Reader’s Choice: Puckers

Puckers

By Ian Marshall

“Do you remember Puckers? You must do. The big red neon lips above the entrance and the lurid mauve sign – Puckers! The Toast of the town! No? It was a nightclub on the wrong side of town. Well, I lived in the north and Puckers was in the south so from my point of view it was on the wrong side of town. Even more so when you consider the terrible bus service and most of the taxis packed up around midnight. Not only that, back then you couldn’t risk driving to the place because you could guarantee that as soon as you inched out of their car park you were going to get pulled over for a breath test. And who wants to go to a club and not drink? Not me for one!

“Mind you I have been there a few times. I remember seeing that Scottish guy in there. You know the one on the telly, he does the football analysis. Oh what’s his name? You know him; he’s got a square jaw, peroxide blond spiky hair and a really thick Scottish accent. Anyway, when I saw him he was surrounded by girls and was buying them all drinks. He was knocking back Stella Artois and the more he drank the more indecipherable he became. Eventually he started to sound like one of those deeply religious people talking in tongues, only they’d seemed more coherent than him.

“I went to Dave Jackson’s stag do there too. What a disaster that nearly was. He got off with a girl he knew from his work and completely ignored the rest of us. Actually he was ignoring everyone and everything so he never saw his fiancée Helen turn up with her hen party. And blow me down if she didn’t get off with that fireman, Geoff. I still have no idea how Dave and Helen never saw each other. It didn’t bode well for the marriage did it? I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did. Pity they didn’t reach their first anniversary. Hey ho.

“Then there was the time when the whole of the southern part of town suffered a power cut and we were stuck inside with just the emergency lighting for illumination. I think those bulbs were so poor they made it look darker. After about 20 minutes someone must have twigged that they’d got an emergency generator so that helped no end. Everyone was in such good spirits. There was a real camaraderie going on. Then the cops come in and said we had to file out as quickly as possible because there had been a bomb threat. Bomb threat my arse! I bet it was some stupid plonker having a laugh. It finished our fun that’s for sure; we had to wait hours in the freezing cold for a taxi.

“Anyway what was I talking about? Oh yes, Puckers. Yeah Puckers – the toast of the town. It closed down on Friday.”

Ian Marshall is a gentleman of a certain age with a bad memory.

Our Reader said:

I liked the way this monologue tells the story of somewhere we’ve all known, and works in the theme of toast, perhaps unexpectedly.

Reader’s Choice: Chips

Chips

By Gill Ainsworth

Jack couldn’t believe his eyes when his wife’s body exploded, splattering blood and body bits all over the kitchen. If he’d known beforehand, he’d have escorted Jocelyn onto the patio, then he could have hosed her, and her stench of burnt black pudding, down the drain. Now he had hours of cleaning ahead of him.

He grinned. Her self-destruct had hit early. A hundred was the average age for annihilation. She’d only turned seventy the previous week. His good.

Before cleaning, he had to find her chip and register her end. Praying it hadn’t disappeared down the plug hole – he shuddered at the thought of delving into a slimy U-bend – he looked round the kitchen. The work surfaces and hob were buried underneath Jocelyn’s remains, but the mess wouldn’t conceal her chip. Then he heard a faint bleep and turned towards the sound. A green light was blinking inside the coffee percolator: her chip. Again, lucky. But no coffee until he got a new machine. He couldn’t win them all.

He could win the game though. Easily.

His best move had been to take practical subjects at college: cooking, entertaining, bodybuilding. And it was proving lucrative. Verity, an agile hundred and seven, swooned into his life a month and a day after Jocelyn’s demise. He sold his late wife’s house, banked the money and moved in with Verity.

Me good.

Not so good when, at a hundred and eighteen, Verity was still enjoying his attention. And his French cuisine. By forty-two, he’d expected to be with a new wife.

That’s what agile does for you, he thought, as he added mushrooms to Verity’s coq au vin. Next time, I’ll choose someone a little less fluid in her movements. How she managed to stay so slim with the rich food she ate, he had no idea. He’d had to increase his exercise regime to keep his weight down, and he only tasted teaspoon-samples to check the flavours were balanced. She might be an agile old lady, but she was also a cantankerous one. Still, he consoled himself, She’s got to end soon, and I’ve got plenty of years a-

Pain streaked through his guts. He doubled up, rubbed his tummy. Verity’s fancy food might suit her, but it didn’t suit his belly.

The pain subsided, and panic took its place. His stomach seemed to twist inside out and his heart raced. Wiping sweat from his forehead, he grabbed his ladle and stirred his latest creation, hoping it hadn’t become his latest cremation. He tasted it. Grinned. No taint of burnt food. His good.

Pain hit again. Only worse.

Then it happened.

Whoosh. His abdomen exploded. Heroically, he grabbed his chip with his right hand. To save the coffee percolator. And for Verity. She’d be chuffed.

You’re toast, brown bread dead! his brains shrieked, as his organs spilt into her coq au vin.

His final thought was more of a laugh:

Extra protein. Me good.

Gillian Ainsworth is a British writer and editor. Her fiction has seen print in the UK, Germany and the USA.

Our Reader said:

A different angle entirely was taken in this dark futuristic tale.

Reader’s Choice: The Familiar Toast

The Familiar Toast

By Mini Gautam

“The maid will cook anything you like, why do you eat toast every morning?” Ayush’s mother was visiting him and he was getting tired of her interference in his daily life. He knew she meant well, but he was twenty-nine years old, not a child anymore.

He shoved his laptop in his bag and searched for the car keys. There was a crystal bowl next to the door, and it was always kept there. He couldn’t find it and started shouting at the servant. His mother came rushing, “Beta, I kept it inside. Relax, I’ll bring it.”

“Ma, please, you will let everything remain in this house as it is. Please.”

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry. Here, take the keys.”

He rushed into the car and closed his eyes; a cool breeze came over his face as the air conditioning switched on. This was his refuge, his car, his ride to work. He had started spending long hours in office, there was nobody to come home to. Engineering had not been his first choice, but many things in life had been forced on him. He was never given a choice, not in his career, not in his marriage, and not in the death of his twenty-eight-year-old wife. He hardly knew her when they got married, and within two years she had become his best friend and soul mate.  Aira was an easy person to live with, she made each day so manageable. But after she left, everything seemed to be like a never ending apocalyptic movie climax. It had been a year, and a year was a long time for a person in grief. A year was a long time for a person who was counting every minute.

Ayush came back from office at 9.30pm, and his father was sitting in the balcony with his scotch. “Ayush, come here.” he called out.

“Yes, Dad?”

“Your mother is trying to solve your problem: it’s her natural maternal instinct. She doesn’t know that your problem can never be solved.”

“Dad, but… I am fine.” Ayush stuttered.

His father smiled kindly, “Of course you are, on the surface. You are going to work, living a seemingly normal life. Do you think I am blind? I can see what you are doing. You are drawing comfort from the experiences you shared with your wife now that she isn’t around, like having toast for breakfast. Both of you were busy with work, and used to rush after having a couple of pieces of toast. But beta, can’t you see? The person is who made the experiences special; the experiences mean nothing without her, so let go.”

Ayush cried his heart out that night, he felt lighter when he woke the next morning. His body was burning with a fever, but he felt strangely calm. His mother brought a plate of hot toast to the dining table, and Ayush looked up to her and said, “Ma, I want to eat scrambled eggs today.”

Mini Gautam’s first novel was published in 2017. She also writes short stories for online/print magazines in India and abroad.

Our Reader said:

I liked this story for its well roundedness, the mood, and its dialogue.

Reader’s Choice Winner: Burnt

Burnt

by June Barclay

She couldn’t remember whether it was a sign of a stroke or a heart attack when you smelled burnt toast. She wondered where she’d read it. Probably in an old Reader’s Digest. She could certainly smell it now.

She opened her eyes to pitch blackness. She couldn’t see a thing. She tried to move, but couldn’t. Her head was aching. She was lying on her back. She felt enclosed. Where was she? What was wrong with her? She forced down a surge of panic and thought back.

She remembered letting him in the front door and going to the kitchen to make them tea then – nothing. Until waking to this smell of toast.

She heard muffled voices – something about elevenses – a peal of laughter.  She tried to call out, but there was something in her mouth that she couldn’t spit out. Then the sound of footsteps.

Next, she felt whatever she was lying in being moved. It was uncomfortable being carried this way. She felt and heard whatever she was in being pushed onto something hard. An engine started and she felt movement. Was she in a car?

She tried again to move, to cry out. But, terrifyingly, her body refused to do anything but lie flat.

After the engine stopped she felt herself being moved again.  This movement was unsteady; bumpy and slightly at an angle.  There were more muffled voices. She could have sworn she heard her brother. She hadn’t seen him for years.

Then, more stillness for a short while.

She heard another sound; almost inaudible. Music. It must be Sunday because she began to hear some of her favourite hymns being played.

Next she felt the sensation you get when going down in a lift. Finally, she smelled burning wood.

June Barclay recently retired and thinks of plots when walking and writes when her cat isn’t sitting on her laptop.

Our Reader said:

This Edgar Allen Poe-esque story conveyed great description of normality turning to horror with the final twist, as well as black humour.

Our Reader for June

Our Reader for the June competition, themed ‘toast’ was Mike Evis.

Mike Evis.JPG

Mike Evis is a member of Didcot Writers and lives in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. He is a software engineer with a long standing interest in writing, obscure indie bands no one else has heard of, plus an inability to pass any bookshop without wandering in, browsing extensively, and buying something. His stories have appeared in several anthologies.

Mike’s story, Telling it like it is, was a Reader’s Choice piece for our very first competition in January 2018. You can read it here.

About the winning piece for this month, Burnt, by June Barclay, Mike said:

This Edgar Allen Poe-esque story conveyed great description of normality turning to horror with the final twist, as well as black humour.

Thank you to Mike for taking the time to read all the entries this month.

If you would be interested in being our Reader for another month, please get in touch at didcotwriters@gmail.com.

Competition winners for June

Thank you to everyone who entered the June competition, on the theme of toast.

A quick reminder that this month (actually three month)’s theme is ‘music’ and full details are here.

Our anthology, The Most Normal Town in England is also open for submissions until the end of September. Details here.

The winner this month is:
Burnt, by June Barclay

And other Reader’s Choices were:
The Familiar Toast, by Mini Gautam
Chips, by Gill Ainsworth
Puckers, by Ian Marshall

Congratulations to all!

Don’t forget to ‘Follow’ this site to receive all winning entries straight into your inbox, compete with comments from the Reader, as well as details of the Reader themselves. Posts will come out on Mondays and Fridays during July.