Blind Hope

braille 3

(500 words)

Hard as winter ice, soft as summer grass. Her mind and fingers played with the forgotten contents of a bottom drawer. She fluttered her fingers over a mixture of bric-a-brac and clothing, plucking out something silky. She held it to her face and inhaled the faded scent of roses. A blouse! Yes, one she’d worn when she was young, twenty years earlier. She held it to her cheek, sensing the vibrations. Red or purple. Yes, of course, the blouse she’d worn to her grandmother’s eightieth birthday party!
She pictured a photograph – herself, Flora, with a group of cousins, fifteen in number, all her grandmother’s second generation offspring. They all stood before a huge fireplace. The fire wasn’t lit, it being summer, and the group had lined up in two smiling rows, symmetrically placed between two enormous bookcases that reached up to the high ceiling. She’d stood at one end, her cousin Maurice, recently divorced, encroaching her space, touching her shoulders with his, showing an interest in a relationship with her perhaps? But she’d had her own beau then, Hector, Hector Simons. That was after the birth of Emma, but before her … accident. She supposed she should feel sadness, loss, or something, but she felt nothing – empty, hollow, all longing and hope knocked out of her all those years ago. She wondered when she had last cried. At the death of her last guide dog, Billy, six years ago, she supposed. Six long years.
She wondered if the blouse would still fit. She took off a cardigan, then a T-shirt, feeling the air on her bare midriff and shoulders. Suddenly, for no reason, she unclipped her bra and threw it across the room. She sensed the weight of her small, hard, pointed breasts. She slipped the blouse on, feeling her nipples stiffen at the touch of the shiny, soft fabric. Yes, it fitted perfectly! Then she remembered that the curtains were open over the window to the street. Oh, what the hell, she didn’t really care if any passersby saw her naked. She realised that was maybe the reason she didn’t have net curtains.
The doorbell rang, and she heard Flossie stir in her basket. Normally she never answered the door, but she felt confident and curious. She felt the dog rubbing her leg, and reached down, holding its tail and letting the animal guide her through the door and down the corridor. There wasn’t time to find and attach the harness. The bell rang again. “Just coming!”
She reached the door and undid the chain. Opening it, she felt a comforting blast of warm spring air in her face.
“Flora, it’s me, Hector!”
She stepped forward and threw her arms around him, noticing the distinctive smell of coal tar soap that she remembered so well. She laughed. “You still use the same soap!”
“Emma told me where you lived,” he said. “I’ve missed you.”

Flora, hugging him tight, could say nothing more. Six long years were over.

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.

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Memories of Oscar

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 12.35.48

On Sunday 1st October 2017 I lost Oscar, ‘my little friend’ and companion of the last fifteen and a half years, after a short illness.

I took in a stray cat, Cleo, in 2001 and she had four kittens on the 27th March 2002, coincidentally the same day as my own birthday! Here they are at just a few weeks old.

IMG_0075

From front to back they are Ginny, Lily, Tiffin and Oscar.

I kept them all. Ginny died in May 2004, Cleo in September 2004, Lily in July 2016 and Tiffin in February 2017. So Oscar was the only surviving cat of the family of five. All the siblings had gentle, friendly natures and were very well behaved.

So as a ‘tribute’ to Oscar I’ve listed some happy memories of him, in no particular order.

• Oscar had relatively recently discovered a taste for sandwiches and toast. He liked cheese and/or ham sandwiches with mayo and wholemeal bread and butter. And he was very fond of paté on toast, Ardennes and chicken liver especially.

• He would sleep on my bed and sometimes ‘knead’ my head in the night. I had to keep his claws cut short!

• He liked me to lie on my side in bed and crook my arm, then he would come under the quilt and rest his head on my arm and sleep with me for a while. That was something he learned to do only after Tiffin passed away.

• Once, at the vets, Oscar jumped off the table and started ‘exploring,’ even going into the stock room. He rubbed around the vet’s legs and the vet said he was ‘exceptionally friendly’!

• He recently grew to like the hot air stream from the hairdryer and in recent weeks would sit on my bed when he heard it going, in order to be ‘dried’!

• Oscar would STAND at a birdbath and drink water from it (watch full screen with full volume!) [N.B. There was a problem with embedding this video so I’ve added a link in case the video doesn’t appear.]

video of Oscar drinking from bird bath

• In the evening I often go for a walk round my village. When he saw me putting my shoes and jacket on, he would sit by the door, waiting to come outside with me. Then when I came back about 30-40 minutes later he’d be waiting on the drive for me.

• My cats had their dry food in some ‘feeding tubes,’ to reduce and slow their eating. Lily could do it straight away (she was the clever one), Tiffin learnt in a couple of days but poor Oscar just couldn’t get the hang of it and had to be trained over a full week! I would put a tube on its side, and a piece of food just outside the opening to start with, gradually putting the food further into the tube and increasing the angle over a few days until it was vertical. Once he’d learned how to do it, he’d sit for several minutes at a time, happily fishing Go Cat out of the tubes.

• Oscar liked me to leave the under-stairs cupboard door open so that he could explore. He would often rummage around in there and once found a pair of glasses that had been missing for several days!

• Once I got up at 2 a.m. to see him sitting on top of a tree in my front garden in the pouring rain! The tree was maybe ten feet high at the time.

• To stop him rolling on my computer desk when writing etc. I’d ‘sacrifice’ my comfortable chair for him to sleep on, whilst I sat on a plain, hard one.

• None of my cats made any noise. Then when Lily died, Tiffin ‘found his voice’ and started to miaow. Similarly, when Tiffin died, Oscar started to miaow, sometimes quite loudly.

• When he was a little kitten he couldn’t stop sneezing one night. I phoned the vets at midnight and they asked if he was dehydrated. I had to pinch the skin behind his neck and see if it stayed up or went down. It went down and I knew he’d be OK.

• In my previous house Oscar would growl like a dog if someone rang the doorbell at an unusual time! If it was a pupil for guitar lessons he would sense that from the time and my activities, and not worry.

• When he was very young I remember him coming back under the fence from our neighbour’s garden with a long piece of blue rope that he had ‘stolen’!

 

Related:

A very helpful guide, if you’ve lost a pet.

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/grief/coping-with-losing-a-pet.htm

An online tribute I left for Lily.

http://www.cat-lovers-only.com/lily-from-tetford.html

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.

 

Keeping It in the Family

police accident

(700 words)

“Hard to imagine he’ll get away with it,” said my sister Donna.
“Well, he says if we both stick to the story, they can’t prove anything.”
Donna looked thin and pale, not surprising, considering the strain we’d all been living under. “I still can’t believe it, that poor woman!”
“Look, I know it’s awful, but nothing we can say or do’s going to bring her back is it?”
Donna sighed. “I suppose not. But it’s not justice is it?”
“What’s justice at the end of the day? Just someone’s opinion over someone else’s. Where’s the sense in him spending years in prison. He’d lose everything, and it’d destroy mum.”
Donna turned away, saying nothing, busying herself with preparing lunch. I collapsed into an old armchair.
 –
My brother Matthew and I had gone to see a play. Donna was coming too, but had cancelled, feeling too ill after a minor dental procedure. On the way home, with Matt driving, a woman had walked out onto a zebra crossing, just as we were coming out of town on the main high street. Matt had been pontificating about the main female role, in his view the only one who could really act, never mind that she was a pretty blonde thing with large breasts. He wasn’t concentrating and the car ploughed into the woman with a loud thud, sending her flying. We got out and stood in horrified silence, looking down at the attractive face, blood now leaking over it from a crack in her head where it had hit the road. In the orange street light the vital fluid began to resemble a black veil.
“Listen Sarah, she ran out in front of us, I didn’t have time to stop,” said Matt, staring into my eyes.
“What?!”
“You heard.”
We looked around. It was gone eleven and the streets were deserted in the quiet town. There was no other traffic.
Then a window opened above a shop by the zebra crossing. A woman looked down. “Oh my God!”
Matt whispered, “She ran out in front of us, remember!”

Reluctantly, I nodded, just as a door opened to the right of the shop and a middle-aged woman clutching a mobile phone rushed out in slippers and a coat, hurriedly thrown over a nightie. “I’m a nurse,” she said, then bent to test the woman’s pulse. “She’s still breathing!” She phoned for an ambulance.

Later, we’d heard that the woman, 33 year old Sylvia Barnes, had died on the way to hospital. I’d felt totally gutted and mad at Matt. He’d said he was sorry, but he’d always had a ruthless streak and seemed to be taking the whole shocking affair in his stride. I’d needed to confide in someone, so I’d told Donna. I could trust her to keep it in the family.
We’d been taken to the police station and breathalyzed. Fortunately, Matt had only drunk coke at the interval. I’d had a large glass of Pinot Grigio. The car was in Matt’s name and I wasn’t insured to drive it, so they’d believed him when he said he was driving.
Then we’d both been interviewed the next day. I’d been asked the same question in twenty different ways. What exactly had I seen? My answer: “Nothing.” I’d been looking in my handbag for my mobile phone and just been aware of a crash and being restrained by my seat belt as I jerked forward under the impact. In the end I’d come to believe it myself.
The police had appealed for witnesses but no one had come forward, and there was no CCTV, thank God! It had all come down to Matt’s word against the suspicions of the police and Sylvia’s family.
Then yesterday had come a bombshell. I’d read that Sylvia had recently given birth to her first child, a girl they’d named Emma. I hadn’t known. A thought came into my mind, ‘It’s never too late to do the right thing.’
“What are you thinking?” asked Donna, putting a plate of ham and tomato sandwiches on the table.
I took one, and opened it, looking at the juicy thick-cut local ham. “Oh, just wondering if there’s any mustard.”

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.

Phoning a Friend: 1200 word version

toubkal-summit

 

Not wanting to dial, but wanting to dial, Jessica Sumner hesitated, her finger poised over her phone’s key pad. She felt nervous. This was silly, she could simply say she’d dialled a wrong number. Her brain commanded her finger to press but her muscles refused to cooperate.
She’d upgraded her e-mail program and a window had popped up, asking permission to migrate her address book. She’d had the option to manually approve the entries. Having some time to kill, she’d checked through the list, one at a time, deleting contacts from her detested last job, waitressing at Burger Legend, and others she wanted to put out of her mind forever. How she’d hated that job, all those cowboys leering at her chest. It wasn’t her fault she was so ‘full figured’! She felt a pang of regret at the name Roland Korzybski though. She’d delete that one later she told herself.
Suddenly, seeing an old familiar name, she felt a lump in her throat and a burning sensation in her eyes. Eleanor Naddeo. Dear Ellie. Jessica felt a tear trickle down a cheek, almost relishing the chance to give in to overwhelming grief at the memory of her good friend.
Jessica had visited Eleanor almost every day towards the end, looking into the sunken yellow eyes in Ellie’s gaunt face, feeling desperation whilst trying to exude optimism. “You’ll be OK, Ellie, the doctors say the prognosis is good.” The next thing had been Ellie’s funeral, the coffin pulled on a carriage by two white horses, Jessica watching with tears streaming down her face. She choked back a sob at the memory. Come on, Jess, that was over two years ago. We have to move on! But still, she and Ellie had enjoyed so many good times growing up together.
Jessica cast her mind back to the last occasion they’d spent time together, before Ellie had got sick. They’d gone on a group trek to Morocco’s Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa, amazed to find themselves the two youngest in the group of fifteen.
Jessica had caught campylobacter, a virulent form of food poisoning, and had collapsed, six days into the ten day tour. She’d been dreaming she was at home in bed, warm and cosy, but had returned to consciousness to find herself in a seated position, with the trek leader supporting her back, crying uncontrollably, a circle of concerned trekkers surrounding her. Then she’d had an acute attack of diarrhoea. Jessica allowed her mind to stray into a forbidden area. Two women had supported her, whilst Ellie had lowered Jessica’s shorts and knickers, the rest of the group turning away discretely, although Jessica had been too far gone to care. She’d emptied her guts in an orange, stinking spray all over the rocky path.
Ellie had refused to go with the group, insisting on staying with Jessica and a guide. They’d taken mules back to the previous night’s hovel, somewhere Jessica had never wanted to see ever again. Then she’d slept for 24 hours straight, Ellie bringing her water at intervals, and insisting she take some sips, “Come on, Jess, you have to replace fluid,” before she would crash into oblivion again.
After two days, Abdul, the guide, had walked down the valley to a village with a phone, to call a taxi, returning at dusk. The following day the two girls had been driven back to Marrakech, a six hour journey, punctuated only by a stop in a bustling market square to eat goat-meat kebabs. Their driver neither ate nor drank, it being Ramadan, but, sat, smiling and nodding encouragement as Jessica managed to chew and swallow a little strong, dark meat and sip Coca Cola. On reaching Marrakech, Ellie had insisted on sharing the £250 fare between them. Enough!
So now she had the inexplicable urge to dial Eleanor’s old number one last time, just to see who was there. Crazy, she knew. Do it!
“Hello, Eleanor Naddeo.”
It couldn’t be, that was impossible!
“… Hello, is anybody there?”
“Y-yes, it’s Jessica, Jessica Sumner.” Just hang up!
“Hi, Jess, I haven’t heard from you. It’s been so long. Just so long. Are you still hanging with Rolly?”
It must be a prank! “Who?”
“Roland Korzybski, your boyfriend, the biker.”
The voice sounded so familiar. “No. No, I’m not. Ellie, is that really you?”
“Yes, of course it is, who did you think it was?” Eleanor laughed her unmistakable laugh, a kind of giggle that rose in pitch.
“Ellie, don’t get me wrong, but you … you died. Two years ago. Liver cancer.”
Eleanor laughed. “Yes, I remember being ill. I don’t remember after that. But I’m OK now. I’m back at college, finishing my teacher training!”
I’ll wake up in a minute, Jessica thought. She pinched her skin above her right wrist. “Ow!”
“Jess, are you OK?”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine. I just …. What college are you at?”
Eleanor hesitated. “I … I forget the name right now. Sorry, I … I seem to forget stuff.” She sounded upset.
“It’s OK, Ellie, don’t worry. It’s just great to talk to you! How’s your family?”
“Oh, mom’s fine, dad’s doing a lot of overtime, they’re aiming to go on a world cruise next year!”
“Wow!”
“Chuck’s got himself a new girlfriend, Sandy, a pom pom girl! He’s finished college. He’s working at MacDonald’s whilst he finds himself a proper job.”
“That’s enterprising of him!”
“Yeah, and I get free Big Macs!” She laughed her unmistakable laugh again.
Jessica felt a stab of love and longing. “Ellie, can we meet? I want to see you.”
Again, Eleanor’s tinkling laugh. “Of course, why not? It’s been so long!”
Just the thought of seeing Ellie again, illogical as it was, to throw her arms around her friend and hug her again, made her heart pound. “Wow, that’d be cool. Look, I’m free tomorrow afternoon ….“ Jessica realised the line had gone dead. Frantically she pressed the redial button. Ellie’s number popped up and she pressed the dial symbol. The number rang … and rang. Come on Ellie! Finally someone picked up the phone. A man’s voice answered. “Hello, Pizza Hut, how may I help?”
That was odd. “Er, could I speak to Ellie, … Eleanor Naddeo please?”
He sounded impatient. “Who?”
Jessica repeated her request.
“I’m sorry ma’am, there’s no one here by that name.”
Of course there is! “Eleanor … Ellie. She has long brown hair … in a pony tail.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, there’s no one of that name here.”
“I … er … can you ….” The line went dead.
Jessica stood, an empty, hollow, sick feeling in her stomach. She pulled up the redial list on the phone. Yes, that was Ellie’s number. Then … Of course! There must be a fault with the phone. That was it!
She knew Ellie’s number backwards but even so, she went to the computer and her address book. She dialled Ellie’s number manually, saying the digits out loud, her hand shaking as she typed the numbers in. Please let Ellie answer. Please! She pressed the call button. The number rang – once … twice … three times. Come on!

A familiar man’s voice answered. “Hello, Pizza Hut, how may I help?”

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.

What’s in Store?

life-storage-434-3-storage-units-06222017-med

(1100 words)

Waves in Plasmas. I flicked through pages of mind-boggling equations in the heavy hardback book. The Susceptibility and Dielectric Tensors. How the hell could I have understood this stuff? Thirty years later it might as well have been in Chinese! At the sound of muffled hammering I threw the book back into a box of old textbooks and went out of my storage unit into the corridor. Four units away a bright light showed under a door. What the hell are they doing in there?!
I’d arrived at the IndieStorage warehouse at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, as per my usual routine, after teaching the guitar for four hours. There, I’d spend until 8.15 p.m sorting through boxes of books and papers and then walk into the town centre to the Cock, an ancient pub, distinguished by its whitewashed walls, criss-crossed with black oak beams, that stood at a crossroads. There I’d meet Jim, my old friend and drinking partner for the last fifteen years.
It was March; cold and dark on the isolated industrial estate. Heavy low cloud blotted out the moon and it felt like it might snow. A couple of lamp posts cast a cold light into the murk. I’d approached a large steel shutter and tapped my code into a panel. With a loud clanking the shutter began to roll up. I smiled at the thought of the first time I’d come here, I’d expected a small door, not a huge shutter for lorries to unload at, and my heart had pounded as the unexpected noise shattered the silence. I’d felt embarrassed and afraid someone would suddenly appear, demanding to know what I was doing.
Now I knew the ropes there was no problem. I stepped inside the building and, leaving the shutter up, went through to a gate. I entered my code again and it opened, giving me access to four floors of storage units, mostly five foot by ten, over one hundred units per level.
I always found the place eerie, lights only came on when you passed sensors, there was no discernible heating, and there were cameras everywhere. Some of the units had huge pictures of exotic doors stuck to their mundane thin steel ones, giving the appearance of the entrance to a castle, or a bank vault. I wondered if you had to pay extra for those.
I liked to wander around the empty, echoing corridors, wondering if some bored security guard was following my movements on a screen in a distant control room. Once I’d espied a unit slightly ajar. I’d opened the door, to find it was empty, and been startled by an ear-splitting siren. I’d looked pleadingly at a nearby camera and seconds later the din had been shut off, whether by an operator or automatically, I didn’t know. After that I’d never touched any door other than mine!
In all the times I’d gone there I’d only ever met one other soul, so I was taken aback to hear raised voices when I exited the lift and headed through the maze of corridors towards my unit. As I approached, I saw a black man, perhaps sixty years old, with a grey crew cut and a rash of grey stubble, clad in a thick maroon sweater, and jeans, arguing with a woman. She wore a long, beige gabardine mackintosh, was perhaps fifty, and taller than him. Straggly blonde hair fell over a makeup-caked face. She wore garish red lipstick and her eyelids were heavily made up with blue powder.
The man was gesticulating with a hacksaw, and they were speaking a strange language I didn’t recognise at all. I thought about turning around and going back, but they caught sight of me and fell silent. As I self-consciously walked past, the woman smiled and said ‘good evening’ with a peculiar foreign accent. I noticed she had lipstick on her teeth, which were nicotine-yellow. Her voice was husky and I saw her chest appeared to be completely flat. The man merely stared, open-mouthed, at me, as if I had two heads.
They seemed perturbed that my unit was so close to theirs, but I had work to do. Sorting through eighty boxes that had previously languished in my parents’ garage for years, before they’d moved to another part of the country.
There was no light in the units themselves, only in the corridors, and they would turn off after five minutes, leaving just occasional dim security lights. To overcome that I would normally work in the entrance to my unit, with empty boxes for sorting books spread out into the corridor, where my presence would constantly trigger a sensor
So I’d been going through boxes of old university text books and other scientific ones I’d collected, sorting them into alphabetical order of author. Maybe I could sell some on Amazon? Or maybe science had advanced so much that they were now redundant?
From time to time I became aware of the odd couple talking animatedly in their strange language, sometimes raising their voices, and dragging things around. I wondered if they had furniture stored in there and mulled over taking a walk down the corridor to the toilet to take a peek.
As I began to fill some boxes in the corridor I noticed that they’d closed their door. They must have had some kind of battery-powered lantern though, as bright light shone from beneath it. Then there came the sound of sawing and a strange intermittent thumping sound, disturbing my concentration. Damn them!
Presently I heard their door open and sounds of dragging and clanking. I retreated into my unit and peered out to see the woman pulling a trolley. The man followed, dragging a huge wooden box. With some effort, the woman picked up the other end and they manhandled it onto the trolley. She noticed me looking at them but gave no sign. In silence they padlocked the door and wheeled the trolley down the corridor. Soon I heard the distant sound of the lift.
Thankfully able to concentrate again I managed to sort through a further six boxes of books, before stacking everything back inside the unit and padlocking it. 8.15 p.m. on the dot. Excellent!

As I walked down the corridor towards the lift, I noticed something on the yellow floor tiles outside their door. Taking some tissue from my pocket I wiped it, then looked at the stain with surprise. Hmm. Well, I’d have something to talk to Jim about. I knew fresh blood when I saw it!

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.

Salvador

empty-st-marks-avenue

(850 words)

Waves lap at his toes. Gentle, quiet, rippling waves. Benny Saris stares out over the undulating blueness. Here goes. He begins to wade out. The water is freezing and goosebumps cover his body like a rash. Muscles cramp agonisingly in his groin. He looks back at the desolate beach and the empty guesthouses on the front. It’s no good, suicide’s the only option.
He’d awoken one week earlier after a heavy night, drinking almost two bottles of wine and ordering books on Amazon until the early hours. He’d looked at his phone. Almost midday. His head felt groggy, blurred. Funny, there was neither phone nor WiFi signal. He got up and went into his small, shabby kitchen, drew the curtain and looked down on the street far below. The road was empty, just parked cars. No-one in sight. He cast his mind back. In the five years he’d lived in the dingy flat, he couldn’t remember that. There was always traffic, passersby on their anonymous business, people waiting at the bus stop. He filled the kettle and flicked the switch. Damn! The power was off. He stood at the window. Silence. Absolute silence.
Benny went around his cramped flat, flicking switches. Nothing worked. Bloody Hell, this is weird! He pulled on a sweater and jeans. Going out onto the landing, he jabbed the lift button. Nothing. He began to worry. He rang old man Stalewski’s doorbell, then knocked loudly on the door. No response. Perhaps the old bastard had died? He jogged down the stairs, thinking to call at his friend Sonia Schliefer’s, but something kept him going, flight after flight, until he arrived in the lobby. He went out into the street and it hit him like a brick to the head. Where is everyone?!
The street had an aura of malaise, an indefinable look of neglect. Paving stones that had seen a million footsteps, abandoned. He crossed over to Sanjays. The door wasn’t locked. Yesterday’s newspapers stood in a stand. The usual racks of chocolate bars stood on the counter. He helped himself to a couple, then walked to a door – ‘Staff Only.’ Pushing it open he found himself in a short corridor. Light came in through a dirty skylight. On one side was a stock room, piled haphazardly to the ceiling with newspapers and magazines, cans of soup, beans, pot noodles and suchlike. On the other side lay a tiny kitchen and toilet. The toilet bowl was dirty and stained green. In the kitchen stood a cup with brown liquid in it. He smelt it. Instant coffee. It was stone cold. What the Hell’s happened to everyone?!
Benny felt a shiver run down his spine. Perhaps it was some kind of drill? One he just hadn’t heard about. Yes, of course! He tried to convince himself.
He spotted a radio behind the counter, battery powered, thank God! He pressed a sweat-stained knob and the radio burst into life, a loud, monotonous hiss. He turned the tuning knob and then changed the bands. The hiss came and went at different pitches, but no music, no pseudo-cheery DJ, nothing.
Now, with the freezing sea up to his neck he knows there’s no turning back. A small wave hits him in the face, soaking his hair and making him retch with the salt. He remembers walking the streets of the seaside town, shouting for help, companionship, he didn’t know what. Then going into houses, at first entertained by the wonderful entrapments of other people’s lives. Knowing he could have anything, take any painting, ornament, crockery, jewellery … if he wanted.
Maybe he’d died, gone to Hell, but didn’t realise?
He feels his numbed feet leave the seabed and swallows another mouthful of salty water. He retches again and nearly throws up. Suddenly he hears a sound he recognises, a sound from a thousand years ago. He suspects he’s delirious.
But no, it’s definitely there. With his heart pounding he turns and swims a few strokes until his feet are back on the seabed once more. He looks around and sees a black object approaching. My God! It can’t be! The object comes closer – it’s a dog, a black labrador! The creature paddles towards him, whining and barking between pants. He swims towards it. Close now, he sees the dog’s eyes, wide, brown, the whites a little bloodshot. Then its paws are on his chest and, bobbing in the sea, the dog tries to lick his face. It’s going crazy now, barking excitedly.
“Steady on boy, you’re OK!” The frantic touch of the animal’s paws makes him think. There’s a caravan park a few miles down the coast. Caravans have batteries and gas canisters don’t they? Refrigeration and power! He realises he is, after all, not alone. He has a responsibility to care for this animal now. Maybe there are other people too? They swim to the shore together.

Back on the beach, both wet through and shivering, he notices the dog has a collar. “Here boy!” He examines a metal disc. Salvador. How ironic! His eyes fill with tears.

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.

I Dream of Diwana

thali 2

(850 words)

“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, 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?” Laura asks for mineral water.
“I remember the first time I came here I ate the shrikhand with my curry! I didn’t realise it was a sweet.” I laugh, indicating a pot, half full of a thick yellow paste, inconspicuous amongst the others.
I serve myself rice, 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. 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 ….’
“Impressive isn’t it?” I smile.
“We have bigger thalis in Gangtok!” says my partner, Lhamo.
“Really?”
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 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.
“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 where 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 walk back the way I came. 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.

Incident on Putney Bridge

putney-5

(700 words)

Impressive! A glance at his TomTom runner’s watch showed it had taken him just fifteen minutes to reach the kiosk. Smiling inwardly, he anticipated uploading the GPS data to Strava, and satisfaction at the thought of his running mate, Eric’s, face when he saw it. Ha! Who’s the better runner now?!
It was early, just gone 7.30 a.m., the pavements of the City of London still sparsely populated. Suited young men and women scurried to offices like robots, perhaps hoping to arrive early enough to impress the boss.
Towering buildings, beacons of opulence, homes to banking headquarters and financial institutions, dominated the area. Within their hallowed myriad offices, computers communicated thousands of impenetrable transactions a second with similar institutions in unimaginable places.
The sun was bright, the air fresh and Orlando felt good. He’d gone to bed early after a glass of expensive chianti, and slept a dreamless sleep, waking to the alarm at six a.m. He’d taken a shower, then performed some stretching exercises in his small neat garden, Victorian red brick walls protecting him from prying neighbours’ eyes. He thanked God for those barriers, high enough to keep the neighbours’ wretched cats out. He didn’t want those damned creatures scratching at his flowerbeds. His mind recalled a forbidden memory. A black cat digging in a rose bed in his previous garden. Taking a spade, he’d …. Don’t go there!
He’d taken the morning off, then later today, in his role as a top investment banker, he would be advising a Middle Eastern conglomerate. That was seriously big money, even for Hyland’s. He smiled at the thought of his commission, more than many ‘plebs’ earned in a lifetime!
Hot and sweaty, he stopped and paused his watch. A woman was deliberating over her coffee order. Hurry up you silly cow, just buy a bloody cappuccino! Orlando bought an espresso doble, so plenty of room left in the large cardboard beaker for running with it. He pressed the lid on, gave a curt ‘thank you,’ restarted the watch and began to run again. He’d stop at the park for the coffee.
He reached Putney Bridge, feeling a spring in his step after the short break at the kiosk. Then a stab of annoyance. What was her name? Sally! Two hundred metres away, strutting along the sunlit pavement as if she owned it, just on the edge of the long shadow cast by the parapet. Sunlight sparkled on the river, a pretty sight, but he felt too perturbed to appreciate its beauty. What the hell was she doing here? She worked on the other side of the city. Unless she’d changed jobs?
Traffic roared past as he approached. She was mouthing something, looking at him with anger etched on her face.
Orlando was almost upon her. ‘All’s fair in love and war.’ What was her problem? He determined to run past and ignore her.
“You bastard, I’m pregnant!” she shouted.
Without knowing why, perhaps fuelled by the adrenalin of running, he swerved into her, turning to give her a hard push with his right hand. Her face showed a mixture of surprise and belligerence. In that split second, off balance, she lost her footing. With his left hand holding the coffee cup clear, he pushed her again as she toppled. Thank God the lid stayed on. He didn’t want to go back to the kiosk again! He carried on without stopping, conscious that she had fallen right over. Good!
After a few seconds he became aware that there was no traffic passing him. He felt panic in his guts. Had she fallen into the road? Don’t look back!
As he passed the far end of the bridge, a multitude of disturbing thoughts competing in his mind, the running began to calm him down. They’d visited hotels booked under his alter ego, Robin Jackson, and she only knew his special ‘dating’ number. She didn’t know where he worked, or where he lived. Would the police trace him? Nothing to do but take the chance. Bluff it out if necessary. He reached the park and smiled. Exactly ten minutes from the kiosk. Despite losing a second or two on the bridge, a personal best!

Related: The ‘Putney Bridge Jogger’ Case: 20 Questions That Must be Answered!



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.

A Baker’s Dozen of Favourites

bread

Here’s a list of personal favourites from my book To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories. Some are long, some are very short, some have been very popular with readers, others not, but they’re ones that, for whatever reason, I find I’m generally still happy to read.

Enjoy!

ADDENDA

For easy reference here are links to three non-fiction posts I published recently. They cover self-publishing, how to write flash fiction, and random tips on using WordPress.

Pills for Thrills

alien-1979-ridley-scott-movie-review-xenomorph-harry-dean-stanton

(600 words)

“Profundity pills?!
“That’s right, three for a tenner, I bought six!”
“Wow, well done!”
Libby smiled, “Yes, they’d just got a new batch in, they sell out fast, I was lucky to get so many!”
The government had just licensed a new recreational drug with one eye on the national debt. ‘Profundity Pills – an exciting and safe way to relive your favourite books and films!’ said the ads. The pills somehow disconnected parts of the brain for a couple of hours, so that you had virtually no memory of anything you’d ever read or watched. A bit like a couple of bottles of wine but without the hangover. Consequently, you could watch a film, like Back to the Future, with no idea of what was going to happen when Marty plugs in his guitar at the beginning, even if you’d seen it ten times before!
Libby went over to a case of DVDs, running her painted red nails over the spines before plucking one out. Alien!
“Wow!” I felt a genuine thrill and some trepidation at the idea of watching it again for the ‘first time,’ unaware of the grisly surprises to come. “Then we could watch The Exorcist” I said.
“Yuk!” she exclaimed, putting the two DVDs on a table.
 –
It was the first time for Libby and I. She handed me two large green capsules. “This way we can watch both!”
I held the capsules in the palm of one hand and a glass of water in the other. “Here goes!” They went down quite easily, despite their size.
We sat on the sofa. After a few minutes Libby giggled. “I was just trying to remember the name of that book, the one about … Jesus … is it?”
“Oh, you mean the B …, the B ….” I just couldn’t remember the name!
I went over to the case of DVDs and scanned the titles. Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jaws. Hmm, they seemed somehow familiar, but I had no recollection of every having seen them, or what they were about, apart from a vague supposition sparked by the titles. I looked around the room, everything seemed familiar, including Libby, I could even remember getting up in the morning, but I just couldn’t remember watching any of those films. “I think we’re ready!”
Libby picked up Alien and took it out of the case. “‘In Space No-one Can Here You Scream!’ This one sounds scary! What’s this other one? The Exorcist, well we’ll watch that after.
“Wow, that was amazing!” I said, nearly four hour’s later. “When that monster came out of …”
“Yes, and when that girl’s head turned all the way round and she …”
“I’m not starting to remember properly yet, are you?”
“Not yet,” said Libby. “Maybe we should watch another?!” she giggled.
Just then the phone rang. It was my sister, Morag. “Hi, how’s you and Libby?”
“We’re fine, just tried those profundity pills, they were amazing!”
“Oh, yeah, I tried one yesterday. I watched Groundhog Day, I honestly couldn’t remember it. Just so funny. Hey, did you see on the news about that idiot who jumped out of a window. Seems he never read the instructions and took two! Then he watched some horror films and couldn’t stop hallucinating!”
I turned to Libby. “Hey, did you read the instructions?”
She shrugged. “I dunno. Why? What’s the big deal?”
“You idiot! Seems like we could be in for some unpleasant dreams!”
“Oh my God.” Her face was white. “Look!” She pointed at my stomach.

I looked down. Something was pushing against my shirt. From the inside.





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 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.