(700 words)

Stanislav Kowalski replaced the cigarette between his lips, inhaling the smoke deeply. He held it in his lungs as long as he could, until dizzy from the nicotine, then exhaled slowly with pursed lips, forming smoke rings in the warm still air of the May evening. He didn’t know why he smoked, he just did. People said he should give up, but then what would he do when waiting on the used car lot, as he did now?
He looked down the road towards the edge of the woods, where an old water tower lurked high up in the trees. As always, when the light was fading he fancied it to resemble an alien creature, like the fearsome tripods in War of the Worlds, except this had four legs. Or the horrible tank-like creatures in Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes, with their octopus-like inhabitants, which would emerge to capture people with their sticky tendrils. Then back inside the ‘tanks’ with multiple victims neatly rolled up in the tentacles for God knows what horrific fate. He shuddered as he remembered reading how two of the ‘octopuses’ latched onto the same woman, tearing her in half.
He was awoken from his nightmare reverie by the hoot of a vehicle’s horn. He hadn’t even noticed the small silver car pull up. He went over and a woman wound down the window.
“Do you have any trucks or vans?” she asked, without greeting. She was plain, about forty, with thick-lensed glasses and brown hair fastened in a pony tail. She wore no make up.
“Well, yes, we do. We’ve a couple in right now, a Ford Transit, and a Toyota Hilux, that’s a pickup truck.”
She got out of the car and sized him up. About thirty, unshaven, needing a hair cut, and she recoiled from the stench of cigarette smoke. His face was quite handsome though, she noticed. “OK, let’s have a look.”
He dropped his cigarette, stubbing it out with his foot, then led her through rows of cars, carefully spaced to give the illusion of more stock than they actually had, to the two vehicles in question. “What did you want it for?” he asked, then noticed her surprised glare. “If you don’t mind me asking?”
“Well, actually, it’s for moving hives, bee hives.”
“Oh, do you need to move many?”
She looked him up and down. “Twelve.” She gazed around the car lot, then gestured across the road, to the view over the vale. A panorama of neat green and brown fields with Haw Hill, in the foreground. “They say that hill’s a natural formation. Looks artificial to me. Like a burial mound.”
“They found some gold coins there, about ten years ago, just below the summit.”
To his surprise, she smiled, suddenly looking ten years younger.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“It’s Stanislav. Er, people call me Stan.”
“Look, you probably don’t know, but hives are pretty heavy, I think the truck would be better.”
“Well, how often do you move them?” Ignoring his partner’s advice, he added, “I mean, it seems very expensive to buy a truck, when you could just rent one.”
Her eyes blinked rapidly several times behind the thick lenses. “Oh, not often, but I move them for other people too. Sometimes it’s to pollinate a special crop, other times it’s just to sell them. You have to move them three miles or more, or the little buggers’ll fly back to where their nest was. Like homing pigeons!” She laughed, a high-pitched, rippling sound. “That can cause problems!”’
He found himself smiling. “Back in Poland my uncle runs a bee-keeping museum. You know, hives, clothing, smokers, frames – that sort of thing. To be honest I was never really interested.”
She patted the side of the truck. “What can you do on the price?”
“Let’s go to the office, we can talk terms there,” said Stanislav. “What’s your name by the way?”
“It’s … Miss Dawson.” She started to follow him. “Bees are a lot more interesting than humans I always think.”
“They’re just insects that sting.”
She looked around at the vehicles. “Judging by your prices, you’ve got something in common then!”


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Free Money


(650 words)

“Arabic garlic sauce, otherwise known as thoom. Freshly made.” Vernon Crowther held out a small glass bowl filled with something resembling a whiter version of mayonnaise.
“It looks nice, sir,” said Jake Smeddlehurst. He was about twenty, tall and thin, with a pronounced jawline and black hair that flopped over his narrow face and passed his collar. His eyes were dark and sunken. They darted around furtively, avoiding the speaker.
Vernon placed the bowl onto an occasional table, went back into the kitchen, removed his green and white striped apron and emerged, carrying a plate of vegetable slivers and Doritos. “Take a seat, Smeddlehurst.”
Jake sat down, pushing his hair off his face.
“Try some.”
Jake self-consciously dipped a slice of carrot into the thoom before crunching down on it. “Mmm, it’s delicious, sir!”
“Good! Now, Smeddlehurst, I want you to listen. You carry on, enjoy some more dip.” Vernon took a seat in a sumptuous olive-green leather arm chair. “Now, I’m going to be frank with you. I’ve seen you at work, heard things about you, and, to be truthful, it seems to me you don’t have banking in your blood. Am I right?”
Jake quickly swallowed a thoom-coated mushroom. “Well, sir, I play the drums, that’s what I really want to do.”
“Look, Smeddlehurst, I’ve been at Halliwell’s for nigh on forty years. They’ve been good to me, but what with Sandra’s boating and Wendy’s maintenance, not to mention the children’s private schools, well ….” His aged face coloured. “The truth is, it’s become a nightmare. They’ve taken me off futures and put me on credit assessment, stuff a monkey could do!”
Jake munched on a piece of courgette, nonplussed.
Vernon continued, “I think we could both do with a substantial cash injection. Am I right?”
Jake took a Dorito, scooped up a giant blob of dip, and pushed it into his mouth. He nodded enthusiastically. “Mmm.”
Vernon ceremoniously plonked down a silver-coloured plastic bank card.
“What’s that, sir?”
“This is an ATM master card, our service guys use it. This one’s been specially modified. Type in a PIN, and you can withdraw any amount, there’s no limit!”
Jake’s interest suddenly increased tenfold.
“Now, I’ve got a printout of our top hundred accounts. Some rich bastards have got a fortune!”
“Well, they’re the ones least likely to notice a, shall we say, spurious cash withdrawal.”
Jake stared. The penny began to drop. “But … er, you wouldn’t know the PIN.”
Vernon smiled, producing a computer printout. On it were numerals one to a hundred. These were followed by two numbers. One very long one, preceded by a pound sign, and another, just four digits long.
For once Jake’s eyes fastened on the speaker. “You mean ….”
“Exactly, Smeddlehurst! Go to any hole-in-the-wall machine, pop the card in, type in a PIN, and make an appropriate withdrawal. Say, five thousand. Late Saturday night, early Sunday morning’s a good time. Just once a week, or we could be in deep doo doos.”
Jake pushed the empty glass dish back and belched. “Oops, pardon, sir.”
Vernon reeled from the waft of garlic. “Granted.”
“Er, but that’d be illegal, sir!”
Vernon smiled. “Look, I was useful around the tubs myself when I was young. Good cymbals don’t come cheap, and now you’ve got these new-fangled double bass pedals, all shiny titanium!”
Jake’s dark eyes became less dark.
“All you need to do is wear a woollen hat over your head and something to obscure your face, or a crash helmet’s a good idea. And wear gloves too. You put half the cash in a bag for me and I’ll tell you where to leave it. Best not use the same ATM or account twice. How does that sound?”
“It sounds good, sir, there’s just one thing.”
“Yes, Smeddlehurst?”

“Is there any more of that dip please?”


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Shine On

(1500 words)
“Arabic numerals, that’s their proper name.”
Emily sat at the heavy wooden table in front of the fire, school book open, pencil poised. “Why?”
“Oh, I suppose they were invented in the Middle East, or North Africa. Countries that have Arabs in them!”
Emily wore her blue school blouse still. It matched her eyes, the colour of robins’ eggs. Her hair was shoulder length, blonde as straw. “What was before that?”
“Well, we had Roman numerals, you know, like on the grandfather clock on the landing. Come on, finish your homework.”
Fiona Mathews went to the door, watching as her daughter filled in a school mathematics quiz. She was a bright one, like her dad, she thought. She felt a lump in her throat. Don’t go there.
The farmhouse kitchen was large, high ceilinged, and the walls were whitewashed. The floor was grey stone flags covered with a worn red rug. There was a large Aga kitchen range, in a faded, scratched and dented royal blue, which, when both ovens were occasionally in use together, made the room almost unbearably hot, despite its size.
Along two walls were work surfaces in natural wood, ancient and scored, and below them, cupboards painted an olive-green. Not a colour to Fiona’s taste. She intended to repaint them cream. One day … when she had time. She sighed. Better check the readings. “Back in a while sweetheart. Be good.“
Emily didn’t look up. Fiona went out into the yard, closing the heavy wooden door behind her. Outside it was cold, starting to get dark. Crossing the yard she could smell the pungent odour of cows in the cowshed. She recoiled at a chilly wind on her face. She passed her dull maroon Vauxhall Victor estate, then walked along a path to a small building. She opened the door and snapped on the lights, marvelling at the new-fangled fluorescent tubes that lit up the laboratory with garish white. Only a generation ago, the only illumination in the farmhouse had been the flickering orange-white flames of wax candles, and the quiet hiss of the occasional gas lamp.
Presently she clicked a radio on to dull the solitude. It was a song she liked. Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles, that week’s number one.
“Hey man, how much further?” A young man huddled in a great-coat, unshaven, long black hair flopping over a Romanesque face, lay across the rear seat of a battered Bedford van. The headlights traced the track between high dry stone walls, suddenly illuminating a sign, ‘Swarfdale farm 3 miles.’
The driver, a tall, thin man in his twenties, laughed. He had the long, misshapen face of a gravedigger and black hair combed across his forehead. “Three miles. Hey, break out the whisky, Sid, … or were you thinking of acid?!”
The man in the passenger seat turned round to face the back seat. He was good-looking, his face thin-lipped, and framed by curly brown hair to his collar. “Hey, Sid, leave off the fucking acid!”
“I never brought no fucking acid!”
“Like we believe you,” laughed the driver.
The headlights lit up the old grey stone of a farmhouse. “Hey, we’re here.” The driver stopped the engine and looked behind Sid to the back of the van, piled high with guitar cases, keyboards, amplifiers, drums, and box after box of equipment and cables. “Let’s unload in the morning. I’m knackered. It’ll be OK out here.”
Fiona opened the laboratory door to leave and flicked the lights off. Her job was to monitor radiation levels in the milk of farms within a fifty mile radius. She felt satisfaction. All tests had been carried out successfully and isotope levels were normal.
Across the valley she saw distant headlights and heard the sound of a sliding van door crashing open, and men laughing. That was odd, she thought. The farm was unoccupied at present. She stood and watched. The headlights went out, then three dark shapes crossed the farmyard. Shortly afterwards, lights came on within the building. Hmm. They must be visitors staying at the farm. She’d heard the owners were letting the farm out whilst they were out of the country. She shivered. Up above, deep purple clouds scudded erratically across a moonlit sky. It was September, but here in the Derbyshire Dales, the seasons changed quickly. Better check Emily had finished her homework, then she could serve out their evening meal. She looked out again over the valley to the distant farmhouse lights, and wondered.
“One, two, FREE, FOUR!” There was a crash of cymbals, a jab of organ and a thundering bass riff. The drums settled into a repetitive rhythm, interspersed with figures played on the drum rims, giving a clicking, clacking sound, whilst the bass pounded out a different metre, producing a beguiling, hypnotic polyrhythm.
The man at the organ bent forward, long brown hair covering his lean, handsome face, as his fingers noodled over the twin keyboards, producing tantalising fragments of otherworldly melody, interspersed with jarring chords.
On the floor sat Sid, holding a black electric guitar covered with small round mirrors, a design of his own creation. In his left hand he held a cigarette lighter which, from time to time, he slid up and down the strings close to the bridge, whilst pounding with a plectrum, producing a high-pitched swooping, wailing sound.
After several minutes, the bassist, the tall man with the long gravedigger’s face, signalled with his head. There was a drum fill, a riff was repeated in unison four times, then the music ended abruptly. Sid jumped up. “That was fucking great!”
“It was OK,” said the drummer, a man with a moustache and long dark hair. He’d arrived that morning to join his bandmates. “Those ‘mandies’ are scrambling your brain. Let’s do it again. With the tape rolling this time.”
Fiona looked up from her test tubes. What on earth was that noise? She went to the door of the laboratory and looked out across the valley. A blue van stood there, in the distance, along with a Mini Cooper, parked outside Swarfdale farm. She hadn’t noticed the car last night, she realised. She guessed they must be musicians, but that noise sounded like the soundtrack to a nightmare.
She looked at her watch and noticed it was time to pick Emily up from school. She’d been listening longer than she’d realised.
When her Vauxhall Victor estate pulled back into the farmyard, she noticed a young man at the back door. She got out of the car. “Hi, can I help?”
“Yes, I’m from over the valley. I’m here with some friends. Musicians. We’re staying for a week. Can I come in?”
She noticed the face beneath the long curly black hair was very handsome. And his eyes were extremely dark, the pupils wide open. Like black holes in the sky, she thought. She felt her body reacting to his presence. It had been so long since …. “Yes, come in, please do.”
They all went into the kitchen and she put the kettle on. “I’m Fiona. This is Emily.”
Emily stared, then found her voice, “Hello.”
“My name’s Sid. I just came to say, I hope we’re not disturbing you. We’re working on some tracks for an album.” He laughed. “I don’t think it’ll make us a fortune.”
“Oh, no, no. It’s not very loud over here and it sounds … er, very interesting.” Fiona realised she was blushing furiously.
He seemed not to notice. “What’s that you’ve got there?” He asked Emily. She held a small cage where a white mouse ran in a wheel.
“He’s my pet mouse. I let him out sometimes, but you have to be careful he doesn’t run and hide.”
“What’s his name?”
“Oh, I call him Gerald, after my friend’s brother.”
“This is nice!” He took down an empty china vase from the mantlepiece, noticing Fiona’s concerned face. “Don’t worry, I won’t break it!” He reached out for a pad of paper and a couple of Emily’s crayons.
Fiona watched with astonishment as his fingers deftly sketched the vase, his wide black eyes darting between the sketch pad and the vessel, whilst he chewed his lip. “There, for you!” He gave the sketch to Emily and replaced the vase on the mantlepiece with exaggerated care.
Fiona laughed and poured out thick fragrant tea from a huge brown pot with cracked glaze. “Help yourself to milk and sugar.” Then, “Emily, take your mouse into the lounge, you can let him out in the corner.” She turned to Sid. “You should see Emily play with Gerald. She’s so funny. She lets him run up her arms and legs!”
Sid sipped his tea. “Look, I have to go soon. We’ve two more songs to work on. Perhaps …?”
Fiona’s jade green eyes met his black holes. “You could come tomorrow. Tell me about your music. Say one o’clock.”

“One o’clock it shall be.” Sid stood, bowed, gave a charming smile, winked, and was gone.


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Death by DVD


(850 words)

Horncastle Suicides, a special report by Genevieve Messier for the Horncastle Times. January 2018.

Horncastle, a small Roman town dating from the ninth century, and situated in the Lincolnshire Wolds, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, lies at the confluence of three waterways – the river Bain, the river Waring and the Horncastle canal. Today, many of the old wharf buildings lining the canal and the river Bain, once traversed by barges laden with grain, timber, and coal, have now been converted into smart, desirable apartments and town houses.

Horncastle boasts a plethora of antique shops, from the smartest emporia of expensive furniture and rare porcelain, to a converted church, shared by a number of dealers, with a myriad illuminated cases displaying bright, enticing jewelry and knick-knacks, to the chaotic and mind-boggling maze of bric-a-brac and junk that is Archer’s.

But this picturesque town and its surrounding villages hold a dark secret. In the past two years, since January 2016, there have been 12 suicides, predominantly of young people under the age of 21. An astonishing SIX times the national average.

Genevieve Messier spoke to Mary Todd.

Mary, your son, Saul, was just seventeen years old when he died. He was a pupil at the local grammar school. Are you able to tell me about it?

Yes, it was in February 2016, nearly two years ago. He’d gone to school, normal like, he didn’t seem upset or anything. When he didn’t come home I thought he’d gone to Wayne’s. That’s his best mate. About eight o’clock I phoned Wayne’s mum, Karen. She said Wayne was there but Saul wasn’t and that Wayne hadn’t seen Saul at school neither.

That’s when I got worried. I texted him, then later I phoned his mobile but he never answered, so I called the police. I spent a sleepless night, as well you can imagine. Then the next morning they came to tell me they’d found him in the woods, down the river just past Tesco’s. He’d hanged himself with his school tie.

I’m so sorry Mary. Did he leave a note?

Yeah, he did. It was under a pillow. It said he realised there was too much evil on Earth and that on ‘the other side’ it was just light and love, and that he wanted to join his friends there.

It was several months later that a rumour about a ‘suicide DVD‘ began to emerge. The police have denied any knowledge of it, but Genevieve Messier spoke to Susan Brown (not her real name), a pupil at the local Grammar school, where it is understood five students have taken their own lives in the past two years.

Susan, what do you know of this ‘suicide DVD’?

Well, some say these kids killed themselves cos there’s nothing to do round here and no work, or else cos their parents wouldn’t let them go into Lincoln of a weekend. But what others are saying is that there’s a DVD. You watch it and you just want to kill yourself afterwards. But you have to write a suicide note about how it’s horrible on Earth and lovely in Heaven, and how you just want to go there, now rather than later. Then you have to pass the DVD on to someone else, before you … top yourself. And that person is sworn to secrecy.

Have you seen this DVD?

No I haven’t! But a mate did. Kelly Ann.

What did she say?

Well, she said once the DVD starts, you can’t pause it, so she kept going out of the room and looking in from time to time. Anyway, it starts off showing all these horrible scenes from concentration camps, and the music’s really sad. Makes you want to cry, y’know. Then there’s film of these people disfigured by the nuclear bombs, and then these kids with awful injuries and mutations from gas attacks. Modern ones, y’know.

She could’ve turned the DVD player off though?

No, she said she wanted to see what happened. Anyway, after about twenty minutes, there’s all these coloured lights flashing on the screen, and this weird pulsing music. It’s really hard to look away, she said. Then it finishes off with instructions about how to hang yourself, how to do the knots and all that. Or if you don’t want to hang, they tell you about what pills to take, and how many.

Why didn’t Kelly Ann take it to the police?

Well, she’d been sworn to secrecy, y’know, so she had to pass it to a friend, Saul, his name was.

How did she feel when she heard he’d killed himself.

I dunno. She’d committed suicide herself by then.

Thank you Susan.

Just a fortnight ago, another young man, nineteen year old Jake Tyler, was found hanged in woodland by a disused quarry on Tetford Hill. The police are continuing to investigate this mysterious outbreak of suicides and would ask anyone with information to contact them.

For confidential support call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit a local Samaritans branch – see for details


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Chateau Courdermaire


(850 words)

13th June 1952

Dearest Mama,

Well, we’ve all arrived safely and the chateau is lovely! Stephan drove us from Surrey in his motor car. We took the ferry from Portsmouth and the crossing was quite choppy. I’m afraid yours truly spent much of it leaning over the handrail! Anyway, after a couple of hours’ drive from Le Havre we found the place, with some trouble actually. You see, it was dark, and the chateau, although most impressive from the front, is actually only one room deep, and is sideways on from the road, so not what we were looking out for at all! Anyway, we sought directions in Ville de Courdermaire, and the fellows there had a laugh at our expense. Apparently we weren’t the first to drive past Chateau Courdermaire without noticing it!

It has a sweeping gravel driveway and Stephan’s motor car looks grand parked on it. I am taking lots of photographs!

Well, there are ten bedrooms on each of two floors. We selected rooms on the first floor as they are better appointed. I have a lovely four poster bed and an en suite bathroom, and I look out over sweeping lawns in front of the chateau. Imagine! Oh, I wish you could be with us mama, such a shame that your legs are bad.

Earlier, Jane came to me. ‘Come and see what I’ve found, mother!’ She was so excited. Well, down in the cellars there is a billiards table. You can imagine how Percy and Stephan took to that! They are down there now, as I write, showing Jane and Alexander the ropes!

The sun is sinking now, and I must start preparing supper. I am steaming a huge salmon and serving it with roasted vegetables from the village shop.

I will write again soon.

Much love,

Mary xx

25th June 1952

Dear Mrs. Henderson,

I write as the caretaker of Chateau Courdermaire to bring you news of a most awful incident, for which you have my deepest sympathy, madam. I hope the authorities will soon be in touch with you, but I wanted to let you know myself, as soon as I could. There is no telephone hereabouts and and the only thing is to write, although the post can sometimes be quite unreliable, especially to England, but I know I will have done my duty in informing you to the best of my ability.

Well, I am so sorry to say that your daughter, Mary, was found in a disused ice house this morning. It lies at the edge of the front lawn and is ten feet deep, and mostly full of water. It appears she may have wandered at night, tripped and fallen in. It is low and the entrance is open. We believe she may have been sleepwalking.

A messenger was sent to the local gendarmerie. They attended post-haste and announced that your dear daughter had drowned through circumstances unknown.

Again madam, you have my deepest sympathies.


Agathe Lemaire

23rd June 1952

Dearest Mama,

I write again. Things here are a little odd. I have encountered the owner, a grand old gentleman by the name of Comte Ducard. He called one evening to ask if we were happy with the facilities here – we are! He resides with his brother locally when guests are staying at the chateau.

Anyway, Stephan has been behaving strangely. He seems enervated and pale and has been taking to his bed in the daytime. He also complained about some insect bites on his neck and is now accustomed to wearing a cravat. I have urged him to see the local medic. But you know Stephan, ‘No point in bothering the local quack, I’ll see a proper doctor when I get back, if needs be!’

The chateau has a series of dilapidated attics and also a strange ‘floor between floors,’ only about two thirds of the normal height. It has just one door at either end of the landing, both locked and nothing to see through the key holes.

At night I have awoken to footsteps both above and below my room. I’ve called out, but no one answers and the footsteps stop. Most probably this isolated French chateau is stirring my fancies!

This morning the fellows at the boulangerie seemed quite agitated. They told me to lock my door at night and to hang garlic over it, even giving me some and refusing payment! Can you imagine?! It seems superstition is still rife in the French campagne!

Well, today we were planning on driving to the coast, but once again, Stephan has taken to his bed, so we can’t go. He does look very pale. I do think he should see a doctor.

Well, I hope you are well mama, and your legs aren’t troubling you too badly.

I will write again soon.

Your loving daughter,


P.S. I saw in the mirror just now that I have insect bites on my neck too. I cannot believe it is contagious. Perhaps it is the bedding? I will speak to the caretaker, Madame Lemaire, about it.


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But Can You Hide?

mini gun

(600 words)

To Whom It May Concern

First, the good news. If you are reading this, you are still alive. Now, the bad news. In 24 hours’ time you probably won’t be!
You see, you took something that didn’t belong to you. Oh yes, you likely thought, ‘I’d better take this briefcase to lost property,’ didn’t you? But then curiosity got the better of you. ‘I’ll just take it home first, have a quick look inside, maybe I can find the owner’s phone number. It’ll be quicker that way.’ Pull the other one!
Well, wherever you are. At home, in a seedy cafe, maybe in a dirty, smelly little toilet, there’s something you need to know. YOU are now the target in an assassination game! You have 24 hours to hide or be killed, probably in quite a nasty way.
You see, the briefcase had a chemical powder on the handle. Nothing that’ll harm you (much). You can’t see the stain it made on your hand but it IS visible through special glasses. The ones worn by our agents. And by the way, it takes a few days to wash off!
The briefcase has a hidden camera. Ha, you didn’t expect that, did you?! A number of images have been taken of you and posted on secret websites. The ones used by our spies. Yes, there are such people and, furthermore, they need ‘live’ training exercises from time to time. Hence this little ‘challenge.’
So, as you are reading this, you may feel a little frightened. ‘Is this real?’ you are asking. Or maybe you’re thinking, ‘Oh, this is one of those silly TV pranks. I’ll be on the telly! Better brush my hair!’ Sorry! It isn’t. REALLY!
So, when you’ve finished reading this letter, you will have to start thinking and running. And by the way, just like the old TV program, this letter has a coating, which once exposed to air, will dissolve it within three minutes. Perhaps you’d better read a bit faster!
Well, maybe I shouldn’t tell you this (it’s all rather hush-hush), however I think it’s only fair. But between you and me, there are twenty agents vying for a job. A very prestigious job, a bit like James Bond. They have your picture, your hand(s) will glow when seen through their special glasses and they know where the briefcase is right now. So ‘they are coming to get you,’ as they say in the old horror films!


Well, every other day for two weeks, a briefcase, just like the one you ‘borrowed,’ will be left on a train somewhere. The successful agent will be the one who accrues the most points over the fortnight. The agents get points for both their speed in locating the ‘target’ (people like yourself!) and the originality of his/her ‘dispatch.’
For example, it could be a poisoned dart from a blowpipe (yes, we’ve borrowed a few ideas from our jungle ‘cousins’!), it could be a ‘crazed Japanese,’ slashing you across the throat with a ceremonial sword, or perhaps a noose thrown over your head from a passing motorbike, before you are dragged to your death along the road. I know the agents are having fun with their ideas! They’ll each have a partner on hand to film your demise!
Anyway, the clock is ticking so you’d better get moving. The good news. The hunt will be called off, and you’ll be a free man (or woman) if you survive 24 hours! Good luck, you will (definitely) need it!


PS. I know what I’d do. But I’m not telling 😉


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Here’s Looking at Your Kid

pythagoras 2

(650 words)

“Well, did you hear about Gary?” Nadine’s face was flushed, as if drunk.
“He’s just beaten the telesales record for the year and he’s only been here a month!”
It was July. “What?!”
“Well, Malcolm just posted the sales on the board. Go and look!” She laughed. “Speak of the Devil!”
Gary appeared, grinning from ear to ear. He was a ‘ginger,’ and sported a neat beard. A fan of Prince Harry perhaps? “It’s true folks, I’m the number one salesman, sorry, sales person!”
“What’s your secret, Gary?” I asked, feeling a little shy, now he’d proven himself to be such a potent newcomer.
He looked directly into my eyes and I noticed his, a pale blue, like the birds’ eggs me and my brother would take from nests, still warm, when we were kids. They opened wide. “Well Flora, the trick is to stop them hanging up. I’ll try a few angles, quickly, see if I can find out what makes them tick.” His translucent blue eyes bored into mine. I couldn’t look away. “Like you, Flora, what’s your number one interest?”
I spoke from the heart. “Well, my twins. I just want them to do well at school. Get good results, not be bullied, that kinda thing.”
“So, you’d be interested in software that’d help with their studies, of course?” The blue eyes continued to gaze into mine.
I felt light-headed. “Yes, if it covers the National Curriculum, I suppose I would.”
I looked down at a pink software sales slip. Seemed I’d signed up for Maths for Movers!, and English for Champs! “Where’s Gary?” I asked Nadine.
“He just went. Are you OK?” She sounded concerned.
“Yes, sorry, my mind’s gone blank. One minute I was talking to Gary, then ….”
“Who was Pythag … Pythagoronous?” asked Andrew, aged ten.
“Pythagoras! He discovered the rule about the square on the hypotenuse, what you were supposed to have been watching! Weren’t you paying attention?”
“Yes, it was saying something about his followers. Did they have Facebook then?”
“Don’t be silly! This was over two thousand years ago! Those were the Pythagoreans, they followed his teachings. Some of his ideas were accepted and some weren’t. They’re still going.”
“Also, Pythagoras invented the musical scale. There, bet you didn’t know that!”
“I’m hungry!”
“Didn’t Kathy call you for tea?”
“No, she’s in a bad mood. Something to do with her boyfriend.”
Bloody Kathy! We’d hired her to work in our kitchens four days a week – we ran a small cafe, adjoining the house. She was supposed to fix the kids’ lunch and tea too, but recently she seemed to spend more time arguing on the phone with her new boyfriend than working. I’d have to have a word with her. My stomach felt queasy at the thought. I wasn’t one for showdowns. “Where’s Ally?”
“Watching that English software you gave us.”
Just then Kathy came into the lounge.
No time like the present! “Look Kathy, er, we need to speak ….”
“If it’s about John, it’s all over. I’ve found out he’s a ….” She looked at Andrew. “Well, not to mince words, a pervert!”
“He’s a smooth talking conman, sells software for school kids that comes with a free virus! Lets pedophiles control kids’ webcams and send them instant messages!”
I had a sudden thought. “This, ‘John.’ He doesn’t have ginger hair and a beard by any chance.”
Kathy’s jaw dropped. “How on earth …?!”
Allison, Andrew’s twin came into the room, naked from the waist up, save for her ‘training’ bra.
“Oh my God, did you just get a message to strip off?” I exclaimed.
Allison looked horrified. “What are you on about, mum?”
“There might have been a pervert using your computer to spy on you!”

“Oh, what?! I spilt coffee on my top, I was just going for a clean one. Anyway, I should be so lucky!”


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(700 words)

Cooee! Over here! I’m waiting and ready for you! Look! Don’t you admire my hourglass figure? True, not as slim as some, but then again, I’m not so young any more. But I think I’m wearing pretty well, wouldn’t you say?
Don’t you admire the gold bands I wear on my neck? My rich mahogany body, the intricate rosette I wear at my waist?
Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’ve not always been faithful. You watched me go off to the Czech Republic with another, and you didn’t even try to stop me. And worse, it was with a woman! An oriental wench, twenty years older than me! I blush when I remember that there‘s even a video of us together. For that I beg your forgiveness.
So, reach out for me. I’m longing for the caress of your fingers, the excitement of your skilful touch, waiting to abandon myself to you, I don’t care! It may sound shameless but I want to surrender to you!
Don’t listen to her, look at me! See, I wear bands on my neck too, but of better quality, and above them, a piece of precious ivory. And, ‘tis true we are of similar age, but see how much younger I look, my face smooth and unblemished. I know you adore my curvaceous body, and I thrill to the touch of your hands upon my waist.
And I have breeding. I was born in far off Japan before I came to London, when young. My father was a skilled craftsman. Look at her! She can’t even tell you where she was born, and her father was just a humble factory worker!
I’ve always remained faithful to you, never run off with any ‘floozie,’ like her. And I hear she even let herself be caressed in public, whilst being filmed, no less! Honestly, she has no shame!
So come, my dear, grace me with your gentle touch and I will sing so sweetly for you!
He entered the music room, looking round at the instruments hanging on the walls and stood on stands. For some reason, the first two he ever acquired caught his attention. Yes, there was his Saxon, bought from a mail-order catalogue for £30, what 43 years ago? Orange-faced, and a body of dull brown mahogany. Of anonymous ‘foreign’ manufacture. Nevertheless, its tone had improved with age. He’d had the frets filed too, and changed the tuners himself. He’d even had a golpeador fitted for flamenco.
Then there was his Takumi. Bought from Ivor Mairants Music Centre in Soho, perhaps three years later than the Saxon? £150. Ivor himself had demonstrated it, playing Variations on a Theme by Mozart by Fernando Sor. His thumbnail had been broken, so the bass was soft.
He remembered taking it to a luthier in Muswell Hill to have the ‘action’ lowered, the man working on it with a cigarette in his mouth. A long cylinder of ash defied gravity, hanging directly over the instrument as the man slackened the strings. He’d stood, expecting it to fall, then been told to return in a couple of hours, before discovering the fate of the ash.
Then he thought of his partner twenty years ago. How she’d gone on a guitar orchestra tour to the Czech Republic and taken his Saxon, her own instrument needing repair. Later, she’d paid for extensive rework on the Takumi – the top sanded down and French polished; silver dots laid along the edge of the neck, the saddle lowered and the ‘tie block’ changed to incorporate bridge pins, in order to get the strings as low as possible. Quite recently he’d had the French polishing redone.
Then his eye caught the exciting contours of his Jackson Randy Rhoads RR-5, an electric model with an asymmetric V shape. It had a longer, thinner ‘fin’ on the top, to rest the arm on, and perfect balance with a strap. It was finished in cream with a black pinstripe, with gold hardware, and a gold ‘V’ shaped tailpiece, where the strings went through the body. A pricey and ‘flashy’ instrument. Yes, he would practice on that one today. Sorry girls!


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Souls and Arrows


(1000 words)

Old Man

He looked across the village green to a small huddle of folks, dressed in T-shirts and shorts, mostly. They surrounded a boy, tall and skinny, his long brown hair flopping over his face. The boy, holding a long bow, reminded him of a lamppost gone wrong. Seemingly without effort, the boy drew the bow and loosed an arrow, standing motionless as it thudded into the centre of the distant target, joining two others there. A ripple of applause went around the small crowd watching.
Yes, he’d do. He’d do very nicely!


He’d noticed the old man standing at the periphery of the crowd. It was hard not to. Although the sky was filled with cumulonimbus clouds, towering up to distant anvil-shaped plateaus, the air was full of the warmth of summer. He, himself, wore a red T-shirt, green shorts and sandals. The old man, on the other hand, wore a black trench coat and top hat. Maybe it was some kind of costume. Yes, of course, that was it!
He handed the bow and arrow to the next competitor, wishing him luck, as the old man approached.
“You shot them arrows real good!” The old man spoke with an American accent.
He noticed the old man’s thin lips and green eyes, the pupils just black slits. Like a snake, he thought. “Thanks.”

Old Man
“What’s your name, son?”
“It’s Sam, er, Sam Torresi.”
“How d’you learn to shoot so well?”
“My grandad owns an archery shop, he teaches me ….” He hesitated, unsure whether to confide in a stranger. He pushed his unruly mop of hair back from his sweaty forehead. “I’m at theatre school in town now though … so I’m out of practice.”
“Theatre school. Hmm. Well I figure I can help you out there, son.”
“How?” The boy looked wary, but interested. Good!
“Well, so happens I can make you an offer that’ll get you what you want.”
“I’d like to be famous. In the movies!”
“Exactly! And I can get you just that!” His thin lips formed a smile, showing yellowed, smoker’s teeth.

He regarded the old man’s face. The cheeks were hollow, the skin tawny, but curiously unlined, as if he’d had an endless series of facelifts. “Yeah, as if! Look are you selling something?”
“I guess I’m sellin’ … dreams.” The old man reached into his coat and pulled out a photograph and a wrinkled, folded-up letter. “You ever hear of Elvis Presley?”
He reached out to take the documents. Momentarily he touched the old man’s hand. It was like ice. He read the inscription below the smiling handsome face. ‘To Tom, thanks for making my dreams come true, affectionately Elvis.’ The letter had the same handwriting and talked about shows and recording dates.
“How do I know this is real? And who are you?”

Old Man
“They call me The Colonel. I knew Elvis’s momma and poppa, Gladys and Vern. I managed him for over twenty years!”
The boy regarded him with curiosity. “But then you’d be real old, I mean real old!”
He laughed. “When you have money you can have … things that ordinary folk don’t know about.”
The boy blinked, silent now. Almost hooked!
“Look, let’s cut to the chase. I’ll make you famous. In return, I’ll give you a deal. You shoot one of your arrows, only one mind. If it hits the bullseye then there’s no charge.”

He knew he couldn’t miss, but played along. “What if it doesn’t?”
The old man removed his top hat and held it against his chest, revealing long wispy grey hair. Suddenly he looked very old. “You meet me here, in this exact spot, in eighty years’ time, eight o’clock on Christmas Eve. Then you pay the price I ask.”
He imagined the green transformed, white with a blanket of snow. Heated tents adorned the field and coloured lights hung from poles. In the centre was a huge Christmas tree, covered in sparkling white lights and glittering baubles. Crowds of warmly dressed folk laughed and smiled, drinking hot beverages and mulled wine. And the old man stood there, in his black trench coat and top hat. As black as death. He shuddered. “OK.”
The old man followed him to the now-empty target range, and watched him retrieve the bow and an arrow from a tent. No one paid attention to them.
“Remember, Christmas Eve, eighty years from now. Right here. Eight o’clock in the evening. Only if you miss, mind!”
He nodded and stood straight, at the shooting mark, the arrow in place. The old man smiled. He hesitated, then grinned back. What the old man said didn’t make sense, but he nevertheless couldn’t help but believe him.
He drew the bow and, feeling a strange mixture of nervousness and confidence, sighted the arrow just as his grandfather had taught him. He took a deep breath. Just then, a huge black bird swooped down in front of him, flapping its wings and disappearing off over the field, making him flinch as he released the arrow. With a sinking feeling in his guts he saw he’d missed the bullseye. “That wasn’t fair. I’m taking it again!” He looked around but the old man was nowhere to be seen.
He returned the bow and arrow to the tent. Huh, never mind, the whole thing was nonsense!
On coming out, a man was waiting. He looked vaguely familiar. His face was flat, not handsome. “Hi, I’ve been hearing good things about you!” The man proffered a card.
He felt surprise, but, yes, he was probably top of the class in most acting disciplines. His singing and dancing were coming along too. “Yeah, sure.” He took a proffered card from the man’s hand and examined it. “Quentin Tarantino, hey, I’ve heard of you!”
“We’re auditioning for a live action version of Young Robin Hood. It’ll be a warts an’ all account!” Tarantino smiled and winked. “You’ve every chance of being chosen.”

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A Visit from Saint Nicholas – 2017 version.


(495 words)

‘Twas the night before Christmas, all quiet in the house,
I sat at my laptop, with hand on my mouse.
I looked at the apps, so many to check!
E-mail, Facebook, WordPress and Tweetdeck.

I opened my mail and smiled with delight
at an e-card received, this cold Christmas night!
I clicked and watched Santa sail over roof top,
pulled by his reindeer, they ne’er seem to stop!

I clicked on ‘reply’ and sent thanks on its way
But Facebook was calling, no time to delay!
So on to my ‘wall,’ Christmas greetings to read
From friends near and far, and those I don’t need!

Just then, from outside I heard such a clatter.
I opened the door, feeling mad as a hatter,
as in front of my startled eyes did appear
a sleigh pulled by eight, rather sweaty, reindeer.

They snorted and stamped their hooves in the snow.
Saint Nick in the sled called, “to the roof we must go!”
“Just a minute,” I cried, a-pointing my phone,
“I must get a shot, for Facebook you know!”

“Quick friend,” he said, “I’ve presents to deliver!”
He laughed and I noticed his belly aquiver.
“That was a good ‘un,” I said with some pride.
“But it’s freezing out here, I’m off back inside!”

As I uploaded my photo, noises came from the roof.
‘Twas the tapping and knocking of each little hoof.
Saint Nick down the chimney came, just like a ghost.
My hand o’er mouse button, about to click ‘post.’

“Speed your hand, friend,” laughed Santa Claus,
“I have presents for all, mamma, kiddies indoors.”
So saying this, from his shoulder a sack,
he put down on the carpet, whilst rubbing his back.

He reached in and flung out packet after packet,
PlayStation, tablets, Xbox … what a racket!
He held up a game, shaking his head,
“In the old days, wooden toys, now Night of the Dead!”

“Times have changed Santa, it’s electronic toys now.
Monopoly, Cluedo, all vanished, somehow.”
Saint Nicolas sighed, his face it was long.
“Yes, son, I’ve had to get elves from Hong Kong.”

“The old ones were sacked, they weren’t internet savvy,
As you may guess, they weren’t none too happy!
And Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen
They do their best, but Elon Musk’s offered to fix ‘em.”

“He’s made nuclear powered versions, don’t you know?
It won’t just be Rudolph who lights up the snow!
I’m undecided, though it’d save on the hay,
But the time it is passing, I must be away!”

So saying, back up the chimney he flew
“Come Comet, come Cupid, Donner and Blixen, yes, you!”
I looked back at Facebook, a comment from a mate,
“Nice pic of Santa and reindeer. Ain’t Photoshop great?!”

Then past the window they all came in flight,
Saint Nicolas, waving, puffed on his pipe.
And I heard him call as they vanished from view,
“Happy Christmas to All and a good night to you!”