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! 

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I Dream of Diwana

thali 2

(850 words)

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

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

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

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

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

Pills for Thrills

alien-1979-ridley-scott-movie-review-xenomorph-harry-dean-stanton

(600 words)

“Profundity pills?!
“That’s right, three for a tenner, I bought six!”
“Wow, well done!”
Libby smiled, “Yes, they’d just got a new batch in, they sell out fast, I was lucky to get so many!”
The government had just licensed a new recreational drug with one eye on the national debt. ‘Profundity Pills – an exciting and safe way to relive your favourite books and films!’ said the ads. The pills somehow disconnected parts of the brain for a couple of hours, so that you had virtually no memory of anything you’d ever read or watched. A bit like a couple of bottles of wine but without the hangover. Consequently, you could watch a film, like Back to the Future, with no idea of what was going to happen when Marty plugs in his guitar at the beginning, even if you’d seen it ten times before!
Libby went over to a case of DVDs, running her painted red nails over the spines before plucking one out. Alien!
“Wow!” I felt a genuine thrill and some trepidation at the idea of watching it again for the ‘first time,’ unaware of the grisly surprises to come. “Then we could watch The Exorcist” I said.
“Yuk!” she exclaimed, putting the two DVDs on a table.
 –
It was the first time for Libby and I. She handed me two large green capsules. “This way we can watch both!”
I held the capsules in the palm of one hand and a glass of water in the other. “Here goes!” They went down quite easily, despite their size.
We sat on the sofa. After a few minutes Libby giggled. “I was just trying to remember the name of that book, the one about … Jesus … is it?”
“Oh, you mean the B …, the B ….” I just couldn’t remember the name!
I went over to the case of DVDs and scanned the titles. Star Wars, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jaws. Hmm, they seemed somehow familiar, but I had no recollection of every having seen them, or what they were about, apart from a vague supposition sparked by the titles. I looked around the room, everything seemed familiar, including Libby, I could even remember getting up in the morning, but I just couldn’t remember watching any of those films. “I think we’re ready!”
Libby picked up Alien and took it out of the case. “‘In Space No-one Can Here You Scream!’ This one sounds scary! What’s this other one? The Exorcist, well we’ll watch that after.
“Wow, that was amazing!” I said, nearly four hour’s later. “When that monster came out of …”
“Yes, and when that girl’s head turned all the way round and she …”
“I’m not starting to remember properly yet, are you?”
“Not yet,” said Libby. “Maybe we should watch another?!” she giggled.
Just then the phone rang. It was my sister, Morag. “Hi, how’s you and Libby?”
“We’re fine, just tried those profundity pills, they were amazing!”
“Oh, yeah, I tried one yesterday. I watched Groundhog Day, I honestly couldn’t remember it. Just so funny. Hey, did you see on the news about that idiot who jumped out of a window. Seems he never read the instructions and took two! Then he watched some horror films and couldn’t stop hallucinating!”
I turned to Libby. “Hey, did you read the instructions?”
She shrugged. “I dunno. Why? What’s the big deal?”
“You idiot! Seems like we could be in for some unpleasant dreams!”
“Oh my God.” Her face was white. “Look!” She pointed at my stomach.

I looked down. Something was pushing against my shirt. From the inside.





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

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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EC was Here

eric clapton fretless bass

(750 words)

Profundity of expression wasn’t Brad’s strong point. “I don’t care if you don’t fucking believe me. Eric Clapton’s my mate and if I asked him to come and play here he’d fucking come and play here!”
Fred, the landlord of The Black Swan, coughed diplomatically. “Well I expect he’s a busy man.”
Brad ran a hand through his greasy, swept back grey-blond hair. “He’d still come and play – if I asked him to.”
“Bollocks!” said Billy, a large bald-headed man with tattoos down both muscled arms.
Brad looked daggers at Billy. I’d never noticed how much Brad looked like Dracula before. Give him a cape and the fangs and that look would have killed.
“All right, how much?” said Billy.
“What?”
“How much d’you wanna bet? I say you can’t get him. Five hundred?”
“I don’t want your fucking money!” snapped Brad.
“You bloody liar, you don’t know him at all!” laughed Billy.
“All right then, you’re on. I’ll give Fred five hundred quid tomorrow to look after. You do the same, OK?”
“All right,” said Billy. I’ll give you three months, till September. Eric Clapton to perform in this bar! Never!”
“I shouldn’t really allow betting,” said Fred.
“No-one’ll know if you don’t tell ‘em,” said Brad.
“All right,” said Fred, “just this once, as it’s Eric Clapton!” His eyes lit up at the thought of an interest free ‘loan’ of a thousand pounds.
So the weeks passed. There was a blackboard with the name of the musician or band playing that week. So far the letters ‘E.C.’ had been conspicuous by their absence. It was a touchy subject. Mention it to Brad and he was liable to fly off the handle or, at the least, return abuse. He’d been in the pop business for many years, once a kind of ‘pop star,’ now, long forgotten and unmissed, but a ‘mate’ of EC? The idea seemed preposterous.
Brad’s ‘squeeze,’ Jilly, likewise acted schtum. “I’m not saying anything. You’ll find out by the end of September,” she’d say, with an enigmatic smile and a shake of her curly red locks.
The second week of September I called in on Tuesday for the weekly pool match, on this occasion a home match against the ‘Tigresses,’ a ladies team from the curiously named Coach and Tiger in Thaxleby, an ‘easy’ match – in theory. With embarrassment I remembered our last meeting when the motley crew of elderly ladies had emerged victorious, their near eighty-year-old captain, Ada, winning the final game with a gloating expression on her wrinkled face, “Hard luck boys!”
Then my jaw dropped. The blackboard for the music that Friday indicated ‘Special Guest.’
Fred appeared. “D’you want a drink?”
“Is that who I think it is?!”
“Well, all I know is it’s Brad’s friend.” He raised his eyebrows.
Friday came and, burning with anticipation, I called in just before eight, surprised to find a meagre handful of patrons chatting and listening to an old man wearing a fedora, singing ‘I Walk the Line’ to an out-of-tune guitar. Lizzy, the barmaid smiled at me. “That’s Eric Clapton,” she said whilst pulling me a pint of Old Gravedigger.
“You’re joking!” I said.
“No, honestly, he showed everyone his birth certificate and driving licence, his name really is Eric Clapton!”
“Bloody Hell, what a swizz!”
“Just then Billy walked in. He took one look, then turned to Lizzy. “Get Fred in here, I’ll have my five hundred back!”
Brad appeared, having returned from the toilet. “I didn’t say it was the Eric Clapton did I?” he laughed. Jilly came over and hugged him. She turned to Billy. “No he never. He won that money fair and square!”
Brad and Billy stood a few feet apart, sizing each other up. ‘Eric’ had stopped playing and the bar was ominously quiet.
Fred appeared. “Calm down everyone. I’ve got someone else in to play.”
There was a gasp of amazement as a familiar figure strode through the door, carrying a worn hardshell guitar case and an amplifier. He put them on a table, adjusted his round glasses and ran a hand over his stubbly grey beard. “Hello everyone, just give me five minutes to set up. Fred’s asked me to start with Layla, I hope that’s OK?”
There was a cheer and more customers came through from the restaurant area. I turned to Fred. “I don’t believe it!”

He laughed, “It’s amazing who you can book for a thousand quid!”





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

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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

Clarissa’s Missives – Part Three

piano-girl-h-b.jpg

(1500 words)

The third and final part of what became a trilogy! Links to parts one and two: Clarissa’s Missives – Part One, Clarissa’s Missives – Part Two

It was almost 2 p.m. by the time they got back. I’d taken the dogs to the park for a run and a ‘poo,’ poop-bag at the ready, but the grey-haired lady wasn’t on self-appointed duty today. Still, I did my bit, now knowing the ropes.
Henry was the more affectionate of the two, trying to stand on his hind legs, with his front legs on my shoulders, to lick my face, but his head was so far above mine he could only lick my hair, not that I was sorry. He weighed a ton too.
I’d discovered that Helena had quite a large garden – a long rectangular lawn, and a further sizeable grassy area with mature shrubs down both sides. Beyond that lay some steps down to a small stream and an area planted with ferns and bamboo. The whole was overhung by low trees, and there were two iron benches. Numerous Arum lilies graced the area, displaying their large scented white flowers. A pleasant place to sit in summer, I imagined.
There was new wire mesh across the stream at both ends of Helena’s property, so I imagined the dogs were allowed down there, although I wasn’t sure the mesh would hold those two hulking brutes if they felt determined to ‘explore.’ They seemed happy enough to sleep in the TV room for now though, where there were two enormous baskets, so why tempt fate?
I practised the music I’d looked at with Clarissa. In the cold light of day and no pressure of a talented pianist breathing down my neck, it wasn’t so hard. I found a pencil and marked some fingering in for future reference.
Then I had a little ‘wander.’ I looked in Clarissa’s bedroom. A large double bed stood by a huge bay window that went up to a high ceiling. The house was old and solid, likely Victorian I surmised. Clothes were strewn around the room and I saw some panties on the floor by the bed. I felt a sudden urge to pick them up and sniff them, but instead turned to a dresser, covered with spectacle cases and contact lens solution bottles, along with a pack of her violet stationery.
I had a peek in a medicine cabinet, grinning at myself in the mirror. Esomeprazole, Montelukast, Prednisolone, Seratide, Salamol, Beconase and the ubiquitous Ibuprofen, among other boxes and packets, haphazardly stacked. Looked like she had a few health issues! A small pink packet contained Zyprexa – hmm, where had I come across that before? Suddenly feeling guilty, I closed the cabinet, carefully wiping a thumbprint off the mirror. I wouldn’t want her to think I was nosy.
I made a sandwich for lunch, and some extra for the girls, and afterwards began to feel like a spare part. I was just thinking about going home when I heard the door bell ring.
I answered it, relieved to see Clarissa and, presumably, Helena, her sister, laden down with rucksacks and other gear. Clarissa looked old and tired, her blonde hair rumpled and out of place. She managed a weak smile. “Hello, John, I was hoping you’d still be here. I thought it’d save looking for the key if I rang. This is Helena, my sister.”
By contrast, Helena looked ten years younger, was about a foot taller and had short, bright-red dyed hair. She smiled brightly at me with even, porcelain-white teeth. “Hello, John, Clarissa’s told me all about you!”
I wondered what precisely, seeing as I barely knew Clarissa. “I made some sandwiches,” I ventured. “Ham, cheese and tomato.”
“Lovely!” exclaimed Helena, “We’re starving!’
After they’d eaten and tidied themselves up we all sat in a comfortable conservatory that gave onto some variegated shrubs in the lower part of the garden.
Helena looked at me. “You’ve got a good man here, Clarissa dear. His aura is very blue!”
“Pardon?” I said.
She turned her chair to face me directly and her eyes took on a faraway expression. I noticed they were large and pale blue, with wide pupils. “Yes, John, I see a room, a room in your house. There are some guitars, four or five, on stands.”
“She’s training to be a clairvoyant,” explained Clarissa, looking slightly embarrassed.
“Yes, there are some guitars on stands,” I affirmed. Clarissa had no doubt told her I was a guitar teacher!
Helena continued. “And is there a … a cello?”
“No, sorry,” I said.
“It’s just that I see those funny little holes that cellos have.”
Then the penny dropped. “Actually I do have a jazz guitar, it has the same type of holes, ‘f-holes’ they’re called.”
Helena smiled. “Now, your father, he’s in spirit, is that right?”
“What?”
“She means, has he passed over, died?” explained Clarissa, whose interest had perked up.
“Yes, that’s right, seven years ago.”
“He’s here with you now. I’m hearing the name Jim, or is it Joe? Yes, Joe I think.”
I looked around. No sign of the old man! “That was his name,” I affirmed.
Helena stood up and started lurching around the room in an odd manner. “I’m feeling no movement down my right side. Did he suffer a stroke?”
“Yes, he did,” I said, feeling a chill run down my spine.
She turned to me. “He wants you to know that he’s OK now, he’s well again.”
“Oh, that’s good.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“He says you’ve been offered a job, at a private school, but you’re not sure. It seems like there won’t be enough hours teaching for the travelling involved. Is that right?”
I was gobsmacked. That was absolutely spot on and I hadn’t told a soul either!
“He says to take it, it will lead to greater opportunities.”
“All right, I will!” I said and smiled. Well that was a turn up for the books, I’d been wondering what to do about it!
Just then, the ‘reading’ was shattered by a loud howl as Henry burst into the room. He began to bark loudly.
“Henry, stop it!” shouted Clarissa, but, looking from me to Helena and back, he continued his ear-shattering noise.
“Henry, shut up!” Helena shouted repeatedly, to no avail.
Then Clarissa clapped her hands. “Henry, play dead!” Henry dropped to the ground and rolled onto his side, occupying most of the conservatory floor, and becoming completely still and quiet.
Clarissa laughed, suddenly looking years younger. “I taught him that when he was a tiny puppy!”
Henry got up and sat with his head on Clarissa’s lap, making an odd whimpering sound. “Don’t worry Henry, the spirits have gone now,” said Clarissa, soothingly.
“I’m going to show John round” said Helena.
“OK.” Clarissa lay back in the chair and closed her eyes, one hand stroking Henry’s head.
Helena took me round the house. It was much bigger than I’d realized on my little ‘inspection.’ The kitchen was large and modern with oak units and extensive black slate surfaces. It looked expensive. A small staircase led upstairs. “That goes to an annexe,” she said. “There’s a guest bedroom, a bathroom and an office space, but we don’t use them right now. The main staircase is on the other side of the lounge.”
“Uh-huh,” I said, nonchalantly.
We passed through a chilly pantry, shelves covered with jars and packets, and down to the stream-side area. Helena gestured for me to take a seat. “Look, I like you, John, and I know Clarissa does too. But go easy with her. She took a nasty knock when Stan, er, her last husband left her.”
“Stan?” I said, surprised.
“Yes, he ran off with an ex-pupil, thirty years younger than him, can you believe?!”
“Wow!”
“Anyway, poor Clarissa almost had a nervous breakdown, what with the press interest ….”
“What happened with them?”
“Oh, they’re still together. Got three little kids now too!”
We heard a door close up at the house. “Shh,” said Helena.
“Hello!” Clarissa appeared with a piece of paper in her hand, Boris and Henry at her heels, almost up to her shoulders. The dogs lay down by the side of the stream and Clarissa handed it over.
‘The Lucknow Centre presents Circus Skills with The Joules Mangier Troupe – unicycle, juggling, tumbling, clown workshop, acrobatics and more!’
“It’s on Wednesday evenings, six to nine, starting next week” said Clarissa excitedly. “I’ve always wanted to juggle!”
“Me too,” said Helena, “and I’d just die to go on a unicycle!” She stood up and motioned her hips backwards and forwards, as if balancing on one, laughing.
“John, say you’ll come!” exclaimed Clarissa, an earnest expression on her face.
I looked from Clarissa’s wide emerald eyes to Helena’s pale blue ones and back. I wasn’t sure what I was letting myself in for, but I felt at home here. I’d have to rearrange four students, but, what the hell, ‘in for a penny ….’ I laughed. “I always wanted to run away and join the circus!”
THE END


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

 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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

Gravity Hill

magnetic hill

(800 words)

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

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



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

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

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


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

 –

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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

Phoning a Friend

horse drawn funeral

(700 words)

Not wanting to dial, but wanting to dial, Jessica Sumner hesitated, her finger poised over her phone’s key pad. She felt nervous. This was silly, she could simply say she’d dialled a wrong number, no one would mind. Her brain commanded her finger to press but her muscles refused to cooperate.
She’d upgraded her e-mail program and a window had popped up, asking permission to migrate her address book. She’d had the option to manually approve the entries. Having some time to kill, she’d checked through the list, one at a time, deleting contacts from her detested last job, waitressing at Burger Legend, and others she wanted to put out of her mind forever. How she’d hated that job, all those cowboys leering at her chest. It wasn’t her fault she was so ‘full figured’! She felt a pang of regret at the name Roland Korzybski though. She’d delete that one later she told herself.
Suddenly, seeing an old familiar name, she felt a lump in her throat and a burning sensation in her eyes. Eleanor Naddeo. Dear Ellie. Jessica felt a tear trickle down a cheek, almost relishing the chance to give in to overwhelming sadness at the memory of her good friend.

Jessica had visited Eleanor almost every day towards the end, looking into the sunken yellow eyes in Ellie’s gaunt face, feeling desperation whilst trying to exude optimism. “You’ll be OK Ellie, the doctors say the prognosis is good.” The next thing had been Ellie’s funeral, the coffin pulled on a carriage by two white horses, Jessica watching with tears streaming down her face. She choked back a sob at the memory. Come on Jess, that was over two years ago. We have to move on! But still, she and Ellie had enjoyed so many good times growing up together.

So now she had the inexplicable urge to dial Eleanor’s old number one last time, just to see who was there. Crazy, she knew. Do it!
“Hello, Eleanor Naddeo.”
It couldn’t be, that was impossible!
“… Hello, is anybody there?”
“Y-yes, it’s Jessica, Jessica Sumner.” Just hang up!
“Hi Jess, I haven’t heard from you. It’s been so long. Just so long. Are you still hanging with Rolly?”
It must be a prank! “Who?”
“Roland Korzybski, your boyfriend, the biker.”
The voice sounded so familiar. “No. No, I’m not. Ellie, is that really you?”
“Yes, of course it is, who did you think it was?” Eleanor laughed her unmistakable laugh, a kind of giggle that rose in pitch.
“Ellie, don’t get me wrong, but you … you died. Two years ago. Liver cancer.”
Eleanor laughed. “Yes, I remember being ill. I don’t remember after that. But I’m OK now. I’m back at college, finishing my teacher training.”
I’ll wake up in a minute, Jessica thought. She pinched the skin above her right wrist. “Ow!”
“Jess, are you OK?”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine. I just …. What college are you at?”
Eleanor hesitated. “I … I forget the name right now. Sorry, I … I seem to forget stuff.” She sounded upset.
“It’s OK Ellie, don’t worry. It’s just great to talk to you! How’s your family?”
“Oh, mom’s fine, dad’s doing a lot of overtime, they’re aiming to go on a world cruise next year!”
“Wow!”
“Chuck’s got himself a new girlfriend, Sandy, a pom pom girl! He’s finished college. He’s working at MacDonald’s whilst he finds himself a proper job.”
“That’s enterprising of him.”
“Yeah, and I get free Big Macs!” She laughed her unmistakable laugh again.
Jessica felt a stab of love and longing. “Ellie, can we meet? I want to see you.”
Again, Eleanor’s tinkling laugh. “Of course, why not? It’s been so long!”
Just the thought of seeing Ellie again, illogical as it was, to throw her arms around her friend and hug her again, made her heart pound. “Wow, that’d be cool. Look, I’m free tomorrow afternoon …” Jessica realised the line had gone dead. Frantically she pressed the redial symbol. Ellie’s number popped up and she pressed the dial button. The number rang … and rang. Come on Ellie!

Finally someone picked up the phone. A man’s voice answered. “Hello Pizza Hut, how may I help?”





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

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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

November 9

hydrogen bomb_beach

(800 words)

“Be quite sure to follow all instructions,” ‘Missileer’ Thomas Papineau reminded us, “to the letter.” Our white Dodge Durango turned off Interstate 80 just short of Sidney, Nebraska, heading north across the featureless Great Plains.
There was just myself, journalist Katy Rutter, and my cameraman, Johnny ‘Jonno’ Moses. I longed to open the window and feel the dry, dusty, warm air on my face but I knew the guys preferred the air conditioning. After a few miles Papineau turned off and headed along a track to some buildings, somewhat reminiscent of chicken barns. A brown sign stated ‘U.S. Air Force, Global Strike Command, 92nd Missile Wing.’ They weren’t producing eggs here, they were prepared to blow up the world.
“Good afternoon!” A young, fresh faced man appeared. His name badge said Lieutenant Brad Rosner. Dressed in camouflage gear, he carried a clipboard. Papineau, Jonno and myself stood expectantly. Strangely, Rosner had oriental features, maybe Korean? He read us the usual riot act and we proceeded through a gate. “Follow me please.”
We went into one of the buildings where a man and a woman, likewise dressed in camos, played table tennis. “Down time,” explained Rosner.
Another officer came over with some camera gear for Jonno. We weren’t allowed to use our own in case it interfered with their electrical systems. All four of us got into a cage lift, Rosner stabbed a red button and we started to descend.
“Good God!” I exclaimed as I realised we were passing down the side of a huge missile, perhaps seventy feet high. The men laughed.
“We control ten of these Minuteman III missiles from here,” said Rosner.
“Wow!” Jonno exclaimed.
It’s OK, you can film,” he said to Jonno, who held his camera uncertainly.
“How many of these are there?” I asked.
“Two on the base, but nearly five hundred spread around the country.”
I didn’t bother to ask if they were more powerful than the bomb that obliterated Hiroshima. I could guess the answer.
The lift stopped and we walked along a tunnel into a network of small control rooms, protected by an enormous steel door several feet thick. The equipment looked strangely old-fashioned.
“Hey, what’s with the retro look?” asked Jonno.
Papineau smiled. “This facility was constructed in the sixties. They’ve kept the old panels. We kinda like it.”
Papineau introduced us to the ‘missileers’ on duty, both in their early 20s, judging by their young faces, Lindsey Ferriell and Robert Halterman.
“Have a good time!” said Rosner, as he and Papineau turned to leave.
“Would you like some tea?” Ferriell asked.
We might have been in a kindergarten, rather than a nuclear command bunker.
After some small talk, Jonno set up the camera and I started the interview. “How do you feel working here?” I asked Ferriell. I noticed that even sans make up, she was quite pretty.
She smiled brightly, showing even, porcelain-white teeth. “Well, we’ve got a job to do, keeping our country safe, you just get used to it.”
Halterman indicated a red LED display, probably state-of-the-art in the 1960s. “If the president decides on a launch we’ll get the code here. We can launch up to ten missiles in minutes.”
‘Great,’ I thought. Jonno smiled at me and pulled a mock worried face.
“How do you launch a missile?” I asked finally, and predictably, after recording several minutes of boring technical information.
“We turn these switches.” Ferriell turned a knob that looked like an on-off switch from a wartime radio.
I gasped and my heart pounded. Halterman, a few feet away laughed and pointed to a similar one in front of him. “They have to be turned at the same time.”
Just then a buzzer sounded.
I jumped. “What’s that?”
Ferriell smiled. “Oh, we have to run a test routine. We do them throughout the day. You’ll have to leave soon I’m afraid.”
Suddenly a different buzzer sounded, higher pitched and louder, and the red LEDs lit up. Ferriell’s smile evaporated and Halterman leapt up. “That’s the president’s code!” The LEDs displayed ‘November 9.’
He feverishly grabbed a file from a shelf, opened it and ran his finger down a list. “Jesus Christ, that’s the launch code. It’s kosher!”
Ferriell’s face was covered in sweat. She gestured towards us. “What about them?”

“There isn’t time. Come on. On my mark.” Halterman’s voice was hoarse. “Three … two … one ….” There was a crushing silence. The missileers exchanged shell-shocked glances. Time seemed to stop. Then, “Launch!” They both turned their knobs simultaneously.

Ferriell sat back. She covered her face with her hands. “Oh God, oh God.”
“What happens now?” I managed a whisper.

Halterman looked like a waxwork dummy starting to melt. He spoke in a dull monotone. “Orders are to wait.”





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

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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

Out There

6805012-outer-space-wallpaper

(700 words)

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

“Someone … or some thing,” I replied.





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

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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

Promise Her the Moon

1 taj mahal

(800 words)

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

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





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

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 300 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

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