After the second of our solo offerings in this sequence, Eden Baylee and I are back with the next in our ongoing series of 800-word collaborations. This one was started by Eden and follows the usual pattern of us alternating 200-word sections with no discussion of where the story should go or what points – if any – it should make. We just want readers to enjoy them. If you need to know more about the project, you’ll find it here.

Prompt: She found him in the Terminal Bar and Grill. He was sober, for a change..
Parts 1 and 3: Eden
Parts 2 and 4: Bill


Can Live Without Them

The sound of a jackhammer outside the window woke Lidia from a deep sleep. For a second, she had no idea where she was and why the room looked so bright, then it hit her. She wasn’t in bed. It was the middle of the afternoon, and she’d fallen asleep at her desk—a first! She stood up and stretched her arms above her head. Her butt hurt, and her lower back ached from sitting on the plastic chair. She closed her laptop and headed downstairs.

The house was quiet.

“Tim? Where are you?”

No answer.

In the kitchen, the dishes piled in the sink, and the smell of garbage wrinkled her nose.

Why did she always have to clean up his mess?

She bagged the rotting garbage and threw it outside in the bin. The noise of roadwork sounded again. She walked around the corner and saw workmen breaking up a part of the street. There was one worker operating the machinery while another three stood and watched. She approached them and gesticulated with her hands to say, What’s going on?

One of the men saw her. He raised his palm at her and screamed “Don’t come any closer!”


Even in her still befuddled state, the irony of his words raised a smile. Usually the shouts she got from building workers carried invitations which not only suggested moving nearer to them but involved removing various articles of clothing before doing so. His warning was unnecessary anyway; she didn’t even want to be in the same street as that pounding hammer and the dust and chunks of material it was throwing up. Also, her mute question was superfluous because, lying along the pavement beside the workmen were several long PVC drainage pipes obviously ready for laying. As a writer of crime fiction, she knew exactly what they were and how frequently, in fiction at least, they were seen as convenient disposal channels for various body parts. Disregarding the man’s continuing gestures, she stepped onto the pavement and looked more closely at them. They were wider than she’d expected and, slowly, the possibility formed that they might help her resolve the dead end she’d reached in the plot of her latest story. Eager to develop it, she waved at the man, turned and walked back, grateful that there would be no Tim there to barge in yet again and disturb her.


By the time the sun set, Lidia finally stopped tapping at her keyboard. The brief interaction with the road workers was all she had needed to energize her novel. Now, as she reread her chapter with smug satisfaction, something else tugged at her—hunger. She had missed lunch but was in no mood to cook.

And where the heck was Tim?

Lidia threw on a light jacket and headed out. She found him in the Terminal Bar and Grill. He was sober, for a change.

“Mind if I join you?” she asked.

He didn’t bother to look up. “Suit yourself,” he said.

Lidia motioned to a server and asked for scotch on the rocks before sitting down with a menu. She was happy before she walked in. Now doom and gloom in the form of her son sucked away any joy she had felt.

“Look Tim, I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m not putting up with this any longer. If you don’t like living with me, then move out. My house is not a hotel, and I’m not your maid.” She knew he had nowhere else to go, but their little arrangement was no longer working for her.


“OK,” said Tim. “I’ll start looking for a flat.”

His dull, bored tone surprised her as much as his words. She couldn’t help but reply, “And who’ll be paying the rent?”

He shrugged. “Probably Dad. At least till I get my uni grant.”

“Have you asked him?”

“No need. I know he’ll do it. He’s… different.”

It was another matter-of-fact, throwaway remark.

“What do you mean? Different from what?”

Tim lifted his head. The directness of his gaze disturbed her.

“Not what, Mom, Who.”

Some seconds passed.

“Me, you mean?—Me?”

Tim nodded.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, his voice low, gentle. “You’re a great mom. I’m proud of you. And not just for the books. But you don’t live in the same world as us. As me and Dad.”

Lidia started to reply but he went on.

“The things that bug me can’t be solved by some tricky bit of plotting. Dad’s the same. He didn’t want to leave. He’s still in…”

He stopped. Shook his head.

“He told me he couldn’t be what you wanted. And I’m the same. I can’t either. I’m a waste of space. And I know you’re not my maid.”

He stood up.

“Bye, Mom.”


All comments welcome.


This fifth story in the collaborative series by Eden Baylee and myself is the first that provoked what could have seemed a relatively serious difference of opinion about the process of story-telling. We have separate, interesting  takes on some aspects of writing but they only ever serve to make us both reexamine our approach and think objectively about long-held beliefs. Although the subject here is set in a religious context, our discussions were not about faith or anything related to it or any specific religion. They were about the story-telling process. In the end, I think they produced a tightly constructed tale which I hope you find works.

For any visitors who  are new to this whole 800 word story idea, the background to our collaboration is spelled out here.

Prompt: I cheated on my spouse. And it wasn’t the first time.
Parts 1 and 3: Bill
Parts 2 and 4: Eden




OK, I’m a priest, but sometimes the things I hear in the confessional really make me want to reconsider. You’d think it was simple enough. I mean it covers all the basics pretty comprehensively – the easy ones, (respecting the Lord, cherishing his name, observing the Sabbath, staying away from other Gods, honouring your mum and dad), and the really bad stuff (murder, adultery, theft, lying), but the trickiest ones always seem to involve a neighbour – bearing false witness against him, or coveting his goods or his wife. Take yesterday. This guy, his last confession had been just two weeks ago, but the stuff he’d been up to since then beggared belief.  He began with, “I cheated on my spouse. And it wasn’t the first time.” And it wasn’t just adultery; it was with his neighbour’s wife. In his neighbour’s house while the guy was at work. Not only that, they’d drunk two bottles of his favourite burgundy. He was particularly pleased about that because it wasn’t the sort of thing he could afford himself. But that wasn’t all. He then told me he’d done more or less the same thing with the wife of the neighbour on the other side.


“Religion is a lie, and I’m part of the machinery that keeps it alive.”

“Come on, Greg, don’t be dramatic. You’ve had a bad week, that’s all.” Jenny poured two shots of whiskey.

“No, it’s more than that,” I said.

Tall and graceful, she brought the drinks to bed and sat next to me. I already had my shirt and pants on. She wasn’t as modest.

“Drink this. You’ll feel better.”

I downed the contents of the glass and shivered, even though the room was still hot and humid from our session. “You should wear something. I don’t want you to catch a chill.”

Jenny stared at me awhile. “Now why would I do that? You know you’re only going to want me again.” A sly smile stretched across her face.

She was right, of course. To her, I was just an ordinary man, a man full of weaknesses and needs, addicted to my regular sessions with her. “Aren’t you afraid, Jenny?”

“Afraid of what?”

“Life and the unknown that comes after it.”

She grabbed my clerical collar from the nightstand and shamelessly wrapped it around her neck. “Look,” she said, “sounds like you want to confess something to me.”


It was typical of her – a beautiful, intelligent, above all realistic, practical woman. The vague, conscience-driven things that often troubled me (but never enough to make me willing to give up our weekly trysts) never bothered her. She knew there was no future for us but all she wanted was the present, the regular glorious, uninhibited indulgence in what I was supposed to call sin. Each time I brought up, in my obsession with her, the suggestion that I could renounce my ‘calling’ so that we might actually marry, her reaction was one of disbelief, even laughter.

“Mrs Greg!” she’d splutter, “No way! Stop fooling yourself. You don’t want a wife.” Then she’d lie against me, flesh to flesh, and add, “You want this.”

And she was right, of course. She was honest. On the days we were apart, when I wasn’t judging other people in the Confessional, what I felt for her was unconditional love, a desire I turned into poetry. But when it was just the two of us with a whole evening before us, everything gave way to undisguised lust. She was right. That was exactly what we wanted.  The bare, honest truth of ‘Love thy neighbour’.


“The more I confess, the more confused I become, Father. Last time you asked me why I keep seeing her. Perhaps I think it’s because I can save her—but from what? She has no interest in giving up her life for me or anyone else. She’s fiercely independent. I envy her freedom from guilt, her lack of responsibility to others. It’s not that she’s selfish or uncaring, but the problems of the world don’t weigh her down. And though she has no interest in the afterlife, she sets surprisingly high standards for herself, living by her own moral code. She does a lot of good for those in her immediate circle.

And it’s her goodness that draws me to her. She refills my cup with love, hope, and compassion every week. When I leave her, I hold on to those feelings and feel ten feet tall. Without her, I wouldn’t even be able to write my weekly sermons.

I’ve fallen in love with a prostitute, a sinner in the eyes of God. Yet, she has not destroyed my spirit and soul; she has lifted me up. It is I who have sinned.

Please forgive me, Father. Please forgive me.”



As usual, we’d love to hear your opinions about this.


The seventh of the 800-word stories created by author Eden Baylee and myself takes another sideways look at the way (some) people behave. (Incidentally, the choice of title also provoked a friendly debate between us about what’s known as the Oxford – or Serial – Comma).

In case you’re unfamiliar with the story series, you’ll find its background information (although nothing about that comma)  here.

Prompt: She started taking up a lot of bad habits
Parts 1 and 3: Eden
Parts 2 and 4: Bill


Mistakes, Lies, and Hypocrites

She started taking up a lot of bad habits after her husband died. With no more sense of duty or commitment, Laura got up late, ate whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, and only showered when she could no longer stand her own stench. She hardly left the house, and their friends, most of whom had stuck by her because they loved her husband, now knew better than to show up uninvited. Ron was the one with the open-door policy when he was alive, not her.

His wheelchair sat in the corner of the living room where he’d spent his last days and nights, quietly watching television or listening to music. He went from someone who could not sit still to someone who sat still all the time.

Ron had suggested they stay the night with the Jordans after the party, but she wanted to go home and sleep in her own bed. Being the more sober of the two, she drove.

If only she had seen the flashing hazard lights sooner, she would have avoided plowing into the semi-truck parked on the shoulder of the highway, causing the accident that paralyzed and would eventually kill her husband.


It was Jill who first remarked on her transition to ‘the new Laura’. Jill the soft-spoken Christian, Jill the “I’m only saying it for your own good, dear”, Jill whose husband had left her six months into their marriage, but not until he’d slept with every other woman on the street except Deirdre.

“I know how hard it is, darling, but you must try to forgive yourself,” she’d said, “The Lord giveth and The Lord taketh away”.

I wish hed bloody take you away, thought Laura, wanting to throw the chamomile tea Jill had asked for in her face and get back to the bottle of Sauvignon she’d started at breakfast.

“Guilt’s such a self-destructive thing. Eats into your soul,” Jill continued, her smile at odds with the sanctimonious narrowing of her eyes. “It won’t let the old Laura I knew free to be who she really is.” She ended with a sigh of false sorrow.

Bugger the old Laura, Laura thought. Kow-towing to stupid old farts like you, shoving that bloody wheelchair about the place, pretending to laugh at Rons crap jokes or give a shit about whether parsley roots a substitute for celeriac. I prefer the new me.


Laura picked up the phone and dialled a number. It went to voicemail after three rings. She hung up, pressed the redial button—voicemail again. She hit redial continuously for another ten minutes until a woman’s voice answered.

“Hi Penny.”



A pause lasted longer than was comfortable. Laura waited until Penny finally said, “It’s been a while. How are you?”

“Keeping to myself, you know … since Ron died.”

“I understand.” The meek voice on the other end betrayed nothing.

Laura had imagined this conversation numerous times, but she couldn’t have prepared for it. “What exactly do you understand?” she finally said.

“Ron was a good man.”

Laura bit down hard on her lip before speaking. “Cut the bullshit, I know about you and Ron, Penny.” A pause again, only this time she wasn’t waiting for a response. “You were having an affair before the accident. Ron said you were even planning to run away together, only … you can’t run away with a cripple, can you?”

“Laura, don’t be crude, please let me explain—”

“No! You listen to me. I took care of him because I put him in that wheelchair. But you … my big sister, how could you?”


“Laura. Please. I know you’re under stress…”

“You know bugger-all, Penny. You’re like the rest of them. Sick!”

She let the silence hang between them, intrigued to know how Penny would wriggle out of this one, but not really caring.

It wasn’t just about Penny and Ron anyway. Laura was sick of all the sympathy and forgiveness on offer, didn’t want it, loathed the falsity it masked. The Jordans cancelling any parties in the immediate future out of respect for Ron, and Jill’s God-given clichés being parroted by all her other consoling visitors. Christ, she’d even received a “condolences” email with kittens on it from bloody Deirdre. The truth was that the Ron whose niceness they were all celebrating had been a bastard. Like Laura, he’d despised the mendacity and corrosion beneath the various facades of their close little community, but concealed his contempt under an easily manufactured charm.

The dragging silence calmed Laura. “You know what?” she said at last, her voice drained of anger. “I’m sick of all this fucking hypocrisy.”

She gave a sharp, bitter laugh, then went on “You were fucking my husband but I’m the bad guy … Really? OK, what the hell. Deal with it.”


We’d love to hear your reactions to the stories.