Monday, 16 October 2017

Six short shorts by Emma Harding

These six super-short stories were inspired by the Novel in 25 Words competition run by Bath Spa University.  Let me know in the comments if you have a favourite, or maybe reply with a short short of your own! 

Another shot
The striplight flickers, goading his nascent migraine. Hailing the bartender again, he rereads the note. Someone joins him at the bar, but it’s not her.

You’ve got to admit it though, that what he did must surely, whatever your conscience tells you, mean that two wrongs do make a right. 

Should she say anything? Would she be believed? Who would even listen to her? People knew, of course they did. But no one spoke up.

‘Well, I ask you!’ Delphinia said, with not a little conviction. ‘What did she think would happen after she’d come in something so completely outrĂ©?’

Risky business
The boats are back. All but one. They wait, pray, search. Silently, they give thanks that their own are safe. The boats return to sea.

Moving on
Season’s on the turn. You can feel it. A little colder, the light fading. A final flourish but the end’s in sight. Time to go. 

Monday, 9 October 2017

Together by Andrew Shephard

The last train has been and gone.
A destination board illuminates two bicycles
alone at last in the station rack,
locked in an embrace.

His, angular, splattered with mud,
leather saddle built for endurance.
Hers, rounded, set up for comfort,
dressed in a fashionable lilac livery.

His front tyre touches hers,
like horses nuzzling in a field.
A hard helmet rests in her wicker basket.
Did he ring her bell? Was she impressed by whistles?

Days pass. Images are analysed.
Two men clad in blue plastic,
armed with bolt cutters and compassion,
carefully set the lovers free.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Where There's Smoke...

I breathed in at the wrong moment, got a lung-full of her cigarette smoke and coughed like a bastard for the next five minutes.
She glanced over at me, her concern successfully camouflaged behind an expression of irritation.
Don't know what she's worried about; if I popped my clogs, she'd easily fill my place with someone else. In fact they would be queuing up outside her door – most of them knew she was quite able and more than willing in the bedroom.
But she smoked like a chimney, so when we smooched it was like kissing an ashtray. That was the main reason over the years I'd slowly persuaded her to do more doggy-style.
 Whoops, there I go again, thinking about sex.
Now I have to concentrate real hard to suppress the stirrings, as the pair of white-coated staff members approach to help me wheel Josephine back through the double doors and into the Fairfield Retirement Home.

Monday, 25 September 2017

Starting School, September 1976 by Clair Wright

There was a funny smell in the long room; a meaty warm smell, like gravy.

“Mummy, I’ve got tummy ache.”

“It’s just butterflies. They’ll go away in a little while, when you settle in.”

It didn’t feel like anything as pretty as butterflies. I felt as though my stomach was full of snakes, writhing in a great tangle and threatening to escape up my throat.

I sat on my mother’s knee, waiting.  I looked down at my new shoes, brown and shiny like a conker. I had been desperate to wear them for weeks, but they had to be kept “for starting school”. Now the day had come.

I smoothed my blue pinafore over my knees, and bit my lip.

“Look! There’s Lizzie!” My mother stood up, waving to catch their attention. Lizzie and her mother joined us at our table on low plastic chairs.  I smiled at Lizzie, and she smiled back, but she looked as though she had the snakes too, and she had been crying.

“We are going to be in the same class, aren’t we, Lizzie?” I said.

“That would be nice, wouldn’t it?” said my mother. I detected doubt in her tone, but she smiled back at me brightly.

“Have you got a satchel?” I asked Lizzie. “I’ve got an apple in mine, and my Grandma sent me five pence to buy a biscuit at playtime.”

“I’ve got new pencils,” said Lizzie, opening her satchel.

I admired the pencils, and felt a little cheerier at the prospect of the biscuit.

Two ladies wearing flowery blouses and pleated skirts came into the room, and called out names.

“Nicola Smith. Josie Stewart. James White.”

A group of children and mothers followed the flowery ladies through a swinging, green door.

“Mummy, I’ve still got tummy ache,” I whispered.

“Shh, you’ll be fine.  I wonder when it will be our turn?” My mother looked around, shuffling on the awkward, low chair.

A few minutes went by.  The mothers chatted across the table, but I didn’t feel like talking. I was still struggling with the snakes.   

Lizzie was the first to be called in the next group, and I jumped up and grabbed my satchel, sure my name would be next. I watched her disappear through the green door, dismayed.

“What about me?” I could feel the tears coming and I sniffed them back.

“Let’s wait and see,” My mother patted my knee. She smoothed down my ponytail, fastened another button on my cardigan, then unfastened it again.

At last, my name was called and we shuffled through the green door with the other children and their mothers.

“And here’s your classroom!” exclaimed my mother.  There were more low tables and chairs, and a red carpet over by the window, where some children were already sitting. Lizzie wasn’t there.

“Look, crayons!” Mum was saying, and her voice seemed very loud. She took a red crayon from a tin and squiggled on some paper.

The other children were looking at us from the carpet.

I tugged at my mother’s arm.  “Oh! Do you want to go and sit with the others?” She dropped the crayon and led me over.

“Mummy, where’s Lizzie?”

“I’m sure you’ll see her at playtime, don’t worry. Now, sit here...” She pushed my shoulders and I sat down reluctantly.

The other children who had come in with me were already sitting, cross legged. The teacher perched on a chair, knees together, tapping her finger on the book in her lap.

“Well, Mothers,” she said brightly. “We are going to read a story now. We’ll see you at home time!”

“Oh. Right then,” my mother said. “Well, have a lovely time.” She patted me on the head and turned to follow the others towards the door. I panicked.

“Mummy!” I scrambled up, sobbing and hiccuping after her.

A firm grip caught my wrist. “Now, now dear, we don’t want any ‘Vinegar Joes’ in this class, do we?” The teacher steered me back to the carpet.  I sat, sniffing and gulping, staring at my shoes. The carpet prickled my legs and I squirmed, trying to keep still as the teacher read “The Three Little Pigs”.

A bell rang. It was play time. I remembered the five pence and the biscuit, I thought of Grandma and felt a little better.  I found my satchel, hanging on a peg with my coat, and retrieved the coin from its zip pocket.

I hovered by the teacher’s elbow as she sent the children out to play. As she turned to close the door I held out my coin.

“Can I buy my biscuit now?” I asked.

“Biscuit? What do you mean, dear?” she looked impatient again. “We don’t have any biscuits!”

I stuffed the five pence back into my satchel. I felt the bulge of the apple.  I pulled it out and took a big bite as I headed out for the playground.

“Oh no dear, no snacks allowed at playtime!” The apple was whipped from my hand, and I was thrust outside.

I gazed round the bleak playground. No Lizzie, no apple, no biscuit. And it wasn’t even lunchtime.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Seasons by Virginia Hainsworth

I love the autumn days, when leaves turn gold
and burnished orange, 'ere their beauty wanes.
They float from trees with grace, as days grow cold
and softly land on streets, in parks, on lanes.

I love the smell of smoke and burning fires,
as folk withdraw inside their homes, with dreams
of snowy days to come, in towns and shires,
of cosy winter nights and frozen streams.

And yet I long for spring, when winter's done,
when flowers peep through the earth, the sky to reach.
I also yearn for summer days and sun.
Bare toes emerge to scrunch on sandy beach.

'Tis good to live in lands where seasons change,
where nature shares all treasures from her range.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Mind Swap – by Dave Rigby

Although the band has finished playing, the thumping base and drums are still reverberating around my head.
Time for a wander through ‘Mindful Village’, stalls, tents, gazebos, marquees, young very attractive women, guys covered in tats and rings and an old feller wearing a pin-stripe suit and a trilby, all trying to outdo each other in purveying their various outlandish wares. World-love elixir, every type of massage you can imagine and some you can’t, yoga experienced in twenty different ways and what exactly is skull therapy?
A purple and green striped tent catches my eye. I’m sure it wasn’t there yesterday. The only person inside is a bleach-blond guy with a smile locked onto his face and a pair of purple and green headphones straddling his head. Nice colour co-ordination!
    “Hey man” he says without removing the phones. “What can I do you for?”
    “I’m looking for something a little different,” I say “you know, something that jumps out and says try me!”
He ponders a while, shaking his head to a beat I can’t hear, his sandaled feet dancing over the tatami matting.
    “Why not!” he says suddenly. “You look like the kind of man who’ll take a bit of a risk. God knows we’re few and far between. Come with me my friend.”
He pushes his way through what I’d assumed was the back wall of the tent, an opening that closes again, as soon as I’ve passed through.
This hidden space is dimly lit. An ambient, trippy sound hooks me in. A table is flanked by two large armchairs, each sending out a clear message – I’m unbelievably comfortable. A space-age update of a reel-to-reel tape recorder sits in the middle of the table. Cables snake out of the back of the contraption and connect two items of headgear resembling electronic bike helmets.
    “So, my friend, here we have the ultimate in mind-experience, designed and built by my good self, but, alas, owing to the lack of genuine risk-takers, still insufficiently tested in the field. The operational premise is simple. If we two were to seat ourselves in these cerebral transference recliners, don one of these fine inner-space helmets and Melissa, my lovely assistant, were to fire up the pre-programmed, two-way, mind-swap activator then……”
He pauses, theatrically.
    “……I would become you and even more astoundingly from your perspective… would become me!”
A woman considerably taller than me emerges from the darkness to my left, holds out her hand, which I take without hesitation and leads me to one of the chairs. 
    “Just to make things clear,” she says, “the machine will download and transfer a part of your consciousness into Stevie. You will inhabit his mind and body, but deep, deep down, you will know that you are still you.  In this way, we enhance the pleasure of your transference experience. Are you ready to join the party?”
 There’s no doubt about my decision. I’ve tried many extreme physical experiences, to which the law of diminishing returns sadly applies. It’s time for a step into another realm. I’m 99% certain this man is a charlatan, if an engaging one. But there’s that 1% chance he’s a genius …...
    “I’m ready for the ride!”
Melissa fits the helmet with care, telling me about the 157 nodal connectors that have been painstakingly built into the frame. The charlatan / genius receives the same treatment in the other chair. She returns to me and fixes a bracelet around my wrist.
    “This is you return activator. At any point you may press this button here and reverse transference will take place. Only one of you needs to activate for the process to become operational. Do you have any questions?”
I shake my head.
She steps in front of the table and activates the machine.
+ + +
A police officer is talking to Melissa. She points to me.
    “Are you Mr Steven Hampshire?” the officer asks. Things are still settling in my head and for a moment I have no way of answering even such a simple question. I find it hard to pull my face into a shape which will facilitate speech. Eventually something tells me I am indeed Mr Hampshire and I nod. 
    “I have reason to believe that you have carried out recent activity in breach of the Medical Interventions (Licensed Operatives) Act and as such I must ask you to accompany me to the station, so that I may carry out appropriate questioning.” Perhaps he’s also a ventriloquist – his lips barely move as he speaks. I realise I need to be careful. Friends have frequently warned me about the dangers of what I do. The copper is talking again. But I can also hear another voice – very quiet – inside my head.
This isn’t you, this isn’t you, the voice says. I have a half memory of another me. Press the button on the bracelet…activate your return… But I’m not wearing a bracelet.
The man talking to the copper is very familiar to me. He’s no longer the face in the mirror. He’s out there! I hear him saying he can provide evidence.

I’m led away, through the festival field, to a waiting car.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Tsavo Demons by Nick Stead

Men shifted nervously in the night, finding little comfort in their campfires and bomas erected in a desperate attempt to keep their demons at bay.

“Quiet,” Lt. Col. Patterson hissed.

The Indian workers eyed the white man with distaste – he had no idea what he was dealing with. Patterson took no notice of the superstitious fools, his sight fixed down his rifle.

There was no warning when they struck. Suddenly silence gave way to screaming, stillness to chaos. A man lay dying, blood pumping out of his savaged shoulder and the ruins of his leg. Unable to believe the beasts had crept past his defences, Patterson wheeled around towards the sound of the commotion, squeezing off a shot on reflex. The bullet brought instant death to the fleeing worker. Patterson cursed and scanned the camp for the targets that kept eluding him. There! In a flash of movement it pounced on its second victim, and Patterson shot again. The bullet thudded into its flank but it did not go down as expected.

The tawny beast turned its gaze of fury on Patterson and roared, baring huge, blood stained fangs. It was like no other lion he’d ever hunted, maneless and with intelligence burning in its eyes. Then came the snarl from behind.

But when Patterson turned it was no lion he saw. A naked man covered in blood and filth growled at him “Leave here!”

Patterson just had time for another shot but the two things slipped away into the darkness, beasts once more. The hunt had only just begun.