Comic Tragedy

Monks at Pluscarden Abbey prepare for Christmas

(900 words)

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

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

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

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

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Free audiobook!

TCASSS cover ACX Angus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  • The Audible apps for iOS, Android and Windows
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  • MP3 players and other devices compatible with Audible’s file format

 

 

DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS

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

2. Add the audiobook to your cart.

3. If you are prompted to sign in, please create a new Audible.com or Audible.co.uk account or log in. Otherwise, proceed by clicking “Do you have a promotional code?” beneath the cover artwork of the audiobook.

4. Enter the promo code, and click “Apply Code.”

5. A credit for the audiobook will be added to your account. Then click the box next to “1 Credit” and click the “Update” button to apply the credit to the purchase.

6. After you select “1 Credit” and click “Update” to modify your shopping cart, the price for the audiobook will change to $0.00. You may proceed through the checkout by clicking “Next Step” and “Complete Purchase” on the subsequent page.

TO DOWNLOAD ON A MAC  (very simple)

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

 

The Magic Onion

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

(650 words)

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

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

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

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

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

Red Nose Day

dolls2

(550 words)

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

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

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

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

I Dream of Diwana: 2000 word version

delicious-south-Indian-cuisines

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

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

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

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

No Gold Pavements

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

(600 words)

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

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

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

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

Payback Time

pillspillspills

(850 words)

Melt down in thirty minutes’ time, that’s what his mother would do if she didn’t get her ‘anti-anxiety meds.’ The traffic lights turned red. Damn! Joshua waited, his foot slipping forward on the clutch. To his right, he noticed a small pub with a thatched roof. Why had he never been in there? The Coach and Tiger. Hmm, unusual name!
Put it in neutral, get your foot comfortable, he thought. He applied the handbrake. Sooner than expected, the light turned green and the one solitary car in front, a dirty white Honda Civic with a nodding dog on the back shelf, sped off. Maybe he/she was a racing driver in their spare time? In Joshua’s haste to get going he forgot to take the handbrake off and the engine stalled. The car behind hooted. Fuck it!
He looked in the mirror to see the driver, a bulky thirty-something male, looking belligerent. Joshua felt himself sweating. He tried the engine again. Thank God! The car started forward and he turned left, glad to see that the individual behind carried straight over the junction, doubtless cursing him as he did so.
That was the story of his life, he thought. So many false starts. Every time things were looking up – job, girlfriend, health, money – something would go wrong and it’d all come crashing down. Now, having moved to rural Shropshire, hoping for a new beginning, he’d become a servant to his nagging old mother.
He pulled out of town, accelerating, so that he sailed past the signs indicating the end of the speed restriction at sixty miles an hour. The stretch of road was clear so he kept his foot down until he was doing eighty, guiltily noticing a red sign on the left with the number of people killed on Shropshire’s dangerous single carriage roads so far that year – 79. Well, if they would drive like maniacs. Then he supposed that a good number of those killed were by the maniacs. You could never account for that. You’d be driving along, minding your own business when a car coming the other way decides to overtake a tractor on a bend, and BANG, that was the end.
He signalled left, changed into second gear and took the turn, imagining his driving instructor, Natalie’s, sexy voice. “Engine braking, nicely done.” He smiled at the recollection.
Twenty minutes to go. He’d be back in under ten. No need for the old bag to blow a fuse! The road became rural, narrow and winding. Now he turned a bend to find a horse box stopped ahead. There was no visibility past it at all. Unbelievable!
He sat fuming. Suddenly his mobile phone rang. He looked at the number. Mother! Let her leave a message!
It was her fault for mixing up the dates. “Those idiots at the doctors don’t know what they’re doing, losing my prescription. I posted it through the letter box on Sunday. Two working days, they say. It should have been ready by Tuesday!”
He’d pointed out it was two clear working days, therefore Wednesday, but had been given short shrift. Her medications had been out of stock at the doctor’s dispensary, so he’d been dispatched post-haste to the branch in town to get them. She was bad enough with them, Heaven help him if she ran out!
Fifteen minutes to go. He got out and walked past the horse box to a white Subaru Forester SUV. A woman was seated in it, staring blankly through the windscreen. Joshua recognised her. Helen. Helen Robinson. He played pool with her husband Trevor.
He rapped on the window and she sat up, as if waking from a trance. She wound the window down. A song was playing quietly on the radio – Evergreen. “Josh, I’m so sorry. I had one of my … er, turns. I’m not really fit to drive. Trev’s away at a conference and I didn’t know what to do.” She sounded tearful.
“Look, show me how to drive this thing. I’ll pull my car off the road, run you home and walk back, it’s not far.”
Helen’s smile lit up her face. She put a hand on his arm. “Josh, that’s so kind of you.”
Joshua remembered a time, not too long ago, when he’d had no money for his asthma prescriptions. The days had gone past and the wheezing and coughing had grown worse. His mother had doubtless noticed, but having no compassion for neither human nor animal alike, hadn’t offered to help. Finally, as she was about to go on holiday, he’d ‘given in,’ and asked, almost pleaded with her to get his medicine for him.
Reluctantly, she’d agreed but had dillied and dallied until it was the doctors’ lunchtime, then had deliberately taken as long as possible once they’d reopened, before finally going in the late afternoon, appearing to enjoy seeing him suffer in the meantime. ‘Punishing’ him for being short of funds, he’d surmised.
Well, ‘payback time!’ thought Joshua. ‘Let her melt down.’ Hopefully she’d melt right through the floor and come out in China!

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.

Is There Anybody There?

seance

(800 words)

Melt the ice, that was the name of the game. I’d done it myself in guitar classes. Go round the circle, getting everyone in turn to say why they wanted to learn the guitar and what they hoped to achieve. This was a bit different though. We had to say why we wanted to develop mediumship. Talking to the dead, in other words.
My real reason was Uncle Cyril, an outwardly rich investment banker. He’d died intestate, unexpectedly, with no sign of the wealth we’d all supposed he had. Auntie Irene, his sister, had eventually been appointed trustee and had gained access to his bank accounts. Frequent large cash withdrawals were discovered, and a butler was currently under suspicion.
I’d always been Cyril’s favourite, and I knew he must have carefully sequestered his savings, he was a financial expert after all. But he’d died suddenly, fallen off a horse awkwardly when hunting, and broken his neck, leaving no clue to the whereabouts of his supposed riches. Otherwise I was sure I’d have figured prominently in any will.
So the thought of being able to contact Uncle’s spirit was mighty appealing. True, I could have gone to an existing medium, but it would be rather embarrassing. “Ask him what he did with his money and how I can get my hands on it,” wasn’t very ‘spiritual.’ Easier to ‘do it yourself,’ as it were.
Now I sat in a circle, a motley crew of mainly aged, grey-haired, overweight females, plain-looking, to put it kindly. We were told to breathe deeply and imagine a silver chord from our hearts extending down to the Earth’s core, then a beam of golden light extending upwards from our hearts, out across the universe. Then Sylvia, the medium, a young, conspicuously attractive woman with long silver hair, announced we were going to play ‘Spirit Hokey Cokey.’ The mind boggled!
We mentally invited ‘spirit’ in (for some annoying reason the singular was used), noting sensations, then asked ‘spirit’ to ‘step back,’ noting any difference. She prompted us to do this several times. The poor old spirits must have been getting pretty fed up.
To my surprise, I found a pressure on my right eyeball that was there when they were asked to ‘step in,’ but which vanished when asked to ‘step back.’
Sylvia spoke about the different mental states, Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta, and how, even though the brainwaves were slower, the mind vibrated at a higher frequency in order to contact ‘spirit.’ Or so she said.
Apparently ‘spirit people’ had to likewise attune their minds to lower vibrations to contact those on Earth. I imagined a similar group of frumpy women gathered together in a room in ‘Heaven.’ “Ooh, I just had a picture of Wayne in my mind, you know, Sharon’s youngest.”
“Very good dear, now concentrate on sending him love …”
Back on the physical plane, Sylvia placed a chair in the centre of the circle and asked for a volunteer. She looked around, then pointed at me. “Andy!”
Well, that wasn’t my idea of volunteering.
“Now, Andy, I want you to think of someone, someone who’s passed over, and imagine them on this chair.”
Hang on a minute, this might be useful! I visualised uncle Cyril seated there. Curly black hair, not tall, face a little like a Toby Jug. He wore a Barbour jacket and had a springer spaniel called Nelly. I pictured her lying on the floor beside him.
A huge woman with long grey hair plonked herself down on the chair, which creaked ominously.
“Now, Ruth, I want you to get impressions from the spirit Andy has just called to be with us.”
I did?!
Ruth closed her eyes, breathing deeply, her stomach and breasts meeting sporadically.
“Yes, I see a man. Black hair. Not handsome. Quite short.”
“That’s right!” I said.
“I see a dog, some sort of … spaniel?”
You could tell Ruth had done this before.
Sylvia spoke. “Where do you see this man?”
With her eyes closed, Ruth continued. “I see a lot of people, um, it’s very noisy, there’s a table with one of those … what d’you call ‘em … wheels, roulette wheels, that’s it.”
That sounded worrying. “I’m not sure about that,” I said.
“No, he doesn’t want people to know, that’s the impression I’m getting.”
“Anything else?” asked Sylvia. “Does he have a wife, girlfriend?”
“Wait a minute.” Ruth’s breathing became more rapid. “He’s in a room. There are three woman, all naked! They’re putting something on a mirror. Powder. Yes, a white powder …. He says he’s sorry.”
Great. My hopes were dashed. In the words of George Best – or was it W C Fields? – it sounded like Uncle Cyril had spent his money on gambling, drugs and prostitutes … and wasted the rest.

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.

Blind Hope

braille 3

(500 words)

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

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

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

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

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.

Memories of Oscar

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 12.35.48

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

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

IMG_0075

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

video of Oscar drinking from bird bath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related:

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

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

An online tribute I left for Lily.

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

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

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

Also, I’m very pleased to announce that ‘the best of my blog,’ To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories, and a short story, Bound in Morocco, are now both available as paperbacks and Kindle eBooks. Please see Shop in the menu above for full details.