âYeah, you! Who you looking at? Think you're clever do you?â
âCome here and say that again!â
âYou what? You what? Who d'ya think you are? Just one step nearer, mate, that's all. One step and I'll do you!â
âHa! You and whose army, eh?â
âNo army, mate. Just me. Just me!â
âLike to see you try! See your missus? I could have her. Any time! Easy!â
âOver my dead body!â
âThat could be arranged! Know what I mean, eh? Eh? Know what I mean?
âI could beat you any time. Come here. Come here!â
Pub fight? No, Dawn Chorus.
Last night I was abducted by aliens. I was walking, well, staggering, home from the pub, when I was blinded by a bright light. They must have hit me on the head because I passed out. When I started to come to with a banging head I could barely focus but the shadowy figures stuck probes into my body. The one in my ear was the least of my worries.
At last they had the decency to deposit me at A&E before they left. I think our planet made them ill. The little beggars had been sick all over me.
Claire found it difficult to get her breath. A noxious odour permeated the room. She wished she'd thought to open a window earlier. She was choking. Each gasp for air allowed in another lungful of the vile gases. It was nauseating. She wanted to retch, to cough, to clear her lungs and her body of the foul smell. This was evil. It shouldn't be allowed. Surely the Geneva Convention had banned this stuff. It was a cruel and unusual punishment. Finally, with her eyes streaming, Claire yelled, "Dad, for heaven's sake, don't take your shoes off in the living room!"
Tony was a predator. He hunted girls, stalked them, then took what he wanted. They were weak. Easy prey. Look at that one ahead, clipping along in high heels, casting cautious glances back at him. If he hurried, sheâd speed up too. She did and he headed her into a blind alley. Yes! She was his. Actually, she didnât look so weak now. In a fighting stance, she looked awkward and angular. Not his type. Not worth a struggle. Sheâd got lucky.
She watched him leave, blinking her third eyelid, licking hard lips with a forked tongue. Heâd got lucky.
Paddy Murphy was making some toast for his breakfast when he dropped it. It landed butter side up. He got the local priest in to confirm it was a miracle as toast always lands butter side down. The priest felt quite unequal to the job of deciding, so he called for the bishop. The bishop questioned Murphy to ensure he hadn't flipped the toast over. Impressed, the bishop sent for an expert from Rome. A member of the curial office came to examine the case in detail. Eventually he made his decision. Paddy Murphy must have buttered the wrong side.
What were we supposed to do when our crops were devastated by flying insects? Some, like the aphids, sucked the sap from young plants, fatally weakening their stems. Some laid eggs on the leaves and the voracious caterpillars stripped the foliage. We were in a battle for survival. They ate or we ate. So we killed them. Sprayed the blazes out of them. We had massive machines with gantries which trailed a toxic vapour across our fields and orchards. We won!
At least, we thought we had. We get no fruit these days and itâs years since I tasted honey.
Old Salty sailed the seven seas. He'd seen all the Wonders of the World, but the one thing he'd always kept an eye out for was a mermaid. He'd seen whales and porpoises and turtles three feet across but he still kept an eye out for a mermaid. They appear as beautiful ladies and they can lure a man to his death. It finally paid off. One day, he saw one, brushing her weedy hair in the shard of glass that was her mirror. She threw it. He fumbled the catch. He'll always have an eye out for her now.
He was a small, grey field mouse who had big ears and a long tail which looked like an earthworm and tapered to a point. He lived on small seeds and berries. Although he was stone deaf, it didnât affect his life. He ate worms, too, but didnât ever mix them up with his own tail. Life was good and precious, even for a mouse who was hard of hearing. Had the circus not come to the village he might have lived to the ripe old age of twelve months but he didnât hear the elephant coming up behind him.
I've been in here as long as I can remember. The only time I see people is when they come to feed me. I could be considered a prisoner but my captivity also serves to separate me from my enemy. It's my salvation. My only exercise is a continuous loop, much as a caged lion will weave the same route repeatedly up and down the length of his cage.
I have considered escape but I know the thought is futile. What is there outside for me? The enemy lashes his tail in anticipation. It's a rotten life, being a goldfish.
Groups of children and adults processed around the village in their Halloween costumes.
âTrick or treat?â yelled an overexcited ghost as a small green figure with a bolt through its neck waved a bucket under the householdersâ noses. The annual bribery with which the neighbours happily colluded.
This year, when the children went home, Lee didnât arrive. His parents launched a search. Heâd been seen with an adult dressed as Dracula. Everyone assumed that the others knew him.
They found Leeâs body in the graveyard, swamped in mist, lying half in, half out of the open tomb of Erick Trottar.
This year, George was determined to win the Halloween pumpkin carving. The only way was to grow his own. The shop ones were too small for the intricate carving he had in mind. He scattered Growmore around them and watered them with a liquid feed, too, which his wife said was cheating. The pumpkins swelled. They were enormous. He was so proud and when Halloween came around he had his knife and a tea-light all ready.
âCome and watch, Eileen,â he said as he stuck the knife in. Eileen wearily passed a tea-towel as the pumpkin exploded all over him.
You've given me so much grief. It always seems worse at night. I lie and think about you and try not to cry. How could I have let this happen? Why didn't I take more care? I have two choices, it seems. Either I can continue to let you rule my life, hurting me, causing me pain, or I can take my life back. I can do something about it. I am stronger than you. I can conquer the fear, the terror and the excruciating pain. This cannot go on. Molar, you and I are going to visit the dentist!
Brian's dream to sail around the world had turned nightmarish when he'd developed engine trouble. He still had sails, but the wind had dropped and he was adrift.
On a small uncharted island he saw a mermaid on a rock, combing her hair. He knew they were believed to be dugongs which desperate sailors thought were girls. She smiled, blew a kiss and threw her mirror but he dropped it and it cracked on the deck.
As he drifted off, the dugong splashed and swam away, while on the deck, the fractured smile of a beautiful girl hovered then faded.
Sally thought she was losing it. While she was driving home on Thursday she caught a flash of a white van in her rear view mirror. There was nothing behind her. She shrugged it off, but a week later at the same spot she saw it again. She kept it in view for a few seconds but when she tried to see it in the wing mirror it wasn't there.
The following Thursday the white van appeared behind her. She stopped and got out. This time the van was real. So was the man who got out and attacked her.
Bob was painting a group of friends from a photo he'd taken in the garden. He loved this house but his wife Julie said it was haunted.
"By what?" he asked.
"Not what, whom. A little boy. I've seen him a couple of times."
Bob smiled. He didn't want an argument, so he dropped the subject.
He was painting in the figures when Julie brought him coffee. He accidentally smudged the paint and the effect looked like a child standing with the group. As the paint ran, the figure seemed to turn and smile. The mug smashed and Julie screamed.
On a long, tedious journey we persuaded the children to watch out for different kinds of lorry. We passed a couple of those Eddie Stobart vehicles with girls' names on the side.
"Do you think we'll pass one with my name on?" asked Erin.
"Or mine?" piped up Chloe.
"Think how many girls' names there are," said Dad. "And that company has thousands of lorries. What are the chances of your names coming up?"
The gruesome Erin said, "If you see your name, you die!"
That's when we passed Katherine Mary. If I'd been driving they'd have died with me.
"Mummy, I'm scared. There's a dragon!"
"Don't be silly, sweetheart. There's no such thing."
"But I can see it. It's breathing smoke, look!"
"I can't look when I'm driving, sweet."
"It's puffing out lots of smoke. It might be waking up."
"Oh, that'll be the cooling towers. We always pass them on the way to Granddad's. We'll be there soon. We could play a game?"
"I spy with my little eye something beginning with... D"
"There are no dragons. I've told you."
As they drove into the golden evening, scaly wings stretched and a huge red eye watched them pass.
Ruth lay gazing up at the bedroom ceiling. She closed her eyes and instantly she was in a sunlit glade, with the tickle of grass on the flesh of her thighs. She could hear birdsong and the soft rustle of leaves as the warm breeze stirred the surrounding trees. The smell of crushed thyme from under her body soothed her, gentled her away from her world. She hoped she'd stay here forever.
As he grunted his beery breath over her and rolled off, he fastened his trousers and thrust the folded notes at her. That would buy her next fix.
âIâm sorry. I donât know whatâs the matter. Itâs never happened before.â
âDonât worry, love. Relax. Youâre all tensed up. Youâre trying too hard.â
âIâve always managed it before, though. Itâs just so embarrassing.â
âI donât feel any differently about you. I know you can do it if you just stop worrying about it. Itâs not a performance.â
âI know, but itâs a matter of male pride. I canât understand it.â
âA lot of people have difficulty in getting it up.â
âIâm a Scout Master for heavenâs sake. Of all people, I ought to be able to erect a tent!â
Thereâs not much call for them these days, but some of the bigger railway stations still have cloakroom attendants. Joe and Eric worked the evening shift and on the whole, enjoyed it. It can be quiet for ages and suddenly thereâs a rush for leaving coats or luggage. In between arrivals, when thereâs nothing to do for an hour or more, Eric and Joe would do some thinking. They were intelligent men but neither liked responsibility. Between them they invented a new âgreen energyâ power source and a genuinely better mouse trap. A triumph for men who stare at coats.
âFancy a nice glass of red?â
âWhy not? I think weâve earned it, donât you?â
Barnabas poured a generous glass for his friend Arnold and they sat back together to reflect on a good nightâs work.
âEither Iâm getting older, or the jobâs getting harder,â complained Arnold. âThat last one this evening almost defeated me.â
âTrue, weâre getting on. A dying breed. Still, hereâs to a job well done.â Barnabas clinked his glass against his friendâs and both took a deep draught.
âBut who would have thought the old manâŚâ
âShame we have to knock it back before it congeals.â
I've always loved swimming. As soon as I could afford it I had a pool installed in my small, secluded garden where I swam daily. I should have been delighted when the local authority built a pool nearby. This was undercover in an extension to the village sports hall. People hired it for parties but in between times, anyone could use it.
My friends from work coaxed, cajoled, nagged and bullied me to join them for a weekly swimming party. They knew I loved the water. But how could I? I'd never find a costume that would hide my fin.
How long had she been sitting in this traffic jam? She tapped the steering wheel with impatient fingers, shooting a glance at the dashboard clock. She was due at the meeting in ten minutes and sheâd allowed plenty of time. Bloody traffic! Delays possible? Definitely!
It took an hour for the fire brigade to cut him out of the wreckage. The paramedics had given him a jab and he could see but not feel the mangled mess that was his legs. He was due at the airport in an hour. The skiing holiday was off for good. Delays possible? Forever.
I used to go out with an estate agent. Well presented, he was attractively fitted out in the modern style. He was conveniently situated, being only a short walk from the station and handy for the inner city. He came with a double garage, so much better than my previous boyfriend's off street parking. I had to admire the size of his magnificent through lounge and his master bedroom afforded delightful prospects. He did have an unfortunate damp problem from time to time. I'm a tall lady, deceptively spacious and unfortunately he was compact in parts. We are now detached.
I used to go out with a post man. He couldn't half cover a lot of ground. He reckoned going out with me cost him a packet and he constantly complained about the bills. He didn't have the fullest sack of any bloke I'd ever been out with but you know what they say - the best things come in small parcels.I had hoped that, after I'd buffed up my knocker to a high shine I might get my letter box filled to my total satisfaction. I might even be signed for. But alas, he returned me to sender.
I lost my wife seven years ago. There wasn't much recognisable after they pulled her car from under the lorry. It's surprising what you miss. It's not her superb cooking, nor the sex, as people imagine. It's the personality. The little jokes you used to share. You can't believe that no-one will ever again understand your strange references. "Stop grieving and move on. She's gone," people say, meaning it kindly. But she hasn't. Wherever I leave them the night before, my slippers are always by the bed each morning. I daren't try to explain it. She might leave me forever.
I knew I'd angered the gang bosses. I'd double-crossed them and that's how I could afford this cottage. I had enough in the bank to live on as long as I wasn't extravagant. When the hue and cry died down I could sell up and start a new life abroad. It had been a dangerous and foolish thing to do but I'd grown sick of the hold they had over me. I was safe now - unless they found me.
Then one morning, my little cat dropped a gift on the doorstep. It was a tiny, remote controlled surveillance camera.
"What do you think of the new people down your road?" Sharon asked.
"They're friendly enough but their yappy little dog gets on my nerves."
"Did you see the ambulance at number four again?" asked Amy.
"They reckon she 'had a fall' but I think it was the two bottles of Chardonnay," said Lisa.
"And him at number eleven's been parking his car outside Sally's a bit more often than need be. There's something going on there!"
"Good job her Stan doesn't know."
"True enough. Anyway, have you all read Gone Girl, then?"
The village book group gets into gear.
The bloke from the council rang my gaffer up. They'd had an emergency and they wanted a gang of workmen to dig a hole in the pavement on the high street. They must have been desperate because that's not our line of work.
"Why are you ringing me?" the gaffer asked. "We don't dig holes, lad. We're brickies."
"You're workmen, aren't you?" said the lad from the council.
"Aye but we've not even got any shovels!"
"I'll get some shovels sent over," the lad replied. "In the meantime, can you improvise and lean on each other till they get there?"
He was always a bit standoffish. I could never get him to let his guard down but we both knew we liked each other. Heâd come to see me but I knew he was wary and mistrustful. Not much wonder. It got to be a regular thing, seeing him each day and Iâd talk to him but he was still so shy. I think what cemented our friendship was the time he hurt his leg. He depended on me more and that seemed to break down the barriers. We got closer. Now my little blackbird will feed from my hand.
My friend had just published his first novel on Amazon and, naturally, we were emailing about books, the way you do. So he said, âHere, Iâve got one for you, how many proof readers does it take to change a light bulb?â
âGo on then, tell me,â I said. He was a bit of a joker.
âToo!â he emailed.
I had to try to top that one. âOkay then, how many traditional publishers does it take to change a light bulb?â I asked him.
âI donât know, how many?â
âWhyâs that, then?â
âBecause traditional publishers are still using candles!â
I arranged to meet Sam in the park on the way home from work. We often met there and went for a drink and maybe a walk along the riverbank. It was a quiet, secluded area. A good place for a romantic tryst.
For the first time ever, he stood me up. I hung around for a bit, feeling stupid and humiliated. Where the hell was he?
I followed our usual route but he wasn't in the pub. As I neared the riverbank I was shocked to see him in a clinch, apparently with me. Sometimes I hate my twin!
If you're aware that Kipling was an author
While all your friends are contemplating cake;
If all around are mesmerised by gameshows
While you've a thirst no game or app can slake
Never apologise for being different,
For knowing the world is not the way it seems.
We're never short of people making money
But how we need those seekers after dreams.
If you can let your raw imagination
Gallop away unbridled, hectic, wild,
Then you can enter worlds nobody's dreamt of
And, which is more, you'll be a person, child.
Apologies to Mr Kipling who bakes exceedingly good stories
Betty's mate Shirl had called round for a cuppa. Shirl could see Betty was trying not to break down.
"What's up chuck?" she asked.
"Oh, Shirl. I don't know what to do!"
"Why love? Whatever's the matter?"
"It's Joe. He's out with her every day."
"Yeah, maybe. But it's you he really loves, isn't it?"
"I'm sure he does," sniffled Betty. "But I can't help noticing the way he looks at her. The way he touches her, strokes her gently when he thinks I'm not looking. I'm beginning to wish I hadn't bought him that classic car for his birthday!"
At daybreak, which over the summer months is ludicrously early, I am awoken by a clomping sound on the flat roof of the dormer window in my bedroom. In the rosy dawn, the birds from the rookery over the road seem to stamp up and down on the roofing felt, and drag me reluctantly into wakefulness.
Yesterday, was the stomping a little heavier? Surely that wasn't just rooks? I opened the window, leaned out and craned my neck upwards. I didn't dream the arched neck, the silver mane, the flared nostrils, the flash of a huge white wing, did I?
"Are you off out?" Annie asked.
"Aye, I thought I'd go into town with the lads," said Johnny. He got himself togged up and fixed his hair just right in the hall mirror. It was a while since he and the boys had hit town together. They'd been pals since school and got on well.
"I hope you're not going to be late back?" she asked. "I know you lot when you get together. There's no stopping you."
"We're big lads now," he said, and picked up his walking stick to set off to read the papers in the library.
Where would you hide a tree? The answer of course is in a forest. Where would you hide a group of entities composed of light energy? Intelligent light energy. In a group of lights. So when the Perseids lit the night skies it wasn't simply a case of lights in space. It was our opportunity to travel unnoticed by other sentient beings. It gave us the chance, amid the falling stars, to enter your planet's biosphere.
Check those 'corpse lights', that marsh gas. Is it just burning methane?
Look out for us, because we are certainly looking out for you.
She had loved rocks from childhood. She collected fossils, anything glittery, even sea-smoothed glass from walking the beaches. It was a fascination that led to a degree in geology. She had never had the opportunity to study commercial gem stones though. They say diamonds are a girl's best friend but this girl preferred the deeper colours of the corundum gemstones, rubies and sapphires. Sadly, the best coloured stones demanded the highest prices and she didn't own anything other than garnets.
He gave her Bombay Sapphires occasionally though - in a glass with ice, tonic and a quarter of a lime.
Mum had given her a container to deliver to Grandma. Grandma was getting frail now but she was still a forceful personality who knew what she liked. No dainty cake and home-made biscuits for this tough cookie! The box contained a large pack of streaky bacon, a pound or two of spicy bangers and a big black pudding. There was also a litre of Glen Morangie. Granny might be frail but she wasn't dead yet. There were rumours of people breaking in and impersonating the elderly but Granny would scare them off. Hell, she was as ugly as a wolf!
Mr Graham down the road grew the most wonderful grapes. They were dark, rich and sweet and he had amazing harvests. Everyone would have been thoroughly envious if he hadn't been so generous with them. Everyone in the street was presented with a bunch or two when the crop was ripe.
If anyone asked what his secret was (and many did) he would wink and say, "If I told you I'd have to kill you!"
One night, when looking for my ginger cat, Nugget, I spotted Mr Graham by his vine, shovelling earth over a sad scrap of red fur.
She had felt ill for days but had finally collapsed. Her eyes were over-bright, her skin clammy and she coughed incessantly. Her bed of a blanket thrown over sacks of straw was no worse than most in the town. It was soaked in sweat. She shuddered with the fever; her teeth chattered as she shook in the grip of the ague. The rats were shuffling and scratching behind the wooden wall. Was that what she could hear? That rattling sound? Eventually she discerned the source. It was wooden wheels clattering on cobbles. The plague cart would come for her tomorrow.
I used to go out with a doctor. He was so good looking and could be guaranteed to elevate my pulse rate. When he said, "Look into my eyes and follow the little light," I'd have followed him anywhere. And his action with a tongue depressor was a sight to behold!
Whenever he held my hand or kissed me, he really raised my temperature. Sad to say, on the only few occasions he wrote me a love letter I couldn't read a single word. The pharmacist made it into a linctus though. Naturally, I'm now going out with the pharmacist.
Out for an evening drive, I was thoroughly on edge. My ears were pricked, expecting to hear that annoying rattle. Everything was quiet for a while but my heart sank as I heard the gentle but irregular clanking. What on earth was the matter? What could I do about it? I drove a little further, as gently as I could, and eventually it stopped. I turned very carefully and headed for home where I pulled in onto my front drive. Opening the rear door I reached into the carrycot and took the rattle from Timmy's dimpled fist. Peace at last!
We decided to give Rover a collar with his name on it and a rawhide chew to keep his teeth strong. Misty, the cat, has a new toy mouse filled with catnip, like the one she chewed to death last year.
And Bobby, the budgie? He should have a new cuttlebone to sharpen his beak. Maybe a fresh spray of millet, since it's Christmas.
The wild birds in the garden can have cake crumbs instead of bread. Our friendly robin would like that.
I wonder what Dad's getting? Yesterday I heard Mum telling him off for behaving like an animal!
Father Christmas left a sack full of goodies by the fireplace. He didn't just deliver exclusively for the children either. Jimmy excitedly ripped the wrapping from a shiny red racing car. "Yay!" he yelled.
Sally had asked for a big torch. She secretly intended to read under the bedcovers. "Oh, excellent!" she said.
Mum had something strangely shaped which she hid with a blush as Dad giggled and nudged her.
Dad got a keyring which beeped if you clapped so they wouldn't have that performance searching for them every day.
Sadly they all bore the same legend; batteries not included.
Dear Aunty Liz, thanks. Your handmade jumpers are so interesting. None of my friends will have one like that.
Dear Uncle Jim; it's thirteen years since my first teddy bear. I was overdue for another.
Dear Granddad. What a generously large box of Chocolate Brazils. You shouldn't have. Really! They might cause a slight twinge to my nut allergy but no problem. My brother will eat them.
Aunty Amy. Red and green socks that play Jingle Bells. How useful. Thanks so much.
Gran, you star! Thanks for the book token. Now I can buy what I really want.
Walking on the moors two days before Christmas, Jack fell through the heather and into an abandoned mine shaft. It wasnât deep and if he hadnât twisted his ankle in the fall, he could have climbed out. He yelled himself hoarse but whoâd hear him? Night fell and his only companion was a single star which shone into his prison. He was numb with cold and exhaustion when even that was blotted out. In despair, he waited for the end.
Then â a miracle. A bright light and an angel voice. âHeâs here! Hang on, weâll have you home for Christmas.â
As usual, Alfâs kind neighbours had invited him for Christmas day. His wife Edith had died six years earlier and people hated to think of him on his own. Their son lived in Australia so going there wasnât possible. People didnât believe that he actually enjoyed Christmas on his own. He wasnât lonely. He had been for a couple of years after Edith died but heâd realised that she wouldnât have wanted his life to stop because hers had.
He had his favourite Christmas DVDs and a pepperoni pizza ready. Heâd never confessed to Edith how much he hated turkey.
The sleigh touches down as the peachy blush of a crackling Christmas dawn chases across the globe. Father Christmas is shattered. Heâs visited every country in the world in one night and heâs not getting any younger. As a Time Lord, he can expand the hours but the number of children grows. Gone are the days he could park up for a sly smoke, kick his boots off and let the reindeer graze for a while. These days heâs lucky if he can shimmy behind a tree for a wizz! They keep constant watch on him now. Damn you, NORAD!
The children had been busy playing in the snow all day and had made a whole family of snowmen. There was a big one that they called Sam, a medium one, Sally and a tiny one they called Stu. What the children didn't realise was that the Christmas Fairy had been watching them and was so touched that she sprinkled her magic dust on them and brought the snowmen to life.
A rabbit entered the garden and pointed a hairdryer threateningly at the terrified snowman family.
"Let's give up, Sam," said Sally. "Just give him our noses and he'll go."
There's always a toy that sells out well before Christmas, like the Telly Tubbies or Tamagotchis. We try to reorder but we can't get enough. This year it was a little baby-doll with tiny, life-like fingers and an unbearably cute little face. All the children wanted them. We never knew why they were so popular.
Then we started getting complaints. The dolls' heads were so easily pulled off and inside the body, skewering the head in place, was a wicked steel point. It's a mercy a child wasn't killed. We recalled them and returned them to the manufacturer: Herod Inc.
George enjoyed a glass of something special with a meal. It enhanced the gourmet experience. He carefully swirled the taster around the glass and held it up to the light, catching the pale highlights in the golden liquid.
"Hmmm," he said quietly to himself. "Delightful. Hints of honey and... could that be cinnamon? Not too aggressive on the palate and with just the right sharpness to complement the food."
"Yer what?" queried the young man behind the bar. "Get it down yer neck lad. We've not got all day. This is a real ale festival, not a bloody vineyard tour!"
John was a ghost buster, or a psychic researcher as he preferred to call it. Contrary to expectations, he didn't believe in ghosts. He had a huge array of specialist equipment with which he was always able to explain away a haunting. There were infrared cameras, sound recorders, various sensors to record temperature fluctuations - the works.
He entered the 'haunted mansion' and set up his gear. He stayed the whole night - nothing. He packed up his gear with a smile. It froze as a hand touched his shoulder, and a voice whispered, "See me!" as a face appeared.
There was another wedding at the village church today. It's been a summer for weddings. The family arrive in their best and brightest outfits and all the faces smile. Sometimes I find myself wondering how the couple finally chose to be together. How did that man choose that woman? Why, of all the men she met, all the ones she ever went out with, did the bride choose this one? I wonder how many possible partners were rejected on the way to the altar.
It occurred to me later, how close the words 'wedding' and 'weeding' are in the dictionary.
Paul had taken his courage in both hands and gone along with his pregnant wife to her ante-natal classes. The instructor, a trained midwife, had lots of sensible advice on eating carefully and exercising gently. He began to feel he might actually be a hero!
âOne of the best exercises is walking,â said the instructor. âNothing strenuous, of course. Walking on a flat, soft surface, like grass, is very good and if you walk together you are supporting your wife.â
Paul put up his hand. âWould it be okay if she carried a golf bag while weâre walking?â he asked.
He just wanted to go away and hide. He knew heâd done wrong. Heâd been given very strict instructions and there was only one thing he mustnât do. He stole something that he had no right to have. He felt thoroughly ashamed and stupid; he knew heâd be found out. In some ways, it seemed worse if youâd been trusted and youâd betrayed that trust.
The Big Man seemed to have no difficulty in finding him.
âWhy did you do it?â he demanded. âYou have everything here.â
âIt wasnât my fault,â whined cowardly Adam. âThe woman made me do it!â
Angie had a duck-fit when Nick arrived back from a stag weekend with a tattoo on his upper arm. It was strange, foreign writing. It must have been sore, and it wasn't even a bright picture. It looked boring and had cost a packet.
"What does it say?"
"It's some sort of Japanese good luck thing."
"You mean you were too smashed to ask!" she snapped.
She decided to find out and copied the shapes to show to the Japanese teaching assistant at the children's school. He looked and laughed.
"It means a fool and his money are soon parted."
I remember the time it was all theoretical. We used to say that if our town experienced a direct hit from an atomic weapon, the best strategy would be to go outside, take a last look at the blue sky, and embrace death. Who would want to linger?
It stopped being all theory and it didn't just apply to our town. Because of our lack of trust, a complex system of strikes and counter strikes has ensured that everywhere is devastated. The theory didn't work of course. No-one really chooses death. I wonder if we'll ever live above ground again?
Bill and Eric belonged to the village Morris Dancing team. In the Memorial Hall every Tuesday Night they did their rhythmic stomping and jumping to the strains (oh, they were strained!) of Sid's accordion. Bill said the difference between an accordion and an onion was that no-one cried if you chopped up an accordion.
Eric's wife was determined to join them.
"You can't have women in a Morris team!" said Eric. "They'll blight the crops. It's a fertility rite, is this!"
"Rubbish," she said, and eventually they accepted her.
That year they had the rottenest summer weather in living memory.
There was all the usual palaver before they went on holiday. Dad checked the vehicle over and ensured he had all the documentation. Mum had single handedly done all the packing but Dad didn't trust her to stow it away in the most efficient manner. She had also prepared a hamper of food and cold drinks in case there was nowhere to stop on the way.
And the children. Well, kids are kids - the youngest had already been sick twice with excitement. Then, strapping themselves in, they folded their tentacles and the ship took off and left the galaxy.
The grass is dry and yellow underfoot. Trees look exhausted, their leaves already browning and crisping at the edges. Vegetable gardens are failing. Their usual water sources have dried up. Fields and reservoir edges have parched in the cruel sun, to the extent that they are cracked and deeply fissured. Farmers and growers shake their heads and suck in their teeth and predict failing harvests and sky high produce prices.
A third world African country? No, just a British summer with a few consecutive dry weeks. But if you really want to see a drama, just wait till it snows!
When Steve went out on his bike, his wife nagged him to wear the safety helmet she'd bought him but he said he liked to feel the wind in his hair. He also refused to ride on the cycle paths. When she asked why, he said they were for children, girls and soft people. He was a good cyclist, and he was a hard man.
When the lorry's wing mirror clipped him in passing and his bike hit the pavement, spilling him at last onto the cycle path he didn't look especially hard. Some bits looked particularly soft and squishy.
I'm havibg a load of grief wirh my work at thr momrnt. It's dricing me ansolutrly crazy. I'm not ususlly a bad typost. I took a course in toucg typing abd I'm usually prettu fast and accurate. I blane my latest purchade. I'm too susceptoble to pressyre when I go inro a shop. I see somethong nrw and I've just got ro have it. An adbertusing executovr's dream, that's me.
Abyway, I briught my new purchasr home and unpacked it caredully.
It keeps squeakong and runbing about all ocer the keyboard and you see thr resuilt beforr you!
John was an honest man. If he couldn't tell the absolute truth he'd rather prevaricate. If his mates asked him, "Should we skive off for an early lunch?" John would reply, "I dare say we could."
"Do you think the team will win on Saturday John?" his pal Mike asked.
"Aye, I dare say they might," replied our original mild mannered man.
"What do you think to this weather then?" asked his mum. "I dare say it'll clear up," John ventured.
He was really stumped when his wife bought that tight fitting dress.
"How do I look?"
He daren't say!
She wandered around the town centre all day and spent the nights in a doorway, wrapped in her thick old coat, insulated with newspapers. She always clutched a plastic shopping bag, never putting it down or letting it out of her sight. Her husband had disappeared years ago and she'd been evicted for defaulting on the rent. Now she was just another tramp with no home and no income other than the small change she could beg. She was barely hanging on to life and a harsh winter finished her off. In her bag they found her husband's mummified head.
He'd always loved the birds. He fed those that came into his garden especially the tits, the robins and the tiny, noisy little wrens.
He was posted to the front, waging a war he didn't understand against an enemy he didn't hate. There was little food to spare but what he had he willingly shared with those wild birds that popped in and out of the redoubt and kept him company on his lonely watches. When the shell struck and he was blown into pieces, both the predators and the smaller birds flocked to him. He still fed the birds.
A lad knocked on Jeffâs door offering to do jobs.
âHow about painting the porch?â asked Jeff. âHow much would you charge?â
âÂŁ30?â Suggested the lad tentatively.
âGreat,â said Jeff. âAll the paint and stuffâs in the garage.â He felt a bit mean, as the porch technically stretched across the full frontage of the bungalow.
The lad came to the door a couple of hours later and reported heâd finished, and Jeff even gave him a ÂŁ10 tip.
âI had plenty of paint,â he said. âEnough to give it a second coat. Itâs not a Porch, though, itâs a BMW."
Iâm worried about my husband. Heâs acting completely out of character. Weâve been married for nearly thirty years and heâs very predictable. Boring, really. Heâs started coming home late, with no explanation. He also gazes into space with a smile and doesnât even hear what Iâm saying. Heâs never been one to fuss about his appearance but heâs begun to smarten himself up just lately. He usually hates shopping too, but he came home with new underpants yesterday. I couldnât think what was wrong so I looked on the internet. Heâs not himself. I think heâs been abducted by aliens!
The sky boiled like grey soup. Black clouds tumbled and collided. The air was thick, viscous and solid, pressing down on him as he walked boldly through his element. The day had been hot, then oppressive. The sudden thickening of the air made him bend forward as he walked although there was no wind.
Shards of lightning pierced the dark as the jagged whiteness sliced from cloud to ground. The woman watching from her window cried aloud as he was hit by lightning. While she was phoning 999, Thor got up, laughed at her assumption of his death and disappeared.
Leo and Charlie had been watching a film about Doctor Frankenstein. They were convinced that a corpse could be revived by applying electricity to the nerve endings. After all, Charlie had some recollection of seeing a dead frog's legs begin to twitch again when electrified.
They found an unfortunate cat lying by the roadside. It had been hit by a car but apart from being dead, it seemed undamaged.
They took it to Leo's shed and wired it up to the mains. Electricity couldn't revive a corpse, but as Leo slumped to the ground, they found it could create one.
I thought I'd got it made, really landed on my feet. I was in the most comfortable place I could imagine. Everything was laid on for me. Everything I could possibly need was mine. I wanted for nothing. This was the life. I firmly expected never to have to move from there, that the home comforts on tap would always be mine for the taking. How little I knew.
I'd become aware that the accommodation was becoming rather cramped but I still felt it was exactly right for me. It seems I was wrong. I was evicted. I was born.
I really hate the feeling of being cheated. When someone offers you a job and you do a good one for them, you expect due recompense. The kind of work I do is looked down on by many people but someone has to do it. The place would be in a right state without me and my kind. Anyway, they had a problem and I was the man to remove it for them. They couldn't. It's a skilled job you know. I asked nicely for payment. Then I demanded. Eventually I removed Hamlyn's children the same way as its rats.
Rudolph was despised because of his red nose. That was so not fair. It was a dark and stormy night, and Santa, who loved a cliche, was getting ready to do the duty. He couldnât see his hand in front of his face. It was a peasouper.
âRudolph,â he called. âCome and light our way with your glowing nose and the children wonât be disappointed.â
Rudolph obliged and the present run was quickly accomplished.
âFantastic work! cried Santa. âJoin me in the bar?â
âPint of brandy please, with a whisky chaser.â said Rudolph.
Thatâs how he got a red nose!
I would like a pony, a saddle and some jumps and maybe a house instead of our flat.
My mummy hates doing the cleaning so I think she would love some new cloths and a bucket for Christmas.
My daddy says 'bloody government's cocking it up again' so I think he would like to be the queen if you could arrange it.
My brother gets into fights so I would like another brother so they can fight each other.
Mummy would like peas in all the world but I prefer carrots. Have one for Rudolph.
Love from Claire.
I've been working on a dream drug now for nearly ten years. The company wants a product that will help with the control of violent prisoners by boosting their empathy. This will give them an insight into the lives and feelings of those fellow inmates they attack, as well as the poor devils in charge of the place.
It's ready now. It's gone through all the safety testing. I have so much confidence I'm going to try it on myself at home.
It's disastrous! I'm not merely empathising with my wife. I now know what she really thinks about me!
Heaven and hell are adjoining properties and they say good fences make good neighbours. Satan is hosting a barbecue and it gets a bit raucous and rowdy. As the evening wears on, the party turns into a full scale riot. The fence between heaven and hell is totally demolished. God summons Satan, his fallen angel, and demands that the fence should be repaired. When it's done, God sees that it's two feet over to His side.
"Replace that fence where it was!" He demands.
"Or what?" asks Satan.
"Or I'll sue!"
"And where are you going to get a lawyer?"
Every night it's the same. Our work is left out for us and we have to get it finished by morning. No excuses. Don't get me wrong. I've always been good with a needle and thread and I enjoy sewing. I wouldn't have got into this line of work if I didn't. It's just that sometimes a little gratitude wouldn't hurt. Decent wages would improve matters too. These little home-made outfits are supposed to make everything OK are they? Honestly! We don't all dress in red and green all the time you know. That shoemaker's wife needs to get real!
Three billy goats wanted to cross the bridge to get to a meadow full of sweet grass. Under the bridge lived a huge and nasty troll who had got fed up of writing stinky replies to people on internet forums. He'd decided he could be even more objectionable eating innocent goats.
The little goat, then the middle goat were rapidly munched. Eventually our massive goat (OMG!) trip-trapped over the bridge and the troll emerged.
"I'll eat you for supper!"
"WTFâ asked the massive goat.
"You're not supposed to answer a troll!"
"Want to fight?â said Goat, but Troll had scarpered.
The sun is just the sun but the moon is magical. The sun, as long as it isn't partially obscured by cloud, always looks the same. Moonlight, at its peak, is almost bright enough to read by, yet a fortnight later thereâs the dark of the moon and only the stars give their tiny light. The moon grows and shrinks, waxes and wanes, tugs at the tides and pulls at the blood.
When the sunlight falls on your eyes you screw them shut, but look at the moonlight reflected in the eyes of someone you love. Ah, now that's magic!
The worldâs population grew alarmingly in the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries and now we are hard pressed to feed ourselves. Thereâs not enough land to produce the food. Only the elite, the ruling classes, are allowed meat. Meat production takes up more land than cereal growing so the vast majority of people are forced to eat a vegetarian diet. Itâs still not really sustainable. The children need protein to grow strong. They are societyâs priority. I come of age tomorrow on my thirtieth birthday and Iâm afraid. To feed the little ones, those of us who reach thirty are killed.
I look like any woman, enjoying her sewing. I am no ordinary seamstress though. I work in the family business. My mother is Lachesis, the Fate, who measures the thread of life. I use it in my needlework. I don't have an executive position as she does. She decides the length of your life. You decide what is stitched there. I merely sew it all together. If you are mean-spirited and dissatisfied, I stitch sorrow to your soul. If you are generous and happy, I decorate your soul with joy. This decision is not mine. Listen, and consider well, humanity.
Dave decided one of the kitchen cupboards needed a shelf. He'd got some of the little silver fittings for it to rest on and now he just had to cut the board to fit.
He carefully drew a line and began work. He was using a hacksaw because it was too much of a faff getting out his power saw. He wasn't making any headway though, and it was hard work.
Eventually he gave in and got out the power tools.
"Anne! Have we got any frozen peas?" he called as he packed his left hand into a plastic box.
I'm scared of my teddy bear. I think it might be alive. Mummy says not to be so silly. Wherever I am in my bedroom, it's looking at me. Mummy says there are famous paintings like that. They seem to watch you because they're good pictures. I'm not sure my teddy is good. I turned it to face the wall and when I woke up, it'd turned back. Last week I decided to see if it was alive. I took the little scissors out of my manicure set and cut off a bit of its hair. It's started growing back.
I was playing on the grass with my golden ball when it rolled away and into the pond. Damn! Oh, bugger, Nanny says I mustn't say damn! Then a huge frog hopped onto the grass with my ball in its hands.
"Princess!" it cried. Team point for noticing the crown. "I will return your ball if you will take me home and let me spend the night on your pillow."
Looked like the only way to get it back, so I agreed. Blow me down, next morning there was a handsome prince there.
At least, that's what I told Daddy!
I'll never understand grown ups. They tell us kids off for telling lies but they have their own kind of lying. That's different of course. But if you tackle them about it, they can't explain the difference. Take last week. There was this big celebration and two fantastic fashion designers had been summoned to the palace. They were rubbish. Should have asked Gok Wan. Anyway, they disappeared mysteriously and ordered loads of expensive posh stuff ready for the procession. They needn't have bothered. The Emperor came out in the nuddy. They all lied about that till I pointed it out!
I could have danced all night - and I would have if my feet didn't hurt so much. My sisters obviously don't feel the same. Look at them, with faces as long as a wet weekend. No wonder they can't get partners. And mine's the most gorgeous bloke in the room! I love this dress. It's like moonbeams caught in cobwebs - so light, so twirly.
Lord, my feet are killing me. There's no give in these shoes. I think I'll nip home for some comfy ones. Bum! I'll never find that in the dark. What idiot makes glass slippers?
She was immensely, inordinately proud of her hair. It was fair, straight and she had never had it cut. Naturally, her grooming routine consisted largely of shampoo, loads of conditioner and half a day each time getting it dry. The good old bedtime routine of brushing a hundred times was employed too. The longer it got though, the harder it was to sweep the brush impressively from her head to the end of each lock. It involved lots of hefting and tugging and by the time she'd done she really needed a kip.
Handsome Prince? Rapunzel lusted after a hairdresser!
We are here among you now. Those lights you saw in the skies, months ago, were our means of travel. We needed a new place, new subservient creatures, and we have chosen you. We came peacefully but I understand you have a saying about making omelettes and cracking eggs. There can be no compromise. We needed hosts so we lay low and watched all Earth's children so we might choose. We found a hunter, a killer, a beast with basic instincts so like ours. We have taken them over and now have the power to dominate. We are your cats.
Little Ellie was walking round the garden hand in hand with her granddad. She loved flowers and he was telling her their names. The ones she liked best were taller than she was and had long spikes of purple flowers. He said they were foxgloves.
"See those little oval shaped blobs inside?" he asked. "Those are fairies' slippers."
"Really?" she asked, wide-eyed.
"That's what people say, but really it's part of how the flower makes seeds."
Ellie skipped off happily. She knew something Granddad didn't. Inside one of the flowers, next to the slippers, was a little red felt hat.
Take one summer holiday.
Add five consecutive days of sunshine and sprinkle with a general air of expectation.
Mix in a few sunhats, a couple of deckchairs and a portable barbecue.
Add three excitable children and agitate thoroughly.
Unlimited sugar may be added at this point.
Mix well and pour onto a windswept beach. Add a driving wind and a dash of squally showers.
Fill the chef with alcohol.
For added piquancy, ensure that the barbecue burns intermittently and the food is either charred or barely cooked.
This dish is generally served with a side order of blame and recrimination.
They say the first man was called Adam. Now that the sun had died, was about to explode, and life on this planet had become unsustainable, there had to be a last man on earth. Strangely, coincidence and balance decreed that he too should be called Adam.
Adam, gasping and starving, remembered the philosophical question, "Does a falling tree make a sound if there is no-one to hear?" He looked past the immensity of the splitting sun, at the light of the distant stars. Would they still shine with no-one to see? No matter. For Adam, the stars went out.
"The moon's looking lovely tonight." They stood by the water's edge and watched the moon and its reflection.
"Don't you think the moon looks brighter than usual?" He stood at the door, looking out over the fields.
"Why is the moon bigger than normal?" She began to worry. This wasn't just a bumper harvest moon.
"You don't think the moon's getting closer, do you?" he asked his dad. "The government; they'd tell us, right?"
"This is a public safety announcement. Do not panic. Stay in your homes. It is almost certain that most people will survive the impact. Stay tuned."
Ewan loved sunsets. They were particularly stunning when there was an ocean to reflect and increase the light. He watched as the sun's disc slipped towards the horizon, the intensity of its fire deepening as it crept towards its rippled, golden reflection on the ocean's surface. Ragged tatters of wispy cloud stole the hot, furnace hues of the declining orb as he watched it gradually fall from sight. Ewan held his breath for just a second. The sun set. A few minutes later, he swallowed the lump in his throat as the second sun set. Hell, he still missed Earth!
It was the longest spell of hot weather that the villagers could remember. The verges were crisp and dry, the grass yellow and sere and the dogs limp and gasping. Home Farm's slurry pit was smelling worse than ever. The wise ones diagnosed a temperature inversion causing the rank smell to return to the land rather than rise to the skies.
When the farmer looked more closely he saw something nasty in there. The remains of a leg, clad in denim stuck through the dreadful crust. There were seven bodies in total. No-one, it seems, ever really leaves this village.
All the fruits were ripening. The warm sun made the scent from their flesh rise in the air and the couple's mouths began to water. First came succulent strawberries, bursting with flavour, then the slightly sharper raspberries reddened on their canes. They shared them happily. Gooseberries came next, flavoursome when softened by the sun's ripening rays. Plums and gages sent streams of sticky juice down their chins and even the hard pears softened in due course. All this was theirs for the taking, as much as they could eat. Why wasn't it enough? Why did Eve give him the Apple?
I ran my fingers over the keys. Their music was so very important to me. It had lodged itself firmly in the very deepest part of my soul and taken up residence there.
What else was there of beauty in my life? I lived, or rather, existed, virtually alone in this forlorn place, except for those wretches who did not possess my gift of music. My music, my consolation, was the very thing that cut me off from others. My fingers caressed the keys once more as I jangled them loudly.
"Slopping out time, then everyone back in your cells!"
Marsha was a real sun worshipper. She spent her well-earned holidays in exotic locations and even her lunch breaks at work were spent outside, soaking up the rays. She despised those pallid colleagues who stayed indoors, and holidayed in the British rain. She was very proud of her tan, in spite of her mother's frequent warnings about the dangers of too much sun. It wasn't the sun that killed her though. She'd never achieved the shade of oaken gold that her murderer had when he immersed her flayed skin in the vat of bark solution. Now she was truly tanned.
My granddaughter's a successful indie author. I help her. I give her ideas for her stories, whisper in her ear ways she can develop her characters. I find that if I speak to her when she is sleep, she never realises that the ideas are not her own. She wakes early, full of inspiration for the next chapter. That flimsy plan is suddenly fleshed out with lively dialogue, gripping action and cunningly woven plot lines. She thinks she gets her inspiration from a refreshing night's sleep but in truth, I'm her ghost writer. I have been ever since I died.
It had been a heavy night. Steve was tanked up, and of course, he absolutely, desperately, needed a kebab. Then the heavens opened and the rain lashed down like someone upstairs was emptying a bucket. He'd missed the last bus, drunk his taxi money and he was three miles from home.
Then he noticed the church with its invitingly unlocked door. Inside, out of the lashing elements, Steve was moved to make a contribution to the charity box set into the back pew. Instead, he threw up all over it. Then he saw the sign. It said "For the sick."
The Sprite bobbed up and down on my shoulder as I worked.
âStop it Sprite. Itâs distracting. I canât keep calling you Sprite,â I continued. âYou must have a name?â
âI have.â It sagged slightly. âAinât tellinâ though. Itâs embarrassing. Three guesses?â it mumbled.
âWho do you think you are? Rumplestiltskin?â
âNope. Thatâs one guess gone!â
âGive over,â I chided. âI demand that you tell me your name. You must tell me.â
âYes,â he said, sagging a little more. âWe all get given one in Sprite School. Something that suits us.â
âAnd you are?â
He wilted against my shoulder.
From my eye corner I saw the deformed little creature, perched like a piratical parrot on my shoulder. I tried to swipe it off but its horny little claws dug deeper into my clothing.
âWhat the hell?â I muttered.
âGood morning, Mistress. Iâm your new Familiar.â it said. âMichael Brookes has an Imp. It whispers ideas and performsâŚ personal services,â it said, waggling its eyebrows suggestively, buffing up my earring with a tiny, grimy hanky.
âYouâre my Imp?â
âNot telling. Youâll laugh.â
âTell me!â I commanded.
âOnly if you promise not to call me Lemonade!â
âIâm a Sprite!â
She closed her eyes and leant against the chill stone wall, feeling the roughness with her outstretched hands. A draught of frigid air blew from the arrow slit in the window embrasure.
The room behind her was a small chamber which led off the Great Hall, the scene of so many feasts, so many quarrels, so many precipitate deaths. Women had withdrawn to that small, lofty room. Babies had come into the world; the old, the mortally injured, had slipped from life there. She felt it all â absorbed it from those blocks of stone.
English Heritage membership was a bargain!
He came rampaging into my kitchen, my special place, my sanctuary. Initially he just seemed bent on annoying me. With a glut of blackcurrants and a free afternoon I was busy making pies. Just as I set the first pies to cool he started the battle of distraction.
What brought on my bout of murderous madness though, was the wanton destruction or my work; the wicked waste of good food. When he started stamping on my pie crusts I lost it. Grabbing a weapon, I killed him. One well-aimed flick of the tea towel and it was goodbye blue bottle!
I took my cup of tea outside. It was a lovely, sunny summers day and too good, too rare to waste sitting indoors. I sat on the grass and Ruby saw me. She came up to me, sidled up, almost sat on my knee. We looked at each other for a long moment. She was beautiful. Auburn, flirty and sassy with it. She loved a drop of tea but it was always better stolen, apparently. I held the cup loosely in my hand. She stretched over and, tipping her head, she drank.
She was the cheekiest chicken in the flock!
I dont know why you bought that bloody Satnav, I complained to my husband. You just ignore it!
Its giving me the fastest route, he said. Mines a better one.
When the voice said At the next exit, take the turn, and he blithely sailed on, I finally flipped. Oh, for gods sake, turn the sodding thing off if you wont take any notice!
He pulled onto the hard shoulder, undid my seatbelt, leaned over to open the door and pushed me out, then drove off.
I rang the AA. I need a recovery vehicle. My marriage has broken down.