For a while in early 2015 I gatecrashed a twitter mini-fiction party taking place under the #smalltales banner. Everybody was kind enough to look the other way as I trod on people’s feet and finished off the last of the cheese twists, which made the whole experience a highlight of the Monday commute. The resultant 100-word concocta had to be hosted somewhere, and that somewhere had to be hyperlinked, and that hyperlink happened to attract your thumbstroke stroke cursorclick, and here we both are.
Seigneur, February 9 2015
The bishop of Rouen tapped his foot impatiently and wiped the sweat off his mitred brow. He hated public burnings. They took forever. He wondered idly, as a jagged coronet of flame encircled the high-piled dais, if her fabled voices had finally deserted her. The voices that had given a shepherdess the words to challenge kings. The voices of a girl who led an army. As her eyes blazed at him through a chink in the roaring curtain, his soul was suddenly burned with understanding. She raised her mouth to the Heavens; and her lips formed a single fire-blackened word
Fume, February 16 2015
They started exploding all over the country. In London first, pushed to breaking point by poor tube etiquette and the unstoppable rise of novelty cafés. It soon spread though, as everything does, and within a week the explosions had reached Liverpool. By April the population of the mainland United Kingdom was down to seven, and a handful of survivors were livetweeting its imminent arrival on Jura.
People couldn’t understand why heads kept bursting open like microwaved grapes, but that wasn’t about to stop it happening. It made a lot of them very angry.
In retrospect, that was their first mistake.
Gutter, February 23 2015
There wasn’t much to it, really. A few flicks of the knife – a practiced counterclockwise scrape for the trickier organs – and there you had it. One fish, twice gutted. Counting, of course, its reaction upon first arriving at the mother-of-pearly gates.
“No, I can’t see you tonight,” the young man on the other side of the counter was saying. “I’ve got work.” He hung up the phone, grinning ruefully at Lionel.
“The Oscars are on,” he said. “Can’t miss that!”
Lionel nodded gravely. We may all be lying in the gutter’s, but some of us are looking at the stars.
Breakfast, March 2 2015
New-napkined tables, freshly laid
Unopened pots of marmalade,
A rack of crisply well-browned toast –
A bill-free pile of morning post –
The smooth scalp of an egg boiled well
Emerging from its perfect shell;
Fresh fruit the sous-chef went to forage
Garnishing my bowl of porridge,
And cheeses stacked in shiny towers
With butter pats like tiny flowers
That melt as streams of tea flow past,
With smoothies labelled ‘berry blast’
And – give the people what they want –
A flaky, chocolate-filled croissant.
It’s all so perfect in my head,
I’ll just have breakfast here in bed.
Caldera*, March 9 2015
Each bloody skirmish in Arthur’s prolonged teenage war on acne had been duly commemorated on the increasingly crowded canvas of his face.
He had not been the only casualty, of course. He recalled endless rows of lotion bottles, their contents long since buried in some forgotten corner of an increasingly foreign-looking field.
His face in the mirror reminded him of the surface of the moon, bubbling over with its canyons and wide gaping calderas.
People had gone to the moon, hadn’t they, in order to understand it better? Maybe, he thought, one day someone would do the same for him.
Squint, March 16 2015
“So,” he said, squinting again as he peered closer. “These Ten Commandments.”
“Yes?” said Moses, shifting his weight uneasily from one foot to the other. “What about them?”
“Given to you by God, were they, up there on the mountain?”
“Yes, Aaron,” said Moses. “Given to me by God.”
“His chiselling’s a little sloppy, isn’t it? Especially down here around Respecting thy Fat Mother”
“Father and Mother,” corrected Moses
“It definitely says Fat,” said Aaron, judiciously. “And it’s high time the Almighty revisited His apostrophes!”
Moses, fidgeting with the stone tablets, suddenly wished he’d included something nasty about older brothers.
Cake, March 31 2015
Let them eat cake, she said, flouncing out of the room in a gown that made her look like a small cathedral.
Louis knew there was no use arguing with her when she got like this. He sighed and reached for the sealing wax. The ban on ordinary citizens consuming pastries within the territories of France had been rigidly enforced for nearly three hundred years, but it was no match for the generosity of Marie Antoinette.
They’d better bloody remember this, he grumbled.
It just goes to show that even at the height of the Bourbon monarchy, context is always king.
Plethora, April 20 2015
Do I have any sisters? Just the one. And let me tell you, that’s Plenty.
No, you don’t understand – that’s her name. Plenty. It’s a joke.
Yes you do, with the upturned horn, and the presents, and all that fruit?
That’s right, Plenty!
Thought you would.
Yes, Plenty and Plethora.
We’re Greek, you see.
Well that’s very sweet of you, I’m sure, but you wouldn’t say that if you met her.
She just makes people feel completely – satisfied, somehow.
Me? People say I’m complicated. Excessive. Too much to handle. Unnecess-
No no, that’s fine. Story of my life.
Body, May 5 2015
‘I’d like to be a person again,’ said the disembodied voice. ‘I liked being a person.’
The Official stared at him with surprise, insofar as anyone can ever truly stare at a disembodied voice.
‘You do remember the responsibilities that come with a human body, don’t you?’ he asked, consulting his notes. ‘You might be a bit out of practice. Human society has changed since 1412, y’know.’
‘I can do it,’ pleaded the voice. ‘Just give me one more chance!’‘Very well,’ sighed the official, portentously snapping his fingers.
In the Lindo Wing, a long-awaited baby’s voice began to mewl.
Candle*, May 11 2015
Nikolai, said Father Kybrlik, run to the market in Charles Square and get the candles for the evening service.
The money disappeared once Nikolai set eyes on Paulina, who sold hand-carved wooden animals for 15 zloty apiece from a stall outside the cathedral.
When Nikolai and Paulina married in the year that war broke out, Father Kybrlik presided over the ceremony, and in the year that peace returned he blessed their firstborn son.
Nikolai’s son is now a grandfather, and the candles in Charles Square have long since melted. Only the small wooden elephant survives, unextinguished by the weeping wind.
Hood, June 1 2015
Burned faces. Scalps peeled a glowing red. Luminous trembling sores like egg yolks that bloomed over patchwork skin.
The hood could tell if you were lying. So they claimed. How could an inanimate object know the truth? This was the sort of absurdity we no longer questioned.
They only used the hood on people they thought could tell them something. Mostly, people only told them to stop. Told. Begged. Screamed.
They put it over my head and fastened the straps.
Where is she, they asked, and I could smell the steam rising from my skin before I felt the pain.