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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November 9

hydrogen bomb_beach

(800 words)

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

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

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

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





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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.





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.

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Statue at Liberty

anumbis with sythe

(700 words)

“America comes first though, right?” said the president.
Aides Don Daley and Victor ‘Day-Glo’ Rigby exchanged nervous glances.
The president stood, facing a statue. A voice came into their minds, deep, educated. ‘No, we come first, then America.’
The president stuttered. “Oh, yes … of course … I meant, er.”
Slits in the green eyes widened imperceptibly. ‘You will first do our bidding, then the bidding of your people. You will cut spending on your Environmental Protection Agency climate change program. Drastically!’
The president had sat in the oval office, finally, and incredibly alone. The inauguration procedure, with its endless speeches and razzamatazz, was over. Photographs of every permutation of his family had been taken. Finally, Day-Glo had ushered everyone out. “Come on folks, I think Mr. President needs some time to himself!” Before leaving, he’d turned. “Mr. President, there’s an urgent letter for you from Obama in your desk.”
In the unaccustomed silence, the president wiped his face with a handkerchief and looked in a cabinet. Thank God! Several bottles and glasses stood inside. He poured himself a generous measure of whisky and added several cubes of ice from a refrigerated compartment. He took a gulp and felt his brain reel from the alcohol. Better have a look at this goddamn letter!
‘Greetings Mr. President, firstly there’s something you must know. Take the lift at 9 p.m. tonight. Press six and nine simultaneously for five seconds ….’ The president’s jaw dropped. The letter continued with the usual congratulatory material. It signed off, ‘Good luck, you will need it! Barack.’
He’d taken the lift as instructed to find himself descending below the lowest level for what seemed an age. Finally the door opened onto a corridor where Daley and Day-Glo were waiting.
“What’s going on? What’s this about?”
“You’ll see sir. Don’t worry.”
They proceeded into a large chamber, illuminated by numerous candles around the walls. In the middle of the room was a statue of a seated Egyptian figure. It had the head of a jackal. Daley and Day-Glo stood on either side of him. The president felt annoyed. What the hell was going on? Suddenly a voice came into his mind, making him jump.
‘Greetings. You have been elected president, and like every president before you we extend our congratulations.’
The statue’s eyelids slid upwards, revealing green, snake-like eyes. The president started, then felt Daley’s reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“Who are you? What’s this about?”
‘We came to this planet many millennia ago to aid your development. It was we who constructed the pyramids. Because of our … appearance … we are currently hidden, but we continue to direct your affairs. In return you co-operate with us.’
“Aid our development?! What about all the millions of people killed in wars!”
‘The fate of individuals is not our concern. War leads to innovation, innovation requires power, power produces heat, and heat … warms the planet.’
“What?! What’s that to you?”
‘Our … people … abhor the cold. When the mean planetary temperature has increased another five degrees, then they will come en masse, and we can reveal ourselves.’
The president’s mind boggled. So the rumours were true. Lizards, or something similar, really had been pulling the strings! Goddammit. As if he hadn’t got enough on his plate already! “Look, we appreciate your help, sorry I don’t know your name, but there’s a lot of people not happy with global warming!” What the hell could these creatures do about it anyway, if they were hidden away in statues and the like?
“My name is Anubis!”
Daley and Day-Glo looked alarmed. Day-Glo spoke hurriedly, “Mr. President, er, it’s best you agree sir!”
The president felt emboldened. No, he was in charge goddamn it! “So it’s, er, nice to meet you, Mr, er, Anubis, but I can’t agree to this.”
The aides gasped.
Slowly, ponderously, the figure rose, rocking it’s canine head from side to side. Now standing eight feet tall, it stretched its arms out and opened its hands to reveal a slender thumb, two fingers and three long, sharp claws.

The president gulped. “Of course, on second thoughts, er, you know best. Sure, I’ll cut the program. No problem!”





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.

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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! 
 –

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.

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! 
 –

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.

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! 
 –

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.

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.