Three Lives

Servant Bells

(550 words)

“I’m a servant, milord, a maid to Sir Oswald’s household.”
“And are you happy there?” I asked.
“No, milord, cursed be the day I came into this house!”
“What do you see around you?”
“Stone flags, milord, and a great fire. There’s a kettle o’water a’heatin’ for the washing.”
“Is it the scullery?”
“Yes, milord, there be a great kitchen for the cooking.”
“Is there anyone else there?”
(subject laughs) “Yes, milord, there’s Jack, the vartlet. He sits by the fire, his face red as any fox!”
“Do you like Jack?”
“Yes, milord, he’s a knave, jolly as a pie!”
“That’s good. And what about Sir Oswald.”
(subject seems nervous) “He … he, by my troth, he doth take advantage. When my lady is away, I must needs go to his chamber of a night. He maketh me unclothe myself – naked as a needle, and … and ….”
“Can’t you refuse?”
(subject appears tearful) “What wilt thou say, milord, I must needs, or I’ll be flashing my queint as a trull down in the town, a penny a time!”
“Isn’t there anyone you can talk to?”
(subject starts to cry) “No, milord, there’s none as wish to upset his Lordship!”
I place a hand on the subject’s forehead. “On the count of three you feel completely calm and come forward in time to your next life, at roughly the same age.”
(subject nods)
“One Two Three!”
(subject looks around, smiling)
“Where are you?”
“In the children’s room, sir. I see boxes of their toys.”
“And what year is it?”
(long pause) “Good Queen Victoria reigns, … er, I’m not sure, sir.”
“What is your position?”
“Oh, I’m a nanny to two dear children, sir.”
“Where do you live?”
“Oh, I live with the family, sir, the James’s. It’s somewhere in London, near to the river.”
“What age are you?”
“Eight and twenty, sir.”
“And do you like your work?”
“Mostly. The children, Jacob and Jemima, are lovely, and the master is a gent!”
“What about the mistress?”
(long pause) “Hard as nails she is, sir, always finding fault with me, especially when the master’s not around. Once I’d taken the children out, down to the pond to sail their toy yachts, and Jacob fell over and cut his knee bad. Well it weren’t my fault, sir, but the mistress, she went mad. The master being away, she took me into her study and gave me ten strokes of her cane on my behind.” (subject begins to cry) “I couldn’t sit properly for four days, sir!”
“OK. I’m going to count down from ten, and on the count of one, you will be back in the present moment, feeling calm and happy, with full memory of this session. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Ten, nine, eight … two, ONE!”
(subject sits up) “That was heavy!”
“You see now. Your problem of over-dominance, especially of, er, subordinates, is linked, intrinsically, to these last two lives.”
(subject nods)
“In both cases, you were subject to sexual and physical abuse, on a regular basis.”
“Yes, it wasn’t much fun!”
“I’m going to give you some hypnotic suggestions, based on this session. They’ll help you see people for who they are, warts and all, as people, not objects or possessions to be pushed around.”

David smiles, relieved. “Thank you.”

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Just the Ticket

 

abandoned railway

(1000 words)

“Servant?, well it’s, er, someone who performs duties for someone else, like someone who used to work in a big house in the old days, like a butler or a maid.”
“Did they get paid?” asked Elsa, my eight year old granddaughter, a pretty little thing with blonde hair.
I laughed. “Yes! Otherwise they’d be a slave. Not a lot though, I don’t think. Anyway, I was a Civil Servant, a government pen pusher!”
We were headed into a green tunnel. On both sides of the path, stretching back many yards, was a wall of burgeoning saplings, mature trees, bracken, vines, beds of nettles – a mass of lush verdant vegetation, flourishing in chaos. Dappled sunlight filtered through the greenery, here and there turning patches of leaves a variegated yellow.
Elsa pointed ahead to a row of low concrete columns that seemed to stretch forever along the left hand side of the path. “What’s this granddad?”
“Ha, this was a platform. That’s the edge. Trains used to stop here.”
“But it’s covered in all these trees and things!”
My daughter Mary was visiting. She was separated from my son-in-law, Martin, and they’d been living apart these past six months. It was ‘Till death do us part’ in my day, but what could I do? My well-meant advice fell on deaf ears and just led to bad feelings. It was heart-breaking for me but I’d learned to stay schtum and just play the part of the doting grandfather. I’d left Mary on the phone to her solicitor and taken Elsa to the shops along an old railway line, now converted into a cycle path. “Well, the trains stopped running in 1965. That’s over fifty years ago!”
“That’s a long time. Before mummy was born even.”
There wasn’t a single square foot on the whole platform that was free of vegetation. “Look, see how the roots have buried down through the concrete and broken it up.” Hundreds of young elder trees had sprung up along the edge of the platform and the path itself was encroached by nettles and grass. The council penny-pinching as usual. “This path was the railway line!”
“What happened to it?”
“Oh, the council took it up in the 1980’s.”
“Why, granddad?”
“I don’t know. For scrap iron I suppose.”
Elsa’s wide blue eyes met mine but she remained silent, walking along, swinging her arms and gazing at what had once, incredibly, been a bustling railway platform.
I envisioned an army officer waiting on the platform – tall, slim, dressed in khaki, with a leather dispatch bag over his shoulder. Next to him a shorter fellow, destined for a bank with his charcoal suit, polished black shoes and Homburg hat, puffing on a pipe.
It was 1952 and I’d get out of the train here with my workmates to walk to the nearby aircraft factory. I still remembered the clanking carriages; large metal boxes with worn, faded, chequered cloth on the seating that always smelt musty, even when new, and how we’d wait to go home along this line again in the evening, tired, nails blackened after a day in the machine shop, but in good humour, laughing and joking with each other.
Then we’d hear the distant puff-puff rhythm of an engine and a cumbersome steam train would suddenly appear, coming over a long-vanished bridge and pulling into the station, smoke belching out, blackening the sky.
“Granddad, granddad, I can hear a train coming! We’ve got to get out of the way!”
I smiled. “OK, we can go down these stairs.” I pointed to a short flight of steps with a handrail, twenty yards away. They led through woodland to our right, down to some houses.
“Quick, granddad, we’d better hurry!”
“OK.” I bustled along as fast as my old legs would carry me, Elsa’s slim young legs hurtling ahead.
“Come on granddad, hurry up!”
Out of breath I reached the ‘sanctuary’ of the stairs and we both retreated a few steps down. I laughed. “Just made it!”
Elsa didn’t say anything, just looking from left to right and back, and gripping my hand tightly. “The train’s so noisy, and all that steam!” she shouted.
Finally she let go of my hand. “It’s gone off over the bridge now, it’s OK.”
Funny, I didn’t remember saying anything about a bridge.
Elsa spoke excitedly, “A man waved to me and threw something out of a window. I saw it land just over there.” She pointed to the left.
“Oh, OK, but we need to get to the shops. Your mum asked me to get some things for lunch.
Please!” said Elsa, looking at me anxiously.
“OK, be quick.” I stood and looked up and down the path as she scampered off. Some houses just visible to the left beyond the far end of the platform were almost unchanged from the thirties, maybe new windows and roof tiles, and perhaps a new chimney, but the railway, the trains, the fences, the ticket collector – all gone.
Elsa returned, holding out a small piece of yellow paper. “Look!”
I took it and gazed in astonishment. “Good Lord, this looks new!”
The thick oblong paper had clear blue print. ‘L.N.E.R. Available for three days, including day of issue. Nast Hyde Halt to Hill End. Fare THIRD, Class C.’ and the price, ‘5d.’ It was undated.
“Five pence, when there were 240 of them in a pound!” I laughed.
Elsa looked up at me earnestly, “The man threw it to me, I told you!”
I smiled at her. Suddenly a strong gust of wind snatched the ticket out of my hand and it flew high up into the air. Helplessly we watched it sail into the impenetrable ‘jungle’ on the old platform.
Elsa looked horrified. “Granddad, we’ll never get it back!”
“Never mind, maybe we’ll find another. Best be getting on our way.” But my heart felt heavy. I hadn’t held one of those for sixty-five years.

To purchase the stories (up to June 2017) in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 180! 

Salmon and Soul

salmon21

(1200 words)

Tunsgate Green stood, thinking of Ruth, back in the cottage, typing away at her wretched manuscript. Some romantic nonsense, mainly to make up for the total lack of it in their lives, he imagined. Once she’d been young, vivacious, sexy even. He snorted. Hard to imagine that now! Their love life currently resembled this salt marsh – dead flat.
He gazed over the dry beige marshland to the distant level horizon, the faintest deep blue ribbon set against the pale blue sky indicating the start of the North Sea, next stop the fjords and islands of western Norway, 400 miles away.
They’d come to Stiffkey, on the Norfolk coast, to try to rekindle something of their relationship, but with Ruth immersed in her fictional romantic world, and him stalking the lonely marshes and empty beaches, they rarely seemed to meet when one or the other wasn’t tired. She could be irritatingly churlish too, which didn’t help, and he probably wasn’t much better, he admitted.
He missed Shiva, his black labrador and companion of the last twelve years. She’d developed stomach cancer and had to be put to sleep six weeks earlier. Ruth had made sympathetic noises, but she didn’t really care. He’d been devastated. He realised he still was, as tears came to his eyes at the thought.
A gentle cool breeze ruffled the stubby coarse grass. It was warm and he felt sweaty, even though he’d not walked fast. Out there he knew appearances could be deceptive. Salt water lurked under the soil, always eager for a victim, perhaps an overzealous dog, or even a careless walker. At night, spirits of footpads and pirates were said to roam the endless flat landscape, damned to do so by virtue of their heinous deeds in life.
He walked back alongside a creek of bright blue water. The soil was exposed here, clay-brown, but dry from the heat of summer. There was no sign of modern life, no fences, telegraph poles, nothing. Just this ancient path, scuffed by centuries of wayfarers.
Coming into the village he encountered the Stiffkey Stores. A pale-red pitched roof surmounted walls made from small stones, some grey, some black, cemented together somehow. A faded blue awning, stained green with moss, overhung a dark curtainless window. In front of the store stood a trailer full of pots of colourful flowers. Someone had recently given it a lick of fresh grey paint.
He pushed the door open and a bell rang. To the left was an old brown wooden counter with an ancient till at the near end. Shelves on the far wall contained tins of soup, loaves of white bread, bags of sugar and the like. Against the wall to the right was a stand containing potatoes with soil on them, large, almost-fluorescent orange carrots, huge cauliflowers, and other vegetables and fruit.
“Hello.” A young woman behind the counter, dressed in an enormous thick bottle-green turtle neck pullover, smiled brightly. She had shoulder length blonde hair, and an attractive, tanned face, unadorned by make up. On the counter in front of her lay a salmon. Its scales held shades of purple and red. Freshly caught, he surmised.
“Hello,” he said, surprised. He’d met old Mr. Blush on his one previous visit to buy some stamps. “Did you catch that yourself?” he found himself asking.
“No, I created it!” She laughed a warm laugh, showing perfect white teeth. “What’s your name?”
“Oh, it’s, … don’t laugh. Tunsgate! Apparently I was conceived there. My mother never knew my father’s name. What’s yours?”
“She smiled, it’s Nancy, but you know me as Calluna … in the other place.”
He began to wonder if she was all right in the head. She seemed somehow familiar though, and exuded an aura of friendship. “What do you mean, you created this salmon?!”
She stood up and smoothed the green wool down over her breasts. She laughed her warm laugh again. “There are four of us, you – Arthemis, that’s what you’re called, me, Nathum and Senji. Our guide and teacher is Shato. He sometimes comes to us as an Irish leprechaun, other times as a beautiful young woman! Your ego-mind doesn’t remember, but inside, deep inside, your superconscious mind, the mind of your soul, remembers very well!”
Something in what she was saying rang a distant, faint bell. “I … er, I don’t know. It’s interesting what you’re saying but ….”
She came out from behind the counter and he noticed she had one pale blue eye, and one jade green eye. He felt a jolt of recognition. His imagination though, surely?
“We were on what we call Earth Two, a ‘practice world.’ Now we are at level three we can practise, with Shato’s help, channelling energy to make things. At first small pebbles and rocks, then plants, then … fish!” She laughed. “It took a long time. Many, many, many lifetimes!”
She approached and put her arms around him. Tunsgate closed his eyes, hugging her back. Yes, he knew her. Deep inside. He could feel the love of a soul mate emanating from her. Then she broke away. “I have to close the shop now.” She wrapped the salmon in greaseproof paper and put it in a brown paper bag. “Here, a present from Calluna!”
“What did you do?” asked Ruth. She was in the small kitchen, pouring boiling water into a large blue china teapot. He enjoyed the familiar, fragrant smell.
“Oh, just walked along the coastal path. I miss Shiva.”
“I know, darling, she was a lovely dog.” She came over and, to his astonishment, hugged him, kissing him on the cheek. He couldn’t remember the last time she’d done that.
He continued, “I called into the store. There was an amazing young woman there. Said she knew me from a previous life!” He felt embarrassed.
Ruth laughed. “I wonder who that was, there’s only old Mr. and Mrs. Blush run the store.”
“She was about twenty-five, blonde hair, attractive. She gave me this salmon!”
“Oh, that’d be from the salmon farm just down the coast. They’ve got a son. He works there. There’s no daughter though. Well ….”
“Well what?”
Ruth poured strong brown tea into two blue enamelled mugs and splashed in milk from a carton. “Well there was a daughter. Old Mrs. Blush told me the girl used to ride a horse along the coast. One day, about ten years ago, she went out and neither she nor the horse ever came back.”
“That’s terrible!”
“Yes, some said the horse was a water kelpie and had taken her back to the sea. More likely they went onto the marsh and just got swallowed up, poor girl. Her name was Nancy.”
He started. “Nancy. That was the name of the girl in the shop!”
Ruth looked up. Her lips were glossy and he noticed she’d applied some powder to her normally pale cheeks. “Old Mrs. Blush told me Nancy had an unusual characteristic … she had one blue eye …
“… and one green,” he said.
Ruth looked into her mug. “Truth can be stranger than fiction … sometimes.”
“I suppose so.”

She smiled. “Look, let’s drink our tea, then ….” She nodded towards the bedroom door.

To purchase the stories (up to June 2017) in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 180! 

Monasticity

monkbeercol

(1000 words)

Monastic-style beers were her favourite. Heavy, sweet, and above all, high alcohol! She peered through the small opaque panes of Oliver’s Beer and Books. No sign of anyone in the small cafe behind the faded yellow door. She pushed it open and a bell rang.
Inside was a counter, and behind, shelves upon which stood perhaps twenty dusty brown bottles. Bold fonts on cream and blue labels displayed odd foreign names – Zundert, Achel, Gregorius, Westmalle, all ones that she was now familiar with. Perhaps too familiar? A coffee machine, all shiny bright steel and red levers, stood at one end of the counter. The enticing odour of coffee was noticeable by its absence.
A tall thin man in a green apron appeared. Oliver perhaps? He had short grey hair, with matching beard and moustache. He wore thin-rimmed silver spectacles. He looked like a university lecturer, or what she imagined one to look like. She sighed. She’d had to leave school at sixteen.
“Hello, Mrs. Fuhring, the usual?”
She averted her eyes and nodded, saying nothing.
The man busied himself behind the counter, taking a round, unlabelled brown bottle from a fridge.
She wondered why Oliver, if it were he, didn’t dust the bottles on the shelves. It would only take five minutes! And where exactly did he go when he wasn’t serving?
He opened the bottle and brought it over with a matching glass, a large shallow goblet with Monasticity printed on it in gothic red script.
She poured out a cloudy orange liquid, admiring the miraculous white fluffy head, and inhaling yeasty orange aromas. She waited for the man to leave, pretending to look at her phone. As if anyone would call or message her! She thought of her husband, Eric. He’d said he was going to get a new blade for the lawnmower, but from the shine in his eyes and the smell of aftershave she knew where he was really going. She’d caught him bang to rights recently, a packet of condoms in his jacket pocket. He’d said he’d ‘found’ them on the pavement and was ‘going to give them to a friend.’ As if!
Presently he’d be with his teenaged ‘lover,’ Christine. Knowing him, right now they’d probably be having a ‘sixty nine.’ Yuk, the thought made her feel sick.
Once alone, she closed her eyes and took a large mouthful of beer, feeling the foamy head tickle her nose. She swirled it around her mouth and tongue with her pink-lipsticked lips slightly open. What could she taste? Honey, raisins, banana, leather perhaps? and the bite of pure alcohol. Wonderful! Her head swam and she felt better.
Mrs. Fuhring ran her fingers over a piece of coloured paper stuck to the front of a large, olive-green, hardback book, old but in very good condition. Looking closely she saw it was a painting. Lighted cabins at the front of a sailing ship against stylised, unrealistic grey-blue waves. On the deck were a group of what looked like elves, and looking down from the upper cabin, three young figures, one of whom sported a pair of wings. Fairies she presumed.
She traced her nails over the gilded title above the ‘pictorial onlay,’ as she knew it to be properly called. The Children’s Golden Treasure Book. And beneath, the onlay, the words, ‘Brimful of Joyous Entertainment.’ Hah, if only she could feel joyous!
Inside, on the thick cream paper were stories of schoolchildren, witches, fairies, goblins, elves, and there were numerous illustrations of all kinds. From rough pencil sketches, through more sophisticated engravings, to colour plates. An enchanted world, now vanished, replaced by Xboxes, and PlayStations, she reflected with disdain.
She admired the endpapers, brightly coloured figures from the tales no doubt. Hideous witches confronted a handsome prince in a green cloak, a knight rode on a white charger, and a yellow sailing ship displayed a flag, The Golden Vanitee.
Mrs. Fuhring had passed through narrow corridors lined with old Penguins, more modern paperbacks, and cloth-covered volumes from the past, ‘when books were books,’ as she thought. Then down a spiral staircase into her ‘special place,’ a circular room filled with nothing but books and two armchairs, covered in worn red-brown leather.
She looked at the price, £12. She didn’t really want to spend so much, maybe she could offer £10? The thought of doing so made her stomach queasy, she wasn’t one for bartering.
She plucked out a short thick black hardback – The Answer Book. Interesting! She read the back cover. ‘Concentrate on your problem for sixty seconds, with your right hand palm on the front cover, then open at a random page and the solution will be given.’ She had a quick peek and saw that every other page had a short sentence on it.
All right! She did as instructed, closing her eyes and thinking of Eric, his thinning hair and beer belly, and how thirty years of marriage had worn them both down. Then of silly, plain-looking Christine, sitting, bored, at her menial library job. She was nevertheless well proportioned, and, no doubt Eric took pleasure in her eager, young body Mrs. Fuhring admitted. Mind you, Christine hadn’t had to bear three kids!

A minute must be up, surely! She opened the book and stood shocked. The ‘answer’ was ‘Laugh about it.’ Well it was hardly a laughing matter, your husband ‘playing away’ with a young ‘floozie’! Suddenly, she envisioned Eric’s spotty fat bottom riding up and down on top of Christine’s sweaty white body. She smiled. Surely Christine couldn’t really enjoy it. She was just after the perks – meals, concerts, hotel rooms. She felt a bit better. Well, two could play at that game. There was a young lad at Tesco’s who was always friendly towards her. In fact more than friendly on occasion. Probably sex starved. Well maybe she might just put him out of his misery! She looked at her watch. Just time for another bottle of Monasticity first!

To purchase the stories (up to June 2017) in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 180! 

Comic Tragedy

Monks at Pluscarden Abbey prepare for Christmas

(900 words)

Monastic life had its ups and downs. At first it had been quite exciting, rising at 4.30 in the old Abbey in the summer, seeing mist covering the expansive lawns, whilst a golden glow on the horizon diffused over the orchard.
Opening a window with it’s ancient leaded panes and breathing in that air, the air of creation. Taking it deep, deep into the lungs, holding it, thanking God for this life, and exhaling with gratitude.
As the months went past and summer turned to autumn and autumn turned to winter, it wasn’t quite so exciting. The attraction of getting out of a warm bed onto stone cold flags, seeing your breath misting in the candlelight, not so appealing. Then a trip down a dimly lit corridor to fetch a jug of hot water for washing and shaving. Today, there was something wrong, the water was freezing cold, an ordeal to do my ablutions.
Then out into the cold wind of the cloisters to the church and Vigils, the first service of the day. Brother Cecil greeted me, his double chin wobbling beneath his round pink face.
“Having a lie-in Brother Paul?”
“No, the water wasn’t heated, it took me longer.”
Brother Cecil’s laugh sounded like a dog barking. “When I was a novice the water was never heated!”
I looked at his fat smirking face with disdain, then mentally asked God to forgive my uncharitable thoughts.
The day proceeded as usual, 6.15, a bowl of tea, bread, butter and marmalade, then Lauds, half an hour of praising God. My thoughts had changed over the last months. Surely a supreme being who designed the universe didn’t need to be adulated? It was rather like making a vivarium for an ant colony. Yes, you’d like to observe them busying themselves with making tunnels, attending to the queen, and doing whatever in God’s name ants do, but you’d hardly need them to be singing hymns and worshiping you!
Anyway, after Lectio Divina, Terce, and Mass, I felt zombified due to lack of sleep. I’d prayed for God’s help, but he was obviously off on a mission somewhere else today. I felt truly knackered.
“Come along Brother Paul, no more slacking today!” the dulcet tones of Brother Cecil rang out. “Cellar duty for you!”
My four letter reply stayed in my mind, the Lord be praised! I looked at a clock on the wall, 10.05, three hours to go, until after dinner I’d be able to retreat to my chamber and ‘crash out’ for half an hour before None, the fifth service of the day.
“Come along, come along, Brother Maurice is down there already!”
Down in the cellar, it was my and Brother Maurice’s task to brush mould off an area of wall with heavy wire brushes. Then to paint the area with limewash. Cold, damp and unpleasant work.
“Good Lord!” I heard Brother Maurice exclaim.
“What’s up?” I went over to where he was working to find a brick had become loose, revealing a cavity. “Is there anything in there?”
He removed the brick and fished around, pulling out a small book, some candles and a wide cardboard tube about a foot long. “It’s a diary, written in Latin,” he said, examining the book. “It talks about Father Jeremiah. That was before the war!”
I took the tube, and prised off the cap. There was something inside. I extracted it to find a roll of some kind of waxed paper. I unrolled it on a nearby table. “Look at this!” Inside was a copy of the Beano!
We both stared at it. Why on Earth would anyone have secreted a comic behind a wall?! Brother Maurice smoothed out the curled, but still brightly coloured paper. It showed the antics of an ostrich and a monkey in six frames. A red oval contained white lettering, BIG EGGO. “Good Lord, this is number one!”
The cover advertised a ‘Whoopee’ mask. He shook the comic and a thin black cloth mask with two elastic loops to go behind the ears tumbled out.
“Brother Maurice, Brother Paul!” called a familiar voice. The staircase creaked under the fat, brown-robed form of Brother Cecil.
We exchanged glances. There wasn’t time to hide the comic.
Later, after 1 p.m Sext, a short hymn and some prayers, I proceeded to Dinner. Today mutton stew, served with chips, roast parsnips, and wholewheat rolls and butter – a most welcome repast!
“Brother Paul, Brother Paul!” It was Brother Maurice.
“What?”
He led me to one side. “That comic we found. It’s worth … it’s worth …. He was visibly shaking.
“What? How much?”
“Twenty to thirty thousand pounds … with that mask!!”
“What?!! Look we’d better find out what Brother Cecil did with it.”
“No need!” Brother Cecil’s booming voice interrupted as his rotund form came into view. “I was intending to speak to Father Abbot, I thought it might be worth a pound or two and suitable for our Christmas auction, but just then I heard that Brother David had a bad case of diarrhoea, and there was a severe shortage of toilet paper. Brother Cedric had just gone for a supply. That, er, comic was an excellent substitute!” He looked at our ashen faces with surprise. “Apparently there wasn’t quite enough, unfortunately, so he had to use that mask thingy to ‘finish off.’ “Praise be to God that you found it!”

To purchase To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, the ‘best of my blog’ (up to July 2017) in paperback, Kindle eBook, and (now) audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact me and I’ll be pleased to send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 180! 

Free audiobooks!

TCASSS cover ACX Angus

I’m excited to announce that my book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, is now available as an audiobook. It comprises the ‘best of my blog’ up to June 2017, and is over six hours long. It is narrated by Angus Freathy, who has narrated 15 audiobooks to date (http://adbl.co/2m3lPDa). His ‘voices’ really bring the stories to life and I’m very pleased with the result!

I have a limited number of promotional codes (worth £16/$20 each) to give away for free copies! They can ONLY be used on either Audible.com or Audible.co.uk, but you should be able to use either site from most countries.

So if you would like a free copy of To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories in audiobook form, please contact me via my blog contact page (only) and I’ll be pleased to send you a promotional code whilst they are still available. Let me know where in the world you are or otherwise please indicate your preference as to which of the above two sites you’d prefer (the codes are only valid for one or the other, not both).

UPDATE – 29TH NOVEMBER 2017

I’m now pleased to announce that Bound in Morocco, a short story (NOT on my blog), is ALSO available on Audiobook, again narrated by Angus Freathy. I also have some promotional codes for FREE copies of this title, which I’m happy to send on request, see details above. This is only 50 minutes long (as opposed to To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, which is six hours 20 minutes) but is, I think, an entertaining and enjoyable adventure, set in Morocco. Use the link given below to go to the first title, then there is a link lower down the page to go to this one.

BASIC INSTRUCTIONS

To get your free audiobook once you have the code, you need to create an Amazon account (if you don’t already have one) then you go to Audible and create an Audible account (if you don’t already have one). That doesn’t commit you to anything BTW, you DON’T have to become a member. Then you follow some simple instructions to ‘purchase’ and download your audiobook. Full instructions are given below for reference.

There’s absolutely no catch, I would just ask that you leave a positive review on Audible’s site if you enjoy the book, but that’s up to you.

You can play it in iTunes or Windows Media Player and download to your phone etc. etc. Audible audiobooks are also currently compatible with:

  • Fire phone
  • Fire tablet
  • Kindle for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch
  • Kindle for Android
  • Kindle for Samsung
  • All New Kindle Oasis
  • Kindle Touch
  • Kindle Keyboard
  • The Audible apps for iOS, Android and Windows
  • Audible software for PC and Mac
  • MP3 players and other devices compatible with Audible’s file format

DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS

1. Go to my book’s page on Audible.com or Audible.co.uk (where you can also listen to a sample).

2. Add the audiobook to your cart.

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TO DOWNLOAD ON A MAC  (very simple)

TO DOWNLOAD ON A WINDOWS COMPUTER (requires one extra step)

 

The Magic Onion

the-magic-onion-things-didnt-know-onions-could-do

(650 words)

Heidi came in with a string bag of onions and dumped them on the kitchen table. I looked up from my computer screen. “What’s with all the onions?”
“The guy on the market was giving them away!”
“What?! Couldn’t he sell them?”
“They were packing up. There weren’t any customers really and it was starting to rain. It was cold too. I think he just wanted to get rid of them.”
“Oh. Would you like some tea?”
She took off her navy blue fleece, tossing her long brown curls back, and hung it up. She smiled. “Yeah, thanks, that’d be nice.”
I got up and filled the kettle. I ignited the gas ring, watching the blue flame hiss and burn for a moment, enjoying it’s warmth, then put the kettle on.
Heidi came over and put an arm round my shoulder, kissing my cheek. “What are you doing?“
“Oh, just writing e-mails. Boring stuff.”
“I remember grandma used to have a lovely recipe for eggs. She’d cut a big onion ring and fry it on one side. Then she’d turn it over and crack an egg into it. She’d add some water and cover it for a few minutes. We’d have them on toast. I learnt how to do it myself and I’d eat three at a time!”
“Greedy guts! You’ll have to make me some.” The kettle was whistling. I put teabags into a large brown pot and poured boiling water onto them, inhaling the familiar, comforting odour. “My dad used to clean spoons with them!”
“What?”
“Yeah, he’d get an onion, slice it, then crush the slices. He’d put them in a pot with a little water and leave it for a while. Then he’d dab a cloth in the mixture and rub it on the spoons until they were clean and shiny. I used to clean my penknife blades with it. I had one of those Victorinox things.”
“What, were you in the Scouts or something?”
I laughed “Yeah, I was always prepared!”
We both sat at the kitchen table. I closed my computer lid. Heidi took some scissors and cut the string bag. She selected an onion, shut her eyes and held it to her nose, inhaling deeply. “I think people are like onions.”
She could be deep could Heidi. “How d’you mean?”
“Well, on the outside they can be a bit rotten but inside they’re OK.”
“True.”
“Then, there are translucent layers, but you can only see through a couple. You don’t know what’s really inside. You think they’re kind to animals, peel a layer off and it turns out they put a hamster in a microwave. That kind of thing.”
“That’s horrible!”
“People’ve done it. Then sometimes they’re hard on the outside but soft, rotten in places, on the inside.”
I poured the tea into two large blue enamel mugs. “Mum was like that.” I took a bottle of milk from the fridge and poured some into our cups. Neither of us took sugar.
She continued, “Sometimes there’s like another layer of skin inside, like an onion inside an onion.” She sipped some tea and smiled. “That’s like a schizo I suppose!”
I cupped my mug in my hands, enjoying the warmth and looking into Heidi’s green eyes. “I’ll tell you something. Just you and me, right?”
“Yeah, sure.”
“Well you remember my dad’s funeral?”
“Yeah, of course. You were well upset. Don’t blame you though.”
I took an onion, rolling it slowly between my hands. “Not exactly, I had one of these – cut into pieces and wrapped in foil. In a jacket pocket.”
She sat up. “What d’you mean?”
“Well every now and then I’d go somewhere private, get a piece out and put it up to my eyes.”
Heidi looked shocked.

“Dad was like an onion all right. Nice on the outside. Different layers for different folk. Bitter at the core.”

To purchase the stories in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact us and we’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 180! 

Red Nose Day

dolls2

(550 words)

Ellen stood, gazing around the room in awe. Claire had said it was OK to look in here, but she felt somehow guilty, as if prying. Surrounding her, stood and sitting on the floor, and on shelves around the walls, were perhaps two hundred dolls.
She’d come to babysit her friend’s five year old daughter, Bonny. Claire had told Ellen that she collected dolls, that she had ‘a roomful’ of them, but Ellen had never imagined Claire had been speaking literally. She’d put Bonny to bed after the little girl had fallen asleep watching a Disney DVD, made herself a sandwich, watched TV, and, growing bored, thought she’d look around the house. Look but don’t touch. The babysitter’s dictum.
In the front row was a female doll with a black tunic top and rose coloured skirt. Wavy silver hair descended to her shoulders beneath a conical pale yellow hat and bright blue eyes looked out from the lifelike face above pronounced pink cheeks. She bore a curiously neutral expression. You couldn’t tell if she were happy, or cross even. Claire guessed the doll’s costume was Swiss or German. The other dolls were of every size, shape and nationality. Chinese dolls with slanted eyes, Indian dolls in beautiful saris, babies in shawls, ‘ladies’ in emerald green finery, blonde hair piled high in immaculate curls.
Then there was a section of clown dolls, perhaps thirty in number, varying in height from just a foot or so, up to an almost life-size clown in a rocking chair. Its face was chalk-white, its eyes were black hollows and its grinning lips a garish red.
Ellen noticed that they universally sported red noses, the one unique identifying feature of a clown she supposed. She heard the front door close and Claire call out, “Ellen, where are you?”
She checked her watch. Eleven o’clock. “Coming!” She closed the door quietly, hearing a creak from within. That was odd.
Downstairs, Claire was looking happy. “Hi, how was Bonny?”
“Oh, she was fine. We watched The Little Mermaid, and she fell asleep.”
“She must’ve seen that one twenty times!” Claire went into the kitchen. Ellen followed. “What did you get up to?” Claire asked.
“Oh, after I’d put Bonny to bed I watched TV then looked at your dolls. I didn’t know you meant it when you said you had a roomful. They’re amazing!”
Claire took some bread out of a container. “Yes, I collected them over the last thirty years. I’m making a sandwich. I’m starving, you want one?”
“No thanks, I already had one.”
“What did you do with the carving knife?” Claire asked.
Ellen looked puzzled. The block that held the knives had an empty socket. “I’m sorry, I washed it. I thought I’d put it back.”
“Don’t worry.” Claire opened a draw and picked out a serrated knife. “This’ll do.” She cut two slices and opened the fridge, taking out a pack of Lurpak Light and some slices of ham. “Which dolls did you like best?”
Ellen laughed. “Well, I’ll tell you which one I didn’t like. That big clown doll in the rocking chair!”
Claire turned, looking pale. “What d’you mean? I don’t have a big clown doll. I sit in that rocker myself!”
“What?!”
“Listen!”
Heavy footsteps were coming down the stairs.

To purchase the stories in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audiobook form, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 word story group please contact us and we’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 180! 

I Dream of Diwana: 2000 word version

delicious-south-Indian-cuisines

“Impressive, isn’t it?” I smile.
“Oh gosh, have I got to eat everything?” says my wife, Laura.
In front of each of us lies a circular metal tray, in the centre of which stands a bowl of steaming rice. The grains are tiny, some coloured red, yellow or green. Surrounding it are small metal pots containing vegetables – some plain, some battered and fried, in a variety of sauces. One pot contains chopped tomato, cucumber and raw onion, sprinkled with finely diced coriander leaves, and another, plain yoghurt. The restaurant is full of the aroma of curry and I’m salivating like crazy.
“Would you like anything to drink sir?” smiles a young Indian girl with deep brown eyes, darker than her dusky skin.
“Can I have Cobra please?” I say. Laura asks for mineral water.
I laugh, indicating a pot, half full of a thick yellow paste, inconspicuous amongst the others. “I remember the first time I came here I ate the shrikhand with my curry. I didn’t realise it was a sweet!”
I serve myself a portion of rice, some curried cauliflower, and some small pieces of potato in a thin greasy-looking sauce. “Wow, this is hot!” I exclaim. They’d not spared the chilli! I spoon a generous portion of yoghurt on top. It’s delicious, my taste buds overwhelmed by the fiery, aromatic experience.
It’s September 1987, the seventh year of my marriage to Laura, and I’m definitely feeling like scratching the seven year itch. The first years had been wonderful, although marred by frequent fights, but isn’t that usually the way? Her long dark hair still looks glamorous, but the pretty face has grown rounder and the pounds have piled on. Health problems abound with increasing frequency. Still, ‘Till death do us part …’ as they say.
 –
Laura stands, long black hair cascading over her black coat. She’s stood against the polished blue tiles of Regent’s Park tube station. She hasn’t noticed me approaching through the thin crowd yet. I linger and watch her. She’s looking straight ahead, blinking and touching her hair, glancing at her watch. She looks in a red leather handbag, pulls out a tissue and dabs her forehead, cheeks and nose. I approach and her face breaks into a wide, pink-lipsticked smile. She hurriedly stuffs the tissue back into her handbag. “Hello.” Her eyes are wide and dark. She’s wearing mascara and some face powder.
I put an arm on her sleeve and kiss her mouth. There’s a faint odour of floral perfume. Her lips are cool, but tingling with electricity. “Hello, sorry I’m a bit late.” We walk up the steps, out into the bright autumn air, and the bustling pavement.
There’s the usual newspaper kiosk. Three rows of colourful magazines below a shelf with more magazines and newspapers on it. There’s a rack of chewing gum, one of the worst inventions ever, how I hate the stuff! At the back there are more racks of magazines. The top row shows enticing glimpses of pink, brown and grey female flesh. To the left of the kiosk is a stand of international newspapers. EL PAIS, Süddeutsche Zeitung, La Tribune …. They’re dated October 1980.
Presumably there’s a human being lurking within this newsprint and glossy cave? I try to imagine someone actually designing the kiosk. And factories making them. Then I try to envisage all the people writing and designing this seemingly endless number of newspapers and magazines. There must be thousands, tens of thousands even? Massive machines printing millions of copies. I fail miserably.
“Should we go for coffee,” says Laura.
Can this gorgeous creature really be with me? “Yeah, that’d be good.”
She looks at the stand. “I just want to buy some gum.”
I start to say something, then change my mind. “Good idea.”
“Impressive, isn’t it?” I smile.
“We have bigger thalis in Gangtok!” says my partner, Lhamo.
“You always have to go one better don’t you?”
She laughs, shaking her red-brown bob, her hooded cat-like eyes twinkling. It’s September 1997 and once again I’m in Diwanas. I haven’t been here for ten years, but it’s like a time warp, everything seems exactly the same, even the waitress.
Lhamo isn’t eating a thali. Instead, she has a dosa, a long, rolled pancake, fried and filled with spiced potato, lentils and onion.
The restaurant’s packed, as always. A small queue stands by the door, resignedly waiting for a vacant table.
Lhamo looks apprehensive. “I need to tell you something.”
I know what’s coming. I’ve heard it often enough. “What?”
“I’m leaving, going back to Rasheb.”
I could save my breath. “Why?”
“I miss Ahmed. He needs me.” Her eyes mist over.
I take a mouthful of Cobra, close my eyes, and swill it round my tongue with my mouth slightly open. The light hoppy flavour mingles with those of butterscotch and dandelion. It’s amazing what you can find when you really focus on something! Back to reality. “Please don’t go.” And I mean it. Despite all the problems with her estranged husband and her collusion with him, I really love her.
We’d met at a theatre group in our small town. There were a handful of good actors, the rest of us weren’t any great shakes. To my astonishment she’d taken a shine to me, saying I reminded her of Robert Redford, and it was only weeks before she’d moved in, leaving her fifteen year old son and husband gnashing their teeth. Soon that slim brown body and her willingness to please had made every bedtime an exquisite experience.
 –
“Thank you for the lift,” I say. Lhamo has just dropped me off after theatre rehearsal – a pretentious ‘farce,’ written by our director, Maurice, entitled You Don’t Know My Mother! – saving me a bus fare. She’d seemed very friendly, smiling whenever I’d looked at her, until I’d felt a bit embarrassed. At the break she’d come and sat with me at the small theatre bar, drinking tea together.
“Where do you live John?” she asked. I noticed how white and straight her teeth were. Her skin is brown with a few light wrinkles. She’s not so young but still attractive.
“Oh, opposite the town centre. In one of those white flat-roofed houses. King’s Crescent. Do you know it?”
She smiled and her dark slanted eyes shone. “No, but I can give you a lift. I go that way.” She looked at me expectantly.
“All right.”
To my surprise, after dropping me off, she gets out of the car and walks along the path to my house with me. We don’t speak. We reach the front door. “Er, do you want to come in?” I ask, hoping she’ll say no. She seems a bit ‘odd.’
“No, I have to get back. I have to help Ahmed with his homework before bed.”
“Who’s Ahmed?”
“Ahmed, he’s my youngest son.” She pulls a photograph from her handbag and shows me a young Asian face, handsome even in the orange street light.
I make suitable noises. Then, “Thank you very much for the lift, I really appreciate it. I’ll see you next week then?”
She doesn’t speak, taking my arm and reaching up to kiss me quickly on the lips. Then she turns and walks back down the pathway without looking back, leaving me confused and wondering.
Six weeks later and I’m standing outside a staff entrance door at the back of a huge hospital complex. The year is 1996 and it’s late in the evening and dark, although there’s a street light nearby, casting an even white light. I feel nervous, wondering if I’m on camera. Then the door opens and Lhamo appears in a white coat, smiling and tossing her bob of chestnut-coloured hair. I relax and smile. It’s good to see her. She guides me through the door and down empty, echoing corridors. There are signs to departments I’ve never heard of – Nephrology, Oncology, Urology. Finally, we arrive at a tea room. A lady, dressed in a similar white coat looks up. Her name badge says Ann. She looks knowingly at Lhamo, then turns to me. “Hello, you must be John.”
I feel embarrassed but smile. “How did you guess?”
She laughs. “Lhamo said she was having someone to keep her company tonight. She said a few things about you ….”
Ann and Lhamo discuss work for a few minutes. They’re ‘on call,’ running any blood tests required overnight. They can sleep when there aren’t any. Tonight a baby is very ill and needs blood analysis. The nurses had a problem extracting any blood, then the machine doing the analysis went wrong. Operator error I surmise. They both look tired. They’re debating who’s going to phone the nurses to apologise and ask for fresh blood.
Finally Lhamo leads me through a sizeable laboratory, leaving Ann to smooth the ruffled feathers of the nursing staff. Surfaces are covered with test tubes and glass vessels of all shapes and sizes. Here and there stand large, strange machines. I’d like to ask her about them but she hurries ahead. Finally we come to an area with a sign, ‘On Call Suite,’ a grand name for a number of small rooms with an external kitchenette, shower and toilet.
Lhamo unlocks a door and leads me into her room. It’s small, cosy, like a room in a cheap hotel. There’s a single bed with a light on a bedside table. She turns it on and the room is illuminated with a warm yellow-white light. She faces me and takes off her white coat. I’m surprised. Underneath is nothing but soft, brown, yearning flesh.
 –
“Impressive, isn’t it, sir?” The Indian holds out the huge aubergine I’d been eying up outside his shop. “Only seventy five pence sir!”
I laugh, not wanting to lug vegetables around London, and tell him so.
“We’re open till 10 p.m. sir. You pick it up later!”
“Maybe.” I smile.
It’s September 2017, and I’m back in Drummond Street, just around the corner from Euston Station, inhaling the wonderful smell of curry that always envelopes the area. I pass other greengrocers, admiring the colourful displays of unrecognisable vegetables outside. Curious, I look at something resembling a bent white courgette, about 18 inches long. I wonder what it’s called and what strange land it comes from?
Passing two Indian restaurants I reach the Ambala Sweet Centre. I remember how Laura and I would buy boxes of delicious sweets there – made from condensed milk, coconut and suchlike, flavoured with spices. My mouth waters at the thought of gulab jamun, small cardamom syrup-soaked doughnuts. I ask myself why Indians aren’t enormously fat?
I walk a little further to Diwana Bhel Poori House. As usual, it’s packed, even though it’s only 7 p.m. I’d like to go in. But not on my own. I gaze through the window at the crowded tables where I’d sat with Laura and Lhamo. A waitress is serving plates of steaming dosas. A car drives past playing Michael Jackson on the radio – Bad.
Suddenly it seems like yesterday. I wonder where they are and what they are doing right now. I feel an ache in my guts, of nostalgia and loneliness.
I think of what might have been. Laura hadn’t wanted children, in fact had gone to quite extraordinary lengths not to have them. My mind refuses to go there. They’d be in their thirties now, doctors, architects perhaps? Incredible! Lhamo on the other hand longed for a daughter. I’d been more than happy to do my bit, but she hadn’t become pregnant. So no beautiful little coffee coloured girls running around our house in bright dresses, giggling and laughing. They’d be teenagers now, glued to their iPhones. More than likely rowing with us over ‘unsuitable’ boyfriends.
Maybe it’s better this way? I walk back down the road again. Thankfully my mood lifts. Never mind Laura, Lhamo and the rest of those damned women, I’m going to buy that aubergine!

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 160! 

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 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.

No Gold Pavements

Custom-White-passage-corridor-photo-wallpaper-for-living-room-sofa-spatial-extension-personality-wall-mural-wallpaper

(600 words)

Well, there are no black curtains, but it’s a white room I’m standing in. Quite large, I’d say about twenty foot square, and the ceiling’s high too. I can’t jump and touch it. The walls are luminescent, so there’s a fuzzy white-blue light in the room. I snap into reality. Where the Hell am I?!
You know when you’ve been dreaming because you know you’ve awakened. That’s how I’m feeling right now. I’m sure I’m not dreaming, everything feels normal. Well, as normal as it feels to wake up in your PJs in a strange white room with no doors or windows!
I try to rationalize the situation. I do remember going to bed. I’d been drinking Gallo chardonnay and ordering books on Amazon until gone midnight, then a DVD – Communion. I remember checking the newspaper headlines for today. Something about Prince Harry’s girlfriend – Meghan someone, Brexit, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Then listening to some music in bed. The Best of Cream.
But now I start to feel seriously worried. I feel awake. What are the tests for dreaming? Oh, yes. Jump in the air. I do so and immediately land back on the ground. Try to remember the sequence of events of the last few minutes. Well, I woke up, found myself in this room, tried to remember what I’d been dreaming. Remembered what I did before bed. Yes, a linear sequence of events. What else? Oh, yes. Look at some writing, look away, look back and see if it’s changed. Well there isn’t any writing, just snow white walls and floor.
Wait a minute, there is some writing! I don’t remember seeing that before! I cross to a small printed sign. It says, ‘Do you want to exit this room?’ Ha, yes! I look away for a few seconds, look back and the writing has changed! ‘Are you sure you want to exit this room?’ So, I must be dreaming! On impulse, I shout, “YES!” Then, “YES, I’M SURE I WANT TO EXIT THIS FUCKING ROOM!”
I shout repeatedly, feeling a little crazy and expecting to snap awake at any moment. My voice reverberates harshly around the bare walls. Suddenly, silently, part of the wall dissolves, leaving an arch-shaped doorway about eight feet high. Thank God! With relief I pass through it to find myself in a white corridor. Opposite is a door with a fluted glass window. There’s something blue and pink moving behind it.
I stand, nervous and expectant as a man emerges. To my amazement it’s my neighbour Alan, wearing a royal blue robe. “Hello John,” he says. “They got you too then?”
“What d’you mean? Where are we?”
A woman with long blonde hair follows him, closing the door after her. She wears no makeup and her face is pale, unsmiling. “Hello John.” It’s Alan’s wife, Sandra. She wears a pale green robe.
“Hello Sandy, what’s going on, where are we?!”
“I’m sorry, it’s bad news I’m afraid.”
A white shape appears behind the fluted glass. It’s tall, higher than the window. Twice it moves away, then back again. Finally the door opens. I shudder. It’s dressed in a white robe and has a large oval head with two huge black eyes. The mouth is small and thin-lipped. It doesn’t have a nose, just two small holes.
It doesn’t speak but I hear its voice. ‘Welcome to our ship … John. We will return you to your home presently. But first we need to run some … tests.’ It reaches into the robe and pulls out a hypodermic syringe. The needle is three inches long.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 160! 

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 400 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.