Tag Archives: 24 Hour Short Story Competition

Go On

“I suppose you’ll be selling the place?”

They were the words that had started it, spoken in the town store the day after the funeral. In her raw, confused grief at the death of a father she had barely known she had taken the words as a sneer, a hint that a city girl like her couldn’t possibly survive in the lone cabin out in the woods.

“Actually,” Sarah had heard herself reply, “I’m thinking of moving up here.”

As she drove home she thought about her throwaway remark. She was nearing forty, bored with her job, newly single – again – and feeling empty. She was curious too, about why her father had come here, leaving her and her mother and moving away from the world. She barely remembered him – a silent man with none of the playful love of other dads. Then one day he’d been gone.

“Your father is a good man,” Mum would say. “He just needs to be alone.”

As she grew Sarah had raged at this absolution. She had had no contact with her father, even when Mum passed, and now never would. The town doctor had found her details among his few belongings, and had got in touch.

Now she found herself thinking of trying his path, to see what was so much better than life with a loving six-year-old daughter. She could move up here, enjoy the peace, grow her own produce. The idea took root.

It had been practically the only thing that had.

The only things that grew that first year had been lettuce, spinach, and dock-leaves, which she had thought were chard.

The townsfolk had been great. The women would arrive, saying that they were just passing – though there was nothing beyond her cabin but deep, dense woods – and bring pie, saying that they had baked one too many.

The men would bring rabbits. These she would bury as soon as they left, as she had neither the skill nor the stomach to skin one.

At the beginning she had marched proudly into the store with her seed orders. Later she had done the walk of shame, buying actual vegetables.

She had stopped driving in to the bar in the evenings. She couldn’t bear the silent scrutiny of her tired face, her thinning body.

But Sarah had come to enjoy the solitude. She felt that she had begun to understand her father’s choice of a life without people, alone with the silence of nature, by which is meant night-time sounds of scurrying, snuffling and occasional howls.

And one day she had caught a fish – she had no idea what kind – and the sizzle, the aroma, and the warmth in her stomach had steeled her resolve.

So here she was at the start of a second Spring, seeds beside her, tugging at the earth with her bare fingers. She pulled at a clump of earth, which wouldn’t move. She pulled harder and a fistful of wet clay came away in her hand, so that she punched herself in the face with it.

She sighed and looked wearily down at the clump. With the section of clay gone she could see the corner of a metal box.

Buried treasure, was her first thought. No, was her second, because you’re not Scooby Doo. She pulled the box from the hole and used her trowel to work the lid open.

There was a gun inside.

It was a service revolver, evidently brought home by her father from the war. People had been supposed to return them, many had not. There were other things in the box. There was a Purple Heart. She had never known that her father had been injured in the war. She remembered his slight limp, but child-Sarah had thought that was because he was old, in his thirties.

There was a photo of him with three other soldiers, all laughing at some time-lost joke, faces filled with the impossible beauty of the young. The other three had dates written beside them in faded biro. All of the dates were in the late sixties.

And there was a photo of her, looking into the camera with a huge smile and huge eyes. Those eyes filled with tears now as she pictured her father – her Dad – looking at this.

Sarah picked up the gun. There was one bullet in it.

She wondered how many nights Dad had sat staring at his lost life, with the gun on his lap. She felt proud of him as she imagined the day he had made his decision, when he had chosen to live, and had boxed up his demons and buried them, settling instead for this solitary existence, away from the loved ones whose hurt incomprehension he could not abide.

She looked up at the cabin, then around at the garden. She knew that she owed it to Dad to go on, so she would.

Sarah put the box back into the earth, and covered it. Then she stood and tossed her trowel far out into the woods.

She would go on by living a real life, with laughter, people, and hopefully love. By living the life that had been stolen from her Dad by a war no-one wanted and after-effects no-one understood.

She was going home.

Between the Light and the Dark

image from juiceman.com

He isn’t coming, Erin thought.

She had been there for an hour now, sipping at her drink, hope rising with every jangle of the bell above the door, hope falling at each entrant, some townsperson or other rushing in to get coffee or pastries, their breath preceding them like a man with a red flag warning of the approach of the phrase “man, that’s a cold one”.

Some had nodded to her in recognition but others, she thought, avoided her gaze, as if her situation was some sort of medusa virus that could be passed on by eye contact.

Erin tapped at the side of her cup with her blunt fingernail, then hid her hand quickly inside her coat. She had started biting her nails again, and was embarrassed by them.

She’d finish her drink, she decided, and go. There was no point in–

The bell tolled again, and this time it tolled for she.

He stood huge in the doorway, snowflakes speckled among the curls of his hair. He looked around, saw her, and beamed. She felt a burst of love for him, then one of rage.

He sat down opposite her. “Hello, Honey,” he said.

“You’re late,” she said angrily.

He shrugged. “It’s snowing,” he smiled, “and I didn’t come on a one-horse open sleigh. I came in a nine-year-old car that handles in snow like a drunk supermarket trolley.”

She was determined not to be charmed. “I thought you weren’t coming,” she burst out.

His smiled faded. “I’m sorry you thought that,” he said quietly. He waved to Anna, the owner. “I’m going to get a coffee,” he said to Erin. “Will you have another – what is that?”

Erin blushed. “Peanut butter hot chocolate,” she muttered.

His eyes widened. “Really?”

“It’s warming, and delicious,” she said, annoyed at how defensive she sounded. “But it does smell a tiny bit like socks, so I’ll stick.”

Anna arrived at the table, notepad open, as though two people might order too many things to be expected to remember. “Why, Greg,” she said. “Haven’t seen you in here in a while.”

“No,” said Greg. “I’ve been … away.”

He ordered coffee. Anna looked at Erin, who shook her head. The notepad flipped closed, and Anna walked away, smiling faintly.

“So,” said Greg, “she knows about the break-up.”

“Everyone knows about the break-up,” snapped Erin.

“I see,” said Greg. He sat in silence until his coffee arrived. Erin found that she was tapping at her cup again. She put her hand on the table, and noticed Greg looking at her nails.

“Is it really hard?” he asked, putting his big hand over hers. She was shocked at his stupidity, and wondered how she could possibly have loved this man. She pulled her hand free.

“What do you think?” she snarled. “I thought we had a great life. I thought I had a great life, then it all fell apart. Now I cry a lot” – she was furious with herself, but couldn’t stop – “and just keep wanting things to be the way they were before.”

“Oh Erin,” said Greg. “I didn’t want to hurt you.”

Erin snorted, then panicked that she might have produced a burble of snot. She wiped quickly at her face. “Well, you did,” she said. “And don’t say that I’ll feel better after a while, like you did when you left, because this is after a while, and I don’t.”

She felt a flash of malicious satisfaction as she watched his face work out this sentence. Then she looked at him, really looked at him for the first time since he had come in. She saw that he was pale, not just mid-winter pale, but tired, unhappy pale. He looked old, for the first time ever. She felt a wave of sympathy, and was awed at the spectrum of emotions, between love and fury, between the light and the dark, that one human could simultaneously feel for another.

“It’s not easy for you either, is it?” she said softly.

He looked bleakly at her, and for a second she was terrified that he was going to cry. Then he fought his emotion, as he always did, and she was filled with illogical love and pride when the big, strong man – her big, strong man – managed a weak smile.

He reached out and put his hand on hers again. This time she let him.

She noticed him looking at the front of her coat. “Did you get my card?” he asked, hesitantly.

She smiled now, amused as always by his kryptonite, which was that he had never had sisters and so had no idea at what age girls are into what things. He had no idea, for example, that someone her age would rather die than be seen by anybody she knew wearing a big round badge that said ‘I’m 12 today’.

And she would never tell him that. She held her coat open, so that he could see the badge garishly red against her grey sweatshirt.

He smiled and squeezed her hand. “Happy birthday, Honey,” he said.

“Thanks, Dad,” she replied.

Vanishing Trick

They were coming.

Matt picked something up into his fist and held his breath as they reached his gate. There were four of them – a witch, a vampire, an alien, and a Kim Kardashian. Their little faces looked up at his old house and saw him silhouetted in the window. They ran, Halloween goodie bags flapping against their legs.

The former magician let out his breath and let the packet of Skittles fall from his hand. Of course they hadn’t called. He had seen to that.

When he arrived here, twenty years ago, he had wanted no visitors. The town knew who he was, so he used that. The removal of one screw from the top hinge made the gate list enough to creak when opened. He had bats flit between his chimneys (they were crows, attracted by plates of grain pushed through the skylight, but no-one got near enough to find out). The simple moving of a mirror in the garden made his garage sometimes visible from the road, sometimes not. He drove a hearse, with the curtains drawn.

Children called anyway, out of curiosity or for a dare, so one evening, thanks to a very black cloak and a dimly-lit porch, his disembodied head answered the door. After that he was left alone, to his loneliness.

Once he had been Matthias the Magnificent – there is no recorded instance of a magician with a name like Alex the Adequate – and with My Glamorous Assistant Gina, his girlfriend since school, he had travelled the country, slowly building a reputation. He stood out by the unusual twists to his tricks – pulling a hat from a rabbit, coughing up a sword, burping fire. As his fame grew, so did his ambition and the riskiness of his feats. He tied himself to a subway line, levitated across a motorway, appeared on the roof of a moving bus.

Then two terrible things happened on the same day. He nearly drowned while escaping from a barrel pushed over a waterfall, and Gina left him.

It was a mannequin in the barrel, of course, while he waited safely under the water beneath, but the barrel landed on his head and knocked him unconscious. He came to, struggled to just below the surface, recovered his composure and emerged smiling to the applause of a huge crowd and the cold fury of Gina.

“You’re going to kill yourself one day,” she said, “and I’m not going to help you do it.”

So she left, and the joy left with her. He drifted listlessly through several years of soulless shows, until one day he walked into a railway tunnel and did not emerge after the train sped through. When people ventured in they found a cat which looked at them and then seemed to utter the words “Matthias has retired. Please leave him alone”.

He moved to this small town and hid away from the world. Too well, he now realised, when even Amazon drivers would come only as far as the gate.

That gate now creaked open.

He watched a hooded figure walk up the drive, a sword protruding from its chest. He opened the door.

The figure lifted the hood. “Trick or treat,” said Gina.

Matt flicked his wrist and a bunch of flowers appeared in his fist.

Gina rolled her eyes. “I should have remembered who I was talking to,” she said.

Matt looked down at the sword. “It’s a rough neighbourhood,” he said.

“This is fancy dress,” said Gina. “I’m a character from Game of Thrones.

“Which one?”

Gina shrugged. “From what I’ve heard, any of them,” she said. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

Matt held the door wide. Gina walked in to a warm, well-decorated hallway. Matt saw her look of surprise. “Were you expecting cobwebs and a talking skull?” he asked.

“Pretty much,” admitted Gina. “I hear Matthias the Magnificent is Havisham the Hermit these days.”

“Where do you hear that?” asked Matt.

“On this town’s Facebook page,” said Gina. “They have a whole section about you. They say you sour milk and make the ducks in the pond swim in circles.”

“Milk sours itself,” said Matt, “and the pond is circular. What are the ducks to do?”

“I think the town actually likes having you here,” said Gina. Matt found himself curiously proud.

“And what brings you here?” he asked.

Gina looked embarrassed. “I recently retired,” she said. “After we split I went back to college, did accountancy, and I’ve had a really good life. But I’ve never stopped thinking of you. It’s been like, like –“

“Being sawn in half?” said Matt.

Gina laughed. ”Yes,” she said, “though not as much fun. So I googled you, and here I am.”

Matt sighed. “I was an idiot back then,” he said. “I didn’t recognize real magic.”

Gina looked into his eyes. “And now?”

Matt handed her the flowers he still held in his fist. “Smell them,” he said.

Gina bent over them, then looked up in surprise. “They’re real,” she said. “How-?”

Matt stepped to one side, revealing an empty vase on a shelf behind him.

“I knew it was you walking up the drive,” he said. “I’ve never forgotten your walk. I’ve never forgotten anything about you.”

Beyond the Range of the Light

Dad had said that camping would be educational, and he was right.

I learned a lot that summer, on that camping trip.

GPS back then was your Mom, her legs blanketed in a huge map, issuing one-line instructions in a monotone that the GPS people later copied. Some of these instructions would be in the past conditional tense, like ‘you should’ve taken a left there’, and then Dad would yell, Mom would yell and the car would fill with a sulky silence.

We did arrive eventually, though, at a campsite high in the hills. Dad parked at the end of the lot, by the edge of the woods. We pitched our tent, our tiny home for the next five days, and I began to learn about nature.

I learned that by nature I was a city girl.

I learned that all trees look the same, even if your Dad tries to point out differences. I learned that all bird-song sounds the same, like someone is bouncing up and down on a squeaky toy.

I learned that tea with small twigs in it tastes like tea, that burnt sausages taste like grit, and that while rabbit-poo looks like raisins, it tastes like poo.

I learned that sleeping on the ground is hard, because the ground is hard. I learned that the zip of a sleeping-bag always ends up underneath you. I learned that the silence of the countryside is a fairy-tale, that the night air is filled with rustles, low snuffling and the wind sighing, as if it is bored with nature too.

I learned that in the countryside time moves more slowly, and that this is not a good thing.

On the third afternoon another car pulled up at the next pitch, about fifty yards away. The Mom and Dad got out, grim-faced and silent. I guessed that the Mom had been on map duty. They had a daughter aged around eleven, like me. She kept looking over as the Mom perched a pot on a small stove and the Dad wrestled with their tent using a process that made it look like he was playing Twister. He swore as he did this, the type of words that Dad used whenever his team was getting beat on TV, which was almost always. Still, my Mom rolled her eyes, as if she’d never heard such filth.

I went to the camp washrooms later, and met the girl on her way back.

“Hi,” I said.


“So,” I said. “How do you like camping?”

“It’s gross,” she said. “My Dad said it would be –“


She giggled. “All I’ve learned is that home is where the heart is, and also the toys, and the books.”

We chatted for a while, girl stuff, then a woman’s voice yelled “April!” loudly, urgently. The girl smiled, then shrugged.

“I’d better go,” she said.

“Sure,” I said. “Talk to you tomorrow.”

Mom cooked our supper, and April’s Mom cooked theirs. The smell of burnt sausages was doubly strong. As night fell Dad began his ghost stories, while our neighbours took out a small radio. Mom sighed and glared as the music drifted across the warm air. Whenever Dad’s story would end with a loud “Yah!” and a clutch at my ribs that would make me shriek, their Mom would glare across at us.

Eventually the music stopped and the family crawled into their tent. We sat for a while longer, watching the moths flit around our lantern and gazing into the blackness beyond the range of the light. Then we too went to bed. I lay still, with the zip poking into my back, waiting for sleep to overpower the discomfort. Then I heard Dad mutter “gotta pee”. I heard him struggle out of his sleeping bag in a crackle of static electricity, and unzip the tent. I heard the soft hush of his footsteps across the grass. Then I heard the loud flump of somebody falling full-length onto a tent.

There was a yell and a scream, and the sound of frantic scrabbling on canvas. There was angry shouting and Dad apologising, then anger in his voice as he shouted too. Throughout I could hear April crying in fright.

Dad arrived back into the tent.

“What happened?” hissed Mom.

“Not now,” muttered Dad.

In the morning, while I flicked flies out of my cereal, Dad and Mom had a whispered conversation. Then Dad told me we were moving on. I asked why and he wouldn’t look at me, just said we needed a change of scenery. I said that all scenery was the same and he glared at me. We packed in silence. From outside their tent our neighbours watched us stonily.

The tent wouldn’t fit into its sheath. Dad tried for a while, then stuffed it into the trunk. We got into the car and started to drive off. April held up one hand.

“Don’t wave back,” snapped Mom. “They’re horrible people.”

I learned a lot that summer, on that camping trip.

As I waved furtively back at April’s little black hand, I realised that I had learned that my parents were racist.

Fallen Leaves

Being the eldest brother gives you certain rights, and one of the most important is the right to do things while forbidding your siblings to do the same, on the basis that it’s too dangerous.

So when 14 year-old Tommy spotted the tree the first thing he did was start to climb it, and the second to tell the others not to follow him. 12 year-old Steve sighed, staring wistfully up into the branches and contemplating the lot of the middle child.

Ben said nothing. He was nine, and just happy to be out with his big brothers.

Tommy was well into the higher branches when he suddenly stopped, staring hard at the bark. He took his phone from his back pocket, a process that involved a brief wobbling airplane impersonation with his arms, and took a photo. He scampered down the trunk and dropped from the lowest branch to the grass below, stumbling slightly upon landing and pretending, like an Olympic gymnast, that he had done it on purpose.

“Have a look at this,” he said.

“No thanks,” said Steve grumpily, “I’ve seen a tree before.”

Tommy punched his arm. “No, seriously,” he said. “Take a look.”

His brothers peered at the photo on the screen. The names ‘Debra Miller’ and “Frank Greene’ had been carved into the bark. Between the two names was a heart with an arrow through it.

“So this woman shot this guy through the heart?” asked Ben.

“No,” said Tommy. “He was her boyfriend, he wasn’t a vampire.”

Ben shrugged. “Big deal,” he said.

Steve’s eyes suddenly widened. “It IS a big deal,” he said, “because Debra Miller is Granny.”

“Exactly,” said Tommy.

Ben laughed. “Granny couldn’t climb that tree,” he said, “because she’s ancient.”

“We’re not saying,” said Steve patiently, “that she climbed it yesterday.”

“And anyway, her name is Granny Roberts,” continued Ben.

“Because Grandad was Jim Roberts,” said Tommy. “Her name was Miller before she got married.”

“Are we going to show her?” asked Steve.

“We can’t,” said Ben. “She won’t be able to climb the tree because –“

“He means,” said Tommy, “are we going to show her the photo.”

“And are we?”

“You bet,” said Tommy.

The boys ran to their Granny’s house, with Ben chanting “Frank and Granny in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g” the whole way. Tommy pushed open the back door. As always, Granny was knitting in an armchair beside the stove. She was a prodigious knitter, though not an especially skilled one, and the boys had grown up wearing five-foot long jumpers, two-foot long scarves and beanie hats so tight that their brains ached.

A cardigan was slowly emerging from the flashing needles, and already Steve could see that one of the sleeves was going to be longer than the other.

Granny stood up and smiled. “Here’s my wonderful young men,” she said.

Tommy and Steve felt suddenly unsure, as if they were trespassing. Ben did not.

“Tommy took a photo in the woods,” he said. Tommy glared at him.

“Wonderful,” said Granny. “Is it a deer?”

“Er, no,” stammered Tommy. He put his phone on the table and stepped back. Granny stared at the photo for a long time.

“I’d forgotten all about this,” she whispered. She looked up at the boys, eyes glistening. “The tree near the old well, right?” she said.

“Yes,” said Steve. “You climbed up a really long way.”

“Well, perhaps the tree was smaller then,” smiled Granny. “That would have been, well, nineteen sixty-seven.”

“So you were seventeen,” said Tommy.

“Yes,” said Granny. “And what a time to be seventeen! The Beatles, flower power, free – well, it was a great time.”

“And this Frank was your … boyfriend?” asked Steve warily.

“Yes,” said Granny. “Of course, that was before I met your Grandad.” She could sense all three boys relax slightly.

“And when Grandad came you liked him better, right?” said Ben.

Granny smiled tightly. “I loved your Grandad more than any man I ever met,” she said, “but I didn’t meet him until after Frank was sent to Vietnam.”

“Where’s that?” asked Steve.

“Back then it wasn’t a ‘where’, it was more of a ‘what’,” said Granny. “And what a bloody what it was,” she muttered. She stared into a far distance, a thousand lives away, where better people had made better choices, then looked up and smiled brightly at the boys, who were horrified to see a tear run down her cheek.

“We didn’t mean to upset you,” said Ben.

“Oh, my darlings, you haven’t upset me at all,” Granny laughed. “You’ve reminded me that I was young once, and old people should be reminded that more often.”

Her phone beeped, startling her. “I’ve texted you the picture,” said Tommy quietly. She took his hands and looked into his eyes. “Thank you,” she said simply.

Tommy nodded to the other two. “We’d better go,” he said. Granny hugged each of them, tightly.

“I’m glad we reminded you about the beetles,” said Ben, as they left.

Granny stood for a long time looking at the photo. Then Debra went and took a locket from deep inside a kitchen drawer. From the small picture inside, above the uniform, Tommy’s eyes looked back at her.

“Here’s my wonderful young man,” she whispered.



Can You See What I See

Their trips to the drive-in movie theater were always the same.
He would fall asleep and she would quietly leave the vehicle to
get popcorn, Milk Duds, and soda. As she walked back with her
goodies, the car-side speakers stopped and the screen went black,
throwing the entire lot into darkness. She stopped, temporarily
blinded. Then, the screen lit back up again, showing…

This was the topic for the Summer 24-hour Short Story contest, and this is what I wrote (and didn’t win with)…


Tonight’s offering was a horror film. Steve, Lucy knew, would slumber through the screaming and gore, while she watched, alone, from behind her fingers.

It happened every week, no matter how intense the movie, how awful the noise. Steve had slept through the Apollo launch of First Man, the exploding plane of Die Hard 2, the dying roars of King Kong.

He had even slept though Pierce Brosnan’s singing in Mamma Mia.

On screen the Rank man beat the giant gong. This was Lucy’s cue to leave the car, knowing that the snacks line would now be gone.

The opening credits were just finishing as she returned. She hoped that there would be no immediate on-screen shock before she reached the car, causing her to start and hurl soda onto someone’s windscreen, as she had done once before.

The screen went dark. Very dark. Luckily they had the only red car in the lot. She ran the final few steps and flopped into her seat, bouncing Steve awake. He smiled guiltily at her. She handed him the Milk Duds and dipped her hand into her popcorn, eyes fixed on the dark rectangle ahead.

“Spooky opening,” she said. Steve nodded.

Suddenly an elderly man’s face filled the screen. The effect was rather like staring up Shrek’s nose.

“Got it,” he said. His head rose out of shot, pulling into its place a stomach across which a T-shirt was stretched like a tarpaulin over a haystack. He turned, improving the view not at all, and walked three steps to a sofa, sitting down beside a woman of similar age. The two held hands, endearingly, then stared straight outwards, as if about to speak to camera.

But didn’t.

“It’s a bit slow,” murmured Steve.

“It’s a bit slow,” murmured the woman on the screen.

“That’s to build suspense, Joan,” said her companion. “It seems to be set in a drive-in. Just as well I rigged this up, then,” he went on. “I’d hate to watch a horror film set in a drive-in, in an actual drive-in.”

“Steve,” breathed Lucy, “I think they’re looking at us.”

“How could –“ began Steve.

“How did you do it, Len?” asked Joan, on the screen.

“I connected their website to our Zoom,” said the man. “You know how the grandkids can show us their online school projects and stuff? I reckoned it would work like that.”

“Don’t they have to share their screen to do that?” asked Joan doubtfully.

“Of course,” nodded Len in satisfaction, “which is exactly what a drive-in does.”

“Well, get a load of you,” said Joan. “My Mister Clever IT Man.”

“Simple,” shrugged Len mock-modestly. “And I’m not paying twenty dollars to watch a film in my own car and five dollars more for Milk Duds.”

“Ugh, Milk Duds,” said Joan, with a shudder. “They taste like cat-sick.”

Steve expressionlessly removed a Milk Dud from his mouth and flicked it out the window.

Len leaned forward, peering. “Something’s happening at last,” he said. “People are starting to get out of their cars.”

Lucy looked around. Sure enough, some people had emerged from their vehicles and were making their way towards the tiny wooden shack that served as control centre, gesticulating angrily.

“They’ll be first to die,” said Len confidently.

The complainers paused.

“There’s something coming through the woods!” yelled Joan suddenly.

Despite herself Lucy felt a brief flash of terror. The sound of running and the slamming of car doors told her she wasn’t the only one.

“Nah,” said Len. “It’s just the trees blowing in the wind.”

The couple continued to stare at their screen. At the drive-in, the watchers watched the watchers. Len took a long swig from a beer-can, then burped so loudly that several cars rocked, though not for the time-honoured drive-in reason.

“See the red car near the front?” said Joan. ”I bet the creature’s in there right now. He’ll suddenly sit up in the back seat.”

Don’t look, thought Lucy, rocking back and forward slightly. She looked out of the side window instead. The couple in the next car were staring at her with a mixture of horror and pity. The man looked straight into her eyes, then rolled up his window.

“Nah,” said Len. “They’ll be the heroes, the ones that kill the creature. He’ll be Brad Pitt –“

“Yeah right,” said Lucy.

“- she’ll be Jennifer Lawrence –“

“Yeah right too,” said Steve.

“- and when everyone else is dead they’ll beat the creature to pulp with a tyre-iron.”

Steve clutched Lucy’s hand, making her jump. “We don’t have a tyre-iron,” he whispered.

“We’ll take one from one of the dead people,” hissed Lucy.

The screen went blank.

Seconds later it lit up again. A young woman was sobbing as she fled through face-slapping branches.

The drive-in rang with boos.

Lucy and Steve looked at each other.

“We’ve had surprise, horror and romance,” said Steve. “This rubbish won’t beat that.”

“You’re right,” said Lucy, grinning. “Let’s go home, Brad.”


Joan and Len stared gloomily at themselves on their TV screen. Len looked bewildered, but quickly recovered.

“It’s obviously one of those trilogy films that just end mid-story,” he said. “Like the first Lord Of The Rings.




Fly Fishing

The townsfolk talked but she didn’t care. Day after day, she lugged her saw, a bucket, a homemade fishing pole, and bait across the frozen lake. Once there, she sat shivering while waiting for the telltale tug from a creature of the deep. This torturous task wasn’t for the fairer sex but what choice did she have? On that particular day, as clouds and a north wind rolled in from the mountains, she noticed two little boys at the edge of the lake, shouting and pointing…

This was the topic for January’s 24-Hour Short Story Contest. As usual I didn’t win, which suits me because now I can post my story here…


God, thought Anna, people actually do this for fun.

It was her fourth day on the lake, the fourth day on which she had walked gingerly out across the ice, cut a hole and sat in front of it, the line from her pole dangling in the water. It was the fourth day on which she had felt colder inside than out, and had begun to believe that if she looked she would be able to see her bones ice-blue beneath her skin.

It was the fourth day on which nothing had happened.

Suddenly she heard shouting from the lakeshore and looked up. Two small boys were pointing and talking excitedly. Her eyes followed their pointing fingers, up the road that led into the small town, and watched as a sleek sports car bounced down the gritted track and came to a halt beside the lake. It was the kind of car that looked as if it had a top speed in three figures, finger-light steering and machine-guns behind the front grill.

Anna smiled grimly. She had been expecting this.

A man got out of the car. He wore an immaculately fitting coat and aviator sunglasses. His suit looked expensive and his shoes shone in the wintry sun.

He should have just worn overalls with “Homeland Security” printed on them, thought Anna.

The man looked down at the ice, hesitated briefly, then strode confidently forward. As he came to a halt beside her one foot slipped slightly, causing his cocky smile, just for a second, to be replaced by a look of panic. He recovered quickly.

“Good morning,” he said cheerfully. “Caught anything?”

“Possibly pneumonia,” Anna replied. “Other than that, no. They’re not biting today.”

“Nor yesterday, apparently,” said the man. “Or the two days before that.”

“Wow,” said Anna, “the townsfolk really do talk about me, Mister -?”

“Davis,” said the man. “And you’re right, they do talk about you, but that’s not how I know. We’ve been watching you, Anna Voloshin.”

“So it seems,” said Anna, “but I don’t know why. I’m here to fish. Look, I have bait.”

“And I have boxer shorts,” said Davis, “so I’m Muhammad Ali.”

“Look-“ began Anna.

“No, you look,” said Davis. “We know your name is Anna Voloshin, and that you arrived here from Russia five days ago. Your visa says that you’re a marine biologist and that you’re here on vacation, but we both know you’re a spy.”

“We don’t have spies in Russia anymore,” said Anna. “We Google stuff.”

Davis smiled. “We know you’re here to recover your drone,” he said.

“Our drone?”

“Yes,” said Davis. “The one you were using to spy on the canning factory just outside town.”

“Sounds like a waste of a good drone to me,” said Anna. “It’s not as if the building is actually, say, a research facility.”

“Which of course it isn’t. Anyway, your drone was damaged and crashed. It went through the ice and into this lake. We know this because our drone shot it down, and filmed it all happening. And you’ve been sent here to get it back.”

“I’ve told you,” said Anna, “I’m just here to fish.”

“It’s a closed lake,” said Davis. “It’s filled purely by rain and melting ice. There is no stream into or out of it, therefore there are no fish.” He saw Anna’s eyes widen for a second. “You should probably have Googled that.”

There was a brief silence.

“No wonder the townsfolk kept talking about me,” said Anna eventually. “They must have really enjoyed laughing at the idiot tourist –“

There was a sudden beeping noise. They both looked at Anna’s rod. At one end it looked just like an ordinary fishing pole, but on the handle, where the sound was coming from, were a number of buttons and a small red light, which was now flashing.

“Well, that could have been better timed,” muttered Anna.

“Perhaps I was wrong about the fish,” said Davis. “You seem to have caught an electric eel.”

Anna smiled sweetly at him, then pressed one of the buttons.

There was a soft boom, a flash of light from underwater, and a faint shudder along the ice. The overall effect was as if the lake had tried to hold in a sneeze.

“What the-?” gasped Davis.

“Oh, come on,” said Anna, “how did you think I was going to get it out? With a worm on the end of a piece of string? I was never trying to get it back, I was just sent to make sure you lot didn’t get it.”

She dropped her rod into the water, kicked her bucket skidding along the ice, and poured the remains of her bait onto his shoes. “See you around, Muhammad,” she said.

She began to walk away towards the shore.

“I can’t believe you blew it up,” said Davis, shaking his head.

Anna turned. “Don’t get so cut up about it,” she said. “If it makes you feel any better, remember that those drones are putting you and me out of a job.”


The Calm On The Surface

The wind suddenly picked up as she looked out from the porch. A
wall of dark clouds was pushing across the horizon and a light
chop had developed on the lake, gently rocking the tiny rowboat
tied to the dock. The changing seasons always brought
unpredictable weather. Just as she was about to turn toward the
door, movement in the water caught her attention. She squinted
and then her eyes opened wide. Rushing down the stairs, she
kicked off her shoes, and raced to untie the boat…

The quarterly 24-Hour Short Story Contest takes place today and into tomorrow, starting at 6pm my time when the 500 entrants will be given the prompt. The topic above appeared a couple of years ago, when I had stopped blogging, but below is the story that I entered…


Mary stood on her porch, looked out across the lake, and sighed. She loved living here, she realised. She always would.

She had wondered what it would be like after her husband died, whether the loneliness and isolation would get to her, whether she would eventually have to move back into town, to noise, and civilisation, and people, but no, she was learning that over time she would grow ever fonder of the solitude and the peace.

The wind was picking up, carrying with it a sharp chill, as winter fought its last battles with the oncoming spring. A wall of dark clouds was pushing across the horizon. Waves rocked the tiny rowboat tied to the dock.

She pulled her cardigan more tightly around her and had just turned to go back inside, when out of the corner of her eye she thought she saw something. She stared hard out at the lake, squinted, and then her eyes opened wide.

There was something in the water.

She raced down the porch steps, kicked off her shoes, and ran to untie the boat. She rowed, hard, through the choppy water for about three hundred yards, until she reached the object she had spotted. She let go of the oars, her two hands covering her mouth in horror.

At she had suspected and feared when she’d seen it, even at that distance, it was a body. She fought the urge to throw up. The urge won.

It was the body of a man, his eyes staring unseeingly upwards. His face was not a pleasant one, with a cruel mouth that looked as if it had spent most of its time twisted in a sneer, and a mean expression which was mixed with surprise. His hands were large and gnarled, and his knuckles were grazed, suggesting a man to whom sudden bursts of violence came easily. It seemed that this time one had come to him in a way he had not expected.

Mary took a deep breath, then rolled him over in the water. She caught him under the armpits and began to haul him into the boat, pulling at his back, then at his bottom, then at his legs, as if he was a ladder and she was climbing him upside down. She saw the large wound on the back of his head, where he had obviously been struck. She noticed that the pockets of his jacket had ripped away, as if rocks had been placed in them and the weight of the rocks had, rather than keeping him at the bottom of the lake, simply re-styled the jacket.

Clearly he been expected to disappear forever. Clearly this had not happened.

She picked up the oars and rowed back towards the shore. The going was much tougher with the dead weight, literally, of her passenger, but Mary was a strong rower, and soon had him back at the dock.

She sat for a moment, trying to decide what to do. The lake was a corrie, a valley in the middle of the mountains, surrounded by four high, forest-covered sides. Cell-phone coverage was poor, the internet and email almost non-existent. The nearest town was an hour’s drive away. It had just two police officers, and one police car. It was because of the beautiful, haunting isolation of this cabin by the lake that she and her husband had moved here, all those years ago.

Such isolation, Mary now realised, had both advantages and disadvantages.

She looked down at the body, surprised at how little emotion or empathy she felt. It was just a shell, she realised, the soul of the person who had been inside was gone. She wondered where, or if indeed there was a where for it to have gone to.

The wind was sharper now, chilling her on those parts of her body that were wet from dragging him aboard. The corpse was still soaked, so hauling it around would chill her further. She climbed from the boat, climbed the steps into the cabin, went to her bedroom and fetched herself a coat. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, she opened her husband’s side of the wardrobe and pulled out his old overcoat. She held it for a long moment, inhaling its scent, his scent, and was overwhelmed with memories. Her eyes filled with tears, and she took a long, shuddering breath. Then she went back to the boat, and put the dry coat on to the body.

The she went along the shore, picking up rocks, larger rocks than the ones she’d used the day before, this time zipping the pockets closed.

She sat into the boat, and looked down at her husband. “Ok, dear,” she said. “Take Two.”

She picked up the oars and began to row back to the centre of the lake. 

Final Call

Cell phones all over the country simultaneously shrilled that morning. Residents quickly scanned the emergency alert, and then raced to gather their family members, and prepare. Meanwhile, in the national forest, there was no cell phone access…..

That was part of the prompt for the Spring running of the 24-Hour Short Story Contest, which I still enter occasionally. As usual I didn’t win, but had fun anyway with the effort below..


Cell phones across the country, across the world, simultaneously shrilled. People across the country, across the world, raced to check their screens. And across the country, across the world, hearts sank.

It was Judgement Day.

The Judgement Day App had been a recent Church innovation, an attempt to connect with its congregation in the new digital age. They reckoned that a world that demanded to be notified instantly whenever a Royal had a baby, or a celebrity couple had a break-up, or a friend simply had a meal, would be keen to be told if ever the last day arrived, if only so that they could comment on the fact on Twitter.

And the church had been right. Their flock had flocked to download the App, then had promptly forgotten about it. Until this morning, when the App had chirped out its tinny version of Roy Orbison’s “It’s Over”.

At first there was panic, and weeping, and gnashing of teeth. Then the whole human race seemed to heave a collective sigh and, as is our way, just got on with life.

In surveys a surprising number of people say that, if told that the world was about to end, they would have sex. In practice this did not happen, because the same surprising number of people found that facing the end of the world is actually a bit of a turn-off. Millions of pairs of co-workers did kiss, though, finally acknowledging long-held deep mutual attachment. Others gleefully handed in their notice, their bosses being invited to stick their jobs in a variety of improbable places. Impromptu street parties broke out. Selfies were posted of people burning their bucket lists. Others went to fulfil long-held secret ambitions, so tattoo parlours found middle-aged queues at their doors. Ex-smokers begged cigarettes from friends and took long inhalations of nicotine, then went into coughing fits that nearly turned them inside out, reminding them of why they had become ex-smokers in the first place. A man just waking from a life-saving operation swore violently, as did a woman who just the day before had won the State Lottery. A dying millionaire, on the other hand, laughed heartily at the now gloomy heirs gathered around his hospital bed. A group nearing the top of Everest increased their pace, determined to reach the summit before the end came. A man went onto eBay and bid four million dollars for an electric kettle, just for the laugh. The Wikipedia entry for “Judgement Day” was changed to read, simply, “Game Over”. A new Facebook page urged people to download “Michelle” so that the Beatles would have the last ever number one, cementing their place as the world’s best ever band. Many people put on their best clothes. The English patiently began to queue.

Wars across the globe came to a halt, there suddenly seeming to be little point. The New York Stock Exchange kept going, though, a fiscal version of the dance band on the Titanic.

The Mannings knew nothing about any of this. The husband and wife had headed off into the national forest the evening before and spent the day hiking, while the gentle hum of the insects, the soothing gurgle of the river, and the soft crunch of their boots on the pathway drowned out the distant blast of trumpets, and the crack of doom, and the reading out of a very, very long list.

They camped again that night, and next morning they rose, packed up their tent, and hiked out of the forest to the ranger station. To their surprise it was deserted. They wandered around the car-park for a while, calling “hello?”, hearing only the valley calling “hello?” back.

“This is crazy,” said Manning. “I want to return the machete he lent -“

He was walking as he said this, and moved briefly into a pocket of cell coverage.

His cell-phone began to play “It’s Over”.

“Well, that’s not good,” said his wife.

“It’s worse,” he said, looking down at the phone. “The message is from yesterday.”

“You mean everyone is gone?”

“Looks like it,” he said. “It’s just us now.”

They stared at each other for a long time. “What are we going to do?” she asked, eventually.

Manning looked around, and took in the silence, and the solitude, and the idyll of the forest that stretched out before him, like the world’s best garden. Some primeval memory stirred inside him, something passed directly down to him through ancestors beyond number, generations of ancestors going back to the beginning of the world itself. He smiled at his wife, Eve, and took her hand.

“We’ll have to start the human race again,” said Adam. “It’s a family tradition.”



And The Lord Taketh Away

Ok, my ego has been fed enough. Writersweekly.com run a 24 hour competition each quarter, limited to 500 entrants and to a word count of about 900 words. The results of January’s contest came out this week and I didn’t win. This was the prompt….

He walked among the market stalls, pretending to ignore the whispering and giggling women. His relaxed demeanor, handsome features, and ready smile meant no female in the town missed his weekly sermons and the church’s coffers were overflowing of late.
Feeling a touch on his sleeve, he turned and his smile disappeared. Looking first left and right, he angrily spat, “I told you to never speak to me again!”

She blinked, her long lashes brushing her cheeks, and said, “But, I need to talk to you.” Leaning closer,she paused, and lowered her voice. “You see, I’m…”

Previously I had believed I had to start my story with the above, but have realised that it must simply touch upon the topic. Anyway, this is what I came up with (and Janie, hope you don’t mind me kind of borrowing your name) …


Kate sat at a table outside the town’s only cafe, drinking coffee that tasted like burnt vole and watching Reverend Hanly as he walked among the market stalls. I’d forgotten how handsome he was, she thought. She noticed the effect he was having on the women that he passed, and that he was pretending to ignore it.

“Look at them,” said a voice. Kate turned and saw a woman in her late thirties sitting at the table next to hers, her auburn pony-tail swaying from side to side as she shook her head in disgust. “Whispering and giggling, like Austen heroines when a potential husband visits on his horse. They’re setting feminism back about two hundred years.”

“In fairness, you don’t see many ministers who look like him,” said Kate.

“And doesn’t he just know it,” said the woman. “He thinks he’s God’s gift to women. Which, of course, given his occupation, he technically is. Either way, they’ve become his flock, in that they follow him around like sheep. They’re at his sermons every week, and I’ve heard that the church’s coffers are full, whatever that means.”

“Perhaps you heard that the church is full of coughers,” said Kate. “It always was when I used to go. Anyway, what do the men think?”

“I don’t think they do,” said the woman. “They drink beer and play pool at Jeb’s, and it seems to occupy all of their mental faculties to manage both tasks.”

“You’re not from here, I’m guessing,” said Kate.

“Good deduction,” said the woman. “You should join us, we could do with someone like you on the force.”

“You’re a cop?”

“Yep. I’m Jeanie Jones, by the way,” said the woman, offering her hand. “That’s Deputy Jones to you.”

“Kate Hanly,” smiled Kate. “That’s Mrs Hanly to you.”

Jeanie’s eyes narrowed. “He’s never mentioned a wife,” she said.

“I suppose I should be hurt by that, but I’m not,” said Kate. “It was all a long time ago, when we were just teenagers. The old story – Boy meets Girl, Girl marries Boy, Boy meets God, Girl can’t really compete with that.”

“That’s sad,” said Jeanie.

“Plus Girl meets Martha from the church choir,” said Kate, “in bed with Boy. Girl shouts a lot of stuff about coveting thy neighbour’s ass, Boy shouts back, break-up is less than cordial.”

Jeanie looked her up and down. “He cheated on you?” she said. “Either he’s mental, or Martha was some looker.”

Kate blushed. “How’s he behaving here?” she asked.

Jeanie made a face as sour as their coffee. “Hasn’t changed much, by the sound of it,” she said. “He tried it on with me once, I think he found me a challenge because he knows I think he’s full of it. Anyway, I told him I couldn’t break my golden rule.”

“Never date those you protect and serve?”

“Never let vicars into your knickers.”

Kate laughed, then stood. “I’d better go face him,” she said.

“Why now?” asked Jeanie, “after all this time?”

Kate sighed. “Girl needs favour from Boy,” she said. “Wish me luck.”

She crossed the square towards him. Several women glared openly at her as she reached out and touched his sleeve. Wow, if looks could kill, she thought.

He turned with a ready smile, which instantly disappeared. Looking first left and right, he angrily spat “I told you never to speak to me again!”

She blinked, astonished at the sheer venom in his voice. Looks really can kill, she realised. It was his looks that had killed the sweet soul she had fallen in love with, and replaced him with this human balloon of vanity.

“I need to talk to you,” she said. She leaned closer and lowered her voice. “You see, I’m in love. We want to get married, and I need a divorce.”

She had hoped he might be happy for her. She had prayed he would consent. She had feared he would be uncooperative. She had never imagined the look of sneering contempt.

“Marry?” he said. “Who on God’s earth would marry you?

She slapped him across the face, to her own shock as much as to his. “I’m sorry,” she began, “I didn’t –.”

He slapped her back.

The crack seemed to ring across the town square. Her cheek stung, but she would not raise a hand to it. Into the deep silence that followed she said, more loudly, “I want a divorce.”

He looked around at now stony faces. For a fraction of a second his beauty seemed to flicker, like an old news-reel. Quietly, he said “whatever.”

He walked away, pretending to ignore the whispers starting from the women. There was no giggling, not now.

Kate walked back to the café and sat down, the mark on her cheek blazing as fiercely as her heart. Jeanie took her hand, and softly said “way to go, girl.”

Gradually the bustle returned to the market, but there was a change in the atmosphere, as if a spell had been broken.

“Do you know,” said Jeanie, “maybe it’s you who’ve been God’s gift to the women here.”

Kate noticed that a couple of them were crying.

“Maybe so,” she said. “The coughers are overflowing.”