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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Phoning a Friend: 1200 word version

toubkal-summit

 

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

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

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

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

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

What’s in Store?

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

(1100 words)

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

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

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

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

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

Salvador

empty-st-marks-avenue

(850 words)

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

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

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

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

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

I Dream of Diwana

thali 2

(850 words)

“Impressive isn’t it?” I smile.
“Oh gosh, have I got to eat everything?” says my wife, Laura.
In front of each of us lies a circular metal tray, in the centre of which stands a bowl of steaming rice. The grains are tiny, some coloured red, yellow or green. Surrounding it are small metal pots containing vegetables – some plain, some battered and fried, in a variety of sauces. One pot contains chopped tomato, cucumber and raw onion, and another, plain yoghurt. The restaurant is full of the aroma of curry and I’m salivating like crazy.
“Would you like anything to drink sir?” smiles a young Indian girl with deep brown eyes, darker than her dusky skin.
“Can I have Cobra please?” Laura asks for mineral water.
“I remember the first time I came here I ate the shrikhand with my curry! I didn’t realise it was a sweet.” I laugh, indicating a pot, half full of a thick yellow paste, inconspicuous amongst the others.
I serve myself rice, curried cauliflower, and some small pieces of potato in a thin, greasy-looking sauce. “Wow, this is hot!” I exclaim. They’d not spared the chilli! I spoon a generous portion of yoghurt on top. It’s delicious, my taste buds overwhelmed by the fiery, aromatic experience.
It’s September 1987, the seventh year of my marriage to Laura. The first years had been wonderful, although marred by frequent fights, but isn’t that usually the way? Her long dark hair still looks glamorous, but the pretty face has grown rounder and the pounds have piled on. Health problems abound with increasing frequency. Still, ‘Till death do us part ….’
“Impressive isn’t it?” I smile.
“We have bigger thalis in Gangtok!” says my partner, Lhamo.
“Really?”
She laughs, shaking her red-brown bob, her hooded cat-like eyes twinkling.
It’s September 1997 and once again I’m in Diwanas. I haven’t been here for ten years, but it’s like a time warp, everything seems exactly the same, even the waitress.
Lhamo isn’t eating a thali. Instead, she has a dosa, a long, rolled pancake, fried and filled with spiced potato, lentils and onion.
The restaurant’s packed, as always. A small queue stands by the door, resignedly waiting for a vacant table.
Lhamo looks apprehensive. “I need to tell you something.”
I know what’s coming. I’ve heard it often enough. “What?”
“I’m leaving, going back to Rasheb.”
I could save my breath. “Why?”
“I miss Ahmed. He needs me.” Her eyes mist over.
I take a mouthful of Cobra, close my eyes, and swill it round my tongue with my mouth slightly open. The light hoppy flavour mingles with those of butterscotch and dandelion. It’s amazing what you find when you really focus on something. Back to reality. “Please don’t go.” And I mean it. Despite all the problems with her estranged husband and her collusion with him, I really love her.
We’d met at a theatre group in our small town. There were a handful of good actors, the rest of us weren’t any great shakes. To my astonishment she’d taken a shine to me, saying I reminded her of Robert Redford, and it was only weeks before she’d moved in, leaving her fifteen year old son and husband gnashing their teeth. Soon that slim brown body and her willingness to please had made every bedtime an exquisite experience.
“Impressive, isn’t it, sir?” The Indian holds out the huge aubergine I’d been eying up outside his shop. “Only seventy five pence sir!”
I laugh, not wanting to lug vegetables around London, and tell him so.
“We’re open till 10 p.m. sir. You pick it up later!”
“Maybe.” I smile.
It’s September 2017, and I’m back in Drummond Street, just around the corner from Euston Station, inhaling the wonderful smell of curry that always envelopes the area. I pass other greengrocers, admiring the colourful displays of unrecognisable vegetables outside. Curious, I look at something resembling a bent white courgette, about 18 inches long. I wonder what it’s called and where it comes from?
Passing two Indian restaurants I reach the Ambala Sweet Centre. I remember how Laura and I would buy boxes of delicious sweets there – made from condensed milk, coconut and suchlike, flavoured with spices. My mouth waters at the thought of gulab jamun, small cardamom syrup-soaked doughnuts. I ask myself why Indians aren’t enormously fat?
I walk a little further to Diwana Bhel Poori House. As usual, it’s packed, even though it’s only 7 p.m. I’d like to go in. But not on my own. I gaze through the window at the crowded tables where I’d sat with Laura and Lhamo. A waitress is serving plates of steaming dosas. A car drives past playing Michael Jackson on the radio – Bad.
Suddenly it seems like yesterday. I wonder where they are and what they are doing right now. I feel an ache in my guts, of nostalgia and loneliness.

I walk back the way I came. Thankfully my mood lifts. Never mind Laura, Lhamo and the rest of those damned women, I’m going to buy that aubergine!

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

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

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

A Baker’s Dozen of Favourites

bread

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

Enjoy!

ADDENDA

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