Monday, 24 December 2018

Years of Eclipse by L F Roth


Sanderson inserts the key. His aim is right, in spite of the dim light. He turns it, expecting the usual barely audible clicking sound as the catch is released, but there is none. Puzzled, he tries the handle. The door opens. Has someone broken in? Don’t panic, he orders himself, as his heart beats faster. One slow step at a time he advances into the hall, leaving the door gaping behind him. “Hello,” he calls. The silence builds. Advancing, he inspects the bedroom, but everything is as it should be: the bed unmade, his pyjamas spread-eagled across the solitary pillow. Getting rid of its companion had been a good move — his back had improved overnight. As his gaze returns to the hall, he hears the toilet flush and stops in his tracks. The bathroom door swings open. A hand appears, followed by the head and shoulders of what proves to be a squat figure dressed in an overall and wearing a heavy tool belt. If he is a burglar, he must be a professional.

“Sorry about that,” says the intruder. “Caught short.”

No professional, evidently, but curiously at home. Sanderson remains uneasy: the face wears no name. Is he an electrician come to fix the light in the stairs? Caught short, he may have rung the nearest bell and, after a brief delay, produced his master key. Sanderson probes him.

“You are …?”

“The plumber. Pete Dexter.”

There is a wrench among his tools.

“Someone phoned in about a dripping tap.”

“They did?” He’d meant to report it, but had he done so? Occasionally, he will write himself a note as a reminder, but notes tend to get lost or else become illegible. His neighbour may have sworn over the dripping late at night when sounds magnify. She wouldn’t rest till she got hold of somebody. “You’ll have to put in a new …” He breaks off. Having intended to test the man, he himself is on trial. He stares into the distance, but the word he is groping for isn’t there. “A whatchamacallit. Like a discus. With a hole.”

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Sunday, 23 December 2018

Very Little Helps by Clare Weze


Normally, the café is too busy to overhear customers’ conversations, but today is deathly quiet. 
There’s a craft festival in St John Street. His workmates have been sent there to man a pop-up café and most of his regular customers have defected too, so Markus can hear every word the only two punters in the place utter. Every. Sodding. Word. They’re in their sixties – or maybe their seventies, it’s hard to tell – and they’re ladies dressed to lunch, even though it’s late in the day. A talker and a listener. The talker, who’s white, is well curled into the chat, like such types always are, and the listener – a black woman – is taking it like it’s medicine. 

The words roll over him at first, but then something in the monotony of her tone makes him tune in. Just to see what could be that dry. Dry, yet pulsing. Pressing. And Jesus. It’s all about her oil-fired central heating boiler. The listening one can’t steer the conversation. She has a feeble try every so often, but BOILER. BOILER MAN. SERVICE AGREEMENT. BOILER just steamrolls her.

Markus wipes the counter down in rough, zig-zagging sweeps and wonders why the boring one wants an audience when a wall would do. He shoves the cloth onwards to the sink sloppily, thinking of his colleagues, Doog and Mali, who will be well underway by now. They were chosen to run the pop-up café at the festival because they out-hipster him. Jacob, the manager, has left Markus in charge – yet again – because he says he’s solid and dependable. It wasn’t his ambition to be dependable. Jacob says something about dependable Hungarians, but that’s bullshit, because Markus’s British Hungarian mum lost touch with the Hungarian side of the family, so he knows embarrassingly little about Hungary. He just pictures the Danube and all the lights in Budapest, like everyone else.

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Saturday, 22 December 2018

Up in Smoke by Paula R C Readman


“I’ve always loved this time of year, especially November. As a child it always seemed magical to me,” James Peterson said to the driver of the van he’d hired for the day. 

“Right,” the driver said rolling his eyes with an air of disinterest as he checked his mirrors. Then he glanced over at James, with a nod, he let out a long sigh. “Please could you belt up, Sir.”   
“What! Oh sorry, yes, of course,” James snapped the belt together with a satisfying clunk.  

The driver pacified, gave a sharp nod, readjusted his rear view mirror, and then gave a final check to the road behind before joining the early morning traffic.

James leant back in his seat, hoping for a comfortable ride. He didn’t want to think about the task ahead, when he had plenty of other things that needed doing. He stared out of the window, enjoying the sight of people rushing about in the busy cityscape. He knew the first part of the journey would be slow. Too many traffic lights and dawdling cyclists caught up in the morning rush hour, but at least it gave him the chance to enjoy the architecture when under normal circumstances it flashed past. 
As the cityscape faded making way for a more rural setting, he gave a snort, soon losing interest in his surroundings.

In the silence of the van’s cab, he glanced over at the driver who seemed lost in his own thoughts.
James normally used to the busyness of an office was unable to cope with the silence, and felt the need to shatter the peace.

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Friday, 21 December 2018

Timothy and Pandora’s Box by Dawn Knox


Alice poked her finger through the hole in the tablecloth and wiggled it. 

“The moths in this house must have teeth like rats.” 

Her friend Margery, who was sitting next to the fire, looked up from her knitting, “It probably was a rat. I told you when you put it away you ought to wash it first. Vermin are attracted to food—“ 

“Well, thank you for stating the obvious! And may I remind you, the washing machine isn’t padlocked. You could get up off your rather considerable backside and use it yourself. I don’t know why I have to do everything round here!”

“Oh dear,” said Margery, “someone’s a crosspatch this afternoon.”

“Crosspatch indeed! And if I am, I have good reason! It makes my hackles boil to think I’ve got to put up with the little monster and his wife all evening. And feed them both.”

“Blood, dear. Blood boils… hackles rise. You’ve mixed your metaphors.”

“Rubbish! You can’t boil blood.”

“No, dear. Well, I get your drift, but calling him a monster? That’s a bit harsh. He’s your only nephew, and to be fair, you haven’t gone to a lot of trouble. Tinned soup to start, tinned meat stew for the main course followed by tinned sponge pudding. Not an ambitious menu. It hardly tested your imagination or your culinary skills. The only challenge was to the tin opener.”

“I’ll have you know the rather considerable squeezing and twisting involved in opening all those tins played havoc with the arthritis in my wrists.” 


Thursday, 20 December 2018

The mePhone by Boris Glikman


One day a new type of phone that you could use to call yourself appeared on the market. All one had to do was dial a certain number and one would be connected straight away with oneself. The quality of the reception was so good that the voice on the other end of the line sounded as if it was coming from the very same room.

Inevitably, there was some initial apprehension about using this phone, for no one quite knew what kind of a response they would receive when they rang themselves out of the blue for the very first time. What if their unexpected call was considered to be an impertinent and unforgivable invasion of privacy? Eventually, these fears subsided as most found that they were greeted with warmth and enthusiasm and their calls were seen as a pleasant surprise. 

People rushed to purchase this new invention, which was marketed under the brand name "mePhone”. Suppliers could not keep up with the demand and there were ugly scenes as customers fought amongst themselves for the last available mePhone. 

The advertising campaign for the mePhone was built around the slogan: "With the mePhone, there'll be no more me-phoniness or lying to yourself!"  and for once the reality corresponded exactly to the promotional claims, as it truly was a unique invention the likes of which had never been seen before.
For the mePhone to work properly certain procedures, as set out in the Owner's Manual, had to be followed. First, the reception only worked in particular areas, access to which required an extra fee. Second, there was a strict time limit on how long you could spend speaking with yourself. And third, when using the mePhone, one had to wear special apparel that was sold separately from the phone. Also, the cost of a call was outrageously expensive, although some enterprising phone companies, hoping to capitalise on the popularity of the mePhone, for a while only charged a local call rate. 

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Wednesday, 19 December 2018

The Flaw by Stuart Larner


It was not until Francesca had brought the antique bowl back to her shop and inspected it beneath her lamp that she saw the crack. 

She swore at herself. How could she, the owner of one of the premier antiques shops in town, have spent five hundred on such a bowl when its value was now probably a fraction of that? She noticed that the date marks on the bowl were letters, whereas they were usually coded dots for that period of Royal Worcester. Yet, the depiction of the apples, pears and plums was so lifelike that she could almost pick them from the bowl surface and eat them.

She knew that she should not sell it at a high price knowing it had a flaw. Later discovery by an expert would publicly taint her reputation as surely as the crack marred the bowl. Then she thought of her long-planned cruise holiday, and what might happen if she had insufficient funds to cover it when the time came.  

She wondered how many of her customers would see the crack in her dimly-lit shop if she could barely see it. If a tourist whom she would never see again bought it, there might not be any comeback as it would have been offered on an as-found basis. She dared to put it in the window at eleven hundred.

Many passers-by stopped to gaze at it through the window, but none offered to buy it. In her mind each aborted purchase was a punishment for displaying it at such a high price, and each day that the bowl remained unsold in her window was a glaring reminder to her of her deception. Over the weeks she reluctantly reduced the price, and this lessened her guilt.  Then, just as she was closing early one day, a distinguished-looking man in a suit and bowtie appeared.

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