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.
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! 


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 ( 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 or, 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:

  • Fire phone
  • Fire tablet
  • Kindle for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch
  • Kindle for Android
  • Kindle for Samsung
  • All New Kindle Oasis
  • Kindle Touch
  • Kindle Keyboard
  • The Audible apps for iOS, Android and Windows
  • Audible software for PC and Mac
  • MP3 players and other devices compatible with Audible’s file format




1. Go to my book’s page on or (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 or 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


(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!”
“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.”
“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


(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!”
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


“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


(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


(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.

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



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!”
“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?


(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.