The bus was late again. The third time this week, and another blot against my name at the office. Only one thing for it—after years of keeping it hidden, it was time to unlock the power that had been handed down to me. Over the weekend, I brushed up on the necessary skills. Come Monday morning, I donned the requisite black hat, coat and gloves, waved goodbye to Salem the cat and flew off down the road. As I sped past the line of slow-moving vehicles, I whispered thanks to Grandma. The Norton hadn’t missed a single beat.
“Mr. Kleen, why are you so depressed?”
“Because nothing is sacred anymore. Everything under the sun is commercialized and marketed, including churches, temples, cathedrals, mosques. Even monasteries advertise. Spirituality is for sale. Mindfulness became a big commercial enterprise. 20% off this week only. Buy one and get one free. Make your pilgrimages in luxurious comfort. Come and be entertained in our worship. Enjoy your retreat in the hot jacuzzi. Everyone seeks outward success. Numbers, dollars, and statistics rule the day. Angels weep and God sighs.”
“Why don’t you try our new psychological therapy program? It is 50% off this week.”
Lisa was trying. Since her little boy Evan's death in June, it's been hard just to live, but she's pushed on.
She knew Halloween would be especially sad, but still, she tried. She gave out candy and told the trick-or-treaters how cute or scary they looked, but it hurt her. After four groups of kids, she couldn't take anymore. She turned off her lights and locked up.
Later, after a restless nap, she peeked out her window and saw one small child in a Ninja Turtle costume standing out on the sidewalk, staring at her.
She broke down. "Oh, Evan."
Jack was exhausted after a stressful day in the office. He removed his tie and then retired straight up to bed for a welcome nap.
She appeared at the foot of the bed.
"I thought you wouldn't be back until later, love."
"I just had to see you," she replied.
Suddenly she disappeared like dew on a summer's morn. He awoke with a start, no longer tired and made himself a cup of tea.
There was a ring on his doorbell. Two police officers stood solemnly outside.
‘You’d better not be writing about me!’ Robert was unhappy she’d joined the writing group. Her new hobby and friends deflected attention away from him. And now she was writing a novel, something she said she’d always wanted to do.
‘Oh no,’ Karen said, shaking her head. ‘No, the main character in my novel is horrible. He’s a bully, always sarcastic, never gives her any praise or helps around the house.’
‘Oh,’ he said, frowning as she set off to her class.
Karen arrived home to find a spotless kitchen, floors vacuumed and a delicious casserole simmering in the oven.
It’s not important but when John used his rollater round the caravan site his expert friends said that the handlebar needed raising. It looked better and he set off on his journey.
When he met another group they thought it was important to help John by raising the handlebar. It looked better but the rollater was more uncomfortable and his arms ached. He found a YouTube clip giving advice which stated that the handlebar should be level with the wrist. John lowered it two notches.
He’d found the perfect balance which was vital for his wellbeing. Sometimes it is important.
‘Grandpa, is it true you know everything?’
Todd chuckled. ‘Oh, no, Jimmy. I know a little about lots of things, but nobody knows everything.’
‘You tell me lots of things, Grandpa. I think you’re really clever.’
‘Not clever, Jimmy, just interested in the world, and when I find something new that interests me I like to share it with someone if I think they’ll be interested, too. But I certainly don’t know everything.’
‘Mummy thinks you do. Yesterday she said you’re a real know-it-all.’
“Where have you been?” she screams angrily at her muse. “I’ve been waiting all day.”
“Really?” he responds, amusement in his voice. “Let’s see what you’ve written.”
“Nothing,” she sighs, pointing at the blank screen and empty note pads.
“Why’s that?” he asks pointedly, glancing around the room.
“Because you weren’t here.”
“Neither were you,” he tells her, waving his arm around a room littered with evidence- cell phone displaying social media, half eaten bowl of cereal, empty coffee mug, open magazine, muted television set.
“Tell you what,” he relents, “show up tomorrow, ready to work, and so will I.”
Rachel put the Sunday paper down after reading Ian McKenzie’s obituary. “Howard, what kind of funeral do you want?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I want to know what your last wish is.”
Howard grinned. “Put my ashes in a clear container on a table in front of everybody. I want to see who weeps and who laughs over my death before you drop me in that cold ground.”
“Howard, be serious for once.”
“I am serious. Keep an eye on Reuben, though. He said he’s going to piss on my grave. Don’t let him get the last laugh on me.”
Malvina lives in a war zone herself, but this could just as easily apply to Gaza, or to so many other parts of the planet that we've forgotten about for the moment.
Black-and-white photos lie scattered on the ground, gliding and dancing in the air like fallen autumn leaves. Someone’s cherished memories from long-forgotten seventies and eighties with smiling children's faces, parties and events... Frozen timeframes of happy, lazy days against the cold and terror of today.
I want to gather them all and return them to their owner, but there is no time for that. There is probably no owner either. The nearby houses stand in ruins; sooty crumbled windows watch the road in silent dismay, like broken backbones of hope.
Nothing is left, only these photos, flying in the wind.
Thirty is the perfect number to make the scene convincing. She smiles, shifting into a slightly more comfortable position. Is he close? She fights to open her heavy eyelids again. Perhaps she should have used two thirds of the amount. What is taking him so long? She calls. The wife picks up, “He is in the shower. Can he call you back?” Dammit! She drops the empty pill bottle. Her hearing dulls; her vision blurs. No, no, no… she does not intend to die. She fumbles to dial the emergency number, but her fingers become still on the last button.
When food, water and aid finally arrived, the situation had exceeded everyone’s worst fears. Tens of thousands lay dead or dying, including virtually everyone over the age of sixty, who’d sacrificed their chances of survival that younger ones might live. Most who remained would never truly recover anyway.
It had been a miscalculation, of course; they’d left it too long. Their thirst for revenge had overwhelmed their broader view. The episode began with an atrocity attracting worldwide sympathy for the nation; in time, it became a stain on its history that lasted for decades.
And so, the cycle began again.
I am numb from the waist down. I can feel their tools and hands strangely pulling and tugging. There are a lot more people here than I anticipated, not that I had time for any preconceived ideas. This wasn’t the plan and we are well ahead of schedule. The curtain shields me from what’s going on. I had to sign something confirming that we are aware of the risks. I’m shaking as the atmosphere in the room shifts. The curtain opens to reveal a tiny beauty that I grew. She is perfect. She just couldn’t flourish inside a minute longer.
Scary sights appear at Halloween, but every fourth Halloween brings something on a whole different level: Leap Halloween. As the calendar ticks over at midnight into November, new horrors emerge to terrify society.
Some of these occur naturally, others from human carelessness. But recent Leap Halloweens have seen the emergence of the Mutant Pumpkin, a malicious creation in a science laboratory, capable of taking over and destroying the entire world.
In Non-Leap Halloween years, Mutant Pumpkins are relatively dormant: they can be culled and eradicated. But beware: if you don’t act this year, in 2024 it may be too late.
Somebody stands outside the north window, watching Greta sleep in the shadows of lambent moonshine. Sick and pale, Greta saw death nearing!
But before dying, she had to try it once.
Lighting a votive candle, she awaited the midnight. Terrified watching it appear again, Greta took the candle’s molten yellow wax and pressed some with thumb in middle of her forehead. She kept pressing until something very cold spiralled up her spine only to arch out of her body – a flying black Urn which hurried into the horrid spectre to capture it and both vanished forever! Yair’s voodoo has worked.
The incident room smells of men. The incident room smells of men with creased shirts. The incident room smells of men with creased shirts and creased faces. It’s been a long monotonous day and is far from finishing.
A squealing wheel heralds the arrival of the tea trolley. The missing girls watch the tea being poured from their photos pinned around a local map. Pippa hastily swallows her digestive.
“Is there a Petrol Station on the B28?”
“It’s a pattern... Look!”
She points around the map explaining her reasoning feeling like today, perhaps, some progress has been made.
The cousins shared the downstairs bedroom during summer holidays - long, late nights of online computer games till the early hours.
During one lull, the PS5 unexpectedly switched off and the TV screen hissed white noise.
The boys took a food break, returning to find the fan knocked over and a plastic bin upturned.
“Poltergeist!” they cried, and fled to sleep in the living-room.
When Uncle Jack, staying in the guest house, entered through the back door, the boys started before sighing with relief.
Later, when the real Uncle Jack entered through the back door, he found an empty house.
Antonio married Camilla. They lived contentedly with their daughter on an acreage until he was found lifeless, pinned under a tractor.
A laurel wreath was placed at their front door. The widow donned a black shawl.
Loosely strung threads slid off its fringe. When Camilla noticed the gaps, she surmised it was a sign from her beloved Antonio to stay home.
She died alone. Her daughter donated the shawl to charity.
Townsfolk witnessed the likes of Camilla meandering, searching nightly streets. When approached, her figure vanished.
The shawl was purchased. A new fringe sewn on.
Camilla hasn’t been seen since.
“How did it happen?” the princess asked. “My father was going to leave everything to me: the palace, the jewels, the country itself.”
The oracle dismissed her and turned away.
The princess returned. “Please, wise one, why did it happen? Rebellion vanquished us, destroyed everything. I am penniless.”
The oracle dismissed her and turned away.
The princess returned, distraught. “Why? How?” she pleaded.
The oracle grew angry. “Why yourself! Why are you asking me pointless questions?”
The princess bristled. “Because: What Am I Going To Do Now!”
“Finally,” said the oracle, and he sat with the princess to discuss options.
Please keep in mind there’s strict emphasis on both literary and one hundred words. There’s no leniency, no compromise concerning either requirement.
Your submission must be literary, that is, either a story epic in scope or a truly evocative prose. Since it must be exactly one hundred words, evocative is the easier choice.
Again, the number of words must be exactly one hundred, otherwise our editors won’t even look at it.
Okay, make that one hundred plus or minus one, or better yet, plus or minus ten.
Guys, forget the word count, just send us something funny.
The air darkens, revealing what it has always contained. Ancestors rub their eyes, nod to the neighbors, their brooms sweeping the remnants of clouds aside for the hunter’s moon. A child who still believes in the invisible pokes her head through the window. She opens her mouth and all twenty-one grams of her soul drops out.
She only meant to breathe in the blessings from whatever had been missing her, but when she feels the panicked breath blowing into her mouth, she stiffens in arms that hold her fast.
It's All Hallows' Eve. She remembers everything now.
‘Who’s on Cloud Nine?’
Misanda glanced across at the Fairy Division’s new recruit. ‘Bellaren, harpist. She likes percussion too.’
‘Shouldn’t she be upstairs? The heavenly choir always want harpists. Instruments provided.’
‘The Queen wants her orchestra, Shellab. With you on flute, me on piano, and Bellaren on harp, HM begins!’
‘Can’t we just tell HM we love the peace?’
‘As musicians and fairies, we should get along.’
‘Ha! The witches have it easier. They make noisy neighbours disappear, fast.’
‘How much noise can Bellaren make with her harp?’
When Bellaren got out her full drum kit, Misanda and Shellab fled.
He stripped down to his trunks in the department store climbing the high dive stand, from which he would propel into the black river below. It wasn’t a traditional shifting of employees, but a publicity stunt, performed at six every night. How else could they keep clientele in the stank of pollution? His dive arched until goop coated his body. Hidden from view, he swung his hand wide when Jacob didn’t slap his hand in crossing. Blindly, his hands dragged along the jagged floor. When he gasped for air mid-route, the crowd applauded and his manager called into the radio.
In most circuses, being ringmaster is an honor. Here, it’s a nightmare.
“Where the hell are the clowns?” I ask.
The clown car driver shrugs. “I told them be here by seven.”
“I swear on all that’s holy, and all that is not, they better be here in ten minutes!”
The driver shrugs and leaves.
“May I help?” says a voice behind me. I turn to see a man dressed in red. “It will cost only your soul.”
Having no choice, I nod.
“Send in the clowns!” he shouts.
In parades a line of the scariest clowns I’ve ever seen.
Over, under, twist, repeat.
The corn dolly takes shape in my hands. A simple wreath, as I do not have my late mother’s skill. Last year’s dolly fell apart; the corn spirit had nowhere to live over winter. We ploughed the stalks into the first furrow anyway. The crops failed. This winter will hurt.
A stray end of stalk pricks the pad of my thumb. I pull it out and a bright red drop of blood rises to the surface. I smear it on the wreath.
Maybe it will entice the corn spirit to return.
Maybe it won’t matter.