April Competition (The Real One)

Sun, Apr 9 2017 10:16am IST 1
2015 Posts

WAYFARER (495 words)

The horizon was a thin pencil line drawn between pewter sky and slate grey sea, with a purple smudge on my right hand side where bruising clouds massed over Colmlach. I reviewed my options. Stay in the car and watch the hours unfold in relative comfort, or brave the environs of a village that had fostered me – albeit briefly – the year my mother walked out and left me to cope with the fallout.

To sit in the car was to invite unwanted attention, since mine was the only vehicle to take advantage of the available space. I switched off the engine and opened the door, felt the immediate tug of wind like a drowsy lover reclaiming the bedclothes, and eased myself upright into the early morning chill. I burrowed deeper into my jacket as I locked the car and pocketed the key, flinching as fibres from a woollen collar abraded the healing wound on my neck, and turned to walk towards the harbour.

I passed the entrance to the old wooden pier, barred with rusty chain link fencing and a dilapidated sign confessing to apathy and neglect.


The rotten boards and unnatural tilt were testament to the pier’s mismanagement, and as waves pounded the wooden supports, I swear the exhausted creaking that had begun to set my teeth on edge was the ancient structure begging to be put out of its misery. I turned my head away, quickened my steps until I almost ran, and crossed in front of the disused lifeboat shed to the harbour master’s office.

As a child, I had swum in the harbour - could still hear echoes of the screeching, flailing bodies of my classmates as they leapt into the sub-zero temperatures of the North Sea. Jumping in. Racing to the old pier and back. Climbing out. Over and over, stopping only to allow a sea-bound boat to pass, with barely enough tolerance for safety. But nothing could swim in there now. I thrust my hands deeper into my pockets and allowed a flood of regret to wash over me. The harbour was a cess-pit. A stagnant pool of corrupt brown algae, embroidered with plastic bottles and polystyrene cartons, fighting for space against an impenetrable toxic sheen of diesel and scum. There were few boats tied up, and none that looked seaworthy. At my approach, a large brown rat abandoned Tom Foolery (the boat’s name so bleached by the sun it was barely legible), and scuttled up the mooring line to disappear through a hole in the harbour wall.

Enough. Whatever I was looking for, I wouldn’t find it here.

It rained as I made my way back to the car - rain with the flavour of rotting fish and the weight of desperation. A huge seagull perched on the roof of the lifeboat shed eyed me with suspicion.

‘Love what you’ve done with the place,’ I said, as my childhood memories imploded.

Sun, Apr 9 2017 04:18pm IST 2
Jenni Belsay
Jenni Belsay
691 Posts

After kissing her dad goodbye, Jamie watched the Austin splash and bounce out of the potholed car park. Sunshine flashed on a wing mirror, and he was gone.

‘Shall we go?’ The warden still sounded irritated.

She turned, to see him striding away already, a suitcase in each hand. With a deep breath, she heaved the rucksack onto her shoulders and hurried after him, down the grassy slope.

Although the rain had stopped, it was a steep, slippery descent, into the wind funnelling up the valley.

At the bottom, by the edge of the wood, the track split. ‘Nature trail’s that way.’ Martyn jerked his chin to the left, as he turned right.

Jamie trudged behind. Because of run-off from the hill, the path here was even more churned up by previous walkers, making the going harder.

The ancient oaks continued to drip, wellingtons squelched, and the plaintive call of a robin reminded Jamie of autumn for some reason. The dampness made it smell like autumn too. A pair of wood pigeons suddenly clattered out of branches above their heads and, further in, a green woodpecker laughed. It was impossible to see anything through the leaves, but comforting to hear signs of life.

In the cottage, Jamie would be alone.

Her tentative questions about the reserve were met with monosyllabic answers. Clearly, it still rankled that Jamie wasn’t a bloke. If the weight of her luggage irked him too, it shouldn’t. His confirmation letter had stipulated that volunteers must supply their own towels, bed linen and food, as well as clothing.

At last the cottage was in sight, hugged by trees on three sides. Stone. Steeply pitched roof. Tiny windows. Sixteenth century, she’d learned earlier. Along with: No electricity. Outside toilet. Do you mind mice?

Again, she pushed down the sick feeling.

What might once have been a front garden was overrun with shoulder-high grasses and rosebay willowherb.

At the porch they had to negotiate a giant puddle where rain must have cascaded off the sagging roof and carved out a hole.

Martyn lifted the latch and led her into gloom that smelt of smoke and dust. ‘Living room,’ he said, setting down the cases.

Jamie propped her rucksack against them. The floor, which might also be stone, was encrusted with muck tramped in by previous assistants.

A sofa by the fireplace looked more clapped out and stained than anything in the Sixth Form Centre at school. No way would she be sitting on that of an evening. She must have let her disgust show because Martyn started shifting from foot to foot, eyes flicking from her to the sofa. He was probably embarrassed about not keeping the place in better nick.

Only the wall around the fireplace appeared to have been repainted in the last hundred years, and a newish strip of skirting (unpainted) also ran along the same wall. How odd. Why do half a job and refurbish just part of a room?

495 words
Mon, Apr 10 2017 11:29am IST 3
1230 Posts

Even the breeze was hot. Lee wandered the gardens behind the Palaçio da Cintra. Those last beers had been a mistake in this heat. The little paved courtyard was an ideal place to grab a few zeds. The stone walls were honey yellow and too hot to touch. But the shade from the spreading Carob tree made a cool spot on a stone shelf. The white paving was so hot in the sun that he felt the soles of his flip flops softening, the heat a dry sandy tang in his nose.

His eyes weighed heavy, alcohol and the temperature won. He lay back in the shade as the hypnotic buzzing of the cicadas drifted him off to sleep.

‘Catarina, my love’. Lee forced one eye open and saw a tall man in black costume cross the yard towards a beautiful young woman in long elaborate turquoise dress. Her hair was raven, loose and it moved softly with the breeze. Lee realised his T shirt was soaked in sweat, yet these two looked cool.

“It’s bleedin’ Zorro,” he thought “A re-enactment?”

Apart from the three of them the place was deserted and silent, just the constant buzz from the cicada tree.

‘Rodrigo! You cannot be here. My father will have you killed.’

‘Come with me to Lisbon. We can take ship together.’

“These two are good, but where’s the audience? I didn’t see a sign,” Lee looked around. It was just them and the heat.

‘I am contracted to Don Jose, the fat slug, for six thousand escudos. My father will weigh the money and his honour.’

‘I have friends in..’

‘Leave.’ The girl interrupted, and then louder ‘Duarte! No. Please.’

Another man, in blue, entered the courtyard, his sword drawn, the cruel blade showing signs of use.

‘Roberto. Run. My brother will kill you.’

‘Stand aside, Sister,’ Duarte’s voice was bleak.

Roberto moved her aside and drew his sword. Lee watched silently, his mouth hanging open. The cicadas fell silent.

‘You are her brother. I do not want to fight you.’

Duarte rushed forward, sword thrusting. In a lightning exchange of clashing steel that lasted no more than thirty seconds Duarte was pierced over the heart. With a cry he fell back, his blood pooling onto the white stones. Roberto stepped back. The girl ran to hold her brother as life left his eyes.

Looking up. ‘Go! Now! I will meet you tonight, at the inn. Now! Before my father’s men come. Oh, Duarte, you fool, you fool.’

Lee’s phone buzzed. A text from Amy

WTFRU? We’re w8ing @ the jeep. Your arse DOWN here NOW.

Lee jumped up and shook himself fully awake. The actors had gone. Funny they hadn’t noticed him. It was cooler and the cicada buzzing was now gentle, in the background. As he hurried off to make excuses he didn’t notice the slightly darker rusty stain on the white flagstones, bleached by the sun these last three hundred years.

(495 words)
Mon, Apr 10 2017 11:10pm IST 4
221 Posts

The Inquisitive Girl (And What Happened To Her)

Mr Steals Books, the sign said. Lottie had a smirk at that one, before pushing the door. It fought her with a reluctant judder but still let her in. Shelves floor to ceiling faced her, the whole width of the shop, save for two arched portals at either end. A wall of old books. Hard backs, all. Heavy tomes with scaly leather spines.. The air thick with musty paper smell. Dust motes hanging in the wan light.

Lottie chose to go left. Widdershins. Whats the opposite of that? In the next row, the silence was absolute. She could hear her own breathing. Her fingers traced along the books, stopping on a crimson cover. 'Anatomy'. Below it, in italics, 'Zachus'.

My subject, she grinned to herself. The cover slid sensuously beneath her fingertips. The book creaked open and she blinked at the illustration of a flayed torso. The picture glistened at her, so realistic it was almost tactile. But the organs? They're not …? She traced the bones of the skeleton on the opposite plate, fascinated by the complex joints on display. Can't be human …?

“Medical student, are we?”

Lottie gave a yip of fright, the book snapping shut and tumbling to the floor. The squat speaker in a shirt and waistcoat smiled at her. His teeth, small and white and even, were too many.

“Are you Mr Steal?” Lottie asked, flushing at the dumbness of her own question.

“Mr Steals. No apostrophe. No.” The speaker tipped his head back to stare at the ceiling, let out a huff of air. “Mr Steals is on a buying trip. In. The. Low. Countries.”

He fixed her with his gaze. “I'm Payge. Not my cup of tea, anatomy. All that blood and bare flesh. Not old Zachus there.” He pointed a toe at the book. “He liked a drop of blood. A bit of naked flesh too, by all accounts. Not your kind, though. The other ones.” His gaze dropped to the carpet. “ I forget the word.” He turned. “Anyway, you all taste the same to me.” His back was to her now. “Boys. That's the ticket.”

Lottie snatched up her fallen book. “I'll take this.”

Payge spun round, reached out further than she would have though possible, to grab her forearm above the book. Calluses on his hands so rough, they scratched her. “So fair , your skin. I should so like to see much more of it. If you want it, take it from me.”

Lottie stared at his Cheshire Cat grin, at his serried ranks of teeth. “Get your ugly mitt off me,” she snapped.

Payge's smile grew to a grotesque parody. “Good. I think we'll be seeing more of you, Lottie.”

His grip loosened a mere fraction. She ran. Bumping and crashing, until she made the street. Composed herself then walked off with her prize, wondering when she had told Payge her name.

Tue, Apr 11 2017 12:33pm IST 5
1322 Posts
They moved into a cross draft that allowed an icy wind to penetrate.
'This is the lowest level of the vaults,' Jim said.
They crossed under the first arch and Duncan noticed a different feel to the room, a heaviness that made him aware of all the structures above them. The air smelt of old pennies.
'Watch this step.' Jim turned the torch to illuminate the brick floor. The warning and the crumbling edge made Duncan put one hand against the wall.
'What's this?'
Jim turned the light. 'Looks like blood.'
Splatter trails and more defined patterns glistened in shades of black and dark red.
Duncan leant back, fighting against the urge to wipe his fingers down his trousers.
Jim let the light wash over the length of the wall. 'Jesus.'
Duncan focused on the scene as he took a further step back into the room. The place where he'd touched the wall had been the start of painted letters.
Ten pounds.
Jim turned to him, his eyes wide in the torch light. 'What does it mean?'
'I have no idea.'
Brush marks were visible in the thick coating of colour. Duncan could see the writer had loaded up each stroke due to the drip pattern from the letters. He considered that he was standing where the killer would have stood to examine his handiwork.
'She must have been killed down here.' Jim's statement sounded flat and lifeless in the damp space.
'Unless he collected the blood and brought it with him.'
'There's a lot of it. I hope this is the only message we've been left.'
Duncan was aware of Jim looking into the next vault down the step.
'Sweet Jesus,' his partner whispered.
Duncan looked over Jim's shoulder at the room. Flashes of his torch presented a tableau of violence as each image was lit.
A woman's naked body. On her back. Legs straight. One arm by her side with the other pointing outwards from the shoulder.
Something silver across her breasts and stomach.
A knife placed along her sternum, its handle against her throat.
Clothing discarded in a corner.
A small alcove in the vault where candles and other objects popped into view.
The whole picture was overlaid with grey and black shadows that teased the focus of his eyes.
Duncan shook his head as though trying to flick out the images. 'Do we know who has access to the vaults?'
'Uniform's getting a list.'
'Was it a tour group that found her?'
Jim nodded. 'The tour leader. She was standing in the doorway of the lower room. Hadn't walked in yet.'
'So no one went in there?'
'I think they were more focused on setting the land-speed record for getting out.'
Tue, Apr 11 2017 06:00pm IST 6
2226 Posts
Walter's Abduction - 491 words

They swept along the motorway for a while before turning off onto narrower, winding roads. Walter’s home lake came into view. There was Kreuz am See over on the other side, with its white church tower and cluster of mainly wooden buildings. Bright yellow and red blobs moved against the backdrop of conifers on the mountain side. The cable car. Walter recalled taking Agnes up in it, right to the top where the air was always fresh and cool even at the height of summer. The lake glittered and a lump formed in his throat. He had so wanted to be back home and now he was trapped in a car being taken away for - well for what? A beating probably. Walter wasn’t sure he could take another. He prayed that Herr Gritzler could be made to see reason.

Walter stole a sidelong glance at his captor. He was not often seen in the village, although he would sometimes appear in church, when he would ostentatiously stuff a great wad of notes into the collection bag. He lounged back on the black leather seat of the limousine, eyes closed. Herr Gritzler was a short, slender man, probably in his late fifties, who didn’t look the type to administer beatings. Walter thought he probably had a lackey or two for such purposes. Maybe the chauffeur was one of them.

They had now reached the outskirts of Kreuz am See, travelling along the high back road. Walter wrapped his hands around each other, knuckles white. The car slowed, a pair of tall wrought-iron gates swung open and they turned onto a driveway which cut through an area of dense forest. Walter thought he saw a man melting back into the trees, but couldn’t be sure in the gloom. The forest gave way to a cobbled courtyard. They passed two stone fountains - replicas of those at the Schönbrunn Palace - and pulled up in front of the house: itself a smaller version of Schönbrunn. It must have cost a fortune to build.

The chauffeur came to let Walter out. Should he make a dash for it? No, that would make things worse. He walked to join Herr Gritzler, the chauffeur following closely, and they proceeded towards a pair of double doors, which opened as they approached.

'Thank you, Oleg, that will be all,' said Herr Gritzler. He put his hand on Walter’s shoulder, ushering him inside. Walter gaped at the huge hall. It was an expanse of marble: the floor a deeply-veined pink, the walls grey, the tall pillars champagne-coloured. Filigree plasterwork covered the ceiling, mirrors in broad gilded frames adorned the walls and the pillar capitals were decorated with gold leaf. Directly opposite was a life-size portrait of Herr Gritzler. Crystals on two vast chandeliers threw sparks everywhere. It was the most vulgar display of opulence Walter had ever seen.

Herr Gritzler turned to Walter. 'Do you like it?' he asked.

Wed, Apr 12 2017 11:17am IST 7
102 Posts
Quite happily abusing PB's offer of updating comp entries, I shamelessly offer this further drivel for my own bemusements.

I am very impressed with the recent comp themes which have been towards improvement and exploration of techniques rather than just entretainment.

There are many ways to atemtp to 'hook' a reader as we explored too briefly last month. Some writers use an action or conflict early on to create that. Other use creating a sense of affinity with a reader and this technique would be greatly enhanced by using the setting to conntect with a reader, such as PB has set up for us this month. I am very much enjoying reading these.

Here is another attempt after contemplaiting this. I call it 'Chapter 8' and it is just 500 (very) odd words if you ignore the other 90 or so..... DQ...

I woke up at 04:13 the next morning. After a lingering hot shower, I dressed in rumpled cotton sweats and dragged on my half-rotten Reebok's and I took the lift to the lobby. The receptionist looked at me and smiled the company smile reserved for guests about to do stupid things, like running in London in February at stupid-o’clock in the morning.

Outside the hotel, I turned right and started off at a trot without stretching. I exaggerated my stride in order to stretch the hamstrings. By the time I reached King William Street, I was working on my breathing. I crossed over against the lights and headed towards the Thames.

A few minutes later I made the Hanseatic Walk on the north bank of the Thames. Now I had a rhythm and my brain switched over to an introspective mood. I passed the Millennium Bridge and still felt good so I pushed on. The static ships permanently moored there as restaurants reminded me of better times.

Even at this hour, the river was active. Tugs pushed barges of containers and building aggregate upstream on the high tide. Just visible in the mist on the water, two guys in a scull rowed upstream with a practiced rhythm. I no longer noticed my legs or my breathing.

My body was on auto pilot. I silently recited a running chant from my 82nd Airborne days and my pace synched to its cadence.

“... and if I die on the Russian Front...
.... bury me in a Russian cunt.....”

Donna, Nicole, Angola, Marseilles, Burundi, Moscow and Paris all vied for my thoughts and I ran on.

I crossed the river at Waterloo and ramped up my pace on the south bank esplanade. The cold air was beginning to bite the back of my throat. I ran on. Most people ran with a mobi phone on them. I ran with an automatic pistol. I wondered about that. And I ran on.

The underpass at Blackfriars Bridge was crowded with rough sleepers. It stank of urine and cigarettes. At Bank End, I moved up away from the river and ran through the back streets of Southwark, along Clink Street and I turned right on Storey Street.

A few delivery lorries were off loading in front of cafes. The Borough Market was beginning to come to life as well with market traders preparing their stalls. Colour, sounds and movement everywhere. I slowed my pace to a jog and then to a walk.

There is a gourmet coffee shop there which sold coffee and blends from all over the world. The staff are skilled, fast and efficient. I had been in there a few times and enjoyed the experience. They were six minutes away from opening. I knocked on the window and made a choking motion with my hands. One of the staff smiled and nodded her head as she opened the door.

Over coffee and croissants, I continued to dwell on operational details. Thoughts and counter thoughts were assessed.

The coffee shop had begun to fill up with customers. Builders, some office workers and a few delivery drivers all chasing a quality caffeine hit. As I finished my croissant, I wondered how many of them were contemplating killing people that morning.

A very well dressed and beautiful woman moved past me balancing a pain au chocolat on a plate with some sort of cream smothered cup of coffee. I determined from the look on her face that she was probably planning a murder or two, herself. Always good not to be alone in your thoughts, I said to myself.

Wed, Apr 12 2017 11:37am IST 8
John Alty
John Alty
72 Posts
Excellent, OFP, you have me hooked.
Wed, Apr 12 2017 01:34pm IST 9
3060 Posts

No Return

The rising sun crested the tree tops, casting a net of sparkling light that bounced off the surface of the lake and shimmered around brightly coloured houseboats which dotted its glassy surface.

Annie could only stare in wonder. This was not what she’d expected to see – not in a million years. Huge willow trees stood intermittently like sentries, surrounding the magnificent lake, protecting it from the outside world. Their long branches drooped over the grass bank; the still water reflecting thin green leaves which trailed like fingertips just above it. The maze of bushes she'd negotiated with Sol, successfully blocked the way of any unintentional discovery.

Once inside the natural confines of greenery, voices carried with crystal clarity across the water. She could hear a baby crying and its mother talking to it. Even the woman's hushed tones drifted to where they stood. Sol touched her arm briefly and indicated to his right. She followed the direction of his pointing finger and caught her first glimpse of his home; a large houseboat painted bright green, red and yellow. It was beautiful. The most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.

As they approached, the smell of frying bacon floated out of an open window towards them. Annie's stomach did a double growl and Sol smiled. He'd been that hungry himself, once.

With an elegance that belied his stature he stood back and, with a deep bow, swept one arm before him to allow Annie onto the duck-board, which led from the grass bank to the boat's deck. He cupped his hand around her elbow as she stepped down onto the deck area, and with an almost silent movement, landed by her side.

A pretty female in a short-sleeved, bright yellow, dress, appeared in the doorway. With slender arms folded across her chest, she peered at them both. On either side of her, the cabin doors folded back against the outside of the boat, displaying artwork of castles and lakes on the top panels and multi-coloured flowers set on a black background on the bottom ones. The girl must have been about fourteen years old, with the unmistakable tanned skin, dark curly hair and deep brown eyes of, Annie could only assume, her father.


The joy in that one word, tugged at Annie. It was how she’d re-acted to her own, precious grandfather, right up until his murder when she was eighteen. He had been sixty seven. Seven years older than she was now.


In a flash, the young girl was in her grandfather's arms, hugging him.

‘Something smells delicious, sweetheart. I hope you've enough to make it stretch to one more?’ he murmured.

Annie stood quietly behind them, watching. Grandfather's face materialised in front of her, smiling. Momentarily taken aback by the vision, she studied him as he lingered. Then realisation dawned - he would always be with her - she had only to think of him. With a final acknowledgement, he faded from view.

(Taken from a WIP) 495 words excluding title

Wed, Apr 12 2017 03:19pm IST 10
577 Posts

Kingdom of the fox – 480 words excluding title

The old mill village turned to slumber. Its black-faced dwellings stood shoulder-to-shoulder, curtains drawn; each row facing another like ranks of stone warriors guarding their walled domains. Between them, a cobbled no-man’s-land, each small stone daubed by moonlight, except by the corner where a tilted streetlamp spilled an orange puddle around it. The flags that ran each side of the cobbles were like broken, uneven teeth.

Padding across the orange puddle, a fox surveyed his night-kingdom, now free of the running, laughing man-cubs who were locked inside their dens with their adults. All was quiet, save for the occasional passing of a bright-eyed monster.

One such monster rolled to a halt and spread out a wing. A man creature stumbled out from behind it, calling to another still inside the belly of the beast before he clunked the wing back into place and hobbled to the safety of his den. The bright-eyed beast crept away with a flubbering of tyres and a low, metallic growl, as though displeased at the loss of its morsel.

It was with morsels in mind that fox ambled on, past the gated dwellings whose tall bins were out of bounds. He cut across a snicket and tried his luck down the next row of crowded dens. Ah, this looked more promising. The lamp on the corner of this street stood lifeless, leaving moonlight to trace the path with watered silver. The first gate he reached lay broken and beyond it, a fallen bin spewed out its contents around a rusted man-cub’s swing, its seat hanging loose like a broken jaw.

Sniffing around the pungent debris, fox came upon a small, lidded carton. Tearing it open, he found scraps of spiced meat surrounded by a few limp, chopped leaves. It was mean pickings and fox soon moved on.

A yowling of tom cats echoed out from the darkness and fox halted in his tracks. He squatted, marking his territory to make clear who owned it.

At the end of the street, fox came across another dwelling free of any barrier. A tattered curtain dangled like a cobweb across its broken window and a panel at the base of the door hung by a thread. Fox sniffed around the rotten wood and squeezed through into the cavern.

A square of light lay shattered across the floorboards of the abandoned den – or was it? Fox lifted his nose and sniffed again. Amid the dank was a scent that had him perking his ears; not as appealing as bin-fodder, but this meat would be fresh. Lowering his haunches, he crept towards a wooden crate in a corner near the window.

Amber eyes met black.

A hiss became a squeal as fox lunged and clamped sabred jaws around his pray.

He left the house to its memories and trotted back along the cobbles, a long tail hanging from his jaws.
Fri, Apr 14 2017 03:29am IST 11
3220 Posts

The Hunt

‘We’ll follow them tomorrow at dawn,’ said the tour guide from the Hemingway Lodge, tipping his hat back and misquoting his bard. ‘In Africa everything is true at first light and a damn lie by noon.’

Harvester squinted through the heat haze, his eyes betrayed by glimmering reflections of the Serengeti. Out there, maybe the endless plains were vast water holes, but wouldn’t there be groups of impalas, gazelles, and wildebeest drinking their fill? He lowered the camera, and rubbed a hand across his brow. ‘Can’t make out much.’

‘Call it a day, and rest up,’ said the guide. ‘That’s what our pride is doing.’

Mason King Junior from Amarillo lowered his rifle, a 416 Rigby. ‘Great for lions,’ he said. ‘And buffalo…in fact, any big game. Bring ‘em down sweeter than sugar candy. Ain’t that the goddamn truth?’

Harvester studied him: bull-necked, big-bellied, safari shirt soaked with armpit sweat, creased combat pants, snorting out bravado at every stop. Harvester turned away, and began to repack his NikonD5.

Next morning before sunrise, the guide stopped the Land Rover about seventy metres downwind from the pride. ‘We’re in luck,’ he said, lowering his field glasses. ‘Fresh kill.’

Harvester looked out and up at the sky. Perfect vision. Through the camera lens he could make out individual blades of long grass swaying gently in the breeze. Reminded him of maize fields. The lions, though, were half-hidden.

‘Closer,’ he told the guide. ‘I need a clear view.’

‘And me’, said Mason King Junior. ‘Get to it, mister. I’ve paid plenty for the shot.’

The guide seemed to hesitate, but shrugged and slowly rolled the Land Rover forward. Two male lions, shaking their resplendent auburn manes, were feasting on the body of a young buck – rebuffing three growling lionesses each time they approached.

‘Okay, good’, said Harvester, unwinding the window and leaning out of the cab with his Nikon. He could smell the kill – coppery pungent tang as he focused. Close enough to see the buck’s gory innards, close enough to see the lions’ bloody jaws, close enough to see giant paws swipe away the lionesses.

Behind him, the Texan was arming the rifle. Which lion on death row – it would be one of the dominant males – was devouring its final meal before execution? Harvester imagined the slug penetrating the lion’s body, a reactive jump, a painful roar, and a frantic tongue trying to lick away the wound, as life ebbed away.

He wouldn’t be killing. Pictures would be his trophy. An exhibition, even, at Carnegie Hall. He rattled off a few succulent snaps before he heard a commotion behind. Then the acrid smell of wildlife. Sharp claws dug into his shoulder, ripping his skin, exposing his flesh, as he was dragged screaming out of the Land Rover.

It’s all a damn lie, he thought as a shot rang out and darkness descended…

479 words.

Sun, Apr 16 2017 04:44pm IST 12
137 Posts
500 words, including the title.

A Place of Work

It always felt like the dead of winter no matter when he arrived, but that was the nature of the place - it could suck the soul from a stone. Squatting on the crown of a low, lonely hill, safely removed from the city, the gallows nestled in the last vestiges of the morning mist like a malignant wooden spider, deadly and patient. Early morning dew sparkled, coating it with shimmering drops of poisoned crystal.

He stood at the foot of the gallows and gazed up, his dark eyes searching for defects. He followed cables and rusted grey runners along the platform’s underside, shading his vision with one gloved hand. From between the edges of the trapdoor brilliant sunlight lanced, to strike bare earth where nothing ever grew but so many things died. Like an eager beast, the machine was ready to go. He had but to snap his fingers and it would perform its one single task, and it would render its service to perfection.

He stepped underneath the trap, blotting out the fierce white sun, and took a lantern from its hook, lighting it patiently. He shone the flickering glow up into the recess of the lever mechanism, noting with satisfaction the slick glistening of fresh oil. Then he doused the lamp and put it back on its hook before turning to inspect the sturdy legs upon which the machine rested, those four stout, squared pillars wrapped in dull bands of blackened iron, all of it hardened by the elements into something akin to granite. Here, too, all was well.

Emerging into daylight, he ascended the thirteen steps at an unhurried pace. These, too, had been built to last. As old and weathered as everything else, they creaked their faint protests as he trod and then squealed like baby rats as his feet lifted. He made a mental note to have them looked at properly; perhaps they could tighten the screws and replace the nails. He preferred a machine that was as quiet as it could be, the better to calm people – at least, as well as he was able. When the moment came everyone handled it differently, but he had learned from experience that nothing rattled the poor fodder quite like an inefficient, badly-maintained contraption that squeaked with every footfall and clattered with every move.

He stepped onto the trapdoors that ran from one end of the oaken platform to the other. They were firm, giving just a little under his weight before resting on the bolts that held them in place. The beam was massive, load-bearing, roughened and worn, but it was sound and ready to go, so he turned to the lever. He eased his fingers around the handle and gripped. It felt so familiar, like the handshake of a dependable old friend. To many the gallows was the abode of a monster, but above all else it was a place of work and today, he knew, he would be busy.
Sun, Apr 16 2017 05:40pm IST 13
723 Posts

The Dragons’ Eerie

Stiorra climbed. Another step, then another, until her breath came in agonised gasps. Behind her the mocking laughter of her brother. She glanced back and her hair pulled free of her hood, streaming behind her. The path disappeared around the mountain, then zig-zagged back into sight, meandering to the moss and thatch village nestled at the mountain’s base. From here Stiorra could reach out and cup it in her hand.

Tomas appeared, face flushed, climbing fast.

‘Don’t. I want to be first.’

‘Too slow.’

He pushed passed her, long limbs carrying him effortlessly. Stiorra followed.

It must be close now.

One final twist of the path and Stiorra froze, heart battering at her ribs, hand to mouth, holding in a scream. The monster’s mouth snarled wide from the mountainside. Fangs as long as her arms, saliva glistening paly in the depths of its maw. She raised her eyes passed slit nostrils and armoured scales to glowing amber orbs that pinned her to the spot. Its howl rumbled against her ears.

Tomas was gone. It would swallow her next.

A chuckle from behind. ‘Don’t be afraid Stiorra, it’s just rock and stone. Welcome to the Dragons’ Eerie.’

Her parents climbed passed her and she scrambled to keep up on wavering legs.

‘Will I be chosen?’

‘Not on your first visit.’

Up close the illusion faded to cunning carving and paint. She followed her parents into the dragon’s mouth, pausing to rest her hands on the milky stalagmites that filled the chamber.

The air vibrated as the wind tore down the tunnel. She swallowed and followed the path into the mountain, out onto a ledge at its hollow centre. Tomas was there, perched on the edge, legs dangling.

‘I wish you wouldn’t do that,’ Stiorra’s mother said from behind them.

Tomas laughed and Stiorra edged closer. The world dropped away. Sheer walls fell into nothing. Below, dizzyingly far, a disc of blue glistened. Above, a matching circle of sky. Which way was up, which down. Nausea punched her stomach.

‘Ay-yeeee,’ her brother shouted into the void, and the sound bounced around and around, flung back from the red and gold walls, echoing into hundreds of yawning caves, until it was swallowed in the depths.

He leaned forward, suspended for a moment, then swan dove into space. Stiorra’s heart slammed into her throat.


She scrabbled to the edge, watching. Tomas’s body shrank as he fell. Another cry echoed and an emerald green shape detached from a cave mouth and plummeted after the boy, scaled body arrow straight, falling faster, diving beneath the boy. Wings snapped wide, stopping their descent.

It climbed. The jewelled lizard hove upwards and others joined it, erupting from the caves. Blues and purples and yellows. A chaos of colour, circling upwards on wings that cracked the air, driving Stiorra flat to the stones. A whirlwind of dragons beating into the sky, until only one remained, hovering before the girl.

Will I be Chosen?

(498 words)

Sun, Apr 16 2017 09:58pm IST 14
662 Posts
Rock Step

The glacier was God's chisel. As Michelangelo carved away everything that did not belong when he sculpted David, the Ice Age created Cumbria, for you, my love.

For you, striking out from the car, the fells ahead are the panorama of your playground. We slog up the first slope, air burning our lungs, heart rate rising to meet the heights above. Grass underfoot, only grass before our eyes, greeting the Herdwicks as they stare through inscrutable eyes and baa greeting or warning. Our breath jets in the air.

And then we are on the ridge. I see it reflected on your face. You are adapting, something wild released. As we crest the brow, we both take a breath. Mine, to supply a physical need. Yours too, perhaps, but not the same. A moment ago we were swaddled in a broad U of green-flanked valley - it has released us into a forest of towering peaks. Right across the next valley Knott Rigg already below us, and looming behind it, the giant cone of Grasmoor, scalloped ridges extending to each side like the wings of a dragon whose lair we've invaded.

But after taking this in, you turn left, looking up the ridge we've just surmounted, to the summit of Robinson, its twin Hindscarth beside it. I can see you reckoning their statistics - height, profile, their places in the lists of Wainwrights and Marilyns - but there's something else, something I can't read.

We continue along the high-level catwalk hanging above the valleys. The path starts to turn upwards. I stop again to catch my breath, and you're fifty yards on before you notice. I point out the mercury surface of Derwent Water peeking round Catbells, the heavy shoulders of Skiddaw climbed yesterday, soft with distance. You smile, but impatiently.

Grass gives way to stone. The path vanishes. And then we reach it. I ask if this is right. It must be wrong. A stone wall, forty feet high. You talk about 'rock steps' - now I understand. You say you'll go first, hopping up onto a narrow ledge, scuttling along a tilting slab, no foothold but friction. I'm at rest but my heart is thudding. The ground falls away on both sides. No way round.

Earlier the fells were placid giants furred with green. Now they are brooding ogres, creatures of black stone. They terrify me. You terrify me. I try. Heaven knows I do, but my hands are shaking, sweating. I know how much you want this but I still can't go on. The wind gusts, chilling the tears as I sob back at it. You clamber back and guide my feet down. We trudge back to the car, widening the fracture.

Ten thousand years ago, a glacier carved out a gulf. Implacable, uncaring, brutal, pushing over Little Dale edge, gradually thundering towards Newlands, separating High Snab and Scope End, and punching an unbridgeable space between you and me. When you come back, you will be alone with the fells.

500 words not including title
Mon, Apr 17 2017 08:50am IST 15
723 Posts
Cough 'Dragons' Eyrie' even. What was I thinking. :#
Mon, Apr 17 2017 10:58am IST 16
487 Posts


It is all sumptuous perfumed silk. Soft as dove breast, unplucked and tremulous. Sweet as marchpane or golden madeira. Rolling, unfurling, velvety smooth. And faint but clear, a heavenly sound, a tinkling like the splash of water upon marble thigh or sculpted belly, growing louder and turning on a sudden to a deep, vibrant plucking, a strumming and thrumming, dark and insistent. The squirming, sensual delight of flesh against satin, the slippery descent into muffled hollows heady with the perfidious scent of jasmine and lily. Confined yet unconfined, floating without purpose, forever onward …

So spring crept north again this year, brought back with it blue days and fair, and I to my pledged word am true, I have not failed our rendezvous.

(125 words inc title)

Tue, Apr 18 2017 11:25am IST 17
1399 Posts
Can you really transport your readers to a different time and place? Come and have a go in this month's comp. Everybody's welcome. There's a fantastic crop of stories so far.
Thu, Apr 20 2017 04:21pm IST 18
4 Posts

The Silence of Wood of Leather

The office was an isolated place set aside from the shop and barely used. To reach it you had to pass through a tiny cluttered kitchen doubling as storage, boxes ceiling high, walk through the stock room, up a flight of stairs, down another to cross a small yard into the office on the first floor. Cold clung to the walls and filled the air with winter. Dread hung over me whenever I entered. There was something about this room I couldn’t put my finger on and didn’t want to.

I’d been told I could use the heater – no central heating here. I’d switch it on, fiddle with the thermostat and sit as close as I dare. The heat scotched dust motes as they floated by.

The office itself was all wood and leather, dark smells that endured. It reeked of maleness. The desk was large and heavy, solid, feet planted to stay. The top was inlaid with green leather edged in gold filigree. Ink wells and a calendar stood regimented like the wooden filing cabinets in the corner.

It was in this place I was expected to eat my lunch for there was no other space. I had to trail my hot mug through the stock room, up and down the stairs and across the yard in all weathers. My sandwiches transformed into pappy mixes of bread and filling, sterile as the room. Unappetising as they were I forced them down.

The silence didn’t help. The absence of others was filled by something else, something that kept me on edge. Here I was far away from the world and the shop, contained unwillingly between these four walls, yet I felt I like I was being watched. I could never relax. I’m someone who actually enjoys my own company. I crave my own space but this was claustrophobic. The maleness of the office was so overwhelming I could hardly bear it. There was no give, no softness only a curtain of anxiety and foreboding wrapping itself around me. The only redeeming feature was the swivel chair, but even that was cumbersome with its solid wood frame and wheels difficult to manipulate. Still, I found it soothing swivelling one way and the other in perfect rhythm as I ate. Whatever secrets this room held were imbedded in the wood and leather. It bore my silence with its own.

One day I opted to flee to a local café for some peace amongst the chatter of people and the aroma of food. It sounds silly to say that my place of work was dangerous. It wasn’t just the trail across stock room and the dodgy stairs it was the office with its menacing demeanour cloaking the walls. Now, I’m not one to feel atmospheres as a rule, but the office, and to be honest, the work space itself uneased me to the point that after a few days I quit.

488 words (excluding title)

Sat, Apr 22 2017 06:55am IST 19
Monica Handle
Monica Handle
9 Posts


Not for the first time, he awoke in a room with no idea of where he was. And so? He could remember, not two months ago, having to spend ten minutes at the window of a guesthouse bedroom, studying the harbour scene in front of him, until a delivery truck address told him he was in Trondheim. He thought the Norwegian strategy might assist again.

In any case, the bed was hardly comfortable. He was lying on a thin, lumpy mattress and he could see a metal frame with peeling cream paint. He turned his head towards the door, on which hung a laminated sheet of fire safety instructions. A cheap hotel, then, by the look of it. There was an ancient, dark-wood wardrobe and a marble-topped chest of drawers to his left; to the right, a corner sink complete with a tiny bar of packaged soap. “Everywhere and nowhere,” he thought. And yet … he couldn’t deny that, somehow, he felt at home, as if he was a returnee, an erstwhile emigrant or, indeed, a prodigal son. The ochre floor tiles and the flaking dark green paint of the window shutters were undeniably familiar. He felt a pull of childhood.

He swung his legs off the bed and padded over to the door. The instructions for what to do in case of emergency – don’t use the lift, gather in the courtyard, alert the hotel management, and so forth – were not written in English, which he had been assuming was his native tongue. They were written in something else, in a text which used accents and some non-English letters. He had no memory of having learned this language, yet he found he could understand it perfectly.

This was beyond unsettling. “Dementia?” he wondered. “A brain injury?” He thought he should test the latter diagnosis, and tried saying the words in front of him. Sçi ascult ó dziren, vage fra’an ovra. The sentence spooled out fluently, just as it would have in English: if you hear the alarm, make your way to the exit.He read the rest, which he understood – even as he processed it in not-English – as being written in a flowery official-ese, addressed to the ‘honoured guest’ who ‘is welcomed to our humble establishment’. No clues here.

Next, the window. This gave onto a small courtyard, flag-stoned and shaded by an overgrown loquat tree. Its branches held dirty-yellow fruits, suggesting that he had arrived in this place, wherever it was, in early summer, and that he must be in the frost-free south of somewhere. He remembered a tree very like this one, and eating from it, while standing on the fire-escape landing of an apartment block, on his tenth birthday. His arms couldn’t quite stretch to reach the fruits, so his father had picked them, one by one, peeling the thin skin to reveal cool, sherberty flesh.

He stared at a loquat, still out of reach, and burst into tears.

493 words, inc. title

Tue, Apr 25 2017 05:56am IST 20
1322 Posts
Wed, Apr 26 2017 06:29am IST 21
1399 Posts
Five days left to test out your descriptive prowess. Some great stuff already in the monthly comp. Come and try it out.
Wed, Apr 26 2017 11:03am IST 22
John Alty
John Alty
72 Posts
Ok, let's have a go.

She lived in a decrepit two story southern-style apartment block on west Fourth Street. The brick and crumbling mortar had been painted pink and the green roof tiles were broken and displaced. The scrolled ironwork balcony rail hung at an odd angle, its fastenings worked loose from the wall. The courtyard between the road and the building was a jungle of banana trees and palms that had never been trimmed. They rustled in the wind and the rain clinked on the dead leaves.
Most of the doors to the apartments were open and despite the din from the rain and traffic I could hear day-time television, Latino music, people shouting at each other and children crying. I walked up to the first floor and peered through the doorway into the gloom of her apartment. A toilet flushed next door but all was quiet in the room and I stepped across the threshold onto a dark green carpet, stained and flattened. To my right was the doorway to the galley kitchen and ahead was the living room. Cheap furniture, a small TV set, the same green carpet. It was tidy and I could smell pine disinfectant. Ahead of me were two closed doors. I knocked on the right hand door. No response. It opened onto to a small bathroom. There was a plastic shower curtain across the bath, the toilet seat was closed, the sink clean and tidy.
Through the other door was the bedroom but it could have been an abattoir.

About 250 words.
Wed, Apr 26 2017 11:04am IST 23
John Alty
John Alty
72 Posts
It was three paragraphs when I wrote it. Don't know what happened to the formatting.
Wed, Apr 26 2017 02:16pm IST 24
137 Posts
One thing I've learned to do is to copy the file from Word and into the Notepad (assuming you're using a Windows system here). Transferring it this way eliminates all of the formatting and any potential errors and, once you've opened it in the Notepad, you can manually add paragraph breaks. Then copy it again, from Notepad into the comments box here in the thread. Add any bold text or italics manually and bob's your favourite relative. It's a bit of a drudge compared to simply porting from Word, but it's a lot easier to fix any formatting strangeness that might crop up.
Wed, Apr 26 2017 04:57pm IST 25
John Alty
John Alty
72 Posts
Yep, that's what I do every time. Still, the odd malfunction now and again seems inevitable given the general quirkiness of this place. You get used to it.Smile

Please login or sign up to post on this network.
Click here to sign up.