Out There

6805012-outer-space-wallpaper

(700 words)

“America killed us Sam.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“They’ve written us off. It’s like we don’t exist any more.”
I gazed out through the command room windows over the bow, at the uncountable millions of stars that surrounded us. “We’ll be back. Our kids’ll be all grown up!”
Randy laughed. “Little Anita was just five, bright as a sixpence. She’ll be twenty seven, maybe with her own kids!”
“Hard to imagine!”
“I want to go home Sam.” Randy’s voice trembled.
“Come on Randy, you signed up. No-one forced you to. You’ll be home before you know it!”
Exactly to what I was unsure. We were five years into a mission to Nephthys, a small rocky planet circling nearby Barnard’s star. It would take us ten years, nearly all of that in hyper-sleep, Randy and me waking up once a year to check the systems. When we eventually arrived, the rest of the sleeping crew would awake and we’d descend to the planet to find a mining station prepared for us by androids, scheduled to land a year ahead of us. That was the plan anyway.
“See all these stars Sam. There must be people, aliens, on the planets round ‘em.” Randy said the same, every time we ‘awoke.’
“I guess so.” Detectors on Earth had found Nephthys to be rich in rare earths, the metallic elements needed to make advanced handheld devices – videophones, holographic projectors and the like. The plan was to spend two years mining and refining the ores, then, with the holds full, back into hyper-sleep for the trip home. In our twenty two year absence, our families would be amply compensated.
These annual ‘awakenings’ felt weird, it took hours to reorientate oneself to the surroundings and to remember how to work the interfaces. But I enjoyed them. Just me and Randy wandering alone in the colossal ship, constructed in Earth’s orbit over a decade. Gazing out in wonder at the infinite universe.
Jesus! Did you see that?” Randy shouted.
“What?”
“Something just went past! Out there!”
“What?”
“I dunno, some kind of light. It went across the windows, upwards.” He made a gesture.
A couple of minutes went by, then, “There! D’you see it?”
Sure enough, something like a ball of light came from below us and shot in front and upwards. I felt excitement and fear in equal amounts.
Suddenly there was a beeping from a control panel on the far side of the room, about ten metres away. Red and yellow lights flashed rapidly. I raced over. “There’s an incoming signal!” My training took over. Calm down! I addressed the computer. “OK, Max, switch the decoders on.”
The computer responded. “Incoming signal is video. Recording. Should I display it Sam?”
Randy had joined me and we both faced a large screen. “Go ahead Max.”
We both gasped as an ariel shot of New York appeared, the viewpoint zooming around the Freedom Tower, sunlight reflecting brightly off its endless windows, before flying along the Brooklyn Bridge and up over one of its towers.
Wow!” we both exclaimed in unison.
Now over St. Louis, it skimmed beneath the Gateway Arch before heading over sweeping plains with huge herds of cattle, then we were flying over snowcapped mountains, finally zooming into and along the Grand Canyon. Suddenly it stopped near a group of hikers. A girl pointed towards us, her face a picture of curiosity, and their smiles vanished. She took a few paces towards us before the viewpoint took off again, soaring into the sky. Then it headed rapidly outwards and the canyon receded into the distance below, finally becoming a tiny speck. The blackness of space began to encroach on the brilliant blue northern hemisphere and the screen went blank.
We stood speechless, in awe of what we had just witnessed.
Finally I said, “Max, play it again.”
There was a silence, then the computer spoke. “I’m sorry Sam, the video could not be saved.”
We looked out of the window again for a while. Nothing moved. Finally, with the heaviest of hearts, I realised the show was over.
“Looks like someone’s looking out for us,” said Randy, eventually.

“Someone … or some thing,” I replied.





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Promise Her the Moon

1 taj mahal

(800 words)

“Be polite and listen carefully,” said the old man to his four daughters, “and don’t speak unless you’re spoken to!”
Their names were Anshula, Bakula, Chandhini and Darshini. By the grace of God they had been born exactly three years apart so that all four shared the same birthday – today, November 1st – unique in all the land.
Anshula was 16, Bakula 13, Chandhini 10, and little Darshini just seven. Now they waited, dressed in beautiful saris, Anshula in maroon, Bakula in ruby red, Chandhini in royal blue and finally, little Darshini in emerald green. Their mother was considerably younger than her husband and now stood, nervously adjusting their saris and combing their long black hair. “He’ll be here soon. Be sure to stand straight and smile!”
There was a knock on the door which made them all jump. The old man answered it to a messenger, who proclaimed, “The Great Prince will be here within the quarter hour, he approaches the edge of town.”
“Thank you,” said the old man, handing the messenger a coin. He turned to his daughters. “You may sit until his Royal Highness arrives.”
The daughters sat down on two long sofas in the large, high-ceilinged chamber. The family were not rich but by virtue of the daughters’ shared birthday, they had acquired a certain fame. People would visit them, regarding them as holy due to the coincidence, and were accustomed to leaving gifts of money, sides of meat, fine wines and the like.
After the longest fifteen minutes the family could remember, there came another knock at the door. A servant opened it to the Great Prince himself! His Royal Highness strode in, followed by an entourage of exotic characters. “Greetings to you all!” he pronounced in a deep, booming, royal voice.
The girls smiled nervously and curtseyed simultaneously, as they had practised. The entourage spaced themselves around the large room whilst servants brought refreshments.
The Great Prince was tall, over six feet high, and magnificently dressed in a golden achkan with a crimson turban and dupatta. He was very handsome, with a tawny face, startling green eyes and thin lips that naturally gave the appearance of a smile. Finally, after some small talk with the parents, he clapped his hands for silence. The girls stood, trying to look calm, except little Darshini who wasn’t nervous at all.
“Well my dears,” he pronounced, “God has seen fit to give you all the same birthday and today Anshula, the eldest, is 16 years old. A Very Happy Birthday to you all!”
He kissed Anshula on both cheeks. Her brown face turned red and she felt faint. She determined not to wash for a week. He kissed the other girls likewise, having to bend low for little Darshini.
“Now, I have very special gifts for you all!” he announced. This was followed by loud applause. When it had quieted down, he said, “To Anshula, I give the clouds!”
Anshula, looking perplexed, smiled and curtseyed. “You are most generous my Lord!”
“To Bakula, I give the moon!”
Bakula blinked her huge brown eyes and sweat lined her upper lip. “Thank you Sir!”
His Highness moved along to Chandhini. “To you, Chandhini, I give the Sun!”
Chandhini curtseyed and smiled sheepishly. “Thank you Your Honour!”
Finally, he looked down on little Darshini, who looked up in anticipation, her blue eyes twinkling.
“Yes, and to little Darshini, an extra special present – all the stars in the sky!”
There was huge applause. The old man approached. “Thank you your Highness for your wonderful gifts!”
Suddenly a shrill voice piped up. “I don’t understand. What use are the stars to me!”
The room fell silent, the old man gasped and a look of annoyance crossed the Great Prince’s face.
He recovered his composure. “Well my dear little Darshini, Anshula may tax all who wish to fly their aeroplanes through her clouds, and she will be rich! And Bakula may tax all who gaze with wonder at her moon, she will be richer still!”
Little Darshini remained silent, scratching her head.
The Great Prince continued. “Chandhini may tax all those who wish to receive warmth and light from her sun, except me of course!” The entourage roared with laughter, followed by polite applause. “She will be the richest of all! And you, my dear little Darshini may tax all those lovers who hold hands and look longingly up at your stars!”
The little girl looked confused. “But what happens if they won’t pay the tax?”
“Well then, it’ll be ‘off with their heads!’ ”
“What, you mean … “
“Yes, the criminals will be executed,” his Royal Highness exclaimed gleefully.

Darshini bit her lip and leant back to gaze up into the Great Prince’s handsome face. “Please sir, I’d just like a little puppy.“





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
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If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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Statue at Liberty

anumbis with sythe

(700 words)

“America comes first though, right?” said the president.
Aides Don Daley and Victor ‘Day-Glo’ Rigby exchanged nervous glances.
The president stood, facing a statue. A voice came into their minds, deep, educated. ‘No, we come first, then America.’
The president stuttered. “Oh, yes … of course … I meant, er.”
Slits in the green eyes widened imperceptibly. ‘You will first do our bidding, then the bidding of your people. You will cut spending on your Environmental Protection Agency climate change program. Drastically!’
The president had sat in the oval office, finally, and incredibly alone. The inauguration procedure, with its endless speeches and razzamatazz, was over. Photographs of every permutation of his family had been taken. Finally, Day-Glo had ushered everyone out. “Come on folks, I think Mr. President needs some time to himself!” Before leaving, he’d turned. “Mr. President, there’s an urgent letter for you from Obama in your desk.”
In the unaccustomed silence, the president wiped his face with a handkerchief and looked in a cabinet. Thank God! Several bottles and glasses stood inside. He poured himself a generous measure of whisky and added several cubes of ice from a refrigerated compartment. He took a gulp and felt his brain reel from the alcohol. Better have a look at this goddamn letter!
‘Greetings Mr. President, firstly there’s something you must know. Take the lift at 9 p.m. tonight. Press six and nine simultaneously for five seconds ….’ The president’s jaw dropped. The letter continued with the usual congratulatory material. It signed off, ‘Good luck, you will need it! Barack.’
He’d taken the lift as instructed to find himself descending below the lowest level for what seemed an age. Finally the door opened onto a corridor where Daley and Day-Glo were waiting.
“What’s going on? What’s this about?”
“You’ll see sir. Don’t worry.”
They proceeded into a large chamber, illuminated by numerous candles around the walls. In the middle of the room was a statue of a seated Egyptian figure. It had the head of a jackal. Daley and Day-Glo stood on either side of him. The president felt annoyed. What the hell was going on? Suddenly a voice came into his mind, making him jump.
‘Greetings. You have been elected president, and like every president before you we extend our congratulations.’
The statue’s eyelids slid upwards, revealing green, snake-like eyes. The president started, then felt Daley’s reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“Who are you? What’s this about?”
‘We came to this planet many millennia ago to aid your development. It was we who constructed the pyramids. Because of our … appearance … we are currently hidden, but we continue to direct your affairs. In return you co-operate with us.’
“Aid our development?! What about all the millions of people killed in wars!”
‘The fate of individuals is not our concern. War leads to innovation, innovation requires power, power produces heat, and heat … warms the planet.’
“What?! What’s that to you?”
‘Our … people … abhor the cold. When the mean planetary temperature has increased another five degrees, then they will come en masse, and we can reveal ourselves.’
The president’s mind boggled. So the rumours were true. Lizards, or something similar, really had been pulling the strings! Goddammit. As if he hadn’t got enough on his plate already! “Look, we appreciate your help, sorry I don’t know your name, but there’s a lot of people not happy with global warming!” What the hell could these creatures do about it anyway, if they were hidden away in statues and the like?
“My name is Anubis!”
Daley and Day-Glo looked alarmed. Day-Glo spoke hurriedly, “Mr. President, er, it’s best you agree sir!”
The president felt emboldened. No, he was in charge goddamn it! “So it’s, er, nice to meet you, Mr, er, Anubis, but I can’t agree to this.”
The aides gasped.
Slowly, ponderously, the figure rose, rocking it’s canine head from side to side. Now standing eight feet tall, it stretched its arms out and opened its hands to reveal a slender thumb, two fingers and three long, sharp claws.

The president gulped. “Of course, on second thoughts, er, you know best. Sure, I’ll cut the program. No problem!”





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
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If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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One Man in His Time

keble-college-oxford-6-705x529
(650 words)
Rudyard Smith stood in his Oxford University office gazing at his companion, Professor Charles Elliot in disbelief. “Jackson Wilde, Jackson bloody Wilde.”
Charles flushed, “well it wasn’t my decision, you know that Ruddy.”
“The ‘people’s poet,’ Wilde by name, wild by nature, God, how could they allow him in here! Bloody Professor Smollet, it’s down to him!”
“Look Ruddy, calm down, he’s only coming for a week!”
“A week’ll be a week too long!”
Charles gestured through the small leaded windows and over the hallowed St. Mary’s College lawns. “Look, here he comes now!”
A tall black man with long dreadlocks came swaggering over the grass, ‘high-fiving’ occasional students, who had jumped up from lying on the grass in the sunshine, dozedly feigning interest in their copies of The Wasteland and Ulysses.
“Good God!” exclaimed Rudyard, seeing ‘Hugger’ Morris embracing Wilde. “One of the most outstanding poetry students here, encouraging that … that charlatan!”
“Come on Ruddy, he is in line for Poet Laureate after all!”
“Well, what does that mean exactly, I mean look at, what’s his name, Jack Bitumen, diabolical doggerel!”
Shortly there was a knock at the door, and without waiting for a ‘come in,’ Mr. Jackson Wilde strode in. “Yo man. How’s it hangin’?”
They both stood wide-eyed, as the tall dreadlocked man paced forward, hand outstretched, smiling broadly and whitely.
“Oh, very well,” said Rudyard, blushing with embarrassment, “thank you.”
Wilde plonked himself down in a red leather armchair without being asked. “So what gives bro?”
“I beg your pardon?” said Rudyard. “Cans’t not thy mother tongue speak?”
Wilde looked blank. Then the big white teeth smiled. “Hey, I ain’t no nonce, it don’t make sense, look at my bonce, I ain’t no ponce,” he rapped.
“What?!” exclaimed Rudyard.
Wilde began to rock in the chair. “I wanna be creative, a’feel like a goddam native, sometimes I is thinkin’ negative, need to get me turnin’ positive.”
Charles exchanged a worried glance with Rudyard, the latter seething at Wilde’s preposterous rhyme. Rudyard retorted, “how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes!”
Wilde stood up and began to prance around the room, his dreadlocks flailing. “Hey, listen to my sad cantata, missin’ you babe, just like a fermata. You asked me to write it down, now I feel like a lovesick clown.”
Rudyard’s voice grew louder. “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall!”
“Listen, you say my lyrics are crimes, don’t wanna hear no rhymes. Well, look out babe, here they are in common times.”
Rudyard’s voice became a shout. “Good Bye, Good Bye! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good bye till it be morrow!”
Wilde stopped. “Good Night, Good Night!”
“Yes I was paraphrasing,’ sighed Rudyard. “Look, I’ve had enough of these poetics, do you have anything sensible to say?”
Wilde laughed and sat down. In a normal voice, he asked, “Well, do you have an itinerary for me, how many lectures I’m required to give?”
Rudyard’s jaw dropped. Then Charles spoke, “Oh, sorry, er, Jackson, yes, I have a sheet here from professor Smollet, oh, and directions to your accommodation.”
Wilde nodded vigorously and both men gazed in astonishment. Jackson Wilde’s dreadlocks had become quite lopsided, no doubt exacerbated by his ‘prancing’ antics.
Seeing their faces, Wilde’s confident persona vanished. “Er, is there a bathroom here?”
Charles gestured to a small door below an ancient beam. “Just through there.”
“Er, thank you.” Wilde vanished.
Rudyard and Charles regarded each other, speechless.
A few minutes later, Mr. Jackson Wilde reappeared, his dreadlocks now perfectly symmetrical.
“Would, would you like some tea?” asked Charles, stammering.
Wilde smiled and bowed. “ ‘All the world‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.’ – yes please, white with two sugars.”





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
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If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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

If Only They Could Speak

ginger-cat-650545
(650 words)
“Rudyard, here Rudyard!”
Rudyard’s ginger face appeared in the doorway. He hesitated, seeing a stranger in the room.
“Here kitty, good kitty!” called William Wilde, professor William Wilde as he now was.
Gingerly, Rudyard came into the study, studiously ignoring Willy and jumped onto my lap, purring. His huge yellow eyes looked up at me quizzically.
William, or Willy as he now preferred to be called, was an old school chum. The one who’d worn thick lenses in a huge black frame and was always found studying in a corner of the school library. He’d been the butt of our childish cruelty. ‘Four eyes,’ ‘Willy Wanker,’ or just ‘Willy the creep.’ He’d had the last laugh though, graduating in Physics with first class honours at Oxford. Then, five years ago there’d been a school reunion. Willy had turned up with his wife, a glamorous ex-model, now the mother of five kids. Respect!
Old insults forgotten, bygones become bygones, we’d kept in touch. Then had come a phone call two days ago. Willy, sounding breathless, telling me he’d discovered something amazing. Something unbelievable. Something so incredible it was going to change the world!
“Is that all?” I’d said, laughing.
“Stephen, do you have any animals?”
“Yes, I’ve got a cat, why?”
“Let me come and see it, you’ll see why,” he said enigmatically.
So he’d arrived, armed with two suitcases full of electrical equipment. Two MacBook computers now sat on my desk, amongst a tangle of cables connecting strange pieces of equipment. One computer screen showed several analog meters, the other had rows of scrolling numbers.
“What on Earth is it?” I’d asked.
“Translation software and voice synthesisers,” Willy smiled, “you’ll see.”
Now he produced a cage and opened the lid. “Put Rudyard in here please.”
The big yellow eyes looked up at me with reproach as I did so. The cage was narrow and Rudyard couldn’t turn. He looked anxious, his ears folding back, but with me close by he co-operated, no doubt recalling occasional trips to the vets, loathed but tolerated.
Willy reached in and, his hands now protected with gloves, fitted some kind of electrical device over Rudyard’s head. Rudyard began to miaow in protest.
“Now, watch this!” Willy flicked a switch and Rudyard sat bolt upright, looking from Willy to me and from me to Willy. The screens were going crazy, needles moving backwards and forwards in the on-screen meters, and the rows of numbers scrolling down in free fall.
Then something came over a loudspeaker, a synthesised voice, reminiscent of Stephen Hawking. “What … what … is … happening?” The ‘voice’ of Rudyard!
“That’s just amazing!” I said.
Willy beamed. “I told you it was incredible!”
Rudyard turned his head towards me. “Let … me … out.”
“Just a few minutes more Rudyard,” said Willy, “then we’ll let you out. Now, I’d like to ask you some questions.”
Rudyard sat attentively.
“What is your name?”
The synthesised voice spoke slowly. “Rudd Yaaard.”
“Very good, and what animal are you?”
“You … call … me … cat.” He bent down to lick a paw.
“This is incredible!” I said, scarcely able to believe that my beloved cat was communicating with us. “Rudyard,” I said. “Are you happy here? I mean, in this house. Is there anything you want?”
The big yellow eyes blinked. “Fooood.”
“I mean, like a bigger basket?”
“Fooood.”
“Oh, I see, you’d like some food, is that right?” Willy and I exchanged glances.
“Fooood.”
“OK, I’ll get you some food in a minute. Now, what are your thoughts on … er …” I tried to think of something, “um, other cats?”
Silence.
“Er, vacuum cleaners?”
Silence.
“World peace?”
Silence. Well that was a tough one.
“Well, perhaps that’s enough for one day,” said Willy resignedly. “Rudyard, is there anything you’d like to say before I take the headset off?”

Rudyard’s big yellow eyes looked up and blinked twice. “Fooood. Want fooood.”



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

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

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

Away with the Fairies

cotingley fairies

(800 words)
Everybody, including myself, thought that Uncle George was crazy. I mean, do you have fairies at the bottom of your garden? Well, actually they weren’t just at the bottom of his garden. According to him, they were everywhere.
“Like little angels they are, three to four inches high, beautiful faces!”
“What do they wear,” I’d asked.
“Well the girls have lovely dresses in bright colours – emerald green and dark blue mostly but I’ve seen them in red too,” Uncle George had replied enthusiastically, taking off his heavy black-rimmed spectacles and wiping them with a grubby cloth.
“Have you seen any male fairies?”
“Oh, yes, I quite often see them. Not as much as the girls though.” He replaced his glasses, the lenses now surprisingly clean. “They wear long green shorts usually and a green or brown tunic, although they’re sometimes bare-chested. Even though they’re tiny, they look quite muscular.”
“Maybe they work out at a fairy gym,” I’d joked.
He’d laughed and swept a hand through his unruly mop of black hair. “Look Daniel, you must come and see them!”
So I’d go to my uncle’s and we’d sit in his large, unkempt garden. Shrubs of all shapes and sizes bordered a long rectangular lawn that led down to a summerhouse by a pond, a favourite place for fairies he said. So we’d sit on the wooden bench in the hut, Uncle George with his sketchbook at the ready, and he’d smoke a cigarette, talking about his life in the navy and the incredible things he’d seen – sea monsters, two-headed children, Indians climbing ropes and disappearing. It was impossible to say whether any of his stories were true or if he lived in a fantasy world. Or maybe he had psychic faculties and could glimpse realms beyond our physical world?
“Look, there’s a boy and a girl!” He’d gestured excitedly over the pond.
Something had flitted over the water in the dusk, true, but it could have been a moth, or a bat even.
“I don’t want you going to Uncle George’s any more,” mum had said sternly, “he’s a…er, a bit strange.”
“Oh, mum, I want to see the fairies!”
“If you want to see fairies go and see Tinker Bell, you won’t find them at Uncle George’s!”
Dad had concurred, so I’d grown up, missing those chats by the pond, breathing in the heady mixture of pond air and fragrant tobacco smoke, whilst listening to his fantastic tales. Then, years later, I heard he’d passed away.
A musty smell still lingered when I’d gone with Dad and my brother, Eric, to sort through Uncle George’s stuff. Having no other living relatives, he’d left everything to Dad, so the idea was to identify anything worth keeping or selling individually and the rest would be taken by a house clearance company. How sad I thought, a lifetime’s acquisitions garnered with excitement and pleasure, all to be sold on or just thrown away.
I’d been given the job of looking through Uncle George’s study – a somewhat daunting task – shelves of dust-covered books lined three of the walls. I was surprised to see many detective stories – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, P. D. James and so forth. Why were they always women? Predictably, there were a number of books on fairies. I filled a couple of boxes with books that looked more valuable, or ones I thought Mum, Dad and Eric might like.
In his desk were piles of unopened letters from banks, HMRC and the like. Sitting on top were a couple of stone paperweights, carved from fossilised slate, full of ancient, impossible creatures. Then I noticed a tiny drawer. Inside was a matchbox. Opening it, I looked in awe at two minuscule ballet shoes, made from a luminescent pink fabric, with ribbons to tie round the ankles and on the underside, panels of a slightly darker pink.
In another drawer I found a bulky sketchpad. As I turned the pages I was astonished to see page after page of well executed drawings of fairies. Their wings were sometimes butterfly-like, other times in pairs, narrower and more diaphanous. Some had been expertly coloured with watercolour. I noticed quite a number had been dated and on some there were notes. ‘Seen over pond,’ ‘Tianna, sat on bench,’ etc.
“Daniel, how are you getting on?” Dad called from downstairs.
“Almost finished,” I called back.
Then I turned a page and gasped. A pretty fairy in a pink dress was sketched in flight, her outstretched feet sporting a pair of pink ballet shoes. With the date was a cryptic note. ‘Rosina. shoes – present.’
I heard footsteps coming upstairs and quickly hid the pad.
Dad opened the door. “Found anything interesting?”

“A couple of old paperweights, that’s all really…”



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

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

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

The Biggest Bang

Suitcase_nuke
(800 words)

Any one of them could have been chosen. Thanks to the pale skin of his Scottish mother, Annag, it had been Sayid, better known as ‘Sandy’. He pulled into the car park, turned the ignition off and smiled at his Caucasian reflection in the mirror. No-one would know that his father was Syrian and in this most English of English towns, that was important. Extremely important. He took a deep breath. Then another deep, deep breath. After all, he was about to change history – for all time.
He opened the window and breathed unseasonably warm air. It was late March but the weather was springlike. Adjacent to the car park was a picnic area and beyond that the river. Beneath the picnic tables, ducks waddled lethargically, searching for scraps. Then, the paltry pickings exhausted, they would jump into the river and drift lazily downstream, under the bridge into the car park, to an area where there were tiers of low steps designed for river birds, to sun themselves and wait for bread-laden grandmothers with young children in tow. Sayid’s mind boggled at the thought. Steps designed for ducks! Yes, they probably had their petty disputes with other ducks and river-dwelling creatures but what could they know of his God and the hatred of mankind that could drive a man to do what he, Sayid Hussain, was about to do, to appease him?
How could it have been so easy he wondered? The mission had taken years of planning, although he knew almost nothing of it. Over the past two years, parts had been flown into remote airstrips and brought by small boats to lonely coasts. Then assembled in secret laboratories. Instructions were given in envelopes, personally delivered by anonymous strangers. Infringement of any rule meant blindness, the offender’s eyes gouged out. But as he enjoyed the warm river air and looked about there was no-one. So much for British Secret Services – pah!
He tore open an envelope. Inside was a number, nothing else. He called it. To his surprise an English voice answered. “Who’s that?”
“Sayid.”
“Where are you?”
“Tesco’s car park in Maltby le Fen.”
“Any problems?”
“No.”
“There’s a pocket on the outside of the suitcase. Inside it, there’s a calculator. Write this code!”
Nervously, he scrabbled for a pen.
The man gave a six digit code.
Sayid’s pen stopped working. Sweating profusely, he managed to scrape the code into a road map.
“Repeat the code please.”
He read the engraving, his heart pounding. “400708.”
“At exactly eleven o’clock you type the code into the calculator and press the ‘equals’ symbol. You understand?”
“Yes, I understand. What’ll happen?”
“You know what’ll happen.” The line went dead.
He sat breathing hard. The number was simple to remember. Alhamdulillah! He felt thirsty. Why hadn’t he brought any water? Well, still twenty minutes to go. He went into Tesco and took a bottle of water from a fridge at the customer service desk. A woman in dark blue with blonde hair and huge breasts served him and smiled. “Not going to see the Queen then?”
“No, I’ve got to go to, er … a meeting.”
“Well, it sounds like a lot of trouble anyway. Nearly all the roads are blocked off and the car parks’ll all be full.”
She was talking about Louth, five miles away but close enough! The monarch was visiting St. James church to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the highest parish church spire in Britain. ‘Two birds with one stone’ was the thinking, apparently.
Back at the car Sayid noticed an ancient attendant wandering aimlessly a few cars away. On a bench by the river twenty metres away an old white-haired woman munched on a sandwich. Two schoolgirls were laughing at a picnic table, looking at their phones. All clear!
Better get ready. If it went off a few minutes early, irrespective of his controller’s instructions, what would it matter? He laughed at the irony.
He opened the boot and fished in a pocket of the large, very heavy suitcase. So heavy that the suspension had needed reinforcement.
“Excuse me sir.” The car park attendant appeared at his elbow. “Would you raise your hands please?” Sayid saw the man held a squat black gun.
“There must be some mistake,” Sayid laughed as he began to type the code into the calculator.

Suddenly he found himself looking down on the scene from above. His body lay in a pool of blood by the car boot, half the head blown away. By the river he saw the ‘old white-haired woman’ holding a powerful sniper’s rifle. Close at hand the two ‘schoolgirls’ both held revolvers. He felt no emotion, just a deep peace. Thoughts of the mission evaporated, paradise awaited…



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New Forest Frolics

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

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



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Clarissa’s Missives – Part Two

anatolian3


Link to part 1:  Clarissa’s Missives

(1100 words)

I awoke. Had I heard a noise? Naked, I was snuggled up to Clarissa’s equally naked back, one arm around her, my face up against her nest of blonde hair. Then the sound of clomping boots and laughter. My heart thudded. The bedroom door crashed open and someone turned the light on. “Oh, look. Your sister’s got herself a new boyfriend!”
There stood Clarissa’s sister, Helena, and three young men, all clad in walking gear and carrying rucksacks. “No prizes for guessing what they’ve been up to!” said Helena. They all roared with laughter. “Hey, he’s no spring chicken is he!”
Bloody cheek. Had she looked in the mirror recently? I shook Clarissa’s shoulder but she didn’t move. “Clarissa, Clarissa!”
I jerked awake to find myself shaking a pillow. Light came through unfamiliar curtains. Where was I? Then memories began to filter back. Wine. Yes, I’d drunk several large glasses of wine, I remembered that.
Clarissa had shown me into a very large, comfortable lounge with a grand piano, then she’d gone to make some tea. We’d sat and chatted happily – her ex-husband, my ex-wife etc. Then she’d gone over to the piano. I’d listened, entranced as her fingers, long and slender, caressed the keys, drawing out mellifluous melodies and harmonies.
“That’s lovely, Clarissa.”
She turned and smiled. “Oh, thank you, it’s not hard actually, it’s a Nocturne by Chopin.”
I’d brought a guitar as she’d suggested, a Japanese classical guitar bought from Ivor Mairants’ music centre in Soho, back in the dim and distant days of my youth.
She passed over some music. “I found some duets.” Then, “I’m so pleased you could come over Stan, er, sorry, John.”
“That’s OK. Just call me Stan,” I laughed.
She blushed. “Should we look at the first one?”
I examined it – ‘Island Melody’. Suddenly I felt my confidence dwindling. “I’m not sure I can sight-read this,” I said. “I think I’d need to look through it first.”
“Oh, nonsense, you’re a guitar teacher. Just have a go!”
The first page was a series of arpeggios, broken-chords as they’re sometimes called. The first one looked like C. That went for a few bars. “Oh, OK, but can you go slowly please?”
She smiled. “Yes, don’t worry!”
She counted us in, not especially slowly, and we began to play. Her part consisted of syncopated chords and a lilting melody. It sounded like she was no stranger to the piece.
My heart was pounding and my throat felt dry but I managed to keep the notes going, whether they were the right ones or not I wasn’t sure.
She stopped. Had we reached the end of the page? “That was lovely John, er, Stan. It’s a C9 chord in bars one to four. I think you played C major 7.”
“Probably,” I said. It was alright for her, she already knew the damned tune!
Suddenly the phone rang. Clarissa crossed the room. “Hello…oh, Helena….isn’t there anyone who can fix it?…are you sure?….well, isn’t there anywhere you can stay?…”
She spoke for several minutes then turned to me, looking disappointed. Helena and her friends’ ‘support vehicle’ had broken down and they’d deemed it too risky to undertake the 42 mile ‘Lyke Wake Walk’ across the North Yorkshire Moors without it. Unsurprisingly.
“I’m so sorry John!”
Ha, she got my name right!
“I’m going to have to go and pick Helena and her friends up. It’s OK, you can stay. There’s plenty of wine in the fridge and you can sleep in the guest room. It’s just through there. Oh, can you take Boris and Henry out please?”
“Who?”
“Oh, they’re my dogs. They’re Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.”
“What?”
“Oh, they’re originally from Turkey I think. They’re a bit big. They’re in the TV lounge at the minute. You’ll have a chance to practice that music anyway!”
Memories of Boris and Henry came back. “A bit big” was an understatement. They were huge. Hurriedly, Clarissa had shown me their leads and directed me to a nearby park. In fact they’d trotted along quite obediently, drawing admiring comments from the few passersby. By the time we got to the park I felt like an authority on Anatolian Shepherd Dogs.
With embarrassment I remembered Boris squatting to deposit a huge steaming turd on a path. What to do? Well, it was growing dark and who would know it was ‘my’ dogs? Suddenly a woman dressed in green tweed and grey leggings appeared. She was about sixty, had grey hair and waved a stick in my general direction. “Hello young man, I hope you’re not thinking of leaving that dog poo there!”
“Oh, of course not,” I replied, “it’s just I don’t have anything to pick it up with.”
“Well you could always use your hands!” she exclaimed.
“No, I meant those little plastic bags people carry.”
Evidently a self-appointed dog poo warden, she reached into a pocket and pulled out a bundle. Under her stern gaze I was forced to put my hand in a bag, and put it over the hot, squishy stinking ‘poo’. It felt like it was in direct contact with my hand.
“Now pick it up!” she exclaimed.
I did so, noticing a little left on the pavement. I hoped her eyesight wasn’t too keen. I turned the bag inside out, tying it with the special tie, feeling quite proud of my ‘capture’.
“Now put it in the bin!” She waved her stick in my face and then pointed with it to a red bin about 10 metres away. Obediently I went over and deposited Boris’s ‘doings’. I smelt my hand. Hmm. It didn’t seem to smell. Even so I couldn’t wait to get back to Clarissa’s to give my hands a good scrub.
Now as I lay in bed I could hear a loud whining sound from somewhere. No doubt Boris and/or Henry expressing their desire to head to the park for another titanic ‘poo’. Reluctantly I got up. But surely Clarissa would be back by now? I headed for the lounge and saw a flashing light on the answerphone.
“Hello John, it’s me, Clarissa. The weather’s been awful up here. They’d managed to find a guesthouse after all, so I stayed too. I don’t think I’ll be back until midday. Can you take the dogs out again please darling? I’ll phone again later. Thank you so much!”

Darling! Well maybe I would take those hulking great hounds out just one more time after all, although armed with some ‘dog poop bags’ this time…



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Full Fathom Five

princess-vs-carnival-fleet


(1300 words)

I stood at the railing, gazing out to the haze of the distant level horizon. The sea was calm, low deep blue waves undulating slowly, barely hinting at their potential ferocity. Ahead and far below me was the bow of the cruiser, where people, ant-like, sat by an unusually empty pool. I sighed and thought of Janie. Bitch!  We’d had problems, sure, who doesn’t? But her leaving had come as a shock. It was Valentine’s Day, of all days, and I’d ordered some Adrenaline roses, her favourites. Unexpectedly, a silver BMW had pulled up, and I’d recognised Andy, her gym trainer, his dyed-blond hair swept over in an attempt to look youthful. Obviously it had worked. Janie appeared. “Look Steve, I don’t want a scene. I’m leaving. Me and Andy… I’ll be in touch about my things.” She’d looked embarrassed and hurried out, clutching her sports holdall, before I’d had time to reply. I watched her get into the car and kiss him. They drove off without looking back. Just then the flower delivery van had turned up. I’d taken the roses and thrashed them to pieces in the back garden with tears streaming down my face.
“Full fathom five thy father lies, of his bones are coral made.”
Surprised, I looked around to see a young woman with medium length blonde hair and sunglasses. She wore a jade green dress with a modest neck line.
I couldn’t help myself. “Those are pearl that were his eyes, Nothing of him doth fade.’
“But doth suffer a sea-change,” we both said, in unison.
She laughed. “I don’t think there’s many on this ship who know Shakespeare!” Her voice was husky. “Why aren’t you on the island?”
“Oh, I fancied some time to myself.” I’d accompanied my mother on this cruise, naively not anticipating the non-stop queuing for lifts, queuing to embark and disembark, crowded pools full of rowdy children, and endless bars, cafes and restaurants thronged with people.
“I know what you mean. My name’s Jamie by the way.”
“Hi, mine’s Steve.” Jamie, Janie. Hmm.
She shook my hand, her palm was dry and warm and her long slim fingers wrapped around mine and squeezed. Her nails were short with a clear varnish and she wore a curious gold ring in the form of a coiled snake with two tiny purple stones for eyes.
We stood in companionable silence, gazing in awe at the endless sea. A warm breeze blew her blonde hair back showing high cheekbones and full lips, lightly made up. She was tall and slight and her skin was tanned. I felt self-conscious of my own pale flesh and paunch, trying to hold my stomach in below my white T-shirt.
“Are you with anyone?” she asked.
I told her about my mother – aged, irascible, partially deaf and between cataract operations. Mother had said she was looking for a sugar daddy. I’d asked Jamie if she knew of any blind 90-year olds on board.
She laughed as if I’d told the world’s funniest joke. “I’ll keep an eye out! Sorry Steve, I have to go. Look do you know ‘Arabella’s Sushi?”
I said I’d heard of it. It was a bar that moved between decks every day. A novel idea that appealed to me.
“Would you like to meet tonight? It’s on deck six today. Say 8 p.m.?” she said.
“Yes, that’d be lovely,” I replied, trying not to sound too desperate.
That evening I’d showered and spruced myself up. In a pastel orange shirt, cream linen slacks and, holding my stomach in I thought I didn’t look too bad.
I arrived early, feeling rather apprehensive, to find the bar wasn’t crowded, even though the throngs had returned from viewing Roman ruins – only a few tables were taken. I got talking to an attractive Filipino waitress. She was friendly, seemed happy to chat and told me they worked seven days a week whilst on cruise. For no reason I found myself asking if anyone had ever gone overboard. Her face changed. Yes. On the last cruise. A young woman, that’s all she knew. But it was bad luck to talk about it. I apologised and her friendly demeanour returned. Suddenly I realised it was twenty past eight. No sign of Jamie!
I’d waited until nine and then, despondent, had given up, returning to our suite to find mother with another ‘old bag’, although somewhat more presentable. She introduced me to her as Iris Brummage. Apparently she was a retired professor of mathematics. Mother, being a fawning snob, had latched onto her.
I went out onto our balcony and sat looking out to sea, disheartened. What the hell had happened to Jamie?
The days passed. Mother went off the boat most days with her new friend and I felt as if I was the only person on his own. Everywhere were couples or families with young children. I scanned the crowds for Jamie, even asked in every cafe and bar I went to, but no-one knew her. In one cafe however, a waitress had looked at me strangely. “On a cruise, people aren’t always who they say they are.”
One day, looking down from our fifth-deck balcony, I thought I saw Jamie’s blonde hair and jade green dress far below on the lower deck. I’d raced through corridors and down endless staircases, eventually coming out where I thought I’d seen her. I looked in vain, finally asking some sunbathers, who said they didn’t remember her. They regarded me curiously, seeing me sweaty and anxious.
In my time on the cruise I found the other holidaymakers generally friendly and easy to converse with. However I soon grew tired of the endless chat of what deck was I on, what was my cabin like and what shows had I seen? None! Then would come interminable stories of previous cruises. They were well-meaning but I wanted someone on my own wavelength. I longed to hear Jamie’s husky voice laughing and to see her sunny smile again.
It was towards the end of the cruise when I found myself wandering along a part of our deck I hadn’t visited before. Not hard, considering the size of the place. Floating city was about right, and I never did learn to find my way around. Hearing music, I passed into a large open space with a bar at either end and chairs dotted around, where a pianist, drummer and guitarist were playing jazz. To my surprise mother and Mrs. Brummage were there. Mrs. B waved and smiled. She wasn’t so bad I supposed. I ordered a lager at the bar nearest the band. The barman was another Filipino, middle-aged and sympathetic. I asked my usual question. Had he come across a young lady called Jamie, early thirties, tall, slim, blonde?
“No, sorry sir, so many people!” He gestured, opening his arms, laughing. Then, “only Jamie I know is pianist here.”
I looked at the man on the piano, young and slim, currently drawing out mellifluous melodies with apparent ease.
“D’you know him well?” I asked.
“Not really. He and Alan, the drummer, well… they, are, er… together, if you know what I mean.” He smiled wryly.
Mother and Mrs. Brummage came over. Mother spoke. “We’re going to Hairspray. D’you want to come?”
I looked at the pianist again. His tanned face, handsome yet effeminate, looked around and through me, as if I were invisible. I felt a jolt of recognition. Then he looked down again, watching his slender fingers fly. I walked past the piano, feigning nonchalance, observing him askance, then froze, seeing a familiar snake-like gold ring. How fitting! I felt sick.

I returned to mother, “Yeah, let’s go. I can’t stand jazz…”



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