Archive for April, 2013


When he needed luck he would always wear his Jack Daniels T-shirt. For university exams, his first job interview, making love to her. She’d felt so grown-up, sitting in his kitchen watching him wash up, scrubbing like mad to get rid of the burnt on food singing ‘Purple Rain’ at the top of his voice.

Flicking the tepid washing up water he’d roar with laughter when it landed all over her favourite She-Ra T-shirt. Chasing her around the house, he’d snap his hands like the jaws of a big reptile, yelling “Crocodiles”. Squealing with joy as he rugby tackled her to the ground nuzzling her neck and tickling her ear. It was years before she finally gave up trying to squeeze herself into that top, her favourite.

She hadn’t felt grown-up when his four rugby mates carried him into church. She had wanted to lay the red rubber gloves on the top of his coffin. His mother said no. She wouldn’t let him be buried in his lucky T-shirt either. Mums are like that. She settled for a large posy of yellow marigolds and his best suit. Nothing is easy.

Words: 190

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The Autumn Sun begins its descent.

Its engines shatter the thin layer of the upper atmosphere, a crack which vibrates across the sky, shaking continents old enough to remember the sound. On the planet below, the people gather in the cities, in the towns and in the fields, craning their necks towards the heavens for the first glimpse of the demon’s return.

At first, it is concealed, almost transparent against the sky; the clear morning reflecting off its steel underbelly. But, the Autumn Sun was not meant to be hidden and blue begins to drip from the hull as the reluctant crew coax the beast towards the Eastern docks. The roar of the colossus drowns out the surprised cries below.

There is no hiding from it now. Just as before, the grey dragon blots out the sun, black skyscraper scars slashed across its chest. No cannons this time though; the goliath was castrated before it entered orbit. It was the least they could do.

The victorious are not cruel. After the war, the Autumn Sun was left to float with the unimportant stars at the edge of space. They waited to let new skin grow over the wound before they put away their toys.

But now, now under the shadow of the Autumn Sun, the president places a wreath besides the peace tree. He carefully reads the words the official hands to him as the crowd of dignitaries stand in silence. The noise from the engines above drown out his hollow consolidations, while the bones of the fallen vibrate under the earth beneath their feet.

Across the continent, a young boy watches the demonstration through innocent eyes. He sees the angry faces with vertical eyes and horizontal screams and he remembers his grandmother’s story about the city-eating giant. He looks up at the falling Autumn Sun, looming over the capitol building, and becomes afraid. He turns and begins to run.

The security perimeter shuffles aside as he races across the city to get his sword.

Words: 330 Words

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The dead tell such good tales.

You can hear their stories in the blackest hour, when the night is at its most still; the maw of darkness swallowing the reason of the day. As you lie sleeping, the dead will slip under the crack of the door or slither through the hole in the rusty lock. The dead like an audience.

Sometimes, the dead will stand by your bedside, angrily spitting dry words from their dusty mouths. Sometimes, they will sit next to you in sleep, speaking in hushed whispers so not to wake you. Sometimes, the dead will perch on the edge of your bed with their backs turned, too ashamed of their story to tell it to your sleeping face.

Do not be afraid of the dead for, if you listen to their tales, you will hear wonderful things; triumphant love and searing heartbreak. Romance and adventure and stories of lives full or wasted. The dead are wise and old and have lived longer than you and I.

Still, not all the dead have honest tales to tell and be wary of those ghouls that come with ill intent. You will know them as the sheets grow cold; when they lie next to you and lean in with blue lips that touch the skin.

But, if their rotten words trouble you, remember that night will end soon enough. A new day will come and the dawn, with its limitless potential for new stories, will be waiting for you. Sweet dreams, my love.

Words: 254

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flashtag CAF2013box landscape

#Flashtag, the Manchester-based writing group of which 330Words is a proud member, is now accepting entries for its short story writing competition for Chorlton Arts Festival.

The competition, now in its third year, is looking for entries of 400 words, which will conclude with a live event in the leafy suburbs of Chorlton during the festival.

The theme of the competition is ‘Past, Present Future’, so get scribbling. Prizes include a bumper boxset of our favourite books, as well as a very special literary prize which we’re keeping secret for now. Enter your words here.

The deadline for entries is Friday 26th April. You can read the rules here.

In the words of #flashtag’s very own David Hartley:

The theme is wider than stretched out space and time, you could literally do anything with that. Literally. You have 400 words at your disposal and you don’t even have to use them all.

Words 152

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‘Alice. Get me boots, I want me boots on now!’

I look at your steel capped work boots. I’ve given them short shrift in their hardworking life, which is not fair because they’ve earned us a penny or two.
I’ve shouted when you stomped through the house in them. You didn’t care tuppence for the trail of muck you left behind. Sometimes you walked on tiptoe with a ridiculous mocking look on your face, like an idiot, making like you were being careful. An elephant in Swan Lake.
I remember when you ran in to tell me that you’d had an accident.
‘Alice, I’ve run over the dog.’ Your gasping breathless voice was full of panic.
‘Is she dead?’ I asked.
‘No but…’
‘Well get off my clean floor with them muddy boots then.’
I chuckle to myself now at the memory and then I hear you shout again.

‘Alice, where are me boots?’
I give them a quick wipe. You don’t need them now. I can’t understand why you’ve insisted on wearing them today, stuck in that bloody chair as you are.
‘You’ll die in these bloody boots you will.’ I say.
‘Aye Alice, I will that.’

Words: 199

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‘Dopamine is the principal neurochemical that activates your reward circuitry. Your reward circuitry drives nearly all of your behaviours.’ I read this and stare at my partner. I imagine him pressing levers in a Skinner Box, achieving orgasms and wasting away to nothing, his eyes rolled back in ecstasy, his body quivering. I imagine him with long unkempt hair, his teeth yellow, fingernails grown into claws, and yet he presses the leavers until his last rush of dopamine and a sigh emitted through gritted teeth.

‘Orgasm is the biggest blast of dopamine (legally) available to us,’ a Dutch scientist recently discovered, after scanning the brains of people having orgasms. He said they resembled scans of heroin users. The scientist saw visions of an ‘orgasm pill and tons of money.’

I see visions too. I imagine the woman my partner has been seeing from his office. I imagine her flame hair, her legs astride, the office chair. Maybe on the desk. Maybe in some expensive hotel in his lunch hour.

‘Scientists have discovered that—after a frenzy of copulation—a male rat will lose interest in a female. But should a different female show up, the rat will perk up long enough to service her.’ I put down the journal. I pick up my coat from the floor where I dropped it. The room smells strange now. Like burnt flesh. I turn off the lights in the room. Close the curtains. I call the front desk and ask that my privacy be respected for the rest of the week. Then I hang up, and put my high-heels back on. Finally, I pull the last plug from the wall, and there is a faint sigh on the bed. The door closes hermetically. I feel bouncy, with a fresh release of dopamine.

Words: 297

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It would play at night; a soaring piece that danced through the corridors of the museum. Crotchets shook the vases on their pedestals and quavers played hide and seek through the bones of dead beasts; half of a melody that scared the torch out of the security guard’s hand.

Eventually, the museum sold the piano to an antiques shop on the edge of town. The instrument was haunted, so muttered the security guard.

But the old man of the antiques shop was not afraid of ghosts. He had lived in the store all his life and the echoes of the past, tagged and displayed on the shelves in the room below, did not concern him. When the half melody woke him, drifting up the stairs and in through the keyhole, he slipped out of bed and pulled on his dressing gown.

The old man sat by the piano, stroking the grey stubble on his chin as he watched the keys move. The song was incomplete.

‘A duet, four hands,’ he smiled, before gently pressing his fingers to the bass clef. The piece, whole, danced around the shelves, a melody that echoed through the fragmented walls of time, scaring the silver tray from the butler’s hand.

‘This piano is haunted,’ muttered the butler.

‘Nonsense, the governess replied, staring at her reflection in the shining wood. ‘It’s brand new.’

When the half melody woke her, drifting up the stairs and in through the keyhole, she slipped out of bed and pulled on her dressing robe.

She sat by the piano, stroking her chin as she watched the keys move. The song was incomplete. She smiled, before gently pressing her fingers to the treble clef.

The piece, whole, danced around the dining hall, a melody that echoed through the fragmented walls of time, scaring the torch out of the security guard’s hand.

Words: 311

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Daffodils, she loved daffodils. I knew that much about her. I was buying beer on the way home from another day there, in that place. I saw them. In a black plastic bin, sticking out their little canary trumpets at me and I thought of her. On the way home, I ripped off the reduced price sticker, also yellow.

On Tuesday, she had leaned back in her chair, turned from her computer screen, sighed and said roundly, ‘I love daffodils’. She had looked out of the window at the pale sun, then turned back to her work. No-one had listened except me. It was a sign. She was trying to tell me something, something important.

The daffodils lay on the draining board and I watched them as a poured my beer. I sipped and listened. I could hear tinny music coming from their soft trumpets.

I put my ear next to one of them and heard her voice. I can’t tell you what she said. It’s between her and me. You wouldn’t understand. On the bus on the way to work, I held them close, stroked them now and again, thought of the moment when I would give them to her and her face, smiling like I had always pictured. When I got off the bus I realised I had crushed one in my hand. My palm was sticky with pollen and smelt of green. I licked it off, making sure to take every last fibre into my body. I waited outside the revolving doors to the office. Looking for her.

And there she was. Wearing a black coat, her hair loose, her lips red. I walked towards her and smiled. I held the flowers out. She walked away, quickly, her heels clicking. I pulled her back and then it became all colours, the red blur of her lips, the white of her eyes, and, as I stuffed them into her screaming pink mouth, the yellow of the daffodils.

Words 329

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Conversation through wires

A pause then:
A breath. Crackles from arthritic hands holding the ill-fitting plastic mould of an old telephone handset. Then:
Is it Sunday already?
I’m calling early, dad. I’ve got a meeting in Paris this weekend.
I told you. With the partnership. I’m closing a contract. It doesn’t matter.
A car horn beeps. Probably from the son’s end. He’s most likely on his mobile outside a cafe. He wears blue suits. Always with the salmon pink shirts.
I went to Paris once.
Dad, you’ve never been to Paris. We spoke about this too.
With your mother.
An old man remembering. The son sighs then lowers his voice. Stage whisper.
Dad, my battery’s running out. I need to ask you something.
On his mobile then. Take the cafe as given.
I need to ask you something and I need it today.
Wait a minute. I have a pen but I don’t have any paper.
A clunk as the receiver’s put on a table. Shuffling. Then a hollow clang. Sounds like the dad’s using his walking frame.
There is a radiator in the hallway where the phone is, isn’t there, Al? I think he’s knocked the radiator.
Shhhh. Keep listening.
The son’s talking to someone but he’s obviously muffling with his hand and it’s difficult to hear. A female voice. Sounds sharp. Urgent. The dad’s back on the phone.
Here we go, son. I keep this notepad but I write so little these days.
More crackles. The dad hums under his breath.
You getting this, Al?
The son hesitates before speaking again. As if he’s listening back.
We’ll visit Dorset for the summer.
Clatter. The sound of an old receiver being replaced. The line goes dead. The dad’s hung up.
Shit. Keyword.
It was a keyword, Al. They knew we were listening.
For crap’s sake, Al.
Sorry about the noise. My chair hit the server unit. Did we get a location?
A pause.

Words: 327

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