About the Stories

It was during the Edinburgh Book Festival a couple of years ago that I became addicted to writing tiny Twitter stories, tagged with the label #vss (for Very Short Stories). During non-festival periods, I found I was lacking a theme (the Edinburgh Book Festival would provide one daily), and this meant I wasn’t writing them. Since then, Dave Pickering (@goosefat101) has set me daily story themes under the hashtag, #ThePush.

You'll find most of the stories here. 


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Twitter pebbles by Ol.v!er [H2vPk].

Wednesday
Feb082012

Across the galaxy, there's a parallel universe where I'm out walking the dog. I watch the nurse tuck the sheets in around me.

"Enough!" He holds up his hands. "This meeting is closed." I stare longingly at the gates as I sink back to my hospital bed.

"Miscommunication," she shrugs. "I've never claimed to wait for nature." The tooth fairy snaps on her surgical gloves.

She hopped across the palace floor, practising high springs. She'd have to ambush him: no prince would willingly kiss a frog.

He watches her house; waits for the right moment. When Fox sees her go out with his wife around her neck, he knows it's time.

"I'll fetch you some sweet tea, dear. You're in shock". She hurries out to get a ladle and fills me a mug from the cauldron.

On the second night, I fell asleep, finally sung to sleep by the steady beep-beep-beep of your heart monitor.

The chalk on the path fades, erased by the force of the rain. "Help," it had said hours earlier. "Go to No. 3 - mummy's sick".

I can't get the green blanket out of my head. You always said you couldn't wear green. They took you away on a stretcher.

I twirl my long skirt in front of the mirror. This isn't the way to tell them. I should do it gently: they're used to a son. 

Please get well soon, she thinks, resting her chin on the bed. Her bowl is empty; she misses the sound of her master's breath.

She did it as part of her game in the end. "Go and play," he told her, leaving the poisoned cup by her dolls at the tea party.

He plants a bulb for each year they're together. There are 11 now; one day there'll be 50. She'll definitely want to see that.

He sent hot soup to all the stall keepers. He didn't want to look too keen so she didn't realise it was especially for her.

The first episode was when he was 5: the earliest they thought he'd remember. They sent them to him once a year as dreams.

He gathered them for her: deflated heart balloons and discarded Valentine's roses. He left them on the bridge she fell from.

Every day he adds more," she says anxiously as we watch her son outside, his army of pebbles spreading across the patio.

Only a day away now. Was he really looking forward to it? The thought of a steak! He'd been planning his last meal for weeks. 

With a big sigh, she guards her treasure. Better they think she's after their gold than know her fire breath killed a man.

The CEO folds his arms. "I'm not taking it off the market. I don't care how many kids are addicted. It's our best earner."

͠He smiled, remembering his girl at that age. Of course he'd wear her hooded red coat when he took the post to her grandma.

Mum said I don't do enough good deeds so I hid her keys. I'll find them soon. I'll unlock the door and she'll be proud.

It's thankless. Feet swollen and blistered, he hops through endless gardens hiding chocolate eggs. Mostly, the birds eat them.

He drops beneath the manhole cover and waits for the sirens to fade. Escaping the cells: one more night to walk the streets.

It was too small for you but you always kept it. When your father's hat wasn't on its peg one morning, I caught my breath.

“The main thing is that you don’t look in their eyes,” Jim’s dad warned as the blade fell and the head rolled into the crate. 

It breaks his heart that his wife won’t recognise him. He licks her hand; she wipes it on her jeans and pats him on the head.

All the clouds looked like dogs the day I left. You waited patiently by a tree, wagging your tail and thinking I might come back.

He reads their letters in the sky and wonders if they’ll ever know that he’s hostage up here, that even the reindeer are a myth. 

“Where’s your magic palace?” Amy’s eyes widened.

“In the sky,” said the man, his eyes glittering like water as he opened the van. 

 

“Do you think they know we live in their shoes?” she asks, dropping a bag of teeth in the corner and straightening her wings. 

New Shoes

Dad wanted trainers.

“I’d like to know I could run away,” he said.

When the hospital bed lay empty, it gave us a moment’s hope.

“My shoes are magic,” he tells his friend proudly.

This is better than Santa, I think, as I replace red laces with blue at night.

“Am I dreaming?”

“Who cares?” He laughs and he passes me my shoes with his mouth and wags his tail. “Walk,” he says. “Now.”

“Nice night,” he says brightly.

“Is it?”

Sound calm, I think as he tightens the blindfold and skims a cold blade across my skin.

I’m sympathetic when you search your pockets but I smile when I think of the pink serviette swan with a pager tucked in its wing.

The young gods were practising snow.

"My fingers are too warm!" complained one as he scattered showers of raindrops into a city.

He traced the shape of his name on all the buses, trailing his finger through the condensation, hoping she might see it and remember.

 

"They still think it's dragons," said Sid proudly. He dropped a ruby on the pile and fluffed his wings. "They never suspect us eagles."

"Cat food," my wife says despairingly. "We don't have cats." She thinks I should stop using the lists I find in supermarket trolleys.

"The raindrops are alive," he says. I lower my umbrella and squint at tiny arms waving as another one leaps, delighted, into a puddle.

Lia twists Bella's head round and throws her in a box. When Mum turns out the light, the dolls creep to her bed armed with lego bricks.

"I love you," she whispered. At least, that's what Tom imagined. He kept vigil that night, didn't go home. Didn't even close her eyes.

Tim frowned at his plate: bacon, sausage, beans... and the egg, its yolk blushing with green, the unmistakable curl of a dragon's tail.

I left a cake with candles in it on the table and my keys by the door. No one wants to read an 'I'm leaving you' note on their birthday.

Before I left, I loved fireworks parties: bonfires, sparklers, treacle toffee... These days all bangs remind me of the dead.

I stare at the letter in my hands. This isn't how it's meant to go. "We don't accept resignations now," he says flatly, not looking up.

She barges into my home every time she leaves the house. Well, I'll show her! Sid crept to the edge of his web, his silks coiled ready.

My final humiliation: to walk the plank. They clipped it to a blue lead and watched, cutlasses poised, as I dragged it round the park.

Every time I miss you I take out the jam jar. I like knowing that you must think of me when you glance at your four remaining fingers.

I keep my arms stiff when I press the button, hoping they won't see the movement. On the floor, my manager's hair leaks a ruby river.

He spent the next 10 years crafting nylon wings and strong leather harnesses. "Of course I'll marry you," she'd said. "When pigs fly."

I left his football on the beach. I hoped that they might come back to their favourite spots, the ghosts with wet noses.  

He straightened his suit and opened the door for her. She slid into the car stiffly, her back trembling against the gun's cold lips.

The school hall is eerie when it's quiet, he thinks. Shame there's no 'undo'. He lays the rifle across his shoes and closes his eyes.

"What's the point in coming?" he chokes. "She can't hear me." My son's footsteps fade away. The blankets are heavy around my limbs.

I rip paper into shreds while I wait for you to come home. I know you won't be much longer because it's been five years already.

She sits here every day, staring at the palace, cursing the princess who stole her husband. Her body leaves an imprint on the lily pad.

He picks up yesterday's feathers and scatters birdseed across the lawn. "It's the cheapest way to feed the cat," he shrugs.

He sits beside her grave each night and wonders where her ghost is, why it doesn't sit next door, keeping watch over his own headstone.

Nobody hears me crying so they won't notice that he's stopped. I only felt better for an hour. What do I do with all this baby milk?

He should arrive today. I've made his favourite biscuits to welcome him. I hope he'll be like I wanted - I spent months designing him. 

"It's bedtime. Don't moan, it's always light in the summer." When they're safely tucked in, I turn the clocks back to afternoon time.

"I can't cope with the funerals," he says. "I go to them all, you know." Of all the angels' tasks, counselling God is the short straw.

She waves when we leave and then she bows low, a sail in a storm. "She still thinks she's in a play," the nurse says apologetically.

I can't bear to tell them he isn't coming back to school. I keep on calling his name on the register. I'll tell them after the funeral.

The children hold a funeral in the garden: solemn faces and lemonade. "It's in case we're not friends when we're old," explains Tim.

"What if I can read your mind?" His eyes challenge her. Does he know? She answers silently, disappointed when he doesn't even flinch.

"Apples please," he said, plain as day. Funny how a working day can numb you - I fed the all the rest of the monkeys before it sank in.

Daylight eats hours like biscuits then Night-time creeps in with the tin lid and hides them away until morning.

Act normal, I think, and he won't think anything of it. "Come in!" I say cheerily, and he steps over her body as if it were a lazy dog.

When they named the one who fired the last shot, I turned off the news and quit my job. I taught that man history. Not well enough.

I told him about you in the morning, watched him break in two as I scrambled out of sleep. Silly. Not even you know about our kiss.

I crane my neck by the mirror. "It's only to log your location," he says. "They do it at birth." The chip is a grey shadow on my skin.

"Evening," I say. I hand him the jar. "It's air-tight so it'll last until morning. If you let it settle, you should see the stars."

I stare at him. Mum says not to talk to strangers but this man has FAIRIES in his house. She likes fairies so maybe she won't mind...

I never knew my father so I made him up. We were close in the end. There was no one but me at his funeral placing lilies on the hearth.

Three days. In and out like we'd just been for some routine tests; we went home empty-handed. The other parents went home with babies.

I drank to forget you: first one then more and more. You drowned but you left your ghost, haunting everything else I killed with you.

His first day at school and I can't bear to think of him anywhere without me. I hide in the bushes and watch his playtime.

"It will be a money tree," he says proudly as he fills his yellow plastic watering can. "I planted 20p there yesterday.”

He's nervous but it's going to be worth it. He looks at the sign: 'Tired of being no one? Celebrity limb transplants here.'

"There's no going back," the doctor warned. "Once you grow the wings, that's it. And we can't guarantee that you'll fly."

Shelling letters on the kerbside, envelopes discarded liked husks: a postman searching for love in other people's words.

Every day I move your ornaments but you never seem to notice me. In life as in death. But now there's no way to escape it.

I tell them you're not here and come back to sit with you, your eyes glazed like candied fruit and your head somewhere else.

Whenever I think of you, I buy roses. 'If only,' I think. 'If only I'd been able to swim.' I lay them gently by the river. 

"Eureka!" he shouts from his chair. His wife's shoulders lift in hope but the nurse shakes his head. "It's all he says now."

"Say it again," sniggered Lia, twisting Tom's wrist. "What you said in science."

 "Eureka," he whispered, his voice thick.

When we pulled him from the fire, the house crumpling behind him like burned paper, we realised: he'd wanted to go with it.

Excitement fluttered in his chest but he smothered the flames and buried the ash. It'd be a bad idea to share his discovery.

"Your model should have people in it," the teacher reminds them.

Tom shakes his head. "Mine's Utopia," he says.

"She was a witch," I say, and everyone accepts it. I walk away from the lake. She cheated. She deserved everything she got.

"It could have been so different if you hadn't resisted," I whisper to her headstone.

I shouldn't come here. I'll be caught.

"You're a star," she grins. Everyone hears the compliment but they don't see the wand. I'm sentenced to a life in the sky.

"Unlimited knowledge," he says, red eyes burning. "Go on. All I want is a soul." He lowers his voice. "They think I'm evil."

I spend PE lessons hiding in the stationery cupboard. Sometimes Mr Smith comes to visit me. It's how I get away with it.

"He's hungry," she sobs, clutching her baby. "I just need to get him to feed." Somewhere in her, she knows it won't happen.

The sun sets and I'm still there, curled on the kitchen floor amongst broken plates and crumpled tissues. Will you come home?

I look at him in the bed, tucked between sheets as stiff as paper. "Heart failure. You ass." I float away from my body sadly.

"Her heart failed," he says flatly. His eyes are red and puffy. "She was always so kind." He sighs. "She's in court on Monday.”

I watch you serving drinks like always only now you don't recognise me. Since you had the procedure, our history is only mine.

"It's nothing serious," I say. I don't tell you that I can't see properly. I don't tell you I can't remember my name.

I'm numb at first. It takes this to make me cry: a brand new pair of loafers in a box. You were going to wear them tonight.

"Two's in trouble," whispers Tooth Fairy Four. "It's her new stilettos. She trod on a kid's ear and he woke up screaming."

I'm doing this for Dad. He says I need to grow up. I try not to cry as I bury my friend, Lotus, the stuffed white elephant.

They drink in total silence. They've met at The Ship's Mast for years. The locals avoid them; they don't believe in telepathy.

"It's you," he says helpfully.

I squint at a painting of a lemon.

"Daddy said you're bitter these days. That's like lemons."

When the buttonholes arrived, I snuck out the front door quietly. They wouldn’t notice on their wedding day. I didn't bark.

They took him away from the park in the end. 'Saving Tail', the headline said. Half a peacock fan still sits on my dresser.

"How did this North Pole myth start anyway? Not that I mind - no one looks for me in Glasgow now."

He grins and pats Blitzen's nose.

We do it every year," she says. "He's quite used to it now. Aren't you, Tiger?"

She wipes his paw and hangs up the print.

"Who was it?" You hug Bear, bleary-eyed.

I lean on the front door. 

"No one," I say, my legs trembling.

You look so like him.

She lights candles for him, moulding the wax into tiny wings: offerings for the sun. Maybe one day it'll send him back.

He waits. The boxes are gone. The room's empty now but he knows she'll come back. Lia wouldn't forget her favourite bear.

I count my meals in bites. 22 a day seems fine to me - too much even. My husband over-reacts. He's made an appointment for me.

She tells them stories sadly: food for their dreams. It's all they'll take to their new homes, 4 legs twitching as they sleep.

It started as hangover avoidance: keep topping up and you never come down. I pour another and stare at my husband's empty chair.

Her friends are bored now. "Leave him," they say, rolling their eyes. But she stays, a bag of frozen peas held to her face.

She flung her shoe at the clock, glass showering around her. The prince looked up. Time stopped. She would not leave the ball.

"But I thought you lived in heaven!"

God smiles. "I do. Heaven is wherever you're happy."

Lily grins and licks her ice cream.

I slip him an extra bucketful of bananas every day. In return, he cleans his own cage. 

"It's usually light by now," he says over toast.

Our offices close at lunch; we come home and look out the window for the sun.

I play with him every day. He remembers all the rules. Doesn't recognise our kids now, but he still knows how to play Rummi.

As children eat their trick-or-treat treasure, she shuts the door & hides her broomstick. Being a witch is unacceptable again.

You caught my eye after 3 hours of gridlock. Now we're standing on the motorway in a sea of traffic. I should kiss you.

He had a thing about stones in his shoes - you know how kids get. I thought he'd catch up. They found his shoe in the road.

I light 12 candles and make a wish. Tomorrow I'll take him a piece of cake, scatter it to the birds beside his grave.

No one knows we're slaves here, stacking the piles of unopened emails. He orders everything online now. He doesn't need elves.

They stare at the fence miserably, heads resting on cloven hooves. It's so boring when he sleeps and doesn't need their jumps.

The gods fetch the mops and wait. They're not looking forward to the end of humanity. It's going to take a lot of cleaning.

Sleigh bells? He sits up, alert. Music? He peeks at his stocking: a mini-guitar pokes out the top, a lost elf strumming sadly.

He fiddles with his pyjama buttons. He knows about that word but isn't it for when mums and dads don't live together?

Custody.

"Don't get too close!" he screams as his mum peers at his new spots. "It's catching!"

He clutches the red pen behind his back.

We collect the winter sunlight in jam jars and stockpile it in secret bunkers. People still think this darkness is natural.

I'm not as brave as Jack. When I hear footsteps, loud as drums, I find a woolly hat & climb inside, one eye on the beanstalk.

I get the hairdryer out and plug it in. I can almost hear her voice through its hum. All our photos were lost in the fire.

Christmas music spills onto the streets like oil. The shops swarm. I hug my knees & close my eyes, listen for coins in my cup.

The meeting is the same as most only with no coffee. He surveys me from his desk and nods. I'm in.

St Peter closes the gates.

Now what? He huddles inside the empty sleigh. If only he could get word out to the parents, they could stand in this year.

"Fairies?" he laughs. "How did that rumour start?"

The pink robots line up with bags of teeth and wait to have them weighed.

She shivers. She's too embarrassed to go back in for her shoe. Where's that carriage? Stroke of midnight, she said. It's late.

"Art isn't really my thi..." he trails off, his mouth open as we watch the breeze from the window ruffle Monet's poppies.

He kept it in a locked box these days. The one with seas and clouds had people and they seemed to have developed autonomy.

The flowers on the bridge are fresh and the photos unspoilt by rain. The girls dab their eyes while cars rush like water below.

Stupid bloody humans. He shivered and flicked his tail. Someone told them it was his fur she was allergic to; now he's naked.

He sang at our wedding, his voice punctuating our vows. The vicar glared at our uninvited guest, a sparrow on the church roof.

We woke to find our shoes floating down the hall and waded out to find the cause: a lost pink dragon sobbing in the kitchen.

88 years later, the last human gone, the trees unfurled their branches and stretched their roots. The waiting was over.

Tim didn't think about girls much, but when, hunting for swamp frogs, he saw a shoe, he remembered the missing girl at school.

I thought I'd be safe with a physicist but you had to be the one to crack time, didn't you? Now we live a year apart.

After the break in, Baby Bear always waited for his porridge to cool completely. In his nightmares, things were 'just right'.

He'd done his research: she had cats. She stirred when the floorboard creaked but he jangled a collar; she went back to sleep.

He held the inspection report in shaking, red hands. This was his last chance. If he failed this one, he'd lose hell for good.

She forgot about him when the fire spread through the house like a wild animal. Locked in the basement, her werewolf howled.

He fell from the sky and collapsed, turning green to frozen white. He waited for the thaw, to return to his home in the cloud.

When they went home, he followed their smell. They wanted to let him in but their dad said no. Ice Dog curled up on the porch.

I look around at the steaming herb baths and scattered feathers. "Chefs say you get better soup this way," the farmer shrugs.