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Allen's Sensory Overload Writing Challenge

Quick links on this page:

rules & how to submit - about the sensory challenge - read sensorially overloaded stories

Allen Ashley and Chris Fielden

Allen Ashley & Chris Fielden, imprisoned in some sort of twin-bodied Photoshop nightmare

This photo has not been altered in any way, especially by Chris, who isn't very good at using Photoshop

Welcome to Allen's Sensory Overload Challenge. Like Allen, it's simple (sorry, couldn't resist...). Like Chris, it's beautiful (and again...). Anyone can submit. All entries are published. Discover how delightful writing purple prose overloaded with sensory description can be.

Rules & How To Submit

The rules feel, look, smell, sound and taste simple:

  • 175 words max
  • please include a title for your story (not included in word count)
  • use as much sensory description as you can
  • entry is everyone's favourite price - FREE
  • anyone can submit
  • 1 entry per person
  • no profanity please - all the writing challenges are shared with children
  • your sensorially saturated stories will be published on this page
  • every time we receive 100 stories, we'll publish all of them in a book
  • any money 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
  • 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.

Allen and Chris respectfully suggest: No more stories about eructation, breaking wind, being caught smoking or waking up in a coffin. These have now been adequately covered. Thanks.

So far, we've received 163 stories. We need 37 more to publish the anthology.

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About the Sensory Writing Challenge

We want stories of up to 175 words, packed full of sensory impressions and descriptions. Specifically: we want to drown in your senses. You may choose to overload on one branch of sensations, but ideally we would expect your flash fiction to include reference to all 5 of the commonly accepted senses:

Sight/Seeing, Sound/Hearing, Touch/Feeling, Smell and Taste.

Or at least have had a go! Assail us with your aromatic, smooth, salty, bell-ringing purple prose. You know you can and you know you want to.

Many 'How To' books will tell you to be precise and careful when using sensory words. We want you to be profuse and bountiful. The more the merrier. Chuck us into the setting and the situation. Overload us with sensory input and information. And tell a bit of a story as well. It's not too much to ask, is it?

Allen and I would like to thank everyone who submits their stories for their support – it's much appreciated :-)

During the course of running the sensory challenge, Allen and I got into a discussion with author Steven Hardy (author of story 051) regarding apostrophe placement in the word 'people's'. Due to our diligence, Steven very kindly made us a certificate for being top editors and word geeks:

Word Geek Certificate

Allen and Chris's Top Editor & Word Geek Award Certificate

We're sharing this here in the hope that it inspires more authors to award us with stuff.

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About the Charity the Sensory Writing Challenge Supports

Proceeds from sales of the sensory writing challenge anthologies will be donated to the National Literacy Trust.

National Literacy Trust

This charity is committed to helping raise literacy levels in the UK. The writing challenges run on this website do the same thing, in a roundabout kind of way, so this seemed like an appropriate charity for us to support.

How The Sensory Writing Challenge Came To Exist

Having seen the photo at the top of the page, this will be immensely hard to believe... Allen and I have not yet shared photographic space together. I know, I know... please try and contain your shock.

We did meet, at a Bristol Festival of Literature event last year, but I forgot to get photographic proof because we were too busy chatting about writing, comparing notes on running short story competitions (Allen judges the British Fantasy Society competition and I run To Hull & Back) and stuff like that.

While we were chatting, we decided that running a writing challenge together seemed like a good idea.

Allen has been a great supporter of the writing challenges run on this site. Not only has he submitted his own stories, he's shared the challenges with the various writing groups he runs/belongs to and has generated lots of submissions from many authors. So, it's great to be able to work with him on this challenge.

Each time a story is received it'll be published below. When 100 stories have been received, they will be published as a collection. The book will be made available in print, Kindle eBook and PDF formats.

Proceeds from sales will go to the National Literacy Trust.

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 the National Literacy Trust exists and that they do fabulous work.

As with all the writing challenges on this site, it's impossible to lose. Everyone wins.

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Sensory Stories

Below are all the sensorially saturated stories that have been submitted to date, drenched in purple prose. See the words. Hear the joy. Taste the magic. Smell the stories. Touch your toes.

The stories are published in the order they were received.

Sensorially Challenged Volume 1

We received the 100th sensory story on 10th August 2017. The first 100 stories were removed from the website on 1st October 2017. Sensorially Challenged Volume 1 was released on 2nd December 2017.

You can learn how to buy the book and support charity here.

Sensorially Challenged Volume 1

The book contains flash fiction stories written by 100 authors.

Profits from sales will be donated to the National Literacy Trust. You can see how much money has been raised for charity by all the challenges run on this website on the main Writing Challenges page.

We are currently accepting stories for Volume 2.

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Sensorially Challenged Volume 2

You can read the submissions received for Sensorially Challenged Volume 2 below.

Story 101

The Tide Was High

by Allen Ashley

No sandy path visible; instead we are wading out over stones whose sharpness we still feel through the soles of our swimming shoes. The sea is a brown broth of wave-churned coarse grains and frothy edges like boiled milk. Only children paint it blue and think that's veracity.

It's deep enough to duck our shoulders and lift our feet, accomplish a few, smooth, round breaststrokes, before Sarah says, "Watch out, there's a breaker coming." I ride the first swell, the second swell... then the third fills my mouth with the metallic taste of brine. The North Sea has saved her weapons for our attempted entrance. At one stage, I'm lifted like a cork by her riotous wave, deposited in the shallows like Gulliver.

Later, in the warm breeze of the cliff top car park, Sarah pulls seaweed from beneath her shoulder strap. It's red and feathery. I watch the succession of breaking waves, like liquid frown lines on the sea's brow.

"Well, that was... exhilarating."

"Yep. Same time tomorrow."

Story 102

A Senseless Itch

by Christopher Fielden

Midges, millions of them, swarming silently beneath the trees. Even from the safety of the car, with closed doors and windows, the sight of them makes my skin tingle.

Reflexively, I scratch my ear. It falls into my lap.

Frowning, I pick my ear up to inspect it more closely. Looking down, my eyes pop out and land in my palm, next to my ear. I see my own shocked face, with two vacant eye sockets, staring blindly. My free hand moves upward, covering my mouth in shock. It catches my nose, which tumbles down towards my eyes.

"This–"

Before 'can't be happening' can complete the sentence, the 'th' fires my tongue from my mouth. It slides down my chin, landing on my ear.

The weight of my senses is too much for my hand. It disconnects from my wrist and falls into the footwell.

Devoid of all sense, I see my body reach out with my remaining hand, open the door and climb from the car.

Tonight, the midges will feast.

Story 103

Flagrant Flatulence

by Lesley Truchet

Iris pulled up a chair for her father. "I can't wait to speak to my Bert."

"She's a fake. Rubbish." Harry sat down, leaning heavily on his cane.

"Shh, Dad."

The medium entered the room, wearing hippy clothes and oversized spectacles, a faint scent of lavender accompanying her.  She took a seat, explained what everyone had to do and raised her arms.

"Stop it," muttered Iris, in response to her father's urgent prodding.

"But I need..."

"Shht," hissed Iris from the side of her mouth.

Harry scowled and eased one half of his buttocks off the chair. "This quack is a charlatan," he muttered.

"Bert, are you there?" The spiritualist struck a dramatic pose, waiting for a response. 

A long loud rumble resonated and a terrible odour permeated the room, smelling of something that should have received a decent burial a week previously.

"That's my Bertie." Iris grinned with delight and leaned forward, eager for the contact with her late husband.

Codswallop, thought Harry, as he lowered his backside onto the chair.

Story 104

Headspin

by Len Saculla

Janie and I love the children's playground. The castle turret smells of varnish and makes my head spin. The wooden slats of the roundabout are hard and smooth and when Janie pushes me my head spins.

"Come on, David," she calls, her voice squeaky. "I betcha I can go higher on the swings."

"No chance."

I run as fast as my legs can carry me so as to get a head start.

Legs back, then toes forward and whoosh through the air, wind rushing past my cheeks. Janie bumps into my swing: now we're both spinning.

Next we head for the slide. I tap the metal chute with my knuckles and enjoy the clang. I like climbing up–

Suddenly Parky spots us.

"Oi, you two," he bellows. "Gerrof the equipment. I've told you before, it's only for children under ten."

Janie laughs. I wave my pension book. Post Office next.

Story 105

Crocodile

by Kim Montgomery

Crocodile first acquired the taste for man flesh when he ate the small boy who had wandered away from his family's picnic. Such sweet, young meat, but not so the old hobo he tried next. One upper thigh was as much as he could stomach. Crocodile quickly learnt that bigger is not necessarily better.

So he stuck with the children, discovering that little girls were even sweeter than little boys. He managed to consume seven before they caught up with him. He didn't feel threatened by the man with the big stick, not even when he pointed it at him. Suddenly there was searing pain, and his child eating days were over.

Crocodile is now several pairs of shoes. So things could have been worse. At least he's still in close contact with his beloved human flesh.

Story 106

Winter Escape

by Sheila Rosart

The cessation of the roaring engines coincides with the slamming of the plane to Earth, as we taxi towards our gate. Each crisp click of the overhead luggage rack echoes the anticipation we feel to escape this metal bullet, laden as it is, in bacteria, stale air and the invisible parasitic germs of the old man whose hacking cough punctuated the entire flight.

As the steps are attached and the departing line moves inexorably closer to freedom, I exhale briskly, my contribution to the decrepit atmosphere. The door unseals with a hiss and I descend the sparkly risers, gripping the rubbery rails so I don't tumble to the bottom of my stairway to heaven.

Redolent in sunshine kisses and sultry humidity, my chapped lips plump moistly, as I float downwards smelling the fruit-infused air serenaded by the chirping welcome of birdsong.

Poolside, I swoon with lust as they hand me a tropical libation, ice cold, beaded with droplets; thick with coconut and sweet pineapple.

I love spring break in Florida.

Story 107

A New Team Goes Live in the Contact Centre

by Jonathan Martindale

We know not from whence they shall call, nor the demands they shall make upon us; we will be left without faces to put to their names. All we know is that they are waiting for us...

Like men condemned, we sit sombrely in silence, awaiting the order, "Headsets on." I perch, feet dangling, erect and uncomfortable, in a worn office chair. (I have forgotten, since training, how you are meant to adjust it.) The blazing glare of the computer screen fills my vision. On it, various windows jostle angrily for my attention.

My right hand, clammy with sweat, seeks for the reassuring solidity of my mouse. The air is warm and still. A single 'left click' is now all that stands between me and my first customer, and this, my last defence, I know alas I must forgo. There is, for an instant, silence, before a piercing dial-in tone erupts from the headset clamped tightly to my ear. I take a deep breath.

"Good afternoon. I mean, good morning..."

Story 108

Athens Punned And Sensorised

by Michael Rumsey

Held on Site 4, Sorise, the Athens Cultural Gala offered something for all.

Not least the smell of Greece Paint in the Art Gallery and the, "Hear, hear," roar of the crowd at the Auditorium.

In the Theatre, many a play to stir the hormones, some starring Sophie Klees.

A hands on performance by the Choir Practioners.

The Taverna, set at the right angle, offered mouth watering temptations such as Pie Thagoros, Hippo Tachos and a variety of Pitsas, all delicious, but best if taken with a tasty pinch of salt.

There were no complaints, but quite a lot of wining accompanied by the merry pop of corks, cheers and a bouquet that drifted towards the dazzling, perfumed, well tended flower gardens.

Not a whiff of trouble thanks to the far seeing security and tight grip of the Akro Police.

To make sense of it all it appears to have been an ear thumping, silky touched, spicily lip smacking, eye-catching, sweet smelling event that turned out  profitable according its pereceptive Financial Director, Gregg Sitt.

Story 109

Sweet Heaven, Sunday Afternoon, 1955

by Dee La Vardera

Family Favourites on the wireless, Father is in the kitchen, clattering and tut-tutting, laying everything out with military precision on the daffodil yellow Formica table. In blue and white striped apron, he looks like a butcher – without the blood spatters.

My toes tap on the brown linoleum floor as I dance around, dodging my brother's muscular left hook. Dad stirs the battered jam pan of fiercely boiling sugar mixture. It roars and spits like some angry monster until it's ready to test. A teaspoonful dropped into a cup of cold water turns into golden teardrops.

Time to pour the hardening mass into a metal tray lined with buttered greaseproof paper. It spreads like hot tarmac across a road and cools.

Tap, tap the tin, tip out the glossy bronze block, whack it with a tiny hammer. Dad puts the pieces into a glass jar, sprinkles more sugar, and shakes it with a cocktail barman's skill.

Hilarious laughter from What's My Line? does not drown out the squeak of the stopper loosening in the jar.

Story 110

A Kid Like Me

by Pam Keevil

The ball is so close I can count every pock mark on the scarred surface. But my legs and feet tangle together like a skein of unravelled wool and I fall. Mud oozes through my fingers and the green bile smell of cut grass catches in my throat. Crow like cackles of laughter pierce the misty air. I am the loser no one wants in their team.

In lessons my fingers leak blue ink across the page. The words bob up and down in a frenzy, never settling on the lines. I force my eyes to focus until a dozen hammers pound in my head. It's no use. Each letter forms and reforms like a snake of plasticine.

One day someone will find a way to capture the words that float through my brain like thistledown. Sentences of gossamer, stretched over an autumn hedge and spangled with crystals will showcase my thoughts. And the jumping words will finally be stilled.

Then everyone will understand a kid like me.

Story 111

Cat's Eyes

by Tracey Chapman

The lush emerald green carpet stretches for miles, tinged with the sunshine yellow masses of buttercups, soldier like standing to attention. I tiptoe, my whiskers glistening with pearl drops from the dank morning dew.

The hedgerow encompasses my arena from all sides, the lively chitter chatter from the nests of new born's calling for their breakfast. I crouch lower to my terrain, momentarily distracted by a black and yellow fuzzy ball hovering silently among the velvety petals. I ready myself to pounce. Breakfast could come early today. I leap, somersaulting into the clump of buttercups, my black and yellow fuzzy ball a mere dot now floating away.

To the side of the hedgerow, a haze of grey and white bounces and hops above the whispery strands of grass. I quicken my pace, remaining stealth-like amongst my camouflage. Almost upon them, I sit and wait. I pounce...

A resonating call comes from the gardens beyond as the grey and white haze disappears down crumbling earth mounds.

"Rio, Rio."

Breakfast gone, cat food it is.

Story 112

The Drowning

by Max Aldous

My body plunged down into the sub-zero waters of the Atlantic. I stared at the soft shimmer of the ocean as it flew further away from me in an almost ironic homage to my doom. The salt in the waters burned at my eyes and blurred my vision as both literal and metaphorical darkness wound its way around my body. My lungs had the weight of 1,000 gallons of water pressed against them, making each one want to crumble.

Eventually, they succumbed to the pressure and I opened my freezing mouth. The water was like a razor, slipping down my gullet, burning as it filled my exhausted lungs. Despite this, the sound (or lack thereof) hurt worse. The muffled sound of my screams, which I knew no one would hear, echoed against my ears, reminding me once again of my solitude.

My vision blurred further, leaving only darkness. I had no fear at this point, I felt nothing. Only the beating of my heart growing softer and softer. Until, eventually, that too fell silent.

Story 113

The Last Autumn

by Jaz Leigh

Breathe in. Breathe out. In. Out.

The fresh autumn air felt divine as it ran through my sinuses and down my throat. That was until it reached my lungs. There... there, it burned. It burned like an inferno blazing in my chest. Honestly, I'm surprised I couldn't smell the intoxicating stench of incinerated flesh.

NO. Nothing would ruin my last day. I could taste the morning dew without having to open my mouth. I could smell the freshly cut grass of the hospital garden. Everything was so fresh. Everything, except for me.

Trembling fingers pressed against the damp wood of the bench and a contented sigh tickled my lips as I rubbed the cool moisture between my withering digits. Sliding my feet from the safety of my woolly slippers, I brushed my toes over the dew-coated grass. I would never feel this again, I thought sadly.

Birds sang melodically from the golden leaves of the maple tree and it was the last song I'd hear.

I'd die with a smile, because...

Time's up.

Story 114

An Old Friend Beckons

by Kaitlin Munro

He inhaled deeply, funnelling the cigar's sinuous smoke down his paper thin throat. His exhale was careful, considered, though he knew he must be quicker.

The clock read 11:58; almost midnight. He had until the rich chimes of 12 to die.

The embers danced, grew and fell, as he watched with weary eagerness. His haggard face, reflected in the window opposite the velvety chair, was quite impassive. A swirling cloud of smoke invaded his nostrils and with it came the acrid smell of burning, so unfamiliar yet welcome. 700 years is too long to live without a life to be had, he mused.

The warm orange glow faded as his cigar, laced with a tasteless poison, burned down almost to a stump. He would have felt cozy, if not for the pale, marbled figure in the corner of his eye. His oldest friend, the one that had given him new life, had come to watch him die. As darkness swallowed his vision, he saw the devil beckon.

Story 115

Sleep In The Hole

by Endri Vela

It was a green day. We took the beds, with magic stars, into the hole to sleep. Even the blankets. To see dreams with wizards, glasses of flowers were in the drawers. We enlighted fire, violets, the mouth of Asllan smelt.

Girls wear lipstick; we threw tears in the flowers... Inside was brilliance.

Stars were the light, God was in the sky.

David has stars in the eyes, Lukas breathes inside, Malvy has deep blue eyes.

*

Our covers were a beauty that I can't describe. It was hot, like Arabia, the desert of being with girls. Rivers started from our eyes, we had to cry to grow a bunch of flowers in the hole.

I love my soul.

Story 116

Sights And Sounds In Africa

by Jennifer Chislett

"Look, lions."

Driving along the roads outside Nairobi, we always saw animals strolling along. There was no fenced game reserve – they wandered at will.

One night we nearly drove underneath a giraffe which straddled the road. Gazelles danced gracefully amongst the cars, monkeys leapt onto the bonnets and tried to wrench off the windscreen wipers, chattering away to each other in excitement.

Within the game reserve, we sat watching a group of lions, one of which had  blissfully gone to sleep, leaning against the front wheel of a landrover. Gentle snores erupted regularly, to everyone's amusement. The family had to stay there, unable to drive on, and eventually a game ranger had to be called to move the pride. Striped zebras nibbled at the grass, unafraid of the dozing lions.

Hippos came out at night, shining pinkly in the car headlights. Cars came to a standstill as the animals were very dangerous and apt to charge.

Yes, driving outside Nairobi was a challenge, but oh, such fun.

Story 117

Watched

by Gavin Biddlecombe

My bruised hands support me on this rough branch high above the ground. I'm thankful to be up here and, even more so, that it cannot climb. It's been a few days since I found my refuge but the unbearable heat works against me.

The sweat rolls down into my tired eyes, stinging them and blurring my vision. I glimpse it occasionally, stalking in cover. Watching me. Waiting.

Its odour is repulsive. It lingers, clogging up my nostrils more than my own unwashed stink. I know when it's close as I fight off the urge to gag from its overpowering stench.

The random dropped nut which taps its way down the branches beneath me is no longer a distraction. I recognise its sound, just audible but ever present. Continuous.

I reach for my water bottle, rationing the warm but satisfying liquid that slides down my dry throat as I fight off the fatigue. I must hold on. Surely, one of the others must have got away and found help.

Story 118

Hopeful

by Amy Pilkington

Another morning. Under the warmth of the soft and crumpled covers, limbs are like lead. The uncomfortably humid night remains on the skin; sticky, acrid, and damp. Mindless and forgettable dreams have done aught but pass the time between one hazy day and the next. Hunger quietly nags to be tended to, but nothing tastes good enough to justify the exertion, the creeping eternal exhaustion weighing down upon the bones and trapping them in a cocoon of stagnation. A sip of stale water parches the painful desert of the mouth and throat, but struggles to be palatable.

The world outside this quiet and everlasting prison shivers and sings with life. Sweet chirrups of birdsong between the boughs of the bristling trees in the breeze, and the gentle gradient lightshow on the giant grazing clouds. How refreshing it would be to sit amongst the colours and calls of nature, instead of a claustrophobic reminder of the courage it takes to continue to face the day. Even still, tomorrow is always another chance to feel the sun.

Story 119

Sensory Overload

by Jeanna Jones

Senses snapping to attention, fully awake now. Long tentacles of fear reaching out, snaking through darkness, touching, enveloping, overwhelming me. Cold, damp, smell, slowly penetrates every pore, seeping into nostrils. Air, thick, pungent tasting, sticking in throat, choking, unable to swallow. Eyes, darting, seeing nothing. Ears straining for slightest sounds. Heart beating loudly, drowning out everything. Terror taking over, senses scream out, almost overwhelming all reminders to breathe, breathe, and breathe again. Shut everything out, stop listening, stop looking, concentrate on breathing. Panicked breaths, gulping air too thick to swallow. Close eyes, stop straining, shut down. Breathe, imagine a funnel, thick putrid air passing through. Breathe, think of nothing, concentrate, focus. One breath, two, faster, choking again, concentrate, slow down. Count, count slowly, even slower. Breathe, ears shut, eyes shut, close out the thick blackness that surrounds. Heart beats, so loud and fast, like one long continuous roar, slow it down, count it down. Breathe, frozen, unable to move, scream, shout. Focus, concentrate, breathe, count. Fingertips reaching out, too late, no escape, no way out.

Story 120

Snowball

by Neil Brooks

The smooth, round, hard packed snowball tumbled silently through the still air in a graceful arc and crashed violently with a satisfying crump into the side of his plump rosy cheeks. As if in slow motion, the snowball exploded into a thousand fragments and cascaded down his front like the start of a silent avalanche. 

His soft and warm wooly hat was knocked off, exposing his tangled mop of orange hair to the chill of the air. Bright red blood trickled from his lower lip where the small cut oozed slowly and dripped onto his frozen chin.

He detected an oddly sour, coppery taste combined with a watery flatness of the melted snow that had impudently entered his mouth. Another taste, altogether unpleasant, began to identify itself and there was an unmistakable whiff of dog poo.

He shuddered involuntarily as he wondered what else had been in that snowball. The shrill screams and shouts of the other children washed over him but it was the braying laughter of Belinda Brand that cut the deepest.

Story 121

An Unfortunate Olfactory Own-Goal

by Mike Scott Thomson

As the caterer for the launch party, the PR department emails you a wish list. You read it, and think, Well, someone's taken leave of their senses.

  • Lavender {blossoms swaying in a springtide zephyr}
  • Cardamom, pimento, vanilla {dying patter of autumn rain on a hot tin roof}
  • Spicy coriander {crackling embers on an Après Ski log fire}

Suitably selected sustenance, perhaps, to accompany the release of Mr Big Brand Footballer's new Eau de Cologne?

Lucky there's a Waitrose nearby.

*

An afternoon of inventive cuisine later, you arrive at the venue laden with the most pungent canapés you’ve ever had to prepare.

On stage is the promotional placard for 'Target™ {For The Sporting Gentleman}'. Something about it seems off, you feel.

  • Top notes: cocktail sausages, scotch eggs
  • Heart notes: cheese and pineapple on sticks
  • Base notes: gherkins

Either PR muddled their electronic communiqués

…or Mr Big Brand Footballer isn’t the most fragrant of fellows.

You struggle to decide which is the more likely.

Story 122

A Yorkshire Stream

by Betty Hattersley

Winding and twisting, flowing so free,

Dancing with pebbles, a sight for to see.

Shaded by tree's so tall and so proud,

With gaps here and there to view a white cloud.

Swirling around to gather up speed,

Pretty and wild, while caressing a weed.

Stopping in places, enjoying a rest,

Then onward again now full of fine zest.

Where has it come from, where will it go?

Nature's decided the path it will flow.

Sparkling like diamonds scattered about,

From a blanket of daylight, of that there's no doubt.

Bending so gracefully, without a care,

Such beauty behold for us to share.

Colours will change as the seasons go past,

In winter the water will flow not so fast.

A fountain for wildlife, so fresh and so cool,

Insects and beetles will bask in a pool.

This treasure to find, what is its worth?

A fine priceless gift from our Mother Earth.

Story 123

Time Will Tell

by Tracey Maitland

They sat together on the low wall outside the hotel where they could smoke and drink their coffee in the morning sun as they watched the world go by.

"Why did you email me?" he asked softly.

Her mouth went dry, she sipped her smooth latte. She wanted to say, "Because I have loved you from the moment I met you," but she didn't, daren't, couldn't.  Instead she said, "Because there were two people I wanted to see, and you were one of them..."

She turned and watched him. He was so beautiful. He was staring at the ground. She wanted to reach out, touch him and nestle within his arms, but hesitated and instead took out a cigarette, placed it on her lips and lit it. She took a slow, deep breath to steady her pounding heart. They sat in silence. She wanted to fill the void, but felt inept and inexperienced. As she smoked, the aroma of the cigarette ebbed away on the warm breeze. 

Is he disappointed? she wondered. Time will tell.

Story 124

Lights Out

by Melanie Goodell

I glanced in the direction of the door to my office as the lights went out. The sudden blindness assaulted my brain, pulling fuzzy, confusing wool over my ability to find my place in time and space. A shrill voice screamed outside the window of my office. I turned toward the grating, piercing sound and banged my hand against the cold, hard glass of the window pane. My thoughts went limp at the sting of mind-numbing pain that vibrated up the surface of my arm.

I yelped and drew my hand away from the frozen glass as the door to the suffocating office burst open, the wooden slab hitting the wall like the deafening crack of a rifle. The lights suddenly came on, sending needle pricks of light through my corneas.

"Storms comin'," my secretary shrieked from the overly well-lit doorway. I shook my head, jarring my hand and wincing. Another reason to move to the beach. I grabbed stuff with a grunt at the weight of my bags. Time to head home.

Story 125

Rainforest Rumbles

by Eleanor Klein

We are not lost, Monty – I'm telling you. I know exactly where we are. Oh, those monkeys may be screeching and smell like rotting bananas, but they are not going to eat us. OK, that swarm of black insects converging on that tiger's festering corpse might. Calm down, I'm only joking.

God, it's hot. What a miserable sky: it looks like it's withering, doesn't it? Like someone spilt tea across the dawn. I'm starving. I think I swallowed a fly; I can taste something horrible and bitter – ouch. Don't throw twigs at me. We're fine, I promise. Just a bit warm, that's all.

It's so loud, isn't it? I can barely think with hundreds of creatures shrieking into my ears. If the rainforest would close its chattering mouth for a second, I might be able to get us out of this mess. Yes, I admit we're lost. Happy? Maybe that snake will share its home with us.

OK, OK – put the branch down, Monty. I'll work something out.

Story 126

A Spa Treat

by Bridget Scrannage

Spa day. Wife's idea. Ugh, panpipes, whale music and a trickling fountain that makes me want to wee. I lay on my stomach and inhale the scent of patchouli oil.

A woman approaches the massage table, unfolds the soft, fluffy towel covering my nakedness and splashes something warm onto my back. Must be oil. I relax. And oh? Where's she putting it now? Really? I didn't think it was that kind of place.

"It'll sting a bit when I rip it off."

"Rip what off?"

"The wax."

"What wax? I thought I was having a massage?"

"No, your wife booked you in for a back, sack and..."

A tearing sound – the aurora borealis flash through my head, her words drowned out by something between a banshee wail and wolf howl emitting from me. I leap from the table, run naked to the swimming pool and plunge into its soothing waters.

The wife's poolside, reclining on a sun lounger. From her smug expression, I'm guessing she's found out that I've been having an affair...

Story 127

Engine Failure

by Ron Smith

I am flying my recently rebuilt 60-year-old aeroplane.

I am nervous, hunched forward and pressing pointlessly on both sides of the rudder pedals.

I make myself relax. The aircraft responds to the lightest touch, while I keep one eye on the airfield.

Open the throttle. The engine note rises and the cold draught in the open cockpit increases.

Then, my stomach lurches as I feel the aircraft sink. Blast, engine failure, I think, that's the last thing I need.

I open and close the throttle. No response. Switches off, then on. No difference. Leave them off.

Best glide speed, head for the field. This isn't going to work.

Three minutes of deep concern. Don't get too far out. Now too close. I'm sweating now.

I turn onto the runway, very low, but room to stop. Relief.

I get out with trembling legs and stumble to the nose, smelling hot oil and hoping I won't be sick.

White and shaken, I make my way home to be greeted with the words, "Goodness, what happened to you?"

Story 128

Morning Routine

by Dedra Tullison

I woke to the deafening clatter of the bell tower. Once, twice, now thrice the boisterous bell has rung out. I guess the witch is dead. If not, she's definitely awake.

I open my laconic, tired, hazel eyes to a blistering, blinding light. The vindictive sun has made an appearance on this most auspicious day and the vehemently intense heat is down right maddening.

I haphazardly stretch my exhausted limbs and yawn. That's when I smell the most putrid, malodorous, rotten stench coming from my mouth.

I look over to my cat and say, in a raspy squawk that sounds like wizards going to war, "Morning, Mr Pig."

Story 129

Passengers For Flight...

by Ken Frape

Not meant to be up here, in albatross territory. Unnatural. Need to feel, to touch, warm, comfortable quilts or firm, unyielding earth. Instead, under my feet,  there's nothing until the sea. I'm dangling from my seat belt over a 30,000 foot drop.

Overload, Sensory Overload. I expect to see a warning light winking above my head.

The recycled warm air fills my nostrils with cold coffee, the detritus of crisps on my fingers and the vomit of the passenger across the aisle. I know that taste, the half digested food, the bile. I can see it, still identifiable lumps. She missed the bag. Mustn't look, but hear the whoosh of her second delivery.

Stacking now, going in loops. Sounds like the captain's having fun. My sense of balance tells my head to spin. It obeys like the landscape through the window as we circle. Can't stand up, even if the seat belt would allow it.

Stewards are also buckled in. No help until landed. Then they'll draw lots to clean up.

Story 130

Campfire

by Afua Antwi

The trees had begun their moonlight dance. The leaves were carefree as they swayed under the protective radiance of the stars. Their whistles were delicate when the wind swooped by, the sounds drowned out by the raucous laughter of my friends.

Their smiles were bright, lips parted to allow the joy to escape in the form of their airy chuckles. Their faces were a golden hue, the campfire adorning them in a warm light. Their skin was akin to that of royals, decorated with a glow that could only signify true happiness.

The marshmallows were sweet, almost sickeningly so, a direct contrast to the smell of burning wood that threatened to suffocate. I brushed it off, for the smoke preferred to reach for the stars than travel to my nose.

The touch of their thighs next to mine was comforting, bringing me down to earth and keeping me present. My head would not be in the clouds tonight.

My soul was content.

Story 131

The Colonel's Secret

by Maddy Hamley

The ground groaned and shuddered as the steel door closed with a cacophonous crash. The sound ricocheted off the spotless metal surfaces around me. I closed my eyes, let my ears guide me to the soft hum of the storage component, running my hands along the smooth, cold appliances to guide me. Disinfectant stung my nose and throat with every breath. Not much further.

The refrigerator shuddered as I wrenched the heavy door open. A blast of icy air and intense light stung my eyes. But just visible, in the confines of the chamber, there it was.

Trembling, I wrapped my hands around the container and – just to make sure – pried open the lid.

A lump of dried, frost-coated breadcrumbs, flecked with green. Visually unappealing. But just the tiniest waft burst forth from the mixture, a warm potpourri of herbs and spices.

Oregano. Thyme. Definitely Paprika. Salt and Pepper, of course. And – just maybe – a hint of ginger?

Story 132

Them's The Breaks

by Martin Strike

Martin felt the scratch of twigs and rustling of leaves in his hair as he fell out the tree he had been climbing just a split moment earlier.

His landing was only marginally cushioned by his outstretched arms. The resultant pain in his left forearm was outweighed by teenaged concern that his lightweight yellow summer shorts were obstinately still up the tree, flapping in indignation from the branch that had snagged them. These unexpected events were further aggravated by the heat of his red (upper) cheeked mile-long walk of shame home from the park in exposed underpants.

He found the binding of a cool plastered bandage over his fractured left arm soothing, unaware of how withered and itchy it would get under this heavy, hardened gauntlet over the remaining five weeks of the summer holidays.

After the other arm had started aching that night, his mother's incredulity at the plastering of his right arm, following the same diagnosis by the same physician at the same hospital the next day, made for a less comforting experience.

Story 133

Rank

by Abigail Rowe

No perfume is the rule. After the high notes wear off, there lies a residue. A smutty musk. Undercurrents of patchouli, star anise, cinnamon, which his warm body will not be able to shower away. The scalding flow not quite flushing away all that is left of me on his skin. I ooze from his very pores. He may liberally apply his ozone gels and citrus lotions, but I will remain. She will know.

Let's not pretend that this isn't sordid. It reeks. He is forensically present on pillowcase, sheet, damp towel. I go to my ablutions amidst that familiar sour stench. The sum of our parts. I soak in oiled bath and still I breathe him.

This must end.

Tomorrow I will buy a new fragrance. Something bright and free. I shall spray it in the air and step into its essence. Spritz afresh for another, some other, who may carry my scent with pride.

Tomorrow.

Story 134

Almost Dead

by Brandon Brown

I was done for. Parched. I had been in the desert for hours now. Surely, it was the end for me. The blazing heat, upon my face, made sweat trickle down my skin. It felt horrid, unclean and extremely uncomfortable.

I was here visiting family, but my car had other plans. Clunk, bash, twang. Finished. I was stranded, unable to call for help. No cell service. I decided to try and find something – anything – in the local vicinity. I heard the vultures before I saw them, sitting there, pecking at their latest victim. Disgusting, I thought, as I approached them, scaring them off.

I wasn't sure where to go or what to do. The heat was getting worse as the day carried on. I sat back inside the car. The best place to be, logically.

Soon they arrived. Help. Sirens flashing, hurting my eyes and ears. They offered me food. The grease was just what I needed.

I was saved.

Story 135

Frozen Lake

by Claire Apps

Alice's mouth opened and closed in astonishment. How could it be possible that in the middle of summer, with the yellow hazy sun beating down and temperatures soaring high, that the lake in front of her was frozen? Yes, frozen. A thick layer covered the entire lake in front of her. So thick, in fact, that she couldn't even penetrate it with a swing from a pickaxe.

There was no pooling of water, as you would expect when thawing – it was icy cold to the touch; a burning sensation. She could not see through the ice, to confirm if there was any flowing water below, or how thick the ice layer was. An anomaly so unexpected; so confusing that she did not know what to do. 

Not believing it, she had a tentative kick at the edge. THUNK. It was extremely thick. Totally awe inspiring. Could anything else in her life be more absurd? The smell of fresh cold crispiness filled her nostrils as she slipped on the lake.

"Isn't it beautiful?" Little Muna asked.

Story 136

A Walk On The Darkside

by Robbie Porter

The pain was exquisite, and unexpected. He never saw what hit the back of his head (it was hard to make out anything in the dim, impenetrable darkness) but rubbing the spot with his hand brought soothing relief.

He didn't just see stars, he glimpsed entire constellations. He'd have a huge, red, pulsating lump in the morning.

He tried to maneuverer round the murky, shadowy room but God alone knew where he was stepping next. He felt something soft and sticky squelch underfoot, immediately followed by an unmistakable whiff that made his eyes water.

Poo, he thought. Mrs. Twiddles wouldn't be far away, probably watching him now with those beady eyes of hers. Could he hear purring?

The closer he got to the kitchen, the stronger the stench became. He could hear the steady hum of the refrigerator, and headed gingerly toward it. He opened the door and was hit by a wall of stink that made him retch and step backward.

"Mum," he shouted upstairs. "We need to talk to someone about your hoarding."

Story 137

The Lost Room

by Edward Rouse

Clashing stinks met me at the supermarket; bitter smoke, beer breath, minty gum.

Tongue-raking perfume and fresh, flowery smells collided in the gift aisle.

"Which ones?" Mum asked, holding up some earrings.

I shrugged. "I really need the loo."

"Alright, love," Mum said. "Up to me then."

I slipped between the shoppers, looking down at shoes. Bleeps pursued me.

The door squeaked open. A hand-dryer waft hit me. I washed my hands and left.

Lights magnetised my eyes. Flickering screens surrounded me. I sank into a sofa. An old Christmassy film was on TV. My head slumped forward.

Breath feathered against my face. I woke in a dimly gas-lit room.

"Tired of this chaos?" an earthy voice asked.

"Yes, but I've lost my mum."

"You'll find her."

An ageless man in a black cape and top hat appeared.

I rubbed my eyes. "Where am I?"

"The backroom."

I sipped sweet tea, which he'd prepared.

"Bear with me," he said, passing through a door.

"Sam... Sam?"

I stepped through the door, but the top-hatted man was not there.

Story 138

The Death Of Bernardo – And Me

by David Silver

The exquisite aroma of coffee swished around my nostrils as I ordered a flat white with a shot of sweetened caramel. I slowly sipped the steaming nectar so as to gently savour the taste but then gulped it down too quickly as my pounding heart told me that I had been served by the most beautiful female I had ever beheld and that I must order a second coffee as an excuse to speak to her again.

The buzz of conversation taking place around me receded in my brain as my senses focused solely on the goddess behind the counter. I wanted to reach out and touch her sleeve as I saw from her uniform that her name was Barista. It sounded Latin-American.

Using the only foreign phrase I knew gleaned from many viewings of West Side Story I whispered romantically into her ear, "Bernardo muerto." But she merely shrugged. Tasting defeat in my scalded throat, I wondered if it were something I'd said.

Story 139

That Perfect Day

by Mike Evis

On that scorching summer's day, we stood by the railings, salt rusted metal rough and hot to touch, under a blazing sun shining from a cloudless, azure sky, pure and blue as the sea.

I gazed across the broad sweep of the bay, seeing the crumbling yellow cliffs, the sunlight glittering on the water like a myriad fireflies, and far off, hazy on the horizon, a tanker. But I only had eyes for Zoe, her yellow shorts and red T-shirt, those bronzed limbs so close to mine.

I felt alive, hearing the squawks of the seagulls swooping and soaring, mingling with the cries and shrieks of children on the beach, and I breathed deeply, inhaling the smells of brine and ozone, the waft of candy floss and chips.

The waves lapping against the golden sand seemed to caress the land, and when Zoe's hand touched mine I felt an electric jolt.

That day is still vivid in my memory, 30 years later.  I never saw her again.  The next day she went missing.

Story 140

A House Is Not A Home

by Maggie Elliott

'Downsize into an apartment for the over 55's', the leaflets that plopped through Eilidh's letterbox screamed.

Scrutinizing them, her eyes widened with interest.

Viewing secured, "I am only looking," she stipulated.

"No obligation," they reassured.

She could almost taste the aroma of coffee and bread that wafted round the foyer as she stepped inside.

The communal kitchen closed, she smelled a rat; a marketing ploy.

Activities listed on the wall were impressive; shopping, film nights, karaoke.

"What if I want peace and quiet?" she enquired.

"Soundproofed. You'll not hear a whisper," he reassured.

The sunshine radiating through the bi-folding doors inside the apartment was spectacular. Minimally furnished, Eilidh suddenly comprehended she would need to abandon most of hers.

"Broadband, satellite or digital TV requirements will be installed before residence," he enthused.

However, she knew the response to something she had to ask.

She was right. The ambience dissolved immediately.

When it comes to love, loyalty and gratitude, animals put humans to shame. Eilidh's going nowhere without hers.

Story 141

Starving

by Meg Gain

The engine shunted into the sidings. Iron grated on iron; a screeching shuddering sound. The railwayman climbed down from his cab, whistling cheerily. Arm muscles screaming in agony, I lowered myself. My knees scraped painfully against the rough brickwork. My ankle twisted. I bit my lip to silence my cry and tasted blood, warm and wet. I scrabbled in the dirt, finger nails rasping. I hobbled towards the locomotive. Then the rain came. My trousers clung to my legs in a soaking embrace.

I knew he would have left me his lunch box and a Thermos flask full of hot tea. The man called Joe knew I came at night. I was driven by an empty belly. Sometimes I was chased by dogs, urged on by burly men. My heart raced and I was sick with exertion but I was quick-witted and escaped. Joe's offerings, his gifts, were welcome. They gave me respite from a cruel world. I could sleep for a few hours, my hunger temporarily assuaged until the pattern repeated itself once more.

Story 142

Wretched

by Pat Hough

God, I hate this kitchen. Rancid grease has clustered around the sink and, as I labour over the encrusted pans, globs of scum and such-like coat my chapped hands. I try not to see the mice skittering between cupboards to snaffle any bits falling from Chef's counter. Their stink permeates the air, mixing with onion odour and burger hum.

Thump, thump. Interminable chopping from the sous chef drowns out Chef's infuriated curses. Nothing is ever right. It sickens me to watch him dab a finger in a pot, suck, then swear, add salt, dab, suck once more, then nod.

The steam, thank the Lord, creates a miasma. Lost in mist, I fantasize about a time when I'll be free of this. Can lounge and luxuriate, fondle a beauty or roll some dice. My ambitions are huge. Opportunity scant.

By knocking off time I'll be drenched, as if emerging from a jungle during the monsoon and will wander exhausted to my bedsit to face yet another day.

Story 143

The Cathedral

by Kailin Guo

People entered the cathedral and saw the light casting colourful shadows from the stained glass windows and smiled as they watched the light dance. They heard the discordant organ practice that released ill-fitting notes and revelled in battles between notes as they tried to escape the organ.

The angelic choir, singing hymns, echoed in the visitors ears. They would shiver as goose bumps started to cover their bodies because of the cool interior of the cathedral. And as they neared the exit, the taste and smell of damp air filled their lungs and mouths. It had just been raining – it was England after all.

But I was no normal visitor. I was a child. I danced with colourful shadows and they flickered and waned as if they were bowing. I skipped, listening to the organ and choir as if the sounds were the voices of angels. I pulled my coat on tighter as the cathedral got colder, thankful for my scarf.

As I left, I was greeted by the smell and taste of fresh beginnings.

Story 144

Still Standing

by Jade Robinson

The street was quiet. The sound of silence echoed in the air while the gentle breeze forced itself past my body. My hair felt like it was being ripped from my skull and my vision became increasingly blurred from the dust. The dust filled the air creating a thick and potent presence. I tried to move my muscles, but they were paralysed mid-motion.

The more I tried to remember and recognise where I was, the more empty and confused I became. The last thing I recalled was the sweet smell of perfume that surrounded the street, the bright light from the shop windows and the sound of women gossiping about their peers.

My memories soon vanished. My mind turned black and empty. My fears were awakening while my control was slowly being abducted. I felt increasingly helpless, as if my soul was being taken but my body was to remain in this now foreign land. I couldn't find the strength I once had to continue this fight. I had to go.

Story 145

The Visit

by Janet Lister

I inched my way down and down through a blanket of velvety black darkness, tripping and then falling awkwardly onto a pile-starved surface. I heard surprised voices and muffled laughter change unsubtly into ludicrously manufactured coughing.

As I lay there hurting, the darkness held its breath and eerily waited.

In silence I located the next stair edge and crawled cautiously down to the bottom of the flight. There I groped my way, feeling each hard outline, until I reached my place. I lowered myself down to examine the damage. I tasted blood, oddly metallic, and felt it warmly dribbling from my nose into my mouth. I wiped it away, trying to ignore the persistent ache in my knee.

It was then that I heard the return of the rustling and the murmuring. They were breathing again. Even through the blood I could smell the inescapable, overwhelming miasma of their popcorn.

Then – a deafening jingle, bright blinding images. We cheered together. The latest Star Wars film would soon be ours.

Story 146

Cancel Brunch, Buy New Shoes

by Louise Craig

I was lured from my bed by the tantalising smell of freshly made coffee, radiating from the kitchen. The satisfyingly strong waves of hot liquid caressed my tongue, until I realised, I was late.

With all the energy coffee could give, I dashed upstairs to throw on the most reasonable outfit my 'chairdrobe' had to offer and, looking like I had been dressed by a blind man, I grabbed my keys and headed out the door. The rain splattered my rosy cheeks like cold, wet bullets and when I stepped through the first puddle, I discovered the hole in my shoe as the cold water seeped through to my sock.

I debated whether or not 'brunch' with my mother was really worth it, but then I heard the hum of the bus engine behind me in the near distance. I sprinted for the bus stop, leaping over as many puddles as possible to avoid a completely sodden foot until, suddenly, a flash of blue passed me. That was it, I just had to reschedule.

Story 147

The Cat Of Summer

by Camilla Johansson

The old cat, once called Grace, had been resting under the oak tree in a hollow in the grass that perfectly hugged her body and made her feel safe. In the soft, dreamlike state between being asleep and awake cats master to perfection, she had watched the sun dance in the grass through the fluttering leaves.

The breeze had wrapped her in scents of grass, flowers and herbs growing in the meadow, and she could feel the sweetness of clover play against her nose like kisses of butterflies. As she got up she could feel the grass tickle her belly as she strode across the meadow, almost like a playful touch by human fingers.

The small cricket on the grass straw, having filled her ears with it's own kind of serenade and lulled her to sleep earlier, now startled her by leaping up in front of her, making her come to a halt. Every muscle in her body tense, Grace leapt as well. Her aim was perfect, the taste of cricket dry.

Story 148

Full English

by Michael Pickard

Before his eyes opened, his nose was alive to the rich smell of bacon wafting into his bedroom. His body stiff from sleep, he stretched his legs and lifted them out of bed before wrapping his plush dressing gown around his bare chest.

With every step, he could hear the floorboards creaking before he paused on the staircase, his ears picking out the soft sizzle of sausages in the frying pan. At the front door, he picked up the morning newspaper, its crisp white pages still wet with ink that bled on his fingers.

Led by his stomach, he walked into the kitchen, his eyes momentarily blinded by the bright sunshine pouring through the large glass windows before his vision focused on the table in front of him. Taking a seat, a full English breakfast was waiting for him to devour.

"How does it taste?"

"Perfect."

Story 149

Aida In Verona

by John Notley

An operatic performance in the Roman Arena di Verona is an experience not to be missed. Even if opera is not your thing, the atmosphere and spectacle are to be remembered for years to come. The audience is seated on marble steps on three sides of the arena. For extra comfort, cushions can be provided at a charge. Those more affluent have seats on the flat floor, closer to the stage.

As the performance is about to start, hundreds of candles are lit and held high by the audience which can number 15,000. To make the most of the experience, choose a performance of Aida. Apart from the majestic music, you can witness dozens of soldiers followed by horsemen who parade around the stage in seemingly endless procession.

The smell of horse droppings adds to the illusion of reality. Every sense is brought into play by the sight, sound and smell of the action which gives the feeling of being in ancient Egypt. It may even give you a taste for opera.

Story 150

Bedtime

by Mark Johnson

She ran her fingers through his thick, soft hair, gently scratching the skin underneath. She enjoyed the long, slow strokes as much as Charlie. Her nostrils filling with the sweet lavender scent she had sprayed on her pillows, Linda snuggled in the warmth of her flannel sheets.

A perfect Valentine's Day, she thought, licking the last hints of dark chocolate and dry champagne from her lips. She often said, "This combination sends me to my happy place."

With Mantovani's orchestra playing softly in the background, Linda could easily have drifted off to sleep. One glance at Charlie told her that he needed attention, so she rolled over on her back.

Charlie considered that an invitation, so he quietly climbed on top of her, resting his full weight on her chest. He put his mouth close to hers and sniffed her nose.

She smelled tuna. "Ugh, Charlie."

Charlie jumped to the floor, startled. "Meow?"

"I never knew you had such awful breath. Note to self: change Charlie's food."

She rolled over and went to sleep.

Story 151

Blackened Heart

by Lillia Hammond (aged 8)

The wind has blackened my heart. It's like an invisible ghost.

He's right next to me, fading away near the fire. My blood feels stone cold. Was it me, or had my evil grand mum just sent me here, to the middle of a dark forest, with only the fire for light?

Story 152

Cell

by Beena Nadeem

Tonight, from my holding cell, I stare outside. The crepuscular kiss of dawn's trace outlines the silver strewn patterns of early stars amongst the blanket of night. My breath hangs heavy, forming ghosts in the crisp light-starved room.

I churn over the day's events. The acid tones that spilt corrosively, screaming into the musty room, where cobwebs cling to the gilded corners.

"I put it to you, that you knew exactly what you were doing," said the dwarf-like, gowned witch of the docks. "Will the members of the jury please consider the facts carefully."

She was gleeful in her address, the red, ruddy, radish-hued blushing frump, about to seal my fate. Her semi-bronzed visage and haggard-hewn hobo-look was crowned by a wispy white nest of a wig. A smell of hibiscus flower, and a little of urine, pealing off the jury, choking any positive outcome with it.

"That is why this cannot be called self defence, ladies and gentlemen of the jury."

Story 153

Me And My Husband's Boyfriend

by Sandra Orellana

George carefully looked at my eyes, when he told me he was my husband’s boyfriend. "You’re the first one to know."

I stood up from my chair, confused. "Why?"

"You knew, but you didn’t want to accept it," said George, with his British accent and watery eyes. "Please sit down. He loved you and fought for his identity."

I sat down and looked around the cosy Italian restaurant. I felt I was the focus of attention, but it was all in my mind.

"We were never intimate before marriage – it was against our beliefs," I said quietly.

"He didn't want you to get pregnant," said George. "Now he's passed away and left us, I am here for you. Please forgive us."

"I do. I only got married, because he was there for me. Please forgive me too." I leant on the table and squeezed his hand. For the first time, I felt I didn't need to pretend.

We both smiled, with tears running down our cheeks.

Story 154

Strange Meeting

by Sue Johnson

Afterwards, there were only my footprints in the soft green moss of the woodland path. All that remains is a flashbulb memory framed in birdsong and the scent of bluebells. At first I was alert to every crack of a twig or whisper of breeze. The sight of the bluebells like an inland sea made me forget everything apart from the feel of his hand in mine. He drew me down so we sat amongst the waxy petals. We drank wine the colour of damask roses, ate chocolate cake, drowned in kisses. We discarded our clothes, tasted the salt of each other's skins. He dressed me in ivy garlands.

I woke alone with the cold eye of the moon staring at me. At home, nobody believed the story of my meeting with a woodland spirit but the child inside me was real. They've locked me away in a place they call a hospital to await the birth of my child. One day I'll escape and find my secret lover again.

Story 155

Poking Stars

by Jordan Bahnub

I inhaled, drawing in the solace of the summertime breeze. Then I exhaled, letting go of what I had been holding in, the space of my lungs devoiding it of its oxygen. The remainder of the air danced across my lips for a few seconds before becoming a wisp of nothingness again.

My head roved upwards, and through the ebony layering of darkness, pin-holes speckled the night sky. I reached into my denim-jeans, and pulled out my own little pin. It was my turn. I extended the full length of my arm, the slightly-algid metal in between my fingers a point. I poked it through the sky, a tribute of my own to contribute to the populace.

Drawing my hand back, I saw that I had done it perfectly. A new, smaller white dot had been added to the seething mass of nearly identical ones I knew by heart. A smile found its way to my face, showing the satisfaction I had for the star. I had done it right this time.

Story 156

A Heady Perfume

by Tiarnán Murphy

The wind whistled across her skin as she flew over the trees. Below her, her prey made its way through the park. Her stomach rumbled and growled as sweet saliva gathered in her mouth.

With her heightened senses, she could hear the crunch of the leaves as it walked over them. Not only that, but the steady thumping of its heart. She could smell the heady perfume of its sweat. She inhaled deeply, welcoming the intoxicating aroma mixed with the biting winter air.

She began her descent, the air parting smoothly around her wings, caressing them like the gentle touch of a lover. Her prey did not hear her coming. Sher folded her wings and dropped from the darkness of the sky. The wind howled in her ears, and she joined it. Its pale, startled face looked up just before her jaws snapped shut, cutting off terrified whimpering.

Throwing it to the back of her mouth, she swallowed.

She burped gouts of flame and spat out its boots. She didn’t always like her prey's wrappings.

Story 157

The Doughnut

by Jade Swann

It sat on the counter, wrapped in a pink box with clear cellophane like a present. The smell of fried dough seeped past the boxy walls and lingered in the air, accompanied by the slightest whiff of strawberries. The thick glaze of baby pink icing glimmered beneath the overhead light, glossy and reflective. Little blue and white sprinkles broke up the gooey smoothness of it.

Mocha licked her lips, drool dripping from her jowls and onto the kitchen counter with a soft patter. She could imagine biting into the soft dough, how the icing would stick to the roof of her snout with lip-curling, sugary goodness. The cakey vanilla base would mix with the strawberry icing to create a taste better than all of her treats combined.

She pawed at the cellophane and gnawed on the bottom flap of cardboard, but it wouldn't budge. Alas, her efforts to devour the sweet treat were thwarted by a lack of opposable thumbs.

Story 158

Stupid Hounds

by Jessica Turnbull

The fox burst through the undergrowth, his paws thrumming on the dry, crusted ground of the summer forest. His russet pelt stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the green bushes and the seven varieties of sweet smelling colourful flowers, but he didn't care.

His goal wasn't to hide, but to outrun the hounds.

The large dogs are considerably harder to shake than their human counterparts. Their small bodies are able to break through the undergrowth, trampling grass and weeds under their dirty paws. The fox could feel their hot breath on his hide as he raced through the forest, his brown eyes darting around for an opening. The dogs start yapping behind him, foamy drool seeping from their mouths.

Just as the fox starts to slow, he sees his chance. Ignoring the scream of his tired muscles, he dives into a large hole next to a gnarled tree, heaving his tired body through the clumps of dirt and wriggling worms. The dogs growl outside the entrance, digging frantically with their dull claws.

Stupid hounds.

Story 159

More Than Meets The Eye

by Hannah Wigley

Sitting cross-legged in a forest clearing, Elia raised her face to the hot midsummer sun. She felt the scorching rays coaxing her shy freckles out from their winter beds, and the tip of her pointed nose being gently browned like a bonfire marshmallow.

She inhaled deeply and slowly, discovering the earthy aroma of warm pines heated in the June air, the sweetness of a nearby honeysuckle bush and the herbal, reassuring fragrance of lavender. Elia held the air in her chest for a while, like a smoker holding the cigarette puff in their lungs, letting the scents roam her body.

Exhaling leisurely, her attention turned to the fine mist, propagated by a fast-flowing river close by, beading in her hair like morning dew. Its splashes and roars told of a rocky river bed. In contrast, the leaves above her rustled tenderly as a slight breeze caressed them and timid birds among their branches whispered ancient love songs to one another.

When Elia opened her eyes, she couldn't see. But that didn't matter to her anymore.

Story 160

The Bird Died

by Nam Raj Khatri

One fine evening, I noticed a colourful bird on top of the flowery bush in front of my house. It seemed excited, but conscious of danger.

I quickly took a few pictures – click, click, click – using my mobile camera, from a medium distance, hoping the bird wouldn't fly away. Evening light isn't bright, but when you take a photo towards the east, it becomes surprisingly light.

The bird disappeared and night fell.

The next morning, I noticed that a bird was floating in my bucket. It was the same colourful bird which I'd seen the previous evening. I couldn't work out how it got there.

Maybe the bird tried to drink the water and accidentally fell in. Maybe it got very cold and became unable to fly. I felt sadness in my heart.

My daughter picked a bunch of flowers and buried the bird near the fruit tree. We have my pictures to remember it.

Story 161

The Writing Is Gonna Get You

by Anita Goveas

It's the way the blue Biro whorls loop themselves on the paper that sucks her in.  Her novel is eating her from the inside, poetry is so hard. But a little flash fiction, 200 words, how difficult could that be? Her shiny notebook is smooth to the touch, the crinkle of pages soothing after the harsh taps of the delete button. This is something she'll definitely finish.

The pleasant cramping of her hand makes the story come to life. Words leap on the page like flickering Bunsen burners. Her dreams are invaded by flames. She wakes up with the pressure of heat on her skin, and a need for more.

A shiver runs through her body as the great idea for the ending strikes, and is submerged in the squeal of brakes. She's stopped in the middle of the road. They're telling her she's lucky as the ambulance bumps the throbbing new pulse in her knee. She agrees, as a string of new fictions dance before her bleary eyes.

Story 162

Reborn

by Irene Kalesi

She stared at the cloudless blue sky. She spread her limbs and closed her eyes. She squeezed them and felt the pressure going up to her head. She saw the most beautiful canvases moving in front of her eyes, unobstructed and never-ending. She loved this sensation of free-falling in herself.

The breeze's energy on the brown Vellus hair of her arms felt comforting. It was as if somebody caressed her tenderly like a mother. It seemed natural and non-invasive. Her fingertips skimmed across the fresh damp grass. It was the most welcoming cradle she had ever laid on. Its grassy fragrance grounded her to the spot, but strangely breathed life into her.

As Nature was slowly claiming her body, tears started slipping down her cheeks along with her sadness. The drops fell on the ground and sealed the innate union. She was ready to embrace the world because he was one with it. She inhaled deeply and opened her eyes. Everything was the same but her. She had been born again into Nature.

Story 163

Thoughts And Prayers

by Liam Arnold

He yelled unknown demands in a language I didn't understand. Bright flashes filled the room, followed by a metallic smell. The only thing heard were screams, despite the deafening explosive bursts that begged to be listened to.

My eyes opened, despite not wanting to witness the violence. He walked over, scraping his weapon across the wall, making a sound that was somehow worse than what preceded it. I felt my heart pounding in my chest and I knew it was counting down its last beats.

We made eye contact and I saw the evil within him. This was a man who wreaked of bloodshed. A man who took the last words from others.

I ran my fingers over the smooth wooden floor that was coated in drying blood. He pushed the cold, metal barrel into my mouth and once again screamed demands that will never be met. The taste did not overpower the shrieks beside me.

I raised my hand, to feel my beating heart one last time.

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Glynis D
It's my first writing experience on here. I'm completely green about how to do it on a computer, as I usually write by hand. How do I do it as I would live to have ago at this? Thanks.

Chris Fielden
Hi Glynis.  Just type your story into the comments box, like you did your comment :-)

Glynis D
OK, will do. Many thanks.

Ann E
Sounds like fun! One of my writing student just sent me this link. I'll see if I can get them to enter. I'll give it a go too.

Chris Fielden
Fabulous, thanks Ann :-)

Alan B
Hello Chris. Good to see the beginning of another fine challenge. Might have an idea of my own soon.

Chris Fielden
Great, thanks Alan. There's a bit of a queue with challenges now (around 12 months) but I'm always open to ideas :-)

Sivan P
Congratulations for introducing the Sensory Writing Challenge. Enjoyed all the interesting stories published so far.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Sivan :-)

Margaret E
Good morning, Chris. It was good to read about your musical success in the USA.

I'm really enjoying reading the other entries up to date. It's wonderful to have an opportunity for deep purple prose.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Margaret - and thanks for submitting :-)

Jerry W
Extremely happy for the well-deserved growth and popularity of your website. Rock on. It matters. Wilson.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Jerry :-) Fielden.

Michael R
I put my finger on it and suggest this is not a challenge to be sniffed at. I spotted it on your site before I heard about it. It is very much to my and. it seems, many others sensitive taste.

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Michael - a comment that's a sensory story all of its own... :-)

Namita M
Hi Allen and Christopher. Thank you very much  for allowing me to send my writing to this project. It's not only a great opportunity to publish my story, it's a great inspiration and fulfilling to work for the charity.

I hope this enthusiasm will be continued and the people in need will benefit from this project.

With my best wishes and many thanks again. Namita.

Chris Fielden
Thanks for your kind works, Namita.

It’s a pleasure to publish your stories and support some amazing charities.

Thank you for taking part in the challenges - it's very much appreciated :-)

Sandy P
Hi Allen and Christopher. Love the challenges. It does inspire a lot of writers to, 'have a go'. Me for one.

Chris Fielden
Great, thanks Sandy. We'll look forward to reading your submission :-)

Elizabeth M
Hope I've managed to submit properly.

This is a great site. Thank you for running it.

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Elizabeth :-)

You have indeed - thanks for submitting, your story has now been published above.

Carolyn C
Grace Howard and Charley Swire are already wonderful writers.

Sheila R
Chris, this was so much fun! Your contests and challenges are the best and I look forward to receiving all your emails and newsletters. To Hull And Back is my absolute favorite and I can't wait to see your finalists.  Don't ever stop!

Chris Fielden
Thanks, Sheila!

You'll be pleased to hear that stopping is not in my nature :-)

Jasmine S
Hi There, for challenge entries, do we have to use our full proper name, or can we use our penname? My penname still uses names on my birth certificate, just not my full name.

Thanks, Jaz

Chris Fielden
Hi Jaz. Using a penname is fine. I'll look forward to receiving your story :-)

Jennifer C
I love this idea. In my life overseas I have had many sensory challenges which I can write about. Nairobi was the first in the first challenge - might do a second one, or there's Mauritius in the 1960's followed by Zambia, followed by Hong Kong in the 80's - now, there's a place! Using only 175 words is a challenge in itself!

I must collect my thoughts, make a decision, and WRITE!

Many false starts to come, but such fun to do. Thank you for this opportunity.

Chris Fielden
Well, it sounds like you have a lot of experience to draw on, Jennifer. We'll look forward to receiving your story :-)