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Emily rubbed her belly gently, smiling as she thought of the child growing in her. Somewhere in the night a bell tolled twice. Comfortable in her silken sheets she slept again.

In his lonely mansion on the edge of the moor Sir Edward lay sleepless thinking of his wife. He heard a small bell toll in the distance.

Emily roused once more from fitful slumber. Her mouth was dry and her head full of feathers. She raised a hand to reach for the carafe of water by her bed and heard the bell again. Her hand felt heavy. Exhausted she dropped it back to her side.

‘It is as though I have taken a sleeping draught,’ she thought drowsily, ‘ but I do not remember doing so.’ She slept again.

Edward heard the bell and leapt out of bed. His heart raced, his palms were wet. He threw back the curtains and stared into the night. The church spire rose above the village, a blacker blade piercing the black of the moonless night, touching the stars. Was she now amongst them?

‘I am maddened by grief,’ he thought. Sighing heavily he lay back on his bed.

The doctor had given him a sleeping draught, but he could not allow himself such comfort when his beloved lay cold in her grave. Every time he closed his eyes he saw her, his Emily. The child inside her making a roundness to her loved form. Her face peaceful, but no longer that of his mischievous, teasing darling.

Finally he succumbed. This pain was unbearable. He must have respite for a few hours. Whilst he waited for the opiate to take effect he tried to comfort himself with the excellence of her oaken coffin, fully sealed against the depredation of worms and the corrupting air.

The next time the bell tolled he could no longer hear it.

Words: 314

 

 

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330Words celebrated its fourth birthday last month.

Like all my good ideas, I had the brainwave for 330Words while doing the washing up. The site was conceived as a place for writers, new and old. A home for enthusiasts to test out the medium and a space for experienced authors to hone their skills and techniques.

Over the past four years, I’m adamant that 330Words has been home to some of the best short stories the internet has to offer.

Short stories aren’t easy to write. They’re lean beasts – they have to be – and flabby phrases need to be exercised, obsolete words cast aside. The mastery of short stories isn’t in the initial composition, but rather the hours spent rewording, sculpting and trimming. Every sentence needs to drive the story on.

It’s incredibly difficult to get a well-rounded tale across in 500 words. Let alone 330.

So, over the past four years, it’s been an utter delight to host your short, short stories on the site. I’ve enjoyed every single one of them; each tale had a unique way of approaching the constraints of the word limit. Some were hilarious. Some gave me nightmares. Some made me cry. I’ve read so many great stories from so many brilliant writers.

Every story made me want to write. And every story made me a better writer.

330Words has introduced me to nights like Bad Language, where I began to read out my work for the first time. It led to countless meetings with great writers, such as Fat Roland, Dave Harley, Benjamin Judge and Clare Conlon; together we created #Flashtag. Ideas and techniques from these stories have fuelled creative projects elsewhere, from the stage to my career.

But, the time has come. All good things must end and I’m moving on to concentrate on a couple of big projects that would leave me with no time to look after the site. And that would be a colossal shame.

So, without further delay, I’d like to formally welcome Trisha Starbrook as the new curator of 330Words.

One of the leading writers in the Manchester literary scene, Trisha was the winner of the #Flashtag ‘Short, Short Story Slam’ at Didsbury Arts Festival back in 2013. Since then, she has performed at First Draft, Ruined (for Manchester History Festival), Tales of Whatever and Bad Language.

She’ll do an amazing job here at 330Words and I wish her the best of luck. I’ll still be penning the occasional story for the site and I’ll still be involved in #Flashtag. I’ll still be reading on the stage and I’ll still be doing interesting things with words.

But that’s another story and I’m already over the word limit.

Words: 441

image005

Most days, it felt as though the office was brimming with wasps. Constant distraction and nerves shot to pieces. You could almost feel the grey hairs diving through your scalp.

Today was different.
Today was still.

A gentle whisper of distant traffic, interrupted occasionally by the grumble of a lorry or two. It was difficult not to work at the hurtling speed I was accustomed to. I felt like I was cheating time. I dallied over tasks and leant back in my chair. Normally I only lean back in my chair to animate my frustration, at the stupidity of those that plague my day.

For now, I couldn’t care less.

Despite my clandestine ignorance toward anything but her, I was pained by something. This wasn’t the hot poker kind of pain, from work. This was a slow knife, dragged purposefully, to reveal my caged confusion.

As the day nudged along, I was no nearer to solving the mystery of my crippled mind. Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, caffeine, water. I tried them all. Despite my efforts, I could not dampen the unease

I was supposed to be meeting her tonight. Not that I’d ever dream of cancelling but I didn’t want her thinking I was any different to our previous meetings.

We’d both acknowledged, via text, what a great time we’d had. Both saying how we couldn’t wait to meet again. If I went as though I’d forgotten to brush my teeth – hardly speaking. She might think I was losing interest.

I made my way into her flat and she told me to make myself at home, motioning toward the living room. A few minutes later, she glided in with two drinks, brimming like last time, and sat closer than before.

My nerves were less but the panic, swirling from my day, became paramount.
It was then that it clicked.

Last night, before we went to bed, she said “You go through, I’ll rewind this.”
My God, she still has videos.

Words:328

Church Pulpit_Alter

Ah, good – there’s no-one here. Right first thing’s first – the prayer requests book – oh, it’s missing. I wonder if Alan has it. Where is he? Perhaps in the office, getting the notices photocopied. Hmm… better make a mental note to check with him then.

Anyway – let’s see who’s preaching today? Ahh – Bill Palmer of City Road Baptist – a good egg – a little traditional, but always a decent sermon.

Okay – better switch on the lectern light for Mr Palmer – yup – working fine. Bible?
Hmm, now where’s the Bible? Oh hello, here’s Alan.

Hi Al – how’re things? Done the notices then? Great. You seen the pulpit Bible? Hmm?

The prayer book – thanks – was looking for that too. What’s that? Oh yeah – no problem – I’ll carry on here.

Right – better sort the numbers for the hymn board first – let’s see – 56, 273, 95 and 22.

Ah – here come the first arrivals. I might have known – Miss Dunwoody, and Miss Fox – always check in at ten-fifteen on the dot. I’d expect nothing less from ex-teachers.

Hello, good morning – yes, Miss Fox – indeed, it is a fine morning –

Well, it would be if I could find the Bible. Please God – time’s pressing on – I’m praying earnestly – help me find the Bible.

Sorry Al? The microphone. Haven’t tested it yet. Will do – no problem. Okay, mic on – ‘testing testing – one, two, three’.

Well that seems fine. Now, let’s see about the Bible. It must be here somewhere. Wait – perhaps in the vestry cupboard – okay – back we go – is the key in the drawer? No.

Hmmm… oh, I see – under the charity envelopes. Aha! So, over to the cupboard – and – hurrah! The Bible. Thank you.

Back to the pulpit.

I see the church is filling up. And Bill Palmer’s just arrived.

Good – all sorted. Just the Bible reading to find – Psalm 27, verse 14 – hang on – that’s a famous one – ‘Wait on the Lord…’.

Hmmm… have you been trying to tell me something again, God?

Words: 328

A specially commissioned piece to celebrate the debut performance of H@ndles.

Handles_Lg

Zoe put an umlaut over the e in her name to make herself more interesting. Mandy said it was only an umlaut if it went over the o but she is wrong.

Zoë couldn’t decide whether to pronounce her name like Noël or Chloë so she put an umlaut over the o as well. Mandy said two umlauts together was stupid but no one cares what Mandy thinks.

Zöë liked her new name because it looked like it had eyelashes. Mandy said names don’t have eyelashes because Mandy has no imagination and we all hate her.

Zöë met a man called Päül on tumblr but it was just Mandy using an old e-mail account. Mandy changed her name to Mąňđŷ and we all said she was trying too hard.

Zöë unfriended Mąňđŷ on Facebook. Mąňđŷ changed her name back to Mandy because she isn’t nearly as exciting as she pretends to be.

Zöe experimented with just an umlaut on the o of her name and started pronouncing her name Zer-ee. Mandy changed her name to Zoe because she is a nasty bitch who will do anything for attention and she smells of sex and bacon and we call her sexy bacon because she is a pig.

Zöe unfollowed Zoe. Zoe reported Zöe as spam because she takes everything too far and we all wish she would just go away and Jack says he did her round the back of school and he probably did because she is so desperate.

Zöe changed her name to Zȣe because it looked like a charity ribbon which was ironic and clever.

Zoe changed her name to Zȣe too because she is a skank and her legs look like uncooked sausages and she only has like six friends on Facebook and most of them are old men who are trying to groom her and she probably loves them.

Zoe changed her name to Mandy. Mandy changed her name to Zoe. Whatever.

Words: 330

A specially commissioned piece to celebrate the debut performance of H@ndles.

handlessugar

You enter the building fifteen minutes early so that you look eager, your hair is unnaturally trimmed and you found that tie you own. You get in the lift and ride it to the fourth floor. When the doors open, you find yourself in a shabbier office that you thought you would.

There’s a woman sat behind the reception desk smoking, she looks like she slept there. She looks like she always sleeps there.

“Hello,” you say, “I’m here for the job, the agency sent me.”

She doesn’t reply. Instead she points her cigarette in the direction of a door and nods. You go through the doors.

Another woman greets you when you enter the room. You barely have enough time to look around and only get a brief eyeful of the place. There are several people dotted about the room at desks, typing away. No-one is talking to each other. The woman looks friendly enough though, she has the kind of hair that makes you think she’s about to describe herself as ‘crazy’.

“You must be new.”

“Yes, the agency sent me.”

“Good, good. We need as many people as you can get.”

She leads you to a terminal and you sit down.

“You’ll be Alan Sugar. Is that okay for you?”

“I’m what?”

“You know, balding guy, businessman. Just type away and if anyone asks you anything, just reply how you think he’d reply.”

You look at the screen in front of you. You are logged in to Twitter. Above you, a little sign hangs from the ceiling saying ‘@Lord_Sugar’. Alan Sugar’s face is the profile picture.

You look around for some more advice, but the woman has gone. The man sat next to you has a sign above him saying @MrDDyer. He doesn’t respond to your waving.

When you click into the box to write a new tweet, the emptiness is tantilising. You feel the infinite options ahead of you and you begin to type.

Words: 328

A specially commissioned piece to celebrate the debut performance of H@ndles

Handles_Lg

The Krathen lurk and lie, eating secrets for breakfast and regurgitating it back for lunch. Their favourite food is data; juicy tidbits of information about humanfolk’s lives.

At first we never realised they were there. Too many cat videos and articles and opinions to think about it. To notice them, just beneath the surface.

But slowly the Krathen ate more and more, pulling pieces of our lives apart. They chew with ferocity, strong jaws clamping down on notions we once upheld as proof we were living in an enlightened age. A post-everything age, where we can say what we like, as loud as we like. Soon we were screaming.

They seem to like the screams, although that slow realisation must have also provided them with entertainment. When the Krathen are excited, or happy, they emit a strong-smelling mucus, oozing from their oversized pores.

Now that smell is everywhere, in our nostrils, in our sleep.

Once we wouldn’t have thought twice before creating or sharing, reposting and tagging and blogging and recording every part of our existence. As the documentation became more desperate, that now-familiar squelch rose in pitch and volume, until it was vibrating like a hummingbird, deafeningly shrill.

The internet is our only way left to communicate now. But messages are dangerous; by the time we finally learned our lesson, it was far too late. The Krathen were everywhere and they were gorged on our stories, made rampant by our distraction and our malice that were thrown into existence the same way they are now thrown up.

Loneliness cannot be borne for long. We don’t stay quiet, no matter the consequences. The creatures know this too, and they wait, smiling, for us to crack. A single, slightly-rambling post; a 6-second video about nothing at all – we hope and pray that it is harmless. We should know better by now.

I should have stopped writing by now.

Words: 329

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