My Name is Ian Z. McPhee


TASWG assignment: Write two short stories beginning with the following words. Give one a positive ending and the other a negative one.

‘It was incredible and completely unexpected; the sensations as our fingers touched was electric; my heart skipped a beat and I momentarily forgot to breathe.’

(This, negative ending.)

(627 words) [original publication date April 10th 2016]

It was incredible and completely unexpected; the sensations as our fingers touched was electric; my heart skipped a beat and I momentarily forgot to breathe. Her fingers intertwined with mine and she twitched her lips in that funny way she used to, before kissing me tenderly. I gazed into her dark round eyes and knew it was love – deep, sacred love.

We’d been together for six weeks now, not long, but long enough for me to start to get to know her personality: playful yet pensive, jubilant but shy, magnanimous yet fickle. It was wonderful to have a partner again, after having only male company for the best part of a year, and her silky hair and long limbs drew admiring glances from my friends and colleagues.

I’d scarcely known her before she moved in with me. She appeared out of nowhere one day with just a bagful of possessions: a mirror, toiletries and the like. She was so beautiful though, that I couldn’t turn her away. I’ll always remember that she had a bunch of bananas, which we’d laughed about as it’s my favourite fruit.
I didn’t have a job then so we would spend a lot of time together, sometimes kissing and cuddling like all young lovers, but on other occasions watching the television or simply looking out of the window, watching the world go by. On other occasions we passed time in quiet, solitary meditation, which we were both schooled in.
I suppose, looking back, that our life together was rather haphazard, existing day to day, making no plans for the future.
I only saw her angry once. A small boy in a red pullover and jeans stood banging at our window, for no apparent reason as far as I could see. His mother stood nearby with younger siblings, paying scant attention. “Stop it Henry!” she would shout from time to time. There was no sign of a father. My beloved went to the window and pounded on it, matching the boy fist for fist. That seemed to enrage him and he started banging harder and faster. She did likewise, emitting a strange animal-like sound, when suddenly the mother pulled him away and cuffed him hard around the ears. Instantly my love became calm and her normal self again, taking an apple from a bowl and smiling at me sheepishly.
Then, one sad, sad day, our relationship ended. A man in a green uniform with a peaked cap and shiny buttons entered our living area, uninvited. I recognised him as a fruit delivery man so held my tongue.
“Sorry Fred,” he said, although that wasn’t actually my name, “Bella’s got to get on a plane, she’s off to Berlin.” That wasn’t actually her name either. Then other men came in, with a cage on wheels. I protested strongly and loudly. You can’t put her in there! I saw her being given an injection. “Just something to calm her down Fred, nothing to worry about.” The cage door was opened and they manhandled her in.
“Let him say goodbye, bless him,” one of the men said. I went to the cage and looked into her dark round sleepy eyes. I put my hands through the bars and our fingers interlaced for the last time. “Goodbye,” I whispered in our own secret language.
They wheeled her out and I never saw her again. I had no photos, just memories of her to keep. Simple memories – eating fruit together, climbing on a big frame outside and swinging on ropes, watching the crowds watching us, searching each other’s coats for fleas…
I didn’t know if or when I’d have another mate but in the meantime I decided to eat a banana…

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 100! 

NB. This post was republished on 13th May 2019. Click HERE to view.

The Roaring Sun

TASWG assignment: write four ‘Zen-style’ poems.

Shafts of sunlight
Break through leaden clouds
Onto sparkling water
Gently rippling to the horizon.

Two butterflies flying high above trees
Like tiny yellow kites
Drifting far apart
Coming together miraculously
To kiss again.

Under the small wooden bridge
Beneath wide green lily pads
In cool silent depths
Glide golden carp.

The roaring sun
Bakes shimmering sand
A beetle emerges from nowhere
Senses the heat
And vanishes.

Biggest Brother

TASWG assignment: Write five Science Fiction plots in a few sentences along the lines of

1 – Pressing the Button

In the near future a device is invented which, when implanted into the brain, gives the user access to intense sexual gratification by simply pressing a button. However, the government then decide to tax the use of the device. Soon, people lose interest in relationships and work, preferring to sit pressing the button all day. However, without work they have little money and cannot afford to pay the tax, so resort to crime. Society begins to crumble…

2 – Blind Eye

Interplanetary space travel becomes possible and a planet is discovered, the home to a technologically advanced race, and a source of rare and valuable minerals and gemstones. The race welcome Earthmen and are willing to share their wealth and knowledge for free. The downside is that there is a subservient race also living on the planet and the ‘hobby’ of the advanced race is persecuting, torturing and killing them. To keep getting the freebies, governments order all space travellers to ‘turn a blind eye’ to this. One day, however, a VIP visitor decides to speak out…

3 – Dial-a-trait

In the not-too-distant future, a company, Behaviour Modification Robotics Inc. come up with a chip, which when inserted into someone’s brain, allows their ‘handler’ to select character traits they desire. Although outlawed by the government, those with enough money are able to buy the devices and have them clandestinely inserted into the heads of friends, partners and relatives. Suddenly life becomes so much pleasanter for the ‘handlers’. However, BMRI then reveal that due to a design fault, the device cannot be guaranteed to work for more than one year and a small percentage of ‘subjects’ may then go berserk…

4 – Goodbye London?

A man suspects that his wife is actually an alien. Spying on her reveals that she is in cohorts with three other aliens and that all four are implanted with the components of a nuclear device. He discovers that their plan is to meet with the intention of ‘fusing’ their bodies and thus detonating a thermonuclear device that will remove London from the map. Knowing that he must act, he fears ridicule from the authorities and despite everything, still loves his wife…

5 – Biggest Brother

On the 1st of January 2017 everyone in the world with an internet connection receives an e-mail from Google. ‘Happy New Year. Here is a list of the unsavoury websites you visited last year. Furthermore, in the interests of promoting moralistic norms, we have overridden your webcam and have video of you when visiting these sites. Please pay us $500 by January 31st to keep this material confidential.’

Governments around the world hold emergency meetings. Google has become too powerful and must be stopped!

Get in the Habit!


TASWG assignment: write a story using a prompt, chosen from those written by members for February 2016’s meeting. My chosen one was: 

You are passing a convent one day on foot when two nuns come up to you and take you firmly by the arm. ‘There you are Sister!’ one says. ‘You aren’t supposed to be up and about yet, you know!’
     ‘And in ‘civvies’ too’ the other one says disapprovingly. Despite your protests and struggles you are manhandled into the convent where you are locked in a small room with no further explanation…
(Shirley Muirhead)

One warm May afternoon I was heading home from hospital after an MRI scan – I’d suffered amnesia following an accident and could barely remember who I was. Passing St. Luke’s Convent, I took a short cut through the adjoining park, passing along a walkway bounded by burgeoning shrubs to a fountain, sparkling amongst pink rosebushes. A statue of Pan stood nearby. I enjoyed the gentle sound of water. Then, something black loomed, I looked up and saw two nuns. Their countenances were grim and masculine. I smiled and said, “this fountain’s so pretty, isn’t it?”
Silently they circled around either side of it and grasped me forcefully by the elbows. “There you are Sister!” one said. “You aren’t supposed to be up and about yet, you know!”
“And in ‘civvies’ too!” the other one said disapprovingly.
“What are you on about? Let me go!”
“Come on Sister Ursula, it’s back to St. Luke’s with you!”

Their firm, pinching grip, just above my elbows, made my arms numb and it seemed easier to acquiesce, with the idea of remonstrating to the Mother Superior and getting these two ‘monkeys’ a severe reprimand.

Later, I reflected on the day’s events. Ignoring my protests, the nuns had brought me to the convent. They’d ushered me down a long white corridor with a vaulted ceiling and crucifixes on the walls at intervals. A recess held a vase of pungent white lilies. It all seemed strangely familiar.
They’d promised to take me to the Mother Superior but they’d lied. Thankfully they’d at least let go of my elbows; my arms felt like they would never have feeling in them again.
“There’s a bible in the draw and a bathroom through that door,” one said.

I stood there, shocked and outraged. I heard a key turn. I was a prisoner!

Subsequently a different nun brought a silver tray with sandwiches and a blue china pot of tea. One of the original two stood in the doorway, blocking escape. The new nun was friendlier. “Hello Sister Ursula.” She smiled. “It’s good to have you back.”
“My name is Susan Brown. This is all a ridiculous mistake!”
“Of course it is.” She winked at me. “You just rest. Reverend Mother and a doctor will see you in the morning.”
“Morning! What are you on about, I have to get home!”
“Don’t worry, everything’s taken care of. Just rest.”
I ate ravenously and showered. Then I lay in bed feeling quite tired. I took out the bible, noticing an inscription – ‘Ursula Smith March 2014’.
Ursula, Ursula… suddenly memories flooded back – I can remember! My twin sister Ursula had come to this convent, left her husband and two little girls to ‘receive Christ.’
We’d all been shocked of course and I’d visited her here to remonstrate. Recently she’d had a sudden illness and been rushed to hospital…
Someone knocked. “Time for ‘Night Prayer’ Sister!”
“Look, I need to tell you something important. It’s urgent!”

“All in good time Sister Ursula…”


As Jehovah is My Witness

TASWG assignment: Write a short piece of dialogue, (200 words approx.) between two people without overusing the word ‘said’, and giving the characters individual patterns of speech so that the reader will be able to tell who is speaking by the speech alone.

“Hello, I’d like to talk about how Jesus can help you.”
“Sorry, I’m really busy right now.”
“You can never be too busy to let the Lord into your life!”
“Look, I was expecting a parcel, that’s why I answered the door.”
“Well, take this leaflet, it talks about how Jesus can help you, and about the truth of the Bible.”
“The Bible can show you how to live your life, if you let Jesus into your heart… Oh, boy, it’s pouring!”
“Look, come in until the rain stops.”
“Oh, thank you, till it passes, thanks!”
“Take a seat. I’ve just made some coffee. Would you like some?”
“God bless you, that’d be lovely.”
“Look, don’t you ever get fed up of this Jesus stuff?”
“The Bible tells us he was raised from the dead and ascended into Heaven.”
“Look, you take everything in the Bible as Gospel don’t you? How do you take your coffee?”
“The Bible is the word of God. White with two sugars, please.”
“Well, there’ve been many revisions of the Bible haven’t there, they can’t all be true!”
“And people were persecuted, put to death, for printing the Bible in English, the language of the common people.”
“Times change…”
“Well, sorry, but I don’t think I want to believe in the ‘truth’ of something like that!”
“As you wish. Nice coffee by the way!”

Summer is Springing Up

TASWG assignment: choose your favourite season and write a poem or descriptive passsage about it.

Rain lashes on my window, but it’s a different rain. Lighter and brighter, it falls gently, whispering “spring is coming.” Then it stops and puffy white clouds laugh in the cerulean sky, whilst the sun’s rays ignite raindrops remaining on the glass, which glimmer with fire, like precious gemstones.
I go outside and the air has a different smell. Fresh and fragrant, alive, pregnant with a comforting promise. The sun’s rays warm my face and I know that indeed spring is coming. Like a tide, though it may recede at times as April progresses, it cannot be held back.
The days pass and chairs appear optimistically outside cafes and bars. Few venture outside to eat and drink, those who do wearing brave faces along with their overcoats. But as April eases into May coats come off and sleeves and skirts get shorter.
Vibrant green leaves replenish the trees, whilst flowers spring up in unexpected places, proudly displaying bright petals in many colours.
Then we sit at tables with beer sparkling amber or gold beneath a creamy head. With gratitude we feel the sunshine caressing our bare arms, sensing summer hovering just below the horizon. Sparrows and starlings, recently emerged from winter hideaways, hop erratically around the beer garden, seeking dropped morsels whilst keeping a wary eye out for cats and dogs.
The evenings grow longer and we sit with friends, enjoying companionship and laughter, sometimes listening to musicians, and neither remembering nor caring about the cold, damp, windy days so recently departed.

Are You Being Served?

TASWG assignment: Write two descriptions of a room – the same room – used for different purposes at different times.

It was a drab, windy day in late March and the dismal grey sky bore down on me, making me feel like I was being pressed into the pavement. An old newspaper tumbled down the street past my stationary feet as I stood, looking up at an old office building, slabs of concrete and dark windows like soulless eyes, towering above me. Plucking up courage I went to the contrasting front door of steel and glass and punched in the code I’d been sent. The door sighed open and I found myself in a warm, well lit lobby. The door closed behind me and I noticed that there didn’t seem to be a corresponding number pad to exit. No matter! I would cross that bridge later.

There was no receptionist, just two lift doors, one orange, one green. Each one had a large shiny silver button to the right of it. Here goes! I plumped for the orange door and pressed the corresponding button. The door whispered open, revealing a spacious mirrored interior and I stepped inside. There was no control panel but the door closed and to my surprise I felt myself descending. I noticed a small camera pointing at me from above the door and self-consciously tried not to look at it.
It felt like we had descended some distance when the lift stopped and the door opened, revealing an unexpected scene.
The room was large, high and hot, and it hummed, as if it had a life of its own. Bright strip-lights mounted in the roof cast strong shadows from banks of servers, perhaps five feet high, standing like a silent army in two groups on the far side of the room. Between the rows of servers, was a wide walkway, comprised of grey stone flags. Rows of small flashing turquoise lights on each unit produced an ethereal effect where the shadows were darkest. About two thirds of the way up the walls were black panels which sloped inwards, giving the room a pyramid-like interior. A blue holographic image hovered in front of one panel giving information about servers and access codes.
I noticed a faint, wraith-like smoke, swirling up high by the lights, and large power cables coiled around the units, feeding them from some omnipotent source. There were gratings in the floor and near to the lift on the side of the room I’d just entered were a table and chairs, standing haphazardly, as if there just for show. At the far end of the walkway, beyond the banks of computers was a double sliding door. Steeling myself, I walked across the room, between the humming, flashing ‘sentries’, smelling the aroma of electricity at work.
I tapped on a server and to my surprise it sounded as if I’d knocked on a thin piece of wood, rather than a solid metal cabinet. Just then a relay clicked loudly close by and I jumped, expecting something or someone to leap out at me, but the machines continued with their anonymous business, communicating with users in thousands of unimaginable locations. The doors slid open and I found myself in a long corridor.
I walked along perforated steel panels, dark grey in colour, on which my footsteps sounded muted, and I ran my fingers over the walls, smooth concrete slabs, slightly concave, giving the corridor a tube-like impression. The walls were lined with pipes of various types, ranging from narrow black ones to wide silver ones, and light came from bright fluorescent strips running along both sides of the corridor. All was silent out here save for an almost imperceptible hum, and the corridor curved round out of sight.
After a few minutes, not sure where I was going and starting to feel slightly nervous, I decided to go back the way I came, so trod the panels back to the door. As I approached it, I was astounded to hear laughter, chatter and clinking glasses from behind it. I pressed a large square silver knob, the doors slid open, and I gasped in shock. Instead of banks of servers, there was a futuristic cocktail bar…
Blue and yellow spotlights illuminated a haze of cigarette and hookah smoke, emanating from a crowd of exotic characters seated around a circular bar. Steam came from vents in the floor.
Above the bar was another level surrounded by strange symbols in blue neon lighting. There was a cage-like frame around the upper level and I could see vividly-dressed patrons seated both inside the framed area and outside it, close to the edge. A sweeping staircase led from the lower to the higher level.
I approached the bar and an attractive young woman with a mohican haircut and a face tattooed with strange symbols moved aside to let me through the noisy throng. She wore a red dress with strategic gaps, revealing a shapely, tanned body. “Howdy stranger!” she said.
“Oh, hello,” I replied. The hubbub of conversation and thumping music made conversation difficult and I had to almost shout. “What is this place?”
Just then a bartender appeared. He wore a spacesuit and was extremely handsome. He looked like an android.
“Give me a lager please,” I said, loudly.
“Surely, sir, which would you require. We have Coors, Brand X, Bud and Johnson’s Special.”
“Bud, and make it a large one.., bud!”
“Certainly sir.” His face remained neutral. Definitely an android.
“It’s an entertainment module, surely you know that!” Despite her cyberpunk appearance she had an endearing expression and her big brown eyes seemed friendly.
Just then one of the spotlights shone directly into my face so that I was momentarily blinded. The music toned down and a voice boomed out on a P.A. “Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a special guest here today. Please put your hands together for Mr. Simon Johns!” There was rapturous applause. “In fact it’s his birthday today. Altogether now! Happy Birthday to You…”
This isn’t happening! I felt hugely embarrassed.
Suddenly the scene dissolved and there was just framework and scaffolding everywhere, draped with white screens. Spotlights of various colours hung from gantries and I realised we were in a large studio. Everyone was laughing, not at me, I realised, but at some huge joke of which I was ignorant.
Then from behind came another chorus of “Happy Birthday to You.” I turned and there was my brother Sam, laughing along with a crowd of friends and relatives who had obviously just entered the room. Sam grabbed a microphone, “…Happy Birthday dear Si-mon, Happy Birthday to You!” He laughed. “Glad you made it bro, let the party commence!”
The room suddenly transformed into a bar on an alien planet. We appeared to be on a golden sandy beach adjacent to a green lake, around the shores of which were huge irregular cream-coloured towers that looked to be vegetable in nature. The sky was full of small puffy clouds, green in the reflection of the lake, and above us, dominating the view, the gargantuan form of a green planet surrounded by a ring system at a 45 degree angle to us. Half of the planet and the ring system were below the horizon.
Sam put his arm around me, “Sorry bro, couldn’t resist, George owed me one!”
That’d be George Lucas, the man behind Star Wars, Indiana Jones and state of the art SFX in general. The whole illusion would be courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic, for whom Sam was a leading designer.
“Good one Sam, thought I was going mad!” The music was thumping louder now, more people seemed to have appeared from nowhere, lights were flashing and everyone was dancing.
Sam saw me looking anxious. “You OK bro?”
“Yeah, fine, just wondering what happened to my lager…”
Sam laughed and beckoned over the too-handsome ‘spaceman’, who threaded through the crowd, balancing a bottle and a tall glass on a silver tray. He poured the drink and I raised the frothing amber liquid to my lips. The salty, hoppy lager hit my tongue and brain, and I took a step backwards, reeling from the effect of the alcohol.
Just then I felt an arm around me and a soft kiss on my cheek. It was the mohican girl.
The ‘spaceman’ laughed and pulled at his ears. A mask came off and I recognised a familiar, furrowed, yet still-handsome face. He spoke. “Hello son, Happy Birthday!”…
The End

Walls Have Mouths

TASWG assignment: Write two short stories beginning with the following words. Give one a positive ending and the other a negative one.

‘It was incredible and completely unexpected; the sensations as our fingers touched was electric; my heart skipped a beat and I momentarily forgot to breathe.’

(This, positive ending.)

It was incredible and completely unexpected; the sensations as our fingers touched was electric; my heart skipped a beat and I momentarily forgot to breathe.
“Take my hand and close your eyes,” the old woman had said. I’d done so, reluctantly, and was astounded to see the house transform around me. No longer was I in a cream-carpeted living room with a huge flat-screen television and a grey leather corner sofa, but in a drawing room with a wall full of leather clad books at one end. An antique walnut case grand piano stood by large Regency windows.
Through them, I saw that our sweeping gravel drive had gone and in its place was parkland. In the distance I could see a small red-brick bridge.
Sitting at the piano was a pretty little girl with blonde hair and a white dress, practicing scales. She would play them perfectly going up but stumble on the way down. After a while she looked up at me and smiled. “Hello, are you from the future?”
“I don’t know. Probably,” I said.
“It’s just that you’re dressed funny.”
I looked down at my trainers and smiled. “What’s your name?” I asked.
“It’s Agnes.” She turned and continued her scale practice.
Agnes was the name of the old lady who had called to look at our house. We’d only just put it on the market so we were overjoyed to hear that someone was interested in viewing so soon. However, when she called, we were taken aback by her extreme age and the fact that she didn’t seem interested in buying the house at all.
After looking briefly around downstairs, in a faltering voice she said, “I’m sorry for wasting your time, I don’t want to buy this place but I lived here as a young girl. The house has a terrible secret and I have to share it before I die.”
My wife, Ingrid, and I had exchanged glances, fearing she was unstable.
“If I could have a word with the gentleman on his own…”
Ingrid toyed with her pale blonde hair and looked at me, questioningly. “OK, he doesn’t mind, you can use the study.”
I approached the young Agnes at the piano. “I think you’ve brought me here to see something.” She looked down, saying nothing.
Where’s your mother?”
I saw the little girl’s shoulders shaking. “M-mothers g-gone,” she sobbed. “Daddy’s h-hidden her.”
“What on Earth do you mean?” I felt awful to see the little mite so distraught.
She wiped her eyes. “C-come with me please sir.”
She took my hand and led me into a corridor where I perceived the door to our basement. She took a lantern from a shelf and lit the wick. By its light we descended dark, dank steps. In the cellar were racks of ancient-looking bottles, covered in dust and cobwebs. At the back of the room, where the lantern light threw strange shadows, was a newly constructed wall, built with distinctive London Yellow Stock bricks. I recognised it as the back of our basement room, now used for table tennis and darts.
“Mummy’s behind there.” She started to cry again. “He thinks I don’t know, but I do.”
“There, there,” I said. “You can’t be sure. Perhaps she’s gone on holiday.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say.
Then I heard the most awful sound, halfway between a scream and a caterwaul. It was a terrible, desperate, soul-wrenching thing, and a sound I will carry with me for the rest of my days.
In that instant my mind was back in the present day. Ingrid was on the telephone, looking pale and shaken. “Ambulance please. Someone’s died. No, a lady who called to view our house.”
“What happened?” I said, when she’d finished.
“She came out of the study, babbling on about someone being behind a wall in the cellar, then she just…collapsed. I carried her to the bedroom, she was so light, hardly weighed anything, poor soul. Obviously mad.”
I passed into the bedroom. Lying on the bed was the pale, fragile form of Agnes. I got a sheet from the airing cupboard to put over her. Ingrid came into the room. I said, “We could ask for advice. We couldn’t sell this house in all conscience with a body buried here. We’d have to have it exhumed and given a proper burial.” Ingrid said nothing, looking perplexed.
As I looked into Agnes’ aged face for the last time, it seemed smoother, less furrowed and I thought I saw, although perhaps it was just my imagination, a look of gratitude and relief…

Terrace with Tortoises

TASWG assignment: describe a picture or photograph of a scene in no more than 400 words.

My scene is a photograph taken looking out onto a small rectangular stone terrace, the long side of which faces away from the house. The floor appears to be made of white marble and on either side are balustrades of the same material, each wide marble handrail supported by perhaps 14 vase-shaped balusters, each standing on it’s own square base.
To the right of the terrace the balustrade is overhung slightly by some vine-like greenery. At the end of each balustrade, and directly abutted to it, are marble gateposts which project several inches onto the terrace. Hung from the gateposts is a small gate of unusual design. It has a simple thin brown-gold frame, rising up slightly at the centre. Instead of vertical members there is a network of irregularly shaped rods of this colour, resembling the intertwining stems of a bramble bush.
Beyond the gate is a whitish path leading between dark high shrubs. We can see very little of this and the path terminates shortly at a patch of light green grass of which we just catch a glimpse.
The floor space of the terrace is largely taken up by three stone tortoises.They form a train – a baby and two fully grown ones, all facing towards us, the baby being farthest away from us and nearest the gate. The adult tortoises are perhaps four to five feet in length. The tortoise heads and legs are fashioned from black stone, perhaps granite. Plesiosaur-like, they peep out from under their shells, angular and stark.
The plates or scutes of the shells appear to be comprised of small white stones and are planted with small green succulent plants so that in some of the scutes the stones are no longer visible.
The tortoise ‘family’ dominate the terrace, leaving little room for seating and causing any visitor to take a circuitous route around the terrace to reach the door.

View illustration: terrace with tortoises