The ward nurse

2,196 words – approx. 7 minutes

The first time it happens is on a Tuesday, an accident. It’s her twelfth day on in a row, all of them thrumming with latent danger. The ward is short-staffed, and there’s no time to think if she’s to complete her rounds. She has to operate on instinct alone, and even that might not be enough.

She has a system, but this is coming under increasing strain as more patients are admitted, each of them needing regular water, or pills, or to be helped to the bathroom. She scuttles up and down the low-ceilinged halls, the chlorine tang reminding her of swimming pools. Her own bathroom breaks are timed for when she is already going down those corridors, so she doesn’t have to go out of her way and lose precious seconds.

There is a constant ache behind her eyes.

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The town that elected a computer

2,390 words – approx. 8 minutes

The first artificially intelligent mayor was a disaster.

The people of the town had become tired of politicians. There had been several scandals involving finance, relationships, and favours, and at the third recall election in five years, a majority of ballot papers were returned spoiled, or simply dropped to mingle with the leaves that covered the pavement.

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How to fly

1,599 words – approx. 6 minutes

It’s too early on a Friday morning, and it’s cold, and you don’t know which entrance to the plane to take. The other passengers carrying their baggage walk untroubled to either the front or back steps, and you wonder if you missed an announcement.

“Excuse me,” you say to one of the baggage handlers. He stops, cradling a stuffed sports bag as he looks at the sheet of paper you’ve hopefully thrust in his direction. “Should I be at the front, or the back?”

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All fires are distant

1,647 words – approx. 6 minutes

“I prefer natural disasters,” says Eric, without looking up. He’s been saying things like this a lot lately, strange sentences that aren’t what a divorced 42-year-old accountant should say.

“It does seem like one of those days where all the news is about bombings,” I reply, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. The words grate in my mouth like rocks: this was not an appropriate response. It’s rejecting a handshake with a hug, answering “Fuck you” to “Hello”. I’ve no idea whether there are other days when it feels like all the news is about bombing. Is that really a class of day? It doesn’t matter. It’s something to say.

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Bear

1,331 words – approx. 5 minutes

It is unlikely that  none of the other boys on that school trip had brought some sort of stuffed toy, but only Anthony was naive enough to display his openly, rather than hide it at the bottom of a bag to be quietly and unobtrusively brought out at bedtime. There he stood in the 4am cold, clutching his naked, threadbare companion as we waited, with intoxicating tiredness, for the coach to arrive.

Once our luggage had been safely stowed, we boarded and waved goodbye to our parents. Some of them had already left even in the short time it had taken Mrs McMillan to check our names off the register, presumably in the hope of compensating for a little of their lost sleep, but my father stood waving, and, as I remember, so did Anthony’s mother, a tight stiff smile stretched across her face.

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The Gentleman’s Rest

1,855 words – approx. 6 minutes

Blood spattered onto the front of Mary’s habit. Splayed on the floor in front of her lay George Evans, his hands curled in a final attempt to grasp the stiletto in his neck.

For several moments Mary stood still, save for the heave and sink of her chest. She was hardly aware of the shoe still poised above her head. Somehow she expected a man as big as George to deflate, but he just leaked.

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