.”
She struggles to regain her composure, desperate to see him again.
“Well, could I borrow that Fibber Nazi book?”

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Ringing the Changes


(1750 words)   [original ‘publication’ date Mar 1st 2016]

I

Leaving the dreary wet concrete of London behind me, I zoomed along the motorway on my way down to Sussex. It felt great without Lucy moaning that I was going too fast. Sod her!
In warm sunshine, I drove along Poverty Lane into the village of East Chillingham, Shakatak’s Nightbirds’ thumping beat on my player. I spotted an old woman cutting her hedge with hand clippers and pulled over. Beneath a green wide-brimmed hat, straggly white hair fell over a crinkled face.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for the church.”
“What for?”
“I’m going to a wedding, Tony Simmons and Reverend Sue Sutton.” I thought she might have heard.
She grimaced, showing crooked, yellow teeth. Without speaking she jabbed her clippers away from her, in the direction of a turn to the right, perhaps 50 metres away.
“Oh, d’you mean I turn there?”
She didn’t reply, putting her head down and carrying on with her self-appointed task.

Taking that as an affirmative, I turned right and drove perhaps a mile down a narrow road, shrouded by overhanging greenery. Occasionally, rays of sunlight pierced the canopy, dazzling me. Finally I came to an ancient stone church with a number of smartly dressed folk outside. Adjacent to the church was a field with cars parked in it. I drove past the guests self-consciously, hoping, perhaps, to hear a cheery greeting, but only drew inquisitive, indifferent glances. I parked the car, checked my hair and tie in the mirror, and braced myself.

II

A few days previously I’d awoken early. At 5.30 a.m. the kettle was struggling as I’d looked out of the window in the semi-darkness, gazing over a dreary cityscape and watching raindrops running down the window. They ran their random paths, sometimes merging into one; Like our lives…I thought.
The light flicked on. “What are you doing?” said my ‘partner’ Lucy, cadaverous, and without make up, looking scary.
“I couldn’t sleep.”
“I noticed.”
“Well you could have stayed in bed,” I remarked.
“It was cold. Without you…”
Hmm...“You know it’s Tony’s wedding on Saturday?”
“You did mention it.” She looked away, fussing over Sam, our arrogant Russian Blue.
“Well? He’s invited us.”
“For Heaven’s sake, you haven’t seen him in years. Just e-mail him to say something’s come up.”
“Look, I want to go. He was my best friend, we went through hell together. You decide whether you come or not…”
She turned, her backbone prominent through her nightgown, short enough to show slender pale thighs. Without saying anything she went back to bed.

I made tea in a small chipped white pot, feeling irritated. I wanted to see what Tony had got himself into – I’d heard he was hooked up with a female vicar. Rumour had it that he’d even moved into the vicarage. Because of her status though, there was some knot-tying to be done. Maybe he’d ‘got’ religion, or she was something special? Whatever, I intended to find out…

III

“Johnny! Johnny Hardacre!” A man with curly golden hair strode towards me, a big smile illuminating his handsome face. It was Josh, a mutual friend of Tony’s and mine. I was relieved to find someone I knew and he clasped my hand with a warm, firm handshake. “Hi Johnny, lovely to see you. How is Fiona?”
“Oh, I’m with someone else now. What about you?”
As if in answer, an attractive woman in her late thirties, accompanied by two young children, joined us.
“Johnny, this is Matilda, and my kids, Ronnie and Jude. Matty, this is Johnny, we were in the army with Tony.”
She smiled at me, her grey eyes staring into mine. “Lovely to meet you Johnny.”
“Where’s Tony?” I said, after exchanging pleasantries.
“He’s in there with his dad. It’s so lovely out here we thought we’d mingle for a bit.”
“I think everyone’s going in now,” said Josh.
We followed, admiring the white-painted stone walls, old oak pews and stained glass windows, the colours brilliant in the sunshine. The organist, a white haired lady with huge black-rimmed spectacles, was playing Franck’s Panis Angelicus. She reminded me of an ancient Michael Caine.
Matilda nudged me and nodded towards the front. Three smart-suited men in grey sat on the right. Two were practically bald.
“Where’s Tony,” I whispered.
“That’s him on the left, then his dad then his brother Roy.”
I went forward and tapped Tony’s shoulder. He turned around and I was surprised to see that, despite losing his hair, he seemed not to have aged – his face looked fresh and full and his green eyes shone. He stood and smiled. “Johnny, thanks so much for coming. It’s great to see you again mate; it’s been too long!”
I took a place in the fourth row with Josh, Matilda, Ronnie and Jude, the latter sitting on ‘kneelers’ and giggling. Looking around, I saw no-one else I recognised but got a shy smile from an attractive teenage girl behind me, a white flower fastened in her long blonde hair.

The music changed to Wagner’s Bridal March and an expectant hush fell. All eyes turned to the door.

IV

An usher opened it and in walked the Reverend Sue Sutton, tall and slim, striding purposefully, accompanied by a stocky, bald headed chap in a smart silver-grey suit, presumably her father. Two young bridesmaids dressed in emerald green followed. Nothing marked her as a member of the clergy; she wore a cream silk dress and a wide-meshed veil so that her face wasn’t clear from where I sat.
As they approached I sensed something familiar about her. When almost level with me I felt my gut wrench. My God! it can’t be. But it is, surely! The high cheekbones and slightly hawk-like nose of the Reverend Sarah Stratton, ex-vicar of the Church of St. Olave’s, Coffney, were unmistakable. I saw her step falter as she saw me, then she regained composure.
Reverend Sue Sutton, Reverend Sarah Stratton, of course! It all added up. Sarah, leader of our bell-ringing group, the Coffney Campanologists. Sarah, always willing to help. Sarah, everybody’s pal. That is, until she’d disappeared at the same time as thousands of pounds from church funds went missing, several years ago.
I sat there stewing as the service progressed. What to do? Memories flooded back: the bell-ringing sessions, Sarah pouring mulled wine at Christmas with that sweet smile. Then the looks of total disbelief on the parishioners’ faces when she vanished suddenly.
I felt like I was in a dream, unable to wake up. I became aware of the vicar’s spiel, “Should anyone here present….. speak now or forever hold your peace.“
I object!” The dream shattered and I found myself standing in front of a shocked congregation.
Sarah smiled condescendingly at me. The vicar looked perplexed. “Come this way please.” He beckoned to Tony, Sarah and myself and apologized to the congregation.
“Now what’s all this about?” he said, in his cubbyhole of an office.
“This person is a thief,” I said, gesticulating towards Sarah, my hands shaking, “and I can’t let my friend marry her.” Tony’s face flushed with embarrassment.
“Look, can you leave us alone for a couple of minutes?” Sarah asked the vicar.
“Well, we must sort this immediately Miss Sutton.”
“Yes, I know. Look, perhaps I could give you something towards church funds?” She opened a small cream clutch bag and took out a number of twenty pound notes.
He coughed nervously. “Well, I suppose two minutes extra can’t do any harm. Thank you.” He took the notes and left.
Sarah turned to me. “Look Jonathan, I’ve got a new ID now, all kosher, I love Tony and he loves me.” Tony looked at the floor. “And he knows I had nothing to do with that money, er.. disappearing.”
Hah, as if!
“Look Jonathan, this wedding has to go ahead right now, do you understand?”
“Well, in that case I shall go to the police. I’m sure they’ll be very interested in your whereabouts. Sorry Tony…”
She smiled. “Look, I have money now. How does ten grand sound to let things be? I’m sure you could use it!”
I felt a hot flush in my face but my mind was calculating. Yes, I bet she had money now! My thoughts turned to Lucy’s longing for a conservatory, one that, to her chagrin, I never seemed quite able to afford. And she’d been on about a trip to Bruges for a while too.
“OK, how do I know I can trust you?”

She unclasped a bracelet. “This was my mother’s. These are diamonds.” Tony nodded reassuringly. I looked at the brilliant gems, watching the fire burn within them as she handed it over.

V

Six weeks later I was sitting on our patio in the sunshine with Lucy. I hadn’t told her what had happened. My mind went back to the fateful day, feeling ashamed and foolish now.
The vicar had faced the congregation, looking relieved but embarrassed. “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m sorry for the delay and the service can now continue…”
A win-win situation, everybody happy. That was, until the expected cheque didn’t materialize. Phone calls were to no avail, Tony and Sarah/Sue were on an extended honeymoon in remote parts. A visit to a jeweler revealed that the ‘diamonds’ were cubic zirconia.
Lucy crossed her slim pale legs and smiled ironically. “I hear they’re giving ten percent off all conservatories over at Crowthers.”
“It’s nice to sit in the fresh air though isn’t it?” I said.
The doorbell rang and Lucy went indoors, emerging a minute later with a packet.
“I think it’s a book.” She threw it towards me and went back inside.
“Careful, for God’s sake!” The writing looked familiar and my heart pounded. I tore the padding open to reveal a hardback book and an envelope. Scribbled on the envelope was a note – ‘Sorry, needed the money for the honeymoon but keep the bracelet and here’s a grand. Love, Sue xx.’ I noticed she’d drawn a smiling face under the word ‘bracelet’.
In the envelope were twenty fifty-pound notes. I looked at the book – The Ringer’s Handbook. Inside was a note: ‘Hope this helps – you were a terrible bell ringer!’ Seeing Lucy returning, I secreted the cash and envelope.

She plumped herself down and I turned to her pale, curious face. “Hey, y’know that trip to Bruges you’ve been banging on about?”…

THE END

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Teeth Can Wait


_8jb7739-jpg_sia_jpg_background_image
(500 words) [original publication date 25th March 2016]

My umbrella is up, but cold, angry drops somehow find their way down my neck. A white minibus trundles into view and I signal, feeling rain on my hand. The bus pulls over. It’s Lilly, my favourite driver.
“Hello Julie, how’re you?” she says, smoker’s teeth smiling below a dyed red mop.
“I’m good thanks,” I say, although I hate the expression.
“They’re cutting the buses, did you know?”
Actually I’ve heard little else recently, especially on local radio. “Yes, terrible isn’t it,” I say, predictably.
“We’re really worried about our jobs. If they’re cutting timetables there might be redundancies.”

“You’ll be OK Lilly, everyone likes you. They won’t let you go,” although I know that probably isn’t true. She’s a talkative soul but I just want to sit down and lose my wet umbrella. The bus is empty save for an old lady known locally as ‘The Witch’. Long, white, greasy hair falls over a wrinkled face. I feel reluctant to sit anywhere near her but she beckons me.

“Hello, it’s Julie isn’t it?” she says in a surprisingly educated-sounding voice. I realise we’ve never spoken before.
The bus rattles along anonymous narrow roads, bordered by high hedges, jostling us around. She starts on her life story, a long tale of universities, qualifications and academics. I soon lose concentration but am jolted out of my reverie with, “so you’ll take it to him then?”
“Sorry, who was that again?”
“Graham, my son, he works in a research laboratory in Lincoln university, I’ve just been talking about him!”
“Oh yes, of course,” I say, instantly regretting it.
Twisted, arthritic fingers hand me a sealed envelope and I feel a sudden remorse. I smile. “I can drop it round tomorrow.”
The next day I’m wandering around endless corridors, feeling like an imposter. I’d told a security guard that I had a message for ‘Graham’. “Oh, Professor Harrison you mean,” he’d said, smiling knowingly. He’d waved me through, presumably considering me no threat to the establishment.
Finally, I reach the right department and press a buzzer. A white-coated man, wearing gold-rimmed glasses, comes to the door.
“Sorry to bother you, I’ve an envelope for Professor Harrison.”
Seeing my embarrassment, he smiles pleasantly. “That’s me. I don’t know why she can’t put it in the post like anyone else but she’s a bit..well, you know…” His eyes roll. Opening the envelope, he unfolds a sheet of minuscule writing and strange symbols.
“What is it?” I say, surprised at my boldness.
“Oh, pharmaceutical stuff; she says it’ll revolutionize production of an anti-cancer drug.”
“Will it,” I ask, hopefully.
His eyes run down it again. “Maybe. Anyway, thanks, I really appreciate you bringing it. By the way, have you had lunch?“
“Oh, I’ve a dental appointment, I must go.”
“We could go to Shakespeare’s round the corner, it’s first class.” He smiles again and I notice he is quite handsome.
I laugh. “Well, I guess the drilling could be postponed!”
Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 100!