50-word fictions

Cabin fever

The cold woke him. Shivering, he opened the kitchen stove. The fire was almost out. Cursing, he called his son. No reply. The boy’s bed was empty. He pulled on heavy boots, fur coat and hat. His rifle was gone. Disordered footprints leading towards the trees silently filled with snow.

Played out

They got what they came for. All his hits. They yelled, whooped, sang along, applauded till their hands hurt, held lighters high. Two encores. Thank you, God bless, goodnight. Alone in the hotel, he stared at the bottle on the table. How many more times. Too old to quit now.

Uneasy rider

It gleamed in the sun. Low-slung, V-twin, ninety-six cubic inches. Just point it at the horizon, roll the wrist and gone. His credit card glowed like depleted uranium. Easy. Did the salesman smile in encouragement, he wondered, or pity? Deep down, he knew. He should have done this years ago.


He stood at the centre of the field. Forty acres of young wheat shone palely at his feet. The March wind, knifing out of the east, found every hole in his tattered overcoat. From a fencepost, a crow eyed him sardonically, knowing there wasn’t a damn thing he could do.


Lottery of life

If I
were to win
eighty-seven million
tomorrow night
I honestly wouldn’t know
what to do with it all

(Or at least
not beyond
the first two hundred
grand or so).

My big win
would be
a simpler world
where I could get by
without needing
so much as a twenty

And just be left alone


So –

what kind of odds
would you give me
on that?



One shot

Is not a rehearsal.

It’s an audition

From the moment heaven gives us
The nod to begin
We’re out there, unaccompanied,
With no chance to start again.

Our first notes
Shrill, unformed
Born of ancient dread, defiance
And bewilderment.

If they do not stop us
We go on
Interpreting the score
The best we can

Our performance measured
Judged, observed
Endlessly picked over
Until our very bones are all laid bare.

And all the while
The threat, unsaid,
Of what befalls if we are not

We play our hearts out
Wringing every drop from every line
Hoping, pleading
It’s what they want to hear

Always striving
To please the panel
Land the part
Make the grade.

Until the last cadenza
And the long diminuendo
That ends in breathless silence
Standing alone on stage
Wondering if we did enough
And being told

We’ll let you know.




I have a terror
Of turning into
My father.

A visceral, mortal
Dread of plaid flannel shirts
Soft shoes, drawstring waistbands
Feeling the cold
Declaring they don’t
Write them or make them
Like that any more
Trying to hold conversations
In buttery fingers
Wondering where
All these cars came from
And why are they going so fast
Remembering when
It was all trees here
And staring at this screen
Helplessly demanding
What in God’s name
Does any of it mean.

But since I’ll never be
The one with the toolbox
And the strong, quick hands
The one with the shed
Full of jars of just what you’ve been looking for
The one who always has time
To be counsellor, confidant,
Co-conspirator, confessor
The one you have only to ask
And for whom nothing
Is too much trouble
The one who remains calm
And unfailingly finds the right words
When it’s all gone horribly wrong

I have nothing to fear
And everything.

Vanishing act

How I long
To stay lost;
Unheard, unseen,
All-but forgotten;
Off the chart
And out of time.

Walking, hidden
In some deep hollow of the hills
Among old oaks
Or way beyond
The low-tide line
Where none but the gulls and wild winds go.

Wilfully mislay myself;
Step off the road,
Rip the map into a thousand shreds
And watch them spin away.
Cut the line
And all the ties that bind.

No more words;
Just thoughts and birdsong, breeze and sun.
Nothing moving faster than the clouds,
No voices but the trees’ deliberations.
Only the shadows to show the hour;
Nothing to do, and all day to do it in.