2020 minus 03: excruciating and plinth

Posted: 29 December 2019 in 12DaysFF, 2020 minus, Christmas, fast fiction
Tags: , , , , ,

Housekeeping: Well, we’re really coming to the end of the year and the countdown now, aren’t we?

And, after a couple of years of not blogging, I’m still pretty astonished that I managed to put something up pretty much every day – with only a few ‘days off’ – since 23rd June 2019, when I kicked off my “55 minus…” countdown to my 55th birthday in August.

There were a few mini-runs during the past six months, a couple on Doctor Who, one on antisemitism. Oh, there were a few different ones.

But now we’re at the end. Well, almost.

After today, I’ve two special posts left for the run: one tomorrow, one on Tuesday.

Well, actually, there are two posts coming on Tuesday, but one of them isn’t going to be part of the run, so to speak.

It’ll be this year’s update to the annual A Life In Pictures, and – unusually for me; no idea why – this year I seem to have plenty of pics to me to choose from. Usually, I might have three or four to pick from; this time? A couple of dozen.

Ah well, you’ll see in a couple of days which I choose for the post.

OK, so today. What do you have today?

Well, since Tuesday will be taken up with the aforementioned ‘special’ posts, and tomorrow, I have something equally special but entirely unrelated to Tuesday’s stuff, one more set of Christmas related fast fictions, I think, once again from two friends who always supply much needed help when I want it, but much needed advice when I need it:

A decade and a half ago, I threw out a challenge. and then repeated it thereafter whenever I felt like it. The challenge was the same in each case:

Give me a title of up to four words in length, together with a single word you want me to include in the tale, and I will write a story of exactly 200 words.

That’s it. The stories that resulted always included the word, they always fitted the title, but usually in ways the challenger hadn’t anticipated. And they were always exactly 200 words in length.

For a few years, I did something at Christmas entitled Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. Friends – writers, actors, comedians – issued challenges, from which stories resulted. I haven’t done it for a couple of years; maybe next year?

For the very final selection from Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, two very different stories, one a bit of fun, one that I didn’t have any idea I was writing until the first words hit the page, and then I knew it intimately; it’s one of the easiest stories I’ve ever written, and yet I never saw it coming .

My thanks once again to Jason and Jamie for the challenges, and the enormous fun I had writing the tales.


I can’t remember how I first met Jason Arnopp or first discovered his writing; I suspect it had something to do with his career in the SAS psy-warfare division. He’ll deny that, but then of course he would.

I know that he’s a very nice man, with an infectious laugh, who writes stories that will have you curled up behind the sofa, calling for your mummy.
Title: Hell Comes To Greenland
Word: excruciating
Challenger: Jason Arnopp
Length: 200 words exactly

The rooms were all freshly vacuumed
Fresh flowers on a new silver tray.
After all, one does not skimp on details
When the Devil comes to visit or stay.

Santa had been fretting for hours
Putting all of them under huge strain.
The elves and the reindeer were trying to help
Obeying the commands as they came.

“Paint the staterooms a darker vermillion…
And the paintings should be far more lewd.
And the heating is nowhere near hot enough –
He’ll wonder if we’re being rude.”

And then they all smelled the sulphurous stench
As the carriage appeared right outside;
An excruciating clamour of commotion and noise,
As Satan stepped down from his ride.

They bowed at each other, as custom demanded,
And each smiled three times, as myths do.
Then Santa motioned Satan into his home,
Bade him welcome, whether or not it was true.

The Devil retired early that night,
A night-cap most politely declined.
And the demons and elves and reindeers alike
Spent the evening with each of their kind.

They met again the following morn
Two Nicks: Old and Saint, but it’s moot;
For as always when Santa and Satan confer
It’s regarding a demarcation dispute.

© Lee Barnett, 2012


Jamie McKelvie is unfairly talented. No, I mean that; it’s genuinely unfair that someone is so talented, and also so nice.

I was fortunate enough that he drew an illustration for You’ll Never Believe A Man Can Fly. And while I’d never be lucky enough to have a story drawn by him, if I ever get to write another published comics story again, the best present anyone could give me would be the words “Oh, Jamie McKelvie said he’d do a cover…”

Jamie’s lovely.

You should all read anything he’s drawn.
Title: The Christmas That Wasn’t
Word: plinth
Challenger: Jamie McKelvie
Length: 200 words exactly

The walk to the front door seemed longer than usual. I stifled a yawn as I pulled out the keys, half blinded by bright August sunlight.

A weariness beyond anything I’d known had come over me, but I knew sleep wasn’t going to come easy. Not for me. Not for her, either. She was still in the car; we didn’t have anything to say to each other now – we’d exhausted all possible conversations over the past hour.

I glanced through the front room’s windows; it was all there. His toys, the letter from the hospital, a small statue of Peter Pan upon a plinth, and the Christmas decorations.

We’d known it was the only way he’d see another Christmas, so we’d planned a party for him. In August.

We’d never hold that party now.

We’d been honest from the start. For a lad not yet eight, he understood what cancer was, what it meant.

A sob caught in my throat as I turned the key. I had to pack it all away now.

A protesting yell from the car. I smiled.

He understood what cancer meant. I wasn’t sure about remission. Maybe I’d buy him a dictionary. In December.

© Lee Barnett, 2012

Something else, something different… tomorrow.

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