Comic Tragedy

Monks at Pluscarden Abbey prepare for Christmas

(900 words)

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

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

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

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

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Free audiobook!

TCASSS cover ACX Angus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS

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

2. Add the audiobook to your cart.

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

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

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

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

TO DOWNLOAD ON A MAC  (very simple)

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

 

The Magic Onion

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

(650 words)

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

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

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

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

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

Red Nose Day

dolls2

(550 words)

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

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

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

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

Memories of Oscar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

video of Oscar drinking from bird bath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Related:

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

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

An online tribute I left for Lily.

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

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

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

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

 

Keeping It in the Family

police accident

(700 words)

“Hard to imagine he’ll get away with it,” said my sister Donna.
“Well, he says if we both stick to the story, they can’t prove anything.”
Donna looked thin and pale, not surprising, considering the strain we’d all been living under. “I still can’t believe it, that poor woman!”
“Look, I know it’s awful, but nothing we can say or do’s going to bring her back is it?”
Donna sighed. “I suppose not. But it’s not justice is it?”
“What’s justice at the end of the day? Just someone’s opinion over someone else’s. Where’s the sense in him spending years in prison. He’d lose everything, and it’d destroy mum.”
Donna turned away, saying nothing, busying herself with preparing lunch. I collapsed into an old armchair.
 –
My brother Matthew and I had gone to see a play. Donna was coming too, but had cancelled, feeling too ill after a minor dental procedure. On the way home, with Matt driving, a woman had walked out onto a zebra crossing, just as we were coming out of town on the main high street. Matt had been pontificating about the main female role, in his view the only one who could really act, never mind that she was a pretty blonde thing with large breasts. He wasn’t concentrating and the car ploughed into the woman with a loud thud, sending her flying. We got out and stood in horrified silence, looking down at the attractive face, blood now leaking over it from a crack in her head where it had hit the road. In the orange street light the vital fluid began to resemble a black veil.
“Listen Sarah, she ran out in front of us, I didn’t have time to stop,” said Matt, staring into my eyes.
“What?!”
“You heard.”
We looked around. It was gone eleven and the streets were deserted in the quiet town. There was no other traffic.
Then a window opened above a shop by the zebra crossing. A woman looked down. “Oh my God!”
Matt whispered, “She ran out in front of us, remember!”

Reluctantly, I nodded, just as a door opened to the right of the shop and a middle-aged woman clutching a mobile phone rushed out in slippers and a coat, hurriedly thrown over a nightie. “I’m a nurse,” she said, then bent to test the woman’s pulse. “She’s still breathing!” She phoned for an ambulance.

Later, we’d heard that the woman, 33 year old Sylvia Barnes, had died on the way to hospital. I’d felt totally gutted and mad at Matt. He’d said he was sorry, but he’d always had a ruthless streak and seemed to be taking the whole shocking affair in his stride. I’d needed to confide in someone, so I’d told Donna. I could trust her to keep it in the family.
We’d been taken to the police station and breathalyzed. Fortunately, Matt had only drunk coke at the interval. I’d had a large glass of Pinot Grigio. The car was in Matt’s name and I wasn’t insured to drive it, so they’d believed him when he said he was driving.
Then we’d both been interviewed the next day. I’d been asked the same question in twenty different ways. What exactly had I seen? My answer: “Nothing.” I’d been looking in my handbag for my mobile phone and just been aware of a crash and being restrained by my seat belt as I jerked forward under the impact. In the end I’d come to believe it myself.
The police had appealed for witnesses but no one had come forward, and there was no CCTV, thank God! It had all come down to Matt’s word against the suspicions of the police and Sylvia’s family.
Then yesterday had come a bombshell. I’d read that Sylvia had recently given birth to her first child, a girl they’d named Emma. I hadn’t known. A thought came into my mind, ‘It’s never too late to do the right thing.’
“What are you thinking?” asked Donna, putting a plate of ham and tomato sandwiches on the table.
I took one, and opened it, looking at the juicy thick-cut local ham. “Oh, just wondering if there’s any mustard.”

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

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

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

What’s in Store?

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

(1100 words)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(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

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(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! 
 –

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.