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81words

81words logo

An attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most contributing authors published in an anthology - learn more here

Quick links on this page:

about 81words - 81words writing challenge rules & how to submit - read 81word stories

The History of 81words

How 81words Started

81words.net was a flash fiction website started by Adam Rubinstein. He's a self-professed educational basket-case from the 70’s who says he finds his sense of meaning and well-being through creativity.

Adam Rubinstein

Adam Rubinstein, founder of 81words.net

Adam said:

"A long time ago, a few years after wasting most of my time at school, I entered a competition to write a story in 50 words. There were options for five different genres and each had a different paragraph given as the starting point. I didn't win but really enjoyed the challenge of carefully crafting words to create a beautiful jewel. Something perfect and complete in itself.

"The experience stayed with me and I thought it might be something lots of us could enjoy. An opportunity to be creative in an accessible way that isn’t too demanding on our time. So 81 words was born."

Writing Improvement Software

Why 81words Is Now Part of www.christopherfielden.com

I first became aware of 81words when Adam contacted me in January 2015 asking if his website could be added to my lists of short story and flash fiction competitions.

After creating the listing, I decided to have a go at the 81word challenge and submitted a story. It was called 'Love is Difficult for Zombies'.

Love Is Difficult For Zombies by Christopher Fielden on 81words.net

Screenshot of Love is Difficult for Zombies from the 81words.net website

I then wrote about 81words in my book, How to Write a Short Story, Get Published & Make Money. I'd decided to investigate including some advice about flash fiction in the book after liaising with authors that said they struggle to find the time to write due to long working hours.

How to Write a Short Story

The 81 word story only took me about half-an-hour to write. I submitted it straight away and it was published within 10 minutes. I used this as a case study, to illustrate how quickly you could become a published writer by using flash fiction sites like 81words - achievable, even if you're the busiest person on the planet.

In April 2017 Adam contacted me again. He was developing a new project called Fretmeister, which was working really well. This meant he didn't have time to give 81words the attention it needed.

While Adam didn't have time to run 81words, he thought it would be a shame if it just disappeared as it had a lot of active users. He asked me if I'd like to take it on. I agreed.

There were 2 options of how to proceed:

  1. PLAN A: run 81words in its current form - it was largely automated, so I was hoping it wouldn't take up much time
  2. PLAN B: create a landing page on my site that continued what Adam had started

A few users from my email list expressed an interest in getting involved with helping me run the wesite, which was very much appreciated. Big thanks to them.

In the end, I went for PLAN B. 81words had a lot of users (about 2,500) but it didn't receive very much traffic (only around 10 visits a day).

If the traffic levels were high enough, I planned to monetise the site using Google AdSense, so the ongoing running-costs (d0main, hosting, updates etc.) were covered. That would mean users could carry on enjoying the site for free.

Unfortunately, with low traffic levels, this option wasn't financially viable, so I redirected the website onto this page and opened the 81word Writing Challenge. That meant users could still try the 81 word flash fiction writing challenge out for free and see their work published. However, I had to abandon the user voting system as the cost of installing it onto my site wasn't practical.

So, this is the new home of 81words. You can read and submit stories further down the page.

81words on Social Media

Here are links to the 81words social media profiles:

I've kept the social media profiles for 81words live. I'm not sure how much they'll get used in the future, but I thought it would be nice to keep them for the sake of history.

81words Email Addresses

81words used to have 2 active emails associated with it. They were:

  • admin@81words.net
  • info@81words.net

These emails are no longer checked and have permanent autoresponders on them. If you want to contact me about 81words, please visit my contact page.

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81words Writing Challenge - Rules & How To Submit

The submission criteria are nice and simple:

  • Stories must be EXACTLY 81 words in length
  • please include a title for your story (not included in the word count)
  • entry is FREE
  • anyone can submit
  • 1 entry per person
  • no profanity please - all the writing challenges on this website are shared with children
  • your 81word stories will be published on this page
  • when 1,000 stories have been received, we will publish an anthology and attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most contributing authors published in an anthology
  • by submitting, you accept the terms and conditions
  • when the anthology is published , you will be involved in the book launch process
  • submit your story using the comments form below or email (see my contact page)
  • include a short biography (40 words max) for use in the published book - if you don't supply a bio, I will not publish your story
  • include 1 link (optional) to your website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc.

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81word Stories

Below you will find all the 81word stories submitted to the 81word Writing Challenge. I hope you enjoy reading them.

To date, we have received 193 stories. We need 807 more to publish the anthology.

When 1,000 stories have been received, written by 1,000 different authors, an anthology will be published. It will attempt to set a Guinness World Record for the most contributing authors published in an anthology. To do that, we will need to sell over 1,000 books, over half of which will need to be printed, physical books.

I decided to attempt this after being contacted by Allen Stroud. He sent me a link to this newspaper story. We've already published an anthology with 100 contributing authors via the Nonsense Challenge, but haven't sold 1,000 copies of the book, so can't apply for the record. I hope that having 1,000 contributing authors in the 81 word anthology will make that sales target doable. If each author published in the book buys a copy, job done.

Anyway. That's the aim. Big thanks to Allen for putting the idea in my head.

I have contacted Guinness World Records to try and make this attempt official. It can take months to sort that out, so will update here when there is any news.

The 81 word stories received to date are published below in the order they were received.

The first story, by me, appeared on the 81word website in January 2015 and is featured in the screenshot further up the page.

Story 001

Love is Difficult for Zombies

by Christopher Fielden

"Brains."

"No, Edward."

"Want brains. Now."

"No one wants to give you their brains. You're certainly not having mine."

"Must have brains."

"Edward, stop it."

"Sweet, spicy brains."

"I have a headache."

"Want your juicy brains."

"I told you to go to A&E when that thing bit you. You never listen to me."

"Brains."

"Eating brains isn't socially acceptable. There are still more people than zombies."

"Hungry. Want lovely brains."

"I can't take this, Edward. I'm leaving."

"Need brains."

"Goodbye, Edward."

Story 002

Bruno

by Michael Rumsey

I do not like dogs, never have. Daniel should have consulted me before bringing that crazy stray home. One pet in the house is enough.

Typically, Bruno turned out to be loud, boisterous and charges around like the proverbial bull in a china shop. But he does have one redeeming attribute.

I take a nap every afternoon. Bruno ensures no other strays enter our garden allowing me to sit up in our apple tree and purr away to my heart's content.

Story 003

The Tragically Unforeseen Consequences of a Hopeful Request

by Jerry Wilson

Once upon a time there was a little doorknob. All day long, he sighed, "Oh, how I wish I were a mirror. Then people would look at me and smile."

The Good Doorknob Fairy had heard about enough. Grabbing her magic wand and her tiara, she flew on down.

"What, Dude?"

"Oh, Good Doorknob Fairy, please turn me into a mirror."

"No probs."

Poof. The little doorknob became a bright, shiny mirror.

And no one could get the damned door open.

Story 004

Remember Eighty-One?

by Allen Ashley

Yes, I remember eighty-one. A year of strife. The transport system in meltdown. Workers and management at loggerheads. Fears about automation in the workplace leading to further job losses. Poor air quality. Urban health scares. Governments considering land grabs and ready to send in an army at any provocation. The media finding convenient foreign scapegoats. Nobody seemed to be sticking up for the ordinary working man. Or woman. Why have I not mentioned Thatcher? I was talking about 2081. And 1881...

Story 005

The Night Sentry

by Sivan Pillai

"He is a notorious housebreaker and we were in search of him," the policeman said.

The man was lying unconscious under the coconut tree. There was a huge bump on his head and a coconut lay nearby.

Only last evening we had decided to cut the tree down and plant a new one in its place. It had grown far too old and bore very few nuts.

Perhaps this was its way of telling us that it could still be useful.

Story 006

Dullest I've Ever Seen

by Rene Astle

"Nobody could say that I'm dull."

"I'm not saying it to you."

"Then why can I hear you talking about how dull I become while wedging potatoes?"

"Because you always forget about peeling."

"Don't be ridiculous."

"I shouldn't believe you, that's for sure."

"Be quiet, you fool. You're only saying that because you couldn't tell the difference between success and failure."

"Good grief, do I have to go through it once in a while?"

"Not for a longer while, you coot."

Story 007

City Limits

by Christopher Searle

This city is full of lies, anxious cries, and bickering wives. Walking through the street, you cannot escape the sound, of cars that drive, cooking fries, and criminal lives. There comes a time where a person craves something more, so open that door, and stop being such a bore.

Get on a bus and head out, listening to the engine grumbling, people mumbling, and shopping tumbling. To escape the city is such a pity, hopefully somewhere new is not as gritty.

Story 008

Which one is Earth?

by David Turton

Annie gazed at the dark sky and squeezed Penny's hand.

"Which one is Earth, Nana?"

Penny looked up, identifying a blue-ish speck in the blackness. She knelt and pointed, ensuring Annie's vision was aligned with her fingertip. 

Tears formed in the old woman's eyes.

"How long ago was it since everyone had to leave there, Nana?" Annie asked.

Wiping away her tears, Penny sighed.

"It's been thirty-three years now," she replied.

"Do you miss it?"

"Every day, darling." Her tears flowed.

Story 009

Just Good Friends

by John Notley

Calixste was a one-off who befriended me when I entered the Livingstone Bar, used by the expats in Cotonou. He spoke french and was known throughout the town as a wheeler-dealer, part souvenir seller, part realty agent.

He took me on the back of his motorbike to seedy bars in the heart of Cotonou where I felt perfectly safe in the company of this short, round faced African who looked like a younger Louis Armstrong.

Sadly, Calixste has gone.

Story 010

The Secret

by Gemma Bridges

I have a secret that I hide everyday. A deep melancholy that only hits me in the dead of the night, or with a surge of endorphins from those beautiful songs of the past, and only ever when I let my mind truly wander. My dreams always take me there, leading me to my secret like it's my only path. They taunt me with delusions that he's here. My thoughts, they float to him. I love him. That is my secret.

Story 011

Pouring Petrol on Each Heartbeat

by Jamie Graham

The screeching brakes. Somehow still on the road at the foot of the hill, the petrol warning beep changed everything. She pulled in, got out and put the nozzle in the open back window, squeezing the trigger hard. His crumpled body, sprawled on the rear seats, hanging in there. Unaware.

She turned and disappeared, screaming into the wilderness at the back of the forecourt, the bottom of her skirt well alight. Running helplessly on her very last legs, eyes closed tight.

Story 012

Sticks and Stones

by Wayne Hewitt

"Dwarf planet, you loser."

Charon, Styx, Nix, Kerberos and Hydra had circled Pluto, taunting the so-called ruler of the underworld and protector of the solar system for the past four point five billion years.

Pluto, no longer the ninth planet, wept uncontrollably, knowing what this meant.

From within the Kuiper Belt, Eris, goddess of strife and discord, smiled at her opportunity, ejecting a moon sized plasma ball burning at a billion degrees Fahrenheit directly towards Earth.

This time, words would hurt.

Story 013

Broken Promise

by John Holmes

He had promised her that he'd live until his 90th.

The doctor sighed, lowered his head and closed the front door behind him.

Slowly she climbed back upstairs and entered their bedroom of 70 years.

Her lips felt the cold of his forehead.

"You promised not to die. You promised."

Picking up the present from the bed, she could feel the warmth of her own tears.

One drop splashed onto the wrapping paper.

The receipt was still lying in her purse.

Story 014

King of the Forest

by Len Saculla

On a walking and back to nature holiday, I became lost and in need. Close to death, I was saved by a dryad. Yes, the patient fixates on the kindly medic but... I fell in love with her.

As soon as I could, I quit my job. I headed for the enchanted wood. We required the king's permission to marry.

Her green hands led me to a central clearing dominated by a giant oak tree.

I waited. The tree spoke.

Happy outcome.

Story 015

The Cat and the Rat

by Bruce Donaldson

The cat and the rat,

Who were both rather fat,

Liked cheese if you please,

On a sticky jam tart,

And to wash it all down,

Drank water from a tap,

And with bellies quite full,

Took their afternoon nap.

 

The cat and the rat,

Were both rather smart.

They could count to ten,

If you gave them a start.

They could both climb trees,

As a matter of fact,

Where they'd often drink tea,

With a bird or a bat.

Story 016

Battles That Don't Advance

by Sandra Orellana

"Say no to Racism," a young leader shouted to his town’s people.

He continued, “I will give peace. I will stop frustrations that start battles. I won't allow hostile and hasty judgments. I won't provoke attacks to other's that could start hate. I will focus on love so the evil can flee from our town.”

He finished and sat down beside a weary, battered woman… his wife.

And she looked at him and said, "I hope it is true, my love.”

Story 017

Billy Kneel

by Ben Dickenson Bampton

There were a few sceptics that night, but I trusted Billy Kneel. He was the man-boy we all followed, whether out of fear or childish admiration I don't know.

Five a.m.

No noise save the birds.

The campsite far behind, I plodded after this beast, fearful but too invested now to turn back.

Steps became slushy as we descended into the bog. Billy waited. I caught up and there he was. Face down - rigid - Rees Parker really was dead.

Story 018

Saviours

by Nadia Tahmina

As they roll her into the Resus Lab, the blood drains from my fingers due to the death grip I have on the trolley.

"The bullets perforated the right lung."

"Circulation compromised."

"Get two units of O-neg in."

Fingers meddle with her wounds. There's more blood coming out of her than going in.

"We need to intubate, she's not responding."

Why did she have to go and be my saviour? If only she had known I was wearing a bulletproof vest.

Story 019

Stillborn

by Mabel Manning

She could hear the tattooed rhythm on the baby monitor. Tangled and taught, the wires chained her to the operating table of white and blue and red.

No...

Straining ears heard fading, echoed heartbeats inside, which tortured the fabric of her soul; her very being was tearing apart.

No. Please, no.

Sobs wracked her body – at least the parts that still retained feeling – as the beats stilled. She felt exhaustion in everything she was; everything that could have been.

Then silence.

Story 020

A Christmas Story

by A Williamson

It was snowing on Christmas eve. Old Mrs Stuart was decorating the last of the buns. A loud knock brought her to the door.

"Hark the herald angels sing..."

Mrs Stuart ran to get some buns for the small group, but on running back, they were gone.

The most beautiful singers ever heard, she thought.

Over the bridge, the village carolers stopped.

"What about old Mrs Stuart's house?"

"No point," said the tenor. "She is as deaf as a door post..."

Story 021

Dangerous Playtime

by Louise Burgess

"One, two, buckle my shoe."

Lilly happily sings as she smiles at her own reflection in the pen knife she has taken out his Survival bag. Then, in one swift movement, she uses it to slice off his little toe.

Paul's ear piercing screams echoed in the dimly lit basement.

"Please," he begs her, just before passing out from the pain.

"Three, four, knock on the door," Lilly sings again, searching in his bag for her next toy to play with.

Story 022

The Annelid's Fate

by Willard Sheen

The bird seized the worm in its beak and yanked it out of the soft earth. The worm fell to the ground, where it writhed in the grass. Suddenly it raised its pointed head and thrashed out in the direction of its attacker.

The bird grabbed the worm in its beak again and, with a jerk of its head, swallowed the worm.  Then it hopped away to search for more food.

Even when the worm turns, it's still only a worm.

Story 023

Time For Trust

by Diane Harding

"It's time."

"Time for what?"

"Time to give you the message."

"What's the message?"

"It's about the lotto results."

"You mean I've won?"

"Yes, the billion dollars."

"Wow. I am lucky, aren't I?"

"You could be."

"What? Where is the ticket?"

"Here. You gave it to me to check out at the newsagent."

"Of course. Well, I can always trust you."

"Yes. I suppose."

"Am I right?"

"Yes. You are right."

"Good."

"So, it's time."

"Time for what now?"

"This."

BANG.

Story 024

Persistence

by Maddy Hamley

He lowered the book and sighed.

Still nothing.

Perhaps he should throw their wretched grimoire back through the portal, but that would give the creatures the wrong impression. He could not afford to scare them off.

Instead, he closed the tome reverentially, muttering thanks to the beings for their patience, and placed it on the shelf behind him.

He knew he had the right incantation. It was just a matter of persistence.

Maybe next time they would bring his daughter back.

Story 025

Happy Landings

by Alan Barker

"We are preparing to land. The exits are at the front and rear," indicated Max to his friends, Will and Jay. "Do not move until the doors are opened. Outside is a pleasant twenty degrees. On behalf of the captain and crew, we hope you'll fly with us again soon."

"Max, you are not on your air steward's course now," teased Will. "If you are going to perform like this every time we use the lift, we're using the escalators, mate."

Story 026

Don't Judge A Book By It's Cover

by Barry Smith

No matter what people look like, it’s amazing what they can do. I should know, because I have a physical disability. I might need a hand to do things, but my mind is all there.

I user a power chair when I’m out, but when l’m in the house, I move around on my bum. And I can be fast too.

When people don’t understand what I’m saying to them, I type it into my Lightwriter, which is a communication aide.

Story 027

The Man of Shadows

by Carl Taylor

Tonight I sit, as I have many times before, surrounded by the darkness which tries to drag me into the vast emptiness of death. The cold crawls through the cracks, clawing at my face and burning my skin. Each step from above hammers down like thunder from the skies.

CRASH, CRASH, CRASH.

With each thunderous crash, I wonder if the man of shadows will come and punish me for my innocence. Every night I wait, wait for the man of shadows.

Story 028

Tycoon Tommy

by Lesley Truchet

I hate school.

SUMMER HOLIDAYS:

Week 1 to 3, I nicked goods from shops. 

Week 4, I sold the stuff on eBay.

Week 5, I was running to the post office with parcels. The money rolled in.

Next week, I’ll car boot the rest. Mum will think I’m clearing my room and she’ll help out with her car.

Last summer I made £750.00. This summer will be around £1,000. 

This time next year, I’m gonna be a millionaire.

I hate school.

Story 029

Hi-Yo, Silver, Away

by Victoria Syrett

"What the hell is this mess?"

"Well, it's a funny story..."

"It better be side splitting."

"Well, I was sitting down watching the lone ranger and the theme tuned started – you know, 'William Tell Overture'."

"I'm not seeing the funny."

"Well, the cat heard it and jumped off the chair, up the curtains, over the mantelpiece, back on to the sofa and slid over the coffee table."

"So where's the cat now?"

"She jumped onto the dog and they rode off."

Story 030

26 Years Old

by Jane Menzies

"I'm trying to help her, to save her life," she screamed from the intensive care unit. "Please come back."

But she couldn't go back. Her child was no longer alive. She'd known that for at least eight hours.

Her family were saying, “Her blood pressure has risen a bit, I think I saw a flicker in her eye.”

She knew there was no return as she flung open the double doors and ran for her life...

It was all over, forever.

Story 031

Customer Returns

by Claire Temple

Wheelers in the village contains a forest of mannequins. What a thing to be afraid of at my age. But hip replacement or no, I must take back my granddaughter's faulty dress.

"Hello?"

Nothing.

As I pull back a dusty gold curtain I see my lifetime's recurring dream. Limbs. Lips. Broken.

I'm returned, exchanged and lost. My best dress snags. I shiver. I'm only four years old. If I wait like a still shop dummy, I'm sure I'll be found soon.

Story 032

My Nemesis

by Tracey Maitland

I hate you and love you simultaneously. I want you out of my life but can't see it through. You drag me down, make me ill, breathless and lethargic. You are no good for me, and yet I am drawn to you every time, you're always on my mind.

I watch you with repulsion and desire as you burn, emitting an aroma only an addict desires.  Smoke slowly rises and twists, a dancing serpent, mesmerising, robbing me of health and wealth.

Story 033

Conversations

by Crilly O'Neil

Put the paper down for heaven's sake. Get up and do something. Empty the dishwasher, fold the washing or, for a real change, make dinner for me.

The words stuck in her throat like cold porridge.

And this is what she said.

"I know you've had a hard day and you are tired. It's fine. You put your feet up, darling. I'll make the meal. Folding the washing can wait."

She kicked off her shoes, poured a wine and started again.

Story 034

Watching

by Daniel L. Link

Recognition makes my skin redden, my face sweat, like being hit with the steam from a boiling pot. I can't remember when last I saw her, but the years have wrought little change.

The train starts forward, and she stands on the platform watching after me. My rush to the back of the car is halted by a large man standing in the aisle. A look through the window shows her still there, and I watch until she’s out of sight.

Story 035

Merely a Grumble

by Michelle Konov

It is with neither a bang or a whimper that it ends, but with a grumble that sticks in her throat, ripping itself hoarsely out from between tight lips. He can see the moment her defenses go up and thinks, rather abjectly, that even beyond being over, perhaps it had never begun.

She turns with a startling huff and walks away, back ramrod straight, and he finds himself caught in a jumble of emotion.

So what if he was a stalker?

Story 036

Lapse

by Aloysius Goh

What the hell do I write about? he thought, his mind in a whirl. And as he sat there thinking, people scurrying around, the cacophony of voices of those around him diminished ever so slightly into a barely audible drone of hushed whispers.

This is nice, he thought, nice and quiet. I could sit here all da–

"Sorry sir, we're closing up here."

"What do you m–"

It's 9:58PM.

"I've only just got in," he would've said as silence settled.

Story 037

The Winner

by Mack

Jeff was there to win the flash short story contest. He had collected hundreds of rejections, but this time he would win.

Crissy had her back to the door, her face buried in the computer screen, small fingers rejecting the latest contestants with little taps on the keyboard.

Jeff fired and Crissy’s blood, bone and flesh spattered the computer screen. Calmly, Jeff scanned down the list between the bloody splatter on the screen and found his name. He typed, 'The winner.'

Story 038

All Achievements are Relative

by Liam Lawer

Victory. After all this time. Holding tightly as he lifted it higher, he gazed at the cup in wonder. Disbelief and euphoria overcame him in equal measure. He had done it. He had finally won.

Sweat formed on his brow and tears filled his eyes. His family celebrated around him, filled with pride. In their private shame, they had doubted this moment would ever transpire.

He looked at his new arm as the cup reached his dry, trembling lips.

"Perfect cuppa."

Story 039

Eulogy

by Norm Veasman

"He was an uninspired man, indulgent to his base instincts, lacking the values his Creator would cherish. His death was mundane and unnecessary, leaving behind not a grieving family, but a disillusioned widow and children who never knew anything save his façade. We mourn today a life, not a life well lived..."

The Pastor stopped there, balled up the words, and tossed them into the fireplace. As flames destroyed the truth, he began to write the lies the mourners would hear.

Story 040

Easy Prey

by Olivia Robinson

I subconsciously rubbed at my wrists where the cuffs used to be, still expecting the cool metal surface to graze my fingers, being only half surprised to feel my raw calloused skin instead.

My gaze shifted and was met with a blinding light. My heart stopped. I was a deer caught in headlights, easy prey. As I lowered myself to the floor, I heard two things: an angelic voice bellowing my name and a gun shot.

Then there was only silence.

Story 041

John Delaney

by S. W. Hardy

Some people want to be remembered. Others do not. John Delaney belonged in the second category.

He grew up, consuming food, then expelling what he didn’t need.

He worked a job, spending money, then discarding what he didn’t need.

He possessed no friends, nor an interest in his family or their affairs, although he took pride in his marvellously kept bedspread.

One day, in the early hours of an undisclosed morning at an undetermined time, John Delaney died – a contented man.

Story 042

Waters and Stones – Mothers and Daughters

by Özge Göztürk

"I'm getting the stars if you want me to buy the book."

"I said, if you want the book you can, I'm not insisting on it. But definitely no toys today."

"These are stars, not toys."

"You bought similar ones before, they didn't even glow in the dark properly."

"No. I'm not reading the book if I'm not getting a toy."

"You're not getting a toy to read a book. Leave it."

"I'm not going to read anything anymore."

"Oh dear…"

Story 043

Toby

by Paul Shaw

Toby was honey-coloured and quite as sweet. He lived with Suzy in her room. Toby had been with her family a long time and was very old. Suzy was only four. He was her best friend and even sat with her as she ate.

Toby never ate when Suzy did. He was a toy bear and didn’t eat fish fingers or other food that humans like. He ate only when Suzy was fast asleep. Then, every night, he ate Suzy’s dreams.

Story 044

The Fall

by Abhi Shan

I remembered falling. Scared, heart pounding and eyes bulging with the adrenaline rush. When I came to halt, I was unhurt. Surprised, lost and confused, I looked around but it was dark. No glimmer of light or hope. I lurched around in all directions at once to find the exit. I stumbled and fell again, but this time it was short and painful. I opened my eyes and touched my bloody nose. A faint light reminded me of what just happened... nightmares.

Story 045

The Blind Date

by Christine O'Donnell

If he's more than ten minutes late I'm gone. Would it look too obvious if I check my watch again? OK, grabbing my bag and– Is that him? Please say that isn't him...

Of course, this would be how your date went, sitting across from Foghorn voice, watching spinach get increasingly meshed within his giant gnashers.

Oh fabulous, another story about his ex.

Nod and smile, it won't be long until you're back home.

Whatever you do, never again blind date.

Story 046

Evicted

by Caroline Wright

They say I have to leave.

Notice has arrived that I am to be compulsorily evicted. Overcrowding. That's the official term they are using. It is a small place but it is adequate for my needs. I have everything I want here. It's comfortable. I have ventilation and washing facilities.

The powers that be say I will be going to a nice place. 

I don't care. I like it here.

I am being pushed out.

I don't want to be born.

Story 047

Furborg's Caution

by Ian Tucker

As a kitten, Furborg caught flu and almost died.

Accidentally drinking floor cleaner claimed another life shortly afterwards.

When young he'd underestimated the strength of a fox.

And he once fell three storeys from a roof.

The vase that toppled onto him wasn't his fault.

And every cat has one bad experience with curiosity.

One time, he ate the wrong sort of grass.

Recently, there was the incident with the yellow lorry.

Adding these up, Furborg is now much more cautious.

Story 048

The Missing Pie

by Kristina Moore

"Jimmy, where'd you hide my apple pie?"

Dad stayed home while Mother had taken us to church.

"I ate it."

"Don't be silly, where'd you put it?"

"I said, I ate it."

"Jimmy, that pie was as large as two roasters. It was supposed to feed the fifteen of us. Your stomach isn't big enough to have eaten all of it."

"See for yourself." The crumb filled pan lies empty in the sink.

Dad was never left alone with pie again.

Story 049

The Morning Rush

by Nick Fairclough

His son was mucking about.

Bag wasn't packed... Teeth weren't brushed... Shoes weren't on... How many times can one ask?

The father was becoming increasingly frustrated. His forehead resembled a deformed mountain range, the wrinkles caving in, collapsing like a landslide.

"Look at the time," the father shouted as he pointed to the clock hanging on the wall. "It's twenty past eight."

His son looked up to where his father had pointed, and yelled back, "Twenty isn't even on a clock."

Story 050

Helen of Troy

by Keith Davison

She was unimaginably perfect, and there she was, my Helen of Troy, sitting at a table in my restaurant on the Blackpool sea front.

I summoned up my courage and approached the table. "Good evening, I am Eduardo, owner of this humble establishment. May I be of any service?"

She looked at me calmly as she considered her response.

"Edward, Edward." The shrill calling of my name completely ruined the moment. I turned around.

"Edward, love, have you been daydreaming again?"

Story 051

If the Truth be Known

by David Silver

For too many years, I have put up with an acquaintance who claims that he dated Madonna frequently, drank regularly with Richard Burton, Peter O'Toole and Richard Harris and was begged constantly to sign professionally for Manchester United.

But by this afternoon, I'd had enough of his fibs and confronted him. The bloke burst into tears and admitted he was a habitual liar.

My problem now is that I still don't believe him. So maybe his stories are true after all.

Story 052

A Second Chance

by Jaine E. Irish

"Is that Jane?"

"Yes."

"Your husband has collapsed."

"Is he dead?"

"The Paramedics are working on him now."

"Is he breathing?"

"I have to go. Someone will call you later."

"Please, where are you ?"

"King's Cross Station. I pressed redial."

In the palm of her trembling hand, the small, pink mobile lay silent, like a fragile heart waiting to beat again – like his heart, stopped, stuck in his chest somewhere on the floor at King's Cross Station, where she wasn't.

Story 053

Showdown At The Club

by James McArdle

The final Trivia Question last Monday Night up at the club.

My specialty – or one of them – is anything to do with the Ancient World.

We're tied for first with the team captained by my next door neighbour. He's so tight that he put double glazing in so his kids wouldn’t hear the ice-cream van.

What did the Aztecs call ‘Excrement of the Gods’?

(a) Gold

(b) Silver

(c) Diamonds

(d) Coal

(e) Chorizos

 I can't believe I got it wrong.

Story 054

Strewn In The Breeze

by Ros Byrne

Eighty-one. So few words. Enough for a perfect boy meets, loses, finds girl, happy ever after?  But the words should be beautiful, not this mundane.  How to include the assorted glories of shenanigans, glittering, indigo, squelch, chartreuse, tagliatelle... these last not even English ones? Accepted borrowing or serious faux pas? Malpaso in Spanish, perhaps? Clint Eastwood thus named his film company when warned it was a bad step. My turn now to stumble, strewing my precious eighty-one in the breeze.

Story 055

Ten

by David Rhymes

One. Make sure you telephone somebody warning them that is going to happen. Two. Run a warm bath and add lavender salts. Three. Brush your hair one hundred times exactly as your mother taught you to. Four. Take care with your makeup. Five. Roll back the sheets and slip inside, naked, clean and fresh. Six. Place the note beside the bed under the scented candle. Seven. Light the scented candle. Eight. Lie back. Nine. Arrange your hair attractively across the pillow.

Story 056

Gone But Not Forgotten

by Julia O'Dowd

"So, what did you think?"

"It was OK."

"He was good."

"Didn't like his character; too self-centred."

"She was excellent."

"A bit over the top I thought."

"Terrific production though."

"The stage was a bit bare."

"It's for dramatic effect."

"Just one thing puzzled me."

"What's that?"

"Those two guys who were sent away."

"Which two?"

"The ones that don't come back. Forgot their names."

"Rosencrantz and Guildenstern."

"Where'd they go?"

"They're dead."

"They're dead?"

"Yes, but that's another play entirely."

Story 057

A Single Red Rose

by Jessica Joy

The pile of empty shells under the tree, glinted in the sunlight.

"The pearls have all gone."

"Yes. They take the gifts we leave for them."

"Not these shells. The oysters. There’s none left."

"But if there's no gift, they'll help themselves."

"We must find them another gift."

"They'll want something beautiful."

"What is more beautiful than a single, red rose?"

She plucked one from her basket.

"What if they don't like it?"

"Then we'll need to hide our babies again."

Story 058

Twig Dinosaur

by Fay Franklin

I built a twig dinosaur when I was a kid, bigger than I was by far. It was a thing of glory and fear.

One day my older brother set it alight. I tried to put it out for a while – those are the marks you can still see on my hands… and then I let it go. Oh, how it flew, a pterodactyl suddenly alive. It was years and years before it returned to settle the score with him.

Story 059

Stalker

by Irving Benjamin

"Stalking? Is that what you said?"

"Yes. I'm sure he was." The old lady grasped the young constable's arm firmly, looking from side to side with wild eyes, breathing heavily.

The policeman gently prised her fingers from his sleeve.

"Where was this, love? Was he, like, threatening you?"

"No, officer, just chasing me. I hid there." As she pointed, a young man emerged from the park entrance.

"OK, Mum, it's all right now. Time to take you back to the home."

Story 060

Strike

by Jemma O'Donovan

Matt had taken Rachel bowling when they were nineteen, and Matt was up first. With shoulders poised, he aimed. The polished, green ball skidded down the alley – all ten pins exploded at the receiving end, and Matt spun around, triumphant. He sauntered over to Rachel, and punched her on the arm.

"You'll never beat that. You suck."

This is the moment Rachel remembers, when her son turns around to look at her and says, "You suck, Mum, even dad says so."

Story 061

The Ghost Writer

by Valerie Griffin

Anna has an uncanny knowledge of the afterlife and is star pupil in her Spectrology class. Two days before the exams, the scratching sound wakes her from a rather pleasant dream.

She rubs her eyes and sits up, reaching for the bedside light switch and her notebook. Once again, the writing is on the wall. Sentence after sentence scrawling at an angle across the textured wallpaper. She writes down the answers quickly, before they fade.

"Thanks, Uncle Henry," she whispers, smiling.

Story 062

My Girls

by Soraya Dhanani

Excitement shot through her eyes. "You mean I get to see mama?" she asked me.

I nodded with all the fake joy I could muster, even attempting a smile, but I still trembled. No matter how ready she was, I wasn't ready to let her go.

The steady beeping merged into one long beep, giving no warning. I looked at my young daughter one last time before she disappeared under the white sheet. "Say hi to mama for me," I whispered.

Story 063

Every Morning

by Carole Deeter

She sits on the train, making her way to work, frozen to the bone. She looks up from her book and sees a man in a tan jacket with a puffy hood standing on the platform.

She wills it not to be him.

The train pulls into the station. Her heart stops. Her stomach plummets to the floor, and she can't catch her breath.

The man looks up, but he has blue eyes and a red beard. 

A sigh of relief.

Story 064

Mum's Mystery Tours

by Mike Blakemore

Jess always tried to guess where we were going and bring something appropriate. Once, she kept poking the rest of us with a fishing net, all the way to Stonehenge.

Dad always stayed behind to work, ruffling our hair as we climbed into the car.

The last time, Mum didn't stop. We grew tired of asking where we were going and eventually she grew tired of driving.

She ignored her phone and switched it off when we checked into the hotel.

Story 065

Afterwards

by Anstey Spraggan

I sit at my keyboard, my fingers paralysed by shock. I stare at the screen willing words to crawl across it like tiny eloquent ants.

I have so much to say. I didn't know you were afraid. I didn't understand when you tried to tell me how much this world was hurting you. I thought you would get over it.

What I'm writing now is just a mother's heart-broken eulogy, a list of should-haves.

I chose to start talking too late.

Story 066

Small Town Secrets

by Jane Vine

The small town secrets come tumbling out. She was illegitimate. They weren't married. He was a bigamist.

You’re too old now to hold on to them, and too frail to realise what you’re saying. There are no more defences.

I clasp your thin hand, all veins beneath papery skin. I don't care about long-dead neighbours. But then it comes. 

"I had a daughter once. I was too young. She ruined my life really.”

"Try to to sleep now Mum," I say.

Story 067

The Pact

by Sarah Taylor

Impatient in the pouring rain he stood, cursing. Then he spotted the other man. For a moment he felt relief – until he remembered.

Unspeaking, they turned towards the shack. In the failing light it looked sinister, threatening. Inside, on a paint-spattered table, were the dismantled parts of a gun – and a single bullet.

Shocked understanding struck him.

"So, are you ready?" he asked.

He watched the other man assemble the gun with practised ease.

"Ready when you are," the other whispered.

Story 068

Dog Walking In Cornwall

by Helen Elizabeth

The red of the spoil heap bleeds into the river. A brief industrial rush has scarred this moorland valley. Barbed wire warns ramblers of the open mineshaft plummeting hundreds of feet to a honeycomb of tunnels where air no longer moves.

The sheep graze idly beside.

"I wonder how deep it goes?" I say and pick up a hefty stick beside my feet. Its clattering echo goes down, down, down...

A drooling ball of black fur and excitement clears the fence.

Story 069

Sneaky Suckers

by Kim De Silva

The shadow of night descended. The air was warm and humid, the wind was still. Even the river's water flowed with barely a ripple. We moved outside, seeking some respite from the heat. 

It was the moment for which they had waited. The predators invaded. They swarmed us, their prey. Bloodthirsty and remorseless, they attacked.

I tilted my head and tensed my muscles as I dared my approaching assailant to come closer. I would be victorious. I squashed that infernal mosquito.

Story 070

La Cucaracha

by Rui Soares

"No mobile phone here please," said the man.

"Huh. Where can I put it then?"

His left eyebrow arched. Got a box on the desk.

"Here."

As I entered with Louise and passed by him, we could hear him mumble, "The world is doomed. It's supposed to be romantic."

We sat and asked for the menu. A tall woman told us, "We do not have a menu. Customer eats what momma cooks. We do have a drink list."

Went for  margaritas.

Story 071

Don't Believe Me

by Angelique Dusengimana

"Give me my money."

"Alice, what money?"

"Joseph, stop kidding. Give me my money back. Honestly, I don't know what you are talking about, Joseph, you are such careless person. Maybe I am."

"Don't you remember me giving you money last night?"

"Of course I don't remember. You just want me to give you more money."

"Alice, don't you know that Joseph was drunk, he is always like that."

"Tony, are you saying that even the job promised was a lie?"

Story 072

Aisle 81 in 2029

by Patrick Antonio

Coach Joe's 2029 high school wrestling ceremony is tonight. With 12 trophies to go, his 3D printer runs out of plastic.

Now at Metamart's computer section, he learns they're out of plastic, which is all his printer can handle.

Frowning, "How much for ones that print metal? Do any print cheaper material? What's your lowest cost printing stuff?" Coach asks.

"Have you tried our trophy aisle? We engrave," the Metamart rep suggests.

Coach smiles. "Pre-printed trophies? Really? So retro. Awesome. Where?"

Story 073

Missy's Gift

by Maria DePaul

Missy, a two-year-old black tabby cat, strolled down a lane at twilight. She came upon a vole's nest. Crouching, she waited until the voles began to forage. She pounced on a slow one for a quick snack. Then, she took another home as a gift for her household.

Surprised, but not shocked, the lady of the house praised Missy's hunting skills the following morning. Then, she discreetly disposed of the gift before her children came downstairs, preventing future nightmares.

Story 074

Harold the Magician

by Henry Dillinger

Harold was not your ordinary magician. He had a peculiarity. Instead of a rabbit coming out of the top-hat, it was a lobster, alive and snapping. Everyone in the audience squirmed whenever Harold pulled it out. Some of the more elderly, conservative ladies would shriek horribly.

He was a hit. Throughout Europe, people came to see him.

But then the lobster began to demand shares, and Harold was forced to cook and eat him, and, alas, his fame dwindled to nothing.

Story 075

Longing

by Katy Clayton

I have never desired a person more than Diana.

Her hair flowed down her back like a waterfall. She had deep brown eyes and a smile that stopped my heart every time I saw her. Her laughter brought me hope on my darkest days.

She was my brother's girlfriend.

I will never forget the party where she stumbled upon me, crying in the darkness of my bedroom.

She lifted my chin.  Her lips gently brushed mine.

And then she was gone.

Story 076

Coloured Truth

by Adenike Adekoya

"What's going on here?"

"Mum, Grandma said there are just two colours."

"And?"

"That's a lie."

"Grandma wouldn't lie."

"My teacher said there are colours like yellow, green..."

"It's just black and white," Grandma interrupted.

"You see – grandma doesn't know colours."

"She does, it's just that she sees life differently."

"Life... what colour is it?"

"Black and white."

"Sounds weird."

"Yes."

"Am I like life?"

 "You are all the bright colours." She forced a smile.

"But you don't seem happy."

"Christie."

Story 077

First Contact

by Karl Bunyan

"What have I told you about feeding the humans, honey?"

"Aww, Mum, but they've been very good. They've stopped fighting, and it's so cute the way they tilt their radio telescopes at me when I'm talking. It's almost as if they understand."

"You know they only follow simple instructions."

"I know... but can't I give them one little treat?"

"Alright... here's unified field theory. But no more today. And if they make a mess of their planet you're clearing it up."

Story 078

Shogi

by Jack Hanlon

This is a General's charge. Positioned alongside a central King. A gambled risk for who strikes first. Tension tumbles downwards, the landing crash signifies commencement.

Dragons guiding flying chariots hurtle towards collision. Foot soldiers reach for gold.

The King is cautious, gradual in step. Political, religious and military figures clamber to protect. Adversaries maneuver, trying to snatch the throne, an attempt at complete takeover.

Captors brainwashed into opposing forgotten allies. One side increases until resistance is worthless, failures trapped in deceit.

Story 079

Faces

by Vichar Lochan (age 13)

I've heard that your brain can't create faces by itself. So all your dreams are of faces that you vaguely remember, faces you've seen before, in the crowd, on the subway, in a restaurant – the most mundane, the most normal of faces.

But then there are the monsters, the stuff of your nightmares – tentacled, slimy sea-serpents, giant, curiously deformed, eerily human-like figures, the hulking mass that somehow terrifies you more than anything else.

Where have you seen those faces, I wonder?

Story 080

Payback

by James Hornby

The Father of Thousands has reduced my world to rubble. I’m not talking the house where I grew up here, I’m talking the whole planet.

Things have gotten serious now. Before today, I never had a problem with an entity from the previous universe wanting to destroy all life. I’m just not that kind of guy.

So I’ve joined up with the Space Corps. These guys seem to know how to get things done.

This space slug is after some payback.

Story 081

Cavity

by Paul Phillips

Sid had heard the stories. Some of the old boys might even have seen it, when the old houses were converted first time round; priests in priest holes, or someone's sworn enemy, bricked up alive. It was the fingernails you remembered, the claw marks.

In this plasterboard age, still they'd joke about finding someone's wife. The Polish lads spun tales of hidden dungeons.

Sid squinted at the mildewed tool belt, met the mildewed gawp.

"What's so funny?" he asked his predecessor.

Story 082

Special Delivery

by Aled Pink

I ran and leapt and landed.

Each night, over and over again, I did the same.

I ran, the streets below me a blur.

Each bound took me closer, closer to my target. I remained vigilant, wary of being spotted.

I'd make sure to deliver him what he deserved.

I finally reached him, on his balcony, all according to routine.

"Here's your package, sir," I said.

He nodded courtly, before paying. I set back across the roofs for my next pickup.

Story 083

9 x 9

by Dez Thomas

Every summer I'd go and visit my grandparents. I could easily spend the whole six weeks there.

Grandad was my favourite, but I loved Gran too. Helping them in the garden made me feel alive. Then , I’d cycle to the chippy to fetch lunch.

"Your Gran will have fish," he'd say. "No vinegar."

One winter it happened. Suddenly my summers had ended. No tears, no sadness. I owed him that much. Everything has roots. Nine times nine. A perfect square.

Story 084

Summer Holiday

by Tony Broomhead

Holiday. Rain. I had promised to take Olivia to the beach. Covered by umbrella and double bagged in cagoules we stand. My shorts a homage to our summer holiday. The mist blurs the cargo ships.

Olivia builds a sandcastle at my soggy feet. The wet sand is perfect for this at least. She is carefully digging the moat. It fills with rain. A seaweed lilo floats around. A crab crosses the drawbridge seeking shelter from the storm. Back to work tomorrow.

Story 085

Matthew

by Tanya Butler

"Matthew, can you say Daddy?"

Matthew stares blankly.

"Matthew, can you say Mummy?"

Matthew looks to Mummy and babbles, "Mum, Mum."

"Matthew, say Daddy."

Matthew smiles. 

"Matthew, DAD-DY."

Matthew's attention has gone, he moves onto all fours and crawls away.

Daddy has now given up. He heads down the stairs.

Mummy picks up her child. "Matthew, say Daddy."

Matthew looks to the stairs. "Da-da."

Mummy runs down the stairs with him. "Say it again."

Matthew pauses and then babbles, "Mum, Mum."

Story 086

The Purging

by Andrew Welsh

Toby marches down the street banging his drum while yelling with enthusiasm. He passes his neighbour, Greig, who is shaking a lamp post while howling. Mr and Mrs Brentwood are chasing each other with water guns and old Mr Daniels is skipping around in a flower dress singing 'Hey Jude'.

The bells resonate in the distance. The street Tannoy booms with the voice of the Purge Starter. "Good evening, folks. It is now 7.30pm. Time for tonight's emotions purge to end."

Story 087

Retribution

by John Alty

I'd only gone in to buy a loaf. Arthur served me. New girl was cutting the strings on the packs of newspapers and stacking them. I'd asked her if she was OK, friendly like, and she'd plunged scissors into my groin.

Later, in hospital, the police told me she'd said I'd assaulted her. I said that was daft, ask Arthur. Not in't shop, they said, last night in't car park of the Red Bull.

I thought I'd seen her somewhere before.

Story 088

Confidence

by Sarah Pepper

Some people find fitting in one of the easiest things ever. Others do not. I am one of those unfortunate people who find fitting in a challenge.

"Confidence is key," my friends would say to me. "If you want to fit in, you must be able to stand out."

At first I had no idea about what this meant, but soon after that, I auditioned for a play and got in. My confidence was growing every day. Listen to your peers.

Story 089

The Duffel Bag

by Shreya Parashar

"Are you home yet?"

"Umm, I'll be a bit late today."

"Are you sure you don't want it again like last night?"

"Please understand... it will be difficult today."

"You have started enjoying it, haven't you?"

"Have you?"

"You'll know tonight."

"I have to take care of some work... piled up for so long."

"Tonight it is then."

She grabs her duffel bag for her first kickboxing class. Renee has to make it up to her husband, for all time's sake.

Story 090

That Cat

by J. L. Harland

There were three of us in the marriage, me, John and the cat. If there had been a dog, things would have turned out very differently. The cat was a brute, an evil monster and I hated it. So did John – only trouble was, it had belonged to his mother.

When she died we were left with a dilemma. Ma said it brought her luck – well, you know what she was like. Superstitious rot.

Then the cat vanished – in mysterious circumstances.

Story 091

After Twilight

by Jonathan Martindale

You there, by the bar. Insignificant mortal. I caught you staring. Interested? We are RESCUE, the Rally Excoriating the Sexualisation of Certain Undead Entities: vampires who demand to be recognised as the hideous, decaying, horrifying predators of humanity that we are, not the glittering, good-looking, smooth-talking objects of teenage fantasies your popular media stereotypes us as. You want in? Excellent. A round is called for, I say. The drinks are from (I mean, ahem, on) you. Go on, neck it, lads.

Story 092

L'Ennui de Vie

by Tarquin Calver

I go a bit funny when bored. I steam my hands, swear at the wall with snails in my mouth, ring 999 and simply moan. I run a marathon through the night then punch my biceps and quadriceps, fart loudly in a librarian's face and order four annual holidays to Tunisia under the name Skywalker. After this I engineer a moment where I'm less bored and gradually get my tip-top condition back. Then the cycle restarts and no-one is safe again.

Story 093

Tasteless Stickies

by Aviva Derenowski

Her eyes swept the stickies on the kitchen wall:

  • Love is Here Now
  • Life is Beautiful
  • Don't forget to call Mom tonight
  • Recycle is on Wednesday evening
  • Take your Lithium
  • I love you, Honey, Saul

There were too many of them yelling at her, 'YOU DON'T REMEMBER A THING, YOU IDIOT.'

She cringed, took them all down, and swallowed each one.

That's how one remembered.

She made her breakfast and didn't know if she'd taken her Lithium. When was recycle day?

Story 094

Just Try It

by Sheila Rosart

In my dreams, it was still smooth and sensuous, unadorned, proud; an invitation arching seductively and weakening my knees.

"I asked you not to."

"Just give it a chance."

"I cannot."

"You're making too much of this.

"I'm afraid it's over, my love."

"Surely we can get past this?"

"I don't see how."

"One kiss goodbye, then?"

"Just one."

"Perhaps I was hasty."

"Really?"

"Try it again."

"Well?"

"I thought I would hate it."

"And now?"

"I do like your moustache."

Story 095

Only Criticise When Perfect

by Jon Drake

He left his phone behind again. Immature chump. The arrogance of youth means many sarcastic remarks about my age and ignorance and yet no awareness or possessiveness over his technological umbilical cord - his window on the world of everything and on daily dating.

I have a son knowledgeably arrogant by internet information only.

I march smugly to the Post Office to return the antisocial communicator. I text him to say it is on the way.

Oh dear… a mature chump.

Story 096

Lorelia Lonely

by Adam Wright-Johnson

Lonely.

It was a big new house and her mommy ignored her.

She had no daddy.

She explored and explored, and in a room she found a body.

The body of a man.

She sat him against the wall. He was smelly but he was company.

He oozed but he never replied. He never laughed.

Sometimes she thought he nodded but he didn't.

He sat silently.

Listening.

She hugged him.

It was the closest she had ever been to someone.

Lovely.

Story 097

Love Torque

by Adam Rubinstein

"You got Sharon a birthday present?" Trev sipped his pint.

"Half inch Torque wrench set," said Terry. "Money's tight."

"I think you're missing a trick there mate. You never did understand how women tick."

"You think?"

"They're different from us. They want to feel like they're really loved, special like."

"I see what you mean." Terry sighed.

"It'll be worth it mate."

"OK," Terry decided, "I'll go for the three quarter inch set."

"Man, you are going to get so laid."

Story 098

Catharsis

by Helen Combe

Today I shall do good deeds and bask in a warm wave of catharsis. I shall drive generously. I shall let this car pull out. Bother, the car in front has let him out. I shall allow this pedestrian to cross. Darn, the car in front stopped for her.

The car in front is turning right. I pull up alongside and wind my window down.

"You swine," I yell and then drive quickly away, basking in the warm wave of catharsis.

Story 099

I'm Rooting For The Ghost

by Frank Hubeny

After Michael saw the ghost he understood. What he understood he would not say. True knowledge should not be made so literal that any monkey could understand it.

Anne sympathized with him but she thought his deranged prefrontal whatchamacallit generated the ghost. Otherwise why was he locked up with her?

Michael told her she could escape with him through the skylight of the cell. Anne said she would consider it. That was the only reason Michael told the ghost to wait.

Story 100

The Death Game

by Joan Bonnici

"Death is coming into town,

"Here to reap your soul,

"Run along and hide away,

"It will be gone by light of day."

Anna panted as she shuffled herself amidst the others. Nonetheless, she was caught. Now it was her turn to stand facing the wall and wait for Death's touch.

Once more the children started chanting. Raphael patted Anna's shoulder and ran away.

She fell to the ground with an icy stare, and then Raphael knew what he had become.

Story 101

Supper

by Steve Plews

"What shall I cook for supper tonight?" he asked.

"You choose," she replied.

"Pasta?"

"You don't like pasta."

"But it's your favourite."

"For God's sake – make a decision about you for once." Anger spewed in her voice.

"Chops then?"

"I don't fancy chops."

"Toad in the Hole?"

"Nah, don't fancy stodge."

"I could do a Caesar Salad – we've got that chicken."

"I don't mind. You choose."

With the TV drowning out the silence between them, they wordlessly tucked into spaghetti bolognese.

Story 102

Only The Best

by Mandy Huggins

"Only the best for my nephew," Sonia said.

After she'd left, Deepal took her sister's extravagant gift to Amit.

He examined the silver rattle and snorted. "A useless thing. Difficult to sell on. Rs300."

Deepal took it. She needed food and nappies.

On his way home her husband noticed the rattle in Vinod's shop window. Rs700. They couldn't afford it, but he was good for credit at Vinod's. He smiled, picturing Deepal's face.

"Only the best for our son," she'd say.

Story 103

Polar Opposites

by Elizabeth Sirrell

I’m sharing the train carriage with four girls in skimpy attire, with fake tans, perfectly manicured fingernails and shiny straightened hair.

It’s below zero temperatures. And they’re wearing next to nothing.

I’m sitting here shivering in my in Ugg boots, thermals and woolly hat. And I have a drippy nose.

They’re going out to party. To drink shots and dance the night away.

I’m going home to bed. To drink hot chocolate and read a good book.

We are polar opposites.

Story 104

Group Decision

by Glen Donaldson

Two of the ghastly mutant creatures known as Son of Triceratops' heads had stayed up all night. 'They' had been debating whether their dentist, the distinguished and almost utterly free of petulance Dr Thnead, really did deserve the plaque awarded to him that day by the Royal Association for the Prevention of Monster Cavities. The third head, having already made up its mind on the subject and recognizing the importance of a good night's sleep, had wisely already nodded off early.

Story 105

Veg Out

by Sandra Purdy

"Eat your greens," Mam wailed again.

I really panicked, because I didn't have any greens on my plate, so I thought I was being a good girl, but I could see the rolled-up newspaper behind her back, waiting to imprint its headline on mine.  Mind you, I didn't eat the grey trees, or the little grey football things, because they were yucky, so when she shrieked, "Greens," at me for the trillionth time, that's when we knew I was colour blind.

Story 106

Who's Programming Whom

by Julie Stone

I put down my magazine. Of course, that makes perfect sense. We are all lost in some elaborate computer game, designed many years ago by some super race of intelligent beings. They created us, their avatars, to populate computer generated worlds, thus appeasing their boredom. Well, really, I don’t think so.

Oh bother – it occurs to me, my new SIM family need organising for their day ahead. I left them at the swimming pool. They will be starving and quite exhausted.

Story 107

Headlights

by Kim Montgomery

"Mummy, close the curtains, please."

"Don't you want to see the lights?"
"No, the lights are bad."

"But you like to watch them run around the wall."

"No, I don't want the headlights."

"You funny boy. Why don't you want to see the lights anymore?"

"Mrs Johnson said a lady is coming to the school tomorrow, and she's going to look at our heads, and if she finds headlights, she's going to cover us in white powder and send us home."

Story 108

Another World

by S.B. Borgersen

Max strums 'Take Me Home, Country Roads'. O-mouthed, they sing around the hissing, snapping, glowing campfire.

An accidental onlooker might see it as theatre: the orange glow in the young faces, the green aura around their naked bodies, the familiar song in an unfamiliar setting.

Alice frantically reaches for everyone's hands. "Stop," she says, "I don't get it, where's this road? Where is home?"

"That's a different world," they reply, singing another song, about a house called The Rising Sun.

Story 109

I Don't Like Eggs

by Gemma Hindmarch

"What do you want for breakfast?"

"Not bothered, whatever we've got."

"Where do you want to go for lunch?"

"Not sure, wherever you fancy."

"What should we have for dinner?"

"Don't know, I'm not really hungry."

My relationship. My life. Until one day, finally, he turned to me and said, "I'm making you an omelette for breakfast."

The bags were packed and thrown out of the front door with him closely behind. He looked confused.

"I don't like eggs," I screamed.

Story 110

Storms Of October

by Steve Lodge

We sat in a secluded booth, at the all-night Cochise Restaurant. Soft music, lights a little low. She'd had a craving for their specials. All of them.

"We must do this again," I whispered.

Her smile was so cute. "Yes, let's go to the movies one night. I realise now that I am powered by your hugs, just don't confuse me with any facts, that's all. I shall wait for your call."

Then, like the storms of October, she was gone.

Story 111

The Scorpion

by Sam Difalco

They tormented the scorpion all afternoon in the town square. At dusk the gang decamped, save for one boy. He held a rock above the writhing scorpion but, losing heart, also departed.

Using its pincers and hind legs, the injured scorpion dragged itself off. Made its way into the first house it saw. It crawled into the first bed it could, prepared to sting whomever slept there.

"It's me," whispered the boy. "I spared you."

But the scorpion spoke no English.

Story 112

The Dowager's Hump

by Jay Bee

Two guys got out first. Tall, bearded, long-sleeved in 30 centigrade, wearing shades. They yawed 360 degrees. It's noon in this small neglected Greek harbour where shaded cat's sleep.

A young woman winkles a fragile lady from the foreign plated car. Her dowager's hump reaching for the sky. Soft flat shoes ease her up the slope. They disappear into the unmarked notaries office. The men close in but don't see me.

The red car is chauffeured away.

I bide my time.

Story 113

Be Careful

by Ron Hall

The road was covered in snow. My hospital shift had just ended and I was headed home.

When Officer Jones flashed his lights at me I stopped.

Approaching me with an air of arrogance he said, "Driving a little fast weren't you?"

"30?"

"30 is pretty fast for these conditions." The bum wrote out a ticket. "You should be more careful," he said.

I sighed.

He stepped away and slipped, falling on his backside.

You should be more careful," I said.

Story 114

The Sound Of The End

by Kirsty Craig

She looks over her shoulder to the back seat.

Both children were sleeping peacefully with the afternoon sun warming their soft skin.

She turned, smiled to herself and turned on the ignition.

As the memories they were leaving behind faded away in the distance she began to laugh.

She had succeeded.

They were hers now.

A happy family, ready to make new memories.

In the distance she heard the sound, the sound of the end.

The sirens wailing, their parents chasing.

Story 115

Extreme Close-up

by Ronald Guell

He sees grass, there is a hole with ants scurrying down. Lying on his side, it appears the invention of gunpowder has claimed another victim. His eyes are growing dim but fading voices implore him to stay. Turned on his back, now walking slowly in a dark place. 

Lightning strikes him once, then twice. In a corridor, gliding on his toes. Floating, he hears nothing. Arriving, sees the ingress and remembers. At the end of the road there is a mirror.

Story 116

Morton's Toe

by Mike Scott Thomson

I was having a miserable day at the surgery when Dr Pod mentioned in passing, "Saw this guy's foot just now, and guess what? Every toe was a Morton."

I told him not to be ridiculous. How can each toe be the longest one?

Then I thought, Well, is it not our calling to consider such apparent implausibilities?

As I mulled it over, the fury ebbed away.

The question became my One Hand Clapping.

Feeling positively Zen, now.

Cheers, Dr Pod.

Story 117

Troubleshooting On The Oort Run

by Josie Gowler

"OK, so it appears visually operational in there."

"Yes."

"Have you tried fusing the proton decoupler?"

"Yes."

"Is the light on the synchrotron rephaser flashing?"

"Yes."

"Have you tried routing the combustion cylinders via the secondary manifold?"

"Yes. Nothing changes."

"Have you tried turning the main operating system off and on again?"

"Very funny."

"How about the asymmetric containment baffle orientation?"

"It's fine."

"And is the antimatter injection relay override reset?"

"Yes."

"Well, we're screwed then."

"Yep, you're right, we're screwed."

Story 118

The Poor Teacher

by Jo Headley

When I heard Mr Laton had died, I remembered how, at school, this teacher’s frequent bursts of sarcasm officially marked me out as a target. Mr Laton encouraged the class to resent me as the 'outsider'. He ignored the sly kicks and believed the lies they told until, one day, I was finally forced to leave the school in disgrace. Now he is dead and all I feel is a strange sense of pity for the teacher he might have been.

 

Story 119

The Project

by Michael J. Labbe

This is exactly the reason why he wanted the store to assemble it for them, but she insisted they would have fun building it together.

"They do not go on the top, they go on the bottom."

"No they don't," she argued, "they go on the top."

"They wouldn't put the legs on the top of the stand," he insisted.

"Then why does it show it that way on the diagram?"

"Because, once again, you are holding the diagram upside down."

Story 120

The Speech

by Katie Labbe

"The only reason he made me cry is because he's an ass." Wait. Did that just come out of my mouth? My eyes frantically scanned the room from the podium to find blank stares from colleagues and potential employers trying to figure out if I just called out my former boss at my intern graduation.

This is exactly why you don't give drunk girls a microphone and a captive audience.

The room erupted with laughter. Turns out I was the ass.

Story 121

My Journey

by Joan C. Knowles

I packed up my grief today and am driving it away.

I'm searching for a peaceful place in my mind and heart.

It's so hard to lose the ones you love.

The memories bring tears and happiness at the same time.

I want to replace sorrow and sadness with fun and laughter.

The sun's going to shine through the misty morning on my road to new dreams.

I'm looking to the future and what's around the next corner on my journey.

Story 122

Brief Encounter

by Dee La Vardera

"Bufo vulgaris, if I'm not mistaken."

"Are you addressing me, sir?"

"The Common Toad."

"Not so much of the common."

"How unexpected. And in First Class."

"My motor vehicle is unfortunately incommoded."

"This seat free?"

"My pleasure. Not passed any weasels, have you?"

"Just a woman with a Shih Tzu."

"Bless you."

"Have we met before?"

"Mr Toad. And you?"

"Nobody."

"You must be somebody."

"I keep a low profile. Observe people."

"People?"

"Mammals. Amphibians."

"Must dash. Ticket collector. Toot-toot. Toodle-oo."

Story 123

Smoke Stack

by Brandon Myers

Samantha ignored the No Trespassing signs, but still wondered if the stories were true. Was there something living beyond the smoke stacks? Was wandering onto an abandoned World War II munitions factory really worth impressing a few girls she barely knew?

Sam reminded herself of the story, "Those who enter the smoke stack property are never seen again." It sounded like an urban legend heard in towns across America. Then she fell into a hole and was never heard from again.

Story 124

Out For A Walk

by Rose Farris

"Hurry up, can't you?"

She, flustered, re-tying an errant bootlace. "You go on ahead, dear, I'll catch up later."

He marches away, a receding red rucksack.

She's always felt like a cork bobbing helplessly in his wake through company dinners, bowls club afternoons and now rambles; a lumpy, slightly dishevelled, embarrassment. Struggling over a stile, she finds him collapsed on the verge, frothy, blue-tinged lips gasping. She sits carefully down beside him.

"You go on ahead, dear, I'll catch up later."

Story 125

Alice

by Linn Kier

Alice said, "I want to change my name."

He said, "But I like the name Alice. It makes me think of my great grandmother who used to sing a song called 'Alice Blue Gown' to me when I was four, maybe five. Sometimes I couldn't sleep because there were bears under my bed. I can still hear her soft voice, but of course, you can do anything you want. So, what should I call you now?"

"The love of my life."

Story 126

Light

by Andrzej Christopher Marczewski

As the lights dimmed, my mind raced to try and understand what had just happened. One minute I was running for the bus, the next I was in a white room with people looking at me through green masks and goggles. Before I could think too deeply about that though, I could see light again, but this one was different in some way. Not cold and clinical like the first, warm and inviting. I think I might head towards it now.

Story 127

Death or Glory

by Brenda Brittan

Adrenalin high, he waited under the Ceremonial Entrance Arch, the hot Mediterranean sun reflecting on his breastplate.  

The multitude, all 55,000 roared. Their enthusiasm reverberating through the soles of his feet.

He flexed his muscles punching the air with a triumphant fist

The men envied his taut muscular body, the women swooned.

To rapturous cheers, he strode to the centre of the new Rome Colosseum.

He was ready. Ready for whatever that day would bring. 

Death or Glory.

Time stood still.

Story 128

Second Date

by Jonny Higgins

Bless my soul,

To a deep, dark hole,

In which I'm forever wanted.

I'll unfasten my locks,

And come out of my box,

For there are people to be haunted.

"What in the world...?" he muttered, barely audible.

"I know, right? Now come see this one," she exclaimed as she skipped down the dirt path

This had to be the strangest second date he had ever had: reading the epitaphs on gravestones.

What will the third date be like? he wondered.

Story 129

Dinner With The Family

by Ian Rennie

Every Sunday at one, Granny sets the table and serves dinner for the family. It's tradition.

We sit in nervous silence as dishes are passed and plates filled. Set for all of us. All of us.

You don't miss a Sunday. Not after the smashed plates and thrown pans when Cousin Pete skipped to attend a ball game.

Granny died last year. The dinners continue. Nobody mentions it for fear of what she might do.

Besides, her pot roast is delicious.

Story 130

Time

by Jaz Leigh

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick...

What? The clock had stopped.

The mouse that was so close to his hole? Frozen.

My cat who was unashamedly chasing the poor rodent? Stuck mid-leap as he was about to catch – what I can only assume – would become his lunch.

Holding my breath, I slowly made my way over to the window. Even the people outside were as still as statues.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Tick...

What?

Story 131

Bumpinksi's Blanket Statement

by Nathaniel David Knox

The famed bedding and pillow critic, Hubbard Q Bumpinksi, sipped his morning espresso when a reporter approached him, notepad in hand.

"Mr. Bumpinski, care to make a statement on Sonntag's new autumn line of comforters?"

"You reporters... can't you see I'm sipping?"

"Just a line or two?"

"Look, I don't want to make any blanket statements, but everything that Sonntag puts out is terrible."

"Wow, broad brushing a bit, huh?"

"Son," Hubbard said. "I don't talk paint products. Too political."

"Sorry."

Story 132

Hemlock

by Sue Johnson

Sonia raced across the field to pick the secret ingredient she’d noticed growing by the river. Returning to the kitchen she added it to the stew she was cooking.

By the time Alan came back from visiting his mistress, she hoped he’d be too tired to notice the strange taste.  By the time he’d finished eating, he’d be heading for eternal rest. He was overweight with a heart condition. Nobody would question his sudden death.

This time tomorrow, she’d be free.

Story 133

Goodbye

by Lindsey Esplin

The last of the mourners made their way toward their cars. She didn’t recognize any of them, nor had she expected to.

She smoked her cigarette for a few moments longer to be sure she was alone. Then a few more until it was done. She lit another as she walked.

She inspected the headstone the way she might a supermarket avocado, then took one deep inhale and put her cigarette out on it leaving the butt in the fresh dirt.

Story 134

Skydiving Not Quite For Beginners

by Gavin Biddlecombe

"Wind's too loud. You need to speak up."

"Jack, right?"

"Yeah."

"I'm Dave."

"Hi Dave. New to skydiving?"

"Pretty much. This is my first solo jump."

"I figured. Haven't had any lessons have you?"

"What makes you say that, Jack?"

"What you're looking at isn't your altimeter. That's your wrist watch.”

"No problem. I reckon I can get the timing right."

"Brings me to my next question."

"Best be quick before I pull the cord."

"Why the rucksack?"

"Ah. Now then…"

Story 135

Brain Donation

by Sophie Myers

"I want to donate my brain to medical science," Mum tells me over Weetabix.

The sludge of the disintegrating cereal becomes less appetizing.

"If that's what you want, Mum," I say.

I smile at her and wash out my still full bowl.

I don't ask why. She wants to contribute to the research for the cure.

I could argue, but why? She won't understand my sentimentality.

It's her body, her choice. I won't let her see what it will cost me.

Story 136

The Calm Before The Storm

by Claire Allinson

Sitting in the seafront café she sipped her tea, content, a moment of solitude in the crazy world around.

It hit out of nowhere.

She felt an unease in the air, the eye of the storm.  Then, BAM. It attacked with hurricane like ferocity no beast could match. It reached its final threatening crescendo, then died.

She fought for control and emerged the victor. This inner storm would not break her. She sipped her tea. Her future forecast now appeared brighter.

Story 137

I'm Waiting

by Natalia Godsmark

It's done. Proud of yourself? I dug in the knife, but you drove me to it. We're in this together, you and me.

"What do we do now?" you ask.

"We bury him."

"And then what?"

"And then... we carry on."

You say nothing, and I reach for my compact mirror.

"I'm waiting," I say, staring into those eyes.

"What for?" you snap.

I can't believe I have to say it. "For a thank you." You're silent.

"Thank me," I reply.

Story 138

Ecstasy

by Edmund Piper

"They say that when you ride in a Rolls Royce the only sound you can hear is the ticking of the clock."

"You can't even hear that nowadays."

"And another thing, you rarely see a Roller in a supermarket car park."

"The spaces are too narrow. Besides, Rolls Royce people don't do groceries."

"What do they live on then?"

"Whisky and hallucinatory drugs."

"So that is what the famous flying lady radiator mascot, the Spirit of Ecstasy, is all about."

"Precisely."

Story 139

The Choice

by Robert Tucker

No one spoke.

All eyes were turned to the front, scanning.

Feet shuffled forward with the precision of the Grenadier Guards.

Permutations and combinations jockeyed for ascendancy in my brain.

Would she be happy this time? I had seen the sheen of disappointment in her eyes on the last occasion.

The rain mercilessly battered the window. I would need to rush or all would be lost.

At last I stood at the front, isolated and exposed.

"Two cod and chips please."

Story 140

A  Mercian Killing

by Amanita Peridot Festoon

Ethelrega, Queen of Mercia, simpered. "Poor Boy Seven, eat, for me."

PB7 sniffled. "Don't like fungus."

EQoM sidelonged Cook. "Then we'll try pottage."

"Where are PBs 1-6?" dared PB7.

"Fertilising the fields," EQoM menaced sweetly, "in Martyrs' Meadow."

Time passed.

Cook bustled furtively. "Alive – but lifeless."

EQoM tingled.

Tlot-tlot on the cobbles.

"Athelrex, dearest. So soon? Treaty? What, half my/our Kingdom?  Alas, nay, fret not, my love. Sip this soothing soup. Then sleep. Entrust your troubles to me."

Ethelrega sparkled.

Story 141

The Deal

by Iuliana Khadyxa Filisanu

At thirty, Darren's prospects were terrible. He lived in poverty. Alone. Forsaken on a dead end street. No friends, no family. He no longer had the will to continue.

While having a drink before offing himself, a one-eyed man approached him at the bar. The man promised to change his life, if Darren became his employee. Darren conceded.

Now – 50 years later – Darren has money and women and power, and he still goes out every night to kill for the man.

Story 142

The Cut

by Alice Penfold

I thought you would be helping me dye today. We’ve had this date diarised since forever; we crossed our hearts and hoped to die that it would it happen.

"I'll change you to red," you said.

With lacklustre locks left so untended, I needed you here. You said (don't deny or lie to me that this is anything but truth) that you'd not miss the chance to chop off all my dead ends.

I haven't had a cut for too long.

Story 143

Joy Ride

by Joy Thomas

I hung on to the arm rest as we navigated yet another corner at break neck speed. It had sounded like fun, taking Nick's new car for a run. I hadn't allowed for the bravado of youth.

I was starting to feel sick.

Closing my eyes as we approached another bend in the road, I heard the screech of brakes, then the thud.

We swerved to a halt, sitting stunned, unable to move.

Reality kicked in.

The joy ride was over.

Story 144

Definitely Not A Gummy Worm

by Olivia Magnuson

"Look, I found a worm in the garden."

"Cool. Now put it back."

"But I want to eat it."

"Alex, don't eat the worm."

"But it looks juicy."

"No, it's not juicy. It's gross."

"But it looks like a gummy worm."

"It's not a gummy worm, Alex. Put it down."

"I'm about to eat it…"

"Stop. Put it down."

"I'm gonna do it."

"You're gonna get sick."

"Watch I'm about to do it."

Gulp.

"You were right Andrew. It was gross."

Story 145

Obsession

by Jonathan Inglesfield

It was my childhood autumnal obsession; daily at dawn I left, following a well-trodden route. Wind, cold and rain meant nothing; I scoured the ground and filled my leather satchel.

The obsession persists despite the years, now harder to justify. Smoothness of touch, swirled colours and simple beauty are engrained irreversibly in my brain. Perfection I cannot resist.

Leaving my business meeting with smart suited colleagues, I stoop to pick up the conker, "…for my kids."

"Thought you didn't have any."

Story 146

It's Magic

by Charles Osborne

Café.

I need help with my crossword.

A blind man reaches in his pocket; places a handkerchief over empty glass; whisks the handkerchief away, revealing a full glass.

He repeats the trick.

He offers the glass to me. Nothing comes out.

"That blind man can't afford a drink," a customer whispers. "He comes in here because he's lonely."

If I offer to buy him a drink, will this undermine his magic?

I haven't a clue.

I need to finish the crossword.

Story 147

A Quiet Night In

by L. A. Cunningham

"Bob," Mary sighed, "I wish you'd take out the garbage."

She sipped her wine.

"And put the dishes in the dishwasher and hang up your jacket."

Another sip.

"And put your glass on a coaster."

She sipped.

"I also wish you'd quit lying to me, Bob."

She picked up his glass, revealing a condensation ring.

Mary hurled the glass at the wall raining shards down on Bob's head and shoulders.

Bob just sat there.

Looking straight ahead with those lifeless eyes.

Story 148

Burn

by Liz Sheldon

Clack. Her black heels hit the floor with power over the man.

Snap. She pulls her black dress from her thigh to show its tightness while entrapping him.

Smack. Her red lips blow a kiss, toying, to remind the man of his sins.

Splash. She pours a clear liquid over the culpable man held in the pit.

"You will never again harm another one of us again." Flick. She drops her lighter into the darkness.

Screams. He burns with his evils.

Story 149

Gone

by Joe Bailey

I don't want to leave home. I love the world around me. The large multi-coloured buses. The long, majestic punts along the river. The buskers and the touts around town. The conker trees that spread their leaves.

I don't want to leave home. But it is all a dream. The people are mean. Pollution is rife. Crops are dying. There is war everywhere.

"Get out. Get out," I hear my mother call. But it is too late. I am already gone.

Story 150

Activate

by George Cornilă

His forehead was still itching after having the compulsory microchip implanted in his prefrontal cortex at the clinic. Everyone has been connected to their gadgets and household appliances for years now. It was time for the next step. Evolution. Everyone would be connected to everyone else.

Tommy took a deep breath. Those were the last moments he would ever be alone with himself. He was still master of his thoughts. A tab shone on the touchscreen in front of him.

'Activate'.

Story 151

Fatal Caution

by Vivian Oldaker

"Slow down."

"You want to catch the plane?"

"I want to get to Gatwick in one piece."

"They'll have found the old guy's body."

"I'm glad Grandpa didn't struggle."

"He did a bit."

"Scared of banks. Keeping his cash in a coal scuttle, asking for it. Slow down."

He decelerated, thus perfectly timing their meeting with the deer at the next bend. Its mad eyes stared through the windscreen. He swerved. They crashed fatally. Justice was done. (The deer escaped unscathed.)

Story 152

The Chicken And The Pineapple

by Alice Payne (age 10)

Once upon a time there was a pineapple. Then a chicken found it and stuffed his face until he was very fat.

Full of pineapple, the chicken needed to rest his stomach. He went off for a little snooze in the bamboo hutch he had built.

While he was asleep a hunter stalked up to his little bamboo hutch and stole away the chicken.

Sadly, the hunter drowned in the river and the chicken broke free and lived happily ever after.

Story 153

Three

by Rupert Payne

House number three. Cold, dark, gothic. Cracked, murky windows. Rusting gate, overgrown. Over 30 years. Lying empty, forgotten.

Neighbours avoided it. Visitors stared warily. The children joked. "It's definitely haunted."

They were right. Old Mr Smithson. Cancer or stroke? I can't remember. But he died. And never left. He loved it. Loved that house. Couldn't leave it. Until this morning.

A new family. They loved it. Just like him. The ghost smiled. He was happy. At last, finally. He could rest.

Story 154

Sirens

by Harriet Payne

The sound of sirens, that was the start to all of this. I had been with my parents at the time, going about my daily chores. It was then that I heard the sirens.

We all rushed out to the shelter and grabbed our gas masks. I could see fear etched onto my parents' faces as we huddled together.

Crashes echoed through the streets of London… then all fell silent. We climbed out the shelter, and saw nothing but loose rubble.

Story 155

At The Polling Booth

by Julie Howard

"How's it going?"

"Busy"

"Have I seen you before?"

"Don't think so. I'm Clare."

"Jenny. What got you into this?"

She points to the election pamphlet. "Maryanne. She's amazing."

It's no one I know.

"What about you?"

"Oh the total corruption of the Liberal Party. Crooks, every single one of them." I focus on her T-shirt. It's blue like mine, but something's different. She turns away. I see the word LIBERAL emblazoned on her back. Oh no, she's one of them.

Story 156

Spider

by Neil Brooks

The spider was relaxed, listening intently as the human conversation intensified. Understanding was easy as he had been doing that since he was little.

Recently though, his web vibrated strangely when humans were in proximity. The vibrations travelled up the web into each of the spider's eight legs. From there, his intelligent, unfathomable brain was able to interpret the unspoken emotions and feelings of the humans.

Right now, the words were saying one thing, but the emotions were dark and murderous.

Story 157

We Don't Talk Anymore

by Sydney Clarence

W4M: I am S, NBM, N/K. I am ISO a LTR with a M who is an AL, with OHAC.

Open minded so JBY. Message me BAE. TYVM.

Profile saved. This time would be her time. The continual beep-beep, ping-ding, sing-song of the phone through the night, jolted her from her sleep. 22 views, 27, 54. No new messages.

The too shy boy who loved her most in TRW, hid his pain by comforting her. If only he had the words.

Story 158

Smugglers

by Joanna Ball

The dash became a black dot. I wondered why, and then realised it was because it was heading towards us and the shore.

"That boat's out late tonight," I said.

She didn't answer. I turned to see if she'd heard me.

"Let's go back," she said.

"No wait. Let's see what it is." Now closer I could see silhouettes moving: people on board.

"Is it a pleasure craft?"

"Could be. Or a night fishing party."

"That's not odd."

"No. Perfectly normal."

Story 159

The Good Hammer

by TS Lanchbery

"How many tools can one man possibly need?" she asked. "And especially when so many jobs around the house remain incomplete."

"It is a good hammer," he said.

"So was the last one," she replied.

He was a kleptomaniac, something he had kept hidden from her until after the wedding. But she had her secrets too. It was a good hammer though, and, after she had cleaned off all of the blood, it fetched 34 pounds and 50 pence on eBay.

Story 160

World's Inheritance

by Waltraud Pospischil

"I wanna have another grandpa burger."

"No, all gone, have a grandma burger."

"Boohoo, why? Like grandpa burgers more…"

"'Cause grandmas live longer, more of them round who die every day and become burgers."

"Why didn't they leave us any animals or plants to eat?"

"Don't blame anyone, or you'll be a burger next."

"All that's left now are stories and films about something called nature, which they had."

"Don't question reality, or you'll become a burger."

"Rather be spicy chips…"

Story 161

Lost for Words

by Betty Hattersley

Normally, although eccentric, her gardening idealistic was ordinary. But she'd spent numerous hours working on a new project.

As dusk fell, I visualised a delicate illumination appearing from a tree stump in the centre of her garden.

"Why are those colourful, flickering illuminations glowing from your garden?" I asked politely (without sounding too inquisitive).

She informed me that fairies had taken residence in the tree stump and were having a party to celebrate their new abode.

What more could one say?

Story 162

Happy Anniversary

by Chip Jett

"You are perfect."

"No. Don't say that. It's not true. Besides, you give me something to live up to that I cannot possibly achieve."

"I don't want you to be something you are not. I don't want some ideal you think society has mandated. I want you." He paused. "OK. You're right. You aren't perfect. You have many flaws, as do I. But your imperfections erase mine, and mine are many." He searched and found the words. "Together, we are perfect."

Story 163

Mouse

by Nurholis

I was typing my script on an old computer, in the living room with my cat sitting beside me. I was completely focused on the last line.

I left to go to the kitchen, to fetch some snacks, planning to get right back to my work.

My cat stayed still, with a look like it was more focused than me.

I got some cassava chips. The cat was staying cool, quiet and serene.

"Do you want this 'mouse'?" I said loudly.

Story 164

What Ducks Do

by Deborah Wroe

"Walter, right a bit.

"Lucy, fall in line.

"Matilda, front and centre.

"One, two, three, go."

"Mum, look at the ducks. They are like those women in the Olympics, in the pool, with the things on their noses."

"Synchronised swimmers?"

"Yes, them. It's like they've been practising for ages."

"It's just nature, it's what ducks do. Practising, haha."

"Well I'd give them gold."

"Aaaaand relax team, fall out. They've gone. They left bread – last one to get it is a ninny."

Story 165

The Greatest

by Debaprasad Mukherjee

"I'm the greatest," said Mr King.

"Hail, Mr King," said people.

"I'll change policies," said he.

"Superb," said people.

Loss of lives and exchequer later, Mr King said, "I'm the wisest."

People said, "Hail, Mr King."

"I'll impose newer taxes," Mr King said.

"What a noble idea," people said.

People died of hunger.

In came the assassin, Mr Ego. He killed Mr King to make him a martyr.

"We died slowly, you died fast. You're the greatest," said the dead men.

Story 166

Cheated

by Derek McMillan

"Sorry, what was that?"

"I said," Jack raised his voice against the wind, "I am going to kill her."

"Who?"

"Haven’t you been listening? The Prime Minister."

That was the end of our conversation for that night. It was cold on the sea front, we said goodbye.

Next day we met up at the Hare and Hounds. Jack had a newspaper and a foul temper.

"You didn't tell me Thatcher was already dead." He looked at the floor. "I feel cheated."

Story 167

Nailed

by Richard Swaine

Given the, shall we say, richly varied nature of the historic allegations made against you, encompassing inappropriate physical conduct, racism, homophobia, misappropriation of party funds, the falsification of employment history, not to mention the ongoing paternity suites you've been named in, I'm sure you'll appreciate it if we don't detain you any longer than is necessary and why I'll be brief in delineating the main reasons why we feel you'd be the perfect choice for the position of Director of Communications.

Story 168

Murdered Girls

by Claire Apps

"Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow. I will forever remember you my sweet girls." I'm not a typical murderer; I don't need a trophy to have a reminder. My memory is intact, especially for memories such as tonight.

"Good night all, enjoy the rest of the night. I'll see you soon my sweethearts." Then, without looking back, I take my leave. Yes, it has been a good night. I can feel the girls watching me.

"Good night girls."

Story 169

Lost Opportunities

by Taye Carrol

Unattended baggage in Israel is serious business because of all the death delivered in pretty packages and Louis Vuitton luggage. A bomb squad will detonate your freshly baked pastries or lacy unmentionables before you can convince them there is nothing to worry about. These are easy to replace. But his number was in the one I left when my order was ready.

I always take a man's number instead of giving mine, promising I'll call.  This time I really would have.

Story 170

Making A Hash Of It

by Roz Levens

"Your house is always so warm and laid-back," beamed Judith, as she munched another brownie. "I love coming here."

She smiled and sniffed the air appreciatively. "And what's that wonderful smell?"

"Pot pourri."

Judith kept her face straight. Marjorie was a wonderful hostess, even if she mispronounced words. So what? It didn't matter in the slightest.

Later, when the police raided Marjorie's house and took away all the cannabis plants, Judith thought again.

Perhaps Marjorie was being specific, sounding the 'T'.

Story 171

Mr Alucard

by Robbie Porter

I knew once Mr Alucard. He was a neat man of peculiar habits. Some called him misanthropic, but that I think was on very casual acquaintance.

To me, at least, he gave every consideration, although with the kind of discernment one would normally give to a side of beef at dinner. One could almost say that he was eyeing me up for the main course. That in itself was most disquieting, even before I realised the terrible truth about Mr Alucard.

Story 172

The Silence

by Katie Chapman

"That's everything, thank you." The Queen dismissed her ladies for the evening. She planned to care for herself for once. 'Being normal' she called it.

She laughed in spite of herself – she ran an entire empire, yet was not trusted to dress alone. The new silence found in her chambers was comforting; compared to the constant bustling of court, so comforting, in fact, that she did not notice the shadow lurking, the knife glinting. The silence did not last that evening.

Story 173

A Laddered Stocking

by Maxine Smith

I could have danced forever, until I broke my leg. Alternatives were considered, so having only a laddered stocking and a threatening expression to my name, it was high time I held up a bank.

Proving successful at this, I repeated the exercise several times and became notorious.

Eventually, I was arrested and tried in court, but found not guilty. The jury could not countenance that someone with a princess pink plaster cast on their ankle would commit such a crime.

Story 174

A Writer's Retreat

by Karen McDermott

'A writers' retreat' the subject line announced.

An outline was thereunder sketched regarding a cottage (too expensive) in Devon (too far), cc'd too many names Tim didn’t recognise (anxiety-inducing). Activities would include swimming (not for Tim, who couldn't), board games, walking, and – seemingly lastly – writing. Along with sharing the outcome of the latter each evening.

Tim shuddered and closed the laptop, mentally archiving the invitation to his 'Things I will find excuses to wriggle out of later' folder.

A writer’s retreat.

Story 175

The Powerful One

by Rohana Chomick

"Rain, rain, go away, just come back another day."

I shouldn't have said that. It changed everything. Who knew I had such power.

There is no rain. Not now. Not for years. Everything is dying or dead. I still live, but my family is no more. Gone, all gone.

My skin crawls with loneliness. I hear no voices, no pattering of feet, no whisper of wings. I wish I had kept my mouth shut. I wish I was not a god.

Story 176

Loosing Grip

by Leigh Hastings

Edward gripped the safety line tightly as he felt his boots leave the side of the shuttle.

Snap.

He could feel the breaking of the cord reverberate throughout his entire body.

Every moment seemed an eternity as the memories flashed before his eyes. His marriage. Their child. Her tears when he said goodbye. His smile on his first liftoff.

Every memory, however minuscule 0r significant, came into fierce clarity as the shuttle slipped beyond his view.

Edward gripped those memories tightly.

Story 177

The Bride's Mind

by Bridget Scrannage

Sandy beach. Him, on one knee. 

"Will you?"

Sparkling diamond. Pounding waves. 

"Ooh, yes."

White wedding.

Planning. Reality.

Guest list: Avert Armageddon.

Flowers: "Hoooooow much?"

Food: "What DO vegans eat? Grass?"

Fake tan. Just why?

Gift list. No more cheese boards.

Bridesmaids. Keep separate and sober. Separate 'n' Sober.

Dress: "Hoooooooooow much?"

Photographer. Refrain from throttling.

Hen night. Did they find the stripper in the bargain basement? Put it away.

Best man: Scare witless ahead of stag do.

"Elope?"

"Yes please."

Story 178

Scouting For Boys

by Abigail Rowe

The whole village knew her for a witch. Rose Cottage was gingerbread sweet. I could've licked it. Me and Stevie creeping to the front door, like Shaggy and Scooby-doo. Tiptoeing, goose-bumping, hair-raising steps.

"Do we have to?" asks Stevie. He's only 9.

"You know we do."

A black cat comes from round the side. Yowls, fur on end. Stevie shakes.

The doorknocker is iron-cold.

The door creaks.

An ancient woman peers out.

"Bob-a-job" I stammer.

A sugared smile. "Come in, boys."

Story 179

Running The Gauntlet

by Alicia Sledge

From behind the kitchen bin, a black, beady eye glinted and whiskers twitched. Murine paws scratched on slick tiles.

In a frantic dash, a tiny creature scurried the length of the skirting board towards the crack that was its refuge between the washing machine and the wall. For such a small animal, it was not an insignificant distance; both speed and silence were essential. The distance was covered swiftly.

But alas, within inches of safety, a soundless, black shadow loomed overhead...

Story 180

The Bird Cat

by Arlene Everingham

From the upstairs window, I watch my cat snake through the long summer grass. He's hoping to sneak up on the birds who are lazing in the birdbath, like tourists on the beach.

One scrambling jump, and he lands face first in the water. The birds scatter, laughing as they fly off. He decides to stay there, wallowing, his long hair floating like black seaweed around him.

"Max, what are you doing?"

Ocean green eyes turn to me, and he smiles.

Story 181

We've All Been There

by Franca Basta

"What's the matter?"

"Nothing."

"It isn't our anniversary, is it?"

"No."

"Have I forgotten something?"

"No."

"Did I do something I shouldn't have?"

"No."

"Did I not do something I should have?"

"No."

"Someone sick?"

"No."

"Dead?"

"No."

"Can I get you something?"

"No."

"Let's go out for dinner."

"I'm on a diet."

"You're sure there's nothing wrong?"

"Yes."

"OK. It's been a really long day. I'm going to bed."

"You care nothing about my feelings, do you, you selfish egotist."

Story 182

I Hate The Cold

by Sarah Stansfield

The winter brings many things. Although I hate the cold.

I love the season with Christmas and getting together with family, but I hate the cold.

The snow is so beautiful and to see it glisten in the sunlight, but I hate the cold.

It is a time to reflect and reminisce, but I hate the cold.

The fireplace is beautiful when lit, but I hate the cold.

To see the children play in the snow, but I hate the cold.

Story 183

Loss

by Sue Partridge

She lowered his body into the freshly dug hole in the garden and covered him with soil. Tom had been a good companion for over 16 years. She had fed him morning and evening, given him a cosy bed and she had always let him go out on his nightly prowls. That was until today. 

He didn't come home last night. As he'd strolled into the kitchen this morning, bacon had been sizzling in the pan. Now she was a widow.

Story 184

Life After Death

by James Colfox

I felt sorry for Joanna, but most of my sorrow was reserved for the Priest.

Joanna shouldn't have tried to speak, we had agreed that she wouldn't but I knew deep down that she would. And she did, until eventually she was overcome with sobs and was led away. It was left to the Priest to deliver the Eulogy.

He didn't know me and so he spoke on the subject he thought he knew best. Heaven.

He knew nothing. He lied.

Story 185


Preparing For Prose

by Jo Howarth

The curtains, drawn, block out the empty darkness of the night. Lambent candles, placed with careful consideration around the room, bring forward spirit words, which land delicately and precisely on the Vergé de France pad – 50 sheets of champagne writing paper (from the old established firm, G. Lalo, Paris).

Sitting at her worn desk she remains still, head slightly bent to the right – pen moving over the spirit words, embroidering on paper. Diligently applying herself, stitching the core of her story.

Story 186


Pumpkin Pie

by E. F. S. Byrne

There is no reason to be afraid, it's all logical. Louise invented Halloween. She did it when she was five and her baby sister was one. Her mother was going to make pumpkin soup but didn't know where to start.

Louise took the knife and showed her. What she did was attack the pumpkin, as if it were her little sibling. Her mother screamed. Louise smiled.

"It's hollow," she said. "Just put a candle inside and pretend it's my little sister."

Story 187


Adulterous Decision

by RJ Saxon

Slipping on her summer dress.

His blood boiled.

Today he'd tell her.

"Ready?" Lucy smiled at Ethan.

Ethan nodded condescendingly, approaching the car.

Brake fluid spoiled the driveway as they headed towards Lover's Cliff.

"Lucy... who's it gonna be, him or me? Decide," shouted Ethan, foot down hard on the gas, towards the cliff edge.

"It's you, Ethan. Please STOP."

Ethan hit the tampered brakes.

Too late.

Dillon, the mechanic, planned a different outcome, when Lucy brought the car for service.

Story 188


His New Man

by Clare Tivey

She struggled to see what Charlie found so mesmerising about Alex.

Charlie had dated some attractive and charismatic men. Alex wasn't blessed with looks or charm – a small mean mouth that rarely smiled and, when it did, showed no connection to his upper face. However, Alex is smart and manipulative, she believes, with potential psychopathic tendencies.

Always the pragmatist, she laughed etc. at all of the correct points during dinner, but she and Alex both knew, they would never be friends.

Story 189


The Island of Iniquity

by Fee Johnstone

"Don't feed the attractions and remain seated," our tinny-voiced guide instructed as we donned our waterproof capes and set sail for the Island of Iniquity.

The boat slowed as we approached.

"The disturbing species exhibited here roamed the earth for 200,000 years, reigning terror upon everyone and everything."

Suddenly, a hideous fleshy creature catapulted itself against the boat and wailed – if I'd had a heart, I'm sure it would've leapt.

"Fellow robots," our guide announced theatrically, "I present to you… mankind."

Story 190


The Discovery – At Last

by John L Bell

He had discovered IT.

He had ALWAYS been able to magic up writing from ANY starting point, observation, trifle, happening.

Then he discovered the very aspect of life SO barren, SO unfruitful, SO sterile and SO futile, it cannot kick start a writing spree.

NOT cleaning toilets.

The 'discovery'?

Cleaning the baked on cheese from the sandwich toaster, WAS the Most Literary Barren Activity Known To Personkind.

No sentence cropped up... no phrase... not a juicy adverb.

Nothing... zero... nowt... zilch.

Story 191


Imagination

by David Wright

I have climbed the highest mountains and swam in shark infested waters.

I have travelled the world and visited exotic lands.

I have been an astronaut and voyaged to far off alien worlds.

I have ventured back in time and met many famous historical figures.

I have looked into the future and seen things yet to come.

I have had many varied and wondrous experiences and all without leaving the comfort of my own home – through the power of my imagination.

Story 192


Finding The Water Dragon

by Melanie Goodell

Once upon a time, at morning light, a dragon turned to face a knight.

"En garde," the knight called gleefully. The worried dragon spun to flee.

"You must not leave," the knight called out, "for only you can stop this drought."

"Me?" the dragon answered, low and rough. "But I am nothing more than tough."

"Yes, you." The knight replaced his sword. "Only you can sing the water chord."

The dragon sang a low, slow tune and quickly started a monsoon.

Story 193


Airport

by Malcolm Richardson

Bing bong.

"Final call for flight BA217 to New York JFK, gate 37."

"Where's the tickets, Marvin?"

"I gave them to Celia."

"Celia? I saw you give them to James."

"Where's James?"

"Starbucks, I think," suggested Jane.

"He was looking at the magazines," said Trevor.

"I saw him go into the toilets," Josephine added.

"Marvin, get him out of the toilet."

"James, where are the tickets?"

"I gave them to Stephanie."

Bing bong.

"Gate 37, for New York, now closed."

"Stephanie..."

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Comments:

Your comments:

Sivan P
Congratulations for starting the 81words writing challenge.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Sivan. And thanks for submitting - much appreciated :-)

Willard S
Out of the 19 stories so far, I like number 8 best. A whole Sci-Fi story in 81 words. Nice!

Chris Fielden
Yes, pretty impressive in just 81 words :-)

Wayne H
Just read story number 028 Tycoon Tommy by Lesley Truchet... loved it, great work!!!

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Wayne, I'll let Lesley know :-)

Lesley T
Wayne, thank you so much. You've made my day.

David T
Willard S - thank you so much, I'm glad you like it :)

Ros B
A question - are contractions counted as one word or two? Thanks.

Chris Fielden
Hi Ros. I use Microsoft Word to determine the word count.

So if two words are hyphenated, like-this, it counts as one word. Same with abbreviations, like I’m or they’re :-)

Ros B
It does. Thanks. I work in a different field where contractions count as two! :-)

Julia O'D
Thanks for publishing my 81 words. I am rather excited to see something of mine out in the world for the first time. Chuffed.

Chris Fielden
No problem Julia - thanks for submitting :-)

It’s always nice to hear that I've published someone for the first time. I hope it inspires you to write more!

Julia O'D
Loved story 058 'Twig Dinasaur'. Fay, I have brothers so I understand the sentiment!

Chris Fielden
Thanks Julia :-)

Soraya D
Do I submit my story by just writing it into the comments?

Chris Fielden
Hi Soraya. Yes please :-)

I'd advise you to write your story and keep a copy, then copy and paste it in, just in case anything goes wrong.

Etheray
Hi Chris. Just wanted to ask a question. You are now in charge of the 81 words challenge, right? May I confirm if that means all our accounts (usernames, passwords) are abolished? We won't need and can't use them anymore, right?

Chris Fielden
Hi Etheray. Yes, I took over the 81 word website. For ease, I just redirected it into my own site and set up this new page. All of the old site is gone now, so usernames and passwords are no longer needed – none of that exists anymore.

Patrick A
Henry Dillinger, I love your story (#074) named 'Harold the Magician'. It was a nutritious good tasting high-concentrate nugget of a 1) good joke and a 2) great insight on people / money / power .

Henry D
Thanks, Patrick!

Sarah P
Thanks for publishing my story. It means so much to me! :-)

Chris Fielden
No problem, Sarah - my pleasure :-)

Aviva D
Thank you, Christopher, for the opportunity. The story came out perfect.

Chris Fielden
No problem, thanks Aviva :)

Ronald G
Brand new to writing. Won my first flash submission. It's a kick.

Chris Fielden
Congratulations, Ronald. Can I expect an 81 word story from you then? :-)

Jay B
Thank you, Chris, for publishing my story. I am delighted. This is a new venture for me.

Chris Fielden
No problem, Jay - thanks for submitting. And congrats on becoming a published author :-)

Linn K
Hi Chris. This was such fun. Thank you.

Chris Fielden
No problem, Linn. Thanks for submitting - much appreciated :-)

Alice P
Thanks for publishing my story (number 142)! I welcome any comments and feedback, and look forward to reading the wide range of other entries.

Chris Fielden
No problem, Alice. Thanks for submitting :-)

Richard S
Thank you for publishing my stories, Chris, this is an excellent website.

Chris Fielden
No problem, Richard - thanks for the kind comment :-)

Claire A
Can you enter the 81 word challenge more than once? Many thanks.

Chris Fielden
Hi Claire. You can only submit 1 story to the 81 word challenge I'm afraid.

However, there are a lot of other flash fiction writing challenges being run on the site at the moment. You'd be welcome to submit to them.

Full details can be found on the main writing challenges page.

Susie F
I do not have a Twitter acct, a Facebook acct etc. Can I still submit a story to the 81 word challenge?

Chris Fielden
Hi Susie. Yes, that's fine - you don't have to have Facebook or Twitter to submit. All the rules and T&Cs can be found on the page above.

Gill M
Can I submit a poem for the 81 word challenge please?

Chris Fielden
Hi Gill. Yes, poems are fine - please feel free to submit :-)

Jo H
Hello Christopher. I am writing to establish if you are still asking for submissions for your 81 Words project. I have already written my 81 words but I am struggling with the bio. If you are still accepting submissions, please could you provide me with an example of a bio as I am unsure of what to include and what to leave out.

Many thanks and kind regards.

Chris Fielden
Hi Jo. I am still accepting submissions to the 81 word challenge.

You can see hundreds of example bios in the other writing challenge anthologies that I’ve published – they are available on Amazon (links can be found in the Books section of my site).

Or, here is an example bio (mine!):

Chris writes, runs a humorous short story competition, plays drums and rides his motorcycle, sometimes to Hull. And back again. He has recently started running writing challenges and hopes to publish 1,000s of authors in the support of charity.

If you have any other questions, please let me know.