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.

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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.

Gravity Hill

magnetic hill

(800 words)

“Not wishing to doubt you Sue, but cars can’t coast uphill, get real!” So said Spencer Schneider, generally regarded as the class ‘nerd.’
“Come on Spence, she says it happened. You calling her a liar?” Johnny Serpa’s tone was hostile.
“No.” There was a hesitation in Spencer’s voice. “I’m just saying there has to be a scientific explanation.”
“Scientific explanation my arse!” retorted Johnny.
“Come on boys, cool it. There’s a simple way to find out. We’ll just drive out there tonight,” said my sister, Sue. Six years older than me, she was infinitely more sensible than Johnny, good friend that he was. I was inclined to believe her, whatever the explanation.
“On whose wheels?” I asked pragmatically.
“Jojo’ll drive us,” said Sue, speaking of her boyfriend.
“Have you asked him then?” asked Johnny.
She smiled enigmatically. “No, but I’ll … make it worth his while.”
We didn’t enquire further.
So that evening Jojo pulled up at the house to pick me and Sue up.
“Don’t you ever wash your car,” Sue exclaimed. “It’s filthy!”
“Look, d’you want a lift or don’t you?!” he snapped.
He collected Spencer and Johnny, then, as we set off, Spencer asked, “What exactly happened Sue?”
“Well, I was with my friend Olivia. She was driving us back from friends in Manchester and our normal route was closed for roadworks. We had to take a detour. Well we were going up this hill and the engine just cut out, it was really weird. She put the car into neutral and it just started moving of its own accord!”
“I’ve heard of this,” Spencer replied, “it’s an urban legend, supposedly the ghosts of a bunch of school kids are supposed to push the car up the hill.”
“What in Hell’s name are you on about?!” exclaimed Jojo.
“Well, at the top of the hill there’s a junction.” Sue took over. “A bus full of kids crashed into a petrol tanker. It went up in flames and most of them got burnt alive. They were the lucky ones.”
We all fell silent, horrified.
Then Johnny laughed, “It’s rubbish, a bullshit story made up to scare kids!”
Spencer continued. “Some people say there’s a magnetic deposit that attracts the vehicles up the hill, but it’s not. It’s just an optical illusion. It looks like you’re going uphill but you’re actually going downhill!”
“That don’t make sense!” retorted Johnny.
“Look, let’s just wait and see, shall we?” said Sue. “It’s just off the road to Redcliffe. I have the co-ordinates from Olivia’s satnav.”
Jojo pulled into the side of the road and programmed in the co-ordinates. “Clever stuff nowadays!” he remarked.
Presently the satnav directed us onto a smaller forest road. The sun was sinking and it was growing darker.
“You have reached your destination,” said the satnav, as we arrived at the foot of a gradual hill.
“Is this it?” asked Jojo.
“Yeah, I think so,” said Sue excitedly, I remember that funny little bridge we just came over.”
Jojo turned the satnav off and stopped the car. “Are you sure?”
Sue continued, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure. At the top we join a bigger road. There’s a ‘Stop’ sign.”
“Shame the kids’ bus driver didn’t see it then!” laughed Johnny.
No one else felt like laughing. We all got out. It sure seemed like any normal hill.
“Come on, let’s go,” said Jojo.
We all got back into the car and Jojo started up the hill. Suddenly the engine conked out.
“Jesus Christ!” Jojo exclaimed.
“Just a coincidence … probably,” said Spencer.
Jojo put the car into neutral and it began to roll uphill.
“There, I told you!” Sue laughed.
“Hang on, I think I know what’s happening,” said Spencer. ”It’s an illusion. The trees aren’t straight. We’re actually going downhill.”
“What the Hell are you on about, man,” snapped Jojo.
“There was a meteorite strike hereabouts. It bent all the trees.”
We reached the Stop sign. The main road was empty. Jojo stopped the car again and we all got out. Looking back the way we came it was hard to tell if it was uphill or downhill if you screened the trees out of your view.
“Look, we’ll come back tomorrow and test it out properly,” said Jojo.
He put a CD on and we relaxed, listening to Steely Dan’s Aja. After a few miles there was a petrol station. Jojo pulled in. “We’re running low on petrol.”

I got out to go and buy some M&Ms. I craved chocolate for some reason. The others got out to stretch their legs. Suddenly there was a scream. “Oh my God, look at this!” Sue stood pointing, her hand shaking. In the bright station lights we could see little handprints all over the dirt on the boot.



Incidentally, I’ve been nominated for a Star Blogger Award by How To Addict, someone who writes very helpful motivational posts, definitely worth checking out! There are 10 blogs nominated for July and the voting closes on Thursday 17th August. If you’d like to support To Cut a Short Story Short, then here is the link to vote. Thanks! 🙂

http://howtoaddict.com/star-blogger-award-nominations-july-2017/ (latest blogs reviewed and voting box at the bottom)

http://howtoaddict.com/spreading-message-positivity-blogs/ (includes a review of To Cut a Short Story Short)


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.

Phoning a Friend

horse drawn funeral

(700 words)

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, no one would mind. 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 sadness 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.

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 the 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 symbol. Ellie’s number popped up and she pressed the dial button. 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?”





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.

Out There

6805012-outer-space-wallpaper

(700 words)

“America killed us Sam.”
“Don’t be ridiculous!”
“They’ve written us off. It’s like we don’t exist any more.”
I gazed out through the command room windows over the bow, at the uncountable millions of stars that surrounded us. “We’ll be back. Our kids’ll be all grown up!”
Randy laughed. “Little Anita was just five, bright as a sixpence. She’ll be twenty seven, maybe with her own kids!”
“Hard to imagine!”
“I want to go home Sam.” Randy’s voice trembled.
“Come on Randy, you signed up. No-one forced you to. You’ll be home before you know it!”
Exactly to what I was unsure. We were five years into a mission to Nephthys, a small rocky planet circling nearby Barnard’s star. It would take us ten years, nearly all of that in hyper-sleep, Randy and me waking up once a year to check the systems. When we eventually arrived, the rest of the sleeping crew would awake and we’d descend to the planet to find a mining station prepared for us by androids, scheduled to land a year ahead of us. That was the plan anyway.
“See all these stars Sam. There must be people, aliens, on the planets round ‘em.” Randy said the same, every time we ‘awoke.’
“I guess so.” Detectors on Earth had found Nephthys to be rich in rare earths, the metallic elements needed to make advanced handheld devices – videophones, holographic projectors and the like. The plan was to spend two years mining and refining the ores, then, with the holds full, back into hyper-sleep for the trip home. In our twenty two year absence, our families would be amply compensated.
These annual ‘awakenings’ felt weird, it took hours to reorientate oneself to the surroundings and to remember how to work the interfaces. But I enjoyed them. Just me and Randy wandering alone in the colossal ship, constructed in Earth’s orbit over a decade. Gazing out in wonder at the infinite universe.
Jesus! Did you see that?” Randy shouted.
“What?”
“Something just went past! Out there!”
“What?”
“I dunno, some kind of light. It went across the windows, upwards.” He made a gesture.
A couple of minutes went by, then, “There! D’you see it?”
Sure enough, something like a ball of light came from below us and shot in front and upwards. I felt excitement and fear in equal amounts.
Suddenly there was a beeping from a control panel on the far side of the room, about ten metres away. Red and yellow lights flashed rapidly. I raced over. “There’s an incoming signal!” My training took over. Calm down! I addressed the computer. “OK, Max, switch the decoders on.”
The computer responded. “Incoming signal is video. Recording. Should I display it Sam?”
Randy had joined me and we both faced a large screen. “Go ahead Max.”
We both gasped as an ariel shot of New York appeared, the viewpoint zooming around the Freedom Tower, sunlight reflecting brightly off its endless windows, before flying along the Brooklyn Bridge and up over one of its towers.
Wow!” we both exclaimed in unison.
Now over St. Louis, it skimmed beneath the Gateway Arch before heading over sweeping plains with huge herds of cattle, then we were flying over snowcapped mountains, finally zooming into and along the Grand Canyon. Suddenly it stopped near a group of hikers. A girl pointed towards us, her face a picture of curiosity, and their smiles vanished. She took a few paces towards us before the viewpoint took off again, soaring into the sky. Then it headed rapidly outwards and the canyon receded into the distance below, finally becoming a tiny speck. The blackness of space began to encroach on the brilliant blue northern hemisphere and the screen went blank.
We stood speechless, in awe of what we had just witnessed.
Finally I said, “Max, play it again.”
There was a silence, then the computer spoke. “I’m sorry Sam, the video could not be saved.”
We looked out of the window again for a while. Nothing moved. Finally, with the heaviest of hearts, I realised the show was over.
“Looks like someone’s looking out for us,” said Randy, eventually.

“Someone … or some thing,” I replied.





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
 –

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.

Promise Her the Moon

1 taj mahal

(800 words)

“Be polite and listen carefully,” said the old man to his four daughters, “and don’t speak unless you’re spoken to!”
Their names were Anshula, Bakula, Chandhini and Darshini. By the grace of God they had been born exactly three years apart so that all four shared the same birthday – today, November 1st – unique in all the land.
Anshula was 16, Bakula 13, Chandhini 10, and little Darshini just seven. Now they waited, dressed in beautiful saris, Anshula in maroon, Bakula in ruby red, Chandhini in royal blue and finally, little Darshini in emerald green. Their mother was considerably younger than her husband and now stood, nervously adjusting their saris and combing their long black hair. “He’ll be here soon. Be sure to stand straight and smile!”
There was a knock on the door which made them all jump. The old man answered it to a messenger, who proclaimed, “The Great Prince will be here within the quarter hour, he approaches the edge of town.”
“Thank you,” said the old man, handing the messenger a coin. He turned to his daughters. “You may sit until his Royal Highness arrives.”
The daughters sat down on two long sofas in the large, high-ceilinged chamber. The family were not rich but by virtue of the daughters’ shared birthday, they had acquired a certain fame. People would visit them, regarding them as holy due to the coincidence, and were accustomed to leaving gifts of money, sides of meat, fine wines and the like.
After the longest fifteen minutes the family could remember, there came another knock at the door. A servant opened it to the Great Prince himself! His Royal Highness strode in, followed by an entourage of exotic characters. “Greetings to you all!” he pronounced in a deep, booming, royal voice.
The girls smiled nervously and curtseyed simultaneously, as they had practised. The entourage spaced themselves around the large room whilst servants brought refreshments.
The Great Prince was tall, over six feet high, and magnificently dressed in a golden achkan with a crimson turban and dupatta. He was very handsome, with a tawny face, startling green eyes and thin lips that naturally gave the appearance of a smile. Finally, after some small talk with the parents, he clapped his hands for silence. The girls stood, trying to look calm, except little Darshini who wasn’t nervous at all.
“Well my dears,” he pronounced, “God has seen fit to give you all the same birthday and today Anshula, the eldest, is 16 years old. A Very Happy Birthday to you all!”
He kissed Anshula on both cheeks. Her brown face turned red and she felt faint. She determined not to wash for a week. He kissed the other girls likewise, having to bend low for little Darshini.
“Now, I have very special gifts for you all!” he announced. This was followed by loud applause. When it had quieted down, he said, “To Anshula, I give the clouds!”
Anshula, looking perplexed, smiled and curtseyed. “You are most generous my Lord!”
“To Bakula, I give the moon!”
Bakula blinked her huge brown eyes and sweat lined her upper lip. “Thank you Sir!”
His Highness moved along to Chandhini. “To you, Chandhini, I give the Sun!”
Chandhini curtseyed and smiled sheepishly. “Thank you Your Honour!”
Finally, he looked down on little Darshini, who looked up in anticipation, her blue eyes twinkling.
“Yes, and to little Darshini, an extra special present – all the stars in the sky!”
There was huge applause. The old man approached. “Thank you your Highness for your wonderful gifts!”
Suddenly a shrill voice piped up. “I don’t understand. What use are the stars to me!”
The room fell silent, the old man gasped and a look of annoyance crossed the Great Prince’s face.
He recovered his composure. “Well my dear little Darshini, Anshula may tax all who wish to fly their aeroplanes through her clouds, and she will be rich! And Bakula may tax all who gaze with wonder at her moon, she will be richer still!”
Little Darshini remained silent, scratching her head.
The Great Prince continued. “Chandhini may tax all those who wish to receive warmth and light from her sun, except me of course!” The entourage roared with laughter, followed by polite applause. “She will be the richest of all! And you, my dear little Darshini may tax all those lovers who hold hands and look longingly up at your stars!”
The little girl looked confused. “But what happens if they won’t pay the tax?”
“Well then, it’ll be ‘off with their heads!’ ”
“What, you mean … “
“Yes, the criminals will be executed,” his Royal Highness exclaimed gleefully.

Darshini bit her lip and leant back to gaze up into the Great Prince’s handsome face. “Please sir, I’d just like a little puppy.”





Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
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If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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Time of Death

eye clock

(600 words)

“Become aware of your surroundings and return to the room,” said Valentina.
I felt lethargic, unwilling to come out of the meditation, even though it hadn’t been very successful.
“Joanna, return to the room and open your eyes.”
I did so reluctantly. She smiled at me. “Well, what did you see?”
I’d been doing a ‘future life progression’ meditation with a friend of my sister’s, a supposed clairvoyant. “That’s just it, nothing!”
“Nothing!”
“Well, when you said to imagine the clock one hour ahead, two hours ahead etc., and to look around each time, it was fine until 9 p.m., I could imagine touching the furniture, looking out of the window, going outside, walking round the garden, but after that … just blackness.
Valentina’s face was pale. She looked worried. She took my hand. Hers felt cold and clammy. She closed her eyes. I could see them flickering under the eyelids, as though she were dreaming. Shortly they snapped open.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Nothing,” she said, “I just asked my spirit guide what it meant. He said not to worry.” She got up, avoiding my eyes. “I have to go now Joanna, take care.” She smiled a sad smile and left the room. I felt shaky. What did it all mean?
“Hello Jack, Joanna’s not well. She says she’s terribly sorry to let you down and she’ll call you tomorrow … oh, stomach pains, food poisoning she thinks … yes I will, thank you … yes, goodbye.” I turned to my sister, sitting on the sofa, rocking backwards and forwards, as if possessed. “Joanna, you’ve got to get this crazy idea out of your head!” She’d called round in a state after doing a meditation with Valentina, a friend of mine, saying she was going to die by 9.00 p.m. – for Heaven’s sake!
“Look, Valentina was hiding something, she couldn’t explain why I couldn’t see anything after 9.00 p.m.”
“Listen Jo, it was nothing! Another day you’d be able to do it!”
“Well, I’m not going out with Jack. The car might crash or I get could get killed by a mugger.”
“Look, stay here till I get back, then you’ll be safe! I’m going to choral society, so I’ll be back late. Just take it easy. Why not have a bath and relax?”
Joanna stopped rocking and gave a weak smile. “OK.”
It was gone eleven when I got back. The rehearsal had taken my mind off Joanna’s silly idea until Pete, a friend who’d given me a lift there, dropped me off outside my house. I looked at the darkened windows and remembered. My heart thudded. “Pete, sorry love, could you wait a minute, I’ve just got to check my sister’s OK.”
“Sure, what’s the problem?”
“Oh, nothing, see you in a minute.”
I unlocked the front door. Inside, except for the ponderous tick of the grandfather clock in the hallway, the house was dark and silent. Had Jo gone home? I went down the corridor to the bathroom. A light shone from under the door. I knocked. “Jo … Jo. Are you there?” All was quiet.
I hesitated, then opened the door and froze with shock. In the bath, naked, lifeless, was my sister. Her head, eyes open, was under water, surrounded by a halo of floating brown hair. I could scarcely breath. I put a shaking hand in the tepid water and closed her eyes.

The clock that had stood by the taps was gone. I noticed it in the water, down by her knees. I fished it out and looked in horror. The hands showed exactly 9.00 p.m.



Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
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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.

If Only They Could Speak

ginger-cat-650545
(650 words)
“Rudyard, here Rudyard!”
Rudyard’s ginger face appeared in the doorway. He hesitated, seeing a stranger in the room.
“Here kitty, good kitty!” called William Wilde, professor William Wilde as he now was.
Gingerly, Rudyard came into the study, studiously ignoring Willy and jumped onto my lap, purring. His huge yellow eyes looked up at me quizzically.
William, or Willy as he now preferred to be called, was an old school chum. The one who’d worn thick lenses in a huge black frame and was always found studying in a corner of the school library. He’d been the butt of our childish cruelty. ‘Four eyes,’ ‘Willy Wanker,’ or just ‘Willy the creep.’ He’d had the last laugh though, graduating in Physics with first class honours at Oxford. Then, five years ago there’d been a school reunion. Willy had turned up with his wife, a glamorous ex-model, now the mother of five kids. Respect!
Old insults forgotten, bygones become bygones, we’d kept in touch. Then had come a phone call two days ago. Willy, sounding breathless, telling me he’d discovered something amazing. Something unbelievable. Something so incredible it was going to change the world!
“Is that all?” I’d said, laughing.
“Stephen, do you have any animals?”
“Yes, I’ve got a cat, why?”
“Let me come and see it, you’ll see why,” he said enigmatically.
So he’d arrived, armed with two suitcases full of electrical equipment. Two MacBook computers now sat on my desk, amongst a tangle of cables connecting strange pieces of equipment. One computer screen showed several analog meters, the other had rows of scrolling numbers.
“What on Earth is it?” I’d asked.
“Translation software and voice synthesisers,” Willy smiled, “you’ll see.”
Now he produced a cage and opened the lid. “Put Rudyard in here please.”
The big yellow eyes looked up at me with reproach as I did so. The cage was narrow and Rudyard couldn’t turn. He looked anxious, his ears folding back, but with me close by he co-operated, no doubt recalling occasional trips to the vets, loathed but tolerated.
Willy reached in and, his hands now protected with gloves, fitted some kind of electrical device over Rudyard’s head. Rudyard began to miaow in protest.
“Now, watch this!” Willy flicked a switch and Rudyard sat bolt upright, looking from Willy to me and from me to Willy. The screens were going crazy, needles moving backwards and forwards in the on-screen meters, and the rows of numbers scrolling down in free fall.
Then something came over a loudspeaker, a synthesised voice, reminiscent of Stephen Hawking. “What … what … is … happening?” The ‘voice’ of Rudyard!
“That’s just amazing!” I said.
Willy beamed. “I told you it was incredible!”
Rudyard turned his head towards me. “Let … me … out.”
“Just a few minutes more Rudyard,” said Willy, “then we’ll let you out. Now, I’d like to ask you some questions.”
Rudyard sat attentively.
“What is your name?”
The synthesised voice spoke slowly. “Rudd Yaaard.”
“Very good, and what animal are you?”
“You … call … me … cat.” He bent down to lick a paw.
“This is incredible!” I said, scarcely able to believe that my beloved cat was communicating with us. “Rudyard,” I said. “Are you happy here? I mean, in this house. Is there anything you want?”
The big yellow eyes blinked. “Fooood.”
“I mean, like a bigger basket?”
“Fooood.”
“Oh, I see, you’d like some food, is that right?” Willy and I exchanged glances.
“Fooood.”
“OK, I’ll get you some food in a minute. Now, what are your thoughts on … er …” I tried to think of something, “um, other cats?”
Silence.
“Er, vacuum cleaners?”
Silence.
“World peace?”
Silence. Well that was a tough one.
“Well, perhaps that’s enough for one day,” said Willy resignedly. “Rudyard, is there anything you’d like to say before I take the headset off?”

Rudyard’s big yellow eyes looked up and blinked twice. “Fooood. Want fooood.”



Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
 –

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.

Away with the Fairies

cotingley fairies

(800 words)
Everybody, including myself, thought that Uncle George was crazy. I mean, do you have fairies at the bottom of your garden? Well, actually they weren’t just at the bottom of his garden. According to him, they were everywhere.
“Like little angels they are, three to four inches high, beautiful faces!”
“What do they wear,” I’d asked.
“Well the girls have lovely dresses in bright colours – emerald green and dark blue mostly but I’ve seen them in red too,” Uncle George had replied enthusiastically, taking off his heavy black-rimmed spectacles and wiping them with a grubby cloth.
“Have you seen any male fairies?”
“Oh, yes, I quite often see them. Not as much as the girls though.” He replaced his glasses, the lenses now surprisingly clean. “They wear long green shorts usually and a green or brown tunic, although they’re sometimes bare-chested. Even though they’re tiny, they look quite muscular.”
“Maybe they work out at a fairy gym,” I’d joked.
He’d laughed and swept a hand through his unruly mop of black hair. “Look Daniel, you must come and see them!”
So I’d go to my uncle’s and we’d sit in his large, unkempt garden. Shrubs of all shapes and sizes bordered a long rectangular lawn that led down to a summerhouse by a pond, a favourite place for fairies he said. So we’d sit on the wooden bench in the hut, Uncle George with his sketchbook at the ready, and he’d smoke a cigarette, talking about his life in the navy and the incredible things he’d seen – sea monsters, two-headed children, Indians climbing ropes and disappearing. It was impossible to say whether any of his stories were true or if he lived in a fantasy world. Or maybe he had psychic faculties and could glimpse realms beyond our physical world?
“Look, there’s a boy and a girl!” He’d gestured excitedly over the pond.
Something had flitted over the water in the dusk, true, but it could have been a moth, or a bat even.
“I don’t want you going to Uncle George’s any more,” mum had said sternly, “he’s a…er, a bit strange.”
“Oh, mum, I want to see the fairies!”
“If you want to see fairies go and see Tinker Bell, you won’t find them at Uncle George’s!”
Dad had concurred, so I’d grown up, missing those chats by the pond, breathing in the heady mixture of pond air and fragrant tobacco smoke, whilst listening to his fantastic tales. Then, years later, I heard he’d passed away.
A musty smell still lingered when I’d gone with Dad and my brother, Eric, to sort through Uncle George’s stuff. Having no other living relatives, he’d left everything to Dad, so the idea was to identify anything worth keeping or selling individually and the rest would be taken by a house clearance company. How sad I thought, a lifetime’s acquisitions garnered with excitement and pleasure, all to be sold on or just thrown away.
I’d been given the job of looking through Uncle George’s study – a somewhat daunting task – shelves of dust-covered books lined three of the walls. I was surprised to see many detective stories – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, P. D. James and so forth. Why were they always women? Predictably, there were a number of books on fairies. I filled a couple of boxes with books that looked more valuable, or ones I thought Mum, Dad and Eric might like.
In his desk were piles of unopened letters from banks, HMRC and the like. Sitting on top were a couple of stone paperweights, carved from fossilised slate, full of ancient, impossible creatures. Then I noticed a tiny drawer. Inside was a matchbox. Opening it, I looked in awe at two minuscule ballet shoes, made from a luminescent pink fabric, with ribbons to tie round the ankles and on the underside, panels of a slightly darker pink.
In another drawer I found a bulky sketchpad. As I turned the pages I was astonished to see page after page of well executed drawings of fairies. Their wings were sometimes butterfly-like, other times in pairs, narrower and more diaphanous. Some had been expertly coloured with watercolour. I noticed quite a number had been dated and on some there were notes. ‘Seen over pond,’ ‘Tianna, sat on bench,’ etc.
“Daniel, how are you getting on?” Dad called from downstairs.
“Almost finished,” I called back.
Then I turned a page and gasped. A pretty fairy in a pink dress was sketched in flight, her outstretched feet sporting a pair of pink ballet shoes. With the date was a cryptic note. ‘Rosina. shoes – present.’
I heard footsteps coming upstairs and quickly hid the pad.
Dad opened the door. “Found anything interesting?”

“A couple of old paperweights, that’s all really…”



Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
 –

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.

Angels and Cards

cemetery-1655378_1920
(600 words)
“Everybody follow me please,” said the Angel, and a group of us proceeded into a large featureless chamber dotted sporadically with round tables and chairs. It reminded me of an austere oversized hospital waiting-room in some impoverished Balkan state.
“Hello Jack.” It was Dad, and there was mum too, just as she’d been in life in middle age. We embraced and slapped each other on the back, somewhat half-heartedly.
“And here’s your Aunty Irene!” exclaimed Dad, as a lady with a long thin face and compressed lips came forward and tearfully embraced me. I was too embarrassed to say I didn’t remember her.
Dad smiled. “Well, welcome to your first day of Heaven son!”
“What happens now?” I replied.
“Well, we’ll have a nice cup of tea, then we’ll have a look at the news, then we’ll have a game of cards. We usually play bridge. Can you play?”
“I’m a bit rusty.”
So the days passed. ‘In spirit’ we didn’t need to eat or drink, or sleep even, but to make ‘life’ more interesting, we drank endless cups of tea. It wasn’t really much different from being alive, on Earth, save for paying bills and worrying about who to vote for.
The ‘news’ was shown on televisions resembling those of the 1960s, a black and white picture with sporadic fuzziness. Endless reports of families welcoming ‘loved ones’, just ‘passed over.’ Soon it became mind-numbingly boring.
“Don’t they have colour TV?” I asked Dad.
“No, you have to wait to the next level,” he said knowingly, tapping his nose. “Come on, let’s play bridge!”
We found an empty table in a corner of the room, and me, Dad, Auntie Irene and Maurice, someone whom Dad had befriended as he seemed to have no relatives of his own, sat down to play.
Dad took a pack of cards from a box. They were gold leafed on the back with a design of stars and planets. He started to deal.
“Is Jesus here?” I asked the table in general.
“Who?” Auntie Irene responded.
“You know, the Saviour, the son of God!”
“Oh, I dunno, maybe higher up.” She shrugged her shoulders.
Hmm, ‘Heaven’ was a bit different to what I’d expected!
We’d played a couple of hands when I became aware of a brilliant light behind me, which lit up my Dad’s curiously unlined face opposite me. I turned, shielding my eyes, and saw a towering angel with huge white wings. It seemed to be female, judging by the beautiful face and suggestion of breasts under luminescent blue cloth. She approached a man, sitting at a table reading a newspaper, and touched him on the shoulder. He stood up, an instant celebrity, bathed in the brilliant golden light emanating from the angel, and, grinning inanely, smugly followed her out of the room.
“Is he going to the ‘next level’?” I said.
“That’s right son. Lucky sod!”
“Well how long do we have to stay here, at this level?” I asked.
“Well, it depends,” said Dad, “they have to wait for suitable, er, recipients for new souls, then we reincarnate. So there’s a bit of a queue.”
“What, six weeks, something like that?” I said.
The table erupted with laughter. Card players at adjacent tables looked round.
“No, son.” Dad wiped his eyes, trying to contain his mirth. “It could be five years, it could be fifty, maybe even a hundred.”
“What, you mean I’ve got to sit here playing bridge for the next hundred years?!”

Dad smiled reassuringly and shook his head. “No son, we can always play rummy…”



Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 150! 
 –

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.