Pete grips the steering wheel in despair as he turns onto the main road. Heâs going to be late for work. Again! And heâll have to explain himself to his line manager and sheâs never going to believe him. She never does.
The red light changes three times and he barely moves an inch. To his right, a stapler nudges forward. In front, a blue marker pen aggressively honks its horn. Across the central reservation, a hole punch narrowly avoids a pothole.
He dials his work, gets put through to that familiar condescending voice.
He swallows and says, âTrafficâs stationery.â
I find myself standing in my apartment hallway at just after three in the morning. I donât know what got me out of bed, only that something did.
Something is not right.
My eyes gradually adjust. The light from the communal hallway hints at the hall table, my hanging coat, the kitchen door ajar.
All normal but there is something not right, a reason why I stand here now, neck hair raised.
And then I realise. There is no light coming through the spy hole, and if I look downâŚ
âŚ Two pools of black where there should be uninterrupted light.
âThe one hundred finest drabble writers from around the world gathered today in this hall to participate in the International Drabble Championships. Each of you produced your best drabble under examination conditions within the ten minute timeframe. Your entries have been read, reread and assessed and I am pleased to announce that we have settled on a winner. Now, it will come as no surprise to you that this final prize-giving speech has been carefully written to clock in at one hundred words. No more, no less! So, without further ado, I am pleased to announce that the winner is
I sit here in my prison. As soon as the door clanged shut I sensed Iâd not get out alive. Various obscenities cover the walls, the bored and misspelt scrawling of previous occupants. My ears prick up. Noises. The shushing from lips, the softness of carefully-placed footsteps, the ever so quiet shutting of a door. I committed the crime and now I must face my punishment.
I sit here, trousers and underpants (name stitched into both) around my ankles. Two acne-encrusted faces appear above me, either side of the cubicle.
âYou grassed on us,â one says.
The other: âYouâre dead.â
His jawline is strong. Manly. This incongruity leaps out at me for some reason. Perhaps itâs because I have always equated religion with weakness. But this manâŚ this man I can see beyond the cassock and collar. His skin is clear and radiates a softness I wouldnât have thought imaginable without touch. His lips are not too slim, not too full. Just right. And his eyes tell stories I want to listen to right into the early hours when the light of day is blissfully absent. To my left stands my soon-to-be-wife. And soon the soon-to-be will be no more.
âStupid, stupid, stupid baby!â
Stacey tried everything to stop the incessant crying. But nothing - NOTHING - would work and the noise just grew louder and louder.
âShut the hell up. SHUT UP!â
Stacey screamed in its face and shook it, gently at first but soon more vigorously. And then she was holding it by the leg, dangling it, and hitting its head against the floor.
THWACK. THWACK. CRACK.
The next day, Stacey had tears running down her own face as the teacher shouted at her.
âThese things are expensive! And youâre meant to treat them like you would a real baby!â
âSir, itâs likeâŚ sort ofâŚ thereâs this tank and in the tank are the fliesâŚ and likeâŚ theyâre everywhere. Buzzing and flapping their wings and crashing into the sides of the tank and each other. And thereâsâŚ likeâŚ this guyâŚ he watches over the tank and he observes the fliesâŚ likeâŚ crashing into each other because thereâsâŚ likeâŚ so many of them and everything. This guy is likeâŚ super powerful and he rules themâŚ like aâŚ like âŚ wellâŚ lord.â
The book flew across the classroom and hit the boy on the head.
âJenkins, next time, read the bloody book.â
Dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot dot. Maybe I should have picked a different painting styleâŚ
It was known for ice-skating when I was a child. The lake, that is. Everyone used to gather there throughout winter, either to brave the ice or stand huddled together and watch. My mother would beg me not to go there, insisting it wasnât safe and that Iâd fall through the ice. Oh, the relief on her face when Iâd returnâŚ
Now itâs known as the lake where I was found. And for once my mother did want the ice to crack and cave in, as she stood there watching my battered, ravaged body become free from its icy prison.
"Doctor, these warts are troubling me?â
âThey seem superficial to my eye.â
"And my skin has a tint to it - greenish. Liver problems?"
"Hmmm, that'd give you more of a yellowish tint. I think I know what's the matter. You're a witch."
âYouâve a broomstick under your arm."
âTrue, but I just like to sweep the floor as I go."
"Anything else unusual?"
"Nothing I can think of."
âWell, I stand by my diagnosis. I think youâre a witch.â
Dissatisfied, the patient booked an appointment with another doctor for a second opinion before flying off into the darkening sky.
âWho to?â he asked, before each left holding a signed copy of his latest thriller.
It was late and he was tiring when a young man presented himself at the signing table.
Thoughts raced through his mind as he sat there paralysed. Who knew he was having an affair with his publisher? Who could possibly know that the masterpiece heâd just published was the idea of another? Had someone finally discovered heâd literally murdered his way onto the bestseller list?
Eventually, the young man showed his travel pass to aid the author.
York Hiller, it read.
A drabble is a work of precisely 100 words. Book Hippoâs rules thus state that any submitted drabbles must be precisely 100 words long. But, I wonder, can I submit a drabble that is 99 words long? 101 words? And will anyone count? Will anyone care? Which brings me to this drabble, the one I write to see if I can fiddle the system. And this is it, in all its rule busting glory. Or am I just creating a pretentious piece of modern art, masquerading as inexistent rebellion, a drabble that is in fact precisely 100 words in length?
Itâs peaceful. Apart from the drip-drip-drip of the tap but that brings its own kind of peace.
My duck, a childhood toy, sits on the edge of the bath. I try to avoid its judgmental stare.
A candle burns in the corner, its flame ever-nearing the water which pinks my skin and cleanses.
I close my eyes and control my breathing. In-out. In-out. In-out. Itâs hard. Itâs not for me.
Iâm making the right decision. No one else thinks this, Iâm sure, but itâs my decision to make.
Water. Mouth. Eyes. Candle. Out. Water. Throat. Water. Water.
The commuter train is packed. Itâs the busiest time of day.A young man is sitting towards the carriageâs rear. His rucksack sits bloated at his feet; he keeps it close. He wrings his hands, each turn squeezing out fresh beads of sweat. Droplets form on his forehead before trickling down his cheeks.People are looking at him. They pretend not to but they are.He closes his eyes, prays to Allah for what is about to happen.âMum,â he says, on his destinationâs train platform. âThereâs something you should know. This will be hard for you, but Iâm gay.â
Agatha and Robert were due to celebrate their golden wedding anniversary this April. Their daughter, Natasha, wanted to treat them. They deserved some happiness at this late stage in life. Who knew how much longer theyâd be around? And theyâd never been abroad, so this gift was very special indeed.
Agatha had tears of joy in her eyes after sheâd opened the envelope. She showed the tickets to Robert, who emitted an impressed whistle.
âTitanic,â Agatha gasped.
Natasha could have sworn the whispered word was accompanied by a small mist of condensed breath. As if the room were ice cold.
Itâs the anniversary of the bombings and she is sitting on the edge of her bed clutching a photograph: her son. Sheâs rocking back and forth, back and forth, in silent agony. All year roundâs painful but this dayâs the worst. Her face is the picture of someone crying yet no tears flow. She cried herself dry long ago.
In the photograph her son is smiling. Sheâs not smiled since that terrible day. She wonders now where her son would be if heâd lived. She wonders where it all went wrong. Could she have stopped him killing all those people?
How Mr Nutter the pharmacist stayed in business was anyone's guess, for he hardly dispensed any prescriptions or sold any medicines.
"Have you anything for my sore throat?" an old lady asked.
"Certainly! That hat of yours suits you perfectly," replied Mr Nutter.
"I keep getting indigestion," complained another.
"You're looking particularly well-groomed today," replied Mr Nutter. "Next!"
Mr Pumphrey, a regular, staggered in clutching his chest. "My heart..."
Mr Nutter knew what to do. "Morning! Oh you've shined those shoes a treat, Mr Pumphrey!"
Moments before Mr Pumphrey collapsed, heâd passed a large banner outside that read âComplimentary Medicineâ.
Just a game.
Dice thrown. Wheel spun. Counters vibrating with the pairâs roared laughter.
âWhatâs it landed on?â
âSeptember the 2nd, 1666.â
âIâll pickâŚ London.â Lit a match and held it over Englandâs capital. âYour turn.â
Spun the wheel. September the 11th, 2001. Smiled whilst picking a model plane from the board gameâs upturned lid. Placed it in New York. Watched the smoke plume rise. âYour turn.â
Wheel spun. â2015. A date of my choice.â
Hesitated. Licked lips. Selected a piece.
The other gasped. âYou canât!â
Both stood back from the board in horrified anticipation.
Just a game.
Christmas was a balancing act for Mrs Strudel as she struggled to ensure that her guests left alive. The problem was that her familyâs medical notes needed a separate filing cabinet at the local surgery.
She spent hours checking ingredients for her nut-allergic nephew and gluten-free granddaughter. She twiddled the thermostat so that it accommodated both her sisterâs asthma and nieceâs skin condition. Just before everyone arrived, she dived for the fairy lights, changing them from flickering to constant for her epileptic cousin.
The day went swimmingly, but then Mrs Strudel collapsed with a heart attack while waving everyone off.
âBilly, come for your present.â
âWhy not bring it down here? Iâll open it in front of everyone else.â
Toby hesitated. âI canât.â
âCanât?â Then Billy understood. It must have been too big to bring down.
âItâs in my room,â said Toby.
The pair excused themselves and walked upstairs, which caused Billyâs heart to pound. He didnât know why; he wasnât unfit.
Toby opened his door. Both stepped inside.
âThereâs nothing here,â said Billy.
âLook up,â whispered Toby.
Above Billy, completely out of place, hung a piece of mistletoe. Yet Billy felt it the most natural present to find there.
âI know itâs not much, but I had to get you something, didnât I? Mum wonât like me giving you them, what with your diabetes, but I wonât tell if you wonât. Theyâre your favourite. You once complained of them playing havoc with your teeth but that didnât stop you scoffing the lot. Make these last, eh?â
I shivered as the wind unpicked my coatâs belt. Dad didnât seem fazed by the cold. He didnât even mind when a robin came and relieved itself over him.
âHappy Christmas, Dad,â I said, carefully resting the bag of toffees against the headstone.
âMum, tell me again why youâve got two Christmas trees upâŚ and twice as many crackers as there are family!â
âI told you - if you buy it all during the sales after Christmas, you save a fortune! I bought half of this lot on Boxing Day last year and put it away for safe keeping. Then when this Christmas came round, Iâd clean forgotten about it all. Now I have double!â
How we laughed!
Later the following year, Mum was diagnosed with Alzheimerâs. I can still picture the two trees, the crackers swamping the tablecloth, but I no longer laugh.
The first collision was at 08:43. Over the following two minutes, a further seven cars ploughed - smash! - onto the scene. Some vehicles spun a full 360 degrees, others were upturned. From the moment of first impact, the air filled with screams so awful that onlookers were forced to cover their ears. The gravity of the situation was highlighted, terribly, by the ongoing, never diminishing, sounds of distress.
A little boy was plucked from the wreckage by his father. âJonny, those are your brotherâs toy cars. Leave them alone. You're upsetting him and giving us all earache in the process!â
Becky loved her social networking. If she were put in detention, Facebook would know before her parents. If she saw a new piece of eye candy, a tweet announcing love at first sight would immediately be flying out of her phone to her followers. Becky lived through social media.
When the fire alarm went off at school one day, she updated her status online before she followed the others out. âFire drill lol. Yay got out of history! YAWN!â
While everyone was coughing and spluttering in the playground, their eyes streaming, Becky hit âpostâ on her last ever Facebook update.
Horace Hutchinson could forgive most people for most things but he could not excuse litterers. Each day, he paced up and down the main road near his house, litter picker in hand. By the end of his self-commissioned work, an income-free job no partner would abide, litter was already accumulating for his next shift.
On his last day, he slipped on a used condom, the wasted seed of life, and fell into the path of a lorry. Copper coins pebbled the tarmac, receipts and loose papers fluttered free from his pockets and a sticky red substance stained his resting place.
âWill I see her again?â I cry as she moves off. Nobody answers.
âWill I see it again?â I ask as my suitcase (marked with name, address) is added to the pile.
âWill I see it again?â I whisper as my ring is slid off my finger.
Nobody answers. Nobody answers.
It will grow back again, I think, as my hair falls to the floor.
Will I see daylight again, I wonder, as we jostle for space.
Yes, there, I can see the sky. And at that moment, that small square of light in the ceiling is everything to me.
Iâm small. I know that. Do I care? Well, I did at first. It makes you feel inferior in most situations. But there are perks to being so slightly built. I can squeeze into gaps that most of you would never even contemplate getting into. I can find a seat on the Tube while you lot are being jostled about, sniffing each otherâs armpits. And the best thing is that, if you piss me off, I can crap in your food without you even realising. Plus, how many of you can say that Jeff Goldblum played you in a film?
Olivia laughed as Daddyâs wiggling toes disappeared under the sand. It had taken hours to dig the hole and a further hour to convince Daddy to lie in it. âKeep your arms still,â she ordered with a giggle.
The sun was clipping the horizon when Daddy was buried up to his neck. âTake a picture then get me out,â he said. âThe seaâll be coming in soon.â
Olivia picked up the camera and brought it down on Daddyâs head until he was still. Then she piled on the sand.
As she collected her belongings to leave, the first wave arrived.
The first flower bloomed and it was the most beautiful sight in the world. So breathtaking that he stepped back to allow his heart to slow, his breathing to stabilise. Then another flower burst forth. And another. And another. Until the flower bed was awash with bright red petals. It was all so sudden, so fast-moving, perhaps he was witnessing time-lapse video footage. And the biggest miracle of all was that these flowers opened without any sunlight. Sunlight, which was now finding its way through a crack in the curtains, searching for the woman whoâd gone missing two days earlier.
Bruce Lightfoot was the laziest bugger in the whole village. He was lying almost horizontally on the sofa, biscuit crumbs skiing down his rising and falling pot belly, when the news item caught his wandering attention. He licked his fat lips, eyes widening at the prospect of what he had just witnessed. Maybe, just maybe, it would happen to him!
The next morning he woke, puffed and panted his way downstairs, crashed into the kitchen and looked into the sink, which was almost hidden under a teetering pile of mould-covered crockery. âWhy do I never get a bloody sink hole?â
A man, smiling, holding open a briefcase of money.
âOne million pounds. Itâs all yours.â
âAll mine?â I said.
âIndeed. All you have to do is swallow one of these.â He held out a jar. âNinety-nine of these are perfectly safe. One will kill you horribly.â
âOne million pounds,â he repeated.
I shoved my hand in. Pulled out a tablet. Swallowed.
Breathing. Pulse. âIâm alive!â
âNot necessarily. The terrible death may occur at any point in the next twenty years. But only if you swallowed that particular tablet of course. Enjoy your money,â he said. Then departed.
I never get anything done while youâre around because, well, you know what we get up to! And I never get anything done when youâre not here because youâre always in my mind, watching over me. All I do is count down till your return home, even though you text me every half hour just to make sure Iâm okay. I spend so much time with you my friends have drifted away. You say it doesnât matter, though. Iâm yours, all yours. And no-one else can have me but you, you say. Iâm lucky to have found you. So luckyâŚ
âI need to speak to the pharmacist.â
âGood, I think I might be pregnant.â
âRiiiiight, and why do you think that?â
âWell, Iâve not had a period.â
âOkaaaay, any other reason you think you might be with child?â
âI feel sick every morning.â
âRight, that could be becauseâŚâ
âI have cravings. The last three nights Iâve eaten the fieriest of curries.â
âThat might explain the nausea the following morning.â
âNo, Iâm definitely pregnant. I think I need to see a doctor. You pharmacists donât know much, do you?â
âMay I ask how old you are?â
âEighty-seven next month.â
The Reduced Flesh Company were rehearsing their latest production. Most of the skeletons were offstage, some drinking tea (it went straight through them), others playing cards (adopting poker skulls).
Hamlet held up a skull and enunciated, âAlas, poor Yorick.â Then he turned to the director, the only living person in the room, and said, âDarling, I simply canât act with this. Itâs too close to my own form. How about we mix things up a bit? Have an actual head as Yorick?â
The director laughed. âWhere would we get one?â Then he realised the entire cast were surrounding him. Grinning.
He thrust in and out, trying to settle into some sort of rhythm. Sheâd been hopeless recently. He had no difficulty whatsoever. The problem definitely lay solely with her, the stupid bitch. He slapped her across the face. She stared back, eyes wide, unable to speak. In and out. In and out. He grabbed her behind, squeezed harder and harder. No, she was useless. Utterly useless. He pulled himself out, left the room, came back with a safety pin. Opened it and pricked her. She levitated in a fit of hissing before sailing round the room like an out-of-control airship.
My viewâs clouded by steam and condensation. He bends briefly, the arch of his back clearing a porthole as he brushes the glass. Droplets of water cling to his skin as if they too want a piece of this bronzed, blonde beauty. Heâs soaping and rubbing every inch of his skin. Lingering on the usual part. Typical. My viewing window is now almost covered again. I wonder, if he were to turn, would he see my shape through the translucency? And would he see the long blade in my hand? Nobody cheats on me and gets away with it. Nobody.
Sweat danced on his brow as he worked as quickly as he could. The saw went back and forth, back and forth. The heat beat down and the sweat danced some more. He was easily the most skilled carpenter and those standing nearby marvelled, admiring his work and watching the saw go back and forth, back and forth. The carving ceased temporarily. The man listened for the warning call. Soon theyâd have to flee. Nearly there. Back and forth. The heat beat down. The sweat danced. And a baby elephant watched its mother lying on the ground, hacked, bloodied, robbed.
Aspirin - my head hurts
Candy canes - teeth rot
Diarrhoea - too much junk
Elf and safety nightmare
Fairy light electrocution
Granddadâs asleep again
Holly - bugger, pricked my finger!
Jonathanâs crappy puns
Kindle needs recharging
Mulled wine - ugh!
Oh god, those socks are really bad
Paperback from gran - already read it
Queenâs rabbiting on about something
Rushing round the shops
Television thatâs lame (it bears repeating)
Virile snowmen (carrotâs in the wrong place)
What? Heâs not real?
X-ray - damn icy footpaths
Yule log looks like a turd
Zzzzz after dinner
It was her third attempt at building the wreath. She kept misjudging how far she could bend branches and twigs without them snapping. She found it painful too, even though her skin was tough and leathery after a lifetime of manual labour. Finally, she formed a successful ring. She then strengthened it, weaving the twigs in and out of one another as best she could. Her punctured hands oozed red droplets, but she stood back satisfied. The wreath passed through several hands and then was placed upon His head and pressed down until small red rivers flowed over His cheeks.
She closed the front door and paused. The house was eerily quiet. No TV. No radio.
She walked through to the next room and let out a piercing scream at the scene before her. Her keys and phone slipped out of her hands unnoticed and hit the floor.
A viscous red liquid dripped down the walls, and knives with reddened blades lay abandoned about the place. The floor shimmered with broken glass. Then her husband stepped out, his face seemingly bloodied.
She looked at the jar in his hand and snapped: âThis is the last time you make strawberry jam!â
Angela's face shone with sweat. Her hair was wild where she had grabbed clumps of it while pushing. Through the window, she could see the headlines scrolling along the television screen, announcing the royal baby's arrival ad nauseam.
Angela looked at the clock and pushed harder still, screaming between breaths, "Get out, get out, get out!"
The midwife tried to reason with her. "It's no good pushing all the time. You have to push when you're ready."
"It's ten to midnight," Angela yelled. "I want this bloody baby out of me so I can get my Royal Mint silver penny!"
"Don't stop me now. I'm having such a good time. I'm having a ball."
I can't wait to tell her my news! The breeze sweeps across my face and paints on a smile of pure joy. I know she'll be thrilled.
I pedal faster still, the upbeat Queen track filling my head with excitement and the hopes of a glorious future. I do not hear the horn.
She sits patiently. Wheels spinning, moving nowhere. She looks at her watch. Lips move silently but no one hears my words. She smiles. Tarmac listens to my music.
"Don't stop me, don't st-
"I'm in here, dear!"
"You don't take sugar, do you, Maureen?"
"No, dear, I'm already sweet enough. You should know that by...COASTER!"
"Sorry! Er, Maureen, what on earth are you doing?"
"I've just bought a new book, dear. There's nothing quite like the smell of a new book. You have to get your nostrils close enough so that your nasal hair is almost tickling the surface. Then you take the deepest of breaths and drink in the wondrous scent. It's almost as if the book's alive!"
"But, Maureen, you're getting nose prints all over the screen of your Kindle!"
"Mummy, Daddy, Mummy, Daddy, look what I got!"
Tina and Andrew looked down at the shiny pound coin resting in Tommy's cupped palm and smiled. Tommy beamed back at them, proudly displaying the gap in his top row of teeth.
"Now I can buy something!" Tommy turned and ran back up stairs to get dressed.
"I'm so glad you remembered to do the whole tooth fairy thing," Tina said to her husband with a relieved sigh.
Andrew paused for a second then replied.
"Funny you should say that because that's exactly what I was just going to say to you."
My day started in a promising way as it was my birthday and I received some money. I bought some brightly coloured things. All was going well.
However, my luck soon changed.
Mid-morning, I received some bills which really deflated me. But then it got worse. I suddenly started having problems with the plumbing and electrics. There were too many bills to pay. Deflated, I realised I would have to take out a mortgage. In the end, I snapped and drove my car into a dog.
"Snakes and Ladders next time!" I shrieked, as my wife counted her fistful of money.
"Bring it back to the boil. That's it. Keep stirring. Now set the timer."
The chef watched the trainee and sighed. The whole purpose of an assistant was to free up some of his own time, but he had to stand supervising, spelling everything out to him time and time again.
"Now tease the pasta with your fork. Is it just right? Not too soft, not too hard? Good. Now stir in the meat."
The trainee looked puzzled. "But you didn't tell me to buy any meat."
The chef, who had now picked up a sharp gleaming knife, simply smiled.
With a deep breath, I upload my book,
But when it's on sale, will anyone look?
I'm normally quite quiet, verging on shy,
But shout I must or people won't buy.
So many books, it's an unfortunate fact.
My book is the needle in the towering haystack.
I'll go on the forum, but one post per day.
Or I'll be banned, then buried in more hay.
I'll tweet some tweets to my adoring followers.
That'll work - or not, they're all authors!
No point in worrying whether it's a hit.
If I get just one happy reader, it's totally worth it.
Douglas sat upright at the table, a napkin around his neck. He tucked into his bone while reading The Guard-dog-ian. In the corner, a naked Peter knelt, nuzzling his face into his cornflakes, which Douglas had poured into a bowl labelled 'HUMAN'. The TV weatherdog predicted a fine day, so Douglas stood up and woofed to his pet. Peter licked his bowl and crawled to the front door, where he waited for Douglas to put on his lead. Half way down the path, Peter squeezed out a turd onto the flower beds he had proudly tended just a week earlier.
Kevin looked through the glass, his body tense and aching from the last half hour. The damn thing kept slipping away. If I can just snag the label, Kevin thought, as he fed in another pound coin. He wiped his damp hands on his jeans so his fingers wouldn't slip when guiding the claw. The soft toy lifted. Agonising seconds. The toy dropped. Kevin punched the air and grabbed his prize. On his way home, Kevin's eye was caught by the very same toy in a shop window. £4.99. Kevin shuddered. I could have saved over thirty pounds, he thought.
Jonathan: Well, do you want to then?
Maureen: Want to what?
Jonathan: Write the drabble!
Jonathan: It's a work of fiction. 100 words in length.
Maureen: And the point of that is...?
Jonathan: It's a challenge for the writer and there's often a twist at the end to catch out the reader.
Maureen: OK, I'll give it a go then, dear.
Thirty minutes later...
Maureen: Done! You'll never guess the twist at the end!
Jonathan: Good. Now submit your story on the IBB site.
Maureen clicks 'submit'.
Maureen: Er...Jonathan...I think I submitted our conversation instead of my drabble.
She sits alone on the sofa idly flicking through a magazine. In one hand is a cup of coffee, almost cold. She throws the last dregs back and scrunches up her face as she swallows. She puts the cup down and carries on reading. Twice over the next ten minutes, she crosses and uncrosses her legs. Once, she pushes a strand of hair away from her eyes. Then she closes the magazine, drops it on the table and walks off with her empty cup. Outside, a gloved hand presses 'end video recording' and slips the camera into a pocket.
Love? Bleurgh! Doesn't the word make you sick? I can't stand the word. Love? Eeurgh! It makes me shudder. I often lie in bed awake, the word reverberating around my head while she is sound asleep. I can hear her voice pronouncing the word in delight, clicking the 'l' with her tongue to express her satisfaction. I can see her mouthing the word from afar while I stand there sweating. I know one day the word will be the end of our relationship. "Forty-love," she calls, as her serve whistles past me. Why can't I beat my wife at tennis?
The atmosphere was tense as the player dribbled the ball up the pitch. He avoided the opposing players with deceptive ease and began to slow when the goalkeeper's face came into focus. Left or right? Or dead centre? After a pause, where each millisecond seemed like a full second, the player opted for the bottom left of the goal.
"Goal!" Dad shouted, as he smoothed down a crease on his side of the table-top pitch. "Come on, lad, it'll be fun!"
"No thanks," the son muttered while pummelling his controller to drive a hundred bullets through his enemy's heart.
I sit down on the naughty step, coat on, bag in hand. It's no longer the naughty step, but it was sixty years ago when my children were growing up. Of course now they are gone, married and have naughty steps for their own children.
The bare walls bear the squares of pictures taken down. My gaze lowers to the darker patch of carpet on which the telephone table rested. I had stood there to announce the breaking of waters, to wish countless happy birthdays, and to dial for the ambulance.
This house is too big just for me.
The snowman appeared overnight after the biggest snowfall the community had yet known. The children danced about, their faces obscured by hats and scarves. They pointed in delight at the snowman's grin, a smile that made the adults shudder. Who had built the snowman? No-one knew. The children were happy not to know. The adults weren't.
Two days later, the snow began to melt and, with it, the snowman. A flap of clothing was revealed first, then a sleeve, then a jacket. Several villagers worked to scrape away the snow. Underneath was a man, nailed to a post. Stone-cold. Dead.
'Was that there yesterday? I'm sure it wasn't. Or, perhaps it was and I just didn't notice it. But, if I'm noticing it now, does that mean it's got bigger?'
Before he even realised what he was doing, the most thumbed book in his house was in his hands. 'Illness and Disease: a guide for all the family'.
After hours of fruitless searching, he looked up and thought aloud.
'Maybe there is nothing wrong with me after all.'
Apparently satisfied, he made to return the book to its shelf. The heavy volume slipped through his hands and broke his foot.
She would not forget the smell of the old wooden box. She felt sure of that. A firework exploded in the night sky, briefly illuminating the box as she peered into it for the last time. Revolver. Wedding ring. A carefully-chosen selection of letters and photographs. Her eyes lingered on the photograph of her family, then she placed it face-down in the box. Through the walls she could hear her new neighbours drunkenly singing 'Auld Lang Syne'. She took a deep breath then closed the lid on her past and her old life. Happy New Year! Happy new life?
"Come back in, son, before you catch your death!" called a voice. The words never reached the boy, who had already run outside, a look of awe and wonder on his fresh face. It was cold, bitterly cold, and he hugged himself tightly. His new pyjamas didn't do a very good job of keeping him warm. The boy looked up and gasped. It was snowing! He reached out his hand to catch a snowflake, but it didn't dissolve on contact. It just left a black smudge on his palm. The boy frowned and then the German rifle sounded.
The elderly man frowned at his daughter as his hands tore off strips of gift-wrap at a speed that was painful to watch.
"It's not one of those electronic book things, is it?" he grumbled.
His daughter at once looked deflated.
He pulled the e-reader out of its box and tutted.
"I hate these thi - oh, it's on - that was quick. Why would I want to peer at - oh, you can adjust the text. It has a light too?"
"So, you like it then, Dad?" his daughter offered tentatively.
"Sssh - I'm reading!" the man snapped, already lost in a book.
I'm not sure how much longer this is going to last. It has been drummed into us that it is all for a better future. Each day we strive to achieve our leader's ultimate aim.
I've personally helped turn in several hundred now. It's become a little easier each time. I have learnt to accept it. They must be wiped out.
Today, I helped uncover a couple of families hidden in an attic (behind a bookcase!). One of them was only a young girl. I tried not to look her in the eye as we led them out.
The man towered over his victim, a long knife in his hand. Beads of sweat had started to form on his brow. He wiped each hand in turn on his trousers to ensure a firm grip on the weapon.
He breathed, then brought down his blade with alarming force. The knife slashed through the flesh, connecting the nose to the vacant grin of his target. The man swore and angrily thrust the knife into the mess of a head before him, right up to its hilt.
He turned and called, 'We're going to need another pumpkin!'
Outside, darkness was falling and the icicles along the porch roof twinkled magically. A dog-walker went by, open-mouthed at the sight of a lawn dotted with flashing reindeer.
Inside, Ray peered over his newspaper at Susan, who was softly humming Jingle Bells. She smoothed down the final piece of sticky tape and pushed the box under the tree, which groaned
under the weight of a hundred baubles.
It was when his wife was stood on a chair stretching high with a piece of tinsel that Ray, hands shaking, slammed down his paper and bellowed.
'For god's sake, woman, it's October!'
The night before her test, Edward had visited Margaret in her sleep.
Margaret knew she had a way of frustrating even the most patient soul, and she was generally aware that she was often an object of ridicule. The truth was she had never always been, what some might call, stupid.
Her world had collapsed somewhat when Edward had fallen asleep one night, never to wake again.
Over the forty minute test, she was convinced she felt Edward's hand guiding hers on the wheel and gearstick.
'Congratulations, you've passed.'
Margaret looked up, tears in her eyes.
'I did it.'
Margaret was unique in JH Motors Driving School in that she had been tutored by each and every instructor.
The first had lasted two months before being signed off with stress by his doctor. The second had lasted just one lesson, after Margaret had swerved the car into a tree, distracted by a wasp that turned out to be a fly. The third had quit before even getting in the car with her.
It took the patience of the fourth instructor (and a hefty bribe) to steer Margaret towards her test.
Now, miraculously, it was the day of the test.To be continued...
'For the tenth time, it's the HighWAY Code. WAY! WAY! Not HighROAD Code.'
Margaret stared at the instructor's purple face and surreptitiously wiped some spittle from her cheek.
It was her fourth lesson, and the instructor's risk of a heart attack had soared.
'Just stay calm...breathe deeply...'
'I am calm,' insisted Margaret.
'I'm talking to myself!'
After several deep inhalations, the instructor said in a false soothing manner, 'Right!
Mirrors...signal...aaaand pull out, not forgetting the blind spot.'
The car lurched and struggled.
'I don't understand,' muttered Margaret.
The instructor gripped the door handle, his knuckle white and bellowed 'THE HANDBRAKE!!!!'To be continued...
'Madam, I'll need your full name.'
'Of course. It's Granger. Margaret Granger.'
Margaret idly circled the newspaper advert, half-listening and half-thinking of Edward. Over the following minutes, the employee at JH Motors Driving School elicited Margaret's personal information, driving licence and credit card details with all the ease of a tooth extraction.
'Your first lesson will be a week tomorrow at 9am.'
'Thank y...' Margaret began but the agent had gone and, unbeknown to Margaret, was hastily swallowing a diazepam.
Margaret clanged the phone down on its cradle and sighed.
'Now, where did I put my Highroad Code?'To be continued...