Having the Family for Dinner

creepy house

(900 words)

Hope, Faith and Charity were Jacob Anderson’s three daughters. Hope was on stage, under the bright lights, on tour in a production of Royalty Calls, a farce involving an actress marrying a prince. Now, the other two, Faith, thirteen and Charity, nine, decked out in hiking gear, accompanied Jacob along snow-covered tracks and through the endless trees of the Johnson National Park, north-west Canada. As a photographer for Toronto Times, he’d taken an assignment to photograph the wildlife and the rugged, desolate landscape there.
The day had started off fine – an early spring breeze, the snow crisp, its crystals gleaming in the sunshine and little icicles dangling from the pines. The girls were happy, pulling Jacob’s gear and some supplies on a small sled, whilst singing camp songs. “With my hand on my head and what have I here, this is my brainbox, Oh I do declare ….”
After photographing an ice-lake and the unexpected success of snapping a pair of bull moose sizing up for a fight over a female, it had suddenly grown dark. Jacob eyed the oppressive snow-laden clouds overhead. “Come on, kids, better head back to the Land Rover.”
Charity’s huge brown eyes looked up at him from beneath a green bobble hat. “How far is it, dad?”
“Only a mile or so,” he improvised. “Come on, let’s get back.”
Three days earlier they had flown into Yellowknife at the head of Great Slave Lake, then hired a Land Rover to drive to the Spruce Tree Hotel, a couple of miles off the main highway near a place called Fort Stark.
It was a surprisingly comfortable hotel with thirty-five rooms, a sauna, gym and outdoor Jacuzzi hot tub. So, Jacob thought it a good idea to bring the younger girls, expecting to leave them at the hotel in the daytime, not anticipating that they would have other ideas.
Now, Faith’s red hair protruded from her ski-cap as she let out a sigh, which expanded as mist, ghost-like into the cold forest air.
Jacob glanced at his phone, seeing that he’d either forgotten to charge it, or the battery was faulty. The indicator showed just two percent battery power left. There was no signal for miles in any case. He took a compass bearing. “Come on, kids, this way.”  He gestured through widely-spaced trees, where the snow didn’t look so deep. “Soon be home!”
Half an hour later, the temperature had dropped considerably, it was starting to snow and the forest seemed unfamiliar.
“Dad, I’m scared,” Charity whimpered.
Jacob crossed his fingers. “Don’t worry, sweetheart, we’ll be fine.”
“Look, there’s a house!” Faith exclaimed , gesturing through snow-laden pines.
Sure enough, there were lights shining through windows. The forest-dwellers would be pleased to help, Jacob thought. It must be lonely out here. They would know the direction back to the track, and maybe they might have some kind of satellite phone too? Then he could let the hotel know they would be late back.
The house was large, built from timber with a substantial porch and a snow-covered sign that brushed to show Erebus. An odd name for a house, he thought. He pushed on a doorbell. Far off, there was an answering chime.
He rang again … and again, then Faith turned the door knob. “Hey, the door’s open!”
An objection stalled in his throat and he followed the girls into a large room. A fire blazed in a huge fireplace and rustic wooden tables and chairs lay around the room in disorder. A jar of coins stood on a central table.
“Hello,” Jacob called, “Hello.”
There was no response. He looked up some stairs and called again, “Hello, is anyone there. We’re lost!”
Total silence.
“Look!” Faith exclaimed. In a corner, a chicken carcass hung from the ceiling, swinging almost imperceptibly, as if rocked by an invisible hand.
“I don’t like this, dad,” said Charity.
“Everything’s fine,” Jacob said. “Perhaps the owners have just popped out … er, to get some wood for the fire,” he added lamely.
There was a loud rattle that made him jump like a scalded kitten. “For God’s sake, what did you do that for?”
Faith stood, regarding a pile of coins on the table, looking sheepish. “I just felt like it, I guess.”
Jacob picked one up, noticing the head of George the Fifth. He realised they were old English pennies.
“Make a wish, why don’t you?”
They all turned, startled. There stood a woman, her face as sallow as the faded dress she wore, and her skin as lined as a severely wrinkled prune. Her hair was thin and long and white, and her eyes, the palest yellow, the pupils barely visible.
“S-Sorry, we … me and my girls, we were lost. It’s snowing, we saw your lights ….”
There was a thudding sound on the stairs and a huge man appeared. He wore old brown corduroy trousers, patched and oil-stained, and a green plaid shirt over his barrel chest. They all gasped at his face. There was just one eye. Where the other would have been there was no sign of an eye socket nor eyebrow, just fleshy skin. But what frightened them even more was the meat cleaver he clasped tightly in a huge, hairy hand.
The woman turned to the man. “Look, Henry, dinner just walked in!”

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What’s in a Name?

whats in a name

(600 words)

Dr. Rowina Scott stood at an enormous round window, gazing in awe at the towering pyramidal blocks a thousand stories high that dominated the city. She never grew tired of looking at them nor ceased to wonder at their immensity. Multi-coloured sky pods darted around and between them. A bleep from her pager jolted her out of her reverie. The director, Dr. Abraham Klein, wished to see her urgently. What the hell did the old bugger want?
She knocked softly and entered the chamber. Klein’s office was circular and enormous, and painted in brilliant white. Huge oval windows in the ceiling far above showed a cerulean sky dotted with small white clouds. Dr. Klein did not look happy, she thought.
“Take a seat, Dr. Scott.” Klein gestured to a sumptuous white chair and retreated behind his desk. He sat down and rested his chin on the inverted ‘V’ of his fingertips. “It’s about the Oceanic Integrity Committee.”
Rowina crossed her legs, admiring her slim calves, trim ankles and painted toe nails. The hours on the treadmill were paying off, much as she disliked the old-fashioned methods. “Yes?”
“It’s being headed up by Professor Yasarin.”
“What!” Rowina almost exploded. She stood up, put both hands on the edge of the enormous desk and looked Dr. Klein directly in the eyes. “What the hell are you saying?”
Dr. Abraham Klein’s eyes wavered, looked down at the polished amboyna burl, then, bracing himself, back into Rowena’s. “Look, I knew you wouldn’t be happy.”
“You can say that again!”
“He’s a changed man, into environmental conservation, reforestation, breeding endangered species, stricter emission controls ….”
“For Chrissakes. If he’d got his way at the 2030 climate summit, we’d all have drowned in our beds by now!”
“Look, he was wrong, we all know he was wrong; he openly admits he was wrong. Anyone can make a mistake.”
“Oh, opposing anyone and everyone who argued for emission controls for ten years. A mistake!”
“Now, now, Dr. Scott, listen to the man. Be reasonable.” A smooth voice with a hint of Russian accent came from behind.
Rowena whirled around, surprised. The man had entered the chamber soundlessly.
Professor Yasarin adjusted silver-rimmed glasses on his Roman nose. She had to admit he was quite handsome, in that cruel Gulag-commandant way. She could feel his eyes scanning over her, undressing her mentally. “Dr. Scott, er, Rowena, if I may be so bold. Look, I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye.”
“But, look, things have changed, I myself have changed, and now I want you onboard. Onboard as someone on the committee I can trust to make the right decisions. The right decisions to care for our oceans.”
“OK, well, look, they’ll come at a price.” Rowena looked from Professor Yasarin to Dr. Klein and back to the professor.
The professor took a seat and put his head back, staring at the distant ceiling. “Yes?”
She continued, “One, I get the right of veto, two, I move to the office on the top floor, and three, er, I want the next research vessel named after me.”
The professor laughed. “Is that all?” whilst Dr. Klein made a noise like a fart.
Rowena looked down at her holographic nails, watching seagulls fly. “Uh huh.”
“Well, my dear, I’ll tell you what. Why don’t I take you out for dinner and we can discuss it?”
Rowena looked from Klein’s apoplectic visage to Professor Yasarin. She noticed his teeth were white and straight, something she always looked for in a lover. “Well, I’m free tonight.”


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Deaf Date

sign language

(500 words)

As a man who’d been almost stone-deaf since birth, meeting women was something out of Christian Brown’s comfort zone. They may have smiled, but from their eyes, and replies, he knew he was less than intelligible.
Now he was shown to a seat in the Koh-I-Noor restaurant. He took a deep breath and looked around at the mainly empty seats, then at his watch. 7.55 p.m. His councillor and psychologist, Susan, had arranged a blind date for him with a lady called Stephanie. She’d told him nothing about her, just that she was attractive, divorced and in her early forties.
But he trusted Susan. Over the past three years, she’d helped him gain social skills and a measure of confidence. Looking in the mirror, he recognised his good looks, despite the hearing aids behind both ears.
A woman with a white stick and sunglasses passed his table, aided by a waiter. “Are you Christian?” he enquired.
Hearing the dull thudding of his own voice, Christian responded that he was Church of England. He must have been intelligible after all, as he saw the woman stifle a laugh. The waiter struggled with both Christian’s pronunciation and the joke, reiterating the question.
Christian read the lips of the woman, presumably Stephanie, as she stood at the table. “Are you Christian Brown? May I join you?” From the way she felt the table and edged around it, he realised she was blind.
Stephanie had likewise been told very little about Christian, and now sat, trying to understand his strange manner of speaking. Susan had said he had a good heart, and that was what she now needed most in a man. She asked Christian if he could lip read and heard a noise that sounded like ‘yes.’
Christian admired her long chestnut hair and judged from the parting that it was her natural colour. She had high cheekbones and perfect teeth. He felt a strong attraction building and told himself to relax, to let her feel at home with him. To his surprise, a waiter brought her a beige plastic-coated card, covered in small bumps.
Stephanie skimmed it with her fingertips. “May I have Chicken Vindaloo and Tarka Dahl, please?” She smiled in Christian’s direction, “I like things spicy!”
Christian read her lips and felt his face flush, then, with relief, realised it didn’t matter.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned. It was Susan, all smiles at seeing the two of them together. She gestured in sign language to him, whilst speaking it out loud for Stephanie’s benefit. “Hello, Christian, are you alright?”
Stephanie felt a kiss on her cheek and Susan’s hand on hers, and a whisper in her ear.
“Are you OK with Christian?”
They both smiled at Susan, one seeing, one unseeing, one hearing, one unhearing, realising that this wise and compassionate woman was trying her best to bring much-needed romance into both of their lives. Neither felt inclined to object.

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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Pie in the Sky

pie eating 2

(1100 words)

Sergeant Rowena Martens stood five feet three inches in her stockinged feet and weighed one hundred pounds almost exactly. Despite her petite size she was strong, fast, and had a talent that gave the men in her platoon quite a surprise when first encountered.
She was twenty-four years old and from the city of Mountain View in California, where her parents’ extensive house and gardens gazed up at the Santa Cruz mountains, and where she’d discovered an aptitude for rock climbing. Her father, Heinz, was a German who’d worked on V-rockets in the war and subsequently found a niche at NASA and then in Silicon Valley. The fact that he’d been a member of the Nazi party and, through his rocket designs, responsible for thousands of deaths was dismissed, like someone brushing a few specks of dust from the collar of their jacket.
Rowena had the same quick intelligence, and when her friend, Natalie, said she wanted to join the army, her surprise gave way to acceptance and then enthusiasm to do likewise, to everyone’s amazement.
Natalie opted for the Finance Corps as a ‘cushy option.’ Rowena applied to the Signal Corps, and, in the time before joining, worked on her physical fitness and fighting skills.
“Well, lookee here, we’ve got ourselves a midget!” laughed Tanner Sutherland, standing behind her in the dinner queue on her first day.
Rowena turned around. “Well, lookee here, we’ve got ourselves an ugly moron!”
There was laughter and a few soldiers gathered around to watch the scene. Tanner’s face was red with rage. “There shouldn’t be no women in our army, especially not little shortarses, you’d be no good in close combat.”
Rowena pulled out of the queue and stood facing Tanner, balancing lightly on the balls of her feet.
“Hey, lay off her, Tanner,” said Norton Breakspear, “it’s brains, not brawn we need in the Corps. You seem to be lacking in the first department, bud.”
Tanner ignored him. “Looks like we got us a feisty one!”
Rowena knew she’d have her work cut out to beat up this creep. “Tell you what, soldier, you know anything about pie-eating?”
Tanner’s eyes almost popped out of his head. “Pie eating, I’m the platoon champ for God’s sake. Tell me you didn’t know!”
“Actually, pal, I didn’t know but I’ll take you on. Loser cleans the latrines for a week!”
A look of disbelief crossed Tanner’s face. He laughed; how could he lose? Then this little runt could work her sweet ass off all week in the toilets!
“OK, OK, settle down peeps!” It was Lieutenant Rushmore. He addressed the dining room in a booming voice. “I heard all that and I’ll get Sergeant Shiner to set up the competition. Breakspear, it’s your lucky day. You were down for latrine-cleaning duty next week, now it’ll be Martens … or Sutherland, of course,” he added hastily. “Also, listen up peeps, we need a candidate from this camp for the National U.S. Army Pie Eating Competition in Atlanta in the Fall. I propose that the winner of this Eat Off be that candidate. Anyone got any objections to that, come and see me afterwards.”
Rowena sat gazing out of the train windows as the fields and woods flashed past. In the far distance she could see the first foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains. She was going home. She’d given it her best shot but at the end of the day, the army was all about killing people, no matter how they tried to dress it up. After much soul searching, she’d handed in her dog tags and was heading back to her parents’ house. She stroked her belly where new life was beginning.
Her mind flitted back to the contest. The evening of the competition came and Rowena and Tanner sat side by side, with hands tied behind their backs. Rowena had eaten a huge meal eighteen hours earlier, mainly easily-digestible fruit and vegetables, high in fibre. She’d eaten for nearly an hour, then after ten minutes, she’d drunk water until her stomach was at bursting point. After a night punctuated by toilet visits had followed a light breakfast of pancakes and frequent drinks of electrolyte and a protein shake during the day. At 4 p.m. she’d gone for a light two-mile run. Now her stomach was empty again, she was hungry as hell and ready to chow down!
All she remembered after that was the shouting and hollering of a couple of hundred GI’s, oblivious to everything apart from the next pie being placed before her and burying her teeth into the crust and apple filling. She never wanted to eat another apple as long as she lived!
Whilst in the rock-climbing club, she’d perfected the art of competitive eating, chewing gum constantly to strengthen her jaws and maxing out on big meals and water to stretch her stomach to the limit, even having her teeth filed to bite through tough fillings more easily.
But the army was a harder taskmaster. When the final whistle blew, she’d eaten the fillings and most of the top crust of four and a half pies. The bottom crust was not to be disturbed. Out of the corner of her eye she’d spotted Tanner chomping like a man possessed and tried to put him out of her mind, battling the clock only.
Now, she was dismayed to see he had almost finished his fifth pie. Her heart sank as her hands were freed and she was able to wipe the muck off her face. A week cleaning latrines – shit!
Then she heard Tanner give a large belch and smelt vomit. There it was on his chin. Before he could wipe it off, a huge cheer went up as a judge waved a red flag above Tanner’s head. Disqualified for vomiting. Rowena was the platoon pie-eating champ!
However, Rowena was petrified of flying and the army baulked at paying for her time off to travel to Atlanta and back by rail. So, to her dismay, her pie-eating career had ended and Tanner was reinstated as camp eating champion.
She patted her belly. She didn’t know or care which of her ‘well-wishers’ the father was or whether the baby would be black, brown, yellow or white. Nor did she care what her parents would think. The army was history. This was her job now. To be the best mother she could be. She brightened up. Anyway, thinking about it, wasn’t it nearly time for the rock-climbing club’s annual pie-eating contest?

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!

The Moonlit Garden (A Play)

moonlit garden gate

The Moonlit Garden, a play for five voices

(2000 words)


Martin – retired banker

Rebecca – dance teacher and daughter of Martin

Nicholas – dealer in rare books and Rebecca’s husband

Lucy – art student and daughter of Rebecca and Nicholas

Woman on the Beach


Scene 1 – Dining room in sea-side hotel. Sometime in the 1950’s


Martin – Good morning, Becky, my dear, I trust you slept well?

Rebecca: Like the proverbial log, thank you, father.

Martin: It’s the seaside air, my dear, nothing like it for lifting the spirits in the daytime and lulling one to sleep at night!

Rebecca: Would you pour me some coffee please, father?

Martin: Yes, of course, dear. Where’s my son-in-law? Out for his morning constitutional?

Rebecca: Alas, no, he is still deep in slumber. After you’d gone to bed, he sat up drinking whiskey with a couple, Claud and Maria, till the wee hours. They’re antique dealers. No doubt swapping stories of buying rarities for a song! And Lucy, well I don’t know where the girl’s gone. She was up but said she was going for a walk to the sea.

Martin: I was early to bed. With Miriam gone, I’m not one for staying up late, as you know. By the way, I ordered poached eggs and smoked salmon, and for you too, my dear, I hope that’s OK?

Rebecca: Perfect father, you must have read my mind!

Martin: Actually, my dear, I had a rather odd dream. Would you permit me to recount it?

Rebeca: Of course. I’m intrigued!

Martin: Well, there I was in a garden. It was night and there was a gibbous moon in the sky, turning the garden to silver. There was a fountain made of brick, with a large shallow pool around it, the whole set in a large depression off from some lawns.

Rebecca: How lovely!

Martin: Well, that’s the odd thing, the brickwork was old and the fountain nozzle bent and dry. The cement pool around it was cracked, with weeds poking through in places.

Rebecca: How odd.

Martin: Yes, as I looked around, everything seemed overgrown, as if time had forgotten the garden. But then I heard singing, soft gentle voices. I walked up from the fountain to a lawn, and there were women in long dresses, and with their hair unfettered and flowing free. They were beautiful, smiling, holding out their hands; wanting me to join with them in a circle.

And as I joined hands with them, we began to dance and sing. Oh, what a wonderful song, so sweet. I wish I could remember the words. Round and round we whirled and I realised they must be fairy folk. There were some young men too, clad in tunics of the most vibrant colours!

Rebecca: Then what happened?

Martin: I don’t remember. I just remember awakening, feeling sad that my fairy friends were gone. Forgive an old man his whimsy.

Rebecca: Don’t be silly, father. Ah, here comes the waitress with our eggs.

Martin: Ah, and here comes Nicholas too, looking a bit the worse for wear, if I may say so!

Rebecca: Good morning, darling!

Nicholas (to waitress): No food for me thank you. Good morning, Martin. Good morning, Becky.

Martin: How are you feeling? Becky tells me you sat up late with a pair of antique dealers, no doubt you had many tales to swap!

Nicholas: I can’t really remember the conversation; I just remember waking up about six with a sore head. I took a couple of aspirin and went back to bed. Then I had a strange dream.

Rebecca: Have some coffee and toast, at least, and do tell us, whilst we eat.

Nicholas: Well, I was in a garden, similar to the grounds of this hotel, but unkempt, like it’d been left for many years. Statues with moss on them and the grass long. It was night and there was a bright moon. There was a rectangular pool, I think with a fountain in the centre. But the cement around the pool was cracked and there was grass and weeds growing in it. I imagined it once held golden carp.

Martin: Did you see a large fountain, down in a depression?

Nicholas: No. But I heard singing. Tuneful voices of men and women. Then they appeared, the women in long diaphanous dresses, and the men in green and red tunics.

Martin: By Jove, Nick. That’s almost the same dream I had! Did you dance with them?

Nicholas: Yes, I did. They whirled around and around in a circle, and I joined hands with them and whirled around with them.

Martin: Do you remember what they sang?

Nicholas: No, but it was very beautiful. Wait a minute, I remember something else. There were big cats there, you know, lions, tigers, pumas, leopards, that sort of thing, but they were all friendly. You could pet them and they had these deep, rumbling purrs. I was so sad to wake up and find them all gone.



Scene 2 – Nicholas and Rebecca’s bedroom


Rebecca: Well I must say, it wasn’t helpful of you getting plastered last night and embarrassing me at breakfast just now.

Nicholas: Plastered! I had a few whiskeys, that’s all.

Rebecca: No doubt neat with very little ice, judging from the smell when you came to bed.

Nicholas: You were asleep!

Rebecca: How could I sleep with the racket you made undressing, banging into all sorts?

Nicholas: Well, why didn’t you speak to me?

Rebecca: Isn’t it obvious? I didn’t want you … pawing me in that horrid state.

Nicholas: What about you? Letting Lucy go wandering on her own. She’s a young girl, she should have someone with her at all times.

Rebecca: Don’t be so damned old-fashioned, Nick. Lucy is eighteen, she’s no longer a child, not in the eyes of the law even.

Nicholas: Maybe not, but she’s our child. You might not care if she gets assaulted but I do!

Rebecca: Don’t be vile! Of course I care about Lucy, just that she’s a young woman, and as a young woman she can make her own decisions, well, some of them anyway. And if she wants to go for a walk on the beach to take the air of a morning, well, why shouldn’t she? If you hadn’t such a hangover, you could have gone too.

Nicholas: Anyway, what on Earth do you mean about me embarrassing you at breakfast. All I did was recount a dream, almost the same dream as your father’s as I recall!

Rebecca: Do you know, Nick, that dream’s been playing on my mind. I’m not sure that I didn’t dream of that garden myself. But I’ve never been one for indulging in dreams, as you know. One of us has to live in the real world when bringing up a child!

Nicholas: Look, arguing about Lucy isn’t going to do any good, is it? Should we go and look for her, d’you think?

Rebecca: Well, they stop serving breakfast at nine. I don’t want her to go hungry. I think we should take a walk along the seafront in any case. The air will do us both good. And probably help clear your head too!



Scene 3 – The Beach


Woman on the Beach: Well, good morning to you. It’s a fine day.

Lucy: Indeed, it is ma’am.

WOTB: See all the pretty shells, my dear. If you look carefully you may find pieces of jet.

Lucy: Jet?

WOTB: Jet is fossilized wood, my dear, black as the ace of spades. (Laughing) Black as a witch’s eyes! Didn’t you know?

Lucy: Yes, now I recall the name.

WOTB: Don’t you just love the smell of the sea, my dear?

Lucy: Yes, a delight for the senses. I’m an art student.

WOTB: Well, my dear, you are in your element here. The waves washing on the sand, the smell of the brine, the beautiful shells in their many colours. And if you look carefully, you may see a crab scuttling across the sand.

Lucy: Do you live in this town?

WOTB: In a manner of speaking, my dear. What about you?

Lucy: Oh, I’m staying with my grandfather and my parents at Reboc Hill Hotel.

WOTB: Yes, it’s a lovely place, my dear, and the gardens!

Lucy: Yes, the gardens on the hillside are so pretty. Last night I awoke in the early hours. I couldn’t get back to sleep so took a walk out in the moonlight.

WOTB: Ah, yes, the moon is waxing and bright. The full moon’s just four days away.

Lucy: Do you know the hotel?

WOTB: Very well, my dear, I used to work in the kitchens at one time … many years ago.

Lucy: Well, I went down through the gardens and down some steps to the road.

WOTB: Ah, yes, those steps get wet at times. That’s why there’s a rope down the side. They’re steep as well.

Lucy: That’s right. They were wet and steep, so I held onto the rope you can be sure!

WOTB: And beyond the road, my dear?

Lucy: Well, beyond the road was a garden, a garden abandoned it would seem.

WOTB: But beautiful in the moonlight is it not?

Lucy: Yes, I wished I’d had my sketchpad and some charcoal.

WOTB: And what saw you there?

Lucy: Well, it’s left to ruin. A huge fountain in a special area with an earth wall around it, but no water. A long pool, empty of fish and water, the cement cracked and broken and a little curved bridge, over … nothing!

WOTB: That’s right, it was a folly constructed by his Lordship, long ago. And what did you see there, my dear, if I may be so bold as to ask?

Lucy: That’s alright. Well, I wandered amongst the moonlit grass and trees and there was a semi-circle of cream-coloured stone seats. I sat on one, it was so peaceful I wanted to stay there forever!

WOTB: (picking something up) Look at this, my dear, a lovely piece of jet. Put it in your handbag now.

Lucy: Oh, thank you!

WOTB: And what happened in the garden then?

Lucy: Well, I saw a circle of what I believe were fairy folk!

WOTB: Well, my dear, what we see with our own eyes should not be disbelieved!

Lucy: And they sang a beautiful song as they danced around in a circle, all about love and the harmony of the Earth. And there were lions and tigers and such, perfectly tame!

WOTB: And you joined in the dance?

Lucy: I did ma’am, and it was glorious, dancing and singing in the moonlight.

WOTB: And your family were with you, were they not, your grandfather and your parents?

Lucy: They were! But translucent, I could see through them! How could you know?

WOTB: That was their spiritual form; their physical bodies are long gone.

Lucy: What on earth do you mean? They are in the hotel!

WOTB: Alas, my dear, that hotel was hit by a doodlebug in 1944 and completely destroyed. The only part that survived was the garden of which you speak.

Lucy: But how can that be?

WOTB: Look, there they are! Down the beach. Do you see?

Lucy: I see a group of people waving. I cannot see who they are.

WOTB: Take these binoculars, my dear. Now do you see?

Lucy: Yes, I see my father, Nicholas, and my mother, Rebecca, and there is grandfather, Martin!

WOTB: And do you see any others?

Lucy: Yes, there’s Miriam, my grandmother, oh, and my other grandma and grandad too, and Auntie Jean and Uncle Bill, they’re there waving too! Oh, but they’re … dead.

WOTB: They’re no more dead than you and me, my dear. See them wave! Let us walk to join them.

Lucy: But … the hotel?

WOTB: The hotel’s long gone my dear. You’ve all been re-living that last day, before the doodlebug hit, for so long. It’s time to move on. Come on, let’s go down the beach to meet them, then we can go on.

Lucy: Go on … to where?

WOTB: To wherever you want to go, my dear … to wherever you want to go.



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!

Danny and the Dolly Bird

dolly bird
(1100 words)
Fleetwood Mac was playing quietly on the CD player when Danny Golightly walked into Seddon’s Estate Agents. The song was Dreams. Danny remembered his parents smooching to it in the living room. He’d been embarrassed at the time. His step faltered as he acknowledged the irony of the song title.
“Can I help you, sir?”
It was an older man, not one of the ‘dolly birds’ who normally grace the teak-veneered desks of such establishments. He had long grey sideburns, sliver rimmed glasses, short grey hair, cut neatly with a side-parting, and a look of resignation. A desk sign said ‘Mr. Jack Seddon,’ followed by a string of post-nominal initials.
Danny looked around. ‘I’d like a house, a big one with a garden, trees, that sort of thing.”
Seddon looked the youth up and down. Skinny blue jeans, black loafers, a black T-shirt with the logo FCUK and a black leather jacket that looked like it had previously belonged to a hell-raising ‘Rock ‘n’ Roller’ – or two. “I see, sir, and are you a first-time buyer?”
Seddon sighed. “And you have the wherewithal?”
Danny looked nonplussed. “What’s that?”
Seddon sat upright with the fingers of both hands pressed together, the fingernails turning white. “The funds to buy a property!”
“Oh, er, yeah.”
“Well, may I ask what you are thinking of, er, ah, spending?”
Danny scanned around the photographs of properties for sale. His eye caught a white house with a tall, arched window on the first floor. Extensions grew out on both sides, terminating in a conservatory at the west end and a summer house and garage at the east side. A stone monument stood on a patio, a small-scale replica of Cleopatra’s Needle. The view was taken from some distance away across a huge lawn, bordered by violet hydrangeas. The notice said, The Julian Granger House. “Hey, I like this one!” he exclaimed.
Seddon looked at his watch. Where on earth was Miss Hale? She should be taking care of this nonsense. “That house is £695,000, sir. Are you sure that’s in your, er, price range? “
“Are there any trees?”
Seddon pulled out a brochure. A view taken across the lawn from wooden decking in front of the house showed a group of mature elms and beeches on the far side He tapped the photograph brusquely. “Perhaps you’d like to take this brochure and think about it. We could arrange a viewing … possibly.”
Danny’s face remained impassive but inside he was ecstatic. This house looked perfect. He’d have a pool table in the conservatory and one of the many rooms the Julian Granger House sported could house his drum kits. And there’d be no neighbours to annoy by the looks of things. “Er, yeah, I’ll take it!”
Seddon sighed. “Look, sir, it’s not like buying a can of beans, you know. The place has to be surveyed, there are forms to be filled, solicitors to deal with, they’re not philanthropists, they all want their pound of … er, their cut.”
Danny reached into his jacket and pulled out a pink slip of paper. He put it on the desk in front of Seddon. The latter’s eyes narrowed. “Look, Mr. Seddon, this ticket’s worth two million quid. Look, you can check the numbers and the date.”
“How do I know it’s real,” asked Seddon cautiously.
“Feel it. You know it is.”
“Well, that’s good news then! Claim your prize and come to me with a bank statement showing you have the funds and we can proceed.”
Danny sighed. “Look, Mr. Seddon, I don’t want none of that. I can’t be bothered with bank accounts and such. I’ll give you this ticket. You cash it in. You give me a million quid in cash, sort the house out in my name and you can keep the rest.”
Seddon gasped. “Now, listen young man, I don’t mean to be discourteous, but … but you can’t be serious, surely?”
“I am, Mr. Seddon, I am.”
Seddon took the pink slip. It was slightly creased but the print was clear as day. He reached over to his desktop keyboard and pulled up the National Lottery website. He clicked on Check Results and typed in the numbers. He almost fell off his chair. The prize was two million, ninety thousand. An extra ninety grand for nothing! Trying to keep his breath even and steady, he looked up at the young man. “Yes, er, I think that would be in order. Mr. er?”
“Golightly, Danny Golightly. And I want the cash in twenties and tens, a hundred boxes, ten grand a box, OK?”
“Well, er, certainly, sir … as you desire.”
A bell rang above the door and a young woman entered. “Sorry I’m late sir, just there was a bunch of wild geese on the road. Can you believe it? They wouldn’t budge for no one!”
“Actually, Miss Hale, I do find that hard to believe. Why didn’t you just drive over them?”
“What, and get prosecuted for cruelty to animals!”
“They’re not animals, they’re birds!”
“Same difference … sir.” She suddenly noticed Danny standing there, looking amused. She looked him up and down, approvingly.
Seddon stood up. “Miss Hale, I’d like you to meet Mr. Golightly. He’s interested in the Julian Granger House. Could you arrange to show him around please? Now would be a good time!”
Danny looked at Miss Hale. About thirty, ten years on him, but tall, slim, long ash-blonde hair, heavyish up top, not especially pretty but attractive, wearing black-framed glasses. No rings on her fingers neither. Whoa, a dolly bird in glasses! That did it for him; he felt like all his Christmases had come at once.
As Seddon watched them leave, he made a quick calculation. At Miss Hale – Freda’s – current rate of three hundred pounds a night, he’d be able to afford thirteen hundred more nights with her! That was, hmm, just over ten years at three times a week, the maximum Dolores would believe his tale of ‘working down in Devon.’ At his age, that was probably the most he could manage anyway, even with Viagra. He wasn’t worried about Danny; he’d move on to younger and better-looking birds. He picked up the lottery ticket and pressed his lips to it, imagining it was a certain part of Freda’s anatomy. He was awoken from his reverie by the shop bell ringing again. He looked up, startled. “Delores, er, hello, my dear, what a nice, er … surprise.”
A mottled hand with pincer-like red nails snatched the ticket out of his grip.

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Kray Brothers

(1100 words)

“Rumours are, the Jones brothers are coming back,” said Christine, my wife and best friend.
I put my coffee down onto the table in slow motion. “Tell me you’re joking.”
“Sorry Tony, that’s what Shirley just told me.”
Christine had just returned from having her hair cut by a lady with her ear to the ground, and her head up her arse. But Christine’s hair looked nice, I had to admit.
“I heard they were doing alright in The Smoke.”
“They were, or are, I should say. Shirley keeps in touch with Babs. Says they control south from The Monument down as far as Cannock Town. They’re leaving Smiler in charge. He’s rounded up some new men, … real hard men, she says.”
I looked at my face in the mirror. It was almost white. “Oh,” was all I could say.
“Yeah, anyone who doesn’t pay on time gets three strikes. The first is on the body, so the bruises don’t show. Second is the face, so everyone knows.”
I hesitated to ask what the third was, but Christine told me anyway.
“The third leaves them with a few teeth yanked out – that’s if the boys go easy – or their balls pressed flat in a vice, that’s their speciality. Oh, or walking on crutches for the rest of their lives. Or if anyone grasses them up, all three.”
“’You have to put the fear of God into people.’ That’s what Smiler says. According to Babs.” She looked down at her feet. “That’s what Shirley says, anyway.”
I got her drift. “What about all the drugs gangs?”
“Smiler’s mob have the law on their side, big paybacks to those at the very top, says Babs. Plus, they’ve got automatic weapons, and the cops turn a blind eye. After all, who cares if a few drug lords get turned into human colanders. Babs says they’re always looking for new ways to terrorise people. She says – “
“Look, Chris, I don’t want to know. Just give it a rest, will you. I can’t go through that again. What should we do?”
She came over and hugged me. “I don’t know, darling, we can’t stay here. Not after what happened last time.”
I remembered that fateful night, seven years ago, when four men in long black coats had come into the Seven Horseshoes, the pub I run, at that time with my then-wife, Judy. It had been a Friday night and the pub was pretty full, busy at the pool table in the end room and at the darts board, nearer the bar. These were big, bulky guys with shaven heads, small eyes, thin lips and tattoos on their necks and hands. What made everyone sit up was the face of the tallest, ‘Smiler.’ A ‘Glasgow smile’ lit up his visage, violet scars from the corners of his mouth to his ears.
“I want to speak to the guvnor,” Mason Jones, or Mace, as I came to know him, announced in a quiet, gravelly voice.
“That’s me,” I said.
“In private.”
Feeling nervous as hell, I’d gone into a back room where Mace had introduced himself. Then he’d offered to ‘protect’ the pub and named his price. At the time, the best thing seemed to agree to his ‘terms,’ then go to the police. As if they’d be interested! Mace accompanied me to the bar and stood over me as I raided the till, handing over a wad of notes. Just then there came a laugh, followed by Smiler’s quiet voice. “What you laughing at? I don’t like discourtesy.”
There was a deadly silence.
Roland Wright owned a local garage and, as an ex-boxer, put up with no nonsense. “Oh, nothing, just this all seems a bit … er, dramatic. Like a gangster movie.” He laughed again, though it sounded forced.
Smiler spoke again, very quietly. “People who laugh at me get hurt.”
“Look, I’m not afraid of you.”
“Are you sure about that?”
‘Shut up, Roland. Shut up,’ I wanted to shout.
Before anyone knew what was happening, Mace and the other two, his brother Frank, and their partner, Mannie, had spread-eagled Roland across a table, sending drinks flying, to the sound of breaking glass and the overwhelming stench of beer.
Even now I can hear the screams as Smiler carved a swastika into Roland’s forehead with a Stanley knife. We were still washing blood out of the carpet two weeks later.
After that, all Smiler had to do was come into the pub and it would empty – like magic, leaving beer and wine in abandoned glasses everywhere, like a ghost pub. But as long as I paid the protection promptly, he would keep out.
That is, until they decided they needed a new centre to run their protection ‘business’ from. The Seven Horseshoes’ back room would do nicely they figured, and they were even good enough to throw in our ‘protection’ for free. Generous to a fault, those guys. Judy couldn’t stand all their comings and goings and upped sticks, leaving me in the lurch. That was the end of our marriage.
So, we’d closed early ‘due to unforeseen circumstances,’ then I’d pulled some trunks and flat-packed cardboard boxes from the loft for our clothes and to make up for our books. Tomorrow I’d call on some friends to come and help us pack. We could be out by the weekend and I’d have the pub boarded up.
Suddenly, Christine appeared at the door, laughing. “Tony, come and look at this!”
I was shocked. What could possibly be funny at a time like this?
In the living room, the TV showed a burning car, or what was left of it. “The west-bound stretch of the M4 between Reading and Newbury has been closed after an improvised explosive device detonated under a car carrying the infamous Jones brothers … Mason and Frank … bodies incinerated … identified by dental records … the police have it on good authority … carried out by a drugs gang known as The Philanthropists ….”
I don’t ever remember feeling so happy. We leapt up and down, laughing and cheering for several minutes, until the phone rang. It’d be my cousin, Barry, wanting to revel in the good news with us.
I answered. “Hello.”
A quiet, familiar voice spoke. “Hello, Tony, it’s Smiler. I’m on my way to see you. Five minutes. We need to have a little chat. Make sure you answer the door. You know I don’t like discourtesy.” The phone went dead.
I became aware of Christine, “Tony … Tony, are you OK?” Then everything became a blur.

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Reba’s Wedding

camp becket

(800 words)

Reba’s wedding was scheduled for a Friday afternoon in July at Camp Becket – of all places, a YMCA camp in Western Massachusetts for boys, normally a four week ‘character building’ experience, replete with endless vegetable peeling and ice-cold showers. Not to mention non-stop sport designed to build ‘team spirit,’ if not exhaustion and injuries.
Anyways, Reba and her beau, Franklin, had a whole weekend of activities lined up for us, from soft ball to archery. Me and Jed, along with many other guests, planned to camp in the cabins.
The weather was glorious and we drove there in shorts and T-shirts with our wedding gear in the trunk, along with our wedding present, a rope doormat for their front door. One with a difference.
Well, Franklin was a poet of sorts, basing much of his work on parodies of Shelley and Keats. Ode to a Walrus, for example. He was quite popular at poetry-reading gigs, partly due to his impetuous nature, partly due to his Tom Cruise-like looks. He would always arrive late, rushing to the microphone with a lock of jet-black hair hanging over an eye, dropping sheets of jottings and self-penned booklets on the way. “Oh, I say, I’m sorry I’m late, I took the wrong turn and ended up at the city dump,” and so forth, to general hilarity.
Franklin’s father-in-law, Hamish McLeish, was something else; an ex-Sergeant Major who made his dislike for Franklin no secret. “The day my daughter marries a scatter-brained poofter poet is the day I hope I’ll be six feet under!”
Well, on the day of the wedding, the temperature plummeted. Being a summer camp, none of the main buildings had insulation or heating. Sukie, the wedding planner, sent out for as many blankets and fleeces as the local shops had for sale.
The wedding service went as well as could be expected in the freezing conditions, everyone huddled in coats, hats and fleece blankets, but at least Hamish was on his best behaviour. Then we had a few hours to rest after our journeys. Easier said than done in the chilly, unheated cabins.
At the evening reception in the Great Hall there was a disco, a light buffet, and no shortage of booze. The room featured a huge fireplace and many guests were crowded around the blazing logs, like moths around a flame. Then, of all things, a generator failed and we were plunged into darkness.
Various flunkies appeared with boxes of candles but by the time there was sufficient  light, Hamish had consumed a skinful. The microphone wasn’t working of course, so he contented himself with shouting. As an ex-Sergeant Major, he had an advantage over most. “I’d like to say it gives me great pleasure to give my daughter away, but I’m minded that my new son-in-law is a Sassenach.”
“Not only is he a Sassenach but he proclaims himself to be a wordsmith!”
More laugher.
“But of our most-lauded Rabbie Burns, the National Bard of my beloved Scotland, we hear him recite but none!”
Franklin took umbrage. “Well, look here, I’m English, you can’t expect me to quote poetry of an ancient Scottish poet!”
Hamish was apoplectic. “Ancient Scottish Poet! Och, man, the greatest poet the British Isles has ever seen!”
“What about Shakespeare,” came a voice from the crowd.
“Well, I ch-challenge thee,” came back Hamish, quite the worse for wear, “to a … to a fight – Queensbury rules, mind – to any fellow here who says Shakespeare was a greater poet than our beloved Bard of Ayrshire, Rabbie Burns!”
What to do? There were a couple of hundred there, and by the looks of them, spurred on by the extra alcohol consumed to counter the cold, and the flickering candle half-light, a sizeable proportion were spoiling for a fight. Reba and I exchanged nervous glances.
Suddenly the power came back on and the disco continued with Hey Macarena, where the dance movements – to those in the know – and general hilarity quickly dissipated the tension, leaving Hamish swaying and looking around aggressively.
As for the ‘Welcome’ mat that Jed and I gave to Reba and Franklin, it had been wound from a rope, a rope that a lad called Jimmy Logan had used to hang himself, following ten weeks of boot camp training under one Hamish McLeish.
Of course, Hamish never made the connection with wiping his feet, but would feel quite ill whenever he visited Reba and Franklin and they were hardly dismayed when his visits became less and less frequent. In the words of Hamish’s beloved ‘Ploughman Poet,’ Robert Burns, “O wad some Power the giftie gie us. To see oursels as ithers see us!”

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Four Red Roses: A Valentine Story

four red roses

(750 words)

Sandra Malone sat staring at her laptop. On the left side, a heart with a ribbon around it and the words, ‘To My Valentine.’ On the right, a blank page anticipating her inspired verse. She sighed. She’d needed the work and, as a poet – of sorts, had been recommended to Gibson’s Cards to crank out twenty Valentine verses and messages. After a morning’s work, trying to think of original lines using ‘Valentine,’ ‘please be mine,’ ‘heart,’ ‘never part’ and such, she was sorely tempted to rhyme ‘heart’ with ‘fart.’ That’d make Gibson’s sit up!
Her self-published collection of poetry, Waste Disposal, a humorous – she hoped – ‘take’ on T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland, hardly qualified her to write such drivel! As for her own slim book, it had yet to reach the fifty sales mark, and, she admitted to herself, even those sales were largely down to herself, buying copies to give away to friends and family, most of whom had smiled politely and tucked the book away on a dusty bookcase, to be perhaps glanced at one day in the distant future.
She stood up and walked across to a patio window, gazing across the lawn to a small group of silver birch trees. She’d become cynical since Tony had left her, she realised. Stuck on her own with Arthur, her nine-year-old autistic son. She looked at her reflection in the window, noticing a slim figure and long blonde hair, pleased that her crows’ feet and marionette lines weren’t visible. But, hey, she wasn’t unattractive. Men still made the occasional ‘pass’ at her. Just that they only wanted one thing, and it wasn’t to be step-dad to a difficult child.
Barry, her last ‘boy-friend,’ though decades past boyhood, if truth be told, had been different. He’d experienced hardship of his own, losing his wife to a bizarre accident – a sheet of glass had fallen from a building, practically slicing her head off – and neither of his grown-up children would talk to him. But one day, Arthur had decided to make a rabbit hutch. Barry offered to help and was rewarded with a nail through his hand and a trip to hospital. After that his visits had diminished to zero.
Sandra smiled a wistful smile. Barry’s had been the only Valentine card she’d received for several years. Even Tony hadn’t bothered towards the end, instead doubtless directing them to Irene, his ‘dancing partner,’ with whom he was now ensconced. And here she was, racking her brains over composing sentimental nonsense for the wretched cards. How ironic!
The phone rang. “Hello Sandy, it’s Marge, how’re the verses coming on?”
“Oh, er, OK, I’ve still got a few to do.”
“What, how many? We agreed twenty; I need them by five o’clock.”
Nervously, Sandra glanced at the time. Just gone three. “Oh, I’ve done, er, fourteen. I’ll have another six in an hour.” She crossed her fingers, hoping that Marge wouldn’t ask her to send what she’d done so far. She’d been told that Marge had ‘scary’ days.
“That’s fine, Sandy, I’m checking the image proofs now. As soon as we get the verses, Copeland’s will get the presses rolling. Think of all those lovers you’ll be bringing together. And all those babies you’ll be making!”
Sandra forced a laugh.
“OK, hun, rushed off my feet here. Make sure you get them to us by five, OK? Byeee!”
Sandra replaced the handset, finding her hand covered in sweat and her breath short.
Sitting at her laptop again, she gave in to temptation. By 4.45 p.m. she had nineteen verses, adapted from Valentine cards found online. ‘Old verses given a fresh twist,’ she tried to convince herself. And well-matched with the images! One more to go … but she felt tired, fed up of writing doggerel.
Splashing her face with cold water in the bathroom, she heard the phone ringing. It would be Marge again, no doubt. Well at least she was nearly there.
Instead, a voice from the past. “Hi, Sandy, it’s me, Barry, look I know it’s been a while, er, but could we talk?”
He must have the radio on, she thought. In the background she could hear The Beatles. She hesitated, “Barry?” Then she had a sudden inspiration. “Just a minute.” She went to her laptop and, opposite an image of four red roses, typed, ‘All You Need Is Love.’ Simple, but it would do nicely! Pressing ‘send,’ she returned to the phone. “Hi, Barry, how’s your hand?”

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Seeking Villa Nowhere

(900 words)
“It’s up there somewhere, Val,” said Edward, waving his hand towards snow-covered mountain peaks, far beyond the valley that held the roadside café we’d pulled up at.
I put a mug of pungent coffee down onto a weathered wooden table, it was too hot to hold in any case, and with my binoculars, scanned the forests of snow-laden pine trees, the bare, grey stone crags and endless snowfields. It looked like I could reach out and touch them, yet when I put the binoculars down, the mountains seemed impossibly distant. “I don’t see anything.”
Ed laughed. “The road’s on the other side, up Mount St. Leonards, twenty hairpin bends they say, then the cable car runs three times a week.”
“Is the lodge near the top, then?”
“No, it’s three miles from the top. You have to go by Land Rover.”
“Seems like a hard place to get to.”
“That’s why they call it Villa Nowhere!”
“Hey, I think I see something.” At the very top of a snowfield, black structures that could be pylons. Scanning downwards, something brown at the edge of an area of pine trees. The sun must have got to them as I could just make out green boughs.
“C’mon Val, let’s make a move.” Ed swigged back the last of his coffee, pulling a face at a sludge of undissolved sugar mixed with coffee grounds that had slipped through the filter.
Ed was an artist, as adept with charcoal as he was with acrylics, and no mean photographer either. He was thirty-nine, twenty years on me. I was just a kid with a vision, a vision to get away from my parents. I don’t know why we’d hooked up, there was nothing sexual, not yet anyway. But beneath my flyaway straggly blonde hair and goofy teeth and heavy woollen jumpers was a young woman, a young woman whose body yearned for something I hadn’t yet rationalised.
But Ed was Ed, a good guy, easy-going; he never got mad, even when I’d spilled burning cocoa down his neck one time, and he was a great artist, and I mean great. Maybe not ‘recognised’ great, but he sure had something. As for me, maybe he liked me for the way I was – young, innocent in many ways, I guess. “Hey, Val, you gonna stick around?” he’d ask. I’d just smile, bite my lower lip and nod.
Two days later we were ensconced in ‘Villa Nowhere,’ a ski lodge like no other. We’d left our car at a garage, gawped at the views from our swinging cradle as it creaked its way towards the peak, half-expecting the cable to snap at any moment. Then had our bones jolted as the driver revved his Land Rover over the snow and ice at the top.
Ed hadn’t said why he wanted to go to such an isolated place, he wasn’t a great skier. He’d just smiled and said he wanted to spend some time sketching and painting, and taking photographs in the wilderness. “Who knows what we might find up there?”
There were just two other families at the lodge, Helmut and his wife, Kirsten, and an English couple, Rupert and his elderly, but physically fit, mother, Dolores. Helmut was an odd one. He wore black ‘lederhosen’ shorts that contrasted with his thin white legs, and he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in the sauna. Rupert was very ‘proper’ with his ‘Good morning, Valery’ and ‘Good Night, Edward,’ spoken with an exaggerated ‘BBC-type’ voice.
Ed and I shared a room. The concierge didn’t even raise an eyebrow. But it was single beds, and whilst I lay, with an ache inside, fantasizing, Ed snored in his distant cot.
The third morning dawned to a shock. Edward wasn’t in his bed. I thought perhaps he’d gone for an early breakfast but by the time I’d showered and got dressed and gone down to the small dining room, he was nowhere to be seen.
“I think he went for an early morning walk,” said Greta, the elderly lady who ran the lodge with the help of her grandson, Karl. “I heard the front door open and close, about six o’clock.”
Karl and I followed footsteps in the snow for what seemed miles until we came to a cliff, and at the bottom, something, someone, poking through the snow in a white ski jacket with black leggings, the clothing Edward had worn the previous day.
The cable car brought a doctor, along with a team with ropes to extract the body. Ed was pronounced dead from injuries sustained during his fall and subsequent hypothermia.
“This was found by his body,” said Greta, handing me what appeared to be the horn of an animal, long and straight but spiralled. “I do believe it’s an alicorn.”
“An alicorn, what’s that?”
She smiled, “It’s the horn of a …, well, I believe it’s what he came here to find. He was an artist and photographer I understand. I’m so sorry.”
I hugged her and I cried and cried, and she held me tight.
But now I sit, ten years later, turning that strange, smooth, spiralled horn over and over in my hands, still wondering what really drove Ed out onto that icy path in the dark morning, and if I could have done anything to have changed his mind.

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