This leading story is one of eight I submitted to a Reader’s Digest 100 Word Story competition. The stories had to be EXACTLY 100 words. It was published on their website – I suppose a sort-of commendation. If you like it, six others are added below.
The 9 Loves of Henrietta the Great
Anthony was mooning, tentative, and no match for a captain of netball: he gave her mumps.
Hardeep, life after A levels already mapped by his parents, gave her self-determination.
At University, Viktor was exciting and dangerous: he gave her causes.
Alan, unsure of his sexuality, and Nigel (sure enough to become Nigella) gave her self-awareness, but dear Daniel (dearest, it transpired, to Mary) gave her anorexia.
Johnny, challenging – especially to his probation officer – and Pierre, charming, sophisticated, and married, gave her resilience.
But Lionel, who knew the art of compromise, just gave and, in return, Henrietta finally gave herself.
A small thing
It was just a bent coin, prized from a slot machine by a boy with his penknife. He paid for chocolate with it. The newsagent passed it to a commuter in too much of a hurry to check his change. At lunchtime it helped pay for his chicken baguette and passed, again in change, to Veronica. Homeward bound, she jammed the only ticket machine in the station: the surging crowd baulked, then backed up into the street, toppling Mr Jenner under the 49 bus.
“Good day?” Dylan’s mum asked. “Nah, Nothing special. Found some money though. Got some cheap sweets.”
Flight of Fancy
Ellen flicked toast crumbs off her nightdress as she read the engagement notices. Of course he had a fiancée. “Pity,” she sighed.
The idea had taken root long before she noticed: a seed drifting through her autumn garden. It was just a thought. She had not encouraged it, but neither did she uproot it; she liked the way it teased. It wasn’t a weed, just something unexpected: a bit of welcome chaos in the ordered rows. She had never even met him.
Later, admiring earrings she pretended he had bought for her, she thought “Still, I’m not bad for fifty.”
He counted every grain the scorpion flicked against his eyelid. It was drinking his sweat. Moving, to check that his rifle was still concealed, startled the visitor and it scuttled away. How he hated desert training: searing days, freezing nights, flies, snakes and scorpions, but especially scorpions. Along the wadi an engine coughed and camels growled good morning. His target would be coming soon. Sand dribbled again; his visitor was back. The cold hard metal pressed behind his ear signalled otherwise. “You plonker,” he thought. “Sorry Sarge,” he said.” But, looking up, it was not Sarge. “Allah hu akbar.” Click.
Holed by bad decisions, failed marriages, and plain bad luck, John’s life had run aground.
He grasped the idea of disappearance with uncharacteristic energy, scanning the news for opportunities. And then it came: a storm had sunk a ferry only 10 miles up the coast, and a suitcase containing some personal items, if found on the shore, would identify him as one of the lost. Then he could start again.
Returning home to complete his plan he found the storm had cut the power. He struck a match but, in his haste to disappear, he had left the gas on.
Food for thought
The birds systematically emptying the nut feeders were suddenly absent. Speculating where they had gone Steve thought out loud, “I expect they’ve knocked off for lunch.” Elaine laughed at the absurdity, but at two o’clock exactly back they came. He wondered.
That evening, following the chattering chaffinches into the woods, he found thousands of them queuing by a “Global Bird Foods” van collecting, exchanging, tiny packets of seed. In the morning they found his bloodstained clothes, shredded, pecked: nothing else. Think about it next time you’re buying fat balls: what are they made of exactly? After all, it’s big business.
98, 99, Coming
“They’ll never find me here, in the dark” she thought. She could hear them coming, giggling, scuffling. “I’ll sit still as a statue.” The door creaked open and two small faces peeped in.
“Ready or not, here we come. Are you in here, mummy?” and then triumphantly “Got you!” Soft skin pressed up against hers, smooth arms that smelled of chocolate and marzipan. “Tell us a story.” But she was tired. “Not now, off you go and play some more”.
Outside, matron comforted them. “Don’t upset yourselves. She’s happy, but doesn’t really know you’re here: it takes some like that.”