Archive for January, 2011

There’s a man behind me.

I think he’s following me.

It’s Friday night, and I’m going to get a proper fish supper from the chippy near my friend’s house. I can’t believe how cold it is, walking along the back streets. It’s only a five minute walk.
But you know how it is when it’s getting dark, when it’s late.

I turn my head slightly, and he’s right there, behind me.

I keep walking, pretend to glance up at the buildings, so I can get a better look at him. He doesn’t make a sound. He’s got his hands in his pockets. He looks pretty determined.

I speed up a little. He’s getting closer behind me.

Oh God, what if he’s one of those serial killers?

He’s dressed like they always are, in those photo fits the police put out. And there’s been a murder recently, they can’t find the man who did it. No idea who it was.

I didn’t think murderers wore a uniform, but he looks just like one of those men. You know the way they look, with a beanie hat, bomber jacket, jeans. Pretty tall.

I start thinking of all the moves I can remember Lara Croft did in those movies. But I’m five foot two. It’s not like I’m going to stand much chance against a man like that.

I hurry across the street, heading for the traffic lights. I’ll have to stop. If he stops behind me, then I’ll know. He’s following me. I’ll have to run for the chippy.

Oh God… Is this what it’s like, right before they get you? Do all those women know, right before it happens, that their attacker is right behind them?
I’m standing at the traffic lights now, waiting for the signal to cross the road.
And he’s right there, right beside me. I can see the whiskers on his chin.

And then he walks across, ahead of me. He’s gone. He didn’t even see me.

Words: 330

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The first time Billy-o saw a clock he was baffled.

He understood numbers of course. And he understood counting. Billy-o’s grandmother had counted all kinds of things as she made soups for them in their large, stone-clad kitchen.

“Thirty-three stirs of the onions and carrots, Billy-o” she’d say, “eighty-seven stirs of the stock. Clean the windows downstairs.”

Counting was easy.

Life was full.

So the first time Billy-o saw a clock he was baffled because the numbers didn’t count properly. Everything ought to be 1, 2, 3 up to 10, 11, 12 and so on. 100 came after 99.

Billy-o had learned this from his Grandmother who had learned it someplace else, she said.

On the clock, however, the numbers didn’t count up properly. It didn’t even get to 60.

At first, Billy-o thought he hadn’t woken properly. His eyes were still heavy, and the pains in his head might be making his eyes play tricks on him.

He asked the people who came to see him and they explained what a clock was.

It still didn’t make sense. He quickly learned the concept of counting 57, 58, 59, 00 but he couldn’t understood why.

The people explained it again as they washed and shaved him.

Although he still didn’t really understand why, Billy-o came to associate certain numbers with certain events. Back home he had never needed to know “when” to do jobs. He had never needed to know “when” to put the children to bed or make dinner for his grandmother.

The why of time made no sense.

But “soon”, Billy-o understood the clock. He understood that the people woke him at a set time, changed his sheets at a set time and turned the lights out at a set time.

And then, as he began to take pleasure in counting the people in and out, and the sunrises in and out, and the meals in and out, Billy-o finally learned how long he had left to live.

Words: 327

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Arjan held out a bottle.

​‘Ready for one?’


​He forced its lid off using his lighter — one of his favourite tricks — and pressed it into my hand. His knuckles were rough, the beer was cold. We were sat near the canal bridge, at the edge of town, our Saturday meeting place. The late afternoon birds winged overhead, the sky was turning pink at its edges. I saw that the sole was beginning to come away from my trainers, that the laces were grey with wear.

​‘How’s work?’ I said.

​‘Looking for it.’

​It was usually like this at the weekend, waiting for night to set in. Ours was a typical town, part gone to seed, part failed renewal. Talk was always of what people were going to do some other time, never the hour in front of them.
​‘Someone’s been down there again.’

​‘Under the arch — “Some people go to work to keep a dog.”’

​I couldn’t lose the feeling that the scrawled characters looked out of place against the rest of the graffiti beneath the bridge, pithy as the sentiment was. It was better than the usual hate-notes, all the same.

​‘The bus was weird tonight,’ Arjan said.


​‘You know, when it starts out full, then empties almost completely at Town Hall.’


​‘You’re sat next to someone, and when everyone gets off you don’t know if you should move to an empty seat. But this man I was next too … well, I could tell. He was one of those people who would be offended if you moved. Like you were trying to get away from him, rather than moving to give more space. You don’t need that, not on a Saturday.’


​‘So there we were, sat next to each other, the only people on the bus.’

​‘It’s worse when you’re in a waiting room. Everyone avoiding eye contact. Pretending they’re not there, that the moment isn’t happening to them.’

Words: 330

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Her voice could raze cathedrals to the ground.

On the first night, her soaring Italian crotchets rattled the windows of the church down the road. The spire shook in the gale while the stained-glass saints gripped their multicoloured relics and prayed. Stone and sand trembled in her presence. So what chance did a romantic fool of a second violinist have?

It was love at first semi-quaver.

On the first night, his love-addled brain missed every single cue. The German conductor threw a baton at him during the interval.

On the second night, he rushed through the staves just so he could hear her sing again. During the break, the conductor, wielding a trumpet above his head, had to be restrained by a burly member of the percussion section.

On the third night, he played the loudest in his row; sawing at his instrument like an enthusiastic tree surgeon.

“This is on the blink again,” remarked a pensioner in the crowd, fiddling with his hearing aid. “I can’t hear the trombones.”

But still, she had not noticed him.

On the final evening, fuelled by desperation and a dramatic reinterpretation of an advice column found on a dating website, he made his final stand.

The polite middle-class applause politely fell silent as, just before the interval, a black-haired violinist in the orchestra stood up and, without introduction, moved to the edge of the stage and began to play.

The soprano’s eyes widened in shock. The violinist’s eyes closed in concentration.

As he slipped out of consciousness, having plummeted onto the first row of the audience, a retired doctor braced his fracture with the shattered remains of a 19th Century violin.

Later, while he waited in the emergency room, (the remnants of a violin bow tied to his leg), the soprano, still wearing her flowing red gown, asked him his name.

Words: 306

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Satan sits in the kitchen and pours itself another cup of tea.

“I’m afraid it doesn’t work like that sir. You’re not the first to have raised the issue and it looks like you won’t be the last so the best we can do at this stage is to say we will look into it. I should warn you, however, that even if the system does get changed, it’s unlikely to affect you. These offers are rarely offered to past customers.”

It pauses, briefly.

“And before you raise the issue of original sin let me stop you. Original Sin was a proactive measure: it was a special case. Even so, it wasn’t designed to be retroactive; not that there were any people before Adam and Eve of course. So really, if you think about it, the point is moot.”

A gnarled finger reaches up to dab a sore that had been running since the Reformation.

“Limbo? Please. Don’t waste your breath. Look, the best I can do is to make a note indicating that you are sorry but really the fact that you were put through to me at all should tell you plenty.”

They always argued, of course they did. At one time Satan wondered why, wondered whether it was part of what made them survivors; what made them Favoured.

But then the sophistication of their arguments kicked in.

“There’s no need for language like that sir, you’re in enough trouble as it is. Let’s just get this started shall we?”

Satan stands, its tail sliding the chair across the laminate. The cup of tea had gone cold and a fresh pot was required.

Pressing hold on line 106,596,987,666, the horned one heaves a sigh loud enough to flatten mountains.

That’s the problem with working from home, it muses, you never truly switch off.

Words: 304

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Young Jack had enjoyed himself. With the rest of the crowd he slowly filed out of the Big Top, passing as he did a craggy greased painted face, oily black tears stained one cheek.

‘Thank you, please’ it muttered, handing Jack a small silver envelope. The boy slid it into his pocket for safe keeping.

It was days later, Jack was alone playing outside when felt the forgotten gift in his pocket. The torn envelope fell to the floor and he held up an uniflated blue balloon and a silver ribbon which flashed in the sunlight. Jack smiled.

Not so faraway a magpie landed on a branch, its hard eye glinted with envy.

He placed the balloon to his lips and blew. With considerable effort he forced a small bulge of air into the balloon. Pinching the end to pause, he rubbed his face. His cheeks ached with the exertion, but after two more painful blasts it was inflated.

‘Lunch’ his mother called.

A small knot was fumbled into the rubber and using the ribbon fastened the balloon to his bike, he trudged indoors.

As the door closed the magpie moved fast, gliding from branch to handlebars, it pecked, pulled and loosened the knot. The freed balloon lifted up, pulled by an invisible hand it drifted past the trees and continued over the house.

When Jack returned the balloon was just a speck in the distance. It was gone as was Jack’s smile.

The waiting magpie flapped its oily black wings and flew off.

The Circus was packing up, the sad faced clown stood outside an old tatty caravan watching the sky expectedly. A silver ribbon drifted past his face, reaching up and caught it. A smiled cracked.

Jack aged, youth past, overtaken by a tragic craggy expression. In his company children always hid or cried at the sight of his perpetual sad face.

Words: 314

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Over two millennia in the making.

No one on Earth believed in fairies anymore. Save innocent children. And in the grand scheme, maybe a few skinheaded homophobes. But that was the very point.

The time to end this very human emotion was long overdue.

The fairies had done an outstanding job of staying undetected. Each and every single one of trillions, morphed into a floating speck of dust to the human eye.

Recent meetings had been heated. The inner circle wanted the job doing on the 24th of December. After all, it was a gift from them to mankind. The more radical element argued it was nothing to do with Christmas. So a compromise was agreed to follow the Spanish tradition and carry out their mission on the night of The Three Kings. And despite being a gift, the fairies were still taking something away.

One solitary, four letter word.

Two thousand years of planning. They’d all agreed they were probably only two-thirds of the way into the perfect plan, but the events between 1939 and 1945 created a more immediate deadline.

And trial runs had gone as well as could be expected. Whether labouring ink technicians or artisans of the subconscious, it was amazing to think the proboscis of the fairy, no larger than a couple of atoms, would prove to be the biggest ever asset to man.

And so it was on the night of January 5th, 2011, the fairies set about their mission.

However many dictionaries they converted, the ‘A’ always stubbornly relented.
And the ‘H’ proved hardest to siphon from brains.
The ‘E’ was not surprising; complex to extract from the subconscious.
Even the ‘T’ proved intricate; hard to suck permanently from the memory.

But the many trillions of fairies who cooperated around the world that night agreed, it was a successful sortie.
Only time would tell how well mankind would react to this brave new world.
After the dust had settled, of course.

Words: 330

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