I’m finding that having to follow the strict guidelines Eden Baylee and I set out when we began the collaborative adventure of writing 4-part stories with 200 words in each part is proving interesting even when, as this month, the stories are not collaborations but, to vary the experiment, solo efforts. You’ll find Eden’s separate take on the same prompt here.

Prompt: “You could make a living doing that kind of thing.” I suppose I could, but I’d never thought about it, until then.



 Old people always try to let you know they’re better than you, that they’ve ‘learned from experience’. They don’t always say it but they seem to hint that they’re always right about all sorts of things. And if they’re not doing that, they seem to be able to make their silences about stuff seem very loud, very sort of expressive. They don’t need to bother disapproving of what you’re doing; their little head-shakings and sighings say everything they need. It’s like you’ve come into the room all happy or excited or something and run straight into a blanket, one that’s not even warm. You try to get enthusiastic about something, share it with them, and they do those little smiles that aren’t smiles. Sort of ghosts trying to get into their faces.

In fact, very early on, I stopped telling them what I’d been doing and just asked how they were. They always had plenty to say then, not just about whatever aches and pains were in the news but also how much they’d suffered, especially ‘when they were my age’. And that was when they said weird things like ‘You lot, you don’t know you’re born’. What’s that mean?


I’m only 12. I’ve still got a lot to learn. I know that. They don’t need to tell me. And they certainly don’t need to try to make me feel such a dumbo that all I do is creep about like some cat or dog and lick their hands (or probably bums for some of them). So I keep quiet most of the time. They don’t really know about Jill, for instance. They think they do, but they don’t. She’s weird. Used to play football and other boy things, then, all of a sudden, she’s wearing lipstick and dresses, putting blue stuff on her eyelids and sticking bows and fancy things in her hair. She says her uncle Norman likes her like that. He buys them for her. He’s old, but I don’t even think he’s her uncle.

One day, she asked me to touch her chest. I know that’s supposed to be good but it was just weird. There was this round bit, not very big. More of a lump, really. She looked at me but I just felt embarrassed.

‘D’you like that?’ she said.

I didn’t really but I didn’t want to upset her so I said, ‘Yes’.


I don’t know why she did that. I really didn’t understand it. Maybe that’s why I changed. Yes, changed. I stopped going out as much. But that was probably because Dad  bought me that wood carving set, too. I loved it. I’d always made things, even when I was little, but they were just with plasticine and stuff like that. Mum told Dad off. She said giving me sharp chisels was stupid but Dad knew I’d be able to use them properly. And I did. I loved sliding them into the little logs and seeing the pale, shiny wood when I stripped the bark off it. I spent hours in the garage making all sorts of things – owls, bears, even horses, although their legs were hard to do. Horses’ legs are so skinny. At first, Mum let me put them on shelves in the dining room but, in the end, there were too many so I had a sort of menagerie or zoo in my bedroom. It was great. Dad said it made him proud. He said, “You could make a living doing that kind of thing.” I suppose I could, but I’d never thought about it, until then.


But even Dad got it wrong. It wasn’t work. It was play. I enjoyed it. I didn’t want money for it. Like I said, I’m 12. I don’t need to ‘make a living’. I get money from him and Mum. They’re not old but they still say the sort of things that old people say. For instance, when Jill came last week asking why I wasn’t going out like I used to, Mum said to me, ‘That girl’s no better than she should be’. Now what does that mean? It makes no sense. It made me want to ask Jill about it, whether she knew what it meant. But I don’t think I can. Yesterday, at school, she said she wasn’t allowed to play with me any more. At first, when I asked why, she just shook her head and didn’t say anything. But that just made me more curious, so I sort of nagged at her till she told me. She said her uncle Norman’s said if he sees her with me again, he’s going to do some horrible things to me. I don’t know why, but she looked really scared when she said it and I believed her.


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.