(800 words) Word had it that Douglas Whiting wanted to kill someone. Someone, anyone, just to see what it was like. And it got back to him that, yes, a man named Norman Oliver was happy to be the victim. Well, perhaps not happy exactly, more resigned, his cancer untreatable. So, early one evening Whiting knocked on Oliver’s door. A shabby door in a shabby house in a shabby street in a shabby town. Oliver answered the door and Whiting saw the man matched his surroundings, unshaven, a green cardigan with holes in it, old chequered trousers and worn-out slippers. “Hello, you must be the man who’s come to kill me,” Oliver said. Whiting looked Oliver in the eyes. “That’s right. You haven’t changed your mind?” “Oh no, no, not at all. Come in, please come in.”
(1250 words) Say nothing when Ruth comes in, Brodie Somers told himself. There she was, tall, slim, long blonde hair blowing in the freshening wind. She was laughing, smiling at him. Robbie McClelland, the wretched layabout, lolling in his open top Mazda. With his black leather jacket and hair greased back he looked like a reject from Happy Days. An all-round bad influence on his daughter, Brodie thought. Ruth waved to Robbie as he roared off inland, down the little lane. Against the gulls calling, the waves rolling on the beach, and the rustling grass on the dunes, the intermittent noise of Robbie’s revving engine as he careered back into town was like an insult to the quiet countryside, like someone throwing a dog turd in your face. He hurriedly put the binoculars away as the door opened and Ruth came in.
(850 words) Compassion, word of the day, thought Stanley Brown. It was something he wasn’t used to feeling, but here he was, about to walk up a stranger’s drive. He quickly combed his hair, then with a brown-paper-wrapped package tucked into the pocket of an old great coat he walked briskly up to the porch, noticing the peeling white paint and patches of mould on the woodwork. There she was at the window, the thin wrinkled visage and the halo of white hair, peering out, a look of incredulity on her ancient face. He pressed the doorbell and heard a distant answering chime. The face disappeared from the window.
1200 words) Say what you like about Charles – and plenty of people had plenty to say – but before Charles came into my life Dominic had been a nightmare, fighting all the other kids at school, ranting and raving at home, and refusing to help out or tidy his room; in short, a real devil child. But he looked up to Charles, saw him as a kind of hero, which he was in a way I suppose. Charles would give Dominic little jobs to do – cleaning his crampons, coiling his ropes, helping to sort out the mountaineering gear he’d stowed in my shed, all those bits and pieces that had names I suppose, but looked like junk to me. And, of course, Charles would show us photos of his expeditions – Kanchenjunga, Cho Oyu, Manaslu, Nanga Parbat and so on, mostly names that meant nothing to me back then.
(1100 words) “Say it ain’t so, Joe, please say it ain’t so,” Samantha Muir sang whilst hanging out leather belts in the Ladies’ Clothing department of Jacksons. “That's not what I wanna hear, Joe. Ain't I got a right to know?” She hesitated. Why was she singing that? Her mind flashed back to a scene when she was nine years old, her little brother Joe coming to her with blood pouring from his nose. An older boy, Terry, had punched him in the face at the bus stop after school. “Excuse me, young lady, are you serving or dreaming?”
(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.
(850 words) It was a beautiful day, thought Mr. FtF as he sat on the patio with his newspaper waiting for his wife to come down. Why did it always take her so long to get ready in the morning, he wondered? All that … preening! He put his paper down and gazed at the canal that flowed past the bottom of their garden. Purple liquid sparkled in the light of the two suns in a way that never ceased to amaze Mr. FtF. It depended on their positions relative to each other he supposed, as he sipped his kaffa.
(650 words) There’d been no problem getting a gondola ride. For the second day, a thick white mist hung in the air over the city and at the gondola station at San Moisè the vessels had loomed out of the fog like Viking ships. A man in a pink T-shirt with horizontal red stripes and a body-warmer had appeared from nowhere. “You wanna ride, signor e signora? Is foggy. I give you special price of sixty euros!”
(700 words) We approached across sandy concrete to the faded green panels of the kiosk. Behind the counter, bustling around, moving cups and plates and things, a lady with a thin face and grizzled curly hair, the Loreal-colour long since faded. She smiled, her teeth falsely white against her brown, wrinkled skin. “Hello.” “Hello,” Joy said, “it’s been a long time since anyone’s been open on the beach. Me and Tony, er, my husband, we walk along here most days.” The lady compressed her lips, “Well, it’s exactly a year today since my Fred died, I figured I should do something to mark his … passing.”
Martha came back from the ladies’ loo, grinning like a Cheshire cat. “You’ll never believe who’s in the Gin Room!” “Who?” “That actor, what’s his name, you know, the one who looks like Tom Hanks.” I racked my brains. “Oh, you mean the one who was in that film, oh, what was it called? About the air force, you know.” “Yeah, that’s the one. Ooh, he’s so dishy.” I took a sip of my vodka and lemon. “Actually, I don’t care for him.” I put my glass down. “I always think Vodka smells like cement glue, don’t you? You know, that stuff boys use to glue kits together.”