OK, 500 words please. FIVE HUNDRED words only.
Your prompt? A stranger came to town….
Points to remember –
Make every word count. Carefully chosen details can convey more than long descriptions. Make your title pull its weight!
Post your piece with title and your name/pen name in the comments section
If you would like to offer feedback to other writer’s – do so respectfully.
Make sure I can contact you at the end of the challenge if you’d like your work promoted here.
Deadline for posts is the 18th of JUNE
Charlatans (500 words)
A stranger came to town. He knocked on people’s doors and said he could read their future in the dregs of their Greek coffee.
‘Charlatans!’ Mum said. ‘They should be fined for capitalizing on people’s hopes like that.’
One cloudy afternoon, he rang our door bell. Mum peered through the intertwined circles knitted on our kitchen curtains, then bent over the sink. The man rang again and Mum straightened up and pattered to the door.
He was tall, long arms and hands large like shovels, dense eyebrows like a hawk’s. He gaped up at Mum, stuttered something that sounded like ‘Atlas’ and then fixed his eyes on me.
‘Come in, Mr. Nodyss,’ Mum said. ‘We’ve heard all about you.’ She sounded like my head teacher giving exam instructions and stared at his patterned with rhombuses tie, hanging there like a dead fish.
‘Is this your son?’ He croaked.
‘Yes, he is.’ Mum held me closer, her arm around my head in a tight lock.
She made a cup of Greek coffee and they sat at the kitchen table. I stood in between them, mouth-breathing and wide-eyed. When Mum’s cup had nothing but the dregs sitting there like dirt, he took over. He tilted the cup around, peeped into it and said,
‘I can see a white dove. It’s only got the upper part of its beak and it can’t chirp. Here, see?’ He pointed a crooked finger into the cup. ‘It has to feed its baby dove but it’s hard to pick worms up.’ Mum crossed her fingers and inspected her nails.
‘Why doesn’t Jesus help it?’ I said.
‘Because Jesus wants to hear its prayers, but He can’t. The dove has to look for the other part of its beak in order to do that.’ Mum crackled a finger. ‘Now, there are two roads here. All the dove has to do is follow the one that will lead to its pair.’ I wondered how they would stick together after the accident. There had been an accident, I supposed.
‘Which road will it follow?’ I said.
He looked deep into Mum’s eyes and said, ‘The right one.’ That got me confused. ‘The lost beak is lonely. It doesn’t know about the little one. It’s made mistakes. Who hasn’t? Jesus said, ‘we should forgive and-‘
‘Turn the other cheek, or beak or whatever. Right.’ Mum sprang up and rinsed the cup in the sink. ‘Thank you for your precious insights Mr. Nodyss. We have to leave now so if you will excuse us…’ The man’s eyebrows fell over his round eyes like flakes of burnt matches. Mum headed to the door and he tottered in tow. When out, he turned, took a deep breath but Mum slammed the door to his face.
‘Who was that, Mum?’
‘Just a charlatan.’ She drew all the curtains shut.
I watched the man through the loops of our curtains trudge down our street, mouth wide open like a bird’s beak in a massive heat wave.
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A Stranger to Myself
by Matthew Beswick
I am a stranger in the town where everyone knows me. I walk through the small network of streets in a haze. The little precinct of shops on the square are modern. People smile and I smile back. I have no idea who they are. One woman stops me and asks about my children. I nod in agreement with her and laugh at her attempts at humour.
She doesn’t notice anything untoward. She isn’t wary of me, which she should be. I look at her and feel nothing. That means I could do anything to her. Apathy is more dangerous than hate. She blathers on unaware. I tell her I’m in a rush and I go to move on.
She grabs my forearm and whispers, ‘I’ll come over at three. I’ve been practising,’ in my ear.
The words are obscure but her tone and scent are not. They ooze with lust; an aural and olfactory assault. I look at her briefly and I try to look conspiratorial and smug. Honestly, I feel disgust. Not that she isn’t attractive. Her legs and cleavage are exposed to the sun. Her pale, glossy skin gleams in the rays. But there is something violent in her unexpected sexual tone. It is so personal it invades me physically. If I knew her, that invasion might have caused a thrill in my groin. Instead I feel a chill down my back.
She lets go and I press on. I don’t dare enter any of the shops. Not that I think I have a litany of lovers waiting for me at every turn, but each person I see risks exposing who I am and who I can no longer be.
I circle round the back of the shops onto a suburban road with red brick houses and trees along the pavement. They have grown beyond expectation cracking the surrounding concrete that should have contained them. Leaves grow along the trunk and green spouts out of the branches as well. They’re so alive that life must burst out of the bark, tearing through the skin.
I realise I am at a door, turning a key. I must be home. There is a narrow hall and narrow stairs. The building smells of mould and metal and rot. I turn left opposite the stairs into the front room. The carpet is old and worn and where a rug should be is a lump of sheets. I can’t look at it. My eyes flick away when I try.
I move through the house, but in several rooms are a pile of sheets. Each of the two bedrooms upstairs have an ominous heap of fabric. I close all the doors and hide in the kitchen. There are no mounds on the floor here. The smell is better too. It is still a bit musty and there are unwashed dishes, but the metallic rotten smell has gone.
The doorbell rings. I know there’s one more pile to make before I make my own.
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A jaded strange slap
by Stavroula Sanida
‘Fatso! Fat ass!’.
These greasy words were echoing inside my flabby belly. He kept walking next to me with his eyes fixed on his shoes. His mouth sealed, his smile wiped off.
‘If I only could make these boys shut up!’ the thought was clinking inside me.
We arrived home. My brother ran το his room. My mother left the table.
‘What happened sweety?’ she asked while following him.
‘Nothing! Leave me alone!’ he slammed the door behind him.
‘Let me come in’ she stood outside with her hand placed on her palpitating chest.
I sat at the table. Two forks opposite me were resting next to the plates without owners. I knew I would eat alone once again.
‘If I only could modify his appetite’. Not the one for food, obviously. His lust for life was what I wanted to augment. To see him hanging out with friends, laughing with silly jokes, flirting with girls. My deepest desire was to fix those words which were flying like noisy flies above our heads. I wished I had a magic weapon. Maybe a pan? To hit them down to death.
Nobody knew my hidden wishes. I was too young to make extermination plans. My boiling blood could not resist the idea of vengeance. My pink side kept playing with dolls; dreaming of the handsome prince. I was a girl after all.
That night whispers were traveling towards my room through the corridor. I guess it was my mum talking on the phone with my dad. He was on a business trip again.
‘If I only knew what they were talking about’.
The next morning I woke up determined. My brother’ s bed was empty.
‘He must have slept with mum again’ I said to myself while entering my parents’ room.
‘It’s time to go to school. Get up!’ I told him pulling the sheet.
‘I feel sick today. I am not coming’ he sank his face in the pillow.
‘Let him’ my mother’ s phrase put an abrupt end to my efforts.
I left them on the messy mattress.
On my way to school I could feel my fists on fire inside my pockets.
There he was. ‘Where is your blimp brother?’ the chief of the flies asked in ignorance.
My hand slipped out of my pocket landing rapidly on his cheek.
I kept on walking.
A speechless statue was left behind my back.
That slap had put a final end to my brother’ s bullies.
I might be the new stranger in town, but I didn’ t care, so long as the three forks were dancing on our dishes again.
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Your story is vivid and immediate. Nice images too. At the beginning I’m not clear as to who is bullying who. and why. I’d like to see the girl’s brother interact with other people more. See what makes him such a target. There seems to be quite a lot of telling about him. And, I found it rather implausible that the bullies would back off because of a girl’s slap on the face. I liked how you rounded off the story in the end.
Wow… these are fantastic!
Can’t wait to read your other responses
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PLEASE KEEP ME, BY FORD DAGENHAM
She traveled alone and she traveled light. Anything she had left behind she didn’t need any more. She had her memories and her scars. And she had hope. Her feet hurt her at every step but walking was the only way.
She stuck to the back lanes and footpaths, sometimes holding her life in her hands for a dash across a busy road. She hadn’t eaten all day and hunger made her miserable. She climbed a farmers stile and sat herself on the top rung.
Fields all around. The hum of traffic. Ahead were buildings visible between the branches and trees. A new town. She didn’t look back.
She jumped down from the stile. She walked on, butterflies unfolding themselves startled by her passing. At the boundary foliage she easily leaped the ditch and found herself by a weather beaten fence. She walked along it, following her nose, hoping for a hole.
The sun was showing the first signs of falling. Shadows stretched and leaves and branches hid its glare. The land and the air smelt different from where she had come from. She felt, not fright, but maybe anxiety. She hid it well. Any stranger observing her could tell nothing of her mood.
She walked on.
At last a poorly repaired fence panel, rotting from damp. She pushed through into a smell of ale and sweat. These smells were not unfamiliar but they held no happy memories for her. The low sun was exposed and its sideways glare blinding. She heard male voices. Loud, almost frantic, and blowing smoke up into the evening air.
She kept to the sparse hedge trying to be as invisible as possible. She managed it for the most part but to get free of the pub garden she would have to pass very close to a cluster of gesticulating men.
She dashed out and a startled man cried out in surprise and lashed out a foot in reaction. She easily dodged it. This was nothing new. Her light feet made little sound crossing the gravel of the car park but she was suddenly on a busy street. A street she had never seen before. Without stopping she dashed on, across the road and ducked behind a tidy privet hedge.
She was still hungry but she was drained and fearful of the strange smells and sensations. She crawled under the hedge as much as she could and cat-napped the dusk and most of the night away.
It was shortly after dawn when she was picking bits and pieces of the hedge off herself that she heard a child’s voice. She looked over. A little girl in school uniform.
‘Mummy, mummy, a catty! Can we keep her. Can we? Can we?’ She cried out.
She sat dead still as the child approached. Wary but hopeful. She sniffed the hand held out to her and liked it. Milk and cereal. If she’d had fingers she’d had crossed thinking, please keep me.
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i missed the word ‘them’ out of the last sentence.
‘If she’d had fingers she’d have crossed them, thinking please keep me.’
A stranger came to town.
Or was Marlene dreaming again?
Black bars. Blocking a potential exit or entrance.
Metallic door. Locked.
Marlene was always sitting on her bed.
(Hey, come here! Let’s play hide and seek. No, I’m the one who’ll hide. It’s my favorite part. Wait, wait a minute! I’m not ready yet. I’m not afraid enough.)
Marlene was always wearing a white gown.
(One, two, three, four, five. Two cupcakes for me, and another two for you, Charlie. Let’s split the last one in two. Don’t eat it, you little silly! We’re supposed to share!)
Marlene was always scared of the grotesque figures on the walls.
(They’re not going to get me. Don’t touch me. No! Charlie, help me!)
Marlene would walk in circles inside her room.
(Not the screaming. Stop it! Stop!)
Marlene did not eat.
(Where’s my little brother? Charlie! This is not very nice of you, kiddo. Don’t play games. I have to find Charlie. Please, let me find Charlie first! He’s only four, he may be lost! I’m supposed to look out for him. Leave me alone! Go away!)
Marlene did not recognize the women that came in and out of her room once every few days. They were wearing white. Just like her.
(Open mouth, take out tongue, close mouth, swallow.)
Marlene was always speaking inside her head.
(Charlie’s little body. A small bird, crushed. I hate blood. I hate it! Take it off! Clean him up! Help me clean his blue shirt. When he wakes up, he’s not going to like this. His blue shirt ruined. Our Charlie, you see, doesn’t like dirty clothes. And he doesn’t like blood. I told you, take it off!)
Marlene wanted to go home. This room made her nauseous.
(Let’s mop the kitchen floor, Charlie. Mum is going to be very pleased with us. She’ll be so proud. It’ll be a surprise. Be careful, now! Don’t go outside, I’ve just finished with the balcony. Stay here for two minutes. I’ll be back before you know it, ok?)
Marlene saw blood dripping from the ceiling. Flooding the room. Her feet hanging from the bed, barely touching the floor, were dipped in blood up to the knee. Her bed was painted red.
(Charlie? Don’t take him! He’s just a child.)
The shadows are coming.