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Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

At least two novels have been published in English that did not use the letter “e” in the main body of their text. One was an English translation of a French novel that didn’t use “e” in its text. So this challenge ought to be simple, no?

Write 25 to 50 words that tell, show, or evoke a complete story of any kind, on any subject, entirely in English… without using the letter “e” even once.

One entry per author. No charge for entering.

Deadline: 11:59 PM Eastern Time, Wednesday, August 31, 2011.

Hyphenated Words: If the hyphenated word is generally considered a single word, it counts as one word. (Like “twenty-five” or “jack-o-lantern.”) Otherwise each part of the hyphenated word counts separately.

To submit an entry, use the SECOND contest shown on this link? (it’s beneath the main contest) and follow the instructions. If you don’t already have a Submishmash account, you’ll be prompted to make one.

.oOo.

SCIENCE FICTION

“It’s a UFO!” was all around town. “Such a light at night isn’t common, so high up, swaying, sashaying.”

Paul sat still, smirking. Fabric and wood and string out of sight in his room. His flying oil lamp was a triumph.

HUMOUR

I’m standing, waiting to pay. Mr Muffin is nagging for chips and biltong and sugary cooldrinks. I say no, it’s bad for him.
“Want a bag?” asks shop assistant, Thandi.
“No thanks,” says Mr Muffin, thumbing my way, “this bag will do.”

MEMORIES

A photo of a smiling child on a swing is on my windowsill. It’s of a young Dusty. It’s not particularly good, as my dad’s shadow is in it. Prompting us that, although not with us, dad’s always part of our days, still living, knowing, capturing our moods.

FAMILY MATTERS

– Mum, I’m marrying my cousin, David.
– You can’t.
– It’s not that uncommon nowadays.
– David’s not your cousin. David’s my son.
– What?
– I was drunk, long ago.
– Oh God. No.
– What?
– I’m carrying his child.

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The Ashtray

He flinched as the ashtray hit the wall behind him, creating a kaleidoscopic constellation as the shards scattered across the room, caught in the early morning sunbeams.

“Why did you do that?” His nostrils flared, white. “You know I wanted it.”

“You don’t even smoke.” Her lip curled as she spoke. “You only want it because you know that I want it.”

“That’s crap, and you know it.” He stepped gingerly over the debris, towards the broom cupboard. “I wanted it because it reminded me of special times we had. We had. Together.”

“Oh spare me.” She turned and blocked his way. “Leave it. I’ll clean it up.”

He watched her take out the dustpan and brush, aware of the telltale twitch in his jaw. He took a deep breath, and waited. Waited for the rage to subside, waited for the rage to be overtaken by the grief at the inevitability of their separation. The helplessness and hopelessness that was now so familiar, enveloped him like a shroud, and he felt the tears pricking behind his eyes.

He cleared his throat and she looked up at him. “What?” Despite her anger, she was still so beautiful.

“Nothing.” He turned away, knowing that whatever he said would unleash a fresh torrent of vitriol. What had he done to turn her into this monster? He thought back, and remembered. And the memory made him give a wry smile, He snorted. It was the ashtray. That very same ashtray that she was now sweeping into a crystalline pile at his feet.

John and Angela had given it to them as a housewarming present, and they’d argued about it even then. She wanted to put it on the coffee table, filled with those hideous marbled eggs her mother gave her each birthday. He wanted it for the pub. Where it would be used . Used by his mates when they came round to watch the rugby and play darts.

In the end, they compromised. He could use it if he returned it to the lounge table, washed and odorless, afterwards. Sometimes she even joined them in the pub cheering and jeering at good and bad play alike.

He’d only used it about four or five times, when he dropped and broke one of her precious eggs, while he was transferring them to a Tupperware dish for the evening. She had gone ballistic. Whatever he said had incensed her even more, to the extent where she’d stalked out, slamming the door on the way to her mother. He’d bought one that looked much the same, but she wasn’t to be consoled.

Since then, she hadn’t allowed him near anything precious, claiming he’d break it. He took it. Took all her abuse and bitterness, because he loved her so much. But it wasn’t enough. It was like those eggs were her children. Symbolic of the children they couldn’t have, because her own eggs were shrivelled, from the chemo she’d had as a child. The more he tried to get close to her, the more she withdrew.

It had all come to a head this morning. He’d woken at 5, and unable to sleep, he got up, and started cleaning the kitchen, quietly, so as not to wake her. By 6.30, he was dusting in the lounge, waiting for the freshly mopped kitchen floor to dry, so he could make her a cup of coffee. He’d puffed up the cushions and was running the duster over the coffee table when she came into the room.

“What are you doing?”
“I was up early, so I thought I’d clean up.”
“Why?”
“I thought it would be nice if we could go for a walk on the mountain, instead of being cooped up inside the flat, like every other Saturday.”
“Oh, so I keep you prisoner, while I clean up your mess?”

It had gone downhill from there. By 7 o’clock, just when the sun was dancing with the dustmotes, they’d become embroiled in a vicious row.

For the first time in six years, he fought back, matching her insult for insult, knowing how he was hurting her, unable to stop himself. She’d threatened to leave, and he hadn’t tried to stop her, like those other times. But she didn’t miss a beat. She started listing what furniture she’d take with her.

He retaliated. “Don’t forget your eggs. Take all of them. Bloody useless dust collectors. I’ll keep the ashtray.”

She froze.

He knew he’d gone too far.

He flinched as the ashtray hit the wall behind him, creating a kaleidoscopic constellation as the shards scattered across the room, caught in the early morning sunbeams.

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Coming Home

A car stands deserted next to the road.  Arthur slows down as he passes, squinting through the rivulets on the windscreen of his twenty-year-old Corolla.  The pelting July rain intensifies the darkness.  No movement from inside the other car.

The crumpled front fender gives the BMW’s headlight a manic frown.  Red paint bleeds across the rock face.  There’s no sign of the driver.  Is he concussed?  Has he stumbled over the edge?  Is he dead?

Arthur’s brain fumbles.  Is it my problem?  Must I take responsibility for this bastard?  All I did was answer my cellphone.  He didn’t need to overreact like that.  I had to take the call.  Louise was already stressing that I wasn’t home yet.

Arthur leans forward, the staccato rhythm of the wipers mimics his heartbeat.  How had he got into this mess?

It had started when Louise booked theatre tickets.  She knew that the weekly meetings often ran late, so why had she booked seats for a Monday?  Taking the kids out on a school night was bad enough, but why on the day when she knew he probably be late?

Then:  “Hey Arthur, will you take the minutes?”

“Sure boss, just need to call home to say I’ll be late.”

“Ja, whatever.”

Whatever.  Sure boss.  Ask Arthur, he’ll take on all the crappy jobs.  The little grey man who always gets passed over for promotion.  Eighteen years, and they don’t even know my wife’s name.

Louise.  Louise, whom I’ve loved since I was sixteen and she was fourteen.  We’ll have been married nineteen years this November.

Arthur smiled.  She never complained about the long hours, but he sensed her patience was wearing thin, especially when she had to cancel engagements because of him.

“ …even though there are green shoots, the current economic climate means that we must continue to level the playing fields for the man on the ground…”

It doesn’t make sense.  I’m working these extra hours to make a better life for my family; but all it’s doing is making everyone unhappy.

Arthur stopped writing and looked up.

“Sorry boss, I’ve got to go.  Someone else will have to carry on with the minutes.”

Without waiting for a reply, he pushed his chair back, picked up his briefcase, closed the door on the stunned meeting and walked out into the cold rain.

As he reached his car, his cellphone shrilled at him.

“Are you going to be much longer?”

“I’m sorry darling, I’m just leaving the office now.  I won’t be too long.”

He tucked the cellphone between his ear and his shoulder as he creaked open the car door, threw his briefcase onto the back seat and slid in behind the steering wheel.

“You’d better hurry.  If we’re late they won’t let us in till interval.”  He could hear her voice cracking.  Oh God, I hate it when she cries.

“I’m pulling out of the car park right now.  Oh shit, I just cut in front of a BMW.  He looks really pissed off.”  Arthur raised his hand in mute apology.  “Look Louise, I must go.  I’ll be there as soon as I can, OK?”

He pushed the red button on his phone and tossed it onto the passenger seat.

He sighed, turned right at the traffic lights and looked in his rear view mirror.  Bloody BMW driver, right up my arse.  Arthur forced a smile and waved a ‘Sorry’ at the angry face in the car behind him.  He indicated and turned left onto the mountain pass.  The BMW followed and drew up beside him.  The driver leaned over the passenger seat, gesticulating and mouthing obscenities.  Even through the rain-spattered glass Arthur could see the artery pulsing on the guy’s temple, the tightness of the tendons in his neck.  His face was puce with rage.

Startled, Arthur veered to the left, his pulse quickening.  He almost overcorrected, but continued up the road, passing the gum trees and ‘For Sale’ signs, towards the corner which marked the start of the steep ascent.  Visibility was poor.  His headlights forged through the downpour and bounced off the shining tar, which had been smoothed by the rain to a black lake.  He dropped back to let the BMW pass, but it slowed down too, moving closer to Arthur, as though it were trying to push him off the road.  Arthur frowned as he rounded the bend and geared down for the ascent.  He moved onto the narrow shoulder, close to the barrier.

Knuckles white on the steering wheel, Arthur floored the accelerator of his 1300cc Toyota.  Come on, come on, urged Arthur, leaning forward.  We’ve got to lose this maniac.  C’mon old girl, you can do it...  He glanced to his right and saw that he’d gained about a metre on the BMW.  The driver grinned at Arthur, but it looked more like a ghoulish grimace.  His teeth told of hours spent in the dentist’s chair: Godzilla with a Colgate smile.  This bastard’s a bully – he’s enjoying this!  Pitting his dream machine against my jalopy.

He slowed down and focused on the steep road ahead.  Despite the cold, he had to wipe sweat from his eyes.  He dried his hands on his faded corduroys and gripped the wheel with clammy hands. Don’t make eye contact. But now what?  There are five kilometres of bends ahead.  Nowhere I can pull in and get help.  What if this guy’s trying to kill me?

Arthur knew the road well.  He’d travelled it both ways for almost two decades, to and from  work.  Eighteen years of crappy holidays and eating out at the Spur.  Eighteen years of saving for the day he could move his family into a decent-sized home in a security village.  The kids would have their own rooms; Louise would have a garden and he would have a workshop.  His family would be safe.  Safe.  Safe from sicko’s like this.  Now this one guy was close to ruining it. No. No rich bastard is taking it away from me.

He steeled himself and prepared for the hairpin bend just ahead.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw the BMW was inching slowly ahead of him.  What’s the bastard up to now?  Is he going to swerve left and ram me from the front, forcing me over the edge? Arthur looked in his rear view mirror.  No cars behind.  He slammed on the brakes, ready to pull up the handbrake at the first sign of a skid.  As the BMW shot past him, he saw the driver frown.  He could almost see the cogs turning in the guy’s brain as he tried to work out what to do next.

The BMW braked.  Its taillights turned the rain to rubies, bathing Arthur in a ruddy glow.  He watched it spin, a macabre pirouette.  Arthur’s brain captured the ballet frame by frame.  He watched mesmerised as the car met the mountainside sideways on, the wheels on the near side lifting and juddering back to earth.  Then nothing.

Serves him right.  Arthur took a deep breath and moved forward.  Past his nemesis.  The rain was heavier now, and Arthur knew he would have to concentrate really hard for the next few kilometres.  Blind corners, no streetlights, no hard shoulder.  Only the white line to help him get home to his family, in time for the theatre.

His breathing slowed and his brain took over where his instincts left off.

What if he’s injured? What if another car goes into him?  What if someone else is killed by that moron? Who will call the paramedics?

Arthur sighed.  Too many what ifs. I can’t do nothing.  I’d better go back.  Just in case. He turned his car around and made his way back through the darkness.

A dark shape looms ahead. Is that it?  Yes, there it is.

A car stands deserted next to the road.  Arthur slows down as he passes.  He cranes his neck, looking for a sign of life.

All he can hear is the rain.

He reaches for his cellphone and dials.

A moment.

“Hi darling.  There’s been a bit of an accident on the pass.  Nothing too serious.  I’m coming home.”

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It was quiet in the recreation room at the retirement village. Mr Beaton was doing his crossword and muttering to himself each time he had to look something up the dictionary. The television was on mute, and Mrs Goldsmith paged through last week’s People, looking up at the enthusiastic talk show host every now and then. If Alice listened carefully, she could hear the soft tick of the clock that the local Rotary Club had donated last year.

She sighed. She hadn’t heard from either of her children in over two months. Ben was so busy at his job in Cape Town, and Janet’s twins – her grandchildren – were enough to keep anybody busy full time.

I suppose I’ll spend Christmas here, just like I have for the last five years.

Alice thought back to Christmas the previous year.

I hope I don’t have to sit next to Mr Harrison at dinner. I hate the way food falls out of his mouth when he eats.

The roast chicken isn’t the same as turkey, but it’s tasty enough. The Christmas pudding is quite nice, but I hope the custard isn’t lumpy, like it was last time. Or am I thinking of the year before?

Alice frowned, trying to remember. The last few years merged into a blur of colour and sound. She looked up at the television, now showing an enthusiastic shopper mouthing about the virtues of her new furniture polish.

I wonder if those nice people from the dramatic society will put on a show for us again. What did they do last year? A bit from Christmas Carol? Or did they sing for us? Oh, I don’t know. Whatever they do, every Christmas just seems the same these days…

“Mrs Moss,” called Sister Joan from the doorway. “There’s a telephone call for you. I think it’s your daughter.”

“Oh, lovely. Ask her to hold on please. I’m coming as fast as I can.” Alice said as she reached for her walking stick.

“Don’t worry, Mrs Moss,” said Sister Joan, coming towards her,“I’ll bring it to you. We’ve got a nice new cordless phone now, remember?”

Alice smiled gratefully as she reached for the handset. It was difficult for her to walk, having twisted her ankle in a fall last week. Everyone had been so kind and helpful.

“Hello?”

“Hello mum, it’s me.”

“Hello darling. How lovely to hear your voice.”

“Good to hear you too. I’m so sorry I haven’t called. Things have been very tough with this recession, and Rob’s been retrenched. Jamie and Nicky go to crèche now, as I’ve had to find a job.” Her voice caught, and she stopped talking. Alice knew how Janet had been so proud of being a stay-at-home mom, and it broke her heart to hear Janet so distressed.

“I’m so sorry my darling. Is there anything I can do?”

“Oh mum, I don’t know. I feel so helpless. And how must the really poor people be coping? I just feel like we’re all going down a big, black hole.”

Alice was aware of her own tears welling up. If only there was some way she could help…

“I’ve got an idea, Janet,” she said. “Why don’t you sell my old writing desk? “You should be able to get about R2,000 for it.”

“Oh no, mum, I couldn’t. It’s part of my childhood. I’d never forgive myself.”

“Oh come on, dear. Don’t be silly. It’s just a couple of pieces of wood. Christmas is coming up, and it’ll give you a few extra rands to spoil the children.”

Alice tried to sound cheerful. The desk had been given to her by Tom when she’d turned 21. It was the only piece of furniture she’d kept after he’d died and she’d moved into the village.

“And besides,” she continued, “It’s what your dad would have wanted.”

“Thanks mum. I’d rather not sell it though. I’ll speak to Rob, and see what he says. He’s got an interview today. Maybe he’ll get the job, and we’ll be okay.”

“Talking of Christmas,” Alice said, “Will I see you this year, or are you going up to Rob’s parents in Pretoria again?”

“That’s actually why I phoned, mum. We can’t afford to go up this year, so I wanted to know if you’d like to come to us for Christmas Lunch?”

“Oh, that sounds wonderful! I’d love to, thank you.”

“Right we’ll pick you up at 11.  See you next week. Bye, mum.”

“Bye-bye darling, and good luck.”

Alice didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. This was going to be a Christmas to remember after all.

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All choked up

Suddenly she felt a choking thing in her throat – she clutched at the keyboard and random letters spewed onto the screen. She couldn’t breathe. She coughed. Heaved. Retched. It wouldn’t budge. She screamed for help, but only a punctured gasp escaped. The keyboard skidded away across the desk, collecting her wineglass. She watched in horror as the glass took on a life of its own, reeling, rolling.

Time stood still as she waited for its final decision. It slowed and tipped to the right. Her universe closed in around her, dark, suffocating.

No, not my keyboard! Please God no. That’s my life…

The scarlet liquid swirled as it splashed across the keyboard, coating letters, numbers and punctuation with random indifference. She grabbed for the glass, missed, and pushed it over the far edge. As it shattered on the cold stone floor, the thing in her throat settled, cutting off the last of her air. Her index finger hit the keyboard, and a single letter played out on the screen, mocking her last breath.

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He looked into her eyes and wondered at all they had seen in their 86 years. Kittens, rainbows, birthday presents, lovers. Faraway places, sunrises, azure seas and angry storms. New homes, births, laughter. Grown children, old friends, grief. By themselves, her eyes revealed nothing of what had been seen and should have been left unseen.

As he held her hand, he felt her body starting to lose its warmth. Her pupils became dull; then milky. He sighed as he reached over and closed her eyes for the last time.

I suppose it’s time to tell the rest of the family.

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“Hello, I’d like to confirm employment of Goodman Tini please.”
“Who’s speaking?”
“It’s Bianca, from Russells in Claremont.”
“OK. Hi Bianca. Yes, Goodman does work for me. Why do you want to know?”
“Goodman wants to buy a room divider on HP, and we need to establish his credit-worthiness.”
“How much is the room divider?”
“Three thousand five hundred rand plus VAT.”
“How much will the monthly repayments be, and over what period?
“Four hundred rand a month, for 24 months.”
“That’s over nine thousand rand?”
“Yes ma’am.”

(more…)

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