Fried Onions


Down-and-out

(800 words)

“Just because my father is a Classics professor at Oxford, doesn’t mean I want to wear Guarinos lilies in my hair and retire to the tents of Persia!” exclaimed Helena.
Her husband, Stephen, sighed. “I know, darling, but surely you could aim higher than doling out food to tramps!”
Helena would go out every Friday night to meet Tom, a man who lived in an old railway signal box. He’d collect provisions from supermarkets, stuff that was beyond their sell-by date, and that they daren’t re-date. Let the tramps and ‘down-and-outs’ take the risk. Tom, Helena and sometimes a companion or two would drive a converted van out to a railway bridge and, beneath it, give out cups of soup, burgers, and re-heated chips to the down-and-outs who existed there. She felt a rising anger. “Aim higher than helping those in need, you mean?”
“Why don’t they want to work, then?”
“They’re human beings, Stephen, like you and me, just that they’ve fallen on hard times.”
“Hard times, pfft! Let them get a nine to five job like everyone else!”
“Everyone I know works ten-hour night shifts or they’re self-employed and work every hour God sends.”
“You know some odd people then.”
“Yeah, nurses and restaurateurs. Weirdos.”
Stephen turned back to his Daily Telegraph; Helena’s sarcasm lost to the editorial column.
It was almost dark when the van pulled up beside a blackened arch under a railway bridge. Tonight, there were just Helena and Tom. Helena cut the engine. There was the sound of a distant train, clattering into the distance, and a murmur of traffic, then … silence. Outside, she lowered a flap in the side of the van to form a counter, whilst Tom went around inside, checking urns, griddles, and hot plates. Light from the interior spilled out to form a benevolent yellow pool, nullifying a glaring spotlight above on the bridge.
Tom tipped a basinful of fried onions onto a hotplate and soon the smell and sizzling filled the chilly autumn air. The odour began to radiate outwards, and like drops of magical essence on the breeze, began to draw shadows, blackened and shuffling, out of the darkness.
“You know this could be our last month,” he said.
Helena nodded as figures approached, heads down, hands stuffed into pockets of heavy black coats. The van needed a thorough overhaul, refitting and repairs. They’d been quoted nearly eight thousand pounds. She knew that she and Stephen could afford it. She’d mentioned it in passing, to a shrug and a change of subject. Paying with her own money wasn’t an option either. Stephen would find out and go ballistic. It could even mean the end of their marriage. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, she thought, but with two young children, it didn’t seem an option right now.
She looked up into a pair of translucent grey eyes in a lined face, framed by a straggly grey beard. She recognized the man. They said his name was Andy and that he was once a musician in a band, a household name in the dim and distant past. “Hello.”
He grimaced, showing yellow and blackened teeth. “No soup, just burger and chips.”
“Would you like onions?”
“Yup.”
Behind her, Tom began shovelling steaming chips into a carton. She noticed a strange look in the tramp’s pale eyes, as if he wanted to say more, then he turned away, standing to one side to let the next ghost come forward.
“Stephen, I know you’re not going to like this, but I have to ask a favour. You might want to sit down.”
Stephen gave Helena a quizzical look and plumped himself down onto the emerald green leather of a sumptuous armchair.
The phone rang and Helena answered.
“Helena, it’s Tom, look, can you speak?” Tom had met Stephen once and decided once was probably enough.
“Er, I’m with Stephen, we’re just about to discuss it.”
Her husband looked at her with an expression she didn’t recognise.
“Look Helena, there’s no need. Someone sent a banker’s draft for eight grand this morning!”
“What! Who?”
“I don’t know, but it’s kosher. There’s just a printed note. It says, ‘Not everything is as it seems, yours, A. Downandout.’”
Helena felt like she wanted to jump in the air and punch the lampshade with joy. “I’ve got to go, Tom, thanks for letting me know. Thanks so much.” She turned to her husband.
He raised his eyebrows.
“That was Tom.”
“So I gathered.”
“Er, he wanted to discuss going out on Saturdays instead of Fridays, that’s all I wanted to talk to you about.”
To her surprise, Stephen got up, came over and hugged her, kissing her cheek. “That’s fine darling, whatever you want.”.

  • To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.
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Fire Words


fireworks 5

(1000 words)

“There you go, Jack, be careful with it for Heaven’s sake.”
I took the proffered Terminator 50 Shot Barrage, with trembling hands. “Thank you, uncle Stan!” I ran with it towards the bonfire and into my dad’s arms. “Look what uncle Stan gave me!”
“Be careful with that thing, for God’s sake!” Dad gestured towards a far corner of our garden where several dark shapes moved, torches flashing mysteriously. “Look, take it over to your cousin Mark, he’ll check if it’s suitable and help to light it.”
One tall, lanky shape was the loathed silhouette of Mark. Whenever no one was looking, he’d say, “How’re you going, Jack,” and either punch me on the upper arm or pinch the skin on my forearm. I swear, sometimes after an evening with Mark, my arms were literally black and blue. I’d complained to mum and dad but they just said, “Don’t make a fuss, he’s only playing. Don’t be a softie.”
Softie! My arms really hurt!
I took the firework to the opposite corner instead, and with my own torch, stolen from the Scouts, read the label. WARNING. I ignored the rest, spotting the fuse. It was only a firework after all.
Five earth-shattering minutes later, I was in the dog house, along with all the local dogs. Now I had a vague idea what it must have been like to have fought on the Somme.
“Jack, come here!” It was Dad beckoning me indoors. He was unfastening his belt. It wasn’t Remembrance Day, but it was a day my backside wouldn’t forget in a hurry!

Benny was a man in trouble. Open prison meant a chance to escape, a chance to break free in the hope that the police wouldn’t be that bothered. He hadn’t killed or raped anyone at the end of the day. But to his astonishment, there was his mugshot on local news, and not a pleasant one at that either. They’d told him not to smile, but he looked positively evil!
A knock came at the apartment door. Benny looked through a spy hole and saw Julie’s toad-like face, distorted by the lens. He opened the door.
She gave him a peck on the lips, admiring his athletic physique. “Hiya, Ben, I hope these’ll be OK?” She handed him a holdall.
Inside, he unwrapped a package and took the lid off. Mmm. The delicious smell of gunpowder. “Sweet, Jules, thank you.”
“You will be careful, won’t you?”
Benny laughed. “Course I will.”
Julie left and he began to cut the fireworks up, extracting the precious black powder and tipping it into a large glass jar. Using skills he’d learned in prison, he attached some wires and a battery. He noticed his hands were shaking and sweaty. He put the jar on a windowsill, by a partially open window, and reached for his cigarettes. He sat in an armchair and lit one, sucking the smoke in and going over his plan of extortion one more time.
He heard a miaow and a door pushed open. Julie’s cat, Hans. It jumped onto his lap and began to massage his thigh, drooling onto his trousers. Its claws passed easily through the thin material. “Hey, get off!” Benny stood up, sending the cat flying. It jumped onto the windowsill, knocking the glass jar off onto a low marble-topped table.
As if in slow motion, Benny watched as the glass shattered and wires that weren’t supposed to connect, connected. There was a quiet ‘whump’ and the carpet became a sea of fire, the curtains two blazing pillars.
Outside, flames from the open window began to lick the building’s cladding.

A van pulled up and I took delivery of several large brown boxes, covered in stickers. Danger – Fireworks. I took them out onto the patio. Rebecca was there, unpacking crates of streamers, banners and lights. “Put those in the shed, Jack, out of the way.”
“What d’you think I’m doing?” I piled them in the shed, and closed the door. I felt safe in the confined space. I looked through the window at Rebecca faffing around with a long stream of coloured light bulbs. Fortunately, Roland, my future father in law – in theory – would be arriving later to help set everything up. In the other direction was a long lawn, and beyond it, a copse and a small lake. Well, if our marriage didn’t go ahead, I could kiss this little lot goodbye.
Back on the patio, I pecked Rebecca on the cheek. “Well, a grand spent on fireworks, money down the drain.”
She laughed, bright blue eyes and dimpled cheeks reminding me that I was getting betrothed to a special lady.
“Or up in smoke! Don’t be miserable, Jack, it’s a special occasion, a very special occasion.”
“I remember when I was a kid, my uncle Stan played a trick on me. Gave me a display firework at a family bonfire night. There must have been a hundred bangs – scared half the dogs in the district to death!”
“Well, there aren’t many dogs around here, and all the neighbours will either be here with us or hunkering down with their sedated pooches!”
I thought of the news the other night. “Did you hear any more about that tower block fire?”
“Yes, it took a couple of days to put out. A lot of people stayed in their flats and got burned to death.”
“That’s a pity.”
Rebecca grimaced. “Some stupid idiot playing with fireworks, they said.”
“There’s always one, isn’t there?”
“Seems the cladding on the building was flammable.”
“What crazy idiot thought of that!”
A car hooted and a blue Mercedes appeared. A slim man with a lean, handsome face got out, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
I gasped in astonishment. “Benny, you Son of a Gun, glad you could make it, we thought you were ‘on holiday’!”
“Not anymore, I’m a free man!”
Rebecca laughed. “Come on, Jack, let’s all have a little drink to celebrate Benny’s release!”.

  • To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.
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Great Aunt Delilah’s Blanket


kid in blanket

(700 words)

Papers – newspapers and magazines – were deposited onto the kitchen table by my ten-year-old granddaughter, Madeleine. “Granny, I got your things from the shop!”
I looked up. “That was sweet of you, dear. Come and sit by the fire.”
“Granny, tell me the story about Great Aunt Delilah’s Blanket!”
“I’ve already told you.”
“That was ages ago, I can’t remember!”
We both sat by the fireside in my farm cottage. “Well, my grandmother, that would be your great-great-grandmother, had a sister called Delilah. So that was my Great Aunt, you see. Anyway, it was said she had healing powers and many sick people would go to her house and come away feeling well again.”
“Could she have healed Daddy d’you think?”
“I don’t know sweetheart, maybe. Anyway, it got out that she had a special blanket. It was made of wool and it had a large diamond shape in the middle. The blanket was white and the diamond was blue and there were two lines, very close together. Well, they said that if you were wrapped in the blanket, then you’d become well again.”
“How long did you have to sit wrapped in it?”
I laughed. “You’ll grow up to be a scientist, Maddie! I don’t know, five minutes, ten minutes, half an hour, all night. Who knows? All I know is that people were cured. It was in the local papers of the time, and in Great Aunt Delilah’s diary too.”
“What happened to it?”
“Well, that’s the strange thing. When Great Aunt Delilah died, she left it in her will to my mother, along with all her linen – sheets, blankets, bedcovers, that sort of thing. Well, my mother – your great-grandmother – just put it in a cupboard along with the rest of the stuff and I don’t know if was used much, certainly not for healing anyway.”
“Did she know it could heal people?”
“I don’t think she believed in any of that and likely didn’t want to try in case it did.”
“But what about all the people who could have been healed?”
“Some people are strange, Maddie, not like other folk. You’ll find out for yourself.
Anyway, when my mother died, it was left to me, along with some other bits and pieces. So, one day I was looking through some old chests and there it was – the Healing Blanket! And it still looked new, no marks on it at all! Look, let me make some tea and I’ll tell you the rest of the story.”
“Can I have orange squash please, granny?”
“Of course you can, dear.”
When I came back to the fireside with a tray of tea, orange squash and biscuits, Madeleine was writing in a small book. “What are you writing, sweetheart?”
“I’m writing a prayer to Jesus, that daddy can be made well again.”
“Put it under your pillow, dear, and I’m sure your prayers will be answered.”
Madeleine nodded and closed the book. She reached out for her orange squash and looked up expectantly. “So, what happened with the blanket?”
“Well, I realized what it was, so whenever any of my children had a cold or a cough or a pain somewhere, I would wrap them in the blanket when they went to bed, and the next morning they’d wake up as right as rain!”
Madeleine’s bright eyes widened.
“Anyway, I took to carrying it around in my car, in case I met anyone who needed healing.”
Madeleine spoke excitedly. “Do you still have it then – for daddy?”
“No, one day my car was stolen, and that was it. I never saw the blanket ever again.”
“Granny, do you know where the blanket came from?”
“No, I don’t, sweetheart, but I want to show you something.” I went to a bookcase and took out a large leather-bound bible and brought it back to the fireplace. I turned to a colour plate of a watercolour. “Look at this, sweetheart.”
The picture showed Jesus and some disciples around a table. In the background was a large fire, and hanging nearby, as if to dry, a white blanket with a double-lined blue diamond shape clearly visible upon it.

  • To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.
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Letters from Reuben


Love LettersBox_large-story

(700 words)

Papers, papers, papers. Help, I’m drowning in a sea of papers! I really must do something about it!
Following advice from a critical but well-meaning friend, I make up a dozen archive boxes and number them with a large chisel-nibbed marker pen. OK, I can now identify a box at twenty paces.
I start to go around my apartment, dumping papers and associated junk unceremoniously into the boxes. Box one, a stack of writing magazines that have been cluttering my desk for months. Why don’t I read them? Or write, for that matter? Oh, I don’t have time, of course. Well I guess I could quit watching endless re-runs of Seinfeld, but, well, I wouldn’t want to break the habit of a lifetime. Anyway, out of sight, out of mind!
Into box two goes the rubbish off my kitchen table, ‘to do’ lists, piles of receipts – why don’t I just throw them? Oh, I know, I want to get the points put on my loyalty card. Except that I don’t have one. So, they’re sitting there waiting for me to go back to the supermarket, queue at the customer service desk, ask for an application form, send it off, then phone to have the points retrospectively added. All for a few measly bucks. Into the box! I can throw them out when the allowed time has expired, barring the miracle of me actually getting one of their goddamned cards. In the meantime, I don’t have to feel guilty.
Box three is stuff off the top of my filing cabinet, piles of unopened letters and bank statements. Why don’t I request paperless statements? Well, do you know anyone who’s had a computer not blow a resistor or whatever? Exactly! Then, how do you access your statements? You’re stuffed. Like a piglet in a chestnut factory.
The phone rings. “Hello? … yes, I’m doing it right now, Shelina! Whaddya mean, voice recorder, card index file! … look, I’m going to the ballet with my mother tonight, I haven’t got time for anything like that … look sorry, I gotta go, hun, speak to you later!”
I open a draw and the contents go into box number four. Letters from Reuben. I’m not brave enough to put them in the shredder. But I didn’t see a future for us. Call me weird but I didn’t like the things he asked me to do. I didn’t like the taste or the smell. Of those blue cheese and sauerkraut pretzels he was always eating, I mean.
Then there’s something else in that draw that goes into box number four too. Something I won’t mention here but something that makes me go “oooooOOOOOHHHH!!” But, well, I’m a spiritual girl now and I don’t like the idea of angels and spirit guides and what have you, seeing me do ‘that.’ I can live without it. Well, for a week or two. Maybe. We’ll see.
My computer beeps. A friend from over the pond, a crummy little country, but, hey, they’ve got stuff we haven’t. Congratulating themselves over their queen and beef heaters and the Beatles. And, they invented football too, though a weird kind where you can’t pick the ball up! I’ll reply tomorrow. Like I say, I’ve gotta meet mom soon and those tickets weren’t cheap!
Into box number six I throw stuff from my dressing table and bedside cabinet, I’ve got more makeup than Emmett Kelly, for Chrissakes!
Finally, I gaze in awe at two neat stacks of six boxes, discretely tucked away in a corner. Maybe I could make up another three or four boxes? I look out of the window, down onto apartments below and feel a glow of pride. I’ll bet theirs are all cluttered, not like mine!
The phone goes again. “Hi Mom, yes, I’m just about to have a quick shower and get ready … yeah, I’m excited, really looking forward to it … yeah, of course I’ve got the ticket! … it’s right here … well, it was right here … hold on.”
My eyes flick from the empty surfaces to the pile of boxes and I feel a sick feeling in my stomach. “You say you’re picking me up in thirty minutes, Mom?”.

  • To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.
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A Tube of Toothpaste


toothpaste tubes

(700 words)

“Life’s like a tube of toothpaste, Anthony,” that’s what my aunt Mary used to say. “It looks like there’s so much toothpaste in there, like it’ll never run out, but one day, no matter how hard you squeeze, no matter how hard you roll it up and crush it, nothing more will come out.”
I’m seventy-five this very day, old and arthritic, almost blind, not to mention penniless and alone. I’ve got a bottle of whisky to ‘celebrate’ on my own.
Felicity got good at maths, to everyone’s amazement. That was down to my home tutelage, but we never shouted about it. She lives in Adelaide now, lecturing in applied dynamics, whatever the hell that is, and married to a sheep farmer. We keep in touch.
I’ve lived in this dingy old apartment for nigh on thirty years, looking out of the dusty, stained windows and down onto passersby in the rain, down onto Shivshakti’s Indian grocery store.
Today there’s thick fog. A real ‘pea souper.’ I envisage a motorway, cars speeding through the fog, headlights and fog lights their only visible elements. Then something happens, maybe there’s an animal on the road and a driver brakes. Smack, the car behind runs into it. The occupants are jolted forwards, whiplash injuries changing lives. BANG, a car smashes into the second car, and so it goes, right on down the line, twenty, thirty, forty cars, all smashed and dented, people maimed and killed.
I guess my own toothpaste’s running out fast, but before it does, there’s a letter I’ve been waiting a long time to read.

I’ve moved into a new apartment, right on my forty-fifth! Not new but nicely decorated. There are radiators and a gas boiler and a neat kitchen with cupboards everywhere.
Abigail left me, went to live with Raimondo, a guy who works out at the gym where she teaches yoga. Well, screwing all night had got boring, not to mention exhausting, that’s for teenagers, not forty-somethings! So good luck to Abi and her new ‘beau.’ Call me boring, but I’d rather lie in bed with a cup of tea and a book on punctuation.
But, well, I got lumbered with Felicity, Abi’s daughter. There wasn’t room for her at Raimondo’s flat – so muggins got saddled with her. Either that or turn her over to social services, and I’m not that hard-hearted. But a feisty fourteen-year-old, not the ideal flat-mate!
Well, coping with Felicity’s manifold problems: buck teeth, no friends, lagging in most subjects at school – led me to quitting the day job, and trying to survive by writing a weekly column for a national on the one thing I was good at – Poker. And playing it of course. And there’s an Indian guy just opened a grocery store, Shivshakti’s, over the road. He tells me he’s setting up a poker game on Friday nights and he’s invited me to join. Foolish man, I’ll make a killing!

It’s my fifteenth birthday and Aunt Mary gave me a lovely old box with two packs of playing cards inside. And a book on a game called Poker. She took us all out to a restaurant somewhere in the countryside for lunch. Mum, dad, Samantha and me. Sam made a fuss, saying she wanted vegetarian food – no meat! But otherwise it was good; sitting outside in the sun, watching the wind swaying the trees and eating the biggest cheese-burger I’ve ever seen!
School’s OK right now. I’m top of the class in maths. I’ve decided I prefer numbers to people, they seem easier to understand! I reckon my friends think I’m a bit peculiar!
Mum gave me a Barbour waterproof jacket. It’s super! This week I’m going camping, with a bit of luck I can test it out!

Mum said to write a letter to myself to open when I reach the age of 75. It sounds daft and I don’t know what to say. I guess I could write ‘I hope you had a good life, a great job, a lovely family, went to wonderful places and left your mark on the world.’ Something like that. I’ll have a go, anyway.

.


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To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 280!

iPademonium (guest post)


Broken_iPad

iPademonium by Martyn Searle

(600 words)

Papers are mean. Well, maybe not the dog-eared old flyers who spend their days hanging out on light poles, numbered tassels waving in the breeze, helping to locate lost puppies. A certain Buddhist enlightenment has come to them in repayment for good deeds and frayed edges. But those reams who rule in home offices? Vicious temperaments. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Perhaps, as is often the case when numerous white individuals gather in large groups, all those sheets had a loftier opinion of themselves than they merited.

Or maybe it was because they were the trusted custodians of the important details of home operations. In any event, they paraded around; cyan, black and blue marks adorning their faces like so many prison tats, intimidating rubber bands and sharpies with threats of paper cuts. Since the only knowledge they had ever seen was printed on their own flesh, they truly believed they must know it all, and weren’t shy about sharing their opinions with the other supplies. Paper clips and staples had been known to slip through cracks in drawers, never to be seen again, while attempting to avoid a bloviating sheaf.

You can imagine their reaction when the iPad showed up. Gleaming. Sleek. Smart as a whip. It knew things in an instant which the papers had never dreamt of. Worse still, in a calm, unwavering voice, Siri informed the office that she had little need for, or interest in, paper. Naturally, the papers immediately began plotting the iPad’s destruction.

Brooding and plotting may have come to naught if not for human ignorance regarding the vindictive nature and petty machinations of home office supplies. After languishing for weeks in the office, while Siri cast digital spells on me in the living room, I inadvertently provided their opportunity when I decided to donate my increasingly unused paper to the local library.

Unwittingly, I delivered the conspirators straight to their victim, placing the ream between my keys and the iPad, as it slumbered, recharging on the kitchen island overnight. Instantly they pounced, like a pack of Roman Senators upon Caesar, coiling like an inchworm and lashing out with all their might.

Struck dumb by this new branch on the Tree of Life, I froze as the iPad crashed to the floor. The screen shattered, and troops of Gorilla glass lumbered off towards the dark forests of cat hair and desiccated peas which lay beneath the stainless-steel peaks of the Amana range, where to this day they live, peaceful and undisturbed, no longer under the thumb (or forefinger) of their oppressor.

This triumphant escape went entirely unnoticed in the moment, mainly due to the large quantity of feral, guttural moans which now rose from within the fractured motherboard of the dying tablet.

‘I believe in the separation of spirit and silicon!’, Siri’s voice cried out in triumph, as her megabytes of data broke free from their microscopic shackles in a blaze of sentient lightning. A Golden Horde of Usain Bolts dashed madly for the nearest electrical outlet and were busy colonizing power grids in Buenos Aires and La Paz before the first rumble of miniature thunder had set one booming, sonorous foot into the crackling, ionized air of the kitchen. Sensing a fatal error, the processor softly whimpered, ‘Mother … board …’ and fell silent.

My eyes held tightly shut against this blinding domestic supernova, I had just begun to console myself that all might not be lost, when tiny wisps of acrid smoke crept silently in, like heralds of overtime shifts soon to come, and dashed that hope upon my nostrils.


N.B. This is only the second guest post on my blog (click HERE for the other). It’s written by a fellow-writer in the fortnightly story group I run. He’s new to the game but has already created an alluring website. Please check out https://scribblesandshoots.weebly.com/ for his growing ouvre of intriguing tales!


  • To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.
  • If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.
  • Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 300!

Neck Snapping Time


exorcist

(600 words)

Papers clutter a desk. I pick one up and read about a man’s obsession. Seems there’s a character who enjoys killing. The description is brief. Medium height, average build, nondescript face. No distinguishing marks. Not much to go on!
But the writer describes an incident where the man strokes another man’s hair and gently, lovingly, wraps a scarf around his neck. Like a petrified mouse under the paw of a cat, the victim remains motionless. More hair-stroking, then the killer places two large, strong hands on either side of the victim’s head, a quick twist and … snap … over he goes, the lolling head smacking the floor, the lifeless body following like a piece of meat. Only thing, seems all this happens in the writer’s dreams.
I go over and stoke the fire. I want to read the full story. So, I gather the sheets from the desk, light a cigarette, and pull an easy chair up to the hearth.
Well, seems the writer had financial problems of sorts, but this character he’d encounter in his dreams would help out. The writer would tell the guy how much cash he needed and, if of a realistic nature, it would appear in his waking life. Money for the mortgage, car expenses, holidays, that kinda thing. The only thing was, seems he had to donate a proportion of the amount ‘borrowed’ to a charity to ‘repay’ the ‘loan.’ If he didn’t, well, cue neck-snapping man.
The door opens and in comes Lil. “You find anything?”
“Well seems our dear brother had funny dreams.”
“That figures.”
“No, seriously, seems he had a character he would meet in his dreams. This guy, Adam, would help him out financially. But he was a sadistic killer on the side!”
“What, you’re kidding me!”
“No, listen. ‘17th October 2019. Watched Adam snap a man’s neck like a matchstick. Turned his head round one hundred and eighty degrees, like that girl in The Exorcist. These dreams are so real. More real than when I’m awake. Saw the man’s frightened eyes in technicolour, heard his neck snap in Dolby surround sound.
Needed £300 for new tyres and dents knocking out of wheels. Well, the very next day mother phoned and said she’d dreamt I had car problems and did I need any financial help! Well, that’s £85 I need to find by the end of the month for A’s charity. Or ….’”
“Wow.”
“Wow indeed. Seems our dear brother was either off his rocker, or had supernatural help, of a kind.”
“Well, we can check his filing cabinets, bound to be bank statements and the like. Or they’ll be on his computer. Wonder if we can get into it?”
“I can’t imagine him writing passwords down anywhere findable, can you?”
Lil shrugs. “Then why would he leave papers like these lying around? And why not write them in a diary, like any normal person?”
“Well, he was hardly normal was he!”
“Look, we don’t know for certain he’s dead. He could walk through that door any minute.”
“Sure. Dream on.”
“Hey, you got a smoke?”
I toss Lil a cigarette and she inserts it into a crack in a white face surrounded by ginger curls. “Look, are we going to tell anyone about this – these ‘fantasies’?”
I sigh. “I think we must, don’t you?”
In answer, she takes the papers, taps them into a neat pile and tosses them onto the flames. “Let them find out for themselves.”
The smoke from the smouldering sheets blends with the smoke from our cigarettes and we both sit, lost in thought.

  • To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.
  • If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.
  • Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 300!

If Only They Could Speak (excerpts)


beautiful-cat-and-dogs-together

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It’s been over two and a half years since I last published a post containing excerpts of stories from my blog, so now seemed a good time for another one! As before, I’m posting short extracts from twenty stories, but this time with a strong animal connection: there are dogs and cats aplenty plus the odd duck, red kite and puma!

As always, I state the word count, to give an idea how much time it would take to read the full story. There are tales old and new here, so I’m confident you’ll find something to enjoy!

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A Flying Visit (1300 words)
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A lady in a purple cloak was situated on the far side of the stream, bending over with her hands in the water, presumably searching for something. On my side of the stream stood a young girl, perhaps six years old, holding the lead of a beautiful honey-coloured rough collie. The girl had a pretty face, bright blue eyes and mid-length blonde hair, held back in a pony tail with a blue band.
The lady seemed startled by my appearance and stood up, looking flustered. The little girl simply turned to me and smiled. “Hello, I’m Esmerelda, this is Solomon, and that’s my mummy.”
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I spotted an old rubber ball and hurled it into the sea for Fred. He ran to the water’s edge and looked out to where the ball was bobbing. He barked at it a few times, as if commanding it to come back to the beach, then turned and ran back. Presumably he didn’t want to spoil his freshly groomed coat with nasty cold, salty water.
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Blind Hope (500 words)
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The doorbell rang, and she heard Flossie stir in her basket. Normally she never answered the door, but she felt confident and curious. She felt the dog rubbing her leg, and reached down, holding its tail and letting the animal guide her through the door and down the corridor. There wasn’t time to find and attach the harness. The bell rang again. “Just coming!”
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Clarissa’s Missives parts 1-3 (3200 words)
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Memories of Boris and Henry came back. “A bit big” was an understatement. They were huge. Hurriedly, Clarissa had shown me their leads and directed me to a nearby park. In fact, they’d trotted along quite obediently, drawing admiring comments from the few passersby. By the time we got to the park I felt like an authority on Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.
With embarrassment I remembered Boris squatting to deposit a huge steaming turd on a path. What to do? Well, it was growing dark and who would know it was ‘my’ dogs? Suddenly a woman dressed in green tweed and grey leggings appeared. She was about sixty, had grey hair and waved a stick in my general direction. “Hello young man, I hope you’re not thinking of leaving that dog poo there!”
“Oh, of course not,” I replied, “it’s just I don’t have anything to pick it up with.”
“Well you could always use your hands!” she exclaimed.
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Come on Pete, wakey wakey!” Julie shook her boyfriend’s shoulder, looking with affection at his unshaven face. She wore just a shirt, lemon yellow with white stripes, and her shoulder-length blonde hair was tipped over her face.
Peter’s closed eyes blinked half-open. “Huh, wha’ the time?”
“It’s gone ten thirty. Come on, you said we could go to the park. We can get coffee at the kiosk.”
“I was dreaming of walking Lexie.”
“I’ve got her lead ready. Come on sweetheart, get up!”
Just then, three things happened. Someone started shouting down in the street below, a siren sounded somewhere and the phone rang.
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Dog Story (850 words)
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“Ah, he wants me to throw it for him,” laughed Paul, taking the bean bag from Tyson’s mouth and hurling it across the pen. Tyson obliged by racing to pick it up, then returned to jump up again. Paul went to take the toy but this time Tyson kept his jaw clamped shut. “C’mon, boy, don’t you want me to throw it for you?” They began a tug of war, the dog stubbornly refusing to let go of the toy.
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“Balthazar, here Balthazar!” A small white dog scampered past my dune, pausing just long enough to spray a stream of foul-smelling urine onto the sand near my feet.
What a stupid name for a dog! Maybe it was trained to find myrrh, whatever that was!
It ran back to join an approaching woman, presumably its owner, fat and red-faced. As she passed, she looked right through me as if I didn’t exist. My cheery greeting stalled in my throat.
I felt tired and the sea still looked a long way off. But when would I come here again?
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Duck Surprise (200 words)
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Sheldon paddled nonchalantly, maintaining his favoured position in the middle of the pool. He watched the other ducks near the bank scrabbling for bread with disdain – his mother had always told him he had superior intelligence.
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Flip Side (600 words)
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It’s no use though. I know I’m not ‘me’ if you see what I mean. Sometimes in dreams I’ll see a young woman with high cheekbones, long wavy hair, brown as chestnuts, and two kids, teenagers with tousled hair and braces on their teeth. Jake and Jenny are their names. Then there’s a dog, a black Labrador called Rusty who likes to roll in autumn leaves and jump in the snow.
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“Rudyard, here Rudyard!”
Rudyard’s ginger face appeared in the doorway. He hesitated, seeing a stranger in the room.
“Here kitty, good kitty!” called William Wilde, professor William Wilde as he now was.
Gingerly, Rudyard came into the study, studiously ignoring Willy and jumped onto my lap, purring. His huge yellow eyes looked up at me quizzically.
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Killer on the Road (500 words)
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He’d been lying on the road, his nose full of summer, the pads of his paws soaking in the warmth of the tarmac. Then his sensitive ears had detected a new sound. Something distant, metallic, rushing unevenly. It came closer. He felt no fear, he could be away in a split second. Then round the bend came something he’d not seen before. In an instant the feline brain scanned countless past impressions for a match. Understanding now, his eyes narrowed ….
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Marley’s Spirit (200 words)
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A little white dog ran towards me, its tail wagging furiously.
“Marley!”
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Memories of Oscar (750 words approx.)
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So, as a ‘tribute’ to Oscar I’ve listed some happy memories of him, in no particular order.
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  • Oscar had relatively recently discovered a taste for sandwiches and toast. He liked cheese and/or ham sandwiches with mayo and wholemeal bread and butter. And he was very fond of pâté on toast, Ardennes and chicken liver especially.

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Poor Rose (1100 words)
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In a neat bedroom there was a double bed with a lemon-coloured bedspread featuring a design of small pink rosebuds. A little table stood in an alcove. On it were an upright wooden crucifix and a pair of plaster hands, held in a praying position and holding a small tea light. On either side were pink candles, about a quarter burnt down, and on the wall in front of the table, a large framed photograph of a dog, a border collie – brown and white – looking up with huge eyes. A small vase of smoked glass held a single red rose.
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Salmon and Soul (1200 words)
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He missed Shiva, his black Labrador and companion of the last twelve years. She’d developed stomach cancer and had to be put to sleep six weeks earlier. Ruth had made sympathetic noises, but she didn’t really care. He’d been devastated. He realised he still was, as tears came to his eyes at the thought.
A gentle cool breeze ruffled the stubby coarse grass. It was warm and he felt sweaty, even though he’d not walked fast. Out there he knew appearances could be deceptive. Salt water lurked beneath the soil, always eager for a victim, perhaps an overzealous dog, or even a careless walker.
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Salvador (850 words)
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Waves lap at his toes. Gentle, quiet, rippling waves. Benny Saris stares out over the undulating blueness. Here goes. He begins to wade out. The water is freezing and goosebumps cover his body like a rash. Muscles cramp agonisingly in his groin. He looks back at the desolate beach and the empty guesthouses on the front. It’s no good, suicide’s the only option.
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From a tiny helpless fledgling he’d grown, his mother’s life dominated by her offspring’s constant cacophonous demand. Finally, her work over, he’d flown the nest and managed to forage on his own, firstly on carrion and worms, then as he’d grown, able to catch mice and voles, to taste warm blood and to feel the pleasure of the kill.
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Sycamore the Wise (950 words)
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The sun was setting over the field and Sycamore made his way to a small spinney in one corner, stopping on occasion to perk his long, furry ears up, and to feel the warm summer air playing on his long whiskers, whilst he sniffed the evening breeze. All clear! He entered the trees and heard the quiet guttural calls of his mother. He found her in a depression in a bed of moss with his two brothers and sister in attendance.
“Sycamore, what took you so long?”
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Leah glances anxiously around the waiting room. Everyone looks so calm. How the hell can that be? The waiting room is dim, perhaps a dozen men and women of all ages sit, staring ahead as though unseeing. The door opens and a bright light behind him silhouettes the towering figure of Dr. Chansette, a huge cockroach, six feet high. His antennae wave. “Miss Leah Hope?”
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The Fabled Fox (400 words)
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“Handsome fox, I couldn’t let you be killed by those nasty vicious dogs,” she said.
“Thank you, dear lady, you are most kind,” said the fox opening his long jaws, showing rows of pointed teeth.
“I was with friends at a dinner party recently,” she said, panting a bit as she ran. The fox pricked his ears up.
“One said a fox had dug under her fence and killed every one of her chickens!”
“Oh, that wasn’t me madam,” said the fox, his yellow eyes glinting.
“You won’t bite me, will you Mr. Fox?”
“No madam, why would I?”
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The Rump of Midas (700 words)
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I heard a ‘miaow’ and saw Midas, a semi-feral cat who had hung around for the last couple of years. He would venture into the kitchen on occasion to feed from a bowl of scraps I’d sometimes put down for him. ‘Goodbye Midas, I’ll miss you,” I said, surprised to find that I meant it. Unexpectedly, he followed me to the car. I opened a rear door. He took a long, lingering sniff at the sill, then suddenly jumped onto the back seat and curled up. Hmm!
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Other posts of excerpts:
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To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 300!

Ask and It Is Given


baby grand
(750 words)
“Walnut looks good – feast your eyes on this!” Tabby held up a brochure of baby grand pianos. All gloss and gorgeous swirling grain.
“Very nice, but you’re forgetting three things.”
“What?”
“One, we live in a tiny flat, two, you can’t play the piano, and, three, we don’t have any money!”
Tabby’s smile faded. “Well, I’m now creating my own reality through the Law of Attraction.”
“So you keep saying. I don’t see any changes.”
“The universe takes time to give you the things you ask for. They’ll come when they’re ready to come.”
“Bollocks!”
“You wait and see. You want some coffee?”
“No, I’m taking Fred for a walk.”

I went down to the beach, the part dogs were allowed to crap on. There were thousands of shells along the sand – ‘jewels of the sea,’ as I regarded them. That’s one reason I liked to go there, the chance of finding a nice piece of jet, or a multi-coloured cockle shell.
I had to admit Tabby’s obsession with a book she’d bought was really getting on my tits. Apparently, according to a bunch of ghosts, ‘whatever you ask for is immediately given.’ It’s just your ‘resistance’ that stops it coming, resistance meaning negative thinking. So, by training yourself to always feel happy, according to the book you’d be inundated with castles, golf courses, swimming pools, yachts, whatever you desired, even if you were sitting, twiddling your thumbs in the middle of the Sahara Desert. I had to admit it was the biggest load of nonsense I’d ever heard in my entire life!
I spotted an old rubber ball and hurled it into the sea for Fred. He ran to the water’s edge and looked out to where the ball was bobbing. He barked at it a few times, as if commanding it to come back to the beach, then turned and ran back. Presumably he didn’t want to spoil his freshly groomed coat with nasty cold, salty water.

When I got back, Tabby was at the sink, her hands buried in a mass of suds. Her blonde hair was in a pony tail and she wore an emerald green tea shirt and tight faded jeans. I put my arms around her, kissed her neck and squeezed her breasts.
“Get off!”
“You know you like it. How about a trip to the bedroom?”
“How about you start looking for a proper job!”
“Or maybe I’ll just sit and meditate on abundance flowing to us!”
She turned and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. “I’m expecting a call from Sue at eleven.”
Oh, that meant Tabby and her sister gassing for the next half hour.
Sure enough, bang on eleven the phone rang.
“Hi Sue … I’m fine, thanks … yes he is … God knows!”
I went out of the room. I wasn’t big on character assassination. I went to a desk in the corner of our bedroom where I had a computer and a shelf of books on writing. Probably the best way of making money from it, I reflected. The fiction market seemed to be saturated. No one wanted my stuff anyway.
The door opened behind me; Tabby stood smiling.
“What’s up? Surely you haven’t finished talking!”
The smile faded a little. “No, Sue just told me that Amy’s packing in her piano lessons with half a term to go. She can’t get a refund. She asked if I’d like to take her place. They’ll lend me a keyboard!”
“Can they lend you some headphones too?”
Tabby pulled a face. “Anyway, she says Bert’s just told her that Harry’s jacking his job in, he’s had enough of garage work and getting his hands dirty.”
Bert was Tabby’s brother-in-law, the foreman at a busy garage. Harry was a twenty something with his eyes on the bright lights.
“Can’t say as I blame him, I didn’t care for it much myself.”
“Look, Bert says they need a first-class motor mechanic urgently and he’ll recommend you. The pay’s good and he says you can work on their website too, you know, start a blog, maybe.”
Suddenly a little ray of light penetrated my heart. I could see us moving to a proper house, a nice garden for Fred to run around in. I thought for a bit, then, “Tell him yes!”
Tabby laughed and came over and hugged me. “Thank you.” She looked over at the bed and winked. “Don’t go anywhere, I’ve almost finished on the phone.”

  • To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

  • If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.
  • Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 300!

New Forest Frolics


mouldy-caravan-2-1.jpg
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(1750 words)
“Look Trudy, it’s your decision but I’d put my foot down if I were you.”
“I know mum, but Sally’s set her heart on it, been going on about it for days.”
My daughter Trudy, 51, blonde, divorced, and ‘pleasantly plump’ to put it kindly, had, for once, asked for my advice. Sally, my sixteen year old granddaughter, had been invited on a caravan holiday and Trudy had qualms about letting her go.
“Funny things can happen on caravan holidays,” I said.
“Well, she’s only going with Jack and Joanna, oh, and Bob of course, he’ll look after her, it’s just…”
Bob was Sally’s brother, my grandson, Jack was a schoolfriend and Joanna his sister, all quite ‘sensible’, admittedly. “The other boys on the campsite. I know,” I said, “they’re randy sods at that age. They’ll do anything to get girls into their caravan, get them on the wine, and before long the lasses’ll be dropping their knickers!”
“Don’t hold back mum!” laughed Trudy.
“Look, make some tea, there’s something I need to tell you…” I replied.
I sipped my tea. “When I was Sally’s age, I went on a caravan holiday. I went with your uncle Robert and Timothy Ward, a classmate. His sister came too, Tammy, so there were four of us.”
“That sounds cosy mum.”
“Well, Robert had booked a caravan in the New Forest. It was on a very small site, just three caravans. Well, we’d just started walking when the heavens opened! I remember we’d got the train to Ashurst and then we had to walk five miles in the rain. We got soaked, despite our so-called waterproofs! Rob had a map but the paths weren’t all marked. We went down a long track that just fizzled out and had to walk all the way back. All the undergrowth was sopping wet. That was horrible!“
“Sounds awful.” Trudy pulled a face and sipped her tea.
“Finally it was just starting to get dark when we found what we thought was the site, but there was only one caravan, and it was mouldy and dilapidated.”
“Oh my God! What did you do? Couldn’t you phone someone?”
“Trudy, this was 1965! There weren’t mobiles, or probably even a phone within ten miles!” I rolled my eyes. “Anyway, it was still pouring with rain, we were wet through and the door wasn’t locked, so we decided to get out of the rain at least. Inside it was damp and smelly but Tammy got some oil lamps burning and there was an oven too. She lit it and it warmed the place up.”
“What were caravans like in those days?” said Trudy.
“Well that was the funny thing, this caravan seemed much older, even had magazines from the 1930’s, nothing modern, well, modern for the sixties! I’d taken my tranny – transistor radio – they were all the rage then, but could only get old wartime type music. It was weird. Anyway, there were two long seats at one end that would convert to single beds, and a table you could fold down over them. At the end where you went in there was a sofa. I remember it was very worn and there was a teddy bear at one end! That was a double bed.”
“Was there a toilet?”
“You’re joking! No, it was the bushes. I remember poor Tammy was dying to go and us throwing soggy toilet rolls at her!”
Trudy smiled.
“In the middle, on the side opposite the door there was the oven, a sink and some cupboards, and on the other side was a wardrobe with a big mirror, covered in mildew. So we made some tea and me and Tammy went to put some dry clothes on. Thank God for waterproof inner bags in our rucksacks!”
“Were you worried?” Trudy asked.
“You don’t worry much at that age,” I said. “It was a big adventure.”
I took another sip of tea. “Well, you could fasten the wardrobe door to the other side to form a partition, so we did that, and just as me and Tammy had stripped right down, Tim opened the door! We were young girls, larking about and I remember Tammy yanking my bra up and exposing my… um… boobs!”
“Mum!” Trudy blushed.
“Well, it was a ‘we’ve shown you ours, now show us yours!’ type of thing. Tammy was saying, “I want to see what that hard lump is in your trousers Rob, or is it your pocket knife?!”
Trudy laughed.
“Well, just then someone knocked on the door! We almost died! A man was shouting that he needed someone to help, there’d been some sort of accident. We told him to wait whilst we got dressed. Then we opened the door and it was a Scoutmaster.”
“I suppose Scouts camp there quite a bit…”
“Well, he was kind of creepy, and one of his eyes, had, what d’you call it, when it keeps flinching?”
“A tic.”
“Yes, that’s right. So he said he needed help, a boy had got burnt cooking sausages, and the others were squeamish, that’s what he said anyway. In the end Tammy went with him, we weren’t happy, but he said he’d look after her. He said his name was John but to call him ‘Mac.’ ”
“What happened then?” asked Trudy.
“Well, we cooked some food, bacon and egg I think, and then played cards. Tammy still wasn’t back. Then Tim found a bottle of whisky, can you believe?! He said it was nice with water. Before we knew it we were halfway through the bottle and onto strip poker!”
“Exactly, this is why I don’t want Sally going to a caravan!”
“You haven’t heard the half of it,” I replied. “Well, we were all more or less down to our underwear when the whisky and all that walking hit home. We just wanted to go to bed!”
“Just as well mum!” laughed Trudy. “Had Tammy come back?”
“That’s just it, she hadn’t but I suppose we were too pissed to worry much. We thought she’d probably stayed for a camp fire sing song and a sausage sandwich. Anyway, we were getting the bedding out – it was a bit smelly, but the blankets were quite thick – when Tim found some strange bits of cloth, like leather it was, pinky grey and semi-translucent, I think you’d say. We thought it was some kind of leather for cleaning the windows but it seemed too big and the odd thing was there were three of them. Rob said one for each window!”
“That night it turned out we all had the same dream! We saw a boy standing in the moonlight in the caravan, he seemed to be painted red. We got out of bed to see if he was OK. He took our hands. His were hot and sticky and we couldn’t pull away. He was laughing. I think we all woke up at that point.”
“I’d have been so scared mum!” said Trudy.
“Well, the next thing I remember is waking up quite early. My head was aching – probably due to the whisky! Then someone was pounding at the door and it was Tammy. She looked as white as a sheet, she’d no skirt and her panties and legs were covered in blood.”
“Oh my God!” said Trudy.
“Well, we didn’t know what to do, there was no-one to call for help and she seemed hysterical, crying and saying that the Scoutmaster had put a knife up… well, up… inside her, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh God.” Trudy covered her face.
The boys decided to go for help, I locked the door and tried to clean her up and calm her down. I couldn’t tell what.. damage…he might have caused. After a while she went to sleep and I didn’t see any fresh blood.
“What happened then?”
“Well, it was really weird. Tammy woke up after a couple of hours and seemed OK! She said we should go and look for the real caravan site. So we put our gear on, took our backpacks and walked down to the main track, about a mile away. Well, just before we got to it, a Land Rover came round the corner with a policeman, Rob and Tim in it! It was being driven by a forest ranger, Tom I think. The policeman, Sergeant Hogan I remember, seemed quite annoyed to see Tammy walking along normally!”
“Well, you can hardly blame him, after what the boys must have told him,” Trudy said.
“We all got into the car and Tom drove us back to the caravan. Well, we couldn’t believe it. Instead of the mouldy old one we’d slept in, there were three brand new caravans! Rob and Tim’s stuff was outside one of them. Rob found the key he got when booking and we all went inside. It was lovely, everything new and sweet-smelling. The owners had left a card and a vase of flowers for us too.”
“What did this Sergeant, er Hogan, have to say?”
“Well at first he thought it was all some kind of practical joke. Tammy said she’d had a heavy period that had been made worse by all that walking about. She was very embarrassed. Anyway, he and Tom just left us to it.”
“That is seriously weird! What d’you think happened?”
“Well, it sounds odd I know but we think we went into some kind of time warp. The sergeant said there was a Scoutmaster in the 1930’s who’d taken some boys camping there, as he did every year, but one year three of them slept in a caravan for some reason. His name was John McIntyre. Well, they say he went there in the night, drugged the three boys and skinned them alive. Then he cut his own throat.”
Trudy turned pale.
“Another boy found them in the morning. They say he went mad…”
Trudy opened her mouth but nothing came out.
“There’s something else you should know. Your dad was staying in one of the other caravans. He was nineteen at the time. Well….”
“What?”
“Well, you were born nine months later!”
“Good God mum, I know you said you and dad had met on holiday, but I thought that’s when you were in your twenties.”
“Well, now you know.”

Trudy stood up and brushed her blonde hair back. “Right, that’s it. Sally’s definitely not going on any caravan holiday!”


Please note: this story was originally published on 4th May 2017. To see the original post (with comments), please click HERE.


N.B. this story is a ‘retelling’ of a story, Caravan of Nightmares, the contemporary account of which appears in To Cut a Short Story: 111 Little Stories. That version has a slightly different ending and runs to 4000 words. The full story does not appear on this blog, it is only available in the book (paperback/Kindle/eBook/audio-book).

  • To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.
  • If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.
  • Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 300!