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Gails Gladiators

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introduction - gladiator stories - gladiator gallery

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Gail's Gladiators

Introduction

Gail's Gladiators is the brain child of Gail Wareham Everett. This flash fiction writing challenge features stories written in 10 sections by a team of 9 different writers.

Gail's Gladiators runs once every 6 to 12 months in the AOFFWC Facebook group. Feel free to join - it's open to everyone.

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Gladiator Stories

The stories are presented below in the order they were completed, newest at the top, oldest at the bottom.

Story Ten: 'Desperate Players'

Contributors in order of posting:

Marlene Pitcher, Paul Mastagio, Cathy Cade, Sue Maynes, Tony Thatcher, Yasmin Al-Jarrah, Mary Fox, Barbara Noble, Malcolm Richardson and Marlene Pitcher.

Dried leaves blew down the deserted street. The pavement was beginning to turn white with flakes of the first snow. Charles pulled the collar of his overcoat up as a barrier from the cold to come. How long had he been waiting? The life of a detective is lonely, filled with bad food and, worse, cheap liquor.

He looked at the redbrick apartment house and shivered. Even the rattrap hotel that he called home was better than standing here in the slush. He noticed some movement in the apartment on the second-floor, shadows on the pulled down shade. He needed to act quickly.

Charles grabbed his phone from an inside pocket and risked peeling off a glove to punch the required number. The cold licked at his fingers as he spoke into the device.

"Wayne, is that you? Look, they're meeting now. My hunch was right. Could you get here as soon as? Things are about to get interesting."

He put the phone away and moved to cross the street.

Before he stepped off the pavement, a car swept around the corner and drew to a halt outside the redbrick building. A stocky figure in a fur coat stepped out, and the car drove off. Pulling up the fur collar and adjusting their fur-trimmed hat, the figure disappeared through the door.

This was an unexpected development. Charles allowed time for the new arrival to reach the apartment before crossing the street and entering the building. He pushed the button to call the lift down from the second floor, before taking the stairs. On the second floor, he made his way to the apartment he'd been watching and rang the doorbell. Footsteps approached. The door opened.

"There you are, old boy. We were beginning to think you'd changed your mind."

Charles was rattled but endeavoured not to show it. He'd planned for the advantage of surprise, but as he entered, the five men inside welcomed him with clear expectations of his assumed involvement in their meeting. His hand felt his chest, hoping the 'wire' he'd switched on outside the door was picking up the conversation. He recognised all but one man, who was sitting quietly at the back of the room, keeping his head low. These were the biggest names in the game. It was Charles's task to find out just what the state of play was.

Charles sat in one of the chairs at the table in the middle of the room. The familiar wooden blocks were piled in groups of three, arranged at right angles.

"You know the rules," said the anonymous watcher. "If you win, we can do business on your terms."

"And if I lose?"

"I think you know what losing means."

"Let's not think about losing," said the main henchman. "Let's see what you're made of."

Piercing eyes focussed on Charles's hand as he slowly took a block of wood from the middle of the tower. The jagged block wobbled a bit,but the building didn't collapse. Tension was building as the next competitor took his turn.

Suddenly, the door swung open and Jo Jo made her entrance with a saucy walk and a shrug of her shoulders. She tossed her spangled bag across the room, clipping the side of the anonymous watcher's jaw. He screamed in pain and stood up straight so that, for the first time, his face was fully visible.

Charles recognised him instantly and knew without question that the game was stacked against him. He thought about grabbing Jo Jo by the hand and taking her for a drink rather than waiting it out.

Instead, he faced squarely up to the 'anonymous watcher' who, with his face now fully visible and recognisable to Charles, was glowering at him. Charles tried to keep his nerve and was about to push his chair back and stand when Wayne came bursting into the room, sending the remaining henchmen reaching for their handguns.

"Take it easy, gents," Wayne's harsh voice rasped. "One false move and I'll take out the lot of you." He motioned to Jo Jo to stand to one side, out of his firing line. "OK, everyone sit down and we'll resume our little game."

"It's looks like the odds are stacked rather differently now." Charles motioned towards the fearsome five. They looked less aggressive after Wayne's intervention.

Jo Jo moved round the table to stand opposite Charles; he hadn't quite assessed who she was working for, definitely the joker in the pack. With her tight fitting skirt and sly smile, she was difficult to read. "Alright, boys, let's start playing again."

The old man in the corner stepped out of the shadows. It was Charles's nemesis. The man called the gamer. He set up these foolish competitions to find the loose cannons in the organisation. The detective didn't want to play. He came here to put a stop to the syndicate. Is this the end? he thought. The final scene?

Wayne pointed his gun at the old man in the white hat who, in a moment of indecision, turned to spit at Charles. Tension reached a crescendo. Wayne pulled a trigger. JoJo followed with a shot from the handgun that she had strapped to her thigh.

Charles found the old man in the ensuing mayhem. Bullets zipped by as bloodied bodies fell to the dirty floor. Charles shot the old man between the eyes. When the smoke cleared, JoJo and Charles stood alone in the carnage. The blocks of the game were strewn across the table.

"We'll never know who won," JoJo said with regret. Then, grasping his hand and with a sway of her hips, she said, "Let's get out of here now. We can get a drink and find a game of our own to play."

 

Story Nine: 'The Way'

Contributors in order of posting:

Klaus Gehling, Paul Mastaglio, Cathy Cade, Sue Maynes, Marlene Pitcher, Eileen Baldwin, Tony Thatcher, Mary Fox, Malcolm Richardson and Klaus Gehling.

It was the first time since my teeny days that I got to sleep in a dorm.

"You don't go on a pilgrimage to feel comfortable. It's not a race, it's an exercise in humanity, a spiritual interruption of everyday life," said Harald. He is a friend and my pilgrim buddy.

We met the others in a dining room. Joan and Andrew from England were on the walk to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. There was also Anne from Austria and Lykke from Sweden.

"In the past," Harald said, during our evening meal, "pilgrims walked the route to do penance. Many carried blocks of limestone, destined to be used in the building of the cathedral."

I laughed. "A fine joke."  But it wasn't.

Andrew and Joan didn't mention the reason for their pilgrimage. Anne and Lykke were equally silent. Over the next few weeks, we hiked together. I wasn't certain of my own reasons for being on this pilgrimage. I wondered what type of limestones each of us were carrying.

The unrelenting sun on the Camino De Compostela beat down on our little group. Two weeks had passed and I was still none the wiser as to why my companions were undertaking this pilgrimage. I was equally reticent in explaining my own participation. Was I fooling myself into thinking I didn't know? Perhaps it was time to share my story. I quickened my pace and drew level with Harald.

"Can I tell you something?" I asked.

"That depends on the 'something'. If it's how much you're enjoying the pilgrimage, or why you're not enjoying it – that's fine." He paused for breath as the path headed uphill. "If it's how you've defrauded your boss or murdered your partner, I'm not your Father Confessor." He turned and smiled, to show he didn't expect such a confidence. "If it's about your foundering marriage or your daughter going off the rails, I can listen. Sometimes it helps to talk."

I laughed, softly. "It's none of those. I wish it was that simple."

Harald looked at me quizzically.

"I don't know who I am," I started slowly. "My memories start from my early childhood in an orphanage. Something drew me to 'The Way' when I first read about it. I'm not religious, I sure don't know if I am spiritual, but I have an awful lot of doubt, anger and sadness. Will I find some way to calm those feelings? I don't know. I just know I had to come."

Harald kept walking, his head down. He was silent for a dozen paces, and then he looked sideways at me.

"People often find answers to questions they didn't know they were asking. Can I suggest you let the journey's pace act like a metronome in your thoughts? It will allow the questions to surface. It's a long trek; we have around two more weeks. Let time be your friend."

We walked along the path for the rest of the day. The dirt coated my boots and covered my face. By the time we reached the small farm house – our rest place for the night – I was exhausted. Not from the walk, but from the doubt in my mind, playing like an endless string of words.

Harald seemed to think the answers would magically appear. He didn't realise that I didn't even know what my questions were. Was I going crazy? My son was the spiritual one. Not me, I'm too pragmatic. I entered the barn where we would sleep. Taking off my boots to air the blisters on my toes, I sat down in the hay. My boot went flying at the door just as Harald entered the barn.

My hand covered my mouth. For no apparent reason, I was trembling with fear. "Sorry, Harald, I don't know my own strength sometimes." I laughed nervously.

"I will deal with you later," he said, as he put two fingers to his eyes and pointed them back to me, silently stating, "I have my eyes on you, watch out."

Something about him at that moment made my flesh crawl. Maybe it was just me. I would have to watch what I said or did. Why were we all there? What had drawn us together? How was I involved? Would we regret making this pilgrimage? So many questions were buzzing around in my head.

Then, something in the corner caught my eye. Suddenly, I screamed. Harald's backpack had fallen over, spilling his wash bag and revealing a bundle of large, dried bones. I looked at Harald. His cold face echoed the threat to deal with me later.

"So. Would you like to know why I'm really here?" he sneered.

Harald was my pilgrim buddy, my pal, the last person here to be harbouring dark secrets. Or was he? I pasted a phony smile on my face, buying time to think.

What did I really know about Harald? I remembered how, on occasion, he had worn that hair shirt in the steam room at the club. And there was that costume ball when the devil's tail he wore appeared to be attached to his body. Small things, silly things really; the anomalies of any friendship.

The threat and the sneer had come as a shock. Who was this man? How well did I know him? How should I answer him? And why was everyone else still sleeping through this? More idiotic questions that will never be answered.

"Every man has his secrets," I spluttered. Did I want to know Harald's? A tear seemed to trickle down his cheek. It was difficult to tell in the subdued light of the barn. He wiped something away with the back of his hand.

"It's a long story," he muttered.

With another 150km to go, time was on his side. I looked at the bones as he put them back into his backpack, one by one. Animal or human? I couldn't decide. Certainly something larger than a cat or a dog. Could they be a child's? He shuffled closer to me and I shuddered.

"When I was a young man, I had a girlfriend, Monika. She lived in East Berlin. It was before the fall of the Berlin Wall. We met her at a chess tournament. Normally, it was nearly impossible to obtain a visa, but as members of a chess club, we received invitations to participate in tournaments, which allowed us to travel."

I listened to his love story against the background of a historical moment. I'm not an eager listener to the past of others. I prefer dwelling in the present moment.

"So. What about the bones?"

"Stolen," Harald responded, staring at me.

"You?"

"No, Monika."

"Bones of what kind? Animal?"

Harald started turning like a leopard in a cage. He stopped suddenly. "Human bones. Ansgar of Querfurt, what little is left of him."

"Dammit. Who?" I forced out my words.

"He was a missionary during the middle ages and was eventually Canonized. His bones were safeguarded in a monastery. Monika stole them while she was there researching ancient relics. When we broke up, she gave them to me. There is no way I can return them without landing myself in a hell of a lot of trouble. For the bones and for my break up with Monika, I feel guilt. I need to make amends." He paused. "I've got to get rid of all of them. The guilt, the bones, and the 'metronome'. I came on this pilgrimage in order to bury these bones somewhere along this route, it seems fitting. Ansgar of Querfurt was a highly religious man.

Whether he ever did that, I don't know. We never brought up the topic again. As for myself and the others in the group, was that why we were there, to bury the past?

 

Story Eight: 'The Similarity Syndicate'

Contributors in order of posting:

Tony Thatcher, Johanna Mc Donald, Elizabeth Coby, Cathy Cade, Paul Mastaglio, Marlene Pitcher, Sarah Mosedale, Sue Maynes, Michael Rumsey and Tony Thatcher.

I strained to get a better view as the revolving restaurant carried me back over the city street.  The view had been unexceptional when I first saw it; just a large man with a distracting hairstyle, being ushered from a limousine. The second time, an hour later, was curious. And now, on my third pass, I knew it was more than a coincidence; enough clones to fill a circus were gathering in the building opposite. My reserved-table time up, I paid the bill and went down to watch from the street.

There was quite a crowd forming on the street. Others had noticed the steady stream of stout fellows that were arriving by various means and entering the building. They had in common a hairstyle more in keeping with Jedward than the suited and booted men that we were witnessing. I leant towards a young lad and asked, "What's going on?"

"Some sort of science conference, I heard someone say," he replied. "Geneticists. This is a publicity stunt. Send in the clones instead of send in the clowns. An ear on a mouse and Dolly the sheep was enough for me. It's all a bit creepy."

The crowd was growing bigger; the young man moved away. A woman began to yell things about interfering with God and tried to enter the door with the latest clone. While the security guards were distracted, I decided to slip into the building. Surprisingly, I managed to get in unnoticed.

Out of the wind, the clones' weird hairstyles had flattened and flopped over to one side or the other. Some seemed to have shifted sideways a little. Here and there, clones had started to argue amongst themselves, each certain he was right, even though they all seemed to have the same opinions when it came down to it. I realised I had seen this face (these faces?) before. On the news? A clone (or was it?) stepped out on the stage and called them all to order. "Brothers, let's not forget what we're really here for."

The clones responded by humming together as if they were one body. Then their leader continued, "Brothers, our time is short. Tomorrow you will be sent to all the main population centres in the country. There are enough of you now to complete this task. The message is important and when they see who is delivering it, they will believe. No one must realise that you are not the true person. Speed and secrecy are..."

On spotting me, he clammed up, his face paling as he pointed a visibly shaking finger. "Who are you? What are you doing here?"

They grabbed my arms and lead me into an office behind the stage. An old man was sitting behind a wooden desk. He smelled of death. I wanted to find a route of escape, but I was surrounded by the clones.

"We have had many intruders. Sadly, most did not survive. You want to know what is happening? The Similarity Syndicate started out as an organization to provide eternal life for the chosen. However, the mind transfer caused a glitch into the plan. I guess free-will comes with the package."

I was dragged into a back room where two identical goons waited for me.

Immediately, the door closed and the two goons advanced on me smiling grimly. It took about 30 seconds to dispose of them. I spent considerably more time listening at the door to make sure everything had quietened down outside. Once satisfied, I made my way back to the front of the building and exited without difficulty. This outfit was amateur in the extreme.

HQ would be very interested, nevertheless. Clearly, this heinous plan, however ramshackle, required foiling. And I was just the woman to do it. Before being apprehended, I had taken the liberty of capturing the proceedings on video. All that was required now was to get this to the people who could make best use of it. Little did I realise just how difficult that would prove to be.

There were protestors and police everywhere, so a taxi was out of the question. I would be stuck in the melee. I spotted the young man I had been talking to originally. He was focused on me and clearly part of the syndicate, despite his disparaging words. I spotted a postal agency and by dodging and weaving through the crowd, I was able to slide in while he was trying to find me again. It would be only moments before he would put two and two together and work out what I was doing. Inside, I boxed up the video recording and sent it to my HQ contact. Now to slip away without him noticing. I felt a hand grab my shoulder and jumped in fright.

"Sorry to startle you, Miss." The man was middle-aged and well dressed. The young lad stood beside him. The man looked me straight in the eye and spoke slowly. "Miss, you are the only person who can help now. I implore you to retrieve your video and give it to me. I will ensure it will be shown on every news bulletin; on the hour, every hour. At the very least it will be a warning to our people something is afoot, even if we don't know what it is."

He sounded plausible and genuine, but if they were members of the syndicate, this could be a trick. My video could be lost forever. What was I to do?

I returned to the counter, retrieved the packet and was followed outside by the man and young lad. "Right," I said, "tell me what's really going on, before I give you this."

"OK," the lad replied, "but strictly off the record. An anonymous organisation has been cloning people for a long time."

"Why?"

"They have been refined, to be acquiescent."

"Perfect citizens then?"

"Yes, quite," he replied. "Unfortunately, some of them have created their own group."

"You mean the guys with the hair?"

"Yes, that's them. I've no idea why they wasted their free choice on comedy bouffant blonde, but they do well out of lookalike work. Give me the parcel please."

"Why are they all here?"

"We let them believe they have an important mission."

"And then?"

"We're going to switch them off." He took a metal box from his pocket.

I glanced over my shoulder. He fell for it and looked round, allowing me to grab the transmitter, sprint away and read the labels identifying the buttons.

I ignored 'Rebels' and stabbed at 'Shut Down All'. The city population deflated and collapsed. I felt the lonely horror of Nancy in the final scene of The Body Snatchers.

 

Story Seven: 'A Change of Plan'

Contributors in order of posting:

Paul Mastaglio, Johanna McDonald, Pat Mudge, Elizabeth Coby, Cathy Cade, Gail Wareham Everett, Michael Rumsey, Sarah Mosedale, Marlene Pitcher and Paul Mastaglio.

Peter Anderson fretted as he looked at his watch and waited for the bus. Where the devil was it? The meeting was in half an hour. He wasn't going to make it. He melted further into the shelter, out of the way of the incessant rain. His head bowed, he only heard footsteps as someone else joined him inside. He looked up at the figure. Squinting, he said, "Don't I know you?"

"Don't fink so, mate," said the man without even looking up from his phone.

"Yeah, I recognise you," said Peter. "Where do I know you from?"

The man did look at Peter then and he didn't look very happy. He threw a withering scowl and stated firmly and decisively that they had never met before and he didn't want to discuss it any further. The pair stood in awkward silence for several minutes, but Peter couldn't stop himself from asking, "Are you that bloke off the telly?"

"No, mate," he said, turning his back.

Shrugging, Peter looked at his watch again. Cars sped past but there was no sign of the bus. Faces flickered through his head as he tried to figure out who was standing next to him under the shelter. The man finished with his phone and slipped it into his pocket before turning his scowling face towards Peter again. Stepping back, Peter's voice trembled.

"You're that bloke everyone's been talking about."

"Why didn't you just leave it alone, mate," said the man, his dark eyes narrowing.

Peter was relieved to hear the bus approaching, his mind and heart were both racing. Why did he know the dark, angry face? Would he make the meeting? Why did he feel so confused? He couldn't keep up with his thoughts and stumbled as he boarded the bus. Finding a seat, he slumped into it, shaking. The man followed and sat opposite, staring. Peter felt his brain jolt. Why was an overwhelming sense of familiarity tickling his senses? He had never felt like this before and knew that he had met the man, who was now using his phone again.

The man visibly jumped when his phone rang. He looked at it accusingly before swiping the screen and raising it to his ear. "Hmm. Hmm. Not now, mate." He ended the call and scanned the bus. The phone rang again. He jabbed a button and it stopped. He thrust it in his pocket and met Peter's eye belligerently. Peter looked away.

Peter shivered as he suddenly knew why he recognised the man – the incident in the shopping mall, when there had been an attempt to snatch a three year old girl from her mother. The photograph from the CCTV footage had been published in the local paper, and Peter's stomach turned over as he realised that he'd also seen the man walking up Townley Road the previous Monday – approaching the gates of the Townley Tots Playschool.

With a nervous glance sideways, Peter slid his hand into his jacket pocket and gently began to remove his phone.

"Don’t even fink about it, mate."

The vice like grip on his wrist allowed no movement as the man, now sitting next to him, continued with a growl.

"A change of plan for you, mate. We're gitting orf this bus next stop. You and me's got fings to talk about."

I don’t think so, sunshine, thought Peter. He'd seen enough nine o'clock TV dramas to know that wouldn't end well. And he'd always fancied himself as a scriptwriter. He'd often thought these scenarios where people allowed themselves to be bossed about by villains were ridiculous. It was time to rewrite the script. For God's sake, he was on a well-lit bus, there were several witnesses. Everyone had a phone nowadays and the driver would have easy communications with the depot. Clearing his throat, he shouted loudly.

"The man sitting next to me is trying to force me to get off the bus. His photo was in the paper last week. He was trying to snatch a kiddie."

Two brawny men came from the back of the bus. Peter's assailant punched at the air. One grabbed the man from the knees, and the other went for the head. They wrestled the man to the floor of the bus. Peter jumped on top of the captive's back. He drove the captive's face into the metal floor as the bus hit a bump. Why did the driver keep going?

The man screamed as Peter pulled his head back by the hair.

Rage ran through Peter's veins. "If I had a knife, you'd be dead now."

The bus suddenly screeched to a stop. Police poured into the vehicle, taking over from Peter and his two assistants. A detective followed the uniforms in, addressing the three men.

"Congratulations. You've just helped us catch the notorious paedophile, Ron Norton. If you could please accompany us to the police station, we'll take statements from you. Thank you."

Peter stood back, still shaking. His ears buzzed and then he could hear the sound of clapping, getting louder as he reacquainted himself with his surroundings. Fellow passengers greeted him with smiles and comments of, "Well done," and, "You were so brave." The three men followed police and the captured fugitive off the bus.

An hour later, Peter glanced at his watch and thought, Sod it, I've missed my meeting. It was only about a bank overdraft anyway.

He turned to his two new friends. "A change of plan, I think. Fancy a pint? It's on me."

 

Story Six: 'Suspects'

Contributors in order of posting:

Michael Rumsey, Cathy Cade, Johanna McDonald, John Notley, Eileen Baldwin, Pat Mudge, Val Fish, Alan Barker, Barbara Noble and Michael Rumsey.

At 5pm, Brenda, close to tears, burst into my office.

"Mr Roberts, the money has gone."

At midday, I, as security officer, witnessed Brenda place £15,000 into a brown envelope. She opened the company safe, placed it on the top shelf and closed the door.

"Calm down Brenda," I said gently, "there’s probably a simple explanation. In addition to you and Mr Wallace, who else knows the combination number?"

"Four departmental managers and they all must have opened the safe. I know that because their month-end reports are in there." She paused, and then went on, "They are ready for Mr Wallace to pick up when he gets back from Berlin. Even Miss Andrew's report is on time." Brenda sniffed. "Jenny Andrews is still getting to grips with her admin since promotion, but the others are old lags; Peters is coming up to retirement."

Why was she telling me all this?

"Lewis," she continued, "has been with us since his apprenticeship at the age of 15 and old Mr Gordon is way beyond retirement and regarded now as part of the fabric of the building. Surely not one of them is capable of theft."

I eyed Brenda with suspicion. I'd known her for almost 10 years, since she first joined the firm after leaving college. In my opinion, she's a conscientious member of staff and would be the last person to do anything dishonest. However, rumours had started circulating around the office that she'd been experiencing some problems in her personal life.

She'd found herself in a relationship, after years of loneliness. All of a sudden, she'd started enthusing about a man called William. Her eyes would open wide as she engaged whoever would listen about the way they played bingo online, or the lottery. One day, she told us they'd been planning a big wedding in Las Vegas. She said it would be at the Ice Palace, with swans and doves carved out of ice. About a month later, when Brenda was asked how it was going, she burst into tears, ran into the loo and was heard wailing into her phone.

"William there is no more. It's all gone. I cannot get anymore. You know they suspect something."

I had a dilemma: it would be easy to let Brenda take the blame. She'd already confided in me that William was an alcoholic. She'd been hiding his excessive drinking from her family and was trying to reduce his intake by watering down the gin. Plus, I fancied the pants off her, had done for years. She had no idea. I was a married man, so kept my feelings to myself, but since the missus had walked out on me a few weeks back, I was a free agent again. I was convinced Brenda had done it, but maybe if I could stitch one of the others up for the job (cruel of me, I know, but if it got me what I wanted...), Brenda would be off the hook and she should be eternally grateful. Then all I'd need to do was persuade her to leave that scumbag for me… and there's always the chance he hadn't got his greedy hands on all of the loot yet. Well, that would be even better. Things were beginning to look up for yours truly.

"Morning, Brenda. Please take a seat."

I engaged the 'Do Not Disturb' sign and sat on the desk beside her. I'd spent half the night devising a cunning plan.

"About the stolen money," I began. "The departmental managers categorically deny any involvement. And I can't believe you would have taken it unless… William put you up to it."

Brenda bowed her head. "I'm sorry, Mr Roberts…"

"Roger, please."

"… Roger. William can be so persuasive." With that, she burst into tears.

I put my arm around her. So far so good. "Now, you and I must find a way to get the money back from William. Do you trust me?"

"Completely, Roger. Your wife is so lucky to have someone like you."

"Actually, Shirley left me for another man recently. I think she's seeing William."

Brenda stared at me in disbelief. "You're making that up – I don't believe you. William would never do that to me."

I put my arm around her shoulders in a conciliatory gesture.

"I'm really sorry, Brenda, but I know for a fact that Shirley has been supplying William with bottles of gin and brandy for some time now – she likes a tipple herself, only last week she told me that she was planning to move abroad with her new man."

Brenda shook herself free from my clumsy attempt at an embrace, and ran crying from my office. The next time I saw her, Brenda had been taken into police custody and charged with the murder of William Harvey. This complicated the issue, and I wondered whether I would ever be able to reclaim the missing money. Undeterred, I decided to go and visit Brenda in prison to try and resolve the issue.

They let me see her for a few minutes. The case against her was strong. Brenda admitted taking the money and giving it to Harvey. When she found out he'd been seeing someone else, it must have driven her crazy. Harvey was found with his skull crushed by a big brass bed-knob. It was lying next to the body. No fingerprints, so at least she'd thought to wipe it clean. She claimed to be at home alone at the time of the incident, so had no alibi. A woman matching her description was seen running from the building by a reliable witness.

I went straight home, only to find I had a visitor.

"Roger, something awful has happened." Shirley grabbed my suit lapels. "It's William. The other day the drunken fool fell against the bedpost cracking his head and knocking off the brass ball. I ran when I realised he was dead. What shall I do?"

I ushered her quickly inside my apartment and told her to sit down. She stuttered and babbled, then opened her handbag. "He dropped this."

The large fat brown envelope gazed up at me.

I could clear Brenda of that awful charge. With the money recovered, Mr Wallace would go easy on her. On the other hand, inside that envelope was a potentially great holiday for two. Las Vegas, perhaps, and a chance to get my wife back. So, Police Station or Travel Agent?

I picked up the phone and dialled.


Story Five: 'No More Mr Nice Guy'

Contributors in order of posting:

Johanna McDonald, Cathy Cade, Michael Rumsey, Elizabeth  Coby, Pat  Mudge, Eileen Baldwin, Lucy Morrice, Sarah Mosedale, Angela Googh and Johanna Mc Donald.

I'm running late today. I've had a bad morning; one of those days where everything goes wrong. First of all, I spent half an hour chasing the rabbit round the garden; he'd nibbled through his cage and escaped in the night. Then I found my face paint had leaked and had made a dreadful mess all over the dressing table. Then, as I was getting dressed, I realised that the heel had come off one of my massive shoes. I have already had one of the angry mums ring me to say that the kids are fed up with waiting and if I don't get to the party soon then she'll make sure that I never work in this town again. Well, I'm not in the best of moods.

Finding that the car has a flat tyre doesn’t help matters. I don't have time to change it. (Did I get around to having the spare fixed after that last flat? Come to that, is someone sabotaging my tyres?)   So, I'm waiting for the cab to arrive and getting into costume while I'm waiting, so I can hit the ground running when I get there, metaphorically speaking – perhaps make an entrance. The doorbell rings sooner than I expected, so I grab the long shoes (they'll have to go on last-minute, heeled or not, and I'll try not to trip over them unrehearsed) and I open the door. Only it isn't the cab.

She takes a step back. "Oh, you are Jolly Joey, aren’t you? I didn't realise. You did my son’s birthday..."

"Look, officer," I say, trying to stay calm, "I 'm late for an engagement. If you’ve come to make another booking..."

Her face changes. "No, Mr Stanton, I’m sorry, it’s far more serious than that. I would like you to come with me to the police station please."

The taxi arrives, but it might as well be invisible. All thoughts evaporate but one. Oh no, it’s Alec again isn’t it. What has he done now?

How many times have I traipsed along to Police Stations, often looking like a clown, literally, expected to pull a rabbit out of a hat, metaphorically? Once I did have some rabbits with me... Anyway, I digress.

Alec likes to blow things up. All sorts of things. He doesn't care what he destroys. What matters is where the object is, who will be most upset and how spectacular their reaction will be. He makes things explode in order to see people explode. I'm growing weary of it.

"It's about your Alec," the police officer says. "There's been an incident."

Taking a deep breath, I say, "What's he done now?"

"Well, I’m sorry to tell you he's spent the afternoon terrorising residents on your estate. He knocked on their doors and threw firecrackers at their feet when they opened them. Scared residents want to press charges against him. Mind you, he’s got his comeuppance, and he’s the scared one now. The stupid boy kept his stash of bangers in his pocket. One firecracker exploded before he got far enough away and sparks set his pocket alight. He's in hospital being treated for severe burns."

Sweat poured from under my wig and streaked down my face, ruining my makeup. "Never mind the police station," I say. "I need to get to the hospital."

"Not yet," the police officer says. "You have some questions to answer first.

"Your son says you keep the explosives in your garden shed for your tricks. Is this true?" She turns and beckons a colleague from the police car  – a fresh-faced young bloke  – and I lead them to the shed. They look at me in amazement.

The female officer says, "Blimey, what's all this then?"

I say nothing. I wear the clown outfit because I'm undercover. My son is going to cause trouble for me if I'm not careful.

The explosives are here because my contacts thought I'd be the safest bet for keeping them away from prying eyes. Nobody suspects a children's entertainer of being a subversive. Looks like my cover’s been blown now, so to speak. I could play the innocent, or just set off this remote detonator and send the lot sky high...

That’s what the gang thought, anyway. Of course, I’m actually a double agent. And that stuff about blowing the place sky high simply reflects my frustration at the moment I desperately need to get to hospital to see my injured, pyromaniac son. I've got PCs Thick and Thicker standing at my front door. They are as blissfully ignorant of my undercover work as the would-be bank robber gang who thinks I'm harbouring their explosives (instead of passing them straight over to the authorities). For Chrissake, what a combination of events. Given that the contents of this shed consist of large black balls with 'BOMB' written on them and giant fuses, you would think even the aforementioned PCs Gormless and Gormlesser might recognise them as harmless tools of my trade. Though to be fair, I hear Our Thin Blue Line has been having serious recruitment difficulties for a while now. Anyway, what to do next? I've got to get to that hospital quickly now.

I will have to signal my handlers. I warned them that something like this was going to happen, what with Alec playing with fire. They told me that his reputation would add to my street-cred. Soon, these two duffers would get their marching orders. I reached down for my right shoe; the signalling device was in the heel of my big floppy. Oh no. My heel broke and my shoes are inside. I don't even know if the gadget hidden there got damaged when the break happened. Can nothing go right today?

Well, there's only one thing for it: no more Mr Nice Guy. I reach into the pocket of my baggy pantaloons, pull my revolver out and point it at the young rookie cop.

"Get into the shed or I'll blow your brains out."

I lock the pair inside. They weren't to know that, if I'd pulled the trigger, a little flag with 'BANG' on it would pop out.

Next, I ring Gripper, my criminal gang contact, and tell him that I have a little surprise for him in my shed. Shame I won't be there to see him come face to face with the police.

I drive off in the squad car that had the keys dangling in the ignition (school boy error by our boys in blue). I'm not off to the hospital, though. Alec has pushed me too far. He's on his own. I'm heading to see Baz 'The Butcher' Barlow, my mate from a rival gang. He has a large cash lump sum for me, for my work as a triple agent. He'll laugh when I tell him about my day so far.

Then, I'm on my way to Acapulco to spend the rest of my days soaking up the sun and drinking tequila. A very Jolly Joey indeed.

 

Story Four: 'Talk of the Town'

Contributors in order of posting:

David Silver, Neil Davie, Alan Barker, Maggie Elliott, Elizabeth Coby, Eileen Baldwin, Lynn Gale, Lesley Anne Truchet, Pat Mudge and David Silver.

The topic under discussion in the pub was the weather. But, after the regulars acknowledged that it mattered little whether the long dry spell was continuing outside because they spent most of their time indoors at the inn anyway, the subject petered out and the pubsters switched to silent mode.

The stillness was broken when latecomer Frank arrived on the premises, scattering raindrops everywhere. "Guess what's happened to our Jenny," he said.

The small puddle forming around Frank's feet told everyone in the pub that the dry spell had now ended. The fact that something notable had happened to Jenny was less surprising. Nobody had to ask which Jenny. The whole village knew who Frank meant and that something was always happening to her.

"Expecting, is she?" asked Kenny, never one to mince his words.

Frank threw his mac over the coat stand and stepped up to the bar. They all gathered round. "Something much worse than that," he whispered. "She tried a new shade of hair dye and left it on too long. Not only does she look like Shrek’s sister, but it’s falling out in clumps. Surprised you didn’t hear her screams from here."

Kenny was strangely disappointed by this reply and comforted himself by imagining Jenny giving birth to lots of small green babies. He smiled. Nobody else said anything; they were now all quite sozzled, though some did imagine their own version of green Jenny. The loud sound of a car crash, if that’s what it was, stirred them all to movement and they rushed to look outside.

Of course, it was Jenny. Tears streamed down her face as she staggered out of the car. No wonder – she'd pranged Kenny's car in the carpark. He'd left it sticking out rather far.

He yelled, "Silly cow, can't you look where you're going?"

She turned on him, waving a hank of green hair. "This hair dye came from your pound shop. I'm suing for... I'm taking you to court."

"What on earth are you talking about?" Kenny bristled with rage, his face reddening by the second. "I've never sold hair dye in my shop." Realisation dawned. "Was it by chance in a red tube?"

"Yes, that's the one." She sobbed as more clumps of green hair dropped to the floor.

"You silly woman," he cried. "You must have used the Hare’s dry paint stripper."

Jenny stopped crying instantly. "Paint stripper." Another clump of green hair fell from her head as she turned and fled from the pub, the strident laughter of the sozzled revellers ringing in her ears.

Frank joined in the revelry and downed a few pints himself. At closing time, he followed the trail of green hair and found his wife at home. She was naked in the shower, scrubbing her tinged bald head. As she turned her green face towards him, he stepped closer and opened the shower door.

Jenny glared at him through soap-rimmed eyes. "You laughed at me with your drunken pals. Fine husband you are."

Frank sighed. "You don't understand, dear. I had to appear to be one of the lads because I'm planning to take over the pub in a secret business venture. I have to keep in with the regulars in order to retain their custom, once the inn is ours."

"My hero," exclaimed Jenny. "I look forward to seeing their faces when I become mein hostess. They'll be green with envy."

 

Story Three: 'Comeback'

Contributors in order of posting:

Cathy Cade, Angela Googh, Derek McMillan, Lynn Zeleski, Elizabeth Coby, Eileen Baldwin, Marlene Pilcher, Lesley Anne Truchet, Gail Everett and Cathy Cade.

I'm hovering above the operating theatre, watching my body below. It jerks with each power surge. So much is still unfinished with a lot hanging on the outcome. They can't get away with this. If all else fails, I'll come back and haunt them.

Three engineers emerge from a huddle, around panels and monitors. "We're live again," one of them says. "It's now or never."

The doctor looks up and nods.

The nurse unlocks my wheelchair and says, "It's time."

The only way I can survive is to go back in time and fix the electrical fault that caused this problem. But that's impossible. Then I reflect that I'm in the middle of an out-of-body experience.

Living in limbo is not what I had in mind. I can't wait for the next step in the process. The donor was a college medical student and, if all goes well, my memories, my thoughts and my soul will soon have a fully functioning body. The only catch is the power brownouts. It's time all right. I need to return to a body or start searching for a way to survive on this side of the veil.

A loud humming fills the room and the lights become dazzlingly bright. Obviously, the power is back. I can hear exclamations of surprise and sense someone beside me. "Come on," says a voice, as we fall together into the body below.

"Wow, look at that. We got him. Good work guys." The engineers leave, looking pleased with themselves.

Yeah, you got me, and an ethereal hitchhiker, I think.

"Be quiet. Say nothing," the voice whispers. "I will explain everything once this body is stable. We have things to do."

Oh, why had I agreed to their experiment? I'm a trained astronaut. When they put it to me, it sounded as if I would be saving the world. Now, it looks like I'm not only destroying the world, but myself too. At least I'm back in my body, but with another being. What does this hitchhiker want? How has this happened? So many questions needed answering. Am I even me anymore?

"Amazing, all the ways that we use to try to reach immortality," the hitchhiker whispers to me. "This is my 12th body transfer. I won't bother you, I promise, but the collective needs to be destroyed. You need my skills."

I fall downward into life. Once more the darkness of doubt surrounds me.

"I agree," I say to the hitchhiker after the doctors leave. "I've been thinking and I have a plan that will put a stop to these awful experiments forever." Sitting up on my operating table, I outline my idea to him.

"That's more or less what I had in mind." The hitchhiker grins. "Let's do it."

He merges into my consciousness. As we stand up, I stumble as he beats me to it by seconds. "Come on, we need to make a start. It's Friday the 13th today and my next body transfer will be my 13th – lucky for the rest of the patients here, but less so for the surgeon in charge."

Next body transfer? What if we sabotage our own return? What am I not being told? I feel the grin leave our face; my body squatter is stronger than I.

The collective need to re-think their methods, but they're only seeking solutions to infertility caused by environmental breakdown.

I sense a third presence.

COME ALONG, DONALD. YOU PAID A LOT OF MONEY FOR ANOTHER GO, BUT YOU KNOW YOU CAN’T ESCAPE ME FOREVER.

The lofty cloaked figure raises an egg-timer and shakes it; both its bulbs are empty. Inside the hood, a white grin gleams.

I feel a tug as a shadow is dragged from me, kicking and bellowing. Its kicks are the whirring of the air conditioner. It screams at the hum of fluorescent lights.

The cloaked figure produces another sand-filled timer from its folds and turns to me grinning. I realise this is its only expression.

This timer's top bulb is almost empty. The spectre turns it over.

YOUR SANDS HAVE LONGER TO RUN. USE THEM WISELY.

Both figures fade as a nurse enters.

"Up already, Captain Lazarus? How are you feeling?"

 

Story Two: 'Drop-In Port in a Storm'

Contributors in order of posting:

Lesley Truchet, Gail Wareham Everett, Cathy Cade, Elizabeth Coby, Malcolm Richardson, Maggie Elliott, Sarah Mosedale, Eileen Baldwin, Pat Mudge and Lesley Truchet.

My skimpy, Prada, red mini-dress and I shuddered in unison as we absorbed the first heavy drops of rain. Attempting to sprint in my Louis Vuitton high heels, I wobbled towards the local drop-in centre, a place I'd always avoided.

Three other fashion victims were waiting for the counselling session to begin: Jade, in her Princess Beatrice toilet-seat hat, Charlene, in a pair of creased grey harem pants that looked like an elephant's arse, and poor Ethel, in a bright pink Crimplene leisure suit.

I perched myself on one of the mis-matched circle of chairs. One woman, clearly a charity shop habituee, nibbled her fingernails while nervously sizing up the rest of us. After a few moments, she cleared her throat and announced, "Shall we get started then?"

Jade, Charlene and Ethel looked suspiciously at me, obviously wondering why I was there. Sandra, the nail-nibbling counsellor, said, "As you see, we have a new friend here today who has a very special reason for joining us. Would you like to tell us about it Imelda?"

"Well... well..." I stuttered, trying to think on my feet whilst sitting down on a cold, damp, plastic seat. "I'm so pleased to have found this support group. I can't tell you how long I've been searching, I really can't."

Charlene fixed her eyes on me. Clearly, she hadn't joined the group to bare her soul. I guessed that girlie meetups like this were her hunting ground. Looking like a quality tart in my tight red dress, I knew why I was the object of her attention.

As I spoke, I glanced round the group, carefully maintaining my nervous appearance. My cover story was rock solid but needed to be drip fed to give me time to observe everyone's reactions. Which one was she?

I hope the one I am looking for is Jade. I feel drawn to her. She has same silly fashion sense as the young woman, in the only photo I have in my possession. But I must tread carefully. I need to get them to trust me.

My dress felt too short, too tight, and Charlene was giving me an odd look. Nervous, I stood and offered my ciggies round.

"Err, this is a no-smoking building," said the counsellor, crossing her arms.

"I'll take one," said Charlene. "We can smoke outside."

"I'll join you in a minute," I lied, giving her the packet. I left the building via the toilet window and signalled to my waiting colleagues.

I know everything about the lives of my three targets. Having finally met them, Charlene is obviously a lesbian; therefore, she doesn't fit the profile. Although Jade resembles the photo in some ways, I like her and that tells me she cannot be the one. Ethel is the person in the photo, albeit years older. She has the same eyes and face shape, disguised by thick-lensed glasses. Hiding behind her terrible taste in clothes, ugly glasses and a put-on dotty personality, I recognised the person I'd met years before, despite the facade.

The Louis Vuitton shoes were killing me, the red dress uncomfortable. I couldn't wait to ditch them, along with Imelda, a bloody awful cover name.

Manoeuvring my car into the traffic, I headed back to MI5 headquarters. Ethel, known to us as Sharon the Sadist, was one of the most wanted people on our files. My promotion was assured.

 

Story One: 'Great Aunt Mabel'

Contributors in order of posting:

Gail Wareham Everett, Eileen Baldwin, Elizabeth Coby, Cathy Cade, Maggie Elliott, Sarah Mosedale, Michael Rumsey, Chris Fielden,  Pat Mudge and Gail Wareham Everett.

Great Aunt Mabel, a typical seaside landlady, cooks a fry-up for her guests every morning, then sits down in the kitchen to a Blackpool Breakfast – five ciggies and a pot of tea. However, yesterday was different – she had ten ciggies and a large gin

Her hands were still trembling. She re-read the letter again, nearly setting fire to it, as the cigarette ash landed on the scrawny writing, informing her of an impending visitor whom she thought she left behind in her troubled past.

Well, after all these years, who does he think he is ? What will he say about their secret? Does he finally know what they should do? She poured another drink, lit another cigarette, sighing deeply as the anxiety and questions filled her mind.

The pile of leaves had long since dispersed or rotted behind the garden of their former home backing onto the forest. But over the years, the mound of earth the leaves had covered, had flattened anyway.

Having rebuilt his life with the 12 step programme and finding faith, he intended to clear his conscience by redressing mistakes of the past. This would have profound repercussions for them both.

Mabel considered her options. Fight or flight? The thought of uprooting herself at this point was simply unbearable. So, she inhaled deeply and focused her considerable intellect on the problem. Typical seaside landlady my arse, she mused.

27 years since Albert left. Buggered off to Australia they said, well down under was right. She giggled at her own joke, now Fred wanted to dig it all up again, another giggle. Arriving tomorrow his letter said. Huh, she'd show him born again the silly sod.

Mabel thought back to her life on the street. How Fred had helped her. The pimp was gone and she'd been freed. But knowing what was out there, lying in the mud, still had a hold on her... Was Fred right? He'd recovered. Maybe she could too? Another cigarette. Another gin. The trembles subsided. She could think clearly again. She knew what she'd say to him when he arrived.

Mabel watched the clock and checked her phone every few minutes. Watching through the window she gasped when she saw him heading towards the house. His salt and pepper hair flopped across his brow, his wizened face, still handsome. She opened the door and smiled a nervous smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes.

"Fred," she said, her voice jittery, "I've been thinking about your letter…"

"There’s something I need to do," said Fred and, pushing past her, he immediately went through the house into the garden. Standing by the spot where he had buried Albert, he prayed.

"Forgive us our sins – I’m going to tell the police today."

Shattering his skull with a blow from the stone that marked the grave containing Fluffy, her beloved cat, Mabel sank to her knees. "Born again, Fred? Well, now's your chance. You should never have gone to Australia and left me."

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Gladiator Gallery

Gladiator Gallery

Below you will find details of the winning Gladiator Fable contributors. This challenge only runs once or twice a year, so the table will be updated less frequently than the other tables on this page.

Gladiator Gallery
Contributor Name Winning Story Date
Cathy Cade Story One: 'Great Aunt Mabel' February 2020
Chris Fielden " "
Eileen Baldwin " "
Elizabeth Coby " "
Gail Wareham Everett " "
Maggie Elliott " "
Michael Rumsey " "
Pat Mudge " "
Sarah Mosedale " "

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