Fried Onions


Down-and-out

(800 words)

“Just because my father is a Classics professor at Oxford, doesn’t mean I want to wear Guarinos lilies in my hair and retire to the tents of Persia!” exclaimed Helena.
Her husband, Stephen, sighed. “I know, darling, but surely you could aim higher than doling out food to tramps!”
Helena would go out every Friday night to meet Tom, a man who lived in an old railway signal box. He’d collect provisions from supermarkets, stuff that was beyond their sell-by date, and that they daren’t re-date. Let the tramps and ‘down-and-outs’ take the risk. Tom, Helena and sometimes a companion or two would drive a converted van out to a railway bridge and, beneath it, give out cups of soup, burgers, and re-heated chips to the down-and-outs who existed there. She felt a rising anger. “Aim higher than helping those in need, you mean?”
“Why don’t they want to work, then?”
“They’re human beings, Stephen, like you and me, just that they’ve fallen on hard times.”
“Hard times, pfft! Let them get a nine to five job like everyone else!”
“Everyone I know works ten-hour night shifts or they’re self-employed and work every hour God sends.”
“You know some odd people then.”
“Yeah, nurses and restaurateurs. Weirdos.”
Stephen turned back to his Daily Telegraph; Helena’s sarcasm lost to the editorial column.
It was almost dark when the van pulled up beside a blackened arch under a railway bridge. Tonight, there were just Helena and Tom. Helena cut the engine. There was the sound of a distant train, clattering into the distance, and a murmur of traffic, then … silence. Outside, she lowered a flap in the side of the van to form a counter, whilst Tom went around inside, checking urns, griddles, and hot plates. Light from the interior spilled out to form a benevolent yellow pool, nullifying a glaring spotlight above on the bridge.
Tom tipped a basinful of fried onions onto a hotplate and soon the smell and sizzling filled the chilly autumn air. The odour began to radiate outwards, and like drops of magical essence on the breeze, began to draw shadows, blackened and shuffling, out of the darkness.
“You know this could be our last month,” he said.
Helena nodded as figures approached, heads down, hands stuffed into pockets of heavy black coats. The van needed a thorough overhaul, refitting and repairs. They’d been quoted nearly eight thousand pounds. She knew that she and Stephen could afford it. She’d mentioned it in passing, to a shrug and a change of subject. Paying with her own money wasn’t an option either. Stephen would find out and go ballistic. It could even mean the end of their marriage. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, she thought, but with two young children, it didn’t seem an option right now.
She looked up into a pair of translucent grey eyes in a lined face, framed by a straggly grey beard. She recognized the man. They said his name was Andy and that he was once a musician in a band, a household name in the dim and distant past. “Hello.”
He grimaced, showing yellow and blackened teeth. “No soup, just burger and chips.”
“Would you like onions?”
“Yup.”
Behind her, Tom began shovelling steaming chips into a carton. She noticed a strange look in the tramp’s pale eyes, as if he wanted to say more, then he turned away, standing to one side to let the next ghost come forward.
“Stephen, I know you’re not going to like this, but I have to ask a favour. You might want to sit down.”
Stephen gave Helena a quizzical look and plumped himself down onto the emerald green leather of a sumptuous armchair.
The phone rang and Helena answered.
“Helena, it’s Tom, look, can you speak?” Tom had met Stephen once and decided once was probably enough.
“Er, I’m with Stephen, we’re just about to discuss it.”
Her husband looked at her with an expression she didn’t recognise.
“Look Helena, there’s no need. Someone sent a banker’s draft for eight grand this morning!”
“What! Who?”
“I don’t know, but it’s kosher. There’s just a printed note. It says, ‘Not everything is as it seems, yours, A. Downandout.’”
Helena felt like she wanted to jump in the air and punch the lampshade with joy. “I’ve got to go, Tom, thanks for letting me know. Thanks so much.” She turned to her husband.
He raised his eyebrows.
“That was Tom.”
“So I gathered.”
“Er, he wanted to discuss going out on Saturdays instead of Fridays, that’s all I wanted to talk to you about.”
To her surprise, Stephen got up, came over and hugged her, kissing her cheek. “That’s fine darling, whatever you want.”
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To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

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Fire Words


fireworks 5

(1000 words)

“There you go, Jack, be careful with it for Heaven’s sake.”
I took the proffered Terminator 50 Shot Barrage, with trembling hands. “Thank you, uncle Stan!” I ran with it towards the bonfire and into my dad’s arms. “Look what uncle Stan gave me!”
“Be careful with that thing, for God’s sake!” Dad gestured towards a far corner of our garden where several dark shapes moved, torches flashing mysteriously. “Look, take it over to your cousin Mark, he’ll check if it’s suitable and help to light it.”
One tall, lanky shape was the loathed silhouette of Mark. Whenever no one was looking, he’d say, “How’re you going, Jack,” and either punch me on the upper arm or pinch the skin on my forearm. I swear, sometimes after an evening with Mark, my arms were literally black and blue. I’d complained to mum and dad but they just said, “Don’t make a fuss, he’s only playing. Don’t be a softie.”
Softie! My arms really hurt!
I took the firework to the opposite corner instead, and with my own torch, stolen from the Scouts, read the label. WARNING. I ignored the rest, spotting the fuse. It was only a firework after all.
Five earth-shattering minutes later, I was in the dog house, along with all the local dogs. Now I had a vague idea what it must have been like to have fought on the Somme.
“Jack, come here!” It was Dad beckoning me indoors. He was unfastening his belt. It wasn’t Remembrance Day, but it was a day my backside wouldn’t forget in a hurry!

Benny was a man in trouble. Open prison meant a chance to escape, a chance to break free in the hope that the police wouldn’t be that bothered. He hadn’t killed or raped anyone at the end of the day. But to his astonishment, there was his mugshot on local news, and not a pleasant one at that either. They’d told him not to smile, but he looked positively evil!
A knock came at the apartment door. Benny looked through a spy hole and saw Julie’s toad-like face, distorted by the lens. He opened the door.
She gave him a peck on the lips, admiring his athletic physique. “Hiya, Ben, I hope these’ll be OK?” She handed him a holdall.
Inside, he unwrapped a package and took the lid off. Mmm. The delicious smell of gunpowder. “Sweet, Jules, thank you.”
“You will be careful, won’t you?”
Benny laughed. “Course I will.”
Julie left and he began to cut the fireworks up, extracting the precious black powder and tipping it into a large glass jar. Using skills he’d learned in prison, he attached some wires and a battery. He noticed his hands were shaking and sweaty. He put the jar on a windowsill, by a partially open window, and reached for his cigarettes. He sat in an armchair and lit one, sucking the smoke in and going over his plan of extortion one more time.
He heard a miaow and a door pushed open. Julie’s cat, Hans. It jumped onto his lap and began to massage his thigh, drooling onto his trousers. Its claws passed easily through the thin material. “Hey, get off!” Benny stood up, sending the cat flying. It jumped onto the windowsill, knocking the glass jar off onto a low marble-topped table.
As if in slow motion, Benny watched as the glass shattered and wires that weren’t supposed to connect, connected. There was a quiet ‘whump’ and the carpet became a sea of fire, the curtains two blazing pillars.
Outside, flames from the open window began to lick the building’s cladding.

A van pulled up and I took delivery of several large brown boxes, covered in stickers. Danger – Fireworks. I took them out onto the patio. Rebecca was there, unpacking crates of streamers, banners and lights. “Put those in the shed, Jack, out of the way.”
“What d’you think I’m doing?” I piled them in the shed, and closed the door. I felt safe in the confined space. I looked through the window at Rebecca faffing around with a long stream of coloured light bulbs. Fortunately, Roland, my future father in law – in theory – would be arriving later to help set everything up. In the other direction was a long lawn, and beyond it, a copse and a small lake. Well, if our marriage didn’t go ahead, I could kiss this little lot goodbye.
Back on the patio, I pecked Rebecca on the cheek. “Well, a grand spent on fireworks, money down the drain.”
She laughed, bright blue eyes and dimpled cheeks reminding me that I was getting betrothed to a special lady.
“Or up in smoke! Don’t be miserable, Jack, it’s a special occasion, a very special occasion.”
“I remember when I was a kid, my uncle Stan played a trick on me. Gave me a display firework at a family bonfire night. There must have been a hundred bangs – scared half the dogs in the district to death!”
“Well, there aren’t many dogs around here, and all the neighbours will either be here with us or hunkering down with their sedated pooches!”
I thought of the news the other night. “Did you hear any more about that tower block fire?”
“Yes, it took a couple of days to put out. A lot of people stayed in their flats and got burned to death.”
“That’s a pity.”
Rebecca grimaced. “Some stupid idiot playing with fireworks, they said.”
“There’s always one, isn’t there?”
“Seems the cladding on the building was flammable.”
“What crazy idiot thought of that!”
A car hooted and a blue Mercedes appeared. A slim man with a lean, handsome face got out, grinning like a Cheshire Cat.
I gasped in astonishment. “Benny, you Son of a Gun, glad you could make it, we thought you were ‘on holiday’!”
“Not anymore, I’m a free man!”
Rebecca laughed. “Come on, Jack, let’s all have a little drink to celebrate Benny’s release!”
.

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To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are nearly 300!

Great Aunt Delilah’s Blanket


kid in blanket

(700 words)

Papers – newspapers and magazines – were deposited onto the kitchen table by my ten-year-old granddaughter, Madeleine. “Granny, I got your things from the shop!”
I looked up. “That was sweet of you, dear. Come and sit by the fire.”
“Granny, tell me the story about Great Aunt Delilah’s Blanket!”
“I’ve already told you.”
“That was ages ago, I can’t remember!”
We both sat by the fireside in my farm cottage. “Well, my grandmother, that would be your great-great-grandmother, had a sister called Delilah. So that was my Great Aunt, you see. Anyway, it was said she had healing powers and many sick people would go to her house and come away feeling well again.”
“Could she have healed Daddy d’you think?”
“I don’t know sweetheart, maybe. Anyway, it got out that she had a special blanket. It was made of wool and it had a large diamond shape in the middle. The blanket was white and the diamond was blue and there were two lines, very close together. Well, they said that if you were wrapped in the blanket, then you’d become well again.”
“How long did you have to sit wrapped in it?”
I laughed. “You’ll grow up to be a scientist, Maddie! I don’t know, five minutes, ten minutes, half an hour, all night. Who knows? All I know is that people were cured. It was in the local papers of the time, and in Great Aunt Delilah’s diary too.”
“What happened to it?”
“Well, that’s the strange thing. When Great Aunt Delilah died, she left it in her will to my mother, along with all her linen – sheets, blankets, bedcovers, that sort of thing. Well, my mother – your great-grandmother – just put it in a cupboard along with the rest of the stuff and I don’t know if was used much, certainly not for healing anyway.”
“Did she know it could heal people?”
“I don’t think she believed in any of that and likely didn’t want to try in case it did.”
“But what about all the people who could have been healed?”
“Some people are strange, Maddie, not like other folk. You’ll find out for yourself.
Anyway, when my mother died, it was left to me, along with some other bits and pieces. So, one day I was looking through some old chests and there it was – the Healing Blanket! And it still looked new, no marks on it at all! Look, let me make some tea and I’ll tell you the rest of the story.”
“Can I have orange squash please, granny?”
“Of course you can, dear.”
When I came back to the fireside with a tray of tea, orange squash and biscuits, Madeleine was writing in a small book. “What are you writing, sweetheart?”
“I’m writing a prayer to Jesus, that daddy can be made well again.”
“Put it under your pillow, dear, and I’m sure your prayers will be answered.”
Madeleine nodded and closed the book. She reached out for her orange squash and looked up expectantly. “So, what happened with the blanket?”
“Well, I realized what it was, so whenever any of my children had a cold or a cough or a pain somewhere, I would wrap them in the blanket when they went to bed, and the next morning they’d wake up as right as rain!”
Madeleine’s bright eyes widened.
“Anyway, I took to carrying it around in my car, in case I met anyone who needed healing.”
Madeleine spoke excitedly. “Do you still have it then – for daddy?”
“No, one day my car was stolen, and that was it. I never saw the blanket ever again.”
“Granny, do you know where the blanket came from?”
“No, I don’t, sweetheart, but I want to show you something.” I went to a bookcase and took out a large leather-bound bible and brought it back to the fireplace. I turned to a colour plate of a watercolour. “Look at this, sweetheart.”
The picture showed Jesus and some disciples around a table. In the background was a large fire, and hanging nearby, as if to dry, a white blanket with a double-lined blue diamond shape clearly visible upon it.

To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 280!

Letters from Reuben


Love LettersBox_large-story

(700 words)

Papers, papers, papers. Help, I’m drowning in a sea of papers! I really must do something about it!
Following advice from a critical but well-meaning friend, I make up a dozen archive boxes and number them with a large chisel-nibbed marker pen. OK, I can now identify a box at twenty paces.
I start to go around my apartment, dumping papers and associated junk unceremoniously into the boxes. Box one, a stack of writing magazines that have been cluttering my desk for months. Why don’t I read them? Or write, for that matter? Oh, I don’t have time, of course. Well I guess I could quit watching endless re-runs of Seinfeld, but, well, I wouldn’t want to break the habit of a lifetime. Anyway, out of sight, out of mind!
Into box two goes the rubbish off my kitchen table, ‘to do’ lists, piles of receipts – why don’t I just throw them? Oh, I know, I want to get the points put on my loyalty card. Except that I don’t have one. So, they’re sitting there waiting for me to go back to the supermarket, queue at the customer service desk, ask for an application form, send it off, then phone to have the points retrospectively added. All for a few measly bucks. Into the box! I can throw them out when the allowed time has expired, barring the miracle of me actually getting one of their goddamned cards. In the meantime, I don’t have to feel guilty.
Box three is stuff off the top of my filing cabinet, piles of unopened letters and bank statements. Why don’t I request paperless statements? Well, do you know anyone who’s had a computer not blow a resistor or whatever? Exactly! Then, how do you access your statements? You’re stuffed. Like a piglet in a chestnut factory.
The phone rings. “Hello? … yes, I’m doing it right now, Shelina! Whaddya mean, voice recorder, card index file! … look, I’m going to the ballet with my mother tonight, I haven’t got time for anything like that … look sorry, I gotta go, hun, speak to you later!”
I open a draw and the contents go into box number four. Letters from Reuben. I’m not brave enough to put them in the shredder. But I didn’t see a future for us. Call me weird but I didn’t like the things he asked me to do. I didn’t like the taste or the smell. Of those blue cheese and sauerkraut pretzels he was always eating, I mean.
Then there’s something else in that draw that goes into box number four too. Something I won’t mention here but something that makes me go “oooooOOOOOHHHH!!” But, well, I’m a spiritual girl now and I don’t like the idea of angels and spirit guides and what have you, seeing me do ‘that.’ I can live without it. Well, for a week or two. Maybe. We’ll see.”
My computer beeps. A friend from over the pond, a crummy little country, but, hey, they’ve got stuff we haven’t. Congratulating themselves over their queen and beef heaters and the Beatles. And, they invented football too, though a weird kind where you can’t pick the ball up! I’ll reply tomorrow. Like I say, I’ve gotta meet mom soon and those tickets weren’t cheap!
Into box number six I throw stuff from my dressing table and bedside cabinet, I’ve got more makeup than Emmett Kelly, for Chrissakes!
Finally, I gaze in awe at two neat stacks of six boxes, discretely tucked away in a corner. Maybe I could make up another three or four boxes? I look out of the window, down onto apartments below and feel a glow of pride. I’ll bet theirs are all cluttered, not like mine!
The phone goes again. “Hi Mom, yes, I’m just about to have a quick shower and get ready … yeah, I’m excited, really looking forward to it … yeah, of course I’ve got the ticket! … it’s right here … well, it was right here … hold on.”
My eyes flick from the empty surfaces to the pile of boxes and I feel a sick feeling in my stomach. “You say you’re picking me up in thirty minutes, Mom?”
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To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 280!

A Tube of Toothpaste


toothpaste tubes

(700 words)

“Life’s like a tube of toothpaste, Anthony,” that’s what my aunt Mary used to say. “It looks like there’s so much toothpaste in there, like it’ll never run out, but one day, no matter how hard you squeeze, no matter how hard you roll it up and crush it, nothing more will come out.”
I’m seventy-five this very day, old and arthritic, almost blind, not to mention penniless and alone. I’ve got a bottle of whisky to ‘celebrate’ on my own.
Felicity got good at maths, to everyone’s amazement. That was down to my home tutelage, but we never shouted about it. She lives in Adelaide now, lecturing in applied dynamics, whatever the hell that is, and married to a sheep farmer. We keep in touch.
I’ve lived in this dingy old apartment for nigh on thirty years, looking out of the dusty, stained windows and down onto passersby in the rain, down onto Shivshakti’s Indian grocery store.
Today there’s thick fog. A real ‘pea souper.’ I envisage a motorway, cars speeding through the fog, headlights and fog lights their only visible elements. Then something happens, maybe there’s an animal on the road and a driver brakes. Smack, the car behind runs into it. The occupants are jolted forwards, whiplash injuries changing lives. BANG, a car smashes into the second car, and so it goes, right on down the line, twenty, thirty, forty cars, all smashed and dented, people maimed and killed.
I guess my own toothpaste’s running out fast, but before it does, there’s a letter I’ve been waiting a long time to read.

I’ve moved into a new apartment, right on my forty-fifth! Not new but nicely decorated. There are radiators and a gas boiler and a neat kitchen with cupboards everywhere.
Abigail left me, went to live with Raimondo, a guy who works out at the gym where she teaches yoga. Well, screwing all night had got boring, not to mention exhausting, that’s for teenagers, not forty-somethings! So good luck to Abi and her new ‘beau.’ Call me boring, but I’d rather lie in bed with a cup of tea and a book on punctuation.
But, well, I got lumbered with Felicity, Abi’s daughter. There wasn’t room for her at Raimondo’s flat – so muggins got saddled with her. Either that or turn her over to social services, and I’m not that hard-hearted. But a feisty fourteen-year-old, not the ideal flat-mate!
Well, coping with Felicity’s manifold problems: buck teeth, no friends, lagging in most subjects at school – led me to quitting the day job, and trying to survive by writing a weekly column for a national on the one thing I was good at – Poker. And playing it of course. And there’s an Indian guy just opened a grocery store, Shivshakti’s, over the road. He tells me he’s setting up a poker game on Friday nights and he’s invited me to join. Foolish man, I’ll make a killing!

It’s my fifteenth birthday and Aunt Mary gave me a lovely old box with two packs of playing cards inside. And a book on a game called Poker. She took us all out to a restaurant somewhere in the countryside for lunch. Mum, dad, Samantha and me. Sam made a fuss, saying she wanted vegetarian food – no meat! But otherwise it was good; sitting outside in the sun, watching the wind swaying the trees and eating the biggest cheese-burger I’ve ever seen!
School’s OK right now. I’m top of the class in maths. I’ve decided I prefer numbers to people, they seem easier to understand! I reckon my friends think I’m a bit peculiar!
Mum gave me a Barbour waterproof jacket. It’s super! This week I’m going camping, with a bit of luck I can test it out!

Mum said to write a letter to myself to open when I reach the age of 75. It sounds daft and I don’t know what to say. I guess I could write ‘I hope you had a good life, a great job, a lovely family, went to wonderful places and left your mark on the world.’ Something like that. I’ll have a go, anyway.

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To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 280!

iPademonium (guest post)


Broken_iPad

iPademonium by Martyn Searle

(600 words)

Papers are mean. Well, maybe not the dog-eared old flyers who spend their days hanging out on light poles, numbered tassels waving in the breeze, helping to locate lost puppies. A certain Buddhist enlightenment has come to them in repayment for good deeds and frayed edges. But those reams who rule in home offices? Vicious temperaments. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Perhaps, as is often the case when numerous white individuals gather in large groups, all those sheets had a loftier opinion of themselves than they merited.

Or maybe it was because they were the trusted custodians of the important details of home operations. In any event, they paraded around; cyan, black and blue marks adorning their faces like so many prison tats, intimidating rubber bands and sharpies with threats of paper cuts. Since the only knowledge they had ever seen was printed on their own flesh, they truly believed they must know it all, and weren’t shy about sharing their opinions with the other supplies. Paper clips and staples had been known to slip through cracks in drawers, never to be seen again, while attempting to avoid a bloviating sheaf.

You can imagine their reaction when the iPad showed up. Gleaming. Sleek. Smart as a whip. It knew things in an instant which the papers had never dreamt of. Worse still, in a calm, unwavering voice, Siri informed the office that she had little need for, or interest in, paper. Naturally, the papers immediately began plotting the iPad’s destruction.

Brooding and plotting may have come to naught if not for human ignorance regarding the vindictive nature and petty machinations of home office supplies. After languishing for weeks in the office, while Siri cast digital spells on me in the living room, I inadvertently provided their opportunity when I decided to donate my increasingly unused paper to the local library.

Unwittingly, I delivered the conspirators straight to their victim, placing the ream between my keys and the iPad, as it slumbered, recharging on the kitchen island overnight. Instantly they pounced, like a pack of Roman Senators upon Caesar, coiling like an inchworm and lashing out with all their might.

Struck dumb by this new branch on the Tree of Life, I froze as the iPad crashed to the floor. The screen shattered, and troops of Gorilla glass lumbered off towards the dark forests of cat hair and desiccated peas which lay beneath the stainless-steel peaks of the Amana range, where to this day they live, peaceful and undisturbed, no longer under the thumb (or forefinger) of their oppressor.

This triumphant escape went entirely unnoticed in the moment, mainly due to the large quantity of feral, guttural moans which now rose from within the fractured motherboard of the dying tablet.

‘I believe in the separation of spirit and silicon!’, Siri’s voice cried out in triumph, as her megabytes of data broke free from their microscopic shackles in a blaze of sentient lightning. A Golden Horde of Usain Bolts dashed madly for the nearest electrical outlet and were busy colonizing power grids in Buenos Aires and La Paz before the first rumble of miniature thunder had set one booming, sonorous foot into the crackling, ionized air of the kitchen. Sensing a fatal error, the processor softly whimpered, ‘Mother … board …’ and fell silent.

My eyes held tightly shut against this blinding domestic supernova, I had just begun to console myself that all might not be lost, when tiny wisps of acrid smoke crept silently in, like heralds of overtime shifts soon to come, and dashed that hope upon my nostrils.


 


This is the second guest post on my blog (click HERE for the other). It’s written by a fellow-writer in the fortnightly story group I run. He’s new to the game but has already created an alluring website. Please check out https://scribblesandshoots.weebly.com/ for his growing ouvre of intriguing tales!


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To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle, eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 600 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on this blog. There are over 280!

Neck Snapping Time


exorcist

(600 words)

Papers clutter a desk. I pick one up and read about a man’s obsession. Seems there’s a character who enjoys killing. The description is brief. Medium height, average build, nondescript face. No distinguishing marks. Not much to go on!
But the writer describes an incident where the man strokes another man’s hair and gently, lovingly, wraps a scarf around his neck. Like a petrified mouse under the paw of a cat, the victim remains motionless. More hair-stroking, then the killer places two large, strong hands on either side of the victim’s head, a quick twist and … snap … over he goes, the lolling head smacking the floor, the lifeless body following like a piece of meat. Only thing, seems all this happens in the writer’s dreams.
I go over and stoke the fire. I want to read the full story. So, I gather the sheets from the desk, light a cigarette, and pull an easy chair up to the hearth.
Well, seems the writer had financial problems of sorts, but this character he’d encounter in his dreams would help out. The writer would tell the guy how much cash he needed and, if of a realistic nature, it would appear in his waking life. Money for the mortgage, car expenses, holidays, that kinda thing. The only thing was, seems he had to donate a proportion of the amount ‘borrowed’ to a charity to ‘repay’ the ‘loan.’ If he didn’t, well, cue neck-snapping man.
The door opens and in comes Lil. “You find anything?”
“Well seems our dear brother had funny dreams.”
“That figures.”
“No, seriously, seems he had a character he would meet in his dreams. This guy, Adam, would help him out financially. But he was a sadistic killer on the side!”
“What, you’re kidding me!”
“No, listen. ‘17th October 2019. Watched Adam snap a man’s neck like a matchstick. Turned his head round one hundred and eighty degrees, like that girl in The Exorcist. These dreams are so real. More real than when I’m awake. Saw the man’s frightened eyes in technicolour, heard his neck snap in Dolby surround sound.
Needed £300 for new tyres and dents knocking out of wheels. Well, the very next day mother phoned and said she’d dreamt I had car problems and did I need any financial help! Well, that’s £85 I need to find by the end of the month for A’s charity. Or ….’”
“Wow.”
“Wow indeed. Seems our dear brother was either off his rocker, or had supernatural help, of a kind.”
“Well, we can check his filing cabinets, bound to be bank statements and the like. Or they’ll be on his computer. Wonder if we can get into it?”
“I can’t imagine him writing passwords down anywhere findable, can you?”
Lil shrugs. “Then why would he leave papers like these lying around? And why not write them in a diary, like any normal person?”
“Well, he was hardly normal was he!”
“Look, we don’t know for certain he’s dead. He could walk through that door any minute.”
“Sure. Dream on.”
“Hey, you got a smoke?”
I toss Lil a cigarette and she inserts it into a crack in a white face surrounded by ginger curls. “Look, are we going to tell anyone about this – these ‘fantasies’?”
I sigh. “I think we must, don’t you?”
In answer, she takes the papers, taps them into a neat pile and tosses them onto the flames. “Let them find out for themselves.”
The smoke from the smouldering sheets blends with the smoke from our cigarettes and we both sit, lost in thought.
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My Name is Ian Z. McPhee


love hearts

(627 words)


It was incredible and completely unexpected; the sensations as our fingers touched was electric; my heart skipped a beat and I momentarily forgot to breathe. Her fingers intertwined with mine and she twitched her lips in that funny way she used to, before kissing me tenderly. I gazed into her dark round eyes and knew it was love – deep, sacred love.
We’d been together for six weeks now, not long, but long enough for me to start to get to know her personality: playful yet pensive, jubilant but shy, magnanimous yet fickle. It was wonderful to have a partner again, after having only male company for the best part of a year, and her silky hair and long limbs drew admiring glances from my friends and colleagues.
I’d scarcely known her before she moved in with me. She appeared out of nowhere one day with just a bagful of possessions: a mirror, toiletries and the like. She was so beautiful though, that I couldn’t turn her away. I’ll always remember that she had a bunch of bananas, which we’d laughed about as it’s my favourite fruit.
I didn’t have a job then so we would spend a lot of time together, sometimes kissing and cuddling like all young lovers, but on other occasions watching the television or simply looking out of the window, watching the world go by. On other occasions we passed time in quiet, solitary meditation, which we were both schooled in.
I suppose, looking back, that our life together was rather haphazard, existing day to day, making no plans for the future.
I only saw her angry once. A small boy in a red pullover and jeans stood banging at our window, for no apparent reason as far as I could see. His mother stood nearby with younger siblings, paying scant attention. “Stop it Henry!” she would shout from time to time. There was no sign of a father. My beloved went to the window and pounded on it, matching the boy fist for fist. That seemed to enrage him and he started banging harder and faster. She did likewise, emitting a strange animal-like sound, when suddenly the mother pulled him away and cuffed him hard around the ears. Instantly my love became calm and her normal self again, taking an apple from a bowl and smiling at me sheepishly.

Then, one sad, sad day, our relationship ended. A man in a green uniform with a peaked cap and shiny buttons entered our living area, uninvited. I recognised him as a fruit delivery man so held my tongue.
“Sorry Fred,” he said, although that wasn’t actually my name, “Bella’s got to get on a plane, she’s off to Berlin.” That wasn’t actually her name either. Then other men came in, with a cage on wheels. I protested strongly and loudly. You can’t put her in there! I saw her being given an injection. “Just something to calm her down Fred, nothing to worry about.” The cage door was opened and they manhandled her in.
“Let him say goodbye, bless him,” one of the men said. I went to the cage and looked into her dark round sleepy eyes. I put my hands through the bars and our fingers interlaced for the last time. “Goodbye,” I whispered in our own secret language.
They wheeled her out and I never saw her again. I had no photos, just memories of her to keep. Simple memories – eating fruit together, climbing on a big frame outside and swinging on ropes, watching the crowds watching us, searching each other’s coats for fleas ….
I didn’t know if or when I’d have another mate but in the meantime I decided to eat a banana.

Please note: this story was originally published on 12th September 2016. To read the comments, please click HERE.

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Full Fathom Five


cruise ship
(1300 words)

I stood at the railing, gazing out to the haze of the distant level horizon. The sea was calm, low deep-blue waves undulating slowly, barely hinting at their potential ferocity. Ahead and far below me was the bow of the cruiser, where people, ant-like, sat by an unusually empty pool. I sighed and thought of Janie. Bitch!  We’d had problems, sure, who doesn’t? But her leaving had come as a shock.
It was Valentine’s Day, of all days, and I’d ordered some Adrenaline roses, her favourites. Unexpectedly, a silver BMW had pulled up, and I’d recognised Andy, her gym trainer, his dyed-blond hair swept over in an attempt to look youthful. Obviously it had worked. Janie appeared. “Look Steve, I don’t want a scene. I’m leaving. Me and Andy … I’ll be in touch about my things.” She’d looked embarrassed and hurried out, clutching her sports holdall, before I’d had time to reply. I watched her get into the car and kiss him. They drove off without looking back. Just then the flower delivery van had turned up. I’d taken the roses and thrashed them to pieces in the back garden with tears streaming down my face.
“Full fathom five thy father lies, of his bones are coral made.”
Surprised, I looked around to see a young woman with medium length blonde hair and sunglasses. She wore a jade green dress with a modest neck line.
I couldn’t help myself. “Those are pearl that were his eyes, Nothing of him doth fade.’
“But doth suffer a sea-change,” we both said, in unison.
She laughed. “I don’t think there’s many on this ship who know Shakespeare!” Her voice was husky. “Why aren’t you on the island?”
“Oh, I fancied some time to myself.” I’d accompanied my mother on this cruise, naively not anticipating the non-stop queuing for lifts, queuing to embark and disembark, crowded pools full of rowdy children, and endless bars, cafes and restaurants thronged with people.
“I know what you mean. My name’s Jamie by the way.”
“Hi, mine’s Steve.” Jamie, Janie. Hmm.
She shook my hand, her palm was dry and warm and her long slim fingers wrapped around mine and squeezed. Her nails were short with a clear varnish and she wore a curious gold ring in the form of a coiled snake with two tiny purple stones for eyes.
We stood in companionable silence, gazing in awe at the endless sea. A warm breeze blew her blonde hair back showing high cheekbones and full lips, lightly made up. She was tall and slight and her skin was tanned. I felt self-conscious of my own pale flesh and paunch, trying to hold my stomach in below my white T-shirt.
“Are you with anyone?” she asked.
I told her about my mother – aged, irascible, partially deaf and between cataract operations. Mother had said she was looking for a sugar daddy. I’d asked Jamie if she knew of any blind 90-year olds on board.
She laughed as if I’d told the world’s funniest joke. “I’ll keep an eye out! Sorry Steve, I have to go. Look do you know ‘Arabella’s Sushi?”
I said I’d heard of it. It was a bar that moved between decks every day. A novel idea that appealed to me.
“Would you like to meet tonight? It’s on deck six today. Say 8 p.m.?” she said.
“Yes, that’d be lovely,” I replied, trying not to sound too desperate.
That evening I’d showered and spruced myself up. In a pastel orange shirt, cream linen slacks and, holding my stomach in I thought I didn’t look too bad.
I arrived early, feeling rather apprehensive, to find the bar wasn’t crowded, even though the throngs had returned from viewing Roman ruins – only a few tables were taken. I got talking to an attractive Filipino waitress. She was friendly, seemed happy to chat and told me they worked seven days a week whilst on cruise. For no reason I found myself asking if anyone had ever gone overboard. Her face changed. Yes. On the last cruise. A young woman, that’s all she knew. But it was bad luck to talk about it. I apologised and her friendly demeanour returned. Suddenly I realised it was twenty past eight. No sign of Jamie!
I’d waited until nine and then, despondent, had given up, returning to our suite to find mother with another ‘old bag’, although somewhat more presentable. Mother introduced me to her as Iris Brummage. Apparently she was a retired professor of mathematics. Mother, being a fawning snob, had latched onto her.
I went out onto our balcony and sat looking out to sea, disheartened. What the hell had happened to Jamie?
The days passed. Mother went off the boat most days with her new friend and I felt as if I was the only person on their own. Everywhere were couples or families with young children. I scanned the crowds for Jamie, even asked in every cafe and bar I went to, but no-one knew her. In one cafe however, a waitress had looked at me strangely. “On a cruise, people aren’t always who they say they are.”
One day, looking down from our fifth-deck balcony, I thought I saw Jamie’s blonde hair and jade green dress far below on the lower deck. I’d raced through corridors and down endless staircases, eventually coming out where I thought I’d seen her. I looked in vain, finally asking some sunbathers, who said they didn’t remember her. They regarded me curiously, seeing me sweaty and anxious.
In my time on the cruise I found the other holidaymakers generally friendly and easy to converse with. However I soon grew tired of the endless chat of what deck was I on, what was my cabin like and what shows had I seen? None! Then would come interminable stories of previous cruises. They were well-meaning but I wanted someone on my own wavelength. I longed to hear Jamie’s husky voice laughing and to see her sunny smile again.
It was towards the end of the cruise when I found myself wandering along a part of our deck I hadn’t visited before. Not hard, considering the size of the place. Floating city was about right, and I never did learn to find my way around. Hearing music, I passed into a large open space with a bar at either end and chairs dotted around, where a pianist, drummer and guitarist were playing jazz. To my surprise mother and Mrs. Brummage were there. Mrs. B waved and smiled. She wasn’t so bad I supposed. I ordered a lager at the bar nearest the band. The barman was another Filipino, middle-aged and sympathetic. I asked my usual question. Had he come across a young lady called Jamie, early thirties, tall, slim, blonde?
“No, sorry sir, so many people!” He gestured, opening his arms, laughing. Then, “Only Jamie I know is pianist here.”
I looked at the man on the piano, young and slim, currently drawing out mellifluous melodies with apparent ease.
“D’you know him well?” I asked.
“Not really. He and Alan, the drummer, well … they, are, er … together, if you know what I mean.” He smiled wryly.
Mother and Mrs. Brummage came over. Mother spoke. “We’re going to Hairspray. D’you want to come?”
I looked at the pianist again. His tanned face, handsome yet effeminate, looked around and through me, as if I were invisible. I felt a jolt of recognition. Then he looked down again, watching his slender fingers fly. I walked past the piano, feigning nonchalance, observing him askance, then froze, seeing a familiar snake-like gold ring. How fitting! I felt sick.

I returned to mother, “Yeah, let’s go. I can’t stand jazz.”

 

Please note: this story was originally published on 5th March 2017. To read the comments, please click HERE.

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The Butterfly’s Revenge – A Short Horror Story


butterflies

(400 words)

Leah glances anxiously around the waiting room. Everyone looks so calm. How the hell can that be? The waiting room is dim, perhaps a dozen men and women of all ages sit, staring ahead as though unseeing. The door opens and a bright light behind him silhouettes the towering figure of Dr. Chansette, a huge cockroach, six feet high. His antennae wave. “Miss Leah Hope?”
Leah looks around. No one seems interested. She gets up, her guts knotting, but knowing she has no choice. Following Dr. Chansette, she proceeds along a shiny white corridor. He turns and waves a leg. “Please, come through to the dissection room.”
Feeling fearful, Leah follows him into an operating theatre. The room is full of strange, throbbing machinery and lights flicker on wall panels. In the centre of the room, under blazing spotlights, is an operating table, surrounded by banks of electronic equipment.
“Greetings, Miss Hope. I am Mr. Cuttemup, I’ll be doing your procedure today.”
Leah turns to face an enormous butterfly. She sees shimmering emerald and ruby tones in his wings. Trying to stay calm, she says, “Is … is this really necessary. Can’t I … can’t I just go home?”
Mr. Cuttemup flutters his wings and laughs, holding up a long scalpel blade which scatters light from the iridescent lamps above. “No, I’m sorry, we have to see … what you’re made of!”
Two giant earwigs, dressed in green theatre gowns, take Leah’s elbows and lead her towards the operating table. “Don’t worry, it’ll be painless,” says one, smiling and waving her glistening antennae.
Leah finds herself fastened down to the operating table and looks up at the brilliant spotlights above her, giving white spots before her eyes. Suddenly she has a frightening thought. “Wait a minute, what about the anaesthetic, where’s the anaesthetist?”
“Ah, that won’t be necessary.” Mr. Cuttemup unbuttons Leah’s blouse, then pulls out the scalpel. “Nurse, prepare the patient please.”
The earwig-nurses exchange glances, then one leans forward and yanks Leah’s bra up, exposing her large pale breasts.
Leah suddenly becomes calm. Of course, this is a nightmare. She’ll wake up in a minute!
Dr. Cuttemup’s scalpel stabs into her chest, right between her breasts, and carves a two-foot wound down to her groin, as she realises that the earwigs were lying – the pain is beyond belief – and yes, this is a nightmare, but it’s no dream.

To purchase the stories on To Cut a Short Story Short up to December 2018 in paperback, Kindle eBook, and audio-book form, and for news on new titles, please see Shop.

If you are interested in joining a fortnightly 500 word story group please contact me and I’ll send details.

Don’t forget to check out some of the other stories on the blog. There are over 250!