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read online Glimpses of Science Fiction. A collection of published stories. by Colin W. Campbell. _ _ _ _ _ ALL ALONE Jake cursed as he banged the heavy radiation shutters tight. He knew it was best not to watch. Anyway, he did not care to watch the sun rise large, red and malevolent through the dust that swirled harsh on the far hills of the eastern horizon. It was not easy to be the last human on Earth. He got down to checking the few monitors that were still working. Routine helped. Something to focus on. Anything that could take his mind away from the loneliness, from the sense of being left behind, from the whispers that were always just below the threshold of hearing, from the voices that hid in the sad songs of the wind as it danced through the unwholesome dust of the dying Earth. A little scurrying noise caused Zake to look behind. He turned slow and steady, no need to scare them so they would slip back into those dark corners that they liked so much. "So, where are my little guys hiding and what are you plotting now?" He spoke out loud. Apart from the Goblins, there was no one to hear, to reply, to criticize, to approve, to care. However, there were always the Goblins. It was way back in the early years of his isolation that he had first conjured up these mischief-making companions. Looking back, he sometimes wished he might have picked on a rather more benign species to populate the loneliness of his mind, Elves or Fairies perhaps. But there are some things that cannot be undone. Then he would remember his reasoning, for companions who are much too nice might soon become just too boring. So he had wanted Goblins and now he had Goblins lurking in that space between what is real and what is not. A blinking light on the main board caught his eye and drew a quickening heart beat. It called him to a message incoming from way out in deep space. It was always from way out these days for this was the posting that no one else would take. He tidied his hair and collar line before hitting the switch. He needn't have bothered for there was no video link, no action required, just another advert for something he didn't need and couldn't order that had wormed its sneaky way past the filters. Then it was time to check the water. One after another, Zake's heavy boots rang loud on the bare rungs of the access ladder. When you're all alone you take care on ladders. You remember there are no medics, no back-up, and no nice nurse with cool hands and a warm smile. As he stepped into the partial darkness of the service tunnel he sniffed the blast of cool air and caught a hint of mildew. He put the fans on full. All along the tunnel there were the little whispers and an occasional hint of movement back in the shadows. Things that were there but at the same time were not there. He didn't like it when they were quiet and today the Goblins seemed quieter than usual. He checked the water every morning. For Zake this was an act in which he saw a sense of history. These were the end days. There would never be another human on Earth and at the same time this was the very last of the good water that had made Earth what it once had been. He had taken to enjoying his own jokes. As he said to himself and sometimes to the Goblins, if he didn't laugh then no one else would. Today, on his way to the water he burst out giggling like a schoolgirl at his new security measure, perhaps not very original but surely effective. He thought of how many times the same old joke might have been made in some form or another down through the millennia when mankind walked the Earth. But this would be the last time on Earth and it was his time. He giggled all the more as he pictured the carefully handwritten notice he had pinned to the wall of the precious water storage facility: Dear Goblins, Please be advised. I have peed in the water. Signed, Zake. "That should keep it safe from these thieving little Goblins," he said. However, as he drew close he saw the notice was not quite as he had left it. For beneath his steady measured words there was something new, scrawled so carelessly that he had to look close to read it: Dear Jake, And so have all of us. Signed, The Goblins. Below this, on the notice and on the wall all around, many strange and unpronounceable names had been added with Zake's own pen but in as many different hands as there were names to see. In the months that followed, Zake spent many quiet hours wondering about the effects of isolation on the human mind and why the water tasted so salty. end All Alone was published in Fantastic Frontiers Magazine, Sept 2012. _ _ _ _ _ _ A NEW BEGINNING "Was it really so wrong when some good-old-guys made their own moonshine whiskey? Or when rich folks paid to be space tourists? Or when they started mining the asteroids and upset the stupid commodities markets? Or way back when they added carbonated water to patent medicine and made Coca Cola? I'm just glad they did," said Ben West. He held the glass to his ear to listen to the bubbles bursting for a while. Then he added. "Look, you just can't put the bubbles back in and pretend it hasn't happened." "Time travel is different," said Sara. "It's against the laws of nature and what you are going to do sure does go against some of the laws we have right here and now. So be careful." Ben grinned at his own response, "You can't go against the laws of nature. Either something works or it doesn't work. The Department's got itself well into time travel and with taxpayers' money. That's our money you know. And it looks like everyone we work with thinks it's OK." He looked around the near empty café. Just the two of them late in the day at the same old table. Nothing much to see except the multi-media they could have gone home for or the never ending haze drifting it's choking way outside the bio-dome. That's why we've been coming here all these years he thought, it's about being able to look out, nothing more, there should be something more. Then a door slammed somewhere and his mind came back with a jolt to the cancer and the crippling medical bills and why he had to go back. "Anyway," said Sara. "What if you get caught? "Hey, I won't get caught. I know my way around. Ought to, I've worked here long enough. I've got the all the clearances. The security computer thinks I'm one of the good guys. What's more, if they don't get me before I go back they don’t get me at all. I'll be history." As they had planned, they didn't have the luxury of a proper goodbye, just one last long squeeze of hands that the surveillance systems wouldn't pick up on. Ben whispered, "You know what they say. If only we could know then what we know now." Then he was gone. *  *  * It was the day they went over to the private sector, the day the Department was taken over by the Ben West Corporation. Sara had a good seat in the front row for Ben's well scripted and well delivered speech. She nodded at his tales of how he had kept his research ahead of the competition both worldwide and domestically. She giggled at the jokes just a little more than perhaps she should have. More than once, their eyes met as he spoke and she found herself thinking out loud, "If only I'd been lucky enough to have met someone like that." end A New Beginning was accepted for E-book publication in the Stories in the Ether, Issue Four, May 2012, having first appeared in the online version, Nevermet Press, 23 Dec 2011. _ _ _ _ _ _ OUT OF DEEP SPACE "They're not pets, so don't get too attached to them." Commander 701 hissed the words gently for he remembered his own first spin around Earth orbit. And the second, and the third, and what it means to be posted here for a lifetime studying the humans as they messed it all up. With no warning, he took his hands clear off the controls. It was just enough to start a little high speed wobble for the auto-assist to correct. A sideways glance at the co-pilot seat showed the younger reptilian was now fully focused on the re- entry protocols. He could relax as he said, "You take the ship down." Cadet 13,012 replied briskly and correctly, "Sir-yes- Sir. Humans are not pets. No Sir. What we think about them is in no way mission critical and anyway, everything will be changing soon if the invasion force keeps to schedule. Taking us down now." Just for a moment, Commander 701 reached over and gently touched the firm young scales where the cut of the uniform revealed a tempting glimpse of glistening upper body. They had been together, alone out in deep space for a very long time. "Just listen to you now," he said. "No more problems with your English. You sound just like these old movies you watched over and over again, until you got it right." "OK boss." She spoke without taking her eyes off the controls. "I know it's not completely natural but it doesn't need to be. We're not here to negotiate." "Remember your cultural orientation." The Commander smiled as he spoke. "It's not only about knowing how to speak. It's what you say that counts." "Yes, perhaps we could let them know the main invasion fleet is on its way by saying we might have a few friends dropping in. It's a silly language anyway," said the Cadet. "But it was you who volunteered for the mission and for the language." There was a hint of disapproval in his voice so the Cadet leaned over to touch him ever-so-gently on the knee. She knew that always worked. Rising to the cultural challenge she said, "So, can you name me an Earth politician you would buy a used car from?" "Oh any of them," said Commander 701."The few that think they know us, do what they're told. The ones who don't know, don't matter." Then they were setting down on the surface of the deep blue ocean. She was pleased they were perfectly positioned above the under-sea base. It was getting dark. The Cadet thought that later she might ask to come up topside to enjoy the fresh breeze. Something real and natural after being in deep space for so long. Just as they were slipping beneath the waves the Commander turned to her and said, "And there is something I need to tell you. My wife is stationed here. So we'll need to forget about what went on in deep space especially as I'm getting the old Admiral's job. I'm sorry I should have told you before, but you know what it's like out there." "How could you," said Cadet 13,012. She spoke with a chill hiss. She had a new forceful look in her eyes. It was a look she had kept hidden as they traveled through deep space. Like she had hidden the fact that she had known all along about the wife waiting on Earth. Most of all, she had kept very quiet about her ambition to rise rapidly through the ranks and the knowledge that she had been getting herself the leverage to do just that. end Out of Deep Space was published in both the online and PDF versions in The Fringe Magazine, Jan 2011. _ _ _ _ _ _ THE MINISTRY OF DIRTY TRICKS All these years ago when it started, Duke was just one of these overpaid, do anything, off-home-world operatives. The planet administrators were little impressed when he asked for a Council Meeting to propose a new section for what he called dirty-tricks. What happened at that meeting is now well written into the lore. "So, why do we need dirty-tricks?" said one admin- guy, speaking as it were for them all. "Look," said Duke pointing to the clock on the wall. Of course, their eyes went to the clock so they didn't see Duke throw his water-bottle into they corner of the room. It made a noise loud enough to make them all jump and for the security-guys to reach towards the well concealed tools of their trade. "So what?" said the admin-guy. "Now we all know the time." "Yes, and I know where their weapons are," said Duke. They gave Duke his section. Of course, it was small at first but it became useful and grew strong as the young planetary colony fought to survive its early years of political intrigue, pirate incursions, unequal trade deals, attempted coups and so on, the usual. At first, Duke operated under gentle sounding cover names. For a while he ran The Office for Planetary Welfare then it grew into the Department for the Protection of Planetary Welfare. However, any young colony is pretty much a closed society and soon everyone was just calling it the "Ministry of Dirty Tricks." Then at one particular Council Meeting that had followed on from a long and generous lunch, they made it official. It was formally proposed, seconded and agreed and on that day Duke became the Minister of Dirty Tricks, for real. In the years that followed, anything published by Duke's ministry became a popular collectors' piece on account of the banner heading. Any well authenticated item bearing the heading "Ministry of Dirty Tricks" could command a high price at auction. Many thought this went a long way to explain how Duke was becoming ever wealthier. Others thought it might go only some little way to explaining his success but knew it would really be best to keep such thoughts to themselves. So it was that concern grew back on the home world, for Duke's power and influence were spreading unchecked across the known occupied reaches of the galaxy. An assassin was sent. * * * Jake knew well that would be assassins should take extra care. But the ladies who worked as hostesses on the deep-space transports were well known for their discretion and it was a very long journey. "It's OK," said the lady with the sky blue eyes and the expensive perfume. Her smile was deep and meaningful and conveyed an affectionate appreciation for the over generous tip. "You can only imagine how very discrete we can be here. She poured another drink for Jake and then for herself and then another for Jake." It was not long before the drink was taking effect but Jake was careful to say nothing of his mission. "Time to go now," she said. Her sky blue eyes had a beckoning look and her hand felt reassuringly firm on Jake's arm. "Wow!" said Jake as he stumbled to his feet. "That is powerful stuff." He gestured broadly towards his last glass, knocking it over. "Don't worry, I know where you're going," she said as they set off. Her words had a faraway quality as they echoed down the now mostly empty passageways of the deep-space transport. And then they were there. "So, this the way into your quarters? said Jake, Turning, he saw a heavy door close behind him with his companion still outside. "Actually, it's an airlock," said the lady with the sky blue eyes, the lady from the Ministry of Dirty Tricks. end The Ministry of Dirty Tricks was published online in 365 tomorrows, 30 April 2012. _ _ _ _ _ _ A WAVE FROM A STRANGER "Oh shit!" the four young volunteers shouted in unison as they stepped off the rear ramp of the C130. They stopped shouting quickly enough when the wind hit them. Then the static lines jerked the chutes open and their world became quieter as they drifted down out of a clear blue sky. They had not been told where or what they were dropping into so they strained to look for anything they could identify on the ground. "Oh shit!" shouted number 3. "No," one of the others called back. "We've done that bit already." "It's Area 51. We've been dropped into area 51. I know it from the Internet," 3 shouted pointing at some buildings on the ground, which was now coming up fast. They hit the ground, rolled, got the wind out of their chutes, checked to see they hadn't broken any bones, checked again, bundled up and discarded the chutes, checked their equipment and changed their headgear. They carried no weapons except, as their instructor had constantly reminded them, that greatest of all weapons the human brain. They gathered around Number 1, for he carried the sealed orders marked in red: Open Once on the Ground. "Listen up," said 1, holding up a sketch map that looked like it showed just a corner of something larger. "We have to find our way here and make a visual inspection of some materials .... " "A weather balloon perhaps," said Number 2 grinning at Number 3. "We are to make a visual inspection, but no written notes. We have to remember all we see for the debriefing," said 1. "Is that it? We draw our pay for playing silly games like this. By the way, just how do we get to walk about a secure area, a very secure area," said 4 looking around to see if any vehicles were racing towards them. "It says here they're expecting us and we get these passes," said 1, distributing them. They hung them round their necks. "So why use us for this," said 4. "They could just have sent Mickey Mouse and his pals." "OK Mickey let's go," said 1. "Hey, no names remember the briefing," said 2. "OK Number 2," the others shouted making lavatorial gestures. Number 1 switched to hand signals: quiet, move out, single file. He took the point himself and had them follow on in numerical order. It was hot, desert hot, and they had a couple of hours on foot ahead of them. What they had glimpsed and marked down as nearby from the air was much further away on the ground. They had one water-bottle each and these were nearly empty as they approached the outlying buildings. They'd seen no need to conserve water so close to what was after all, a friendly base. When they reached the nearest buildings they saw that there was no perimeter. They guessed they were already miles inside the main security. They passed a few personnel, some armed some not, some in uniforms they recognized and some they didn't. Everyone exchanged salutes correctly but not as smartly as they were used to. Number 3 said it was probably because this was very much a closed community and they'd have become used to each other. Number 2 saluted the CC TV cameras as well until Number 1 told him to stop. They'd soon passed most of the buildings on the sketch map and drew level with the last building prior to the mission target. Number 3 pointed inside and said, "Look it's a canteen. We could get a cold drink and fill our water-bottles. We may not get the chance again for a while." They looked at Number 1. He looked at them and at his watch and the sketch map. "OK but just 20 minutes," he said. * * * The debriefing was slow and careful. Four officers sat directly across from the four volunteers. Two large MPs stood at the door trying to look important though no one paid any attention to them. The Officer-in-Charge was in uniform but all indications of rank and ID were missing. They tried to work it out by looking for the marks on the cloth where these had been and guessed he must be important. Even though everything was being taped, a Master Sergeant took pen and paper notes. There was a rather obvious mirror-wall down one side of the room. The volunteers grew increasingly impatient as the details of their drop and walk in were recorded in unnecessary detail. When the debriefing finally got around to the events in the canteen they were straining forward in their chairs and had to be stopped from all shouting at once. "OK let's hear it from Number 1," said the Officer- in-Charge. "It wasn't a main canteen, more like a rest area," said Number 1. "There were a couple of guys there but they were leaving as we arrived. They had a very close look at our passes. They said it would be OK to make ourselves a coffee, the stuff was all there, and fill our water-bottles. Then Number 3 went for a pee. He came back looking like he'd seen a ghost or something. He could hardly speak properly. He just kept pointing down this corridor and saying something about taking a wrong turning and we all had to go see it too." Everyone turned to look at Number 3 who moved around in his chair and looked like he was about to lose his power of speech all over again. Number 1 continued, "We followed him down the corridor, in fact it was several corridors and then we saw it." "Didn't you even stop to think about wandering about in closed areas of a secure facility, a very secure facility?" said the Officer-in-Charge. "No sir," said Number 1, adding lamely that they had passes. "So tell us exactly what it was you saw." said the Officer-in-Charge. "Yes sir," said Number 1. "There was a window set into the wall of the corridor. Like the kind you get in a hospital, you know for an isolation ward. There were curtains but they were half open. So we could see in. It wasn't well lit but there was a bed, a small lamp and the light from the TV. But it was what was in the bed that was crazy. You won't believe us." "I'll be the judge of that," said the Officer-in-Charge. "Who was in the bed?" "That's it, not a who, a what," said Number 1. "It was an alien, like something from Roswell but it was very old." To his credit, the Officer-in-Charge took this in his stride with no outward indications of surprise or disbelief. The Master Sergeant who was taking notes dropped his pen. The two large MPs exchanged glances that suggested they wanted to go outside for a good laugh. The other volunteers were quick to loudly and earnestly give their support to what Number 1 was saying. "Right, as you were," said the Officer-in-Charge." Continue Number 1." "Well it was watching TV. Then it saw we were looking at it and turned its head towards us. We know it saw us because it gave us a little wave. It only had three fingers on its hand. It was a wave but it had one finger raised." Number 1 lifted his hand to demonstrate the rude gesture. Not wanting to do this in the direction of the Officer-in-Charge he gestured in the direction of his own reflection in the mirror instead. At this point one of the two large MPs appeared to be choking and they were both ordered outside. "Then what?" said the Officer-in-Charge. "There isn't much more," said Number 1. "That's when the security guys grabbed us and put us in detention until our own people came to collect us and brought us back here." "Right," said the Officer-in-Charge." We'll get you into separate rooms. I want you to write down everything you remember. I mean everything and I want a sketch of the alien and a list of everything in that room. I want everyone back in here at 14.00 hours sharp." The Officer-in Charge stood up so they all stood up. Salutes were exchanged crisply and the room soon emptied. * * * The folks behind the two-way mirror relaxed. They were joined by Number 3 who was really one of them. "Weren't the young volunteers sweet?" said a lady in a white coat. "My volunteers aren't sweet madam," said a man in a grey suit grinning at Number 3. "Anyway it's not about them." So they all compared notes on how the Officer-in- Charge had reacted and agreed there were no problems so far. Would he get the job at Area 51? Too soon to tell, he hadn't even thought of applying for it yet. "Pity we have to tell them it was all just an exercise and a pity we couldn't use the real Area 51," said the lady in the white coat. "Or the real alien," someone said. end A Wave from a Stranger was published as the Winner in the Writers Billboard Short Fiction Competition, December 2007. _ _ _ _ _ _ SEX ON THE LAWN So how would you like it if your father had been slipping away to have sex with aliens? Well, this whole alien abduction thing is really driving me nuts! You'd think after all this time everyone would be getting a bit bored with the same old stories. Well yes, they are and that's the problem for it's my story and the grown-ups just aren't listening anymore. I've had to live with the stories just about all my life. At first I used to hear things that I wasn't supposed to. Now I'm a little older, Father even talks to me about it and tries to explain. I might believe him if he had the guts to say he does it because he can, but he tries to pretend it's all been for procreation. Well hello, I'm old enough to know recreation when I see it. What's more, each time he's been doing it he comes back to his little-old, boring grey world with the same smug, self-satisfied, superior sort of look on his face. I just hate it when I see him like that. He even says all his friends are doing it too, as if that makes everything alright. It's all been so unfair to my Mum. I don't get to see her too often but I know she loves me. I call her 'Big Mummy' because I thought she was so big when I was young. I think father finds her size exciting in an unnatural sort of a way. She could pick him up physically and throw him around, but he's got all the power in the relationship so she just has to do what he wants. I keep thinking about all the other Mums out there. It's not fair to them either. I guess they all have much the same story to tell. Well hybrids like me are the future, you'd better believe it. A few of us have gathered together and dreamt up a neat way to get our fathers to leave the Earth-girls alone. You'll be seeing the results soon for we have something planned for their next grab-an-alien party. We've reset their auto-navigation system for a landing on the White House lawn. Let's just wait and see who they try to have sex with when they get there. end Sex on the Lawn was published in print in the Anthology, Pill Hill Press, Daily Flash 2012. _ _ _ _ _ _ OUT OF TOUCH "Jazon, you're watching it speeded up again." Marie spoke gently with the non confrontational tones of the seasoned space traveler. But Jazon saw her shoulders were tense for there were no secrets after all these months with just the two of them in the return module. "It's not too bad now," said Jason. "We're slowing down all the time. It may still be a bit compressed but it's a real live signal from Earth. I like live. It was great to be picked for deep-space but there is something special about getting to go home. Listen to this guy. Don't you think he sounds a bit like Mickey Mouse?" "So we get to listen to a four hundred year old rodent," said Marie. "Go on record it and play it back with the Doppler edited out. Please, it's great to get regular Earth programs again and we've been far enough away and moving fast enough to have some real catching up to do." "OK you win again, take the control," said Jason and they settled down to watch Marie's choice of Earth TV played at the correct speed. "Hundreds to choose from and you pick an old Star Trek," said Jazon. For a while they watched the scary monster head speaking American English with a strange accent and little attempt at grammar, telling the poor Earth- folks what they needed to know about the new world order. "Don't you dare change the channel, I love Star Trek," said Marie as she went aft to the galley to get herself something for a TV snack. When she returned, what she saw caused her to let it float forgotten from her grasp .In the few minutes she had been gone, Jazon had turned pale, almost grey. She reached out with the back of her hand and found the perspiration strangely cold on his face. His chest heaved in a struggle to draw breath and he held the TV control at arms length as if it had suddenly become something evil. Jazon struggled to find the words and they were words Marie would never be able to get out of her mind. "They're all the same. All the channels are the same." It was a once-in-a-lifetime moment of realization. Nothing that had come before had prepared them. Everything that came after was chilled in its shadow. Throughout the long days and weeks that followed, their fragile enclave flew on lit by ancient starlight that now had a cold and sinister quality about it. They didn't use the manual override to set a new course. What was waiting for them was all the more terrible for their fall back to Earth was inevitable. They had nowhere else to go. Nothing to do except wait until the tug of Earth's gravity would take hold to reel them in like they were on the hook of some distant uncaring angler. There was little variety in the transmissions but they recorded them all and played them back over and over again. Nothing beamed out of Earth except what the invaders beamed out. The message was simple. They had dominion over all of the Earth. They were 'The Orrrg.' Apparently it meant something like 'Gods' in their own language and they saw themselves as superior beings that must be obeyed with a servitude that reeked of worship. After way too many days of this, Jazon went off without a word to the propulsion pod. He was gone a long time but Marie knew not to interfere. "I think I know what that is," said Marie pointing to the makeshift device he brought back. It was not a time for words. The longest look they had ever exchanged was all that was needed. With this, they agreed. It could be little more than a gesture of defiance but they had sufficient fuel reserves for a gesture that would run to a good few megatons. The Earth drew closer. Soon they could see it as a far off speck with even the modest optical equipment they carried. Then the Orrrg transmissions stopped abruptly and completely. Nothing came in their place though Jazon and Marie took turns to listen for something, anything that might break the empty silence. "The lights are on but is anyone home?" said Marie for the lights of Earth's great cities were reaching out to them as they prepared for a night descent and watched the heat shield deploy. The landing was unexpectedly heavy and they were glad to be well strapped in. They had ploughed into soft soil just deep enough to prevent them opening the hatch from inside. "Don't cry now, after all we've been through," said Jazon. But he found himself sniffing just a little too for here they were like rats in a well sealed trap waiting ... For Marie and Jazon there was something scary and unreal about any sound from outside after hanging for so long in the noiseless void. They shrunk back into their seats as unseen tools scraped and clanged on external hatch fastenings. Then fresh air, good clean natural Earth air rushed in and it was human hands that helped them out. "I've to take that," said the leader of the recovery party. It seemed all so natural that Jazon had handed over his trigger device before he realized what was happening. Then the unspoken question in his eyes brought a smiling reply. "Get used to it. They know what we're thinking and I'm sorry but you'll have to wait for any more answers. Orders are orders." So it was in near silence that they were taken to the aliens. Jazon and Marie gasped it out together for their many years in the vastness of deep space had given them something like the closeness of thought of identical twins. "You're not what we were expecting." "Ah, of course you wouldn't know. We're the second wave. Much smarter and much nicer than these 'orrible Orrrgs." The little round smiley creature bounced up and down gently as he communicated without any need to move his mouth. He seemed to be very much entertained by his own clever mastery of an Earth language that some might have found difficult. He continued, "Please relax. Just sit here for I want to know everything about your journey." After barely a couple of minutes, the alien left the room without even another glance in the direction of Marie and Jazon. A party of uniformed humans came to lead them out. "He'll have read every minute of your journey." said one. "They're very quick. It's a great pity you came back carrying a weapon of mass destruction. They're not bad but the one thing they will not tolerate is any kind of threat to their person. If you know that, you're all right but of course you didn't know. We're taking you to your quarters now. Try to make the best of it." The smell hit them first. "It's a Zoo," said Jazon as they were led past cage after cage of Earth's most exotic animals. Then came the shock of seeing the human exhibits. Some called out; others just stared blankly as they were led by. "Breeding pairs," said Marie quietly. They stopped at an empty cage that lay at the far end of the human pairs and beyond which stretched a line of caged Orrrgs that hissed and spat and rattled their bars. Locked in and left on their own, Jazon and Marie were careful not to get too close to the side of their cage where a large Orrrg pair threatened them noisily through the bars. They had drinking water but no food so this was the first thing they asked their human neighbors on the other side. However, apart from a few muttered words about not looking forward to feeding time, little response was forthcoming. All at once, a new activity outside the cage stirred up a fresh frenzy in the Orrrgs next door. Human helpers set out a row of small chairs that were soon filled by a group of smiley alien children all clutching paper bags. "Oh no," said Marie. "They're going to throw us food." "Perhaps they'll want us to do tricks for it," said Jazon. But when the smiley children opened their paper bags it was to eat their own lunches as they looked expectantly at Marie and Jason eager to catch every moment of their reaction to seeing the bars slowly raised between themselves and the hungry Orrrgs. end Out of Touch was published in Separate Worlds, June 2012. First appeared as the Runner-up in Adult Creative Writing Club Competition No.106, June 2010. _ _ _ _ _ _ Characters and events are fictitious and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead or to real aliens is purely coincidental. Stories have been published internationally, so please excuse the mix of conventions and spellings. Titles, text, and word counts may differ with original versions. Copyright  Colin W. Campbell   
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seven very short stories.
read online Glimpses of the Supernatural. A collection of published stories. by Colin W. Campbell. _ _ _ _ _ _ FOREVER YOUNG James could sense it right away. Something was different. The lake was the same. Cold ripples danced along the water, just like they did at his time of year. The familiar sounds of the city were still there, no nearer, no farther, distant, just on the threshold of hearing. A wind from the northwest stirred up the usual early migratory birds. Low on the horizon, the morning sun cast long shadows through the ever patient ranks of headstones as they followed the contours of the same old gentle slope. This time, there was something different, he could see something in her eyes. Angel spoke first,"I was thinking, how many times has it been? How often have we been out here, where no one knows what we do?" "Lots of times, said James. "Don't know how many. Not too many." Angel looked away. "Problem?" said James. "It's my father," said Angel. "He's said it often enough but now he really means it. He says you're too old for me." James knew this was a time to stay cool, to reason. "We started school together. No complaints then. Or when we went ice skating. Or .... " She interrupted, "but look at you now, you've aged." "Not fair," he said. "It is so fair. You'll be 40 next year and with no proper job." Angel listened for a while as James struggled to hold onto his first love, the dream girl of his long-gone youth. After a while they just stopped, there was nothing more to say. They knew. It was time to go. The path took them beside Angel's family plot. James knew to leave. He walked on slowly without looking back. She looked all around to make sure no one was watching, then looked around again. When she was sure she had the moment all to herself, she lay down slowly and carefully stretching herself out full length on the plot. The sun caught these words on the marker ... and daughter Angel, aged 17, asleep in the arms of the Lord, perchance to dream. The same sun now passed through her as she faded away. end Forever Young was published by Fiction365 as the featured story on 19 June 2012. _ _ _ _ _ _ STARTING AGAIN The old lady smiled as she looked through her pile of fancy get-well cards. One by one she arranged them neatly on the bedside table in her up-market private ward. But there was one she folded into a paper plane. She grinned as she flew it out the open window into the fading sunshine. "Gran, that's not nice. Please go and see her before it's too late." Susan had come to terms with the idea that the old lady was running out of time in this world. The time for tears was long passed and they could talk more openly than ever before. "You go and see her if you like." said Gran. "She's your grand-daughter too," said Susan. "You're in the same hospital and her ward is just a couple of floors away. Go on, go and see her." "Well, I've got cancer and she's only having a baby with that toy-boy thing of hers," Gran spoke quietly in case someone might overhear. "Oh Gran, I seem to remember Grandfather was a good bit older than you but I suppose that was different." "Yes, it was different. He could speak properly. He didn't wear a silly red baseball cap. He didn't eat all that foreign stuff and he didn't have any other strange habits either, at least not any I'm going to tell you about," said Gran. She said more, "She can do what she likes with her life but I think she's wasted all that expensive education and thrown away any chances of a good marriage. What's more, I've made sure none of my money will go to these two and their brat-to-be. Maybe I can't take it with me but I sure-as-hell can decide how to leave it behind." "Oh Gran, please be nice. That's my sister you're talking about. She's got a new baby on the way and she is your grand-daughter too." "I don't need to be nice. I'm old and I'm rich," said Gran. "Anyway, it will mean lots more for you and I don't want to hear any more about it. Let me sleep now." Hours later, alone in the antiseptic half-dark of the hospital at night, the old lady awoke from the unnatural dreams that painkillers bring. She reached out for the lifeline of the bell- push for she could sense something new about her grasp on life. As she waited for the ever-so-slow nurse to come she felt peace and contentment drifting gently over her. But, this was soon gone. In its place came a ringing in the ears that grow louder with every passing moment. The nurse arrived and gently lifted the old lady's wrist to check her pulse. Gran thought at once that something was different about the nurse but couldn't quite understand what it was. Then she saw it wasn't the nurse that had changed but herself. She was watching the scene not from safe-in-bed where she should have been but from high up, floating near the ceiling. What's more, she could see a strange other- self lying in her bed. She waved and called out. The ringing in her ears made her voice sound faint and far away. Neither the nurse nor the other-self paid any attention. After a little while, Gran discovered that she was already becoming less interested in the nurse or even in the other-self as if what they were doing wasn't really important any more Now she was in a dark tunnel moving at speed towards a light that had a special quality about it. At first, it was far off but soon she was close and could feel what the light was radiating. It was love. She glimpsed a movement beyond the light. It was the figure of her husband who had gone before her all these years ago. He was waving as if to tell her to go back but she didn't want to go back. "Why should I go back," she said in a voice that didn't need her to move her lips. See this and you will understand." The words came out of the light itself, so gentle but so firm that there could be no place for any thoughts of dissent. She was shown her life as if in an instant. It was all there, what she had done, what she had not done, and what remained to be done. There was so much still to learn. "You are to go back now and start again." The light spoke and then was gone. She felt herself falling back and got a glimpse of where she was going. She struggled hard to hold onto her memories of this life now ending. But she knew she could not take them with her. They were beginning to fade away, soon to be forgotten like old winter clothes put aside with the turn of the seasons. So an old soul came down to live again in the body of a newborn baby with a mother who loved her and a father with a strange foreign accent and a red baseball cap. A hastily summoned doctor joined the nurse at the bedside of the old lady for whom this life had now run its course. The nurse looked up as she said quietly, "She was struggling so hard to speak with her last few breaths. It was as if she had just discovered something important to do before she went. Something about wanting to change her will." end Starting Again was published in the ABCtales Competition Anthology, 2011 and Cherry-picked by the Editors. _ _ _ _ _ _ ELLIE CLOSES THE BOOK "Why that page, always that page?" Old Ellie echoed her words around the walls of the empty basement. Walls that had no ears to hear. No eyes to see what had happened behind closed doors so long ago in the days of the Great Depression. No need to think about why the old book always fell open at the same page. "Why that page?" Ellie said it aloud again, but she knew why. She had always known why. Perhaps it was the cold and the damp of this underground place or that musty smell that comes with neglect. But mostly it was memories of long ago that made her hurry to be out of there. Hurry to be back among ordinary people going about their lives in the autumn sun on the street above. Once she was back in the light of day, Ellie soon felt her old shoulders straighten out. All around she could see leaves dressed in the last of the year's red and gold; some were falling. She ran thin fingers through silver-grey hair until all the dust of the basement was gone. The book was now safely zipped into the black plastic document case she had bought specially. Clutching it tightly on the bus home, Ellie tried not to think how much it looked like a body bag, a small sad little body bag. She glanced around at the other passengers. How young they looked and how well insulated. For some a global economic crisis might mean no holiday in the sun this year or no new car. Ellie could see her house from from the bus and there were two cars in the driveway. Both her grandchildren were already there. All grown-up now, they still came round to visit on the first Sunday of each month. "Did you get the book Gran-Ellie?" said Alice. "Never mind what my cynical old brother says. I think it's really sweet." Ellie held up the book like it was some sort of trophy. "Of course it was still there. Quarter inch steel plate is just fine for securing doors and windows. No one gets into the old house unless I say so." "And nothing much gets out, even your memories Gran-Ellie," said Bob "and I'm not cynical, just practical. Anyway, I got a small casket just like you wanted. Ellie had the three of them sit around the table in the kitchen. A table with a little white casket placed carefully at its center. Alice said, "Tell us the story again Gran-Ellie. One last time, please." Ellie let the book fall open. Alice and Bob checked the page. Ellie didn't need to look. She knew. A faraway look took old Ellie in its grasp as she started her story. "It was not long after my sixth birthday. These were the worst days of the Great Depression. I knew something bad was happening in the world, even at that age. Father had been away for weeks looking for work. He didn't find any, of course. There wasn't any. He looked sick and he had a terrible cough when he came back. He told me he'd been staying at the Bush Hotel and it wasn't very nice. It wasn't 'til years later that I understood he'd been sleeping rough, under a bush as it were. And it wasn't until later that I understood the other things as well." Alice wiped something warm and wet from her own face. She reached across and took her Gran's hand, and then her brother's. When Ellie closed the circle by also taking Bob's hand he struggled to keep a straight face. Oh God, he thought, here we are holding a seance with an old children's book and an empty casket. But there was a hint of something in his eyes too. Ellie looked back at the book, quickly, not wanting to be interrupted. She continued her story. "I'll always remember that day when father came back. It was the same day that little Flo disappeared. She was my special friend." "And that's why our Mom is called Flo," said Alice. Bob let out a muffled snort of a laugh. Alice tried to squeeze her brother's hand hard enough to hurt and told him to shut up. Old Ellie just ignored them both and carried on like it was important she should bear witness. "I looked everywhere for Flo. Then next day father sat me down. He had a strange look about him. He said Flo would never be coming back. But he wouldn't tell me why. For days afterwards I spent as much time as I could in my room in the basement. I didn't want to see anyone else, only Flo and she had gone. I had my book, with the picture. OK I knew it wasn't really a picture of Flo, but I was six years old and to me it looked like Flo. After a while, I found if I dropped the book it would always open at that same page." Alice and Bob looked at the book. They had seen it for themselves. They both leant forward a little in their seats, determined to catch every part of the story as their Gran continued. "I told my mom and dad about the book opening at Flo's picture. Dad said he was busy and went away to do something. Mom was nice, she was always nice. She said if you open a book often enough at the same page it'll do something to the binding so that it will always open there. But I never told them about the other thing. That was just between me and Flo." Ellie paused here and looked at the book. Alice and Bob knew what the other thing was for their Gran. She had told them the story often enough. They listened. "You won't be able to hear, Flo only speaks to me," said Ellie. The old lady's fingers were trembling as she took up the book in both hands. From time to time she nodded as if deep in conversation with an unseen presence. Alice and Bob barely noticed that their own hands, still linked on the tabletop, were locked together so much tighter than before. Finally, Ellie said it was all done. She closed the book and very gently laid it in the casket. "Can we leave the casket open until we put Flo to rest tomorrow?" said Alice. The next morning, Ellie was glad to have Alice and Bob at her side for the simple service. It was in a quiet corner set aside from the main body of the cemetery. They held hands, shuffling their feet through a fresh carpet of fallen leaves. They cried together as the little casket was covered up and then they knew that Flo was finally at rest and it was all over. "Alice, Bob, thank you so much for being with me in this. You two go on home now. I want to stay here for a while," said Ellie. The air seemed clearer as old Ellie made her way alone into the cemetery proper. She tidied the leaves where her parents lay together. Now she could tell them she had forgiven them for that day so long ago. The day that Flo disappeared. The day they had meat on the table during the dark days of the Great Depression. The day they wouldn't tell little Ellie what she was eating. For to Ellie it had always been more than a picture of a bunny rabbit in a children's story book and now she had closure. end Ellie Closes the Book was published in The Straitjackets Magazine, 2011. _ _ _ _ _ _ WHAT THE GHOST LEFT "What do you mean it's lowering the value of our property in a difficult market? What it's doing is scaring the you-know-what out of me. We know it's for real. We both see it at the same time and it throws things at us so it knows we're here. And it really doesn't like us being in this house." Bill didn't realise he was shouting at his wife, nor did he notice the two of them were now on their feet, eyeball to eyeball. Alice could manage a reply in altogether much calmer tones. "Well it can't really hurt us physically. It's sort of non-material. All it does is creep up on us, stare at us a bit and make some funny old gestures. OK, it is able to throw some small things around but it doesn't have a very good aim. Now we need to sell this draughty old house and you've gone and told anyone who'll listen about the ghost. Oh yes, and you had to include that reporter from the local paper. You know, the one where the For Sale notice goes in." Bill reached for his coffee and spilled half of it. "Look, they're not just any old gestures. It's a mad monk and he's been cursing us. And do remember, we have been going through some pretty bad times." "OK let's get rid of it," she said. "Know what? I'll ask my Auntie's friend and she was the only one to believe us at first." "Just what we need, an old wife's tale. I'm going on the Internet," he said. A week slipped away as they each learned all they could about the other world and how very near it is to this one. "At least we're singing from the same hymn sheet now," said Alice. Bill's reply was almost kindly, "Maybe it is a hymn sheet we need. The thing's a victim. It's earthbound. It could be stuck down here forever. We've got to help it go to the light." "We'll get your Auntie's friend in to help us," he added quickly. "Oh no, that's not fair. It's our house and it's our ghost. So it's our problem. We have to sort this out ourselves." Alice spoke in that voice Bill knew not to argue with. So they didn't argue but went out and bought or borrowed the things they needed. Soon they were ready. "Why can't we have the lights on, this creaky old house is spooky enough without us having to sit in the dark?" He said it so quietly he had to say it again louder. "Oh, don't be such a big girl's blouse," she said briskly. "You go and light the rest of the candles and I'll lay out the other things. Then we can go round with the holy water and I'll start reading out the service." "The air's getting very cold," she said as she finished reading out the last page. "Go to the light. Go to the light. Go to the light," they said it three times more or less together and waited. That was when a cold draught blew out the candles, all of them. "There's something behind you," he said more slowly than he meant to. She was screaming now. "It's got its hands on me. Get it off. Get it off me." Somehow they scrambled out of the room and then out of the house. They didn't stop until they got to the pub where everything was nice and tidy and warm and normal. They calmed down after a few drinks. After a few more, they could see things a whole lot more clearly. One thing they realized was that when they were in the pub the ghost couldn't listen in on what they were saying. What's more, what they were saying was, "No more Nice-guys". And so they were ready for it, for anything. They went back to the house and threw on all the lights. Like a military raid with strict radio silence, they said nothing at all, nothing the thing could hear. When they were ready, they lit a single candle and put all the lights out. They waited for what seemed like a very long time. "The air's getting cold," she said. Silently a hooded figure took shape in the flickering candlelight. It carried itself with a confident, almost arrogant, bearing. Carelessly it raised a hand ready for yet another dreadful curse. It was the signal they had been waiting for. They rushed at it, shouting and screaming, and using some very unholy language. They threw bell, book and candle right at it together with what was left of the holy water. It backed off as far as it could but it was in a corner. Now with the courage that comes in the heat of battle they were right up close and personal. The hood slipped back and for a moment they could see fear written all over it's ghastly face. Then, all at once the look of fear changed to one of strange embarrassment. The ghost was never seen again. But on damp days ever since, there has been a bad smell not to mention a persistent stain on the floor in that particular corner. end What the Ghost Left was published in Golden Visions Magazine Spring Online Edition 2011, ISSN No 1942 4450. First appeared in ABCtales, 2004. _ _ _ _ _ _ MELTING CLOCKS We were ready for another visualization exercise. "Let's try to understand time," someone said. Well I know, nothing new there but we all knew that we really had to keep working at it. As usual we had to agree on an environment, but we needed something original. Far too often we had watched Newton's apple or sat with Einstein on the same old tram moving away from the clock tower near the patent office in Bern. Most folks just take forever to let go of the idea of things happening in a simple linear timeline. So I said, "Why not make it a lonely spot with no distractions? Hot and arid. A place just made for introspection way out in the wilderness. We can use clocks again but this time we'll make them melt in the heat. What's more, we will be the clocks. As they melt down, this is to be our metaphor for letting go of any silly thoughts of time as some sort of one- dimensional sequencing of reality." We didn't mind at all when someone else came along. We had all managed to melt down quite nicely so we were about finished anyway. However we were struggling with thoughts of time. It wasn't difficult to see our visitor had come up from the earth plane. He would very probably remember nothing at all of the encounter. Even if he did, no one would ever believe it was for real. Goodness knows where we all used to go to in our dreams or what we brought back from them. Funny thing is we actually knew he was some sort of artist. You just can't hide what you are where we hang out. All these years later, sorry perhaps I should say another time, another place, we sometimes still drop down to see how he painted us. So how do you think he would have painted you? end Melting Clock was published in Bewildering Stories, Issue 428, 2011. First appeared, Second Place Arts Pagoda Forum. Short Story Competition on VoicesNet, 2004. _ _ _ _ _ _
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eight very short stories.
THE TIMEPIECE "How did you get the toupee to stay on?" The new apprentice whispered. He wished the cold, white- tiled workroom behind the funeral parlor could be better lit and the winter rain wouldn't strike so loud on the window. "Speak up Tom, it's only the two of us. The dead can't hear and they don't care what we say or do," said the old hand. "Is there a special way of doing toupees?" Tom spoke louder wondering about advances in the craft in the 21st century. "I was clean out of double-sided tape but I managed to find a couple of masonry nails," said the old hand pointing to a hammer lying on the tiled work bench beside the body. "They don't care and they don't bleed." Tom tried hard to manage his composure. He said nothing but more of the color drained away from his face and he clasped both hands hard on top of his head. The old hand worked on in silence. Make-up and a three piece suit soon had the deceased looking something like his old self. The toupee was combed over the nail heads. The body was lifted into the coffin ready for the final adjustments. Tom watched carefully, partly out of grim fascination and partly mindful that he too would be doing all this one day. He promised himself he would never run out of double-sided tape. "This is a real beauty," said the old hand fastening a pocket watch onto the body. "It's marked as a railroad watch. Looks like an old one. It's not gold and neither is the chain but it has to be worth something. Who says you can't take it with you. He's going to. He left special instructions for his own burial. Not many do that." Soon the deceased was nicely laid out so that respects could be paid before the coffin was closed. One of the relatives asked about the watch but no one knew why he had insisted it should be buried with him. Someone said. "When he was sick and knew he wasn't going to pull through he seemed to be more concerned about what would happen to the watch than what would happen to his family." An old aunt said, "It stopped when he died." Then the old hand was brought back to close the coffin and everyone moved on to the graveside. Time passed and Tom said nothing when the old hand started coming to work wearing a railroad watch and chain. Soon the grave and the funeral and the life it marked were forgotten like all the others. The old hand got a little older and then he got sick but he had never saved his money so he had to carry on working. One morning Tom arrived and overheard voices in the workroom. They were not speaking loudly so he could only make out parts of the conversation, something about railroads. Not wishing to intrude he didn't go in right away. When he did eventually go in, he wished he had gone in earlier. The old hand was all alone and there was death in his eyes. When he saw his young colleague he pointed to the watch lying just out of his reach. He was struggling to speak but his eyes were rolling and the words just wouldn't come out. Barely pausing, Tom put the watch in his pocket for safekeeping and called an ambulance. He did his best to remember the little first aid he knew but he saw that the end was near. "Do you want to come to the hospital with your friend?" the ambulance lady asked. "Thank you but no, he won't know and he won't care," he said for now he knew death well. A few days passed and the old hand was back again but now as a customer in the cold, white-tiled workroom. His funeral and the life it marked would soon be forgotten like all the others. Tom waited a few weeks then took the watch for repair for it had stopped when the old hand died. He asked about its background. "Don't know too much about it myself but there are collectors who specialize in railroad memorabilia. There's one who brings railroad watches in sometimes," said the watch-repair man digging around in a drawer for a name-card. Tom put the card away to follow up on when time permitted. That night he worked late and alone. He locked the door for he feared the living more than the dead. Few visitors came to the cold, white-tiled workroom and he had drifted into the habit of talking to the deceased as he worked. "I'll soon have you nice and comfortable in there," he said nodding towards a coffin. This would not be an easy lift when working alone so he paused for a break first. Some small movement outside caught his attention and he went over to the small window but there was nothing to see in the darkness except the trees straining in the wind. He took out the watch to check that it was still keeping time after the repair. "The chain's not right," said a hollow voice behind him. Fear gripped him at once with icy fingers that dug deep into his back as if to hold him immobile in the path of some horrible and unseen danger. It was with no small effort both physically and mentally that he turned towards the voice from beyond the grave. He felt the air was suddenly colder and saw the scene had changed behind him. The body was lying where it had been but now the tiled work bench had somehow become a plain wooden table. Adding to the terrible strangeness, the deceased was now clothed in some sort of old railway uniform and the whole room was starting to change into something different, something older. He blinked just once and it was all gone with everything back in its proper place. He backed off towards the door pulling out his key and was glad, very glad to get out of that place. In his panic to secure the door behind him he broke the key in the lock and had to leave the workroom unlocked behind him. It was with a great fear of being followed that he ran off into the night. It all seemed so different the next morning. The sun was out. There was time enough before the funeral to finish the body in the coffin. He even managed to pull the broken key out of the lock with a good pair of pliers. He thought, perhaps working too hard makes one imagine all sorts of things. However he took the afternoon off to visit the railroad collector who knew about watches, the one with the card. The railroad memorabilia collector was pleased to be asked. "Well let's see. It's a conductor's watch marked Western Maryland Rail Road Co. That makes it an old one for they changed the name to Western Maryland Railway Co. in 1902. It's what they call a 'Railroad-grade Pocket Watch'. Now the standard for that didn't come in until 1893. So there you are, it was issued to a conductor on the Western Maryland Rail Road sometime between 1893 and 1902." The collector's expertise was matched with a deep enthusiasm and he brought out a pile of neatly indexed albums. Together they looked through old photos, newspaper cuttings, and lots more besides all about railroads and railroad watches. "He wouldn't have worn it on a chain. He would have used a leather strap and probably some sort of leather holder. You can get good replicas on the Internet." Tom took the chain off and put the watch back into his pocket. He wondered if the collector had noticed his hand was shaking a little. "Just wait here for a minute," said the collector. "I'll show you something else you can get on the Internet." He returned wearing an accurate replica of the uniform of a railroad conductor of the late 19th century. "What's wrong, you look like you've seen a ghost?" said the collector. Tom was still pale and shaky when he thanked and left the collector. Having lost time by taking the afternoon off, he once again had to face working late and alone in the white-tiled workroom. This time he left the door unlocked and tried to stay close to it. He turned to his evening's work and said with as much confidence as he could. "Now you stay quiet and we'll get on just fine." Working more quickly than usual, he prepared the body and maneuvered it into the coffin without stopping for a break. Thankfully he took out the watch and was pleased to see how early it was. It was then that a sudden coldness in the air made him shiver. He felt himself becoming a little light-headed and rubbed his eyes hard. The fear returned with a dreadful rush when he opened his eyes again. The scene was changing back and he could see it more clearly this time. Once again, the deceased was in the uniform of a railroad conductor. The room was no longer white-tiled, bare and modern. It was now just like the collector's pictures of railroad waiting rooms of days long gone. But none of these old photos had a dead conductor in a coffin on the table. "Keep it well wound up. For when it stops you will have to come with me." The ghastly voice alone would have been more than Tom could have coped with. This time it was made much worse for the conductor was struggling to sit up in the coffin. Fear seized Tom in its paralyzing grip. The watch slipped from his hand. Time seemed to slow and he had one last terrible moment of realization as his eyes followed the watch all the way down to smash on the floor. They found him in the morning with a wild look, set frozen on his face. His lifeless eyes were still staring at the watch. "That must be when he died," said someone pointing to the time on the watch. "Looks like an unusual timepiece. I wonder if it can be repaired." end The Timepiece was First Place in Adult Creative Writing Club, Competition No.75, 2007. _ _ _ _ _ _ THE MAZE One of the village girls saw him and pointed. She called out loud against the wind, "Little Jerome starts his new job today. Better watch out he doesn't turn himself into a frog." All the girls started making froggy noises. One also made froggy movements, waggling a nicely rounded young body in Jerome's direction. He waved over to the girls as pleasantly and with as much dignity as he could manage. But inside, he was harbouring dark adolescent thoughts. 'They'll be singing a different tune when I get the powers. Oh yes, I'll be doing all sorts of things with the girls once I'm apprenticed to the Old Wizard.' He walked on, avoiding the puddles. He had a new spring in his step as he thought over and over again about what things he might be doing with the girls. He barely noticed the miles pass on his way to the cave of the Old Wizard. Soon he was deep inside the dark woods where the village girls would never dare to go. The ancient trees were already casting their late afternoon shadows when Jerome reached the cave. There was no sign of the Old Wizard. Knowing he should not enter uninvited, he sat down on a long flat rock near the mouth of the cave and waited. He thought about the stories. Old stories that were told late at night and behind closed doors. Stories about young lads from the village who were never seen again. After a while, a lone raven glided silently out of the trees to join him on the rock. He pulled his warm woollen cloak tighter around his shoulders. For what seemed a very long time he sat still, all the while peering into the unlit depths of the cave. Suddenly, he realized something had changed. He was no longer alone. The Old Wizard was sitting quietly on the flat rock right beside him. The young apprentice jumped quickly to his feet. "Sorry Sir," he said. "I didn't know you were there. How can you do that?" "Don't ask. You have much to learn first. When you're ready, you'll know without asking." The reply came softly and the Old Wizard seemed to be looking far away saying, "I was thinking how much you remind me of my first day in the craft. A day like this but long, long ago. The day when I did The Maze myself." "The Maze?" "Yes, young lad. You must do The Maze. We all have to do The Maze before we can start." "Like a test?" "Oh yes." "And then I can be your apprentice?" "Yes." The Old Wizard reached deep inside his cloak. He drew out a little book bound in old leather and brass. With a shake of his sleeve he had pen and ink to hand and was writing calligraphy in a style of long ago. Jerome thought this book must be by far the oldest thing he had ever seen. He clasped his hands behind his back for he did not want the Old Wizard to know how much they were shaking. It was not seeing his own name being added to the list that had brought on such a feeling of dread but it was the other names, for many had been crossed out. As he closed the book, the Old Wizard gestured towards the dark entrance to the cave. Jerome caught a look in the old man's eyes that seemed to say, too late now. "Go in," said the Old Wizard. "Then you must do whatever it takes to come back out again safely. You'll be alright. Ask what you need to know. You're a smart young lad and you've got a good tongue in your head." At this, Jerome found himself alone in the cave with a strange heavy darkness closing around him. And then, nothing. Jerome waited and once again he was glad to have his woollen cloak. Finally, knowing he must do something, anything, he remembered the words of the Old Wizard. He must ask. So he called out in a voice as clear and steady as he could manage. "I'm here for The Maze." At once, the cave floor opened and he was falling gently in darkness. Jerome reached out to touch the rock as he passed through. He quickly drew his hand back when he found it was warm and soft, like a living thing. And then, he was in a narrow tunnel. Here the rock was hard to the touch again, like it should be. What's more, it glistened with countless tiny crystals that glowed a ghostly green all around. There was a fork in the tunnel. One way sloped down. The other sloped up. Not much of a test this, he thought. He grinned as he went to that branch. But he remembered it was a maze, so he took a pebble and scored a rough arrow on the wall. Just in case. Again and again the young lad came to yet another fork in the tunnel. Again and again he took the path that sloped up. Must be near the surface now, he thought, as he tried to gauge how far he had risen. But then came the first of the two great oh-shit- moments of his time in the maze. The next fork ahead looked strangely familiar. Coming closer, he saw his arrow scratched on the wall. The arrow that told him he was back where he had started at the very first fork. Even the pebble he had used to draw the arrow was still these. He picked it up as if to draw a new arrow but threw it away instead. He listened to it bouncing and echoing down the tunnel until all was quiet, then sat down in the dust and tried not to cry. After a while he called out, "What now?" It seemed to him that the walls were answering that he should remember the girls. So then he did remember the girls, and the powers he would soon have to make them do what he wants, and how he had to do The Maze, for everyone had to do The Maze. Soon he was on his feet, dusting himself down. Deeper and deeper he went, now always following the branches that sloped down. They led him far underground. At first the sound was faint and far ahead. He stopped for a moment to listen, just to be sure. Then yes, he was sure. He could hear singing and his steps were becoming quicker and quicker. As he got closer he realized that this was more of a tuneless chant than a song. Something to do with the powers, he thought. Finally the tunnel opened out into a great cavern where the ghostly light was stronger. Jerome felt a sudden chill for he sensed evil all around him. The walls were lined with ancient artefacts that had no place in decent, ordinary life. His fearful eyes were drawn to a line of chanting figures swaying together in long black cloaks. He counted thirteen. This was a coven and they were coming towards him. He wanted to turn and run back up the tunnel, but he couldn't move his legs. The closer they came, the more hideous they seemed. The young lad raised a hand to his mouth for he knew he had to conceal the fact that he was gagging. Their cloaks hid much and Jerome reckoned they had much to hide. What was clearly in view was a succession of grey wrinkled faces, each one punctuated with more hairy warts than the one before. And now they were lined up, each one eagerly waiting her turn to become acquainted with the new apprentice. Jerome used every ounce of self discipline he could muster to hide his disgust. He knew that this was a time above all others in his young life when disobedience or disrespect would surely put him in most terrible danger. Without speaking, the Leader of the Coven looked Jerome straight in the eye as if searching out any challenge to her authority. Seeing none, she beckoned the young lad to follow her into a side chamber. Once in the privacy of the smaller chamber, her voice cackled loudly as if at some timeless and tasteless joke, "There is one way out of The Maze. Only one and you must take it now, or stay here with us for an eternity." "What must I do?" said Jerome. The dreadful old hag now let her cloak slip open to reveal a glimpse of soiled red lingerie that strained to contain a hideously misshapen figure. "Well my dear," she said. "You can start by putting your tongue in my ear and we'll just take it from there." end The Maze was published in Twisted Tongue Magazine Issue 14, 2009, ISSN 1749-9941. First appeared as the Runner- up in Adult Creative Writing Club, Competition No 86, Oct 2008. _ _ _ _ _ _ THE WILD SIDE "We do Christmas a bit different out here in the mountains." Ruth spoke softly as she led this year's new boyfriend beside the hound on the chain and up the dark, overgrown path to her Gran's house. Light streamed towards them as the front door squeaked open to show little-old-Gran standing silhouetted in welcome. Behind her they could see glimpses of a party that was already in full swing but which seemed strangely quiet in the cramped space of the old cabin. "Hello Gran, this is Chase," said Ruth. "Chase is it?" said Gran. "Looks more like you've caught him already. Oh, do bring him into the light where I can get a good look at him." Gran looked the young city lad up and down rather more carefully than he thought was normal for an older lady. Picking up on his reaction, she smiled and held out her hand. "Very pleased to meet you Chase. I've heard so much about you. Now, I've finally got to meet you and check you out. It looks like you've got good taste written all over you. A suit like that doesn't come cheap but it's how you wear it that really counts. And oh my goodness, you are the tasty one, looks like you've been working out." Then came a round of hearty Christmas' greetings and hugs for Ruth coupled with introduction after introduction for Chase. Soon he had given up any hope of remembering who was who in the extended family. When at last they had a few quiet moments to themselves he whispered, "So many relations and they all look like you." "Don't you dare say a word about in-breeding up here in the mountains," grinned Ruth. "And you haven't even met my aunties yet. Let's go through to the kitchen. They always get together in the kitchen." "This is my favourite side of the family. The wild side. They like the old ways," said Ruth as she went round the kitchen table hugging each of her aunties in turn. "Doesn't he just look good enough to eat," giggled one auntie. "So, you're Chase. I hear you're in computers. Oh, I do wish I could have your brains," said another. "No, I want his brains," giggled another. "Old ways?" said Chase. "Oh yes, they still make their very own moonshine whiskey," said Ruth. She pointed to a generous collection of bottles with neat home-made labels set out on the table. "Be careful my aunties don't fry your brains with the spirits." "Mine's the very best," said one as she poured Chase a full glass. "Just wait until you try mine," said another. "I think I'm going to enjoy this Christmas party," said Chase as he settled down with the aunties. Their stories of the old days in the mountains just got better and better with each and every sip of moonshine. After a good while, Chase had to hold tight to the edge of the table for his world was spinning round and round and everything he could hear was drifting farther and farther away. * * * "Sooo-ee, sooo-ee," the calls woke Chase with a start. All around him, the men of the family were calling out together. Christmas party hats were gone. Now they all looked strangely sinister in identical tall white chef hats but even worse was the rasping symphony of steel on steel as each sharpened a long carving knife. "Sooo-ee, sooo-ee," the calls grew louder and louder. In a cold moment of realization Chase remembered this was how they called the hogs. And now they were all around him and staring coldly down at him and sharpening these long knives. Out of control, his mind raced to flash back in an instant to some of what had been said earlier, "We do Christmas a bit different here, the tasty one, good enough to eat," and then there was all that stuff about brains. Now it all made sense, now he understood and now it was all too late. Chase struggled to get to his feet but the moonshine whiskey held him tight in its grip and he barely moved. As if in some dreadful dream, he felt himself try to call out through the fuzzy haze of the alcohol but he had little control over his thickened tongue. The effort was altogether too much and he felt himself slipping down into darkness. * * * It hurt more than anything had ever hurt before. "What happened?" said Chase holding his head where it hurt and seeing it was morning and that he was still at the kitchen table. "Moonshine whiskey happened," said Ruth. "You passed out before they did the thing with the hog. It's an old family tradition. You were supposed to put on your chef's hat and help them carve it not start mumbling something about us not making a pig out of you. Looks more like you made a pig out of yourself but we can always blame my aunties for giving you way too much whiskey and you not being used to it the way they are. Oh, and by the way, they said they like you." end The Wild Side was accepted publication in Golden Visions Magazine, Spring 2012 Issue. ISSN No. 1942-4450. First appeared as the Winning Entry in Adult Creative Writing Club Competition No. 114, Feb 2011. _ _ _ _ _ _ Characters and events are fictitious and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead or to real ghosts is purely coincidental. Stories have been published internationally, so please excuse the mix of conventions and spellings. Titles, text, and word counts may differ with original versions. Copyright  Colin W. Campbell
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read online Glimpses of Feisty Ladies. A collection of published stories. by Colin W. Campbell. _ _ _ _ _ PLAYING CHESS WITH AN ALIEN "Chess is really big where I come from," said the stranger. Gregor smiled quickly. Then he realized that the big girl with the accent hadn't actually said anything about her chest. He handed over what he'd been reading, a paperback, Chess: a Little Game of Big Game Plans. The train rumbled on through the countryside. Another station went by. They moved on from chatting about chess and took out a traveling set. After a few moves Gregor could see she was a reasonable player but only at a local club level. He knew he would win. "I played chess with an alien once," said the stranger. Gregor fumbled his move and had to replace some pieces on the board. He didn't know what to say about aliens playing chess, so he didn't say anything. "It was when I got abducted." said the stranger. "I had the missing time, a little triangular scar, everything. Don't know the full story. What I am able to remember has a dreamlike quality. Anyway, I lost half a day and I can remember playing chess with one of those little gray creatures." "A Gray, like Roswell, on television?" Gregor asked. "Yes, but for real. At first I thought I wouldn't have much of a chance in my very own little War of the Worlds what with us probably being millions of years lower on the ladder of evolution. Then I remembered something from school, a time when I was injured at chess." "You were injured playing chess?" said Gregor. "Well, I was playing against a very bad loser." "I hope you're not a bad loser yourself," said Gregor carefully. "Don't worry, you're safe enough. Anyway, this was way back when I was in school. You know, I was learning something about underestimating the opposition. I reckoned that would be my game plan with the alien. I would try to get it to underestimate me." "Didn't you think that might be a little dangerous, under the circumstances?" "Perhaps I should have thought of that. Anyway, after a while I found I was getting the better of the alien. But it had nothing much to do with my ever- so-clever strategy. It just turned out that he was really dumb." The train dove into a tunnel. The noise, the hint of fumes, the sudden change in air pressure all served to bring Gregor back to a sense of reality. He was soon back to concentrating on the game, for this was just chess on a train with a stranger with a tale to tell. Then Gregor thought of something he should have thought about earlier. "What about telepathy?" he challenged. "Don't Grays do telepathy? Wouldn't that be rather an advantage in a game of chess?" "Well yes," she said. "But only if it hadn't been switched off for the game." "Switched off?" "Yes, switched off. They use telepathy of course, but it's not a natural thing. They use technology. In fact, on their own without technological support, they don’t even have very complicated speech." "OK, so just how did you get to know all this?" said Gregor. "The creature let me try on the telepathy device. Said it was OK because I wouldn't remember anything afterwards, and even if I did, no one was ever going to believe me. So I got to do telepathy. It didn’t really work properly with me. It was designed to work with an alien mind. But I got all these strange thoughts from outside my head and they opened up a kind of window into alien consciousness. You do believe me, don't you?" "Yes, I do," said Gregor. But he didn't look her directly in the eyes. "And there were big surprises. Seems the Grays are very different from what we might imagine. They're dull, unimaginative, even timid, and they just don't like being so far from home. What's more, they're thick, really thick. But they're very ancient. They've been around so long they've had lots of time to develop an advanced technology one painfully slow step after another. Goodness knows how long it must have taken them to invent the wheel." The stranger paused to make a move. Gregor leaned forward. "What else did you find out? "Well, it seems they're afraid of us. They see us as primitive upstarts with dangerous instincts and totally hardwired for conflict. They fear for their children once we start to move out into the universe. Some of their leaders are gently trying to modify the human species into something more acceptable. Others would much rather we blow ourselves back to the Stone Age." After another tunnel and a few more moves, the stranger said something that took Gregor by surprise: "Checkmate." end Playing Chess with an Alien was accepted for publication by Bewildering Stories, Issue 536, Aug 2013. _ _ _ _ _ CHESS MASTER The smell was getting worse. "Hello Boss. All alone? Looks like you're playing chess on your own again," said Sally. She will ask about her job later. "Yes," the Boss looked up. He didn't want to chat in his office for he knew who was on the redundancy list. "Looks like you're going to win again," said Sally. "Yes." The Boss moved a pawn with a proper click that can only be made with real wooden pieces on a proper old-fashioned chessboard. A piece was missing and substituted with a toy dinosaur. Sally said nothing about this either but she wondered if the boss knew who had hidden it. She opened the window a little wider, and left. Back with her pals, they all had a good giggle. "Is he still pretending he's winning," someone said. "Yes, still pretending," said Sally. "So, does he know his office smells like a brothel?" someone else said. Sally tapped a manicured finger to her nose as she said "The Boss probably knows all about that but he hasn't found the little sardine yet." end Chess Master was accepted for publication by Pure Slush, Hobby, 16 Oct 2013. _ _ _ _ _ SITTING PRETTY James used his best phone voice. First impressions count. "Hello Angel, I'm here in the park near the station. Where are you? I want to know if you look as good as your photo on the forum." He grinned when the only reply was a picture from Angel's phone camera. The lake in the photo looked familiar with its ducks and artificial islands. He could see he was already beside it and soon figured out where she must be. Just an hour between trains he muttered to himself as he pushed through a group of overfed children stuffing themselves with steaming hotdogs. He saw Angel's head and shoulders first, young and pretty, above the low azalea bushes flowering along the lakeside path. Coming closer, what he saw brought quite different thoughts raced through his head, 'Of course, we only know each other from the Internet. I've made all sorts of assumptions to fill in the gaps. Of course, so has she.' But it wasn't the large man with her that had startled James. "You'll excuse me if I don't get up," said Angel softly and sweetly. James forgot the ever-so-clever greeting he had been silently rehearsing. Smiling and nodding they shook hands formally. He tried to look everywhere except at the flashes of sunlight glinting from the bright metal of her wheelchair. She gestured that James should sit with the older man on the park bench next to her wheelchair. "This is my father. I wanted him to come along too. After all, you never really know what you might be letting yourself in for when you get to know people online." Angel's father shook his hand with an unexpectedly strong grip. James pretended it didn't hurt. Angel wheeled her chair around. "So James, let's get a good look at you. You look older. I think you must have been using an old photo for your avatar," she said accusingly. All three laughed loud enough to make the nearest ducks flutter off down the lake. Father also wanted a good look at James. "So I hear you're a bit of a practical joker and a poet too. Angel's been telling me how you've been having some fun teasing her and the other moderators on the website. When I was a lad we got poetry in school. Do you write proper poetry, stuff that rhymes or is it all that arty-farty stuff?" "Mostly arty-farty I'm afraid," said James handing a folded paper to Angel. "Like this one. We said we would each bring something along today. She's always going on about saving the world so I wrote her something about peace in the world." Absorbed in what James had written, Angel did nothing to stop it when the wind coming off the lake lifted up the hem of her little red dress. James saw just enough firm young flesh to make him think she was not just a pretty face. Then she moved, trying to get comfortable in the wheelchair and looked up. He remembered when he was young and his mother caught him with a lingerie advert and looked away. "Come on. Read it out," said Father. Angel read it aloud: the world is at peace in those precious still moments between winter storms "It's a haiku," said James. "It's OK. I know what a haiku is," said Father, going on to surprise James further by suggesting it might be considered a senryu on account of the metaphor. Angel made a show of counting off the syllables on her fingers before thanking James with a warm little hug made awkward by the wheelchair. "James says he wants me for my mind," grinned Angel reaching into her bag. "So I have written one especially for him. It's a three stanza pantoum rhymed ABAB with each line repeating." Then looking over to catch her father's expression, she added. "It's called Piss Artist." Father giggled like a teenager. "That's my girl. You can always spot the benefits of an expensive education." "Please James, will you be the artist and read it out," she said. So James read aloud: PISS ARTIST I Mark my territory, graffiti is my art. I spray calligraphy, written from the heart. Graffiti is my art. A new but ancient rite. Written from the heart, a creature of the night. A new but ancient rite, I spray calligraphy. A creature of the night, I mark my territory. Father giggled again, not least because of the youths in leather jackets who had passed by just at the right time to stop, listen and then clap politely when James reached the end of his little recital. One said to James, "It's not often I get to meet a real Piss Artist." Another questioned this with a loud, "No mirrors in your house then?" They exchanged grins with Angel before they left, noisy and scaring the ducks until they were gone. "Wow. Will you post it on the website?" said James. "No. I'm saving it for a competition. I'll tell everyone it's named after you if it wins. You'll be a sort of celebrity." Finally able to relax, James grinned back. "Well, thank you my little Angel, I do hope you will always think of me as your very own Piss Artist." Soon the little time they had, was gone. "I'm only here between trains," said James tapping his watch. "Got to go right now. I'd really love to do this again. I'll be back through in a couple of weeks. Please, can we do it again?" "Yes, of course," said Angel. "But only if I get another hug before you go." Grinning mischievously, her father asked for a hug too but didn't get one. Like she had done so many times when she was young, Angel held out her hand to her father. They sat together in silence until James was gone from sight. Then they waited a little longer. A grey-haired couple passed by, trying not to look at Angel. They scurried away along the path when she sprang to her feet. "OK Father, let's get you back into your chair." "Yes, you nailed him and oh yes you are naughty," he said, shuffling off the bench and back into his wheelchair. "So now you know he really does want you for your mind, not your body. I wonder if he believes in miracles." end Sitting Pretty was published in The Straitjackets Magazine, Fall 2011. First appeared on being cherry-picked by the Editors at ABCtales, 2009. _ _ _ _ _ PENELOPE'S POISONOUS PLAN "You're taking it all very well. Trust me, I know you'll soon get over it. Nice herbal tea." Cindy spoke with all the sincerity she could project but inside she was thinking what a doormat this girl is. I steal her best boyfriend ever and she invites me round for tea for two and tells me everything will be alright. "I know, sometimes shit happens but let's move on from that," said Penelope. "It's a tisane, it's really called a tisane not herbal tea. It's my new hobby. I used to buy the stuff in fancy stores then I realized I was just paying for the packaging and the profits. The Internet is a great equalizer. A couple of hours online and I knew where to get the seeds and how to grow the plants and dry the leaves. There are even forums for sharing stories. Have another cup, you'll find it very relaxing. I thought it would be just the thing for the day of your big speech. Oh, and I guess you'll be making a big splash on TV." "Yes live on local TV and the whole thing will go on for hours too," said Cindy looking at her watch. "I'm so sorry but I will have to watch my time. One more cup and I'll really have to go." Penelope watched and waved from the window as Cindy went off to the TV studio. Then she lifted Teddy up from behind the potted plant that had been getting most of her own tisane. Teddy was her loyal old friend with buttons for eyes. The friend who never lied to her and who would never even think of stealing her best boyfriend. As they settled down to watch TV with a nice box of chocolates, Penelope carefully explained to Teddy what they might expect to see from a really strong herbal laxative. end Penelope's Poisonous Plan was accepted for print and electronic publication in Twisted Endings, September Issue, 2013. First published as the winning entry, Adult Creative Writing Club Competition No. 88, Dec 2008. _ _ _ _ _ THE TRUE FRIEND OF FAIRY FARNDALE Fairy Farndale wasn't like the other fairies and preferred the company of humans to spending time with her own fairy kind. She even had a special friend, a little girl who lived on the edge of town in a house with a long garden that reached way down into the fairy glen. Now, the fairy world likes to keep itself hidden from sight. Fairy Farndale and the little girl were true friends and respected this. Mostly they would meet far down in the garden and well away from any other eyes. What's more, they had a cover-story. If they were discovered talking together the little girl would just pretend to have an imaginary friend. Well, this was nearly true, for though the fairy wasn't really imaginary she was quite invisible to humans unless she chose to use her magic powers. This way the family would think there was nothing so very unusual if they found their little girl talking to herself. However, they were discovered and it was not by the humans. Much worse, for it was the Fairy Empress Dowager herself who knew. She heard it all from her two favourite Fairies in Waiting, the ones who spied on the other fairies. This was an important time for the Fairy Empress Dowager because everyone was waiting for the return of the Fairy King. What she wanted most was to show the whole of the fairy world that she had kept the kingdom safe when he was away and could rule just as well as he could. The Fairy Empress Dowager quickly called a fairy trial. Some of the fairies said privately that this was unkind and going too far but the Fairy Empress Dowager was not to be argued with. Fairy Farndale carefully prepared her case. She would explain how she and the little girl had a special plan to keep their secret safe from the human world. The Fairy Empress Dowager had other ideas, for when the time came and Fairy Farndale asked for permission to tell her story, the Fairy Empress Dowager just said no. Many of those who were there said quietly that this was a terrible way to treat a little fairy but the Fairy Empress Dowager was not to be argued with. Fairy Farndale heard she must never see her human friend again. She was ever-so-sad and just couldn't bear the thought of leaving the little girl without saying goodbye. So later, when no one was looking, she slipped away to make one last visit to the long garden that reached way down into the fairy glen. Just as they were saying goodbye there was a wonderful whoosh of sound and a sparkle of tiny lights in the air. Fairy Farndale whispered to her little friend, "This is terrible. I've been caught again. I don't know what to do. It's the Fairy Empress Dowager and her two favourite Fairies in Waiting. They think you won't be able to see them or hear them but I can fix that for you." Speaking slowly and making a very grand gesture with one hand, the Fairy Empress Dowager said, "So, we've caught you with your little friend." But it was the little girl, not Fairy Farndale, who replied. "There's no one else here. I was just talking to my imaginary friend. Mother says I shouldn't and father just makes fun of me. I can't see anything over there where you are pointing but just here I can see you three old fairies very clearly," she said reaching for her mobile phone. "Even if she really can see us, there's no point in her phoning anyone, they just won't believe her," said the Fairy Empress Dowager with a knowing smile and a giggle that sounded silly in someone of her age for she was well over four hundred years old. "Oh no, I'm not calling anyone," said the little girl. "But I've taken some nice pictures of you with the camera in my phone. I think the newspapers might pay quite a lot for them." The Fairy Empress Dowager and her attendants left very quickly. Fairy Farndale stayed. She said, "Please don't show the photographs to people in your world." "It's all right," said the little girl. "We're friends. I didn't switch the camera on. But did you see the looks on their faces?" And they laughed, and laughed, and laughed. end The True Friend of Fairy Farndale was published in Fantasy Gazetteer, Aug 2008. _ _ _ _ _ LOOK AGAIN One rainy Sunday afternoon Emma brought her new boyfriend round to her old Grandmother's house. Well Gran wasn't really so old but Emma was still young enough to think that everyone deteriorated rapidly with age. Gran was pleased to see them for young people kept her young and it was nice to be introduced to the most recent boyfriend. She hoped they would stay a while but not too long, for being widowed she had a date herself that evening. "Gran may we look at your trophies?" Emma asked sweetly. The request was a little surprising for Emma had never shown much interest before. Gran had been keen on sports in her youth so the display cabinet was well stocked. Even today she kept herself in good shape. One by one Emma proudly pulled out the old prizes as if eager to impress her boyfriend with the quality of her own genes. Then a little silver cup from near the back said even more than expected for her bloodline for she shouted, "Gran, you won a Wet T-shirt Competition." And the young lad looked closely at Emma's Gran in quite a new way. end Look Again was Runner-up, a Flash Fiction Competition in Between the Cracks Digest, Feb 2008. _ _ _ _ _ CAUGHT Something warm and salty found a path down Sally's face and moistened the corner of her ever-so- dry mouth. It was hot. It was humid. Why was there never any air-con in these dreadful little airfields in the middle of nowhere? Too long without sleep was bringing all kinds of thoughts struggling into her consciousness. She thought of the heat and of all the things she had forced herself to do on this one last trip. But most of all, her mind returned again and again to thoughts of death. "Too late for tears now," said the spotty young Customs Officer. His uniform hat was a size larger than it should be and was held up mostly by his ears. However, he was the one in authority. He was the one who had opened her trusty old backpack. Neither of his colleagues on duty had bothered to wear their hats and neither looked like they would do what he was doing with his finger. The old gray haired Officer called over. "Don't do that. We don't do that here. They only do that in the movies." The young Officer paid no attention. This was his interception, his case, his first rung on the ladder of promotion, the break that could get him something new and shiny to sew into his uniform. He put his index finger back into the powder in the biscuit tin. This was his moment for he was the one who had found it carefully sealed up with tape and wrapped around in underwear at the bottom of Sally's backpack. Slowly, he held up his powder coated finger for Sally's fellow travellers to see. Everyone was now gathering around the little drama and he was centre stage. The old Officer called again. "Stay clear of that stuff. You don't know what it is and you don't want to scramble your brains." But the finger went straight back into his mouth and the young Officer leaned forward to look Sally straight in the eye for this was the way to get at the truth. "So what's all this powder then," he said. Sally looked back. Her face contorted just a little and her shoulders heaved but she wasn't sobbing. "It's Father's ashes," she said. “I'm bringing him home now. You can have some more if you like. I'm sure he won't mind." And a ragged little cheer rang all around. end Caught was published in Firstwriter Magazine, Issue 19, Summer 2011. First published as the Winning Entry in the Adult Creative Writing Club Competition No. 105, May 2010. _ _ _ _ _ _ Characters and events are fictitious and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead or to really feisty ladies is purely coincidental. Stories have been published internationally, so please excuse the mix of conventions and spellings. Titles, text, and word counts may differ with original versions. Copyright  Colin W. Campbell   
seven very short stories.
read online Glimpses of Curious Tales. A collection of published stories. by Colin W. Campbell. _ _ _ _ _ REUNION "So, did you ever grow up into a proper man or what?" asked Bubba. "Well yes," said Justin as he looked around the school hall for changes after ten long years. There was the same old superficial paint like the same old classmates. He remembered a smell of musty books and doors that kept folks where they were supposed to be. Old voices rose again to bounce around the high ceiling. Justin wondered how many folks were still using untouched photos on Facebook. "Want a beer?" asked Bubba. "Thank you so much. That would be nice. However I was rather hoping for a decent glass of white wine," said Justin. "Like girls now?" said Bubba, directly and artlessly as ever. "Oh yes," said Justin, and as if to squash any further talk of a painfully shy adolescence, he added, "Lots." "Saw you hiding in those days at the back of class and drawing girls' clothes." "Well, actually I still do. I'm a fashion designer." "What?" said Bubba. "If you spent some more time with the girls you'll have heard the name. The brand is doing well, especially internationally." "Uh," Bubba said it with a snort and a shake of his head. "So, I’ve heard about you," said Justin. "Something about pushing a brush most days and weekend football. There seems to be lots of six packs involved. I guess that would be both kinds." He glanced down at Bubba's beerbelly as he added. "But I couldn't avoid noticing that bit about you splashing about naked with your buddies in the big hot tub after the game." "Uh," said Bubba looking around the crowd. People were staring at him. He walked towards the bar. He needed to grab a beer and do something else, anything else. end Reunion was published in Pure Slush, Fashion, March 2013. _ _ _ _ _ SNAPSHOT It mattered little to Justin that the others might think he looked out of place wearing thick prescription sunglasses and a long scarf even with swim-wear. They had become his trademark, his badge of celebrity. Those who knew about such things would understand. "So whose idea was it to have the reunion beside the lake?" Justin's tone had grown in self importance in the ten years since school. Warm under the midday sun, he opened another beer and stuck the ring pull down into the sand. He looked around the dozen or so old classmates spread out on towels and rugs. The passing of the years had been kind to some. Others looked overweight, uncomfortable and out of place in swimwear. Not yet thirty, they had joined the ranks of those who should keep their clothes on. Mary, one of the few still well-proportioned girls answered. "It was my idea. We used to have such good times here when we slipped away from classes. I thought it was time to take our clothes off and just have some fun again." She started to sing 'Just in Time.' The words didn't come out quite right. Justin thought back to when clever little organizer Mary had just laughed when he suggested they might get to know each other better. About to say something unkind about the empty beer cans spread around her, he remembered how much he had drunk himself and said nothing. Patrick moved over to put an arm round Justin's shoulder. "Don't give up the day job Mary. We can't all be stars like my old buddy." Eyebrows were raised by those who remembered how Justin used to treat Patrick. But that was then and this was now. Patrick had put on weight and not all fat either. He no longer looked like he could be pushed around and certainly not by Justin, not anymore. Mary saw a photo opportunity. "Our Celebrity Designer and our Celebrity Photographer. I've got to get that," she said, taking out her camera. She took snapshots of the others too. "Okay, you can stop holding your tummies in now," said Mary, for most really had been holding them in. Everyone settled down to exchanging stories in the small groups and cliques so easily remembered from their school days. Patrick stuck close to Justin and pressed him about his new celebrity status. Some of the others overheard and started chanting, "Tell us Justin." Justin was happy to tell. "Celebrity has a currency of its own. Once you can get enough TV exposure, people recognize you. They tell their friends they've met you. You get paid to open things and endorse products. Folks like to see a well known face in the advert or on the packaging, someone they can trust. Celebrity is a profession just like being a lawyer or a doctor. I've got to work hard at my image. I don't ever go out without the long scarf and the dark glasses. My image is my trademark. But didn't I hear Mary say your a celebrity now too Patrick?" Patrick didn't answer. He just pointed towards Mary who was now deep in conversation with one of the other girls and gestured with his beer can to suggest it was only the drink that had been talking. It was then that someone shouted, "The old cafe's still over there and it's time for beef burgers and Pepsi." They all made a move except Justin who drew some loud and unkind comments when he asked to be excused claiming he was now a vegetarian. "That's okay," said Patrick. "I'll stay with Justin and talk about the good old days and we can keep an eye on the things." They watched the others make their noisy way along the path beside the water. Then they were alone in the quiet of the lakeside After some old stories and a few more beers, Patrick sat up straight and pointed. "There's Mary's camera. It's a real one, with film. Not a digital. Her father has a camera shop and does the prints for her. Sees every picture she ever takes." Checking no one else was near, he went over, made a few adjustments and passed the camera to Justin indicating that he should take a picture. "What will her father make of this one?" he said with a wicked grin as he turned his back to the camera, slipped his pants off, bent over and grinned at the lens now seen upside down between his legs. "Now you, Justin," he said. "Hurry, before anyone sees us." The drink had taken its toll. Giggling like a schoolgirl, Justin fell over in the warm sand several times while trying to bend over for the pose. Thinking of how Mary had once treated him, he persevered until Patrick said he had a good picture. Patrick carefully put Mary's camera back exactly where it had been. They were still laughing when the others returned, but refused to say why. After a while everyone ran out of stories, the conversation started to fade. It was time to get dressed and go. Remembering how much beer they had put away, Justin and most of the others waited for taxis. Patrick and Mary roared away on a shiny new Harley Davidson, shouting and laughing. "Patrick and Mary?" said Justin. "Oh, you have been away a long time Justin," said one of the others. "Nice bike," said Justin. "But he shouldn't be driving." "It's okay. It was the low alcohol stuff they were on. "Sure looks like he's doing well. Someone said Patrick was a Celebrity Photographer," said Justin. "Well that's a nice way of putting it. Everyone around here just calls him Paparazzi Pat." end Snapshot was First Place in the Adult Creative Writing Club, Competition No. 76, 2007. _ _ _ _ _ MR. OPPORTUNITY Most of us have an opportunity story. Some folks get lucky, others just look on as their chance passes them by. This lady I know, I won't say her name, once pulled me aside and told me this story while we waited for her husband. "I was in good shape back then," she said. "That's not to be boastful, well, not entirely, but it's sort of important to the story. Anyway, years ago, trust me I won't say how many, I worked out most days in the gym at the local health club." I was inclined to believe her. Even now it would be easy to imagine that she might once have been a real good-looker. Then she got into the story proper. "One day in the fall, this new member turned up. He created a good bit of interest for this was a small town club where we girls outnumbered the boys. I often saw him working out in the gym and we became quite friendly. He even asked me out a couple of times but I said no." "OK he had a great sense of humor and we got on really well but I had my reputation to think of. Funny how small things can seem important. He was just about the same height as me but perhaps a little less if I was in high heels. He was a few pounds overweight and wore thick spectacles. What's more if you looked closely, you could see he had some sort of skin problem on his face and neck. This was a small town and I really had to be careful about whom I could be seen with. I was just not prepared to compromise. By the end of that year he had dropped out of the scene. Strange thing is, I never asked his name and he never volunteered it." "It wasn't long after that that I met my husband. He was an altogether more acceptable partner and we were married within a couple of months. Not only did he have the good looks but he had some money besides. We could manage a good night out most weeks and even a grand occasion from time to time." "It was a year or so later on one of these special outings that I saw my old friend from the health club. It had been pretentiously styled as a black tie gala charity dinner. There was to be entertainment and a few celebrities no doubt keen for a bit of publicity. Tickets were hard to get but we got lucky for we knew someone who worked with the caterers." "I didn't recognize him at first. The realization came gradually with the answers to some of the questions from the pushy lady with the microphone. No, he had stopped wearing the fake glasses as he was getting recognized now whether he wore them or not. Yes, the director had asked him to gain weight for his last film role, but he had worked it off in the gym. Yes, he had been troubled with an allergy but now he knew what to avoid. And yes, of course it was all right to ask if he was romantically linked with his current co-star, but of course he wouldn't answer." "I wanted to go over to say hello but I got pushed out of the way by a crowd of otherwise respectable society girls. They were supposed to be clamoring for his autograph but I saw them trying to pass him telephone numbers on slips of paper. He didn't see me in the crowd and I never saw him again except on television." I pressed her for his name and was real impressed when she told me but she made me promise not to tell. Her husband arrived as she got to the end of her story. He was neatly dressed, a little overweight, with thick spectacles and a poor complexion. I know they're happy enough together but there was something in her eyes that time when we were waiting and she was telling me her story. end Mr Opportunity was published in 6 Tales Magazine, May 2011. First appeared as the Runner-up in Adult Creative Writing Club, Competition No. 84, Aug 2008. _ _ _ _ _ GETTING TO KNOW A STRANGER Fingers touched as she passed him the in-flight meal tray. Then there was the careful chat and long looks that are so full of meaning when folks first meet. All too soon their seatbelts were fastened for landing. "I don't usually do this," said June as they exchanged name cards. "So, you're Stratford. Oh my, that does sound rather grand." "Let's have lunch tomorrow," said Stratford. June's eyes opened just a little wider when he added. "I'll send my car round for you." Next day came and a lovely old limo pulled up to collect her. The neatly uniformed driver turned out to be a larger-than-life character. His king-size grey moustache fluttered in and out as he loudly pointed out the beauty or otherwise of landmarks along the route. But his thoughts soon drifted way beyond the local architecture. "You like my boss then?" said the driver with a fatherly sort of a grin. "All the girls like my boss." "Yes, he is nice," said June, "I think he is really nice." "OK nice is nice, but would you make babies with him, lots of smiling babies?" June pretended to be looking out the window but she giggled long and hard. The driver persisted. "What about making babies? Bet you they would be real pretty like you and smart like my boss." "So why not smart like me," said June, "and pretty like Stratford." "So you might make babies with him?" "Oh yes, perhaps," said June. "Sounds like your boss is quite a character but what does he do for a living?" "Oh, he's just a struggling young actor," said Stratford as he stopped at a red light and pulled off the king-size moustache. end Getting to Know a Stranger was published in the PDF by Adroit Journal, Issue 1.3, Winter 2011/2012. _ _ _ _ _ GRANDPA'S OLD WALKING STICK After the funeral, the two of them came round to divide up their Grandpa's things. "So don't think you're going to get all the good stuff." Jane had to say something, anything just to break the silence. "We never really knew him," said her brother. He could remember the Christmas visits but not much in between. "People round here must have liked him. They seemed to treat him with some sort of respect. Anyway, why should you get the good stuff?" "I've got the things ready for you," Mum spoke quietly as she took them through to the backroom. She had arranged everything in a single neat row on the old carpet. She didn't stay to watch. They fell silent and the slow ticking of an old clock at the far end of the row seemed strangely loud. Jane found herself thinking that it looked like a gravestone. She felt her hand brushing something off her face. At first they were reluctant to disturb anything for it felt like they were intruding but soon they were busy looking. They tried to spot anything of value but mostly they wanted to find links to their own memories. The old man's watch caught their attention and they passed it back and forwards. It was a Rolex, possibly the only really good thing he had ever owned. "It's a man's watch. You should have it. Do you remember when we were young and he had just got it as a special Christmas present? He was so proud and he just kept looking and looking at it." "That was the problem. Remember we heard that these two young thugs had picked up on the idea that it was worth stealing and followed him into the park. Good for Grandpa. He wasn't too young even then but he sent them running." "He always said he could thank his walking stick for that," said Jane. "From what we heard, they were bleeding all over the place." "You always loved that story. Okay, you'll have the watch but I want this." Jane reached over to take the old man's walking stick. Just then, Mum came in with cups of tea. "Be careful," said Mum. "Don't cut yourself on Grandpa's old sword stick." end Grandpa's Old Walking Stick was as a competition runner- up in the electronic and print editions of Gold Dust Issue 13, Summer 2008. _ _ _ _ _ WIND IN THE GREAT WESTERN DESERT Even the endless desert wind seemed to pause and the rustling fronds of the great palms fell silent as the young clansman led the horse into the grand outer courtyard. Many secretly admired his brave bid for the hand in marriage of the First Lord's favorite daughter. Others saw only a common upstart from a poor clan soon to get his comeuppance. "My Lord, allow me to make you this most unworthy gift," he said, all the while struggling to remember the carefully rehearsed requirements of court etiquette. Quiet laughter ran through the ranks of the assembled courtiers when the young lad bowed more often than he should. This was a fine animal, more than the boy's family could easily afford. It drew admiring looks from those who understood horses and a modest smile from the favorite daughter of the First Lord of the Great Western Desert. This was the match she hoped for, but in those far off days it was for her father to make such decisions. The First Lord had risen to prominence as a leader of men who spent their lives in the saddle. He knew horses well and his inspection was careful. All the court listened in silence. He paused behind the beast gauging the strength of its hindquarters for carrying a man in full armor. It was then that the horse, itself perhaps as nervous as the young clansman, chose to pass wind loudly and very obviously in the direction of the First Lord. Still watching in silence, the courtiers, some with hands straying towards ever-ready sword hilts, looked towards their lord. Was this an affront that could be ignored? Surely the horse or the young clansman or both should be punished on the spot. The First Lord looked steadily into the eyes of the now pale clansman to see what there was to read there. To his credit, the young lad kept his composure. He turned to his daughter and those who were close enough saw a depth of meaning in the glances they exchanged and the unspoken plea in her eyes. Finally he turned to the horse and slapping it on the rear said in a voice loud enough for all to hear, "Well, it wasn't me this time." And so the silence was well broken as all the court dissolved in laughter for this was the humor of the warrior. The older and wiser heads who understood such things, noted with appreciation that their Lord had once again succeeded in balancing the needs of state with those of family. This was something they respected in a society where family ties and bonds of kinship mattered a great deal. Then of course there would be a wedding feast to look forward to. Later when the court was dismissed, the Old Chancellor approached and said quietly, "A kind and wise decision, My Lord. Your daughter seems so happy." "Yes old friend," the First Lord replied, "and the boy's clan may be small and poor but it is so very well placed to control the mountain passes to the north." end Wind in the Great Western Desert was First Place in the Adult Creative Writing Club, Competition No. 71, 2007 as Balancing Act. _ _ _ _ _ AT THE END OF THE DAY A long day of excitement and celebration was drawing to a close in the court of the First Lord of the Great Western Desert. The dancers were long gone. One old blind musician remained. His familiar tunes now competing for attention with the song of the dry evening winds. With dusk beckoning, the First Lord stood apart from the few courtiers that remained. Quietly he looked far out into the final moments of the sunset on the great desert. Those who knew him well saw something was changing in his posture. Was age or tiredness finally catching up with the great warrior? Few dared to approach uninvited, but his old Chancellor had been on many campaigns with his Lord and they were like brothers. He spoke quietly as he drew close. "My Lord we have been through much together. You have won many great battles. Our ancient enemy is defeated. His lands are now your lands. The war is won and today we celebrate. But why do you now seem so sad?" "Ah, old Chancellor. If only it were so easy. At heart we are men of action but now there is all the paperwork." "Paperwork my Lord?" "Yes loyal old friend. We have won the war, but now we have to sit down and rewrite all the history." end At the End of the Day was published as a competition runner-up in the electronic and print editions of Gold Dust Issue 13 Summer 2008. First appeared as the Winner by a flash fiction competition by www.wearewriters.co.uk , Aug 2006. _ _ _ _ _ TRADE SECRET All at once the celebrations were forgotten. A gentle hush fell soft like a silken scarf over the court of the First Lord of the Great Western Desert. Glances were exchanged in silence. The crowd parted to make way for a lone figure coming slowly in from the moonlight vastness of the shifting sands. The Seeker had returned. "Where are the others?" someone called out. The Seeker just shook his head and they all knew. He was the only one to have returned safe home from all these many months deep in the southern badlands. Struck in an instant with the realization they had lost their men, new widows covered their heads and gathered together in a sad little group. They said nothing. There was nothing to say, nothing they could do to bring back those whom they had loved and were now lost forever. Grey with thirst and fatigue, The Seeker gestured away the usual courtesy of cool water and sweet dates. For this loyal retainer, duty came first and he must make his report. "Come old friend sit close by me." In showing this uncommon respect, the First Lord as always had his finger firm on the pulse of the mood of the court. But perhaps also he wished to be the first to hear. Then he would decide what might be shared with others. Gently, the First Lord said "You have brought back no new riches but I have riches already. It is enough that you are home safe." "I have this My Lord." From deep within his cloak the Seeker brought out a little earthenware jar sealed all around with wax taken from the wild bees and strips of cloth ripped from his own robes. In the days that followed, the First Lord's wisest advisers studied the strange flowing contents of this jar that had cost so much to bring back. It was dark brown in color, oily to the touch, floated on water and smelled like bad eggs. One spoke for them all when he said. "If we were ever to run out of camel dung for our fires it might be used for cooking. But, as you can see we are a wealthy people with many camels and no shortage of dung." "Perhaps someday," said the First Lord and he made plans to annex the home of the oil in the southern badlands for he had seen something far-off in the eyes of The Seeker. end Trade Secret was published in Bewildering Stories, Issue 470, March 2012. _ _ _ _ _ THE BITE "Bull shit," said Big Betty as she snatched the remains of the roll-up from Richard's smoke stained fingers. "If bull shitting was an Olympic event I'm sure you'd make everyone real proud of you." No, it's true. People don't see what's really happening," Richard said each word slowly like it was important. He got back to struggling with the buttons of his ill-fitting brown warehouse coat before continuing. "People only see what they expect to see. Just watch me. I'll walk right through the main door. I'll go anywhere I want to and carry our next pay packet back out with me. No one will see me. They'll only see a workman in a brown coat. Nobody ever pays any attention to a workman in a brown coat. They're all far too important for that." Good luck, loser, though Betty. But she waved as she watched Richard stride confidently up the steps of the Nursing College. He was soon in a long corridor eyeing the doors like a hunter stalking an unsuspecting prey. One looked like a kitchen. Perhaps a nice microwave, he thought as he swung the door open. He strode quickly inside, careful to act as if he owned the place to avoid attracting attention. But he did attract attention. The sign on the door of the girl's toilet still lay where it had fallen off, weeks before. No one had been in a hurry to put it back up. After all, everyone knew what it was. The catcalls he got from the girls were quite enough to cause Richard to lose the cool that was the camouflage that kept him safe. He found himself running back down the corridor. "Stop him," someone shouted as he turned a corner and ran into an old lecturer. As he tried to push past the old man, he found himself in a choke hold, expertly applied from behind. Struggling for breath he used all his strength to loosen the arm across his throat just long enough to sink his teeth into the wrist. He drew blood, salty and warm. It was about the last thing he noticed for a while for the hold was on again and his airway was blocked. Richard came round coughing on the floor. "We could give him a good kicking," said one of the girls as they crowded around enthusiastically. Richard quickly curled himself up into a defensive huddle on the ground. He knew well enough what a good kicking was and this was a big girl with big boots and lots of friends. "No," said the old lecturer. "Let's just wait for the police to come and take him away. They'll know what to do." Big Betty watched from a discrete distance as Richard was led to the police van. She then went back to wait alone in the cheap apartment they shared. Richard knew what to expect at the police station. He had been there before and could put on a good show of taking it all in his stride. It was the waiting he did not like, the waiting and not knowing. There were about half a dozen in the holding cell. Time passed as new arrivals were brought in and others were taken down the hall for photographing, fingerprinting, paperwork, the usual. Richard watched a spider working on its web high in the corner. When it finally caught an insect he went over and squashed it. Daylight disappeared in the little window high up on the end wall. Still no one came for Richard. He reckoned he hadn't done anything he could actually be charged with. He could easily talk his way out of being in the college by saying something about checking out what courses were available. It wasn't a crime to go through an unmarked door. What's more, the old lecturer had grabbed him and not the other way round. So why was he being held so long? Richard now mostly watched the cell door like there was something on the other side, something that shouldn't be there. Finally, the sergeant himself came for Richard. But, they didn't go down the hall where the others went. They went instead to a cold little room with a red cross on the door and a smell of old disinfectant about it. A man in a white coat and rubber gloves was waiting with a stainless steel dish, part covered with a white cloth. "House rules," said the sergeant. "You need an HIV test on account of the blood when you bit the old guy." "It's OK," said Richard with a grin. "Please tell the old guy it's OK. I don't do drugs or anything like that. I'm clean. Tell the old guy not to worry." The sergeant and his colleague looked at each other and shuffled uncomfortably. "I'm really sorry," said the sergeant. "But it's you we're worried about. The old guy is an AIDS patient. Apparently he got it overseas. Something to do with a bad blood transfusion." After taking and testing a urine sample, they explained it was negative but inconclusive. Richard would have to sign himself into any local clinic for a follow up HIV blood test in six months time. That's how long he would have to wait to be sure if the antibodies were present, or not, in his bloodstream. "The good news is you're not being charged," said the sergeant with a big smile. Richard went home and told Big Betty who left him the next day. She went on to tell all their friends that Richard probably had AIDS. Throughout every long day of the six months that Richard waited for his follow-up HIV test, he never did discover that the lecturer he bit was in perfect health. Or that the old man had a son with a wicked sense of humour who worked as a police sergeant in the local station. end The Bite was published in The Straitjackets Magazine, Summer 2010. _ _ _ _ _ THE NEW BOY "OK new boy, the Boss needs this brought over to him and he asked for you specially." He smiled as he handed over a fat padded envelope sealed round and round with clear tape. Perhaps it was the scar, but the smile came across as a wicked grin. "Don't let us down and don't even think about looking inside." "Yes Sir, you can rely on me," the new boy replied in a suitably respectful voice. But inside he was thinking you won't be calling me boy for long. What's more, that scar doesn't scare me one little bit, it's nothing but the mark of a loser. Scarface smiled again, "Do you have a weapon? By the way, the Boss must like you for he said he won't start dinner until you arrive." "Oh yes, I have a weapon and the Boss does me a very great honour." He carried the envelope to his car like a trophy and proudly laid it on the front passenger seat. More discretely he slipped his handgun beside it then covered both with his coat. If only his friends could see him now. But he and his envelope were being watched and not by his friends. "Good things come to them that wait," said one of the shadowy figures on the motorcycle, "but don't get too close, not yet." But they did get close. * * * "There's fresh blood everywhere, don't touch it without gloves you might catch something," the older detective warned the young officer. It wasn't too difficult for them to work out the sequence of events that had unfolded at the traffic lights. It should have been a quick clean robbery but the target had a gun and he had put up a fight. "OK let's see what these fine citizens chose to die for," he said indicating that the young officer should open the blooded envelope. With curious colleagues gathering round, the young officer could sense the drama of the occasion. More slowly than was necessary, he opened the envelope and drew out a small plain cardboard box. Looking inside he announced, "Looks like someone important is still waiting for dinner." Of course they asked how he could tell. At first he claimed it was just something a really good detective would be able to get through intuition. Then he let them see that the box was home to an expensive looking set of dentures. end The New Boy was published in Gold Dust Issue Eight, Autumn 2006. _ _ _ _ _ A SURE THING Mitch made no attempt to conceal an ever so smug grin. "So Jason," he said. How lucky can I get. Natural blond, probably. Firm thighs, only child, daddy owns a brewery and he's ready to retire. "High on the hill, the two of them looked down on the hometown lights from the last days of youth. It was a time for deep truths and another six pack. "So how do you know?" said Jason. "About the thighs? How do you think?" "No," said Jason reaching for another beer, "About the old guy retiring?" "He keeps talking about Bermuda and all the fun things he's going to do there," said Mitch. "Bermuda. That's an offshore jurisdiction." "Bull shit Jason. You're even getting to sound like an accountant these days." "Occupational hazard I guess," said Jason studying the name on the can. "Wrong can. We haven't developed our new brand loyalty yet. Better get a taste for the stuff before the wedding. I wonder if there are any occupational hazards in marrying into money? I guess you'll get to find out soon enough. And we'd better leave the cars here and walk back down." The wedding was a pretentious affair as befits the ruling dynasty of the largest local employer in a small town. Cliques of overdressed middle aged ladies mixed as well as they could with younger folks who were trying to appear cool but were still too young to realize they were trying too hard. The men were mostly interested in the free bar. They were not too surprised to find they could have anything they wanted, so long as it was beer, and there was only one brand. Jason did a good job as the best man for he had prepared carefully. So Mitch and Mary-Anne were well married and the old man left for Bermuda even before the honeymoon was over. All too soon, it was a rainy Monday morning at the brewery and Mitch and Mary-Anne were preparing to settle into their new and unfamiliar Joint C.E.O. roles. Mary-Anne put on a pretend voice. "Well this little old office just so needs new blinds and a nice carpet," she giggled. "Oh my," said Mitch, "You play the poor little rich girl like you were made for it." Quickly turning much more serious than Mich liked she said, "I was made for it. It's what you like about me. And I've been to Law School, so it looks like I get to do the contract stuff and you get to do the rest." Mitch thought she looked awkward when she asked again what she'd been asking all week, "Any word yet from Jason about coming to work here. I'm not so sure it's a good idea. You should have asked me first. You're too close." And we're not? Mitch thought, but he smiled and said, "No. If he was going to accept, he'd have said something by now. He's got a good job already." That night, Mitch went out on the pretence of a bowling evening with the boys. He met Jason on the hill where the two of them could look down on their hometown. The lights looked different now even though only a few weeks had passed since they had sunk the six packs. This time, Jason had a very sober accountant's look about him as he handed the brewery accounts back to Mitch. "You were right to be worried," said Jason. "The money's all stripped out. It's not even carefully covered up. Just a bunch of unconvincing invoices from a couple of shell companies." "In Bermuda?" said Mitch. "Yes, no surprises there," said Jason. "What about the property?" "All turned into cash a while back through a sale and lease back deal. You've got about enough overdraft facility left to pay the wages for a couple of weeks. After that, it would not be a good idea to be in the office on payday." Jason looked even more serious when he added, " And you've got to understand my position. I've never seen these accounts. I've already done more than I should without involving the authorities." Mitch managed to keep the brewery gates open for a month or so for there was some cash flow. He did this on his own, for Mary-Anne had gone leaving him cast in the blame center role. He disappeared himself, just before the payday when there was no money. The story ran as headline news in the local newspaper for a while. Most folks eventually got bored with it all, but the older laid-off workers could never let it go. They got into a routine of gathering at the locked gates every Sunday lunchtime. It started as a dark joke with a bunch of flowers and a R.I.P. note. Soon the gates were festooned with flowers and old teddy bears, and all the other things that a good impromptu memorial should have. Cynics said the flowers were the same ones that went missing from the cemetery. However, everyone agreed it was a good way to keep the issue in the hearts and minds of the local politicians who liked to go on record at the gates with promises of favorable treatment for inward investment that would bring new jobs. Months passed before Jason heard anything from Mitch. Only a few lines on a postcard. Just a cheery: Back together again. Having a great time. Wish you were here. That night when it was late and no one was around, Jason paid a visit to the brewery gates. He wondered how long it would be before someone noticed the postcard impaled on one of the spikes on top of the locked gates. The postcard with a nice picture of Bermuda. end A Sure Thing was First Place in the Adult Creative Writing Club, Competition No. 95, July 2009. _ _ _ _ _ THE DEEP END She smiled as the new guy held the taxi door open. "Come in for coffee," she said. It would be more than coffee. She had been hurt in the past but then who hadn't and that was no reason to sit life out at the side of the pool. Even if he was a little on the old side, his Mediterranean good looks more than compensated. There was a confidence about him and old-fashioned values she found attractive. Here was a man who held doors open, who insisted on taking a taxi if he had two drinks with dinner, who paid the bill discretely with cash instead of loudly flashing the plastic. And he would be quite a trophy to show off to the pool-party girls, her wealthy and divorced friends. It was a fine evening and they had coffee beside the pool. A gentle breeze carried in the sounds and smells of summer. "There's a story about this pool," she said. "The kid next door turned into a wild teenager. The parents weren't always there. He started having his friends round and it was all cans of beer, loud music and showing off to the girls. And then there was a silly game. Sometimes I would have some girls I know round for a pool-party. Still do. They're coming tomorrow. You can drop in if you like. Anyway back to the story. This day the party was in full swing when these kids came crashing through the hedge between the properties. It's over there beside the deep end. And they just threw themselves into the pool." "Doesn't sound too bad," he said. "Just kids you know." "Well there was a lot of shouting and bad language but the thing is they took all their clothes off first. You could say it was just kids having fun but it was an invasion of privacy and we did get a fright." "So did you think of putting in a fence or what?" "Something happened. The next week the pool was drained but we went ahead with the pool-party anyway. We had some drinks and so on. And then the kids came charging through the bushes again and jumped into the pool. It was quite a drop. I didn't really set out to trap them but I knew it could happen and I did nothing to stop them. At first we had a good laugh and said it served them right and they wouldn't come back again next time. But one of the lads, it was the kid from next door, had a bad landing. It was his head, brain damage. The family moved away. Just as well for I was in over my depth myself without knowing it. You see it turned out the boy's father had connections with organized crime. Would you believe it?" "Oh yes, and he asked me to give you a message." They found her next day floating face down in the pool. end The Deep End was First Place in the Adult Creative Writing Club, Competition No. 72, 2007. _ _ _ _ _ BONES IN THE MUD "Quiet now, don't let the little jerk see us," said Jake. In all the years he had been playing tricks on the new apprentices this was the best ever. Another long wail broke the silence as the construction site slipped further into darkness. "You are a wicked old man," said a fellow conspirator struggling to stop giggling like a schoolgirl. "And a clever one too. I'd never have thought of getting him to leave his mobile phone behind on charge." "Or sending him down to the soft spot," said another. "Can you hear me? Over here. I'm stuck in the mud. Help!" The apprentice waved his arms as he shouted. He shouted some more, then got back to wailing. Jake checked his watch and grinned, "He'll soon have company. They'll be letting the dogs run the site. I'll bet he can find a way to slither out when he sees them coming. "What if he can't get out of the mud?" someone asked. "It's only a couple of feet deep. He can't come to any real harm," said Jake, "Time for us to get away home now. We'll hear his story in the morning." The next morning came bright and fresh to the site. Men arrived singly and in little groups. These were difficult times in the industry so no one came late, or forgot their tools, or admitted to nursing a hangover. But there was no sign of the apprentice. "Hey Jake, you don't think he might still be out there in the mud?" said someone. They all had a good laugh but soon went quiet. Without another word being said, they set off down the site, slowly at first then quicker and quicker. Jake was soon way out in front. As he got closer what he saw had him choking for breath and reaching out for something, anything to steady himself. "Stay back," he shouted to the others as they came up to where he had stopped, pale and shaking at the edge of the soft spot. And they did stay back, for no one had the stomach to go near where the dogs were grinding bones and quarrelling over the few scraps of flesh that remained. One of the men slipped away behind a wall. No one said anything, but they all heard him bringing up his breakfast. For a while they threw stones at the dogs. Still no one said a word. They made a sad little procession as they headed off to the site offices. Jake shivered as he thought over and over again of the empty, blood soaked overalls that had so recently carried the hopes and dreams of a new career. When they finally got to the offices, the site manager was waiting for them. Right beside him they saw the new apprentice who called out cheerfully, "I came in real early today. Hope the dogs liked the bones I put out for them. Oh and by the way, I seem to be needing a new set of overalls." end Bones in the Mud was published in the print and online versions in Blinking Cursor Literary Magazine, Issue Two, Winter 2009. First appeared as 'Just Kidding' as First Place in Adult Creative Writing Club, Competition No. 94, June 2009. _ _ _ _ _ THE INTERVIEW OUTERVIEW Bruce smiled sweetly and waited to see any weakness in the faceless, corporate-vultures, perched across a pretentious oversized desk. "It's our size downing of course. Hope you don't mind, we're ever-so-directly about the you-know- what." "You mean, why I should be keeping my own job?" said Bruce. "Yes that. We'd like you to start with positive thinking." "Easy," said Bruce. "No problem. If I could fool everyone some of the time, then I should be able to fool myself most of the time." "Uh, what about time management?" "Best one," said Bruce," is when you have a closed door policy. A bit of abuse soon stops the time- wasters. It works on Pavlov's dogs too." "Actually, we meant yours, not ours. This time, how can you know if your leadership is OK?" "I've got a good test," says Bruce. "This is where you say, so we'll all go down to the pub. If everyone goes with you then there's nothing much wrong with your leadership." "Uh, then there is this sort-of, staff-turnover thing." Bruce watched out for any real understanding as he said, "These are interesting times with all your rationalising, de-layering and really challenging goals for every one else. You can be sure to lose a few. You know, the good ones who can get a new job." "So then Bruce, are you really trying to tell us you can get a new job? Ever-so-easily then, so you'll just take a severance package?" "Oh yes please," said Bruce. "Just put the standard reference on the top of my file. I've got a new job all set up. You know, one I like." end The Interview Outerview was published in Pure Slush, The Office, 20 Feb 2013. _ _ _ _ _ _ Characters and events are fictitious and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead or to real curious folks is purely coincidental. Stories have been published internationally, so please excuse the mix of conventions and spellings. Titles, text, and word counts may differ with original versions. Copyright  Colin W. Campbell   
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fourteen very short stories.
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read online Glimpses of Micro Fiction. A collection of published stories. by Colin W. Campbell. _ _ _ _ _ FIRST TIME "This is a first for us." The twin sisters spoke in unison. They so often did things together. Just into their thirties, they were older than the usual groupies that lusted after the bass guitarist. This will be different, he thought. These girls had even booked a lakeside cabin for a long weekend and not one but two of them ... together. Oh yes, he did enjoy the perks of the rock band lifestyle. The weekend had stretched into Wednesday before the girls crept quietly away. "First time, we told him." "Oh yes, never eaten a bass guitarist before." (99 words) First Time was published in Dark Fire Fiction, Issue 57, May 2012. - - - - - - BIG BANG "Daddy, Daddy, teacher says the universe has been expanding for 13.7 billion years. So where's the big hole in the centre?" "Shut up and read your book." (27 words) Big Bang was published in Flashshot, Nov 2011. - - - - - - LIGHT SPEED "Daddy, Daddy, teacher says if we try to get a space ship or anything up to the speed of light, we can get closer and closer but never-ever-ever reach the speed of light. So how does light do the speed of light? Shut up and stop playing with the light switch. (51 words) Light Speed was published in Flashshot, Dec 2011. - - - - - - JUST ANOTHER REALITY Daddy, Daddy, teacher says quantum mechanics is so strange that everything we see might just be some sort of simulation in a virtual reality. Shut up and play your computer game. (31 words) Just Another Reality was published in Flashshot, Dec 2011. - - - - - - WISH I HADN'T COUGHED THAT UP "Heard that story going around?" "Yeah, about the androids who look just like humans and they're so well programmed they don't even know they're machines." "Might be true." "So why do you say that?" "I just coughed up some bolts and a bit of wire." (45 words) Wish I Hadn't Coughed That Up was published in Flashshot, Oct 2011. - - - - - - THE OLD MAN IN THE SEA So, this old fisherman went out with the fleet most days. Over the years he must have caught a mountain of fish. He never showed any remorse for all the blood on his hands from the harvesting of these lesser lives. All he would say was, "If you don't eat the fish, the fish will eat you." Then one day he was lost overboard. (64 words) The Old Man in the Sea was published in Flashshot, May 2011. - - - - - - BASED ON A TRUE STORY Well, young Judy next door has been putting on weight and how. So this time I opened my big mouth and said, "Judy, you're getting ever so fat. Just look at how you're waddling about these days." Perhaps it was the wrong thing to say but she didn't seem to mind. As she was leaving, she gave me one of these sweet little looks of hers as if to say, "Guess that makes two of us." Then she barked once and wagged her tail as if it didn't really matter. (90 words) Based on a True Story was published in Flashshot, Feb 2011. - - - - - - DARKEST RED SUNSET Christopher Columbus looked up and saw five Grumman Avengers heading east but he said nothing to the crew for they were already a mutinous lot. (25 words) Darkest Red Sunset was published in Nailpolish Stories, A Tiny And Colorful Literary Journal, April 2013. - - - - - - OLD BILL'S MONEY Remember old Bill?" "Yeah, dirty old man." "So, who's jealous then?" "I remember the girl from the orphanage. Young enough to be his daughter." "Still jealous?" "She got what she deserved." "You mean his money?" "Yeah, but did you hear what she did with it?" "Gave it to the orphanage. Best fundraiser they ever had." (55 words) Old Bill's Money was published in Flashshot, Oct 2011. - - - - - - BEST TREATMENT I took ill on the alien transport and asked to see the doctor. "Don't be silly," they said, "but you can see the veterinarian." (24 words) Best Treatment was published in Flashshot, Issue May 2011. First appeared, commended in Leaf Books Competition, Anthology, Aug 2006. - - - - - - BROUGHT BACK "So, I heard you've done another of these deep-space trips." "Yeah, just back." "Is it true the girls out there tend to be, you know ... a bit well, you know?" "Yeah, but no more than me. You know what I mean." "What kind of job was it this time, salvage again?" "Yeah salvage, it sure does pay well." "Did you get the black pox?" "Yeah, but you mean the black box." "No, not really." (75 words) Brought Back was published in Flashshot, July 2011. - - - - - - HOBBY So there I was, off to yet another management seminar. They gave us the usual silly ice breaking activity. We each had to say what our hobby was. I told them I was into beard growing. It had a lot to commend it being inexpensive, relaxing, tangible result and so on. We were being assessed, so the other delegates were all rather more interested in their own presentations than anyone else's. None of them noticed I actually did not have a beard so I guess they failed to spot what my hobby really was. But the organizers noticed. (98 words) Hobby was accepted for published in Flashshot, Feb 2011. _ _ _ _ _ _ Characters and events are fictitious and any resemblance to actual people, living or dead is purely coincidental. Stories have been published internationally, so please excuse the mix of conventions and spellings. Titles, text, and word counts may differ with original versions. Copyright  Colin W. Campbell
twelve very short stories.
Download collections of published stories from the pen of Colin W Campbell with a choice of three common formats. Glimpses of Science Fiction epub   mobi   azw3 Glimpses of The Supernatural epub   mobi   azw3 Glimpses of Feisty Ladies epub   mobi   azw3 Glimpses of Curious Tales epub   mobi   azw3 Glimpses of Micro Fiction epub   mobi   azw3
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