The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Michael Yates
I’m going to give my secrets away today. All of them. Why not? What good are they to me now? What good is living? I ask you!
It’s all gone wrong. I used to think: One day I’ll be on telly. I did the clubs for years and then I was offered this part in a panto in Leeds. Abanazer, the evil magician in Aladdin. Right up my street. I mean, I’m no great actor but you don’t need to be Kenneth Branagh in a show like that. I just played the part for what it was worth, then it was start of the second act and we were standing in front of the curtains and Aladdin had to say: “You’re supposed to be a wizard. Let’s see some of your tricks!”
Vermin: Part Two by Ivor Tymchak
Pigeons are my nemesis, I’m sure of it.
Last year, a plum tree I’d planted years before in the front garden finally burst into blossom and I looked forward to the delicious fruits in September.
But one day, a month or two after the blossom, I saw a pigeon alight on one of the thin branches. This struck me as odd as there were plenty of other much older and sturdier trees to sit in only a few metres away. Then to my astonishment another pigeon also alighted on the plum tree but on a different branch. I watched. And the pigeons began to eat.
Life Itself by Daniel David Gothard
Michael Davenport watched his literary agent, Suzanne, arrive late, as she always did. She blamed the traffic every time and sat with a huff of frustration. She had postponed this lunch twice already. She never postponed a meeting when he first signed with her.
Michael returned an air-kiss and smiled, feeling his own surge of frustration. He had been waiting for half an hour and didn’t want to be in this place facing the reality of his stale creativity. He was fairly certain he was going to be dropped as a client soon, having failed to
deliver his work in progress six times across the previous three years. Work in progress was a polite way of saying bits and pieces of ideas that might coalesce into something resembling a book one day. Michael knew it was pointless and so did Suzanne. They had talked about
deadlines, storylines, anything and everything to make the situation appear more optimistic.
‘Will you have some wine, Michael?’ Suzanne said, looking over her
‘That would be nice,’ he said, wondering how long it might be before
Suzanne looked down, then raised her gaze slowly, half-smiling,
attempting more empathy, finally delivering the axe to him.
‘I have some news, Michael,’ Suzanne said, swallowing some water.
One Day by Wayne Dean-Richards
One day she decided to focus on the punk band X-Ray Spex. This was some years after Poly Styrene had died. When the band broke through in the late Seventies she didn’t register it, or registered it but dismissed it, told herself it didn’t matter which it was, what mattered was now, and now the punk band X-Ray Spex was a focal point for her.
She acquired their music on vinyl, on tapes, on CDs; acquired DVDs, books, articles and posters; acquired, really, anything to do with X-Ray Spex that she could get her hands on. One or two of the pieces she acquired were rarities and quite valuable, though that wasn’t what drove her: certainly those rarities meant no more to her than her other X-Ray Spex acquisitions; simply, she wanted anything to do with X-Ray Spex, and immersed herself in acquiring it: everything else secondary.
Mirror Mirror by S. A. McMahon
It was rare that my work forced me to travel away from home, but every now and again it did. This was one of those occasions and I was displeased with the prospect of two nights alone in a far off town, away from my creature comforts.
My employer practically begged me, saying there was no one else better qualified to attend the conference; that I’d be doing her and the company a great service if I agreed to go. I admit I felt a mixture of guilt and professional pride, and I suspect this was her intent.
So I packed a small bag and taking one last mournful look around at the familiarity of my little flat, I headed out to the railway station. The train journey was lengthy and uneventful, in a stuffy, uncomfortable carriage. I felt disgruntled by boredom and self-sacrificial woe the entire journey. Eventually we reached my stop. The end of the line. My destination.
Vermin by Ivor Tymchak
A pigeon once took up residence in my back garden. I had no idea how it got there because my back garden has a continuous fence running all around it. It could have flown into the garden, I suppose, but if it had,why didn't it fly out again?
I first noticed it when I was clearing some weeds from a border. The pigeon was hiding behind some runner bean plants, pressing itself into the fence only a few feet away from me. When it noticed I had spotted it, it didn't burst into explosive flight as I had expected but pressed itself harder into the fence. That struck me as odd behaviour so I investigated further by moving nearer to it.
Sunset Over Terraced Houses by P. James Callaghan
I hadn’t seen Conn for years. I thought for a moment that he wouldn’t recognise me as I walked into Wenlock’s. I’d lost a lot of weight since the old days and most of my hair was gone. Conn was sat on the comfy seats against the wall, talking and laughing with someone I didn’t know. His eyes widened as I let go of the door. He threw an arm up and half stood as I neared the table. He hadn’t changed much. Maybe a little more weight to his face, a few grey hairs.
I could tell the stranger was a little younger than us even behind the large black-brown beard. I went to shake Conn’s hand and he pulled me in for a back-slapping hug. I couldn’t remember Conn ever hugging me before.
Green Grows the Grass by Harry Gallagher
You don’t have to look for it, it’s there amidst the Pennines. If you care to visit, if you’re despondent and feeling low, just go get the motor car and go. The beauty is there for all to see. Around every bend there’s something different. Once fully mobile (and the weather is in fair trim), you can lose yourself amidst this wondrous scenery. It doesn’t have to cost the earth. If you haven’t got a car you can go by bus or by train. If you haven’t got a partner you can go on your own. You’ll never be the same again.
Doodlebug By Colin Neville
Doodlebugs Eric scuffed his shoes impatiently along the kerb edge. His mother had stopped to talk to two other women, about nothing, or nothing of interest to him, anyway.
‘Who’s playing the part of the new Queen in your street?’ one of the women asked.
‘Sheila Naylor. Our Eric’s going to be her page, aren’t you?’
He nodded. He wasn’t looking forward to it. He didn’t like Sheila Naylor. Too bossy. And he certainly didn’t want to be her page boy.
His mum continued. ‘Before the street party Mrs Turner has invited us, and all the Taylors, round to her house. She’s bought a television – especially for the Coronation. She said we can all watch it there.’
‘Look! It’s that Jennings.’ The woman indicated a man cycling towards them. He wore a corduroy zipped jacket and a black beret; grey gabardine trousers were tucked inside his socks. He peered through a pair of glasses that magnified his eyes. A shopping bag dangled from the handle-bars and bumped against his leg as he clanked past them. ‘It’s his mother I feel sorry for.’
A Friend in Need by M.W. Leeming
Mummy’s an alcoholic. That’s what Emma says. And I think she’s right.
She also knows that Mummy’s friend Graham isn’t very nice, just like I know. People think he’s nice, but he isn’t. Graham is a dentist, and he pulls people’s teeth out. But that’s not why he isn’t nice. It’s because he says horrible things.
Daddy calls Graham a B-word. And I know that Daddy still cries. We hear him sometimes, late at night when we can’t sleep. It makes me sad when he cries but Emma says I shouldn’t worry. He’s crying because of the Bad Thing that Mummy did and it means that he loves me.
Neighbours by A.J. Kirby
Funny street. Nice, but too close to Beeston so after 7/7 Mo got funny looks. Police knocked him up at seven once. Still up after night shift, as it happened. Didn’t bring him in but it was close for a while because the boy came down and the boy was more English and wouldn’t take nobody’s shit.
When the toilet busted Mo called two Yellow Pages’ worth of plumbers but most told him to fuck off when they heard his accent. But he was heavy with crap and the thought there wasn’t a toilet brought him out in spasms.
Prodigal by Nathan O'Hagan
“PAKI SCUM GO HOME”
That’s the first thing I see when I step off the train. The graffiti on the wall. Used to be black scum, and Irish before that. Nice to see the town is moving with the times at least. I jog up the steps and out onto the street. A bit has changed in ten years. The pub is still across the road, except it’s closed now. The chinky next door is still there, as is the offie. I think about heading straight in there for a bottle, but decide against it, and keep walking. “Paki scum go home”. Over the road, past the park. Same rusty old swings. Same tennis courts with no nets. I walk. I keep walking down that street, with the same houses with their same front doors. Except the new cars, hardly a thing has changed. I reach the house. I step through the gate and take the key out of my pocket. “go home”. I hesitate before I put it in the door. I shove it back into my pocket, turn and head back out the gate. Further on down the road to the pub.
Deal or No Deal by M.W.Leeming
The machine murmured softly beside his bed. Gently vibrating. Every thirty seconds or so, something deep inside it moved and made a whirring sound. A rhythmic click tapped out a 4/4 beat in a somnolent tempo.
Pumping fluids in; pumping fluids out.
Her son slept soundly, as he had become accustomed to doing these past few weeks. The machine was a feature of normality to him now and no longer provided the stimulus to resist sleep.
The metronome effect was hypnotic. There was no doubt about that. But instead of easing Julia to sleep, it was the backing track to her waking nightmares.
Waning, Gibbous by P. James Callaghan
He’d taken to walking at night.
Unlike his colleagues, Gary Witton had chosen to stay up north after each shift and had paid for accommodation out of his own pocket. The Hark to Mopsey smelled of dusty upholstery and stale beer. He had a couple of pints with his dinner of gammon and eggs and then he climbed the stairs to his room and kept company with a bottle of whisky he’d brought from home. He dozed and read the paper and looked out of the window. As it grew dark, boredom and the stuffiness of the room made him go back downstairs. He walked through the bar just as the landlord was calling last orders and stepped out into the lonely night.
Skateboarding Isn't by Nico Lee
Where once the tiny chippings seemed to spin in graceful arabesques now only the sickening lurch of tarmac, the towns and villages formed in miniature from congealed lumps of black, sticky residue, all goes flying past, the brakes off, the feet no longer in horizontal accord with the earth, the firm conviction that when the board finally comes to a stop I won’t still be lying on it.
The bridge is approaching fast, a convergence of bollards, cobblestones and sheer, crumbling walls of at least four feet of York stone…
Donny John and the 3-Disc Changer by Joe Hakim
I decided to drop in on Donny John on my way back from town. The curtains were drawn, as always, when I strolled up to the door. I gave it a little knock and walked in.
John’s sat on the sofa, staring at the telly. My sudden appearance startles him, and he stands up from the sofa, frantically swiping at his crotch, trying to brush off all the ash and tab ends that have dropped into his lap.
“Silly bugger,” he shouts. “Nearly gimme a fucking heart attack.”
“What’s got into you?” I ask.
“Barging in like fucking coppers or summat, fuck me drunk,” he replies, clutching at his chest.
“Why would coppers be barging in, Donny John?” I ask. “You better not have been downloading dodgy shit again.”
I plant myself in the armchair. “Make yersen at home,” John mutters.
The Window Box by Mark Connors
Jason Sellars walks briskly back towards home after nipping down to the local Tesco Express for some cigarettes. It’s a cold night so he’d considered driving but he’d had a few cans to wash down an insipid meal-for-one, which was supposed to be a curry of some kind, so he decided to walk rather than take the risk of being over the limit.
“Jason!” He turns to see a figure at the bus stop. “Alright?”
He thought about just waving but he decided to walk across to say hello to whoever it was. It’s not as if he was in a rush to get back to his empty house.
Here Now by Ray Brown
Somewhere a bell rings.
He sits on a green plastic chair. Pallid sunlight daubs brick paving. He watches fat, glistening families, knee deep, staring south over Mediterranean glitter. Advanced guard, he thinks, preparing for a Darwinian switchback. He remembers her in the blue-black Adriatic.
The sun goes in.
Happy Father’s Day by M.W. Leeming
As a kid, I always remembered the size of him. A great, lumbering frame. Broad-shouldered, thick forearms and biceps like a pair of ham joints. I remembered his muddied jeans, his sweated-up shirts. The size and stink of him – brawn, booze and brick-dust – filling the night-time doorway, huffing out cigarette- and whisky-fumes as he ordered, “Lights out, sissy!”
The Wall by Sarah McMahon
I had always been drawn to that place. Dunno why, after all it was just a field behind a high stone wall, next to a great big lump housing the pumping station of the underground reservoir. I thought it was weird that it was there in our local park but Dad said it was a common thing for the Victorians to have done and it meant there was a vast chamber or tank under the ground with masses of water in it. The mound he said was just for the above ground maintenance equipment but they built it into a grassy hillock so it didn’t offend the sensibilities of the Victorians’ Sunday park strolls.
It was the wall that did it to me. It made me want to climb it. It was just so tall and I needed to conquer it. Constructed of large blocks of sandstone worn to soft curves by time and weather, it offered many easy hand and foot holes. It almost spoke to me, well, in my head, anyway: ‘Go on, an experienced young climber like you can easy climb me!’ It was right, I did do lots of climbing, out of my bedroom window when I was grounded by Dad, up trees and up the shallower old quarry side that was deep down hidden in the woods. Yeah, I could do this wall, no problem!
The Alternative Universe of Des and Mel by John Lake
‘All rightee,’ says Den O’Connell looking straight into camera, ‘it’s coming up to one forty-five for the viewers at home – I don’t know why I said that, you’ve probably all got clocks – and… er… who have we got next, Kim?’
‘Do I mean who? No, I don’t, do I? I’m getting’ the bloomin’ autocue wrong here.’
Den looks off beyond camera, pointing, waving a convenient pen. ‘Hold it up higher, darling.’
‘God, what’s he like?’ says Kim, brindling under the studio lights and directing her comment to the live studio audience.
‘Well, she is a darling, aren’t you, my love?’ Den protests, raising his head towards the object of their banter, mercifully off camera, and brindling even deeper and tawnier than his lovely co-host – the ultraviolet effects of his other life in Australia out-brindling those of a high street tanning shop. ‘That’s Rosie, that is – Rosie the autocue woman.’ Den suddenly freezes, a naughty septuagenarian boy caught out, and gazes with puppy-dog eyes into the camera. ‘I’m sorry – autocue person. But just hold it up a bit higher there, please, Rosie, ’cos I haven’t got my glasses on today. So, Kim, what – not who – what have we got coming up next on the show?’
Snuff Films by Lucy Arnold
I like to watch. You think you know what I mean when I say that. I can see it on your face. Titillation, revulsion. Recognition. You think I’m like you. Don’t you? And you think of hunched circles of cars in remote woodland. You think of two-way mirrors in perspiring basement clubs. Curtains not quite drawn. You think you know what I mean. I want you to trust me when I tell you; you don’t know. You haven’t got the first idea. But that’s alright. Honestly, it’s fine. Because I’m going to show you.
The Question Never Asked by John Lake
When Kay got home from her weekend on the mountain, the first thing Nikos asked was if she’d had a good time. An innocent enough question, but when all she said was ‘Yes, it was good’ she could tell he wasn’t satisfied. The babble of excited English he’d expected to gush from her dried up too soon for his liking.
She breezed past him into the lounge in a waft of cold Greek winter air, and dropped her bag to the floor. Nikos followed her. She knew he was there without having to look round.
‘Did you ski?’ he asked, knowing she’d never ski’d before in her life.
The Tattoo by Sarah McMahon
Reprehensible, sickening, indefensible – that’s what they had said about his brother, about his crimes. Declaring him lacking in any moral fibre, they had sentenced him to lethal injection.
Being his twin, his identical twin, he simply could not accept that his brother, the little boy he had built toy armies with, played mock battles against and created secret twin codes with, was as completely devoid of feeling, as corrupt, as they painted him.
He felt he needed to honour his twin in some way and after much thought decided upon a tattoo. It would be a portrait of his deceased brother to sit proudly on the muscle to the top of his right arm. The work must encapsulate his brother’s true spirit, not that portrayed to the masses. It would need to be a genuine representation of his lost half.
A Fishy Tale by Gael Impiazzi
Through the restaurant window I watched Barbara Cartland walk by dragging her trout. Her pink hair glowed incandescently in the headlights of the cars that crawled by in the not-so-rush-hour traffic. Barbara’s bouffant halo reminded me that I had forgotten to buy shampoo on the way home from work. My fingers automatically reached up to smooth my errant locks. My hair was a permanent catastrophe.
Remember Me by Nathan O'Hagan
I was sitting on a bench at the end of the main shopping precinct when I decided to do it. Some ideas had been knocking around in my head for a while, but it was there that they really took shape. It’s amazing how easily the biggest idea can come from nothing. There I was, just sitting watching the shoppers go by, and I’d just had an idea that would change my life, and change this town forever. I felt sorry for all these people now. All these fucking people who walk past me every day, ignoring me, looking through me, not even knowing I fucking exist. Well soon they’ll know who I am. Nobody in this fucking town, in this fucking country, will ever forget me.