short story

Gender

a flash-fiction piece

Felicity and Ben make the perfect couple. When they set up home, Felicity brought the tools. She’d followed her father and took a plumber’s apprenticeship. Over time, working alongside other trades, she’d picked up skills like carpentry, bricklaying, rendering and plastering. She rarely shied away from dirty work; she was strong. She was persuaded to try out for the women’s rugby team, which she enjoyed.

They’d met in the library where Ben worked: some pipes needed replacing. He’d brought in brownies he’d baked for the other librarians and offered her one. She accepted; it was love at first sight.

(99 words)


written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge, 18 April – “Gender”

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about Gender. It can be fixed or fluid. Explore the topic on your own terms and open your mind to possibilities and understanding. Go where the prompt leads!

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Rejuvenating

a flash-fiction piece

The Fountain of Youth in the town of Bellum-La-Gosee was extremely old and had sprung a leak. The fact had first come to the attention of townsfolk when it was noticed how new the paving surrounding the fountain was looking and how the weeds at its base were turning to seeds. Not “going to seed”, exactly, in the parlance of gardeners, say, but quite literally transmogrifying themselves into the seed from which they came. It was decided something ought to be done least the whole town was rendered rejuvenated at a considerable loss to the historical tourist trade.

The Mayor proclaimed an open tender for the works and set about interviewing tradespersons, but all that bid for the contract had to be turned away, being considered not old enough and at risk of becoming too young over the course of the repairs and leading the Mayor into accusations of committing the crime of exploiting child labour.

Eventually, they found a plumber so old, and with tools so badly worn, bent and broken, that they decided it was worth a chance that he could fix it whilst remaining an adult and before his equipment would turn back into the raw materials of the earth.

And thus the fountain was restored and the plumber went back to his own town a very wealthy young man. Yet no one thought to ask, how was it that the fountain sprung a leak in the first place and did not naturally repair itself? There are some things we will never know, not because the answer is elusive but because we don’t think to ask.


written for The Haunted Wordsmith’s Elemental Writing Challenge – “Rejuvenating”

This week’s elemental focus is Water. The prompt word is Rejuvenating.

image by John Wilson via Unsplash.com

The Sign Writer’s Decision | #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

The carpenter had done his job: a sturdy monument to his trade; the fencer had brought it directly to the site and sunk it firmly in the ground; the surveyor, having previously measured out the respective distances, had paid the sign writer a florin to finish the work. And so the painter walked the mile up from the village of Long Standing and stood before the unfinished post with the coin jangling in his pocket, a brush behind one ear and, amongst the few possessions in his knapsack, a can of fresh white paint.

The surveyor had instructed him thus: the post being a mile from the village, two miles to “Great Risingham”, and two and one half to “Little Risingham”. He would be along shortly to oversee the work.

The painter, satisfied to be at the right place, sat resting his back against the post and waited on the surveyor. Over time, not being of those parts, he wondered idly which way the two villages of Great and Little might be set. As he saw things, either way could boast the same. He plucked a stem of tall grass from the side and sucked on its sweet fractured end for inspiration, though nothing came.

Not even any sign of the Surveyor by the time the sun was at its zenith. An hour later, he took a quarter of game pie, an apple and a water bottle from his sack and began his lunch. When he had gnawed the fruit to its core, the Surveyor still hadn’t shown. He threw the core into the hedgerow and sighed. His paint was thickening in the heat; his patience was running thin. He stood to look at the post and, thrusting his hands into his pockets, felt the hardness of the coin within. Taking it out, he played with it in his agile fingers and, wanting to go home, an idea came to him. Little and Great Risinghams? He would toss the coin.

And this he did and just before dusk he had completed the work, packed his sack and was on his way, back towards Long Standing. He would, of course, give half the fee back to the Surveyor, if he met him; it was only right and fair. And any traveller wanting to know the way, and coming upon the sign, would have to do what he had done: toss a coin, or simply choose, being forewarned, for the painter’s coin had chosen “Little Risington”, and this is what he had placed upon both markers, his contract fulfilled for precisely half the bargain.


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Decisions”

Private Detective

a flash-fiction piece

“Three guineas per day, and any expenses.”

“And what would constitute ‘expenses’?”

“A fare for a hansom cab, in pursuit; information bought; …possibly a bribe.”

“Illicit?”

“Not necessarily, though probably. It’s also likely we’d need an eye-witness statement…”

“And that would need to be bought?”

“Yes, but only after it’s submitted to the magistrate or judge. I would require some payment in advance; shall we say… for three days? Nine guineas?”

Removing a glove, Lady Ergmount reached into her bag and brought out a silk purse from which she extracted five five-pound notes.

“We ought not to risk any… slip-ups,” she said.

She handed them to the detective, furtively, even though they were the only two in the room, and as if to impress clearly that the exchange was normally beneath her. The detective, having no such inhibitions, inspected each note separately before collecting them up again and folding them into her own purse.

“Let me assure you, Lady Ergmount, I execute my service with the utmost professional diligence. There will not be any mistakes, indiscretions or errors,” the detective said, “You have the photograph I requested?”

Lady Ergmount had brought a gilt-framed daguerreotype she kept in her dressing room drawer. It showed a well-groomed man dressed in military uniform, with a waxed moustache and Van Dyke beard. He looked between thirty and forty years of age. The detective studied it for the briefest moment then slipped it into her outer coat pocket. She then took up her parasol, and checked the secureness of her hat.

“Allow me a minute to descend the stairs before you follow on, Lady Ergmount, if you will. We cannot be too sure if you were followed. I will contact you in code, by telegram, within three days. We shall meet here again, I think. Good day to you, Lady Ergmount.”

As she descended the stairs to the library’s main hall, the detective smiled broadly to herself. In one coat pocket she had a picture of the man, and in the other she had a picture of Lady Ergmount herself, collected earlier that morning from the gentleman in a tea room in Chapel Street, along with a further three guineas. Life was looking up, at last.

(370 words)


written for The Haunted Wordsmith’s photo prompt and genre writing challenge April 11 – “Private Detective”.

image provided by The Haunted Wordsmith (click to enlarge)

Threshold #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

“It’s a bit big.”

“What is, woman?”, said Mr. Neanderthal regarding Mrs. Neanderthal with despair.

“The door”, she replied. Mr. Neanderthal turned to take in the enormity of the threshold to the world outside as if for the first time. It was a bit big, he thought.

“Give over, missus!”, he said at length, “This is what you’ve said you’ve always wanted.”

He turned imploringly towards the woman, gesturing with his arms outstretched.

“Look at all this space; you wanted new open plan living, a nice sea view, cold running water, five minutes walk to the gathering bushes… and now you’ve got it. So stop your whining.”

“Neighbourhood’s not all that though, is it?”

The wife’s mother had an annoying habit of saying the wrong thing at the worst times. She sat in a dark corner of the cave, sucking on a tusk. He felt the blood rise to his cheeks at the same time his heart seemed to fall into his aurochs-skin boots. It was something he might have considered ironic had he any notion of human physiology, but he hadn’t. He had only raw gut instinct and a few things his father taught him about flints and never to approach any wild animal downwind.

“What are you saying, mother?”, he said after a lengthy sigh.

She took the tusk from her mouth and spat something onto the floor before jabbing the tusk’s sharp end vaguely towards the scene outside.

“Place is full of them bloody Homo Sapiens, isn’t it? Coming over here, diluting the gene pool…”, she began. He’d heard it all before and he wasn’t having any more.

“Look, mum, there’s nothing wrong with them, they’re good people. I’ve hunted with them and they’re okay, very cooperative, very generous too, with their skills, give you their last…”

“Bah!”, the woman interrupted, “Well, the Great Elder has called us to have a vote and we say an end to it. We want tighter control on who comes in, and we don’t want them telling us what to do: the size and shape of the berries we should be picking and how many fish…”

“Don’t talk daft, woman!” Mr. Neanderthal’s dander was up. “You’ve been reading the wrong cave paintings again. You don’t want to believe what Boris drew on the side of the cliff – Many More Mammoths = Neanderthal Health Service. What is a Neanderthal Health Service anyway? Look, it’s our kids future; you’ll be dead soon, that’s all I’m saying.”

“Charming, I’m sure”, the old woman said quietly. He regretted mentioning the D word to her now. After a while, she spoke more,

“So you reckon our kids will have a future then?”, she said.

If he was honest, he’d say he wasn’t sure. The world seemed to be forever shrinking and the last ice age seemed generations ago. He’d like to trust there’d be Neanderthals while there were still flints to knap and elephants roaming the south downs, but who knows really?

“How about I fetch some skins and you and mum can make some curtains?”, he said, “Might give us a little privacy, at night, when we light a fire.”

He got no answer. The older woman was breaking the tusk open with a lump of granite while Mrs. Neanderthal busied herself with some ironing. He shrugged his shoulders and turning to the mouth of the cave, walked out into the evening light.

(567 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Threshold”.

apologies to one of my favourite authors, William Golding, who wrote “The Inheritors”. This is more a reflection on Brexit, its probable causes and the aftermath, the sorriest mess I hope ever to see in this country of mine.

50 Word Thursday #13 – Descending

a flash-fiction piece.

There was something wrong with performing The Lark Ascending in the smoke. The bird took on a melancholy attitude not in keeping with Vaughan-Williams’ intent. Not the joyful, high-flyer, chirruping in the early light, over remote fields of tall grass. Then here’s me, stuck amongst the second violins.

“How could anyone be tired of London?”, asked a principal cornetist. The majority of the brass section seemed to concur. You’d think they’d prefer their air fresher, wouldn’t you, what with all that puffing? I mean, the percussionist I could understand, what with the clatter and thump in the streets.

I am a country girl. I had the opportunity to play fiddle in a small folk group; the mandolin player, I recall, had a beautiful voice and looked like an Adonis; we could have played sweet music together, beneath the starlit skies. Instead of the obscuring haze of city lights.

A tutor convinced my parents that my talent was too good to fritter away in rural pubs and village halls, to literally scrape a living on a secondhand, mass-produced instrument. So I was packed off to an exclusive conservatoire in Paris and, five years later, here I am.

I live in London, though mostly it’s living from a suitcase. If I’m not performing, I teach kids of aspirational parents in Kensington. Sometimes I’m asked to play behind some famous pop artist, but don’t ask, who? One is like any other to me. Like every day, living in this city.

(5 x 50 words)


written for 50 Word Thursday #13 – a weekly challenge.

This week’s prompt phrase from “Bizarre London”, by David Long,

“How could anyone be tired of London?”

This week’s photo prompt,

The rules (copied from the host)

  1. The completed piece must be in multiples of 50 words – a maximum of 250 words. Anything is acceptable – poetry, story, anecdote.
  2. There will be a photo and a random phrase that I will take from the current book I am reading – you can use either or both.
  3. Please pingback and tag 50WordThurs so I can do a summary.

Color, Chroma, Pigment, Hue, Stain, & Tinge (& Shade)

a flash-fiction story

Snow White wished she hadn’t eaten the pink mushrooms. Even when you’re lost in the Green Forest and famished, circumspection is always advisable. Now she found herself in an extraordinarily quaint house, in its bed chamber to be exact, contemplating a row of seven small single beds. Each was dressed with an intensely cheerful counterpane, and on each headboard a different name had been painted: Color, Chroma, Pigment, Hue, Stain, Tinge and Shade. She had stumbled upon, and into, the home of the seven psychedelic dwarfs.

She felt a trifle faint then with the intensity of it and laid herself down across all of the little beds, width-wise, making sure her head was in Shade. Of course, this caused her feet to be in Color, which could have been worse (she didn’t want to think about which part of her was in Stain). She shortly fell asleep.

Whilst she dreamt, in soothing purple monochrome, she was oblivious to the return of the dwarfs from the mines. With a cheerful Hi-ho, they sang their way home, sacks laden with Orpiment and Azure and Vermillion and Viridian. Upon arriving, they were quite alarmed to find this long, pale thing stretched out on their beds. They volunteered Hue to give the thing a prod. Which he did. Reluctantly.

Snow White awoke with a start. The seven psychedelic dwarfs she had expected to see were nowhere around. Not even their colourful little beds; she was in her own perfectly ordinary one, under cream Egyptian cotton sheets. Boy, would she think twice about eating strange pink forest mushrooms again! Mushrooms? Forest?

It was all a blur. The last thing she could be certain of in reality was taking a gorgeous bite out of a rosy red apple her stepmother had insisted on giving her for tea. She wondered whether she had any more.

(310 words)


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #79 – “Color, chroma, pigment, hue, stain and tinge”

Whenever I read a horizontal list of around about seven related words, I cannot help imaging an alternative story to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I must have eaten a bad apple as a kid.

Rift #writephoto

a flash-fiction story.

There were once rivers of rock, oozing, bubbling, living, white hot streams, rumbling rivulets flowing under dense, murderous skies. Then, during the cooling, they’d set, contract and fracture. The fractures would often tear along the site of an anomaly, something in the mixture of stone which ought not to be there, a weakness.

In this rent, the anomaly was an empty scotch bottle, a large, plaid neckerchief, and a child’s shoe: size 3, blue leather, with a buckle strap. This anomaly, it goes without saying, is not the cause of the geological fracture but it might be the reason for its presence. For what use is a thing without a purpose? The bottle held the liquor, the neckerchief held something we have yet to determine, and the shoe held the left foot of a boy, identity unknown.

He placed the items in a row along the rent’s edge. Then he opened a tape measure to about thirty centimetres, locked it and placed it in front of the row before sitting down on the opposite side. He took photos with his mobile phone but, to be safe, he opened his notebook and with a pencil began sketching the items in turn, along with some dimensions and relevant notes. He spent a little more time on the shoe, not because it was difficult but he felt somehow it was the most important. He wondered what had happened to its other; he hoped there was a good explanation; he didn’t want to imagine anything sinister.

Just then, he heard his name called. He was some way off from the rest and Miss James was crouching low and doing something with Tim’s leg. Tim was crying. Tim always found something to wail about on school field trips. Miss James called his name again. Don’t wander too far, or something like that, caught on the wind. He’d just about done anyway. Picking himself up, he closed the book, put the tape in his pocket and then he nudged the objects back into the cleft. He wondered again about the shoe, whether it belonged to Tim, and whether it was why he was crying.

He looked across at the class and saw they were heading back to the bus. Only Miss James stood still, waiting, and looking very stern. Next year, he would drop geography and concentrate on art.

(393 words)


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Rift”

Flash Fiction Challenge: A Bucket of Water

Looking into the bucket, I imagine the water as molecules; an impossible vision. We’re told the space inside an atom is greater than its matter, which implies that if we could remove all that space from the water, it’d leave just a sheen of matter at the bottom.

“Why is water wet, and snow dry?”, Gail asks, having watched a documentary on polar bears. Whenever polar bears leave the sea, they roll in the snow to dry themselves. It’s essential to stay warm in the Arctic.

“I don’t know”, I say. There’s more to this than meets the eye.

(99 words)


written for The Carrot Ranch Literary Community writing prompt – “A Bucket of Water”

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that features a bucket of water. What is the condition of the water and what is the bucket for? Drop deep into the well and draw from where the prompt leads!”

image via The Carrot Ranch.

Flash Fiction Challenge: Chisel

In France one year, from a bricolage, I bought a set of five chisels. I had been attracted by their quality: fine wooden handles and blades of well-tempered steel.

I had completed a three month woodworking course in England and became familiar with the tangible poetry of a keen tool paring the grain of good timber. There is also the art of maintaining their sharpness, an almost therapeutic process of grinding, by hand, across carborundum. It may be considered Zen-like, if I were that way inclined. It is a small act of grace, but a powerful one.

(99 words)


written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community writing prompt – “Chisel”

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a chisel. Use chisel as a noun or a verb. Think about what might be chiselled, who is chiselling. Be the chisel. Go where the prompt leads!”