What’s in a Name?


whats in a name

(600 words)

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

 


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iPademonium (guest post)


Broken_iPad

iPademonium by Martyn Searle

(600 words)

Papers are mean. Well, maybe not the dog-eared old flyers who spend their days hanging out on light poles, numbered tassels waving in the breeze, helping to locate lost puppies. A certain Buddhist enlightenment has come to them in repayment for good deeds and frayed edges. But those reams who rule in home offices? Vicious temperaments. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Perhaps, as is often the case when numerous white individuals gather in large groups, all those sheets had a loftier opinion of themselves than they merited.

Or maybe it was because they were the trusted custodians of the important details of home operations. In any event, they paraded around; cyan, black and blue marks adorning their faces like so many prison tats, intimidating rubber bands and sharpies with threats of paper cuts. Since the only knowledge they had ever seen was printed on their own flesh, they truly believed they must know it all, and weren’t shy about sharing their opinions with the other supplies. Paper clips and staples had been known to slip through cracks in drawers, never to be seen again, while attempting to avoid a bloviating sheaf.

You can imagine their reaction when the iPad showed up. Gleaming. Sleek. Smart as a whip. It knew things in an instant which the papers had never dreamt of. Worse still, in a calm, unwavering voice, Siri informed the office that she had little need for, or interest in, paper. Naturally, the papers immediately began plotting the iPad’s destruction.

Brooding and plotting may have come to naught if not for human ignorance regarding the vindictive nature and petty machinations of home office supplies. After languishing for weeks in the office, while Siri cast digital spells on me in the living room, I inadvertently provided their opportunity when I decided to donate my increasingly unused paper to the local library.

Unwittingly, I delivered the conspirators straight to their victim, placing the ream between my keys and the iPad, as it slumbered, recharging on the kitchen island overnight. Instantly they pounced, like a pack of Roman Senators upon Caesar, coiling like an inchworm and lashing out with all their might.

Struck dumb by this new branch on the Tree of Life, I froze as the iPad crashed to the floor. The screen shattered, and troops of Gorilla glass lumbered off towards the dark forests of cat hair and desiccated peas which lay beneath the stainless-steel peaks of the Amana range, where to this day they live, peaceful and undisturbed, no longer under the thumb (or forefinger) of their oppressor.

This triumphant escape went entirely unnoticed in the moment, mainly due to the large quantity of feral, guttural moans which now rose from within the fractured motherboard of the dying tablet.

‘I believe in the separation of spirit and silicon!’, Siri’s voice cried out in triumph, as her megabytes of data broke free from their microscopic shackles in a blaze of sentient lightning. A Golden Horde of Usain Bolts dashed madly for the nearest electrical outlet and were busy colonizing power grids in Buenos Aires and La Paz before the first rumble of miniature thunder had set one booming, sonorous foot into the crackling, ionized air of the kitchen. Sensing a fatal error, the processor softly whimpered, ‘Mother … board …’ and fell silent.

My eyes held tightly shut against this blinding domestic supernova, I had just begun to console myself that all might not be lost, when tiny wisps of acrid smoke crept silently in, like heralds of overtime shifts soon to come, and dashed that hope upon my nostrils.


 


This is the second guest post on my blog (click HERE for the other). It’s written by a fellow-writer in the fortnightly story group I run. He’s new to the game but has already created an alluring website. Please check out https://scribblesandshoots.weebly.com/ for his growing ouvre of intriguing tales!


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To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 280!

Neck Snapping Time


exorcist

(600 words)

Papers clutter a desk. I pick one up and read about a man’s obsession. Seems there’s a character who enjoys killing. The description is brief. Medium height, average build, nondescript face. No distinguishing marks. Not much to go on!
But the writer describes an incident where the man strokes another man’s hair and gently, lovingly, wraps a scarf around his neck. Like a petrified mouse under the paw of a cat, the victim remains motionless. More hair-stroking, then the killer places two large, strong hands on either side of the victim’s head, a quick twist and … snap … over he goes, the lolling head smacking the floor, the lifeless body following like a piece of meat. Only thing, seems all this happens in the writer’s dreams.
I go over and stoke the fire. I want to read the full story. So, I gather the sheets from the desk, light a cigarette, and pull an easy chair up to the hearth.
Well, seems the writer had financial problems of sorts, but this character he’d encounter in his dreams would help out. The writer would tell the guy how much cash he needed and, if of a realistic nature, it would appear in his waking life. Money for the mortgage, car expenses, holidays, that kinda thing. The only thing was, seems he had to donate a proportion of the amount ‘borrowed’ to a charity to ‘repay’ the ‘loan.’ If he didn’t, well, cue neck-snapping man.
The door opens and in comes Lil. “You find anything?”
“Well seems our dear brother had funny dreams.”
“That figures.”
“No, seriously, seems he had a character he would meet in his dreams. This guy, Adam, would help him out financially. But he was a sadistic killer on the side!”
“What, you’re kidding me!”
“No, listen. ‘17th October 2019. Watched Adam snap a man’s neck like a matchstick. Turned his head round one hundred and eighty degrees, like that girl in The Exorcist. These dreams are so real. More real than when I’m awake. Saw the man’s frightened eyes in technicolour, heard his neck snap in Dolby surround sound.
Needed £300 for new tyres and dents knocking out of wheels. Well, the very next day mother phoned and said she’d dreamt I had car problems and did I need any financial help! Well, that’s £85 I need to find by the end of the month for A’s charity. Or ….’”
“Wow.”
“Wow indeed. Seems our dear brother was either off his rocker, or had supernatural help, of a kind.”
“Well, we can check his filing cabinets, bound to be bank statements and the like. Or they’ll be on his computer. Wonder if we can get into it?”
“I can’t imagine him writing passwords down anywhere findable, can you?”
Lil shrugs. “Then why would he leave papers like these lying around? And why not write them in a diary, like any normal person?”
“Well, he was hardly normal was he!”
“Look, we don’t know for certain he’s dead. He could walk through that door any minute.”
“Sure. Dream on.”
“Hey, you got a smoke?”
I toss Lil a cigarette and she inserts it into a crack in a white face surrounded by ginger curls. “Look, are we going to tell anyone about this – these ‘fantasies’?”
I sigh. “I think we must, don’t you?”
In answer, she takes the papers, taps them into a neat pile and tosses them onto the flames. “Let them find out for themselves.”
The smoke from the smouldering sheets blends with the smoke from our cigarettes and we both sit, lost in thought.
.

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Flip Side



solar flare 2

(600 words)

Traditional psychology can’t explain it. Well, they try to, they say it’s some kind of amnesia. I know it’s not, but they won’t listen to me. I look in the mirror and the person I see is not … me. It’s like I’ve been put in someone else’s body, not a bad one mind, and given a few sheets of A4 to learn about his history, life and work. So when Susan, my ‘wife’ comes to me and says Frank’s on the phone, I don’t have a clue who she’s on about, he wasn’t on the A4 sheets. Then she’ll get annoyed. “Look, Steven, you must go back for more tests. Stop giving them a hard time!” Mind you, she’s not bad looking though, and bedtime has been fun!
It’s no use though. I know I’m not ‘me’ if you see what I mean. Sometimes in dreams I’ll see a young woman with high cheekbones, long wavy hair, brown as chestnuts, and two kids, teenagers with tousled hair and braces on their teeth. Jake and Jenny are their names. Then there’s a dog, a black Labrador, called Rusty who likes to roll in autumn leaves and jump in the snow.
The lady, I don’t know if she’s my wife, is called Hannah. She has a laugh that reminds me of milk bottles tumbling over.
That’s who I think I am.
So I looked around and found someone, a Dr. Nightshade. He’s a ‘displaced personality specialist’. He says what I’m experiencing is not uncommon, something to do with solar flares. They can knock the ‘astral body’ out of alignment, he says. Then another personality can move in and the displaced one moves into the other body, the one just vacated. Or something like that. He calls it TPD, ‘temporal personality displacement’ on account of the fact that the astral body can travel through time as well as space. Of course, your average psychologist doesn’t believe in any of that he says, but he’s had special training, from those who ‘know’.
Anyways, he says he can fix me. He’s got a machine. Apparently he doesn’t even need to have the other person present – the ‘me’ with ‘him’ inside, if you see what I mean. He says the machine simulates the effect of a solar flare, but in reverse, so it’ll pull ‘him’ into this body and I’ll just ‘flip’ back into mine, wherever and whenever that may be. So it’ll be goodbye Susan, hello Hannah, Jake, Jenny and Rusty!
He says it’s not without risks though. Sometimes the astral body of a third person can become separated and then there’s a three way swap, or even more. He says that’s really unusual though, and he just has to run the machine a few more times until all the astral bodies are in the right people.
Well, the good Dr. Nightshade ran the machine, took my money, a load of it, and nothing happened! He says it doesn’t always work first time. To come back tomorrow. ‘Get a good night’s sleep and don’t worry,’ he says. As if!
There’s a knock on the door. Susan. She comes in but she’s changed her hair. It’s long, wavy, brown. Like chestnuts …. “Hello Sweetheart,” she says, “I thought we’d go to the park. It’s a fine day. Take the kids.” She laughs. Milk bottles tumble over.
A tousle-haired girl, lean and smiley appears at her side. She doesn’t have braces on her perfect teeth. I hear the pounding feet of what sounds like a dog racing up the stairs. “Come on dad, Rusty needs some exercise!”

Please note: this story was originally published on 3rd February 2017. To read the comments (recommended), please click HERE.

To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 500 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 250!

To Unpathed Waters, Undreamed Shores


pluto

(600 words)

Giselle Brown leapt and found herself soaring into the air. She gazed out over a lake of frozen hydrocarbons, black as tar, then into the starry sky where one star, like a torch seen at the end of a tunnel, outshone all the others – the Sun.
As she reached the apex of her jump, twenty-five feet above the ground, she gazed in awe, as she always did, at the huge crescent of Charon, hanging in the dark sky, before she began to fall, gently, back to the icy surface. She glanced at her chronometer and smiled. Nearly ten seconds, her highest leap yet.
“Giselle. Can you come back; we need you.” The voice of commander Sandy Bjornstrom came in her helmet.
She felt frustration. “Why, what’s up?”
“Just come back, please – now.” The channel went silent.
She walked across to the rover, feeling her boots crunch on the frigid ground. Around her there was no sign of civilization, just boulders and ice and unswimmable lakes, languishing at minus 230 degrees Centigrade. Somewhere over the horizon lay the lights of the station and its bristling array of antennae and dishes.
They’d been sent out here, a ten-year trip, to investigate a phenomenon. A signal had been detected. A bizarre series of pulses that would start with one, then two, then three, and so on. Up to between eleven and seventeen. Then it would start all over again from one. There had been endless debate, argument and analysis, but there seemed to be no pattern to the maximum number of pulses reached. One thing was certain though; the signal emanated from somewhere on – or in – the dwarf-planet, Pluto.
Out of her suit, sipping scalding-hot coffee, she sat in the whiteness of the rec room.
Sandy bounced in. Tall, thin, flicking his parted blond hair from a pale forehead. “Klaus found something interesting. Very interesting.” He hesitated, a deep furrow appearing above his eyes.
“Well, what?”
A screen flickered into life. “Radar data. Look.” An amorphous blob appeared to be moving in a kind of amphitheatre.
“What is it?”
A network of graphics appeared around the shape, rounding it into something disc-like, but with protrusions in places. “It’s something underneath us, something deep in the ocean.”
“What, how big?”
“Klaus estimates … roughly ten miles in diameter.”
“What! What the hell is it?”
“We only just got the data … from the balloon. It could be anything. An area of warmer fluid, a gigantic rock … or some kind of … floating city, even.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!”
Sandy gave a wry smile. “Early days.”
“What, you think they’ll want us to go down there?”
“Probably. But I’ve already made the decision. Erik and Klaus are prepping the drill. It’ll take two weeks, then they’ll send the sub down.”
“If there’s anything intelligent down there, d’you think they’ll know we’re here?”
“Unlikely, I’d have thought. If there is, they’re sealed off down there. Till we drill into their ocean, that is. It’s probably nothing … but then there is that damned signal. It’s coming from somewhere down there.”
An intercom sounded. Klaus’s voice breathless and excited. “You’re not going to believe this!”
“What?” they exclaimed in unison.
“The signal just reached nineteen!”
“What, are you sure?”
“Yes, I just double-checked the data!”
Disbelieving, Giselle and Sandy stared at each other. In twelve years, since first detected, the pulses had never gone beyond seventeen before, not once. Until now.
Pluto, wasn’t he the god of the Underworld? With shaking hands, Giselle put her coffee cup down onto the white Formica table.

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My Name is Ian Z. McPhee


love hearts

(627 words)


It was incredible and completely unexpected; the sensations as our fingers touched was electric; my heart skipped a beat and I momentarily forgot to breathe. Her fingers intertwined with mine and she twitched her lips in that funny way she used to, before kissing me tenderly. I gazed into her dark round eyes and knew it was love – deep, sacred love.
We’d been together for six weeks now, not long, but long enough for me to start to get to know her personality: playful yet pensive, jubilant but shy, magnanimous yet fickle. It was wonderful to have a partner again, after having only male company for the best part of a year, and her silky hair and long limbs drew admiring glances from my friends and colleagues.
I’d scarcely known her before she moved in with me. She appeared out of nowhere one day with just a bagful of possessions: a mirror, toiletries and the like. She was so beautiful though, that I couldn’t turn her away. I’ll always remember that she had a bunch of bananas, which we’d laughed about as it’s my favourite fruit.
I didn’t have a job then so we would spend a lot of time together, sometimes kissing and cuddling like all young lovers, but on other occasions watching the television or simply looking out of the window, watching the world go by. On other occasions we passed time in quiet, solitary meditation, which we were both schooled in.
I suppose, looking back, that our life together was rather haphazard, existing day to day, making no plans for the future.
I only saw her angry once. A small boy in a red pullover and jeans stood banging at our window, for no apparent reason as far as I could see. His mother stood nearby with younger siblings, paying scant attention. “Stop it Henry!” she would shout from time to time. There was no sign of a father. My beloved went to the window and pounded on it, matching the boy fist for fist. That seemed to enrage him and he started banging harder and faster. She did likewise, emitting a strange animal-like sound, when suddenly the mother pulled him away and cuffed him hard around the ears. Instantly my love became calm and her normal self again, taking an apple from a bowl and smiling at me sheepishly.

Then, one sad, sad day, our relationship ended. A man in a green uniform with a peaked cap and shiny buttons entered our living area, uninvited. I recognised him as a fruit delivery man so held my tongue.
“Sorry Fred,” he said, although that wasn’t actually my name, “Bella’s got to get on a plane, she’s off to Berlin.” That wasn’t actually her name either. Then other men came in, with a cage on wheels. I protested strongly and loudly. You can’t put her in there! I saw her being given an injection. “Just something to calm her down Fred, nothing to worry about.” The cage door was opened and they manhandled her in.
“Let him say goodbye, bless him,” one of the men said. I went to the cage and looked into her dark round sleepy eyes. I put my hands through the bars and our fingers interlaced for the last time. “Goodbye,” I whispered in our own secret language.
They wheeled her out and I never saw her again. I had no photos, just memories of her to keep. Simple memories – eating fruit together, climbing on a big frame outside and swinging on ropes, watching the crowds watching us, searching each other’s coats for fleas ….
I didn’t know if or when I’d have another mate but in the meantime I decided to eat a banana.

Please note: this story was originally published on 12th September 2016. To read the comments, please click HERE.

To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

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Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 250!

Priceless


branden-craghex-branden-craghex-rodin-the-thinker-study-4-up
(650 words)
“Invisible doesn’t mean non-existent!” I said.
“In my book it does. If I can’t see something, I don’t believe in it.”
My partner, Greg, was on his usual soap-box, and we were in the middle of yet another argument. Science, specifically the pin-up physics professor who was on the telly all the time, had spoken. There were no ghosts, no UFOs, no life after death. So that was that. The mountain of evidence didn’t fit their neat little theories, so the members of the scientific professions chose to ignore it. And Greg, a scientist and avid fan, lapped it up, unquestioningly.
“Look, you believe in gravity, electricity, don’t you?” I asked.
“Yes, of course. We can see the effects of them.”
“But if someone can communicate with spirits, then that’s an effect isn’t it?”
“Not if it’s just in their own mind.”
“But what if they – mediums – give messages to people that only that person knows?”
“They don’t, they just give general stuff that could apply to half the population. ‘You’re going through changes,’ ‘someone’s going to have a baby,’ ‘someone’s got a bad leg.’ Pfft.” He snorted.
It was no use arguing with him. It just set us at loggerheads and raised my blood pressure. I knew there was a spirit world. I’d had messages from my grandmother and grandfather through a medium. They’d talked about pieces of jewellery I’d got of hers, about my granddad’s regiment. Even that I’d been looking at photographs of them that very day. Indeed, I had, and the medium even told me the colour of the album cover! That was proof enough for me, whatever Greg and his beloved Professor Whassname said. They’d find out for themselves within a few decades and then, boy, would they feel foolish. Always assuming spirits could feel foolish, of course.
“In my book, invisible means something that can’t be seen by the human eye, that it’s out of the right wavelength, or whatever,” I said.
Greg rolled his eyes.
“Anyway, it doesn’t mean it’s not there! What about when it’s dark? You can’t see stuff but it’s still there! Ha, got you!”
“No, it’s not invisible. It’s just not illuminated.” He crossed the bedroom to the wardrobe and took out a grey jacket. “Do you think this goes with my shirt and tie?”
Greg was wearing a pale green shirt and a red tie. I had to admit he looked quite dashing in that outfit. “Yeah, it’s OK.” I looked in the dressing table mirror and brushed my hair aggressively. It was long and brown with natural chestnut highlights. But I hardly noticed them. I was stewing over Greg. He always had to argue. Couldn’t admit he was wrong or let things be. I wasn’t even sure there was a future for us together if it continued much longer.
Downstairs a door slammed. It’d be Greg’s daughter, Heather. I heard her come upstairs and her bedroom door open and close. We exchanged glances. One of us needed to speak to her about her ‘boyfriend,’ Toby. She was fourteen, he was nineteen. I’d drawn the short straw.
After a few minutes we heard her door open once more and a knock at our door. “Come in, honey,” called Greg.
Heather opened the door clutching a couple of notebooks.
“Started on your homework already, sweetheart? Good girl.”
She smiled sheepishly. “I’ve got to write two essays. One on ancestral homes and one on what I think is the most important thing in the world. I don’t know what to write for that.”
Greg laughed. “That’s easy. Science! Or we’d all be living in mud huts, eating berries and raw meat.”
I had a sudden flash of inspiration. “No, it’s not,” I said. “It’s human thought. Without that, there’d be nothing on this planet. And it’s invisible too!”
Heather looked admiringly towards me. Greg’s expression was priceless.

To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 500 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 250!

Spilling the Beans


magic beans
(650 words)
Unseen hands grabbed my arms from behind. I kicked out, into thin air, and felt the acute pain of a blow just below my right breast. I shouted out in agony, falling onto the hard cellar floor. I was barely aware of my hands being cuffed, then I was manhandled onto a chair in the dark.
A bright light, like a stab of sunshine, shone into my eyes, hurting, even as I quickly closed them again.
“What you doing here?” The voice sounded foreign, Middle-Eastern perhaps?
“I could ask you the same question. Aagh!” A broad hand gave my right cheek a resounding slap.
“Listen, I can let you go. Just tell me what you do here.”
It seemed like I wasn’t in a position to argue. “It’s my home, our ancestral home. We’ve lived here for three hundred years. Who the hell are you?” My eyes crept open but I could see no face behind the bright light.
“Why you come through cellar then?”
“I lost my front door key this afternoon!”
I heard footsteps, saw a torch flashing, then the cellar lights came on, dazzling me. There stood a stocky young man. Perhaps twenty-five. He was clean shaven with dark, cropped hair. He approached, looked me up and down, then reached for his trouser zip.
“You are attractive.”
“I’ll scream!”
“Sorry, I just meant you are nice looking.” He reached behind me and unlocked the handcuffs. My arms and wrists hurt. I massaged them.
“My name is Stavros. I worked for your uncle Trevor. I did gardening, serviced his car. For two years. Before he move back here. Maybe you hear of me?”
“No, sorry. So why are you in our cellar exactly?”
He walked to a pile of small wooden boxes in a corner. “These boxes, they belong to me.”
“What’s in them?”
“Magic beans.”
“What?”
“Magic beans. When they grow, messages appear on the leaves. Didn’t you know?”
“No, that’s amazing! What messages?”
“Well, normally, they say ‘I love you,’ or ‘Missing you,’ that kind of stuff. These are … different.” He smiled and removed a box lid. “You come and see.”
I walked over and looked down on white beans, each with something engraved on them. I picked one up and turned it in the cellar light. ‘Pay up.’ “What’s this about?”
Stavros laughed. “Your uncle, he’s ex-army. His regiment was the Intelligence Corps. Seems some of the members have scores to settle. He got me to manufacture these. I would plant them in little pots and they would be delivered to the … ‘target.’ Then, as they grew, he … or she … would see the warning on the leaves. They grow pretty quickly, just a few days.”
“Scary.”
“Yes, they would have a few days to settle up, or ….”
“Or what?”
“Let’s just say, they wouldn’t be walking around without a stick.”
“Oh.” I sat back down. “So why do you want them back? And why do you carry handcuffs for heaven’s sake?”
“The handcuffs are good if I need to … persuade … someone. The beans, well, me and my friends have our own uses for them.” He gave a wry smile. “But now it is time to say adieu.” He pulled out a squat black revolver, fitted with a silencer, from a jacket pocket and pointed it at me. “So sorry.”
“No, please.” I felt hot urine on my cold thighs. “I’ll do anything.”
He took a step back, “I cannot take the chance, I tell you too much.” There was a deafening bang and he crumpled to the ground, his head smacking onto the stone floor.
Footsteps came from the cellar stairs. Uncle Trevor appeared, carrying a smoking pistol. My ears rang.
He gave a crooked smile. “Hello, Marie. Sorry about that. Stavros had outgrown his usefulness. There wasn’t time to fit a silencer. Come upstairs. There’s something I need to explain ….”

To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 500 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 250!

Now I Am Ten


 

desert island survival

(600 words)

 

March 27th

It’s my birthday! I am ten. Mummy and daddy say they have a speshal surprise for me. But I have to wait until next week! Today they gave me a Lego set. It is a very big one, so I don’t mind waiting. I will make a model of the Houses of Parliment and a space rocket.

March 28th

School was boring. Denis Lavin got punched in the mouth by a boy in year six. He lost a tooth and his face was all bloody. The boy who punched him was laughing but he got caned. Then he wasn’t laughing.

March 29th

I hate my school! Mrs. David was horrible to me in RE cos I said I don’t believe in God. But that’s what mummy says.

March 30th

Hooray! I’ve found out what the surprise is. We are going on holiday tomorrow and I will fly in an aeroplane! There will be mummy and daddy, my brother Stephen and my uncle David.

March 31st

I was so excited I couldn’t hardly sleep! We are going to the airport soon. Daddy’s friend Dave is driving us. I am taking Enid Blyton. The Folk of the Faraway Tree. That’s my favourite. And this diary too. Of course!

 


 

Day 1

Something horrible happened. I am on an island with uncle David and some people I don’t know. From the plane. It crashed in the sea and we came in a dinghy. Somebody put a lifejacket on me. I don’t know what happened to mummy and daddy or my brother. Uncle David says not to be afraid. But I am. He found me some paper and a pen. They have lit a fire.

Day 2

It is very hot here. There are men from the plane. They are trying to chop down parm trees to make us shelters. They are shouting a lot. A nice lady called Nadine came and read me a story but it was a grown up one and I didn’t really understand it. About love and stuff.

Day 3

Me and uncle David have a kind of house. They made it out of bits of plane that washed up and some trees. I like it here but there’s no other kids so I feel lonely. I like Nadine. She and uncle David are friends.

Day 4

I have got to no some of the men. There is Tony. He is very big. And Dean. He likes to talk and shout! They are making a big fire so we can be rescued. Today I swam in the sea. They said it is safe if I stay close to the beach. I don’t think there is sharks. I like it here but I’d rather be rescued.

Day 5

Today there was a fight. A man called Derek told Tony that he wanted a bigger house. He said Tony took to much stuff from the beach that had washed up and that Tony’s house was WAY bigger than his. He started pulling bits from Tony’s house. Tony punched him in the face and it was all bloody. I think Tony bust Dereks nose. A lady called Wendy looked after him. She seems very nice.

Day 6.

This is the end of my paper. I rote on both sides but there is no more space. There was some food washed ashore and there is some coco nuts and bananas. But I don’t know what will happen. I miss mummy and daddy and my brother Stephen. I hope they are all right. I am scared and I hope we are rescued soon.

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Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 250!

Quid Pro Quo


dragon firepit

(650 words)
John threw a log into the fire pit and I pulled my bare feet up to the edge of my chair, bringing my knees up to my chin and stroking my smooth, bare calves. Yellow and orange flames curled skywards, momentary daggers of light, dancing in the indigo twilight. “I’m not going through with it!”
He laughed, not speaking.
I heard a clock chime and looked up the lawn to the house. Ten o’clock. A faint light showed through an upstairs window but it otherwise lay in darkness. Beyond, a car door slammed and an engine started up. Our last guests leaving.
John got up and walked over to the barbecue, returning with a sausage and a chicken leg.
“Haven’t you eaten enough? And did you hear what I said?”
It was suddenly silent. I looked up at the twilight sky with the searchlight of Venus rising over a distant roof. I imagined I could feel and smell the encroaching darkness, reach out and caress it. A cricket chirruped in the distance.
“You’ll be letting everybody down, especially Paula.”
“How does that work, exactly?”
“Everyone else will go along with it, they’ll all get publicity, except Paula.”
One of our guests ran a tattoo parlour. “It’ll hardly be front page news. Anyway, it’s alright for you, you won a haircut. Not exactly life-changing!”
“You don’t need to have KILL across your forehead.” John laughed. “You can have a nice little butterfly in the small of your back.”
“Yes, for whose benefit!” I had to laugh, despite the bizarreness of the situation. We’d hosted a charity barbecue to raise funds for a local animal shelter, fortunately just out of barking range. Each guest had contributed a prize in the form of a service voucher, which had been drawn between us. So, there’d been vouchers for manicures, hairdressing, massage, car servicing, meals at restaurants and so on. There’d been general hilarity as Alice McMahon had drawn a free work-out at a gym. “Oh, I think she could do with a week at a health farm first!” exclaimed her husband, Fred.
“Cheeky sod!”
We all laughed. Alice, although attractive, could definitely do to lose a few stone.
The wood crackled and a warm breeze changed direction and blew the smell of soot and smoke into my face, making me cough. I felt indignant. “But I don’t want a tattoo, ‘free’ or otherwise!”
It was growing dark now, just the flickering flames playing on John’s handsome face. A light went on up at the house and I saw a torch bobbing towards us. My daughter, Heather.
“I know where you can have a tattoo,” said John. “Just above your sweet little ….”
“Shh! It’s Heather.”
She had her long blonde hair in a pony tail and was wearing a nightie and dressing gown. She plumped herself down on one of the deck chairs, gazing around at tables covered with empty beer and wine bottles, plates with grease and chicken bones, ash trays with cigarette butts, crumpled napkins. “There’s a lot to clear up.”
“Yes, you can help us tidy up in a minute, or the foxes will come in the night. Guess what, Mum won a free tattoo!”
Heather smiled, showing perfect teeth in the firelight. Kids were so lucky nowadays, orthodontists weren’t on the radar when we were growing up. “Oh, you lucky thing! What’ll you have? You could have dad’s name tattooed on your arm!”
I smiled. “OK, that’s a good idea, sweetheart, I’ll do it if he has my name put on his!”
I looked at John and John looked at me. His face wore an inscrutable expression and he sat, staring at the flames, not saying a word.
The cracks in our marriage had been showing for a long time. Maybe, just maybe, winning that particular prize was a blessing in disguise. It was time to face up to reality.

To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 500 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 250!