Flip Side


solar flare 2

(600 words)

Traditional psychology can’t explain it. Well, they try to, they say it’s some kind of amnesia. I know it’s not, but they won’t listen to me. I look in the mirror and the person I see is not … me. It’s like I’ve been put in someone else’s body, not a bad one mind, and given a few sheets of A4 to learn about his history, life and work. So when Susan, my ‘wife’ comes to me and says Frank’s on the phone, I don’t have a clue who she’s on about, he wasn’t on the A4 sheets. Then she’ll get annoyed. “Look, Steven, you must go back for more tests. Stop giving them a hard time!” Mind you, she’s not bad looking though, and bedtime has been fun!
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.
The lady, I don’t know if she’s my wife, is called Hannah. She has a laugh that reminds me of milk bottles tumbling over.
That’s who I think I am.
So I looked around and found someone, a Dr. Nightshade. He’s a ‘displaced personality specialist’. He says what I’m experiencing is not uncommon, something to do with solar flares. They can knock the ‘astral body’ out of alignment, he says. Then another personality can move in and the displaced one moves into the other body, the one just vacated. Or something like that. He calls it TPD, ‘temporal personality displacement’ on account of the fact that the astral body can travel through time as well as space. Of course, your average psychologist doesn’t believe in any of that he says, but he’s had special training, from those who ‘know’.
Anyways, he says he can fix me. He’s got a machine. Apparently he doesn’t even need to have the other person present – the ‘me’ with ‘him’ inside, if you see what I mean. He says the machine simulates the effect of a solar flare, but in reverse, so it’ll pull ‘him’ into this body and I’ll just ‘flip’ back into mine, wherever and whenever that may be. So it’ll be goodbye Susan, hello Hannah, Jake, Jenny and Rusty!
He says it’s not without risks though. Sometimes the astral body of a third person can become separated and then there’s a three way swap, or even more. He says that’s really unusual though, and he just has to run the machine a few more times until all the astral bodies are in the right people.
Well, the good Dr. Nightshade ran the machine, took my money, a load of it, and nothing happened! He says it doesn’t always work first time. To come back tomorrow. ‘Get a good night’s sleep and don’t worry,’ he says. As if!
There’s a knock on the door. Susan. She comes in but she’s changed her hair. It’s long, wavy, brown. Like chestnuts …. “Hello Sweetheart,” she says, “I thought we’d go to the park. It’s a fine day. Take the kids.” She laughs. Milk bottles tumble over.
A tousle-haired girl, lean and smiley appears at her side. She doesn’t have braces on her perfect teeth. I hear the pounding feet of what sounds like a dog racing up the stairs. “Come on dad, Rusty needs some exercise!”

Please note: this story was originally published on 3rd February 2017. To read the comments (recommended), please click HERE.

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Electricidad

mallorca 2

(650 words)

The last thing Ronald Russell wanted to do that day was get into the taxi with Cheryl. Not because he didn’t love her. He did – or thought he did. But, as the taxi lumbered down the mountain road, swaying from side to side, pressing his bare legs against the bare legs of Cheryl and Samantha alternately, he knew there would be no more taps on the door late at night, no more sounds of clothes falling onto the floor, no more slim, warm body slipping in beside him, and Cheryl, giggling, reaching down for him, whispering, “I hope you don’t mind!”
Ronald felt Cheryl squeeze his hand. She smiled at him but her eyes looked different. Still the colour of jade but focused far away. Probably thinking about mundane matters back home. Picking Bruno up from the kennels, washing her holiday clothes, sitting in front of the mirror putting on make-up, ready to see …. him. He felt a sense of great sadness as well as overwhelming jealousy.
They’d arrived in Mallorca two weeks earlier for the walking holiday in the mountains of the north east. He’d been surprised to find almost no tourists there. Just one hotel too, Hotel Miramar, a quaint old building, large and cool, with huge fans turning in high ceilings. Just like the movies.
He’d looked around the motley group on arriving. Nine men and seven women, plus the leader, a short bald man with legs like walnut pistons. As usual, he’d given the women a mark from one to ten as to how much he’d like to bed them. Mostly they scored between one and four but Cheryl he’d given a six. Now, after two weeks of her company, he’d probably give her ten. The taxi took a corner around a precipitous drop, pressing his body against Cheryl’s, something he’d grown increasingly accustomed to.
“Ow, budge over, Ron!”
“Sorry, it’s this bloody road, so bumpy and bendy.”
Samantha took a bottle of water from her rucksack and took a swig. It was October but still hot, especially now they’d reached lower ground. She offered the bottle to him. “Ron?”
“Oh, yeah, thanks.” He took a gulp. The water was surprisingly cold. He noticed Samantha smiling at him. He’d noted her friendliness from day one, but he’d focused on Cheryl, as had the leader, who’d made no secret of his lust for her. Fortunately, she’d plumped for him and Sam had seemed less keen. He hadn’t noticed the dynamic until Cheryl had told him that Sam fancied him. Then the penny dropped. But, well, those teeth!
After the day’s walking and an evening meal, most of the group would sit in a local bar, chatting about the day’s events. They’d always been amazed by the waiters. Friendly, able to speak in all the languages of the group – English, French, Spanish and Italian – and with the ability to take an order once, writing nothing down, then to come back, handing all the right drinks to the right people. Very different to England, he thought, where you were lucky to get a smile and no one remembered you from Adam. One evening, almost a week into the fortnight’s holiday, Cheryl had made a point of sitting next to him. And that’s how it had begun.
“What’s the Spanish for electricity?” he’d asked, standing shoulder to shoulder with her, gazing down at a waterfall.
“Electricidad.”
“It’s what I feel when I’m with you.”
She’d hugged him. “Same.”

The taxi pulled up outside the hotel. The bus was waiting to take them to the airport. He sat next to Cheryl on the way. “Will we see each other?” She, coincidentally, lived in the same city.
“Well, there’s Stephen.”
“Yes, a married man.”
“Well, so are you!”
“But he doesn’t have to know.”
“What about Lorraine?”
“Ditto.”
Cheryl laughed and handed Ronald a piece of paper. “Call me tomorrow.”

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One Way Trip

bookmakers

(850 words)

As the train gathered speed, Patrick Skerry suddenly remembered he’d forgotten to buy a car park ticket. He felt his face flushing. What to do? He looked across to an old lady with a wrinkled face, chewing her lip whilst staring blankly out at the blackened, graffiti-strewn buildings flashing past. She wouldn’t know what to do, probably start on an endless yarn about some wretched grandchild.
Then another thought hit him. Had he locked the car? He felt sick in the pit of his stomach. Surely he had? But, after all, he’d been in such a rush for the train he’d forgotten to buy a car park ticket!
He couldn’t remember if the car would automatically lock after a while. But then, what if he’d left the key inside the car? Would it know not to lock it then?
He glanced at his watch. 9.45 a.m. The trip was only an hour and his appointment wasn’t till 12.00. He decided not to take any chances, he’d get out at the next station, Bradley Hill, and go back to Trusthorpe. With luck he’d just have to buy a ticket for the one stop back, and then he could re-use his original ticket. Failing that, he’d just have to hope for a sympathetic ticket inspector.

Bradley Hill was a small stop. A kiosk with a woman ungraciously serving coffee and tea and greasy sausage rolls, practically throwing them across the counter. She looked like an inmate from Belsen. Presumably she didn’t often partake of her sausage rolls.
A small crowd was milling around on the platform. A bunch of schoolgirls with short skirts, long white mottled legs and mouths full of braces. A handful of businessmen carrying briefcases, wearing smart suits and with beady-eyed, clean-shaven anonymous faces. With dismay he saw that the next train had been cancelled. Damn! That meant a thirty-minute wait. He went to the small ticket office to find it closed. Well, there was a machine; he supposed they didn’t want to pay staff. Tough luck on anyone who needed help with their luggage or advice on their route.
Outside, he saw a red double-decker bus, and getting onto it, to his total disbelief, was his father. But he’d died almost ten years earlier! He could see the back of the man as he paid for his ticket. The same tweed jacket with brown leather patches on the elbows, the same tweed trousers, the same beige cap, the same grey hair just peeking out from under the cap.
He ran out, “Dad! Dad!”  just as the bus pulled off. Then a black cab drew up. Thank God! He waited for the passengers to disembark – a woman, with a beige coat and a silk headscarf, with two young children in tow. They were both engrossed with hand-held devices, oblivious to the outside world. The woman counted out the fare in ten and twenty pieces. Hurry up, damn you!
He dived onto the back seat and opened the little window. “Follow that bus!”
The driver grunted and began to edge out. The bus was receding into the distance.
“Hurry up!”
The driver made an unpleasant noise and stamped on the accelerator.

The bus halted at last and the taxi pulled up in front. Patrick looked back to see his father – or someone identical to him – getting out and going into a bookmakers, Fred Noble. Well, his dad had liked a bet and often went to Nobles. It must be him, surely?
He pushed the door open and went inside. Half a dozen old men sat chewing pencils and staring at their betting slips, whilst a commentary came over the loudspeakers. “Runners going down to the start now.” A girl with bright blonde hair, acne, and thin brown arms sat behind the glass, looking bored, filing her crimson nails. But there was no sign of his father.
“Excuse me, did a man just come in. Tweed jacket and trousers, beige cap?”
She looked up. “What?”
Patrick repeated the question, watching as the girl tried to compute what he was asking. Finally, the penny dropped.
“I don’t remember. If he did, he might be in the toilet.” She gestured down a dingy corridor.
Patrick went past faded pictures of racehorses in thin, cheap frames that lined the peeling walls. He opened the door and went in. One cubicle was occupied. He hesitated. But he’d seen his dad come into the shop. He must be in there.
He knocked. “Dad, are you in there?”
The door opened and there stood two young black men. One held a plastic bag with some lumps in it. The other held a wad of cash. “Who the fuck are you?” said plastic-bag man, his eyes wide and hostile, the pupils dilated.
“Oh, sorry, I thought my father had come in here.”
“Let’s waste this fucker, man, he’s seen us,” said wad-of-cash-man, reaching into his coat.
The last thing Patrick knew was white-hot pain as a black hand thrust a long, serrated knife into his chest.

 

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The Strangest Cross

celtic cross

(700 words)

Settlers followed pioneers, who followed scientists, who followed robots. Now, biodomes dotted the frozen red desert that stretched to the pink horizon. The settlers found the soil to be good and plants to grow quickly. Wells bored deep into the surface found aquifers to nourish the plants.
Soon – despite warnings – children were born. Children who grew imperially tall and thin, with brown skin, knowing smiles and, shining from green eyes, intelligence beyond their years. And strangest of all, many of them were born with an extra finger on the right hand.
As they grew, they proved to be natural leaders, forming committees and making decisions for the adults, who mostly bowed to their intelligence and wisdom. Excavations were begun, under their direction, now teenagers and young adults, and finally, after several months of digging under brilliant floodlights, a huge arena had been excavated, and at the bottom they hit ‘pay dirt.’ The very top of an ancient stone building, millions of years old.
“It’s like they knew it was there all along,” said Edmund Silverstein.
His wife Valorie looked up at her husband’s remark, her blonde ponytail bobbing. “I swear Saul can read my mind. He seems to know what I’m going to say before I say it.”
“He’s a clever one alright. The directive was to focus on terraforming, not excavations. Somehow, he and his pals convinced the high-ups back on Earth to send the gear, and here we are.”
“But aren’t you excited that our son – our son – discovered the first Martian city?”
“We don’t know it’s a city, it could be a random pile of rocks.”
“What, buildings with rooms and windows!”
“We don’t know that yet.” He turned to a computer and began scrolling through columns of data. “Look, I think we should rent a new biodome. What d’you think?”
“Now you’re just being plain stupid!” Valorie put her hands upon Edmund’s shoulders and began to massage them. “Look, I know you don’t like the way things are going, these kids so intelligent, maybe even telepathic, taking charge, making us look like children, but it’s the way things are. We can’t change that.”
Edmund grunted.
She continued. “We came out to colonise this place. We didn’t know what to expect. What better way than by discovering some history?”
“Maybe by letting sleeping dogs lie ….”
They heard a sound like steam escaping, and a door slid open.
“Hello mum, hello dad.” Saul strode towards them. His brown face stretched into a smile. “We found something.”
Valorie wondered at her son, so tall and slim. It was like he’d grown six inches in the last week. She smiled at her imagination. “What is it, sweetheart?”
“Close your eyes and hold your hand out.”
Valorie felt something cool and metallic placed into her palm. Something brushed against her wrist. She opened her eyes and gasped. “Wow.” She turned the trinket over and over. It was of a metal she didn’t recognise, dull and heavy, showing little sign of wear, despite its ancient appearance. “How old?”
“They’re still working on it. Over a million years.”
It was reminiscent of a Celtic cross. An asymmetric cross – the lower arm longer than the other three, equal, lengths – superimposed upon a small circle. Each arm had a design engraved on it, like intertwined ropes in a complex pattern. At the junction of the cross was a small disc, and in it, a pair of hands held a heart shape. A fine chain was attached to the apex of the cross.
“Where did you find it?”
Saul smiled. “In the soil excavated from the first building. It was just on its own, but now we think there might be other artefacts we’re going to request more gear from Earth, to speed up the excavating.”
“Well, what do you think of this?” Valorie asked Edmund.
He gave the cross a cursory glance. “How do we know it wasn’t dropped by someone from Earth – one of the pioneers?”
Without a word, Saul held the cross up in front of his father and pointed to the hands holding the heart. On what would have been the right hand, the fine detail clearly showed a thumb and five fingers.

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Shelly in the Jungle

papua native

(650 words)

“Where d’you think I’m gonna find that kinda money?” asked Shelly Green, pulling on her dog’s lead. “Sit, Earl, sit!”
“Listen Shell’, it’s a chance in a lifetime! I dunno, get a loan from the bank, sell your car, sell your house!”
Shelly sighed. “What about Wharton’s. They wouldn’t let me go for a month!”
“For Chrissakes, Shelly, you’re only a cleaner. They can get someone else from the agency. No offence.”
“Thanks a lot!” She blushed. Her friend, Mavis Enderby didn’t mince words. “But, look, Mave, those pygmies, with their beards and loincloths and sweaty bodies, I mean, what about … y’know, women’s things … I’d be embarrassed!”
Mavis deposited her ample backside on a garden chair and took out her laptop. “When in Rome, do as the Romans. You’ll get used to jungle life, and I’ll be with you, I’m the tour guide, don’t forget.” She tapped on the keyboard. The flight leaves on the 22nd December. Just think, you’ll get to celebrate New Year in the jungles of New Guinea!”

“Oh, yeah, singing Old Lang Syne with a bunch of sweaty, spear-waving pygmies – no thank you! Anyway, I’ve got to take Earl for a walk. Have some more prosecco, I’ll be back in half an hour.”

When Shelly returned, she was shocked to find Mavis had stripped down to her bra and panties, smeared her face and body with soil and was now brandishing a garden cane as if it were a spear. Earl began to bark loudly.

“Shut up!” The dog carried on barking until Shelly slapped his backside. “Hey, that cane was holding my string beans!”
Mavis began to dance around in a circle, jiggling her sizeable bottom and waving her ‘spear.’ “You white woman, you welcome to our village. You hold pig whilst I club its head!”
“You’re mad, Mave, y’know!”
Laughing and breathless, Mavis sat down and threw her ‘spear’ to the ground. “Sorry, I got carried away. Maybe the prosecco had something to do with it.”
Shelly noticed the bottle was empty.
Several months later, older and wiser, Shelly sat in her garden, basking in the summer sun. She’d got over her anger at selling her cherished car to pay for Mavis’s ‘Christmas Jungle Experience,’ arriving in New Guinea to find her friend conspicuous by her absence. Instead, along with a motley crew of oddballs, they’d had to hire their own tour guide, a native by the name of Umberto. Then had followed weeks of hacking through jungle paths and ‘toileting’ behind trees, keeping a wary eye out for poisonous snakes. She’d lost her job at Wharton’s but, hey, she’d got a job on the checkouts at Tesco, which she preferred. Now she’d invited Mavis around to patch things up.
The garden gate opened and in came Mavis, holding a huge bunch of red roses and a vase-shaped package, wrapped in cream paper with red stripes. “Hello, kiddo, how was New Guinea? I’m sorry, kid, I couldn’t go, I broke a toe getting out of bed. No hard feelings?”
“No hard feelings, Mave.”
“Well, you made it home, anyway. I guess you’ve got some good memories?”
Shelly smiled. “More than memories, actually, Mave. Umberto!”
The back door opened and out came a man in bathing trunks. His body was short, but lithe and brown. He sported a bushy black beard and matching curly hair. “Greetings, Mavis, Shelly much tells me about you.”
“Oh, all good, I hope,” Mavis improvised, taken aback.
“Yes, and we invite you to our wedding.”
Mavis recovered, casting an envious glance at Shelly, “How lovely, thank you. Of course I’ll come. I promise this time!”
Umberto smiled. “Thank you, dear Mavis. It will be on anniversary of Shelly coming in my country, the 22nd of December. You will be special guest!”
“Oh, thank you.”
“And to be held with my tribe in foothills of Papua, New Guinea.”
For once, Mavis Enderby was speechless.

 

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It’s Dark in Here

old wardrobe 2

(1000 words)

“Where’s the key for the wardrobe in the spare room?”
“What … why?”
My wife, Jane, looked down at the carpet. “Oh, uh, I just fancied looking inside. Who knows what’s in there?” She gave an unconvincing laugh.
“What’s Lucy been saying?”
“What?”
“Come on, what’s that girl been imagining this time?”
“Look, Tony, I’m worried about her. First there was that nonsense about Roman soldiers under the bed, now this.”
“Now what?”
“Well, she said not to tell you, that you’d be cross.”
I felt a twinge of guilt. Perhaps I had been less than sympathetic over the soldier episode. But Lucy was eleven, for heaven’s sake. “Come on, out with it.” I smiled. “I won’t be cross, promise.”
“Well, she said she heard whispering from it.”
“What?”
“She said it said ‘Let me out, it’s dark in here.’”
“Anything else?”
“Yes … er, ‘I’m lonely, I want a friend to play with.’”
“OK, well, there isn’t a key, I’m afraid. That wardrobe’s always been locked, even when I was Lucy’s age. And there’s all granddad’s junk in the way, anyway.”
She sighed. “Well, I just thought, if we could open it and show her there’s nothing inside ….”

I went into the spare room. It was gloomy and silent. Through the window there were dark, oppressive clouds, and sporadic raindrops spattered the pane. The wardrobe stood in a far corner, barricaded in by boxes and trays of granddad’s tools – ancient hand drills, blunted planes and chisels.
We’d inherited this house from my mother, who in turn had inherited it from her mother a few years earlier. In that time, we’d visited rarely, my mother mainly coming to us, preferring the bustling market and lighted shopfronts of St. Albans to the dry-stone walls and slate-grey skies of Derbyshire.
But Jane had hankered for the rural life and after endless arguments we’d upped sticks, sold our house for a king’s ransom, metaphorically speaking, and moved here three months earlier.
It’d been on my mind to empty out the spare room and throw out granddad’s tools and boxes of nuts and bolts. I wasn’t one for sentimental junk. But I’d become friends with a guy – Jonno – from the local pub. He owned a garage and in his spare time restored vintage vehicles, something I enjoyed helping him with, whilst drinking steaming cups of pungent Earl Gray tea to keep the cold out. So, I’d been spending much of my time there, to Jane’s chagrin.
She worked at a bakers in the village, selling pork pies, hot Cornish pasties, sausage rolls and the like in their little shop. It paid a pittance but she seemed to enjoy the company.
“You need to look for work too, Tony, it’s no good tinkering around in Jonno’s garage, expecting the money to last forever!”
But, well, it could wait a month or two, surely? Heaven knows, I deserved a break after twenty years of driving HGVs.
I leaned over the stack of boxes and put my ear to the wardrobe. Nothing. As I’d expected. I held my position until my shoulder started to ache then headed back across the cluttered room. As I reached the door, there came a knock that startled me. A knock with a wooden, hollow sound. I whirled around and stood, expectant, feeling a strange fluttering in my stomach. Then came a faint scratching, like fingernails scraping against wood. Get a grip! Or a mouse in the skirting, more likely. I reminded myself to set some traps.

But the problem hadn’t gone away. Lucy would insist on going in there to see if the whispering would come – and, of course, it would. ‘It’s dark in here, let me out … I’m lonely, I want a friend to play with.’
So, I’d spent a couple of hours lugging granddad’s boxes down to Jonno’s truck, ready for the tip, and the wardrobe now stood exposed, its dull, drab mahogany unsightlier than ever. I’d made the decision to get rid of it. I’d asked Jonno to call round at lunchtime to help me down to the truck with it. But first, I had a little task to perform. Something I was quite looking forward to, in fact. Maybe there might be something interesting in there – or valuable even. I took granddad’s sharpest chisel and a hammer and placed the blade in the crack by the lock.

Let me out. It’s dark in here….

Outside it was dull and dark and raindrops once more spattered the window. It never seemed to stop raining here. Why hadn’t we stayed in Hertfordshire? If only Jane hadn’t been so bloody determined to move, we could’ve sold this place for a tidy sum.

I’m lonely, I want a friend to play with.
=
I gave the chisel a powerful blow and there was a loud boom as the wood splintered and the door flew open. I felt a sense of deep disappointment. The wardrobe was empty. Nothing, not even a rusty coat hanger.
“There you are, you can come out now!” My voice echoed in the wardrobe. Suddenly I felt myself gripped by agonising pain – like the time I’d trapped a nerve and couldn’t move a muscle without tormenting spasms shooting down my left-hand side. But now, it felt like I had cramp in every muscle in my body. I wanted to scream but nothing would come. It felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach, there was no air in my lungs. I collapsed onto my hands and knees, eyes squeezed tight shut, fighting against the pain. Then I heard Jane’s frantic voice, muffled and distant.
“Darling, are you OK?”
Just as suddenly, the pain vanished. I found I could stand up. “Yes, I’m fine, I was just, er, looking for, ah …. “
Jane looked from the wardrobe to me and back. “Well, no skeletons!” She laughed.
The rain began more heavily against the window. I turned the light out and we left the room.
“No, just a young girl’s vivid imagination.”

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Dog Story

dog pound

(850 words)

“God in a box, sis, gimme a break, I’ve been writing my balls off all morning!”
“Come on, you pwomissed. Anyway, how long does it take to write a five-hundred-word story for God’s sake?”
“All morning – if it’s for a magazine; it’s gotta be just right.”
“Well, what’s it about?”
“It starts like this. ‘You’re not going to eat that thing raw, are you?’ asked Prunella. Jack laughed. ‘If it’ll keep still long enough!’”
“Yuk, what’s next?”
“You’ll have to buy the magazine to find out!”
“I think I may not bother. Now come on, Uncle Doris is waiting.” I sniggered at our private joke.
My brother, Paul, put his manuscript in a draw and pulled a pair of white trainers out from under the bed.
“Christ, haven’t you heard of foot deodorant?”
“If you’re that bothered go out and buy me some!”
“It’s not me that has to suffer. It’s poor Abigail. So many nice boys out there and she chooses you. I can’t understand it!”
Paul grinned lasciviously. “Maybe I’ve got hidden talents.”
“And there was me thinking she was a nice girl. Anyway, I’m not going out with you in those stinky things!”
Reluctantly, my brother pulled out a brand-new pair of smart brown leather lace-ups, an unenthusiastically-received Christmas present from mum.

The corridor was long, with pens on either side. Each pen had an upper and a lower door, both of glass. A record sheet within a holder gave information: Name, age, sex and ‘fun things.’
“I like this one,” said Paul. A Pit Bull terrier, with a white muzzle and a black patch over one eye, saw us looking and got off his bed, barking excitedly. The sheet said Tyson, 4 years, male, ‘I like to chase squirrels!’
“Can I see him?” Paul asked a lady in a red top and trousers, wearing a matching baseball cap with the logo: The Ark Animal Rescue.
“Sure, Tyson’s a softie. Just the top door please.”
Tyson jumped up, putting his paws over the top of the lower door and cocking his head to one side, making eyes at Paul.
“Hello, boy, good boy!” Paul stroked Tyson’s head. Then the dog jumped down and ran to pick up a toy, a red bean bag. He jumped up again with the toy in his mouth.
“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.
Whilst Paul played with Tyson, I was taken with Honey, a brown Labrador Retriever. She sidled around her pen, barely looking up at me. I tapped on the glass. “Honey, hey, Honey!” She ignored me and returned to her bed. The sign said Honey, 11 years, female, ‘I like cuddles and leisurely walks.’ “What’s up with Honey?” I asked the woman in red.
“No one wants a dog so old. I think she realises that; she’s given up.”
“Ah, what’ll happen?”
“Well, if no one wants her after six months, she’ll be euthanized.”
“What, you mean … killed?”
“Uh huh.” She looked away.
I felt a lump in my throat and wetness in my eyes.

“Stupid mutt!”
I turned to see Paul closing Tyson’s door.
Uncle Doris appeared. “Hi Charlene, did you find one you liked?”
“Not yet,” I said.
“Well, I’ve found a nice doggy. Come and see.”
We followed him to the end of the pens. There was a Golden Retriever, a rusty red in colour. Karma, 3 years, female, ‘I like to play with children and swim!’ She jumped up, barking furiously.
The lady in red approached. “Would you like to walk her? You can take her out to the yard, I’ll fetch a lead.”
We all fell in love with her instantly. How on Earth could anyone have given her to an animal shelter? I wondered.
“Yes, please!” we all said in unison.

Back home, we high-fived each other, laughing, as Karma rushed into the house and up the stairs, barking enthusiastically, as if she’d always lived there. Dad appeared, smiling. “You found a dog, I gather!”
“She’s a beautiful animal, Ted,” said Uncle Doris, following us in.
Mum appeared from the lounge. “Everybody come through, there’s something for Charlene.”
We all traipsed into the lounge to find a huge cake in the shape of a cartoon bulldog, adorned with seventeen candles.
“Ah, Mum, thank you.” I kissed her on both cheeks as the others started with a chorus of Happy Birthday.
At the last refrain we were startled by a loud barking. There was my new friend with a mangled white shoe at her feet.
“Hey, that’s my trainer!” shouted Paul.
“That’s Instant Karma for you,” said Uncle Doris. Even Paul had to laugh.

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The Healer

healing hands

(800 words)

“Christ, Jesus wasn’t a patch on this guy, I’m tellin’ you, Harve!”
“C’mon, Daniel, you’re kiddin’ me, right?”
“I’m tellin’ you straight, he puts his hands on their shoulders, closes his goddamn eyes and two minutes later they’re healed. Cancer, heart disease, squints, you name it!”
“And you’ve seen this?”
“Goddamn right I’ve seen it. I seen it with my own eyes! Saul came to me first thing Monday morning. ‘Daniel, you ain’t gonna believe it,’ he says, ‘I took momma to see this new healer guy. After two minutes with the guy – Abraham he’s called – Wham! Her cataracts were gone!’ So, I took myself out to Shady Creek. He’s got a big tent set up. I watched for mebbe half an hour. Everyone he touched came away healed, I swear to God!”
“OK, OK, I’m interested! What’s he chargin’?”
“That’s just it, he don’t want no money, says he’s doin’ ‘God’s work.’ All he wants is eight hours’ sleep, some bread and water, and he’ll work twelve hours straight. It’s incredible.”
“Don’t he want nothin’ else? What about, y’know, chicks? Mebbe some dope?”
“He’ll eat a meal at night, that’s it. Spends an hour meditatin,’ then – lights out, as I understan’ it.”
“Wow, this is some guy! We could use him and if he don’t want no money, then he’s a schmuck! It don’t stop us chargin’ though, mebbe just a few dollars to start with. We’ve got the organisation, the management power, to make this sucker world famous! Send Saul and the boys down to Shady Creek pronto and make sure they don’t return without our friend Abe’s signature!”
“Will do, Boss!”
“There’s just one thing, Daniel.”
“Yeah?”
“Two minutes per healing, That’s thirty clients an hour, three hundred and sixty a day. At, say, five dollars, that’s only 1800 bucks a day. Take into account the tour bus, road crew, radio and TV advertising, insurance, an’ all the rest of it, not forgettin’ our commission, of course, and it ain’t so profitable. Not till we get the merchandising going big time, anyhows. Maybe even get this joker a record deal, who knows? See if you can’t get him to speed up a tad – say ninety seconds a healing. God’s all powerful ain’t he? See what you can do!”
Abraham splashed his face with cold water and looked in the mirror. A pale ascetic face, framed by curly brown hair stared back. The eyes were the palest jade in colour, almost translucent. In here, his private bathroom, he had a moment of tranquillity, away from the queue snaking into the distance. Away from tempers flaring over who was next. Away from ‘minders’ bellowing at anyone who tried to jump the queue.
A voice in his head told him he was doing God’s work. Hadn’t Jesus himself said ‘Heal the sick’ and ‘Give without pay’? He knew he was being exploited by Harvey and Daniel, the ‘gruesome twosome,’ yet, at the end of the day, they’d got him all the patients he could handle – and then some. But he felt pain for those who queued up for hours in the baking heat, and who, when his God-assigned twelve hours were up, were turned away, unhealed.
The door crashed open and there stood a man, wide-eyed, red-faced and sweating profusely. One arm hung limply by his side, emaciated and useless. “Heal me, please. Heal my arm. Make me whole again!”
“How did you get past security, friend?”
“What does it matter? Won’t you heal me? Please.”
“I’m sorry, friend, I only heal those in the queue, in the order they arrive each day. That is God’s will.”
The man’s other arm raised a gun. “Heal me or I’ll kill you.”

A lady with fingers gnarled and twisted with arthritis, patiently waiting at the head of the queue, looked up at the nearby report. She called to the guards, “Hey, I’m next, what was that bang? It sounded like a gun. Where’s Abraham?”
A guard approached. “Nothing to worry about, lady. Abraham’s just in the bathroom. Taking a well-earned break. He won’t be long.”
She took his arm, “Listen, I’m next, you hear. I want to move my fingers again, be able to touch and feel my grandchildren, be free of the pain, y’know. Tell him to come out. Now, do you hear?”
A frantic voice came in the man’s earphone. She saw his face change. It looked like a piece of grey Plasticine.

She inspected her fingers, a travesty of their former selves, once able to sew, knit, play the piano … stroke her mother’s cheeks – then at the pandemonium breaking loose all around her. “Tell him to hurry up, goddamn it!” With an effort she took out a tissue and wiped the tears from her eyes.

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To Unpathed Waters, Undreamed Shores

pluto

(600 words)

Giselle Brown leapt and found herself soaring into the air. She gazed out over a lake of frozen hydrocarbons, black as tar, then into the starry sky where one star, like a torch seen at the end of a tunnel, outshone all the others – the Sun.
As she reached the apex of her jump, twenty-five feet above the ground, she gazed in awe, as she always did, at the huge crescent of Charon, hanging in the dark sky, before she began to fall, gently, back to the icy surface. She glanced at her chronometer and smiled. Nearly ten seconds, her highest leap yet.
“Giselle. Can you come back; we need you.” The voice of commander Sandy Bjornstrom came in her helmet.
She felt frustration. “Why, what’s up?”
“Just come back, please – now.” The channel went silent.
She walked across to the rover, feeling her boots crunch on the frigid ground. Around her there was no sign of civilization, just boulders and ice and unswimmable lakes, languishing at minus 230 degrees Centigrade. Somewhere over the horizon lay the lights of the station and its bristling array of antennae and dishes.
They’d been sent out here, a ten-year trip, to investigate a phenomenon. A signal had been detected. A bizarre series of pulses that would start with one, then two, then three, and so on. Up to between eleven and seventeen. Then it would start all over again from one. There had been endless debate, argument and analysis, but there seemed to be no pattern to the maximum number of pulses reached. One thing was certain though; the signal emanated from somewhere on – or in – the dwarf-planet, Pluto.
Out of her suit, sipping scalding-hot coffee, she sat in the whiteness of the rec room.
Sandy bounced in. Tall, thin, flicking his parted blond hair from a pale forehead. “Klaus found something interesting. Very interesting.” He hesitated, a deep furrow appearing above his eyes.
“Well, what?”
A screen flickered into life. “Radar data. Look.” An amorphous blob appeared to be moving in a kind of amphitheatre.
“What is it?”
A network of graphics appeared around the shape, rounding it into something disc-like, but with protrusions in places. “It’s something underneath us, something deep in the ocean.”
“What, how big?”
“Klaus estimates … roughly ten miles in diameter.”
“What! What the hell is it?”
“We only just got the data … from the balloon. It could be anything. An area of warmer fluid, a gigantic rock … or some kind of … floating city, even.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
Sandy gave a wry smile. “Early days.”
“What, you think they’ll want us to go down there?”
“Probably. But I’ve already made the decision. Erik and Klaus are prepping the drill. It’ll take two weeks, then they’ll send the sub down.”
“If there’s anything intelligent down there, d’you think they’ll know we’re here?”
“Unlikely, I’d have thought. If there is, they’re sealed off down there. Till we drill into their ocean, that is. It’s probably nothing … but then there is that damned signal. It’s coming from somewhere down there.”
An intercom sounded. Klaus’s voice breathless and excited. “You’re not going to believe this!”
“What?” they exclaimed in unison.
“The signal just reached nineteen!”
“What, are you sure?”
“Yes, I just double-checked the data!”
Disbelieving, Giselle and Sandy stared at each other. In twelve years, since first detected, the pulses had never gone beyond seventeen before, not once. Until now.
Pluto, wasn’t he the god of the Underworld? With shaking hands, Giselle put her coffee cup down onto the white Formica table.

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Something to Do With the Sea

bookshop 4

(750 words)

Credited, usually, with the patience of a saint, I was nevertheless tested at times.
“I’m looking for a book.”
I looked up from my desk at the back of the shop, where I was cataloguing a copy of Pepys’s diary, bound in worn morocco leather that had no doubt, decades earlier, been an impressive maroon. The man was tall, ascetic, with a boyish face. His black hair was neatly parted and his nose was thin and pronounced. Ominously, he sported a dog-collar.
“Ah, yes, what’s it called.”
“Oh, that I’m not sure about. It’s quite a long title.”
“Well, who’s it by? I can look it up for you.”
“Ah, hmm, the name escapes me right now.” He gazed around the shelves intently, as if it were his first venture into a second-hand bookshop.
I felt the first bubblings of annoyance. “Well, look, what’s it about. Is it fiction or non-fiction?”
He looked down at me, blinking rapidly. “Oh, it … it’s non-fiction. Sorry, I’m not being much help, am I?”
“Well, is it a book on theology?” I suggested helpfully, taking account of his garb.
He smiled. “No, even us rectors need to read something other than the bible!”
“Look, can you remember anything about it?”
“Yes, it’s blue, and I think … an American author, something to do with the sea.”
Oh, that narrowed it down to a couple of million books then. I smiled my best bookshop-owner’s smile. “Look, perhaps you could come back when you have the author and title? But, while you’re here, why not have a look around. It might jog your memory?”
He returned to the counter some twenty minutes later clutching a number of books, just as I’d moved on to cataloguing a dog-eared copy of The Collected Letters of Samuel Johnson. Truth to tell I was glad of the diversion from Mr. Johnson’s wordy missives. “Did you find the book?”
“What book?”.
“The one you asked me about when you came in!”
“Ah, no, alas, it’s gone clean out of my mind. I do hate it when that happens, don’t you?”
Well it was part of my job that things didn’t go ‘clean out of my mind’ but I concurred politely, totting up books on chess, crosswords, violin-playing and one on how Aristotle invented science, to a respectable thirty-five pounds. That would at least cover heating and lighting for the day, I reflected.
The following morning, the shop bell rang and a woman appeared, her ample figure clothed in black. Her hair was platinum white, cut in a neat bob and she wore a little powder, pale-blue eye shadow and pink lipstick. She carried a book on chess – Rubinstein’s Fifty Best Games, which I recognised as one I’d sold to the vicar the previous day.
“Can I help?” I asked.
“Yes.” She gave a pleasant smile. “My husband bought this yesterday. I’m afraid he’s rather absent-minded. He’d already got a copy.”
Absent-minded seemed too kind but I smiled back. “I can refund you,” I said, ignoring my usual policy. “By the way, did he remember the book he was after.”
She handed me a slip of paper on which was written in neat fountain-pen, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Stephen R Covey.
Trying to keep a straight face, I said, “Well, you’re in luck. I’ve got a copy in the back. I’ll just fetch it.”
I returned moments later with a virtually unread copy. The previous owner didn’t seem to have scored too high on the effectiveness scale. “You can have it for … er, three pounds.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” she exclaimed, taking the book and flicking through it with pink-painted nails. “My name’s Susan by the way. My husband – the vicar – is Cecil.” She held out her hand.
I shook it and stood mesmerised as her jade-green eyes stared into mine.
She seemed in no hurry to release her grip. “Look, you must come to tea.” She proffered a card. “Tomorrow would be good.” Glancing at a sign, she said, “How about four o’clock? I see you close early.” Hesitating, she added, “Although Cecil will be at choir practice till five, I’m afraid.” She didn’t look too afraid.
“Oh, that’ll be OK.” I thought I could live without Cecil’s company for an hour.
She smiled and handed me three pounds.
In the words of Mr Covey himself, it had all the hallmarks of a win-win situation!

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 500 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 250!