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Alice's 'Trump This' News Writing Challenge

Submissions to the news writing challenge are temporarily closed
They reopen on Thursday 12th December 2019

Quick links on this page:

rules & submit - about the news challenge - read news themed stories

In The News Writing Challenge

Chris Fielden & Alice Creed, in a photo from a real-life newspaper (OK, it's not, but it does look vaguely feasible in black and white...)

Welcome to Alice's 'Trump This' News Writing Challenge. The challenge has been concocted as a cure for writer's block and to highlight the importance of a story's theme.

You can learn more further down the page, in the about the news challenge section.

Rules & How To Submit

Submissions to the news writing challenge are currently closed
They reopen on Thursday 12th December 2019

Please DO NOT send a submission before 12th December 2019 - submissions made before that date will be ignored

The rules are simple:

  • 180 words max
  • please include a title for your story (not included in the word count)
  • your story should be inspired by a current piece of news and have a strong theme, relating to that news
  • please include the title of the news story (one only please) that inspired your submission, and the publication that it appeared in, or website you read it on etc. (also not included in the word count) - where possible, please include a link to the story
  • entry fee is free, like most of the news we read nowadays
  • anyone can submit - all ages, from anywhere in the world are welcome
  • 1 entry per person, per anthology
  • no profanity please - all the writing challenges are shared with children
  • your news-inspired tales will be published on this page
  • every time we receive 100 stories, we'll publish them in a book
  • profits made through anthology sales will be donated to charity
  • by submitting, you accept the terms and conditions
  • when anthologies are published, you will be involved in the book launch process
  • submit your story by filling in the comments form below or email me
  • include a short biography (40 words max) for use in the published book - if you don't supply a bio, we will be unable to publish your story
  • include 1 link (optional) to your website, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter etc.

So far, we've received 79 stories. We need 21 more to publish the anthology.

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About the News Writing Challenge

When a writer is struggling to find fresh ideas, the news can be used to inspire a story and spark the imagination. News stories usually concern specific topics, with an obvious theme.

Themes can form the central focus of a story. They can be used to connect all its aspects, including the characters, plot, conflict, situation and resolution, giving a message for the reader to think about.

What Is a Theme and Why Is It Important?

A theme is a statement that a writer makes via the topics used in their story.

Themes are often derived from character development: the situations the characters find themselves in, the conflict they face, how they deal it, the consequences of their actions and how it changes them.

A writer can use a strong theme to help readers connect with their characters, so they care about them and become immersed in a well-told story. It hooks them in.

The aim is to show the reader what is happening, rather than telling them, so they experience conflict and resolution alongside the story's characters. They can then draw their own conclusions from the outcome.

You can read more useful writing advice regarding themes on well-storied.

You can learn more about 'show don't tell' on Wikipedia and the JerichoWriters website.

You can find more ideas for curing writer's block here.

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About the Charity the News Writing Challenge Supports

Proceeds from sales of the news writing challenge anthologies will be donated to BookTrust.

Book Trust logo

BookTrust is the UK’s largest children’s reading charity. Each year they assist 3.4 million children across the UK with books, resources and support to help develop a love of reading. You can learn more about BookTrust on the about page of their website.

How The News Writing Challenge Came To Be

Alice Creed contacted me with an idea. An idea for a challenge. A challenge about the news. I liked the idea. We talked about the focus of the challenge and how the news could be used to help creative writers.

At the time, Trump, Brexit and global warming seemed to be dominating news stories. With the way technology has developed, we're exposed to news 24/7, on TV, our phones, computers, social media, the radio, websites, billboards, the sides of buses, in magazines... I could go on. I won't. Let's just say 'everywhere' and be done with it.

Everyone has an opinion about news stories. So we decided to use the news to inspire ideas and create strong themes that hook a reader in. As a bonus, opposing views about the news generate conflict. Conflict is an essential element in short stories. Boom – yet another educational angle. We just had to launch the challenge.

Here is a bit more info, written by Alice:

My English homework had more red circles than a one-way street – I’m dyslexic. Learnt grammar rules are at work with me one day and absent the next, with not so much as a note to explain why.

It’s easy to get disillusioned with writing, but the news – particularly the science news – inspires me. A newly discovered poisonous frog hops into a murder mystery, or revelations on the properties of quarks, make magic for witches.

If you find the news funny, thought provoking, or flipping unbelievable (thank you Mr President), then please turn it into a story for the challenge.

The money raised helps BookTrust foster a love of books in children before the red circles can put them off.

Massive thanks to Alice.

When we receive 100 news themed stories, we'll publish a book. If we don't receive 100 submissions, it's a bit of fun, you can read all the stories here on the site and you now know about BookTrust and the fabulous work they do.

The challenge is topical. The stories, and any books we produce, will represent moments in history. Charity will be supported. Writers will be published. Please do get involved and submit. Alice and I are looking forward to reading your strongly themed, news related stories.

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Stories Inspired by the News

Below are all the stories we've received to date, inspired by news stories and their themes.

The stories are published in the order they were received.

Story 001

Willpower

Inspired by: 'Out of their minds: wild ideas at the 'Coachella of consciousness', The Guardian

by A. H. Creed

I'd lost another job to a robot and my rent was overdue. In desperation I called the Let Someone Else Suffer company. I was rejected because I'm dental phobic, but referred to another 'Consciousness Exchange' body-swap agency specialising in getting lazy actors into shape.

After 29 days of avoiding my body-swapper's mother's house (the dog attacked me), and making increasingly lame excuses to her frustrated boyfriend, I wished I hadn't signed up for the 'secrecy' bonus. Over-exercised, sugar-deprived and alone, I couldn't even enjoy her penthouse luxury, and dreaded the last few days: dermabrasion, starvation and waxing.

When the super-rich super-star was back in her now super-skinny body and I was wobbling my over-indulged fatter body home, I decided, creativity being the only thing robots can't do better, to write about my experience. About the rich paying for their perfections with the suffering of the poor...

No. That wasn't news. That was repetition.

Light-bulb moment – I'd write 'What it is to be a woman', from one man's objective perspective.

Story 002

Some Integrity With Your Chips?

Inspired by: 'One-eyed cat makes an incredible 230-mile journey from Hull to Bristol –clinging to bottom of lorry', Mirror Online

by Christopher Fielden

"Do you have anything to say?" you ask.

"I have diplomatic immunity, at all of the times."

"Had."

A small crowd of survivors have gathered on the hilltop. They watch solemnly as the prisoner is locked into stocks beneath a guillotine's heavy blade.

"We did everything in a humane way, the very best way." In the distance, a war-torn building crumbles and a cloud of dust drifts lazily into the sky.

"If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth."

"I never said that. It's not something I'd say."

"Goebbels said it."

"Who?"

Sighing, you pull back the prisoner's collar. There's a scar on his neck. "No one was implant exempt. One truth, at least." You press your TruthChipTM reader against his skin. It hums, beeps and displays data. Events, thoughts, actions, consequences. Everything.

"What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening. Or what happened. It didn't happen like that." He looks old. Feeble. Spent.

You unlock the stocks. "Please, leave. Just go."

As he stumbles away, confusion on his face, birdsong caresses the breeze.

Story 003

Age Does Not Wither

Inspired by: '102-year-old former racing driver rescued from roof after three days', The Guardian

by Sarah Mosedale

I never understood why anyone let their age get in the way. Personally I'd become an internationally renowned limbo dancer at 65, broken the world free diving record at 72 and gracefully acknowledged receipt of three Michelin stars the day after my 93rd birthday. So when the news broke about the Scottish nuclear meltdown, I immediately set off in the Morris Minor to see what I could do.

Got the usual response, of course, but I'm pretty much immune by now. I just let them get on with their tutting and head shaking. They'd cordoned off a circle about a mile in diameter but done a lousy job as per. It was child's play to break through and the shouting soon died away behind me. The problem was easy to spot for someone like myself, who had fitted in a doctorate in nuclear physics somewhere between puberty and a brief midlife crisis. I soon had the situation under control and was heading back.

What a lot of fuss, though. All those hazmat suits and Geiger counters going crazy. Quite ridiculous.

Story 004

The Mission Of Life

Inspired by: 'NASA spacecraft on mission to ‘touch the sun’ looks back to take shot of Earth', Yahoo

by Debbie Singh

Parker checked all the instruments – all correct and working, lights flashing, buttons beeping. Next, the special wide field probing imager – check. Good, everything was ready to go. Outside the sun loomed ever nearer. The metal exterior began to buckle and bend while red and orange streaks shimmied and shone from it, making it look as though it was part of the sun itself. The bright light was blinding and all consuming.

Seven years in the making, this had been. Seven years of preparation, of waiting, of finally being able to see the full workings of this magnificent star. 93 million miles to fly right into its corona. It always was a one-way mission Parker knew that, but the knowledge this mission would give would be priceless.

'Parker Solar Probe to NASA. Images and data being transmitted now. Please respond.'

The message crossed space before Parker crashed. Back on Earth, nobody received the message. The devastation of nuclear war had erased the very men who had created the probe and left the world in darkness.

Story 005

Sugar And Doughnuts

Inspired by: 'The Apprentice 2018: Who left The Apprentice last night?', the Express

by Derek McMillan

"Lord Sugar will see you now."

Two thoughts went through my mind as I did the walk of shame. One was why a high-flier like myself was being called back into the boardroom to face the possible attack of Sugar's sacking finger. The other was, who wants to work for a bully anyway?

"You've been a ruddy disgrace in this task. All you had to do was bake some ruddy doughnuts and you couldn't even do that."

"I've never baked a doughnut before."

"I'll tell you what. I'm looking at a load of doughnuts now." The audience tittered obediently. "So what I want to know is, who else are you bringing back into the boardroom with you?"

"Nobody."

"That's not how this process works. You have to have someone else in your team to blame."

"No. The team worked well. I was the PM. I should go."

"Well have it your own way, Mr Smartypants." The deadly finger pointed. "You're fired."

"Thank you for the opportunity, Lord Vader."

"Can't even get my ruddy name right."

I was free.

Story 006

Dog's Day Out

Inspired by: '#dogsatpollingstations trends on Twitter as pooches visit the polls', The Irish Times

by Hullabaloo22

"Mum, come on. You wanted to vote before school, remember."

"Oh, that's changed, Sylvie. I'll drop you off and pop down to vote later."

The drive to school was perhaps a bit speedier than normal. Sylvie climbed out of the car, paused to say goodbye, then gave up as her mother seemed  deep in conversation with another parent.

Back home, Helen ran the bath, collected the towels and the special shampoo, finally calling out, "Sugarpuff."

The West Highland Terrier had been listening and had no intention of answering that call. Escape was impossible and the small white dog soon found herself in hot water, shampoo suds threatening her eyes.

Sugarpuff did get in a good shake before the rest of the grooming took place and she found herself bundled into the car.

Outside the polling booth, parents were gathered, phones at the ready and pooches on show. Snap and upload – look where we are. The fact that voting cards remained at home was overlooked; at least they could prove that they had turned up at the polling station.

Story 007

Beyond Our Limits

Inspired by: 'The migrant caravan could be weeks away from the US border', CNN

by Sandra Orellana

"Why are you crying?" Tommy asked a young, poorly dressed boy.

"I live on the other side of the border. Because we're a country with no money, your leader makes us feel helpless. Is it how I dress? The colour of my face? Is it my fault we're not important?"

Tommy listened and put his hand on the boy's shoulder. He said, "Be brave, my friend."

Tommy remembered his father taught him to love and live in harmony with his neighbour, for the sake of the border. He'd watched how the people listened to the leader of his country.

He looked at the boy, and said, "We will meet again. Strangers we will never be. We will fight against him trying to divide us. Even if we have to go beyond, by travelling through the clouds, we'll meet again. This wall will not be built. It won't give us peace. Our generation will prevail."

Tommy saw the boy smile up at him, eyes full of hope. "Thank you, my friend. We will meet again."

Story 008

You Have Reached Your Destination

Inspired by: 'Air pollution is the 'new tobacco', warns WHO head', The Guardian

by Frank Havemann

Air pollution is the new tobacco. The headline has been bouncing around her head since breakfast. Her lungs ache as she cycles through the traffic along Marylebone Road, the sour taste of diesel on her tongue. It's her third delivery of the day, and she needs to pick up the pace if she wants to make rent and have a social life this month.

Three years of Chemistry at Imperial haven't quite worked out, yet. The handful of bio-tech start-ups she has oscillated between ranged from millennial coffee clubs to half-hearted get-rich-quick schemes.

"You have reached your destination," chirps her phone. She dashes past freezing smokers, savouring their poison, grinning widely.

The cocktail glasses chime gently as a waiter attends to the murmuring guests. She takes a few slow breaths before stepping up to the microphone. "Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for funding Breathe London, and welcome to our first shareholder celebration." The condenser-collectors are installed along the main roads, and she has found a cheap manufacturer for the inhalers. Every crisis is an opportunity.

Story 009

Waste Not, Want Not

Inspired by: 'Parisian mayor launches 'rat map' to tackle rodent menace', The Guardian

by Barbara Hull

I really wanted to impress her when she came to see me in Paris.

"We're going to Chez Paul for lunch."

"What's that?"

"Trendiest place in Paris, just opened."

"What nationality is it? French?"

"Not sure. A lot of the menu's in Latin but you'll see, it's really delicious."

I had reserved a table, otherwise you wouldn’t get in. The entrée was fairly simple, crudités variées and oeuf dur mayonnaise.

There was a choice of main course: Cavia porcellus  au vin, Escalope Norvegicus, Fricassé de Myocastor, Blanquette de Mus.

"What do you recommend?" she asked the waiter.

"The Escalope Norvegicus is by far our most popular dish."

So that's what we had, followed by a very respectable Tarte Tatin with Crème Chantilly.

On the way back to my flat, she said, "I've been reading about the problem of sewer rats in Paris. Have you seen any?"

"Oh, I think it's just paper talk."

I had just found on my mobile, 'Norvegicus, the brown rat, also known as the common rat, street rat, sewer rat, Hanover rat, Norwegian rat, Parisian rat...'

Story 010

Strawberry Fields Are Not Forever

Inspired by: ''Food terrorism' and other possible culprits behind the strawberry contamination scare', ABC News

by Kelly Van Nelson

Australian strawberry crops attacked by fundamentalists using weapons of mass destruction.

Sewing needles use pointed approaches to eradicate freedom. In brutal acts of genocide, contaminated strawberries have been tossed into landfills, stripped of basic rights to live a fruitful life. Australia regrets not implementing a Declaration of Independence. Liberal Party lottery winner, Morrison, is obtaining advice from Trump around building walls to keep out unwanted illegal immigrants. Australia must protect homeland soil from this spreading epidemic to avoid it going pear-shaped. Food terrorism is not funny, unless writing about it. Then it's all about the pun...net.

Protecting their berry existence from deeply-rooted radicalisation is challenging and survival short-lived. Freedom-fighters passing through shoe bomber metal detectors, are:

  • Boiled until sewing needles are in a jam.
  • Consumed in champagne – alcohol poisoning beats becoming a pin cushion.
  • Sweetened with sugar and cream. Wimbledon does everything white.
  • Blended with yogurt. Likelihood of Nutri-Bullet damage slimmer than smoothie-drinking health-freaks.

Vigilantes looking for a needle in a strawberry stack, rest assured, an eye is on these needles. Justice will prevail. This is not the last straw.

Story 011

That's OK Then

Inspired by: 'Bristol university suicides spark mental health alerts', BBC

by Ken Frape

"Another student suicide," reports regional news programme. "Victim depressed, not drunk." Same outcome though.

University states, "More money than ever before, in real terms, going into student welfare."

"That's OK then," says stand-up comedian at university gig.

"Student debt climbing," says think tank. "Now averages £57,000."

"Can't put a price on a university education," says Universities Minister.

"Yes you can," says NUS. "It averages out at £57,000 per student."

Another student suicide. Was worried about job prospects in post-Brexit Britain, in the event of a no-deal scenario and £57,000 in debt.

"I am determined to negotiate a good deal for the country with more jobs," says PM. "We are not contemplating a no-deal Brexit."

"That's OK then," says stand-up comedian at university gig.

Another student suicide. Worried about the state of the world, with unstable leaders threatening Armageddon.

Government spokesperson says, "The student suicide rate has decreased by 27% during the past 12 months, indicating that ongoing investment and Government policies are having a positive effect."

"That's OK then," says stand-up comedian at University gig.

Meanwhile, another student suicide...

Story 012

Stoned

Inspired by: 'Bungling robbers ram-raided a village Co-Op with a TRACTOR only to flee empty handed when they knocked down most of the shop', Mail Online

by Cathy Cade

"Jump in, Timbo. Keys were in barn."

"You were meant to wait. You nearly mowed me down."

"Well, I hadn't found brake, had I?"

"Are you drunk?"

"Nah. Just a li'l celebration. 'S my first time driving a tractor."

Pause. "Nobby said you lived on a farm."

"'Assright. My girlfriend's renting a converted barn."

"Right... Nobby's texted. He's nicked a getaway car and he's waiting for us. Turn off here. There... Back there."

"Don't panic. I know a short cut."

"Not this way, it's the wrong carriageway – that's a container lorry."

"I'll move over."

"Hell, it's gone through the central barrier and hit a coach. Where are you going now? That was a fence."

"'Salright.Tractors is the ultimate off-road ve-hic."

"Head for those lights. They might take us back on the road."

"No, Timbo – it's one of them stone thingies. There's weirdos in funny clothes..."

"They're standing in front of the stones. Turn, turn..."

"It don' wanna turn."

"Your sleeve's caught on that – look out."

"There's a lump of stone blocking this door, Timbo. What's it like your side? Timbo?"

Story 013

Fashionistas

Inspired by: 'Forget shrobing, it's all about JARVING', The Mail on Sunday

by Peter J. Corbally

Dropping her newspaper, Samantha gasped, "Oh my god, OMG." She had only just mastered shrobing and now it was passé. What to do? Where to turn for advice?

The phone was ringing for some seconds before Caitlin answered it.

"Have you seen the paper," gushed Samantha excitedly. "Shrobing is out, jarving is in."

"No I don't believe it."

It was true and Samantha read the main points of the story to Caitlin.

Confusion reigned. They had committed themselves wholeheartedly to shrobing and had spent hundreds of pounds on it. To shrobe or not to shrobe hadn't been a question, it was de rigueur.

Sobbing, Caitlin ended the call.

A whole row of jackets would have to go. Tenderly stroking the sleeve of her favourite jacket, Samantha recalled the joys of shrobing. The walks in London's most exclusive streets simply to be seen shrobing. Meghan had confirmed it as the 'in' thing.

Then panic gripped her. She didn't own any jumpers. None that were new, anyway.

Her ringing phone brought her out of her reverie. Caitlin again. "What exactly is jarving?"

Story 014

Xarx'th's Search for Work

Inspired by: 'Migrant applies for 400 jobs before he finally got one', New Zealand Herald

by Andrew Stiggers

Xarx'th wasn't sure about seeing the recruitment consultant but his partner had insisted.

"Your age is a problem." The human skims through Xarx'th's CV. "And the document is far too long."

"I see." He'd already laboured to condense a 120-year xeno-biology career into 10 pages.

"I suggest you adopt an Earth name, like Dave or Pedro. Xareth is—"

"Xarx'th."

"Yes, Xarzeth is difficult to pronounce."

His family had been so excited in making the move from Talaxia. Studying Earth customs, taking language classes. But then Xarx'th struggled to find work and...

The recruiter studies his face. "Have you thought about wearing a hat?"

"A hat?"

"Yes. Something to cover that up." He points to the third eye on Xarx'th's forehead. "To be honest, employers will be intimidated by it. I would be. Although I'm used to your kind now."

The human is right – at his only job interview, the manager kept staring at it, and his blue skin of course. "OK."

"Great. I've got a good feeling about you, Xareth."

"Xarx'th."

"You'll find work in no time."

Story 015

The Tycoon

Inspired by: 'Philip Green: 'There was banter but I meant no offence', The Guardian

by Leslie Roberts

The tycoon leans into his sunlounger. "No interviews."

"It's not an interview." She hand-combs her fringe and sprawls into the adjacent lounger. "I want to apologise on behalf of the sisters."

He lifts his Ray-Bans, appraises her curves. "Sisters?" He replaces the shades. "Where's your mic?"

"I'm no journalist. It's awful, what they're doing to you. I can see it being banter. We do that all the time, where I work. 'Love' this, 'Darlin' that. A pat on the rump here and there. You tease someone for their accent, or their skin colour. What's the problem, if no hurt's intended?"

He sits up, studies her. "So what's your angle?"

She shrugs. "No angle. Just wanted to apologise."

"For the sisters?"

She nods. "I've always admired your charitable works."

"You seem like a nice girl. Fancy a drink?"

"“Really? Wow. I mean… yeah. I wouldn’t mind—"

"It's too public here. My room or yours?"

"Oh—"

"Mine's the Penthouse Suite. Coming?"

As he steers her to the foyer, a nearby sunbather trips the shutter and adjusts his directional microphone.

Story 016

Love After Brexit

Inspired by: 'Travel after Brexit: With only 200 days until UK leaves EU, here's what we do and don't know', The Independent

by Alan Pattison

It all started on the Champs Elysees as they walked up towards the Arc de Triomphe. Claude turned towards her and and said, "What is this that I have been hearing about the UK leaving the European Union and reduced opportunities for British people to live and work in other countries of the EU and vice versa?"

Margaret responded by saying, "I don't think that most of us know very much yet, but one thing I am sure of is that it will not split as I am still a German citizen  and I have rights through my grandparents, as do you, to claim citizenship in Australia."

"So," said Claude, "we might have to change our plan to get married here in Paris, move to London.

"It may be possible," replied Margaret, "to take on the world from Sydney, if that's OK with you? They have a pretty opera house there which we could see on our honeymoon."

Story 017

Don't Let The Cat Out Of The Bag

Inspired by: 'Sir Philip Green, other famous faces and why NDAs matter', BBC

by John Holmes

Big trouble was certainly heading my way if Dad ever found out. Not that he even liked Smokey that much. But he sure wouldn't tolerate any cruelty towards her. And, to be honest, I didn't really feel I was being cruel, as I dangled her over the steamy bath. It was just funny. Feeling her wriggle gave me a kind of power.

Until she bit me.

And I dropped her.

A skinny streak of panicking cat scattering a wake of water,  swooshing out through the door. The same door where my little sister was now standing. And where she was now screaming, "I'm telling Dad."

I grabbed her, put my hand over her mouth and forced her into my bedroom. I pushed her down onto the bed and held her until she calmed down. This one didn't bite.

Two weeks of my pocket money and the secret would be safe.

I made her cross her heart and hope to die.

Then she ran out of my room to look for Smokey.

Power restored.

I went for my bath.

Story 018

Why Do My Nipples Hurt?

Inspired by: 'Trump says synagogue should have had protection, calls for tougher death penalty laws', The Guardian

by Chris Espenshade

"Really, mega-doses of estrogen? Will it work?"

"Well, we've tried everything else. Even when we carefully script a statement of compassion and empathy, he's unconvincing. He can't even act like he's a normal human. He blamed the victims; they should have had an armed guard. Who says that? He was more concerned with quashing calls for gun control than lamenting the real human grief being suffered in Pittsburgh, the Jewish community, the country."

"But estrogen? A sitting president?"

"Look, I reviewed the 24 times Obama had to tell the nation about a mass shooting. You could see the toll it was taking on the man; his empathy was palpable. Obama deeply grieved for the victims, the survivors, and the country. If we could get even a glimmer of that out of Trump, we might argue he just has trouble expressing those feelings. We've tried coaching and scripting, to no avail. We need a major change in his brain chemistry, and it will take quite a dose to offset his testosterone levels."

Story 019

Ahead Apart

Inspired by: 'Royal SPLIT: Why Meghan is the reason for William and Harry's 'formal division'', the Express

by Francesca Pappadogiannis

A source from Kensington Palace told the press about the conversation that had transpired in regards to the Royal split and why.

"The time has come for us to move from Nottingham Cottage as we need to make space for our first bundle of joy," said Meghan to Harry.

"I couldn't agree with you more, my love," replied Harry, in full agreement with his brother and best friend William, nodding their heads at the same time.

"We've reached a time in our lives when we no longer rely on each other, like we have in the past," exclaimed Harry formidably towards his brother.

"It may also help with the fact that our roles, needs and duties are changing and our families are both expanding," confirmed Kate.

"Not to mention that it will be a great deal easier to have two separate private offices managing our courts, specifically when I become the Prince of Wales with all its responsibilities, including the Duchy of Cornwall," explained William.

"Well then," said Meghan. "Let us toast to 'Heads Together, live apart.'"

Story 020

Making America Great

Inspired by: '72 hours in America: Three hate-filled crimes. Three hate-filled suspects.', CNN

by Andrea Goyan

We haven't left our home in two weeks. Not since the first bombs took out the overpass. Not since graffiti covered the walls of the Piggly Wiggly a block from our house one day and bullets broke every pane of its glass the next. Not since places of worship were bathed in blood.

My cat purrs, oblivious. As a housecat, her life's always been restricted, so this isn't new to her, this life inside four walls.

We've covered our windows with plywood, the pre-cut sheets we store in our garage for hurricanes. We screwed them in place. My husband insisting, "A storm is coming, Tori, just another storm."

But it isn't the same. We're ill-prepared to ride out this plague of hatred.

We sit inside, while outside, predators lurk. Their brains on fire fueled by the rhetoric of our times, while our leaders do nothing but point the finger at each other

We sit inside.

I sip a cup of tea. Our milk has spoiled, so I drink it black. A civil war is anything but civil, I think.

Story 021

Bah Humbug Upon Austerity's End

Inspired by: 'Budget 2018: Austerity finally coming to an end, says Hammond', BBC

by Allen Ashley

The era of Austerity is finally coming to an end. You may presume that it will be followed by an epoch of desperation, concurrent with a multiplication of spin. Scrounge the pavement for your pennies and spend them while you can before cash is taken out of circulation and we are all at the whim of universal credit card computer glitches that glitches that that reduce our spending power and earning capacity to less than zero.

Keep a little more of your income so we can grab it back on your booze and fags or ubiquitous VAT – a product of the European Union's precursor the Common Market, but bound to still be with us even if Brexit ever actually goes ahead.

Never publicly discuss religion and politics, we're told. Oh for God's sake...Happy days are here again, says our glorious Chancy Law. Again? Sorry, pal, when were they here before?

Story 022

For Whose God And Which Country?

Inspired by: 'Pres. Trump abandons his umbrella on AF1', MSNBC on Facebook

by Kwame MA McPherson

It was upturned, rolling to and fro on its axis. The breeze, light. A black metal pole rose up from within the middle, a leather-gripped handle at one end. The wide black umbrella was discarded on the brownstone's steps like his well-worn shoe, its blonde-haired owner too busy to notice when he'd thrown it aside, before disappearing behind glass paneled doors.

Mark stood nearby under a dripping elm tree, trying to cover his head with a soggy broadsheet.

"Just like this darn country," he mumbled, watching the umbrella rock back and forth.

Glancing furtively along the avenue, he weighed his options. The road was clear, nothing moving but rain in grey sheets; just as the East Coast weatherman had predicted, remnants of some hurricane Mark couldn't name. Not that he cared, he was unemployed and wet, with holes in his shoes.

Shrugging, he headed across the street and, reaching the brownstone's steps, placed a foot on the lowest one. The wide door suddenly opened, the blonde-haired man emerging. The man scanned him and smirked before grabbing up the umbrella.

Story 023

Fract Or Fiction

Inspired by: 'Fracking halted at Lancashire site for third time after biggest earth tremor yet', The Independent

by James Goodman

The car fell in.

Some sort of hole.

"Damn," he muttered.

His family sighed and shuffled. They peered anxiously at the suddenly unreliable ground.

"I told you…" trailed a tired voice. Nearby, a shale oil pump clacked.

They looked at the newly purchased house. Was it slumping? They looked at the bonnet of the car facing skywards. The indicators were flashing.

"The view’s nice…" the tired voice tried again. The view looked as though an ocean liner had been half buried in it, all chimneys, lines and dials.

"Damn."

The air smelt damp, slightly inflammable. A child began sneezing and crying. His family stared at him, blank faced.

Headlines skittered through his mind: '"Earthquake rumours just scaremongering," says minster' – 'House prices hit new lows in area' – 'A RED event took place…'

A man in a hard hat and high-vis jacket was running towards them, shouting.

Story 024

The Promotion Of Lawrence

Inspired by: 'Justine Greening won't be Tory leader before Brexit. Afterwards, however...', The Guardian

by Mike Scott Thomson

With a deal dealt to deal with the deal not yet dealt but to be dealt with when the not-dealt deal be dealt with deftly, it was time for a change at the top.

This was a further headache the Board could do without. So they ratified a decision.

"No applications," they declared.

Those who had spent their career strenuously denying they wanted the job met this announcement with not a little consternation.

"What's all this surreptitious skulduggery?" said the Blonde Bombshell.

"Last year, you said you'd rather be bonked on the bonce by a breezeblock," said the Chairman. "No returns."

"Well, I said I did want it," piped up another.

"A most unfortunate breach in protocol. Those keenest for power are those least suited to it."

The Party was therefore stuck. To whom could they now turn?

A Machiavellian manipulator...

...authoritative yet disinterested...

...with a quantum-level understanding of simultaneous Leave AND Remain?

There could be only one.

The Chairman bent down and nuzzled the new leader's collar.

"Meow," said the now ex-Chief Mouser to the Treasury.

Story 025

Harry

Inspired by: 'Real Madrid sack Julen Lopetegui as manager', BBC Sport

by Michael Rumsey

Harry read the article and shrugged. People in other jobs get sacked too and now it was his turn. These days they called it redundancy. Same thing really...

There'd been rumours for weeks. Then, yesterday, at The Grange Nursing Home, Fred the storekeeper said matron had a letter, no more deliveries from Princess Street. Grace, the secretary at Head Office, had hinted at sweeping changes. Yeah right, new broom, in with the new and all that.

Now, young Robert had invited him to the office, to tell him face to face, and so he should. 40 years, man and boy, by dear old Sam Maitland's side from the Corner Shop, right up the ladder to Princess Street Supermarket, until Sam's death six months ago.

"Deliveries from 1st Jan next year," Robert began, "will all be made from our new warehouse on Greenways Industrial Estate. Not just groceries, but a whole host of new products. I know Dad would agree, it's imperative we give first class service. Harry, that's why I'm asking you to manage the whole thing."

Story 026

You're Fired

Inspired by: 'Missile threat alert for Hawaii a false alarm; officials blame employee who pushed 'wrong button'', CNN

by Dr Betty

Time to make America great again.

Five minutes to impact, Mr President.

It was only Hawaii, after all. The loss would be tragic, but also acceptable compared to those Commie asses being blown sky high.

Four minutes to impact, Mr President.

Codes were entered. Protocols by-passed. A decisive president is a strong president.

Three minutes, Mr President.

Today, he would trump himself. Today, he would trump the world and show them all what they were dealing with.

Two minutes, Mr President.

The hand of POTUS hovered over the button, not in thought but for effect.

One minute.

The President chuckled. He pressed down. Hard. Ratings and missiles soared.

Mr President, fake news.

Someone had pressed the wrong button.

Russian retaliation was brutal. America was fired.

Story 027

Lest We Forget

Inspired by: 'Family’s long wait for pupil killed in crash', IOL

by Geja Hadderingh

It is clear that your mother has been back again with another bunch of cheap flowers and her roll of Sellotape. It is not the original lamp post. The council had quickly removed the remnants of that one. The replacement one is now mummified by your mother's tape.  Scarves and shirts have long gone. As have your fans. Blown away in the wind of time.

But your mum hasn't forgotten.

Neither have I.

You, the famous footballer, who had often played at Wembley.

Me, a runner, who enjoyed the solitude of running alone.

For weeks after the crash, the newspapers were full of your story.

I received a brief mention in the local press: 'An unlucky jogger, in the wrong place at the wrong time.'

Your death seemed to allow forgiveness to the fact that you were a drunk driver.

Your fame softened your supporters' minds.

I work my mouth and spit violently at the flowers.

"Lest We Forget," I say out loud, and turn my Scoot-Mobile round and head back to my one bedroomed flat.

Story 028

Blue Tears

Inspired by: 'Leicester City owner 'on board crashed helicopter'', BBC

by Lynne Chitty

My scarf looked tatty amongst the rest, but I didn't care. It was my bestest thing in the whole world and as I carefully laid it down, I was proud. Proud to have known him. Proud to have shaken his hand. "Well done, son," he'd said when I'd come off the pitch and my heart had grown that big I thought it would explode. I didn't wash for a whole week, not 'til me mum had said I really did need to shower as I was beginning to stink a bit.

I'd been one of the mascots you see. I'd carried the ball right out to the middle. Had my photo taken with the captains and then sprinted off to watch from the side. That's when he'd seen me.

So I gave him my scarf. The one my dad gave me before he got cancer. Going to games was our special time and when we won the league, we cried and laughed and sang that many songs...

R.I.P. Mr Vichai.

You were the best.

Just like my dad.

Story 029

Breaking The Rules

Inspired by: 'Freemasons throw open lodge doors - and answer questions on secrecy, corruption concerns and rolling up trouser legs', York Press

by John Notley

I was interested to read that the local Masonic Lodge was to open its doors to the public one evening. My dad, dead a couple of years, had been a freemason and instilled in me the strict moral code which members were obliged to follow.

"Son," he said, "it's not about what you get out, but what you put in that counts." I had always thought it was a cozy club for making business contacts, but that's not how he saw it. I had now turned 18 and felt it would be a good time to find out more.

I arrived on the day and was shown around by a Mentor who was happy to answer my questions. He dispelled many myths about secret societies, satanic rituals and world domination which abound. Even that rolling up their trouser legs had a reason.

When I later went to my membership interview, I was disappointed that they refused to admit me. "Sorry, sir, we can't let you in dressed like that."

I thought wearing shorts would save time, I apologised.

Story 030

In Stitches

Inspired by: 'Surgery students 'losing dexterity to stitch patients'', BBC

by E. F. S. Byrne

"Get the sewing machine, love."

"You can't be serious. You know you can't believe everything you read."

"Get the sewing machine. When Johnny comes home I want to make sure he is patched up properly."

"He'll be fine. It was you who lost a leg."

"Didn't lose it. Had it blown from under me."

"You always had big feet."

"If he has anything missing, anything cut up, I want you to sew it back." Jake looked admiringly at the curtain hemline, the hole in his shirt finely knitted back, unlike his missing leg.

"Jake, you need to calm down."

"I'm not having my son mutilated by a so-called doctor raised on the Internet. All day playing with screens, can't sew a button on, never cut and stitch a war wound. Those stupid computer games. Nobody knows how to win a real war anymore. Or tidy up afterwards."

Mary got out the sewing machine just to keep him quiet. She hoped their son would be alright. She couldn't face another argument over how to put him back together.

Story 031

Is Anyone There?

Inspired by: Daily Mail Showbiz Pages, Daily Mail

by Tony Thatcher

"That was 'Tequila Sunrise' on So Easy FM. And the first person to ring and tell me the name of the band will win this fabulous bird feeder." Two records later he made a phone call.

"I know it's late, but I need a favour."

"It's three in the morning. What do you want?"

"Could you ring and tell me the name of the band is the Eagles?"

"What?"

"I've had no replies to a question I asked. It's making it look like I have no listeners."

"That's possibly because you don't. And if no one is listening, why does it matter? Goodbye."

The DJ cursed the disconnected phone and threw it at the glass walls of his semi dark cell. Fading out the music, he resumed the cosy manner he liked to think he was famous for.

"I'm afraid we've got a few technical problems so I'm going to have to put that competition on hold. I do apologise to all of you who've been trying to get through."

Story 032

Soaked Pants Are The Least Of Our Issues

Inspired by: 'Venice under water as deadly storms hit Italy', BBC

by Louise Burgess

It finally hit the news. 'Venice under water'. It was shown with pictures of smiling 'locals' splashing about in the streets as if it was a lovely new addition to the city. It almost seemed like it was planned to get new tourists to visit Venice with officials even claiming that almost 75% of it was now submerged, meaning it was almost the next Atlantis.

It wasn't like that for me though, as I waded through murky water to what was once my bookshop. Stepping through the shattered front window as the door no longer worked, I searched for any remains of what once was my pleasured livelihood, climbing onto the 6ft high bookcases. I had to salvage as many of the leftover books as I could. I still needed to make money to feed my daughter and survive until the insurance paid out.

Grabbing the precious books into my backpack, holding it up above my head as I slipped back into the dirty water ignoring the wetness of my soaked pants, I lumbered my way home.

Story 033

Brown Of The CED

Inspired by: 'Police 'save the day' after bringing riot van to six-year-old's party', BBC

by Steven Barrett

Detective Sergeant Brown faced his team in the briefing room.

"What's it this time, sir?" asked Constable Arnolds.

"Dinosaurs."

A murmur went around the room.

"And we've only got 20 minutes."

Could they pull it off? Brown wondered. It would be their toughest challenge yet. But that's why this team had been put together. The CED – Children's Entertainment Division – had been formed to step in if a kid's party found itself without entertainment. Already, they'd been penguin jugglers (not easy with flippers), fairy-tale princesses and clowns. That time, they'd even arranged for the van to fall apart.

He showed them the whiteboard displaying a diagram of the house and the van's route.

"Arnolds, you're a Stegosaurus. Aziz, Triceratops. Jenkins, it's the Diplodocus for you."

"Can't I be a Velociraptor, sir? They're way cooler."

In the van, Brown looked at his team through the jaws of his Tyrannosaurus Rex outfit. The team were practising their roaring. Such attention to detail, he thought. As they started rehearsing the hokey-cokey, it made him proud to think of how far they'd come.

Story 034

Strut, Turn, Snap

Inspired by: 'Stray kitty rightfully reclaims fashion show catwalk', New York Post

by Clare Tivey

Not to be ungrateful, Yasmin was glad of the work. It's not easy for an aging woman in this profession, but A TIGER? No mention of the cat from the booking agent... must get a new booking agent.

Runway shows had become outlandish and demands on models increasingly unreasonable. The Tiger was supposedly tame, but the way she yanked the heavy chain-lead made Yasmin nervous. The two beauties scrutinised each other. Those yellow eyes... was she to be supper? Not that she would make a satisfying meal; she hadn't eaten carbs since 1992.

The outfit consisted of barely there chainmail, and 7-inch heels, a half size too small. Her feet would avenge later, in the form of blisters. The lights were hot, the music loud and angry. Her feet burned and the Tiger, all 140kg of her, was not happy.

Then, as quick as a camera flash: the hunger, the harassment, the humiliating outfits, the fake air kisses... As she reached the end of the runway, Yasmin turned, let go of the Tiger’s lead and let the cat walk.

Story 035

Pea-Brain

Inspired by: 'Removing items in ears and noses 'costs NHS £3m a year'', BBC

by W R Daniel

The doctor's face was magnified through the convex glass as the boy felt the cold, rounded tips grasp the blockage. The doctor slowly retracted his hand, successfully extricating the garden pea from the boy's nostril.

"All done?" asked the boy's mother. She was beginning to grow impatient after having to rush to A&E during Strictly.

The doctor washed his hands in the stainless steel basin.

"This young man has been very lucky. Peas inserted into the nasal passage can work their way upwards into the cerebral cortex, where they begin to break down, surrounding the brain in a green mush. This 'mush' slowly expands, shrinking the brain until the patient develops what we call 'Pea-Brain'."

"Goodness. Is there a cure?" asked the boy's mother.

"More peas, Mrs Jenkins," said the doctor, drying his hands with a paper towel. "Lots of them. And other veg too. Eaten correctly they should boost the immune system enough to avoid any ill-effects."

The boy gulped. He certainly wasn't going to tell them about the piece of carrot lodged in his ear.

Story 036

Bullyboys And Billionaires

Inspired by: 'Lord Hain was right to use of Parliamentary privilege – our laws are failing modern society', The Telegraph

by Edmund Piper

Blow a whistle, take on the establishment, uncover a can of worms, and you're in big trouble – disturbing the cosy is a mortal sin. Might as well give up. Go with the tide, keep your head down, turn a blind eye, mind nobody else's business, drag out the under-carpet sweeper and you're in with a chance.

Catch a tycoon in a naughty and you can make a packet in non-disclosure. He thinks he can get away with absolutely anything and he can, so long as his purse is big enough, or some fair-minded busybody in the privilege safe-house doesn't spill the beans.

Take a national treasure down a peg or two with a wild accusation – true or not, there's no smoke, they will say. Who then is kosher? If he's rich, could be the piper is being paid to play his tune. The rest of us aren't flush enough to buy our good character. But who said bullyboy threats and intimidation are not just as effective?

Story 037

Getting The Hump

Inspired by: 'Heatwaves are lasting twice as long as 50 years ago, sub-zero days are disappearing and tropical nights are occurring in Middlesbrough, Met Office climate change study finds', Daily Mail Online

by David Silver

Colin peered out from the camel transporter vehicle and, with front feet splayed, carefully descended the ramp. "Where are we?" he asked grumpily. And then he spat out.

Crispin, the other camel, followed his companion down onto the beach and remarked, "I don't think much of this sand. I reckon it's that ersatz stuff, not like the real thing back in Africa."

Colin spat again. "I'm just relieved to be off that plane."

"Actually," said Crispin, "I sneaked a look at the flight manifest before we set off. We're now in a place called Uk."

"Uk?" queried Colin. "What sort of a name is Uk? Sounds Biblical to me." Colin sniffed the air. "Hang on a second. I detect the presence of fish and chips. I reckon this must be the UK, the new hotspot for exotic holidays."

"Oh, no," Crispin responded. "We must be here because it's too sweltering for the donkeys. The human kiddies will ride on us instead."

And although Crispin was a lot posher than Colin, he spat out, too.

Story 038

What Do We Tell The Children?

Inspired by: 'The Children at the Trump Rallies', New York Times

by D.G. Kaye

"Quick, Dave, switch the channel," Molly shouted to her husband as they both scrambled for the remote control.

The president appeared on TV once again, spewing his bombastic vitriol against the innocent victims fleeing their countries in desperation for a better life.

Little Billy slid in with his slippery socks and a disheartening stare. Only five years old, yet, his mind a giant sponge filled with curiosity and a heart just as big, abundant with compassion.

"Dave, how long can we keep our son hidden from this prejudice?"

"Mamma, I feel sad," Billy lamented. "I don't know why the bigger kids at school are picking on my friends. What did they do? They're too scared to play with me at school in the playground."

"I knew this day would come, Dave." Molly's heart sank in despair.

Dave lifted his son onto his lap. "Billy, sometimes other kids forget to be kind. Remember, kindness is in everybody's hearts. Why don't we call your friend Abduhl to come play? We'll show him our kindness by giving him a hug."

 Temporary damage control.

Story 039

The Loss Of A Cunning Linguist

Inspired by: 'Top linguist: 'I'm leaving the UK because of the disaster of Brexit'', The Observer

by Guy Monson

Commander Hardcastle sprang to his feet and stopped his alarm 0.6 seconds before it went off.

0455 GMT.

He strode to the shower, washed in the icy torrent, exited the cubicle, rolled across the rug to dry himself and put on his uniform.

0458 GMT. SMS: Code Red. Car outside.

Blue lights illuminated the stairs; he descended three at a time.

"Sir." The officer opened the door, two others trained weapons on the street.

"Sitrep?"

"It's red, sir. Briefing on arrival. PM insisted on you."

Richard entered Cabinet Office Briefing Room-A, took in a sombre picture of Churchill visiting a bombed-out Coventry, then saw the even more sombre face of the Prime Minister.

"Richard, we thought Brexit couldn't get worse. It just did."

"Ma'am?"

The PM pushed The Observer across the capacious walnut table and he instantly took in the headline: 'Alex Rawlings, named the country's most multilingual student in 2012, is moving to Barcelona next month.'

"Oh, cruel world… cometh the hour, deserteth the 'teacher and app developer'," sobbed the PM.

Richard saw the revolver… 0.6 seconds too late.

Story 040

The Chess Player

Inspired by: 'Unaccompanied Minors in Germany', Federal Office for Migration and Refugees

by Klaus Gehling

They were sitting in a railway station.

"Blitz, how much?" mumbled the boy.

"10, if you win," his opponent sneered.

The boy gnashed his teeth and made the first move. His game started in Iraq. After being robbed, he won his first game against a captain of a ship sailing to Greece.

A Greek conductor looked away, after losing his match, when the young, hungry boy, together with others, clung to an air compressor beneath the train. Some lost their grip.

His chess skills saved him from starving in a Baltic jail.

He stared at his chess board and his thoughts wandered to his father who had taught him the game. Where was he? Was he still alive?

His opponent coughed, tapped on the table and said, "Your move."

He won his game.

Story 041

The Pits

Inspired by: 'The absolute pits: how underarms became the new frontier of advertising', The Guardian

by Teresia Nicolas

It started with Dove pomegranate.

The audition was tough. So many applicants. Such few positions.

"You can do this," my boyfriend kept saying, massaging my tense shoulders, making murmuring sounds of generic encouragement. My heart was beating erratically.

Finally, it was my turn. I went into a small cubicle. Two men sat behind a white desk, faces bland, serious. They looked on as I removed my jacket, and raised my arm in the air. High in the air. Like a victory gesture. I had shaved the night before – would it be enough?

"What is your commute?" asked the man to the left. His piercing gaze made me squirm.

"Piccadilly Line," I squeaked, slightly horse from the adrenaline. My arm was still reaching for the sky. I could smell my own musk. "Hammersmith to Finsbury Park."

The man nodded. They exchanged a glance. My heart leapt.

"The fragrance will be pomegranate," said the second man, in hushed tones. "Can you cope with that?"

I lowered my arm at last, slowly, hot triumph rushing through my veins.

"It's my favourite."

Story 042

The Revolutionary Worm

Inspired by: 'Human chain finds a novel way to move independent bookshop', The Times

by Jon Drake

You may think me a Lumbricus terrestris by my number or shape, but I am no simple earthworm. I am a Hellus librorum or a bookworm to you and me. I extend by over 250 segments, hermaphroditic by nature yet subtly co-ordinated in linear form to achieve my movement.

I was born in October and of revolution. I seek no profit for my radical passion or disruption from my co-operative beliefs, but I long for community where once there was capitalism.

I move away from excessive financial demand to voluntary public patronage, reaching the hearts of those needing my existence and endeavour. For a brief moment I am inherently 'book-bosomed', powered by 'bibliosmiacs' and at temporary risk of becoming 'the bibliobibuli'.

Yet I survive by the bibliophilic nature of my parts – independent in spirit, free in enterprise and emotional in existence. I am deeply and successfully moved by it all.

Story 043

Put Him Down

Inspired by: 'Savage reaction to horse being euthanised after Melbourne Cup ‘tragedy’', news.com.au

by Dora Bona

If I'd known I would end up here, I would most certainly have thrown a race years ago. This is delightful.

No more gruelling training sessions and being dragged from a nice warm stable in the early morning frost. No more strict diets with unpalatable, bland food. No more listening to the snorting and stomping from those jealous stable nags with no breeding, who couldn't win a three-legged mule race. I can eat as much luscious green grass as I like, sleep 'til noon if it pleases me, and watch as much TV as I want.

Those humans are incredible beasts, aren't they? Probably the finest specimens on two legs. I'm not sure if they should be bred for such barbaric sports as racing though. Did you catch the sensational finish of the 100 metre hurdles? That Cliff Moher, poor thing... he fractured his shoulder after a fall at the last hurdle and had to be euthanised.

Headlines are all over the news. Calls for the nation to stop the sport that stops a nation. Hmm... overkill, don't you think?

Story 044

Wolves

Inspired by: 'Zoo finishes with Wolves', 8 Sidor

by Pete Armstrong

And so the wolves are gone. Vanished. Cut down in their prime. Well, perhaps just a little past their prime, but they must still be annoyed about it. Civilisation removes another inconvenient touch of nature, and we can all choose from a variety of lupine screensavers to remember them by.

Our great home continues to rotate forward through the Cosmos and, to the undetecting eye, not much will have changed. Ancient trees remain unmolested in Kalmården forest. Squirrels and rabbits, lesser beasts, play in safety, running unchallenging down the tracks and runs that have been laid out by generations.

But in the shadows behind the trees, no more will savage hunters glide silently past. No longer will they glare unseen through the leaves, malevolent in their ravenous fury. The wooden trunks will never again echo with the empty timbre of their noiselessly padding feet.

We shall meet no more on this green and brown, earthen land.

But when we do come face to face again, in the leafy skog of Valhalla's wooded gardens, then surely they will HOWL.

Story 045

Hope

Inspired by: 'Plastic-eating caterpillar could munch waste, scientists say', BBC

by Sam Nichols

We thought we'd cracked it. Plastic waste was turning our home into an abomination of our own creation. No one cared enough, and those that did had lost hope we could turn things around. Without hope, everything was lost. Plastic had entered the food and water cycles, millions died daily.

But then, a very special caterpillar that had by some miracle evolved to consume and breakdown plastic was discovered. A gift from Mother Earth. After giving up on waiting for us to turn things around, she had taken matters into her own hands. We still had a lot of work to do, to put these caterpillars into mass production, but slowly, results came in. And then sped up.

Was this a cruel, ironic joke on mankind? Or another gift, sending us back to simpler times?

The caterpillars did not stop at plastic waste. They evolved and began to eat up all of our plastic world. At least it stopped us fighting.

Once there's no more plastic and the caterpillars die out, hopefully we can start again.

Story 046

No Further Action

Inspired by: 'There are billions of Earth like worlds in the Universe and we are not alone. There are billions of Earth like worlds in the Universe and we are alone. One of those statements is true.' Professor Brian Cox, Human Universe

by John Gisby

A report for the meeting of the next Galaxy Senate was a critical review of an item in its Space Exploration programme.

Introducing this, the Titan Senator reported that the last five surveys had confirmed that Planet Earth continued to have great diversity of tribes, religions and political beliefs. These created large blocs of entrenched social instability, wide spread malnutrition and forced migration. He said the planet had a long record of wars and rebellions. International cooperation was limited to activity by charities. Corruption in Governments, their bureaucracies, and in business was widespread.

In response to a question, he gave his opinion that the continuation of life on Earth was becoming uncertain. Species had become extinct, proven resources were limited and inevitable climate changes were largely ignored.

In debate, members expressed only disadvantages in associating with Planet Earth.

The Chairman proposed that further surveys of Planet Earth should not be undertaken for five years and its attempts to establish contacts with other planets should continue to be ignored.

Both proposals were passed unanimously.

Story 047

A Lesson Learned

Inspired by: 'Boozy feral pig steals beer, gets drunk and starts fight with a cow' The Independent

by Jack Caldwell-Nichols

It was just another typical evening, under the shimmering stars, combining to make up the long, mystical flow of lights, in what the human tongue names the Milky Way.

The herd was mingled together, with Buffalo Bill again in a mood, not wanting to socialise. Daisy, Angus and Shelly knew that Bill didn't like to be called Buffalo. The rest of us were happily grazing when a smelly, filthy, drunken hog somehow had the sheer audacity to come barnstorming into our field.

"Oi," he oinked at us, fully taking advantage of his surprise tactics. "You lot are a bunch of smelly old, goody four hoofed plonkers, you know that?"

Angus, known for his hot hoofyness, decided to take the bull by the horns.

"Your not welcome here anymore, Kevin. I've had just about enough of your horsin' around. Now go home, you're drunk," he mooed.

And with that, the herd carried on grazing.

Kevin was shocked. It really hit home how badly he had treated his fellow animals, and vowed to be sober from that day forth.

Story 048

Thoughts And Prayers

Inspired by: 'California bar shooting: Victim’s mother says she doesn’t want prayers, she wants ‘no more guns’' Global News

by David Rosenblum

I saw her sad, watery eyes. She was a mother of a person who survived one mass murder but didn't survive the latest one. She angrily denounced 'thoughts and prayers', wanting gun control.

Her son was one of 12 that didn't survive.

It was the second time in three weeks I couldn't sleep, except fitfully.

The previous murderous serial slaughter of innocents really hit home.

This was my synagogue. My place of worship. My sanctuary.

Not really. But it was similar to mine. Two of the synagogue victims were brothers who greeted new patrons at Pittsburgh synagogue, with friendly faces and warm handshakes.

I felt the bitterness and anger and hatred that the California mum felt, even though I did not lose anyone personally. But I did in my heart.

'Thoughts and prayers' is not the answer. Gun control and improved mental health screenings and elimination of weapons of death and multi-shot magazines is.

I don't want to hear 'thoughts and prayers' again. Just the sound of love and laughter and kindness, and the elimination of hatred.

Story 049

Living In The Past

Inspired by: 'Thousands stay tuned to black and white TV' The Times

by Malcolm Richardson

Geoff settled down in his favourite armchair, a can of Double Diamond poised on the nest of tables. Myra switched on the television and waited for it to warm up. They loved their 12-inch black and white set. Geoff bought it at a car boot sale in 1997 for a fiver, complete with a free copy of that week's Radio Times.  It fitted snugly into their compact lounge in their two up, two down 1930s terraced house. They loved their home; it was like living in Coronation Street.

When the analogue signal was terminated, Geoff bought one of those digital set top box thingamabobs. It enabled them to watch weekly repeats of Dixon of Dock Green on a Saturday night and the occasional Agatha Christie play on a Sunday afternoon. 

Neither of them could cope with these new fangled hi-fi Bluetooth gadgets. Downloading songs just didn't make sense. Their 1950s Philips Radiogram, complete with original valves, still worked perfectly. Geoff loved listening to the Home service and Myra treasured her collection of Elvis Presley 78s.

Story 050

I Was Only Following Orders

Inspired by: 'Soldiers in north Yorkshire warned not to eat Greggs in uniform as it 'makes them look unprofessional'' London Evening Standard

by Allan Tweddle

We gasped as the captain posted the order. We’d heard rumours, but they'd seemed too incredible.

"Under no circumstances should troops stand outside Greggs eating pasties while in uniform."

"What about my human rights?" Slasher said.

"The General says it's bringing the regiment into disrepute. He doesn't want the civvies thinking we're lazy fat slobs," Smithy said.

"There's only one thing to do," I said.

"It's a sacrifice, but you're right," Jock agreed.

We hit Greggs at 13.00 hours.

"Six cheese pasties and six steak bakes, please love," I said.

Mouth open and eyes wide, she shook out a paper bag and shovelled the delicious golden slabs inside.

"What the hell's this?" the captain shouted, his bulk filling the doorway.

"Just following orders, sir," I said.

He stared at our naked six-packs, bulging quads and pulsing biceps, then his eyes swept across the full counter. He thrust his menacing face to within inches of mine. Then he reached up and began to unbutton his jacket.

"Make mine a steak bake," he ordered.

I saluted. What else could I do?

Story 051

Who Were You?

Inspired by: 'A Mandarin Duck Mysteriously Appears in Central Park, to Birders’ Delight' New York Times

by Betty Hattersley

Bill always wanted to be in the army. Although it was a time of war, against their parent's wishes, he and his pals joined various army regiments.

Bill's regiment was posted to Tel Aviv. Immediately after arriving, whilst away from the barracks, he had a strange feeling, as if he'd been there before.

Returning back to his barracks, he was approached by his comrades. "Someone's been looking for you."

"What's his name?" Bill asked. "What did he look like?"

"Can't really describe him. He wouldn't give his name and we weren't sure what uniform he wore," they replied. "He said he knew your family and wished you all the best for the future."

Once they were all demobbed, Bill asked everyone if they knew who visited the barracks that day during the war. No one knew. If fact, they'd all been posted in other countries.

That unsolved mystery stayed with him for nearly 70 years. But, after he was told of the visit, he knew he would return home safe and sound.

Story 052

A Short-Lived Spell Of Happiness

Inspired by: ''Back from the dead': Aigali Supygaliev turns up two months after burial in Kazakhstan' Sky News

by Lesley Anne Truchet

"I'd love a face and figure like yours." The hairdresser didn't know how much her words meant to me. Brand new expensive clothing, styled hair, make up and a manicure. What a transformation.

I made coffee, another new pleasure, and gazed around my recently installed bespoke kitchen.

The plane crash had killed all on board, including my husband. I went through the necessary public display of grief. God help me, I was delighted to be rid of him.

I'd found thousands of banknotes in his study, previously locked against my intrusion. To think he'd made me wear thin rags and go barefoot indoors, without heating. We'd lived on cheap unappetising food and drank water.

The front door banged. Familiar footsteps. Dizzy with shock, my mouth dry, I fought to speak coherently. "I... I thought you were on the fatal flight to Dubai."

He took a step towards me, his face menacing. "You've been spending my money. Lots of it." His hands reached out. He had come back from death. I was probably going to mine.

Story 053

The Woman In The Bookshop

Inspired by: 'Waterstones snaps up Foyles to open new chapter in fight against Amazon' The Times

by Stacey George

"I wonder if that lady will be in today."

"Yes, we haven't seen her for a while."

A lady came into the book shop around the same time every afternoon. She always looked sad and she seemed to be gazing up the flight of stairs that lead onto the floor where the cafe was situated. Occasionally she would go and take a seat, usually at the same table. Tears would be in her eyes and she would seem to be looking at someone in the opposite seat, only there was nobody sitting there. She hadn’t been seen for months.

A customer, overhearing this conversation, said, "Excuse me, I was that woman's neighbour. She passed away some months ago. She sometimes used to meet her friend in your cafe. He died too and, on top of the death of her mother, it was too much for her to bear. I think she died of a broken heart. That's just my opinion and we should never judge a book by its cover."

The whole shop fell silent.

Story 054

Donald Exposes Fake News

Inspired by: 'Russian national charged with attempting to interfere in 2018 midterms' CNN

by Vaki Kokkinaki

Frankly, I've had enough of those tales about Russians meddling in US politics. Can't you see that the US President was created by Gyro Gearloose in the image of my obnoxious cousin Gastone, who's behind the hall thing and even lent his hairstylist to the cause?

Don't let his charming ways fool you, for Gastone is more vulture than duck. He had the android named after me, because he liked the idea of the press dragging my name through the gutter. He also convinced Scrooge to fund his sick project, under the pretext that something should be done about the Disney Princesses who stole Duckburg's glory and posed a threat to his wealth. My uncle is still waiting for Elsa and Anna of Arendelle to get deported as illegal immigrants.

I am ashamed to admit that my own family have tampered with the US elections, but what choice do I have? If my cousin succeeds he might charm Daisy away from me and not even my Phantom Duck persona will be enough to get her back.

Story 055

Painting

Inspired by: 'Amy Sherald on painting Michelle Obama and being a first' Time

by Nam Raj Khatri

There was an unsatisfied need in the mind of Nika. She wanted to be an artist and paint the people she saw around her. This interest surfaced when she visited an art gallery with her parents at the age of five.

The interest remained in her mind. She became busy with formal education. After college, she really started practicing. She developed quickly. She experimented, drawing the faces of people and trying to show a hidden happiness in their countenance.

One day, Nika saw a woman. She was looking beautiful, innocent and a little sad. She painted, modifying to bring hidden happiness, and changed the face. It looked gorgeous. She worked on it in minute detail, taking almost a year.

She displayed her artwork at an exhibition in a city gallery. People liked it very much. After the exhibition, there was a lot of demand for her artwork. Nika sold her painting for 200 million. Nika found the subject of the painting and provided her half the money. That brought real happiness in her face.

Story 056

Art, But Not As He Knew It

Inspired by: 'A portrait created by AI just sold for $432,000. But is it really art?' The Guardian

by Glen Donaldson

Summoning every bit of his severe intelligence, Guy finally spoke. "If there's one thing I hate, it's ridiculous attempts at AI expressionism. And you can forget cultural bona-fides. This painting is an evolutionary cul-de-sac, a Darwinian twilight zone, if you will. To hell with it passing the Turing Test. It's plain to see. The thing's got no damn soul."

Guy was melancholic by nature. As he stood alone and muttered to himself, casting judgement within the floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the state-funded Petaflops Algorithm Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Munich – the world's first gallery devoted wholly to showcasing computer-made artworks – the somewhat depressing and off-centre occasion was certainly no watershed moment for him. Beret-wearing Guy was a person comfortable in his own misery. You could tell.

The female security guard had begun staring arrows in his direction. He sensed his time was up. On his way out, he took the opportunity for one last derision.

"This goddamn machine art is all flapdoodle, but in an interesting way," he said to no one in particular.

Story 057

Red Card

Inspired by: 'Analysis: Vladimir Putin is about to gain control of Interpol, the world's main law enforcement organization' National Post

by Jon Spencer

"It's just a card, Mr President. Some kind of red playing card."

"Who's it from?" the President demanded.

"Doesn't say," the aide flipped the envelope over. "Postmark Lyon."

"Well, read it."

"There's no writing on it, sir. Oh, wait, there's another card inside." The aide pulled out a plain white printed card.

"Looks like Russian, sir." The aide called out to the room, "Who here reads Russian?"

"I read some." Bolton stepped forward and took the card.

"Ty dvigayesh'sya, ya igrayu," said Bolton.

"Meaning?" said the President.

"Roughly translated: you move, I play."

"Play what?"

The aide stepped forward, taking the card from Bolton.

"The card, sir. One false move, they play the card."

"A card? What do I care?"

The aide looked nervously at Bolton.

"A 'red card' is a red notice, an arrest warrant. From Interpol."

"So what?" said the President petulantly.

"Well, he runs it now."

Story 058

Turbulence

Inspired by: 'Ravenshoe wind turbine goes up in flames' Cairns Post

by Josie Gowler

Bobby whimpered. I bent down and scratched behind his ears. "I don't like thunderstorms, either," I muttered. The wind threw sand into my eyes and I turned seawards, pulling my long hair away from my face.

And that's when it happened, a massive arc of lightning streaking down and hitting one of the wind turbines off the coast. The ground shuddered. The creaking noise was audible even above the rain and ferocious wind. With a wrench of concrete and metal, water heaving and crashing, the turbines pulled their way out of the sea and towards land, like a row of pogo sticks bent on destruction.

Beach huts broke like matchsticks under them as they marched inland.

One bounded past so close that a massive cloud of damp sand showered over where we were cowering behind a dune. I turned to Bobby. "I told them that adding AI to the engine management system was a bad idea," I said. Except – being an accountant – I had argued against it on the grounds of cost.

Obviously, no one could have foreseen this.

Story 059

Resigned To It

Inspired by: 'Melania Trump says she could be 'the most bullied person' in world' The Guardian

by Gary McGrath

"You said you had a question?"

"Oh. Yeah. You know how you're, like, 'the most bullied person in the world'. Is that because of who you're married to?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"I mean, like, does he bully you? Or do other people bully you because of him? I'm just curious... that's all."

The first lady looked stunned.

The second lady continued, "I mean. He yells at everyone. He even yells when he's typing."

The first lady was about to react with an angry riposte, but she stayed silent for a heartbeat. Soft water flushed her eyes, gently. "He never used to be this way, you know. When we first met he was kind and gentle. He never yelled at all."

The second lady smiled, sympathetically. "People change when they're under pressure. Some people duck out of the responsibility. Others let it get to them and become aggressive."

"Well," said the first lady, sighing. "It looks like I'm stuck with it." She smiled a resigned smile and continued, "Because I would never expect to see Donald duck."

Story 060

Your Call Is Important To Us

Inspired by: 'Denzel: the sniffer dog that detects water leaks' BBC

by Dee La Vardera

"Hello, hello, I have… I have a…" Marjorie is panicking.

"Wellness Water Company, here to help."

"I need to… need to…"

"Your call is important to us. Please listen to the following information so that we can direct your call to the appropriate department."

"I want… to… report…" Marjorie is worried about the pool of water under her feet, getting bigger by the minute.

"Please press 1 for an update on engineering works in your area, 2 for road closures for pipe-laying, 3 for accounts, 4 for water charges, 5 to change supplier, 6 for funny coloured water, 7 for smelly water, 8 for strange noises coming from your pipes or 9 to borrow a dog."

Marjorie cannot remember any of the numbers and what they stand for, so she stabs number 9.  All she wants is to speak to a real human being. The phone bleeps and crackles and goes quiet.

"Hello, are you still there?"

"Press 1 for Alsation, 2 for Labrador, 3 for Dachshund or 4 for Bichon Frise."

She needs her wellington boots now.

Story 061

Mattie

Inspired by: 'Trans activists send out free breast binders to 13-year-olds in unmarked packages... so their parents don't find out' Mail on Sunday

by Valerie Fish

My name is Mattie and I hate my boobs. They remind me of who I am and who I don't want to be.

The package arrived today, in plain brown paper just as they'd promised. Mum was out anyway, so I escaped the inevitable interrogation.

She wouldn't understand, couldn't understand, would more than likely say, "It's just a phase."

I took the package up to my room, grateful that I would be undisturbed for a while.

I pulled the garment over my breasts. I'm not particularly well endowed in that area, but anything is too much for me.

It felt tight against my chest, pulling everything downwards. How on earth was I going to be able to breathe? But hey, no pain, no gain.

"Mattie, I'm home.

"Mattie, are you up there?"

I heard her footsteps up the stairs. There was nothing I could do to stop her.  She barged in without knocking as per usual, took one look at me and went as white as a sheet.

That'll teach her to knock in future.

Story 062

A Faulty Guide For The Bleary-Eyed

Inspired by: 'Valsartan from Mylan laboratories in India can no longer be used in EU medicines due to NDEA impurity' European Medicines Agency

by Amanda Garzia

"Asthma? Never. My liver? Could easily be mistaken for a 40-year-old's."

Dr Hill grabbed a green prescription form.

Tom's grip on his cane relaxed. This GP was taking his word for it. Not even a cursory tap on the chest. He had to hand it to his brother, this had really been a cinch.

True, he'd taken three buses in holiday traffic, spent ages in line. But tonight, courtesy of modern medicine, he'd sleep for the first time in a week. Ever since, in fact, his son's family had invaded the house, there to stay until New Year's.

He couldn't wait to conk out. To sleep in heavenly peace, oblivious to baby Jay's crying.

Joyful and triumphant, Tom hobbled to the pharmacy, waving his prescription at the chemist. Barely 10 minutes until closing time.

"I'm terribly sorry, sir, but this is out of stock."

"Is there a late-night dispensary nearby?"

"Oh, you won't be able to find it anywhere. It's been recalled. What with the seasonal chaos and all, it's anybody's guess when it will be back on the shelves."

Story 063

Droning On

Inspired by: 'Gatwick runway reopens after drone chaos' BBC

by Len Saculla

"It's another drone problem. Co-ordinated to attack major airports and clog up airspace right across northern and western Europe. Terrorists. Or idiots."

"You can't stop me flying, young man. I have important work to do."

"So do loads of people, Granddad. We've got top surgeons who can't get to their fee-paying hospitals to operate on social media celebrities. With live podcasts having to be cancelled. So don't tell me how important YOU are."

"The government – all governments – should be better prepared. It's nearly Christmas, an exceptionally busy time of the year."

"Tell me about it. Now, listen, you'd best turn around and head off home and follow BBC World Service." There seemed to be no choice.

The team of elves were shocked and disappointed when Santa Claus brought his sleigh home early. And still fully laden.

Mrs Santa was furious. "Let me unpack," she insisted.

Soon she had two piles. One of pristine boxes... and one of unwrapped gifts ready for the hammer.

"These children have been naughty, not nice," she said. "No drones for them this Christmas."

Story 064

New Horizons - Ultima Thule

Inspired by: 'NASA's New Horizons Mission Reveals Entirely New Kind of World' NASA

by Gavin Biddlecombe

The President strode into the conference room, speaking before reaching the podium. The gathered reporters hushed.

"I appreciate you all for coming in from your New Year celebrations to mark this historic occasion," he said.

"You're leaving?" asked one of the reporters.

The President checked his agenda. "No, I don't think so."

"Right. Excuse my interruption."

The President looked around at the expectant faces before proceeding. "We've received news from NASA that New Horizons has sent back the first detailed images of Ultima Thule from the Kuiper Belt, the furthest object ever explored in our solar system. Whilst promising, this also comes with worrying news for future space exploration and any attempts to land on this object."

"Mr President," said another reporter, standing up. "Surely NASA can manage this considering the ESA landed the Rosetta spacecraft on comet 67P."

"Well, yes and no."

Around the room, an unsettled murmur began.

"Please," he urged, "let me continue. Whilst landing may be possible, it appears from our images that their immigration policy is even more stringent than ours."

Story 065

Justice For Piers Morgan

Inspired by: 'ROLL WITH IT Piers Morgan reveals he was hospitalised with gastritis and blames vegan sausage rolls' The Sun

by Jacob Weller

Twitter. The best place to get news. None of that lefty rubbish on there if you follow the right people. People like Piers Morgan, they know best. They talk sense most of the time. He knows what's up, unlike communist Corbyn or foolish Diane Abbott. He knows it all. That's why I believe him when he talks. He makes sense to me. Like when he said nobody needed that vegan sausage roll. It's a shambles, honestly. The meat industry is one of the things that this country was built on. Proper British bacon, chicken, lamb chops and pork scratchings. Sausages. Big, fat and juicy ones. This stuff at Greggs needs to stop. Tomorrow morning I'm gonna buy all the proper sausage rolls and make sure everybody remembers what a proper one tastes like.

I've bought the lot from Greggs. All 30. Give them out on the street. Everybody's going to love them. Might just eat a few myself.

I haven't left the bathroom in three hours. But these are still better than that vegan rubbish. It was well worth it.

Story 066

Impeach Him

Inspired by: 'Trump is told tantrums are no solution to wall stand-off' Metro

by Yvonne Mallett

In a dramatic move, the Down-to-Earth party today blocked their leader's plans to introduce agricultural boundaries between members' plots.

Insults flew in the bitter debate and leader, Butternut Squash, in tantrum mode, warned he would close all distribution routes and introduce trade tariffs.

First, Butternut Squash tackled the Brussels sprouts, calling them up tight, too green for politics and in cahoots with the Swedes, accusing them of criminal infiltration and cyber crime on behalf of foreign powers. And when the ginger plants brought even more heat to the debate, calling Butternut too old and going soft and yellow on top, "Ginger, you're barmy," was his bellowing reply.

Turnips and potatoes took a harder line in their deep-rooted defiance. "The land must produce and share its bounty. We will not be moved."

"I will withold all fertilisers," screamed Butternut. "Call it a boundary, or a barrier if you will, but you will not flourish on the wrong side of the border."

And to shouts of approval the cry went up from the soft fruits, "Impeach him, impeach him."

Story 067

Mike Oscar Zero

Inspired by: 'Screen Actors Guild accuses Academy of ‘intimidation’ over Oscars ceremony' The Guardian

by David McTigue

"Hi, Mike, how's it goin'?"

I look up from my security radio set. "Good, thank you sir."

Wade Poundstone, nominated for best actor saunters in, smiles like an electric strip light.

Next is Tanya Hyde, a dumb limey actress. By the look of her dress, she's won a couple of Golden Globes already. Dafter – I mean Bafta – nominated, she probably thinks Hamlet is a small pig.

I've been head of this watch for years. Security is king.

Word is I'll be getting a lifetime award. Must remember to thank God. Jeez, there's probably an award for best clapperboard.

All in now, thank God.

Looking round, I figure the combined cost of this gig, and the wealth of these people, could clear the debt of a small country, or get some homeless people accommodation.

All this for dressing up and playing Let's Pretend like my grandkids do. Plastic people in Tinseltown.

Guess it's time to get my lifetime award, so pardon me while I load this semi-automatic pistol.

Mike Oscar Zero, over and out.

Story 068

Take Back Control

Inspired by: 'No-deal Brexit puts UK food security at risk, warn Sainsbury's, Asda, Waitrose and M&S' The Independent

by Lucy Morrice

She grubbed in the wet clay soil and brought up a sad specimen or two. Wrinkled onions and carrots, not getting any bigger, however much she tried to grow green fingers. Her potatoes were doing well, but she only had a few large pots with those, hardly enough to feed three hungry teenagers.

"Bit like the siege of Leningrad," she grimly remarked to herself, wondering how long it would be before they were reduced to eating handbags, shoes and leather bound books. Or the cat.

"At least we have control now," she sneered. "We can make choices; whose turn it is to have breakfast today, whose turn to empty the toilet bucket. And I always fancied an early retirement, although I hadn't visualised it being quite like this. We are lucky to live in a village," she admitted. "We do have some community spirit and at least we are all in it together."

Story 069

Time Critical

Inspired by: 'The geezer guaranteed to win: Actor Ray Winstone fronts bet365 adverts profiting off punters' bad fortune... no wonder his own daughter is horrified' Daily Mail

by Paul Mastaglio

The smart television presenter faced the camera. "Dan Jones," he purred. "I bring you lucky viewers your best opportunity yet." He stepped back from the lens.

Revealed on screen were two musclebound men holding aloft identical weights. From the side, his voice continued, "All you have to do is register which one of these competitors will last the longest and the time difference, in minutes and seconds, between the two efforts. It's 10 pounds a go. If you guess correctly, you win 100,000 pounds. Go on, you know you want to."

Watching at home was one Jeremiah Johnston. He was resplendent in purple trousers and flowered shirt. Gold bracelets dangled from his wrists as he waved them at Winston, sitting next to him on the couch.

"Who's it going to be then, love?" Jeremiah pointed at the screen. "This one?" No response. "That one?" Winston woofed. "You picked me. I knew you would. After all, I am your daddy."

"Woof," agreed Winston.

"Now, if I could just remember how long I lasted after the other fellow…"

Story 070

All The Trimmings: An Appetizing Story For Entrepreneurs Everywhere

Inspired by: 'Cooking roast dinner produces air pollution as bad as heavily polluted city streets, study reveals' The Independent

by K. J. Watson

When governments worldwide banned roast dinners to protect the environment, the entrepreneur Bob Uroncle acted fast.

Bob launched a range of roast dinner scents. He offered candles, drawer liners, air fresheners and perfume. Each of these exuded the smell of a roast beef dinner with all the trimmings. Within weeks, Bob was a billionaire.

Bob missed a trick, though. Governments had included non-meat roast meals in their ban. Vegetarians and vegans protested that the basis of all Bob's products was roast beef. They demanded scents which captured the aroma of a nut roast dinner.

Bob's own carnivorous lifestyle may have clouded his judgement. He ignored the anti-meat lobbyists. Another entrepreneur, Jack Nory, spotted an opportunity. Jack's nut-roast-dinner-and-all-the-appropriate-trimmings scents were a hit.

Following Jack's success, Bob admitted his error. He sold his scent business to Jack and consulted a lawyer about the limits of the international roast dinner law. He then bought a space shuttle and converted a disused space station into a restaurant.  Bob's out-of-this-world roast dinners (with vegetarian and vegan options) proved a goldmine. Bob had done it again.

Story 071

She Was Just Back Home

Inspired by: 'Shamima Begum: IS teenager to lose UK citizenship' BBC

by Simon Williams

She was just back, just back home. After years away the world she had known looked different, and people looked at her differently. She had changed too, of course, you could see that in her eyes, if she ever allowed you to look into them.

She was asleep and flinching in dreams when the window broke. The half-brick hit the cot and glass showered across the room. She screamed and screamed as she picked glass from her baby's face. Her father ran into the room, face pale, eyes wild. He saw blood on his grandson's head.

She went to the funeral, of course she did. He was her father, her son's grandfather. Dressed in black she stood next to her mother in the grey mist and rain. Together they raised their eyes to the sky and the rain mixed with their silent tears. Tomorrow they would move away, the woman, the girl and her boy, move far away from their home, move to a place where their past was not known, where the past did not shadow their lives.

Story 072

Dawning of the New Age Philosophy

Inspired by: 'STEPHEN GLOVER: Why, with a heavy heart, I fear Prince Harry may be riding for a fall' Daily Mail

by Maggie Elliott

Strange looks were exchanged as Meg and Harold confirmed they intended to raise their child gender neural, a vegetarian, and with a male nanny.

The clatter of dishes and distance from head to foot of the dining table didn't prevent their patriarch's scorn being heard. "New Age claptrap," he snapped.

He was silenced by a wave of hand from the matriarch who demanded, "Enough. Let's eat."

As Meg went into labour, a delivery suite was prepared as per her instructions.

Tranquil sounds, soft lighting and hypnotherapy helped initially, but as the contractions lengthened and deepened, so did Meg's grip on her husband's hand. 

As the pain became continuous and extreme, her attempt to negate it with the techniques she had learned failed, as did her resolve. It dawned on her that accepting medical intervention was not a sign of weakness nor did it demean her philosophy.

Pain relief administered, a healthy gender-neutral baby arrived whose nursery was decorated with nontoxic, organic, vegan paint, infused with eucalyptus oil to enhance memory, boost the immune system and stimulate creativity.

Story 073

Patty Bridal

Inspired by: 'Award success for Ivory Bridal Suite' South Wales Guardian

by Chris Green

"This is it, we’re here."

The two women came to a stop outside the boutique and gazed at the window display.

"Oh Mum, the dresses are gorgeous. I want to try them all," gasped the younger of the two.

"You know, Lisa, this is where I got my wedding dress from. 30 years ago now," explained her mother. She looked up at the shop's sign and frowned. "Mind you, it wasn't called Patty Bridal back then."

They both stepped inside and were treated to a wonderland of wedding dresses... and the smell of fried onions.

They looked at each other, puzzled.

From amongst the forest of satin a young man approached, wearing a chef's hat and a dirty apron.

"I understand the look on your faces," he laughed. "We have a burger stand at the far end of the shop."

"Really?"

"Yes, we do all kinds of burgers – cheeseburgers, chilli burgers, Hawaiian burgers, veggie burgers..."

Lisa clapped her hands in delight. "Forget the wedding dress, Mum," she said. "Let’s get some burgers. I want to try them all."

Story 074

Lost The Thread

Inspired by: 'My life sewing for a 15-inch 'diva'' BBC

by Mark J Towers

Vzzzzzt. Vzzzzzt.

Hal dreaded that sound. His phone was on silent but it startled him whenever it vibrated on his desk.

He read the text. IS IT READY?

Hal's fingers hovered over the screen. He considered replying with equivalent terseness, thought better of it and put the phone down.

He scanned the room. His discarded efforts strewn everywhere. Every suggestion had been slapped down in a string of caps lock characters.

Vzzzzzt. Vzzzzzt. Vzzzzzt. Vzzzzzt. Vzzzzzt. Vzzzzzt.

The phone jiggled for longer. No hiding from his impatient client.

He picked up the phone but the call ended.

Vzzzzzt. Vzzzzzt.

Another text. WELL?

Hal's fingers wiggled over the screen, touch-typing his response. I have bit Andrew well being it tight now.

His heart needled at the predictive text errors on the unsent text. Hal corrected it and tucked the phone in his pocket.

As he departed, he picked up the completed design. A sequinned gown, laced with gold thread, diamantes, pearls, the whole works.

If this design failed, Hal had designs on one more killer outfit this diva would die for.

Story 075

Roald Dahl, Whose Verses Were Censured

Inspired by: 'Aldi removes Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes from its Australian stores over the word 'slut'' The Independent

by Gail Everett

Mr Dahl's Revolting Rhymes,

Became a victim of the times,

We live in. And the Aldi mob,

Should go and get a decent job,

Before they strip the shelves quite bare,

It seems they simply have no care.

Political correctness rules,

In supermarkets, shops and schools,

So customers will walk away,

In anger, Aldi now must pay,

The price, in loss of revenue,

From selling less to me and you.

The moral of this story is,

that Ignorance is seldom Bliss.

Story 076

Self-Identity Vs Labels

Inspired by: '#NotMyAriel: White Twitter Is Big Mad About Disney Casting a Black Little Mermaid' The Root

by Raymond E. Strawn III

During dinner, a family discussed a movie they'd seen.

"Who's your favourite character?" the father asked his child.

"The main character," the child shouted in joy.

"A good choice," the mother said.

"I want to grow up and be the main character."

"Oh, little one, you can't. That's impossible."

"But why, Daddy?" the child asked.

"Because you're different. You don't look like they do."

"That doesn't make sense, Daddy. In church, Jesus is white, but he's really middle eastern, so I can be whoever I want."

The mother spat her wine.

"We don't talk like that. Do you understand?" the father scowled.

"I don't, Daddy. You say I can't be the main character because I'm different. Jesus is portrayed as white, but he is middle eastern. Why can't I portray the main character if I'm different?"

"Enough." The father slammed his fist into the table. "You can't be that person, do you understand."

"No, Daddy. You don't understand. I can be whoever I want." The child left the table.

Story 077

So Much For The Boris Bounce

Inspired by: 'Tories hope the ‘Boris Bounce’ can save them in Brecon: Voters go to the polls in crucial by-election that could slash Johnson's majority to ONE as he faces first big test against Lib Dems and Brexit Party' Mail Online

by Kenneth Muir

Charlie worked all week, canvassing the neighbourhood, extolling the virtues of voting Conservative in the coming by-election.

He enjoyed the rising sun that beautiful summer day, as he cheerfully strode down the street on his way to his watering hole. Everyone he met along the way smiled or greeted him.

The night before, he was inebriated and failed to follow the election results. That morning, in the bath, he sang a song he'd made up loudly, to the tune of ABBA’s 'Money, Money, Money': "Boris, Boris, Boris, is our man."

In a cheerful voice, he ordered his lager.

The pub landlord asked, "Why so gleeful."

"Because the Tories will win the by-election for sure. Boris is our man."

Later, his soul mate, Allan, arrived. He said, in a mournful groan, "The Tories lost."

Charlie was crestfallen. His face became red with anger and he strolled around shouting, punching the air. The other patrons whispered in fear.

What triggered him off – made him so cross – was the Daily Mail's screaming headline, shown on Charlie’s laptop: 'So much for the Boris Bounce'.

Story 078

Tipping Points

Inspired by: 'School strike for climate: Protests staged around the world' BBC

by Bridget Scrannage

"OK class – if you're going to go on climate strike and skip my lessons, I want to be sure you understand what you are protesting about and not just skiving. This is an old-fashioned balance scale. It works by putting a known weight, in this case 100 grams, in one of the brass pans and then balancing a substance on the opposite side until they're level. I'll use coal to represent CO2 producing fossil fuels. The known weight represents the natural world." The teacher put in pieces of coal until the scales were level. "Can anyone tell me what effect it will have if I add more coal?"

"Global warming."

"Rising sea levels."

"Correct. Yes."

"Mrs Wright gets naked."

"What?" The teacher stared at the speaker, a young girl not known for her insolence.

"She says climate change is rubbish and she'll streak through the school if it happens."

"Your headmistress said that?"

The class agreed.

He thought of his boss, shuddered and resolved to go green.

Story 079

Senseless Killing

Inspired by: 'Elephant ears and lion bones among hunting trophies imported into the UK' The Guardian

by Hajra Saeed

My 12 year old son and I were having breakfast one day when he suddenly asked me, "Mum, do you think my children will get to see elephants, lions and rhinos?"

Momentarily taken aback, I slowly set down my mug of tea and asked, "What ever made you say that?"

"Well, I have been reading online how 'human beings' are exterminating wild animals by the thousands and I don't think there will be any left in the next 15 years or so."

"Oh," was all I said.

"Did you know that everyday 100 elephants lose their lives for ivory, meat and body parts? While approximately only 25,000 to 40,000 wild lions remain worldwide, mostly because trophy hunters just kill them for fun."

"No, I didn't," I replied.

"And rhinos might as well become extinct in a few years because their horns are considered a symbol of wealth and power. What is wrong with us? How can we be so cruel? When will this stop?"

I sat there staring at him, for I had no answers.

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Alice C
Hi Chris. I'm loving the stories submitted. Already a great cross-section commentary on the interesting times we live in.

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Alice. I agree, there are some fabulous early submissions.

Debbie S
The strange things that catch my eye when I'm supposed to be studying. I'll probably fail my course now.

Chris Fielden
Sorry, Debbie... I recommend turning the internet off :-)

Debbie S
That's a good idea :-)

Gavin B
Hi Chris. Thanks for the add. All looks good and no gobbledygook to be seen.

Chris Fielden
Great stuff, thanks Gavin :-)