Incident on Putney Bridge

putney-5

(700 words)

Impressive! A glance at his TomTom runner’s watch showed it had taken him just fifteen minutes to reach the kiosk. Smiling inwardly, he anticipated uploading the GPS data to Strava, and satisfaction at the thought of his running mate, Eric’s, face when he saw it. Ha! Who’s the better runner now?!
It was early, just gone 7.30 a.m., the pavements of the City of London still sparsely populated. Suited young men and women scurried to offices like robots, perhaps hoping to arrive early enough to impress the boss.
Towering buildings, beacons of opulence, homes to banking headquarters and financial institutions, dominated the area. Within their hallowed myriad offices, computers communicated thousands of impenetrable transactions a second with similar institutions in unimaginable places.
The sun was bright, the air fresh and Orlando felt good. He’d gone to bed early after a glass of expensive chianti, and slept a dreamless sleep, waking to the alarm at six a.m. He’d taken a shower, then performed some stretching exercises in his small neat garden, Victorian red brick walls protecting him from prying neighbours’ eyes. He thanked God for those barriers, high enough to keep the neighbours’ wretched cats out. He didn’t want those damned creatures scratching at his flowerbeds. His mind recalled a forbidden memory. A black cat digging in a rose bed in his previous garden. Taking a spade, he’d …. Don’t go there!
He’d taken the morning off, then later today, in his role as a top investment banker, he would be advising a Middle Eastern conglomerate. That was seriously big money, even for Hyland’s. He smiled at the thought of his commission, more than many ‘plebs’ earned in a lifetime!
Hot and sweaty, he stopped and paused his watch. A woman was deliberating over her coffee order. Hurry up you silly cow, just buy a bloody cappuccino! Orlando bought an espresso doble, so plenty of room left in the large cardboard beaker for running with it. He pressed the lid on, gave a curt ‘thank you,’ restarted the watch and began to run again. He’d stop at the park for the coffee.
He reached Putney Bridge, feeling a spring in his step after the short break at the kiosk. Then a stab of annoyance. What was her name? Sally! Two hundred metres away, strutting along the sunlit pavement as if she owned it, just on the edge of the long shadow cast by the parapet. Sunlight sparkled on the river, a pretty sight, but he felt too perturbed to appreciate its beauty. What the hell was she doing here? She worked on the other side of the city. Unless she’d changed jobs?
Traffic roared past as he approached. She was mouthing something, looking at him with anger etched on her face.
Orlando was almost upon her. ‘All’s fair in love and war.’ What was her problem? He determined to run past and ignore her.
“You bastard, I’m pregnant!” she shouted.
Without knowing why, perhaps fuelled by the adrenalin of running, he swerved into her, turning to give her a hard push with his right hand. Her face showed a mixture of surprise and belligerence. In that split second, off balance, she lost her footing. With his left hand holding the coffee cup clear, he pushed her again as she toppled. Thank God the lid stayed on. He didn’t want to go back to the kiosk again! He carried on without stopping, conscious that she had fallen right over. Good!
After a few seconds he became aware that there was no traffic passing him. He felt panic in his guts. Had she fallen into the road? Don’t look back!
As he passed the far end of the bridge, a multitude of disturbing thoughts competing in his mind, the running began to calm him down. They’d visited hotels booked under his alter ego, Robin Jackson, and she only knew his special ‘dating’ number. She didn’t know where he worked, or where he lived. Would the police trace him? Nothing to do but take the chance. Bluff it out if necessary. He reached the park and smiled. Exactly ten minutes from the kiosk. Despite losing a second or two on the bridge, a personal best!

Related: The ‘Putney Bridge Jogger’ Case: 20 Questions That Must be Answered!



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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.





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One Man in His Time

keble-college-oxford-6-705x529
(650 words)
Rudyard Smith stood in his Oxford University office gazing at his companion, Professor Charles Elliot in disbelief. “Jackson Wilde, Jackson bloody Wilde.”
Charles flushed, “well it wasn’t my decision, you know that Ruddy.”
“The ‘people’s poet,’ Wilde by name, wild by nature, God, how could they allow him in here! Bloody Professor Smollet, it’s down to him!”
“Look Ruddy, calm down, he’s only coming for a week!”
“A week’ll be a week too long!”
Charles gestured through the small leaded windows and over the hallowed St. Mary’s College lawns. “Look, here he comes now!”
A tall black man with long dreadlocks came swaggering over the grass, ‘high-fiving’ occasional students, who had jumped up from lying on the grass in the sunshine, dozedly feigning interest in their copies of The Wasteland and Ulysses.
“Good God!” exclaimed Rudyard, seeing ‘Hugger’ Morris embracing Wilde. “One of the most outstanding poetry students here, encouraging that … that charlatan!”
“Come on Ruddy, he is in line for Poet Laureate after all!”
“Well, what does that mean exactly, I mean look at, what’s his name, Jack Bitumen, diabolical doggerel!”
Shortly there was a knock at the door, and without waiting for a ‘come in,’ Mr. Jackson Wilde strode in. “Yo man. How’s it hangin’?”
They both stood wide-eyed, as the tall dreadlocked man paced forward, hand outstretched, smiling broadly and whitely.
“Oh, very well,” said Rudyard, blushing with embarrassment, “thank you.”
Wilde plonked himself down in a red leather armchair without being asked. “So what gives bro?”
“I beg your pardon?” said Rudyard. “Cans’t not thy mother tongue speak?”
Wilde looked blank. Then the big white teeth smiled. “Hey, I ain’t no nonce, it don’t make sense, look at my bonce, I ain’t no ponce,” he rapped.
“What?!” exclaimed Rudyard.
Wilde began to rock in the chair. “I wanna be creative, a’feel like a goddam native, sometimes I is thinkin’ negative, need to get me turnin’ positive.”
Charles exchanged a worried glance with Rudyard, the latter seething at Wilde’s preposterous rhyme. Rudyard retorted, “how bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man’s eyes!”
Wilde stood up and began to prance around the room, his dreadlocks flailing. “Hey, listen to my sad cantata, missin’ you babe, just like a fermata. You asked me to write it down, now I feel like a lovesick clown.”
Rudyard’s voice grew louder. “Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall!”
“Listen, you say my lyrics are crimes, don’t wanna hear no rhymes. Well, look out babe, here they are in common times.”
Rudyard’s voice became a shout. “Good Bye, Good Bye! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good bye till it be morrow!”
Wilde stopped. “Good Night, Good Night!”
“Yes I was paraphrasing,’ sighed Rudyard. “Look, I’ve had enough of these poetics, do you have anything sensible to say?”
Wilde laughed and sat down. In a normal voice, he asked, “Well, do you have an itinerary for me, how many lectures I’m required to give?”
Rudyard’s jaw dropped. Then Charles spoke, “Oh, sorry, er, Jackson, yes, I have a sheet here from professor Smollet, oh, and directions to your accommodation.”
Wilde nodded vigorously and both men gazed in astonishment. Jackson Wilde’s dreadlocks had become quite lopsided, no doubt exacerbated by his ‘prancing’ antics.
Seeing their faces, Wilde’s confident persona vanished. “Er, is there a bathroom here?”
Charles gestured to a small door below an ancient beam. “Just through there.”
“Er, thank you.” Wilde vanished.
Rudyard and Charles regarded each other, speechless.
A few minutes later, Mr. Jackson Wilde reappeared, his dreadlocks now perfectly symmetrical.
“Would, would you like some tea?” asked Charles, stammering.
Wilde smiled and bowed. “ ‘All the world‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.’ – yes please, white with two sugars.”





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

eye clock

(600 words)

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

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



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

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If Only They Could Speak

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

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



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

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

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

How to Eat a Peanut

peanuts

(500 words)

“Become one with the peanut!”
I looked at a small salted peanut sitting on a blue china saucer before me. “How exactly do I do that? “I asked Shinzen, my ‘guru.’
“Imagine it growing underground, in the dark, from a tiny seed, forming in a shell with its companion.”
“I thought they grew on trees, like spaghetti!”
Shinzen ignored my attempt at humour. “Now imagine it grown, being pulled from its hiding place and exposed to the sun and the air. Feeling the warmth of the sun for the first time in its life, seeing the sunlight penetrating through its thin shell.”
“Peanuts can’t see!”
“You must imagine!” he said, adjusting his round, silver-rimmed spectacles and brushing a hand over his bald pate, as if trying to remember what hair felt like. “Now, after drying in the sun for a few days, it is harvested. See it being spun in huge drums, the shells splintering and the nuts dropping down onto conveyor belts.”
“I didn’t know they did that. I thought it was starving kids, allergic to peanuts, who de-shelled them.”
Shinzen sighed. “Be serious now Stephen, imagine YOU are that peanut!”
That was kind of difficult to do but I didn’t want to spoil his fun, so I kept schtum.
“Now imagine huge ovens roasting mountains of peanuts. Can you smell that smell?!”
I closed my eyes and visualised enormous ovens, tended by black men in straw hats. I had no idea why. But I could smell roasting peanuts, an earthy, pungent, oily odour. Then the nuts on conveyor belts, salt sprinkling onto them from chutes, pouring into boxes. More men in straw hats loading the boxes into trucks. The vehicles roaring off down sandy roads, throwing up clouds of dust. I heard them shouting. “Hey Pablo, how’s Maria?” “She’s fine man, another one on the way!” “Another one man, you should have that operation!” Raucous laughter, the men slapping each other on their faded blue denim backs…
Shinzen brought me back to the room. “Now examine the peanut. Look at every line in its surface, see the tiny grains of salt clinging to it. Regard its shape. Except for the little nub on the end, almost perfectly oval.”
I did so, feeling a new respect for the humble nut.
“When you are ready, eat it!”
I looked at the peanut closely for a while, then, eyes closed, reverently put in my mouth, feeling its shape and size and weight with my tongue. The salt tasted tangier than I ever remembered. Finally I crunched down and my senses were overwhelmed with earthy, wooden, plasticky, oily flavours. I chewed and chewed like a man possessed as it turned into mush and I swallowed it bit by bit. Finally I opened my eyes. “Wow!”
Shinzen beamed. “Now wasn’t that the best peanut you’ve ever eaten!”
I laughed. “YES!”

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d done the exact same exercise with a raisin five years earlier…



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

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Away with the Fairies

cotingley fairies

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

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



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

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

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

Angels and Cards

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

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



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

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

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

A Hidden Place

spiral staircase

(550 words)

‘Connect the Clues!’ said the library sign.
“What’s that about?” I asked a female librarian, middle-aged and plain-looking, with a grey bob of greasy hair. She didn’t look up from her screen, instead pushing a flyer across the desk at me.
“Thank you so much,” I said, my sarcasm seemingly falling on deaf ears.
Hmm. It sounded quite interesting. There were ten clues to things in the library. You filled in your answers to be entered for a draw to win a £100 book token. When was the last time I had one of those I wondered. Probably at least forty years ago!
I read, ‘Clue no. 1. Downstairs, there’s a painting, in a hidden place. If you find it then you’ll gaze upon a famous face.’ I trotted down some stairs labelled ‘To Public Archives’ and walked to an area with racks of newspapers and some stands to read at. Beyond was a corridor lined with shelves full of magazine holders. At the far end lay what looked like an alcove. Ah-ha!
Many of the strip lights down here weren’t working and the light was poor. The magazines seemed to grow increasingly old as I headed down the narrow corridor. I read a label. ‘Cycling Monthly Jan-Dec 1928’. No-one about. I was the only one down here. Disappointingly, a green-cushioned chair sat in the alcove, no painting. Behind it was a door with a push-button lock. Well it did say a ‘hidden place’ but surely that was private? I looked around nervously, then moved the chair and tried the door. It was locked. On impulse I punched 1-2-3-4 and bingo! it opened. Someone should change that code!
Inside lay an ancient brick stairway with an old iron railing. I pressed a switch and small light bulbs, curving down and out of sight, illuminated the way.
In for a penny… Closing the door behind me, I started down a spiral staircase. Down and round and down and round I went. There was wiring along the wall and the little lights continued, although the further down I went, the lower the roof became, until it was scarcely above my head. Finally the staircase opened onto a small dank cave-like space with an earthen floor. In the centre was a plinth with a book chained to it. Light came from a single dim bulb in the ceiling. The covers of the book were vellum, smooth cream calf leather. I opened it and my heart thudded at the image of a hideous demon.
Suddenly all the lights went out. In the total darkness I started to feel panic rising. Then I felt fetid breath in my face and the hot touch of a scaly hand on mine.
Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith!
I opened my eyes to find myself in a hospital bed, a pretty young Indian nurse gently shaking my arm.
“What happened?” I asked, groggily as the room came into focus.
“You fell down some stairs in the library. They thought you might be concussed. We’ll do some tests, it won’t take long,” she said.
“Oh, I had a strange dream.”
“Yes?”

I caught sight of my right hand. Across the back were four faint parallel red streaks. “Oh, nothing…”



Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 130! 
 –

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.

Flash Fiction Matters

Innovation_Inspiration

I’ve had a few requests to detail how I write the stories on my blog, To Cut a Short Story Short, so here is an article explaining just that, with the hope that the reader may find something herein they can use or adapt  to help in their own writing.

I’ve divided it into two sections. 1. Ideas and inspiration and 2. Mechanics of writing (‘my system’).

1. IDEAS AND INSPIRATION.

The stories on my blog are generally written in response to two kinds of prompts. Either to use designated words to start and be included in a story (for example, Everybody to start the story and must and celebrity to be included elsewhere) or a theme, such as, ‘write a 500 word romantic comedy.’

All the 100, 200 and most of the 300-600 word stories were written using designated words (for a writing group). Most of the others were written for flash fiction competitions using a theme.

Sometimes the theme/starting word etc. will suggest an idea. Other times I’ll have an idea in mind and adapt it to the theme/starting word etc. The rest of the time it’s down to hunting through story prompts, looking for an idea that will fit the words/theme.

Sitting down and actually writing the story requires the leap to inspired thought – maybe visualizing a scene, hearing dialogue in the imagination, ‘seeing’ characters interacting, having a story line (maybe very simple) flash into the mind. This is an imagination-based process, and as such, improves with practice.

Sometimes this leap occurs spontaneously. A story scheduled for 3rd June, Angels and Cards, just came into my head, even the ‘punchline’! Sometimes, it’s a minimal stimulus. Just seeing a word (‘Dreamstealer’ led to Steal a Little Dream) or a scene (seeing my father’s grave led to Scene in a Lincolnshire Churchyard) or thinking ‘what if?’ (What if I had a nuclear bomb in my car boot? led to The Biggest Bang!)

Sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to dream the whole story (The War and Starvation Diet, Flip Side, Don’t Know What to Write?). 

So where have the ideas come from for the stories on my blog? Well, I’ve had a look through all my posts and identified the genesis of every story/article.

Inspired by starting/designated words to be used

41

Autobiographical/personal experience plus fantasy element – ‘what if?’

22

Writers’ Digest (Brian A Klems)/miscellaneous prompts

14

Writing group assignments

13

Almost wholly autobiographical

11

Competition theme

11

Other

7

Miscellaneous ideas from fiction/videos

6

Inspired by true events (not personal)

4

Dreams

3

WordPress blogging course

3

135

A vague prompt isn’t enough of course. ‘Write a 500 word romantic comedy’ isn’t much use. Adapting it to ‘Write a 500 word comedy about a divorced female piano teacher who is middle-aged, not unattractive, scatty, forgetful and has two enormous dogs.’ Then you’re in business! Not hard to think of what someone like that might get up to and the result was Clarissa’s Missives and Clarissa’s Missives – Part Two.

An example of a story that was stimulated by the starting word I had to use, Communion, was Here Comes the Sun. The song Communion with the Sun by Todd Rundgren came into my head. That features the lyrics Ra!, Ra!, Ra!, and I imagined the sun rising, a huge orange disc, above a mountain plateau and a sacrifice to the sun god. Then I visualized a man and a woman walking up a mountainside trail carrying torches. That was enough to get going!

Once an idea has made that leap to inspired thought, I’ll either write it down for further investigation, even if it’s just an outline and a couple of lines of dialogue, or preferably make a start on it there and then.

Often I don’t know how a story will end. That will usually come as I’m writing. If not, then an ending has come to me subsequently, often in the shower, which is where I’ve had some great ideas! Something to do with running water, warmth and relaxing I imagine…

Once I’ve got some thoughts on what I’m going to write, I start typing and usually find ideas really start to ‘flow.’ For instance I write some dialogue and I can imagine someone answering it. Whilst doing that I might suddenly have insight into what could happen later in the story, and so on. As mentioned in the second section of this article I personally don’t do much editing on the first draft, I just let the ideas flow and get them down, with an eye half on the word count! I think regular practice helps here. I’m finding it much easier and quicker to write stories now than a year ago. It hasn’t done my editing skills any harm either!

As flash fiction is so short I don’t normally write out a plan but with the longer stories I sometimes write a list of scenes in advance and allocate a word count to each.

I would just add that I’ve found the ability to touch-type invaluable, and if you are relying on the ‘hunt and peck’ system I highly recommend learning it. The time spent will be repaid time and again.

To end this section, here are some books and websites I used that you might like to check out.

The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed  Della Galton

Busy Writers Guide series  Marcy Kennedy

Master Lists for Writers  Bryn Donovan

The Five Minute Writer  Michael Geraghty

Solutions for Writers  Sol Stein

Stephen King on Writing  Stephen King

http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts

http://www.writepop.com/category/1001-story-ideas

http://www.wordola.com/

2. MECHANICS OF WRITING (‘My System’)

I’ve developed a system of writing flash fiction which I’ve found very helpful, and which can be applied to longer works too with some adaptation. 

The basic procedure, in a nutshell, is to write freely up to about twice the word limit I’m aiming for, or a bit more. Usually I’m writing for a 300 word limit (with a view to posting a longer version on my blog) so I may write 500-800 words. Then I will create several versions of the story by editing out 100 words at a time, usually one a day or sometimes one in the morning and one at night. This makes it a whole lot simpler and easier!

Having reached the final 300 word version I’ll then go back through the versions, from shortest to longest, incorporating improvements found at the shorter levels. As this generally means that the versions will be shortened I can then borrow a phrase or two from the next longest version up.

Finally, I’ll check all the versions from longest to shortest and make sure they are consistent. Then I’ll post the shortest version in the 300 word story group I run, the longest (usually) on my blog, To Cut a Short Story Short, and the intermediate versions are available for flash fiction competitions etc.

That probably sounds a lot more complicated than it actually is, so here is an example.

Away with the Fairies

With this particular story (scheduled for June 18th) I had to write a 300 word story beginning with the word ‘Everybody’. In this instance nothing came to mind for a few days so I looked in Master Lists for Writers by Bryn Donovan. There I found – ‘The outlandish thing a ‘crazy’ person kept insisting was real? – it’s real!’ Nice prompt! But what crazy idea? Soon the idea of someone insisting they have fairies in their garden came to mind.

The first draft was saved as ‘300 story 16-2 first draft 780 words’. It’s very important to keep track of all the versions!

I don’t spend time editing the first draft, I just focus on getting the ideas down. I’ll keep an eye on the word count but if it runs on a bit, then I’ll let it. Then I’ll correct spelling and obvious grammatical mistakes, save it and forget about it. If I fancy doing more writing I’ll work on something else.

Then, the next day I read through the first draft, make obvious corrections and, in this instance, saved a copy under the filename ‘300 story 16-2 700 word version’ (which seemed a good target for the ‘blog’ version, bearing in mind Stephen King’s received wisdom, 2nd draft = 1st draft – 10%). I went through this, cutting out redundant words/sentences and rephrasing others, until I got it down to 700 words. Once again save and forget!

The next time I look at it, usually the next day, I’ll repeat the procedure. In this instance, first save a copy and name it ‘300 story 16-2 600 word version’. Then go through this, again cutting out 100 words. Sometimes aspects of the story have to be completely cut out, but I know they are in the full version so can be posted on my blog!

The next day, save a ‘300 story 16-2 500 word version’ and cut another 100 words out. Once again, save and forget!

I’ll repeat the procedure until I arrive at the 300 word version, simply entitled ‘300 story 16-2’ in this instance. Sometimes this stage is a bit trickier, particularly if starting at 600-800 words! But I’ve always managed it and kept the essence of the story, except once when I had to rewrite a slightly different version.

Which begs the question, which is the real story? Is the 300 word story a cut down version of the long version or is the long version an expanded version of the 300 worder?! If you didn’t know how it was created you couldn’t tell.

So, now I have a streamlined 300 word version for my writing group, hopefully still containing some of my favourite sentences.

Now, I’ll start a process that I’ve termed ‘back-editing.’ This entails getting the 300 word version and the 400 word version on the screen, side by side, and copying and pasting improved phrases/words from the 300 to the 400 word version. As the story is being streamlined I usually find more concise and sometimes better ways of saying things.

This process can be done in odd moments and I often do it lying in bed!

So for example, in the 500 word version of Away with the Fairies I had this:

In another draw I found a bulky sketchpad. As I turned the pages I was astonished to see page after page of well-executed pencil drawings of fairies. Some had been competently coloured with watercolours. I noticed a number had been dated and on some there were notes. ‘Seen over pond,’ ‘Tianna, sat on bench,’ etc. – 56 words

In the 400 word version it became:

In another draw I found a bulky sketchpad. Turning the pages, I was astonished to see page after page of well-executed drawings of fairies, some competently coloured with watercolours. Many had been dated and on some there were notes. ‘Seen over pond,’ ‘Tianna, sat on bench,’ etc. – 48 words

Finally, in the 300 word version it became:

In another draw I found a bulky sketchpad, full of well-executed drawings of fairies, some expertly coloured with watercolour. Many were dated, and some annotated, ‘seen over pond,’ ‘Tianna – sat on bench,’ etc. – 34 words

Essentially saying the same thing.

So by plugging this into the 400 word version it allows me to ‘borrow’ 14 words (48 minus 34) from the 500 word version that had originally been edited out. And of course, plugging it into the 500 word version I would be able to borrow 22 words from the 600 word version (56 minus 34) etc.

Then I’ll do the same with the 500 and 400 word versions etc. Finally, having repeated this procedure up to the 700 word version (which would probably allow me to incorporate another 20-30 words from the original first draft) I will then check back down through the versions, from longest to shortest to ensure consistency. This is quite a quick process and I might do them all in one session of about 20-30 minutes.

With practice the above procedure is a whole lot easier than it sounds and is quite ‘painless,’ compared to trying to edit, say, 550 words down to 300 in one go. And that would only give one version too.

In the case of Away with the Fairies, writing and editing the story, as detailed above, took about three and a half hours in total, spread over a week. The end result was five versions of the story, from 300 words to 700 words in length, and (I think) a tighter, smoother story in every version, with no ‘typos’ and very few (if any) mistakes in grammar or punctuation.

Of course, one could simply keep a close eye on the word count and not go so far over the limit, then the number of versions would be less, as would editing time. However, personally speaking, I enjoy the process so I don’t mind.

Finally, the finished version is copied and pasted from my word processor, Mac Pages ’09, into WordPress and the formatting adjusted. I schedule at five day intervals so I’ll then slot the post in at a suitable future date. The day before it’s published I’ll have a quick read through just to check it’s OK, then the next day you can read it on my blog!

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.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on my blog. There are over 130! 
 –

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