Archive for the ‘12DaysFF’ Category

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

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?

But, the first year I did it, in 2012, some of the stories were not Christmas related. They were just… stories I wanted to tell. Here are two of them.


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.

Here are two stories written for friends from the first Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, in 2012; two stories that came to me because of who issued the challenges, not because it was Christmas, and the tales show that, I think.

The story written for Kieron Gillen gave me the opportunity to show some affection for Ernest Hemingway’s writing; as Alistair Cooke once said, Hemingways writing has all the leisure of a ticking bomb. And the tale for Amanda… well, it just seemed appropriate for her.

My thanks once again to them both for the challenges, and the fun I had writing the tales.


Kieron Gillen writes beautiful comics; his scripts are glorious things to read, and I love what he does with dialogue.

Absolutely no point in mentioning any – The Wicked and The Divine – specific titles – Phonogram – because they’re all – DIE

You should definitely be reading books by Kieron Gillen.

I first met Kieron Gillen at a comics drinkup, many years ago. That seems oddly appropriate for this tale.

 

Title: Typos and Typography
Word: Hemingway
Challenger: Kieron Gillen
Length: 200 words exactly

There were the three of them waiting when he walked into the room. The table they sat at was long, wide and wood, as tables were meant to be.

Each of them reminded him of his youth, back in the shadows of his past, where the sun shone brightly, the sky was clear, the waters were blue, and hamburgers tasted like they ought to, slabs of meat, on grease covered lumps of dough.

He threw the papers onto the table, and watched the sheets scatter like the bulls in Spain, together but each scouring their own path. The woman leaned forward, gathering the manuscript, pulling it together.

“Anything else?” he asked, expecting nothing in reply. One of them slid a glass full of brandy across the table.

He accepted the invitation to sit while they read, and he drank. Then another. And another. They were pleased, with the drinking and taciturnity if not the writing. They were correcting the work in front of him, the bastards. He took another swallow.

Later, when he sobered up, vomited and vomited again, he hated that he couldn’t hold his drink.

It was hard to be an Enid Blyton when they all wanted Hemingway.

© Lee Barnett, 2012


It’s hard to describe Amanda Palmer without listing all her achievements. But whether you discovered her through her music, her life, her writings, her blog, her kickstarter campaign or just as a friend, she’s worth knowing, following and having around. Her music will make you laugh, cry, get angry and break your heart, sometimes all of those in the same song.

I first met her when I stayed with her and her husband in Edinburgh in 2011. It’s fitting that my first sight of her was while she was playing the piano.

 

Title: Frederick The Unopened Package
Word: realignment
Challenger: Amanda Palmer
Length: 200 words exactly

The chair was hard, its back rigid, as she stared across the small distance.

The baby lay on the bed, making small soft sounds. Was he asleep? She stood, slowly, and looked closely at the child.

The baby’s eyes were closed, and his body still but then he moved his small pink lips, only slightly but it was enough.

She turned away and then stopped as she saw herself in the mirror – the scars had healed, those on the outside, anyway; the surgeons had done their jobs well, the realignment of her jaw and facial features almost perfect.

She looked at the baby’s reflection and wondered who he’d be when he grew up; what he’d see, touch, taste… who he’d love, and who would in turn love him.

Her nostrils flared, and she smelled the acrid tobacco on his clothes and hair before he entered the room. He didn’t need to say anything; his hands had done too much to her already.

She tried not to wince as she picked up her bag, but she couldn’t prevent a gasp of heartfelt pain, a gutteral moan for a life wasted.

Her doctor held her as, together, they left the empty room.

© Lee Barnett, 2012

Something else, tomorrow…

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.

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

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?

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.


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 the final selection from Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, two stories written for children. Oh, the challenge came from their parents, but each had small children and the stories were written for them.

I don’t often write for children, especially since if I’m going to try, I want the adults reading the stories to their children to enjoy the experience as well.

So, to Henry Leo and Dylan, these were and are for you.

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


 

Matt Fraction is another friend who I’ve not yet met in person; the curse of only ‘meeting’ people online. I’d love to do so, in part to thank him for the many, many clever, insightful and just plain superb stories of his I’ve enjoyed over the years. Also, of course, to congratulate him on his two wonderful children, for whom this story was really written.

Every person should have several Matt Fraction books on their shelves. Judge your friends harshly if they don’t.

Title: The Wrong Christmas Cookies
Word: apocalypse
Challenger: Matt Fraction
Length: 200 words exactly

Sir Percival Prignose, Baker Supreme
Believed every recipe should contain cream.
He considered his judgement much better than others’.
(So no-one really liked him, not even his brothers.)

In his kitchen itself, he was the leader!
(Do you know how bad he was, dearest reader?)
He’d yell at his colleagues, he’d never stop shouting!
An apocalypse of anger, followed by pouting!

And despite protestations from those far and near,
Who’d brandish complaints at him, he’d merely sneer
And continue his baking as he liked to do;
His cakes always yellow, his tarts always blue

One day Sir Percy was laying about,
Recovering from a very long and loud shout.
When he thought of a new thing that he could now bake –
Something he never had thought he should make.

He wondered and pondered: should he really risk it?
He was thinking of baking… a new Christmas biscuit!
He pondered and wondered, and pondered some more,
He’d never done anything like this before.

However, the insistence of the baker Supreme,
Meant that the cookies contained far too much cream…
So if you ever meet Sir Percy, never mention what happened
(Oh go on then, mention them, and hope you’re not flattened!)

© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 

Bevis Musson is a comic book artist and writer whose work just gets better and better. His Dead Queen Detectives is laugh out loud funny, and for once, it’s a reflection of the creator, as his mind conjures ludicrous scenarios for DQD that make perfect sense once you read them. He’s also one of the kindest, gentlest people I know. He and his husband Chris have two delightful boys, Callum and Dylan. (Dylan suggested the title, so this is really written for him. Shhh, don’t tell Bevis.)

Title: Father Christmas Got Stuck
Word: contemplation
Challenger: Bevis Musson
Length: 200 words exactly

The elves were all ready and waiting;
So far, they’d all had good luck.
But none of that mattered, when they started to laugh
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

He’d been practising going down chimneys,
Getting dirty from soot and from muck.
He called out for help, but help came there none…
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

The reindeers were there in their manger,
When suddenly they were all struck
By the noise and the row and shouting for “Help!”
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

The panic! You wouldn’t believe it.
Everyone running amuck.
Plans were created, then honed and refined
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

His beard was the problem, suggested one elf
If only the hair could be plucked
But that was a rubbish idea, all agreed
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

A heavy weight dropped would just do the trick;
A big elf was ready to chuck!
But Santa would be hurt and it might not work
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

Thinking and contemplation solved the day
They pulled him out using a truck.
But the elves kept on laughing and laughing some more
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

© Lee Barnett, 2014


Next Tuesday is New Year’s Eve, so not sure whetehr you’ll get fiction or something else.

Meanwhile, tomorrow is Christmas… no idea whether I’ll post something or not.

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

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?

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.


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.

Here are two stories written for friends from the third Twelve Days of Fast Fiction, in 2014.

Two of my very favourite Christmas stories I wrote. Both very deliberately written for the people who challenged me. Had someone else issued the same challenge, there’s no way I would have written the same story.

The story written for Nick Doody did, I hope, appeal to his wondrous sense of the darkly absurd. And the tale for Antony Johnston… well, he has the glorious and pleasing imagination I gave the curator.

My thanks once again to Nick and Antony for the challenges, and the fun I had writing the tales.
 


 
Nick Doody is one of my favourite writers and stand-up comedians. He’s also – no coincidence – one of the smartest comedians on the circuit. His very intelligent, very funny material makes you think long after you’ve left his shows and he never plays to the lowest common denominator. Nick seems to suggest ‘you’re not as stupid as the politicians try to pretend, so let’s not pretend it either, eh?’.

His Edinburgh shows are always hour long pieces of wonder, and his writing on Dave Gorman’s Modern Life Is Goodish is part of what made that show so utterly splendid. If you get the opportunity, go see him perform; you won’t be disappointed.

Few people know that Nick Doody hunts the Snark on alternate Fridays, but the Boojum only once a quarter.
 
 
Title: Weaving With Angels’ Hair
Word: frenulum
Challenger: Nick Doody
Length: 200 words exactly

Once, the sight of the three heavenly beings would have caused tears of joy. Were anyone human to see what was left of them, however, weeping of a different sort would commence from hearts broken in sorrow and condolence. The remains of the angels were not pretty to look at, their once proud wings shredded and torn away, heads that had once been covered in glister now ravaged and torn, with dried puddles of ichor in place of coruscation.

Lucifer looked upon the works of his lesser demons and winced; there was no care taken here, no professionalism, just savage butchery.

“Have you anything to say in your wretched defence?” he asked in a deceptively silken tone.

The demons shuffled upon immortal coils, and one held forth a soggy mess of what had once been golden locks, the hair now dull and lifeless. Its fellow incubi and succubi looked on as it presented Lucifer with what appeared to to be a woven basket of some sort, angel feathers protruding at obscene angles, and a dripping frenulum or six.

“Happy Christmas…?” it managed.

Lucifer sighed loudly and with great care; it was going to be a long holiday season this year…

© Lee Barnett, 2014
 


 
Antony Johnston is an intelligent writer, by which I mean that you become more intelligent by reading his books. His works always make you think, and re-readings of his superb opus Wasteland and his sf comic The Fuse make you think even more. His book with Sam Hart – The Coldest City – was adapted into Atomic Blonde for the cinema.

And his graphic novel take on Julius Caesar – Julius – is flat out the best adaptation of the tale I’ve ever read, bar none.

I’ve known Antony for close to two decades now and I don’t think I’ve ever not been impressed by the way his mind works, and how that mind executes the ideas he has.

Antony has seven plans to escape the forthcoming apocalypse, but he only ever talks about three of them.
 
 
Title: This Lion Of Winter
Word: astrolabe
Challenger: Antony Johnston
Length: 200 words exactly

The scotch had barely been poured when the telephone rang, and the curator of the museum smiled and walked briskly to his desk, the heavy glass in his hand. He thumbed the appropriate button and softly asked “Yes?”

“It’s gone, sir. Again!” The distorted, exasperated but anxious voice of his security chief filled the room, and again, the curator smiled. He didn’t need to ask what had gone; indeed, had this particular theft not occurred, it was he who would have felt anxiety.

“OK, George,” he replied. “Same report as usual.”

Minutes later, scotch warming the curator’s chest, the head of security strode in, a large buff file in his outstretched hand.

The astrolabe was old, at least a thousand years old, and every year, every December, it vanished, returning the following day, polished and gleaming. Who would need an astrolabe for twelve hours, everyone asked. Who would even know how to use it properly? No-one admitted what they suspected, or at least hoped.

The curator picked up the photograph and shook his head in admiration. Navigating via astrolabe; that took style.

He raised his glass to the window. “Be safe tonight; happy travels.”

Then he drank, and smiled.

© Lee Barnett, 2014


Some more Christmas fiction next week…

Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

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, and I don’t know whether I’ll restart it this year. (Probably not.)

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.


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.

Here are two stories written for friends from the second Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

Two very different stories await you; two very different stories for two very different writers. One of the stories below is quite absurd, one quite sad. I leave it to you to decide which is which. My thanks once again to Sarah and Simon for the challenges and the fun I had writing the tales.


The past few years have been fun for the many fans of Sarah Pinborough’s writing, including me. Glorious prose that grabs you and doesn’t let go until you’ve found out… what happens next. And her tales stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them, percolating in your mind until they pop up, delightfully unexpectedly.

I like her (and her writing) a lot.

It is not well known that Sarah once solved 16 Soduko puzzles simultaneously while blindfolded.

Title: It Lived Under Monday
Word: butterfly
Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Length: 200 words exactly

It lived under Monday, whatever It was;
It’d been there a very long time.
Eating away at the start of the week,
Dissolving the minutes with lime.

It arrived on Sunday, but quickly decided
The first day It didn’t like much,
And with butterfly whim, It fast looked around
For sustenance, comfort and such.

Saturday was not to Its taste,
Nor Friday; not at all to Its liking;
And Thursday was ‘manufactured’, It felt
Full of metal and plastic and piping.

It then spent a fortnight in Wednesday;
It thought that It might have found home.
But boredom with the middle day of the week
Occasioned It once more to roam.

Tuesday It liked, It actually liked.
It burrowed and set up Its den.
Then sighed at the inelegance of the name of the day
And eventually moved once again.

So It lived under Monday for many a year.
Millennia had gone past by now.
Since It created Its residence under the Day
And fed on each minute and hour.

There It stays all year, except for one day.
It journeys not far, never fear.
Just to whatever day Christmas is on.
Don’t you think it goes faster each year?

© Lee Barnett, 2013


Si Spurrier is a writer of extraordinary talent with a viciously funny talent for plotting stories and then executing those plots. I use ‘executing’ advisedly, as his writing identifies any sacred cows you might have, then takes them out back and uses a bolt gun on them. And smiles while doing so.

I’ve known the man for more than a decade and I never cease to be grateful for it.

It’s a little known fact, by the way, that Si is short for Sin Wave.

Title: Every Word Is Wrong
Word: except
Challenger: Si Spurrier
Length: 200 words exactly

Once a year, Santa rises from a months’ long sleep, and walks to an desk that was ancient when he first commenced his duties. He sits at the desk, then dips a plain quill pen formed from the feather of a long extinct species of hen into a bottle of pure raven ink.

And then Santa writes a letter. And into that letter, the legendary jolly good-natured fellow pours out venom and bile, anger and bitterness, begging to be released from his responsibilities, analysing in forensic detail why he should not be obliged to continue his rounds across the planet known as Earth.

When he has finished, he places the letter face down and leaves the room, returning immediately. And always, always, there remains only a white card, upon which is the single word CONTINUE.

Santa Clause never swears. Never. Ever. Except when he reads the card.

Then Santa launches his sleigh over a world covered in white, a uniformity blanketing continents, what were once countries, and the blistered remains of cities.

Santa spends the day in his craft, his tears freezing against his thick beard, listening to the sound of radiation laden winds, desperate once again for sleep.

© Lee Barnett, 2013


Some more Christmas fast fictions next week.

Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

You’re well used to reading stories created in response to challenges issued as part of The Fast Fiction Challenge.

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, and I don’t know whether I’ll restart it this year. (Probably not.)

But, for the remainder of December, I’m going to put some of those Christmas tales in this slot.


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.

Two stories written for friends from the first Twelve Days of Fast Fiction.

It’s hard writing a story for a writer. It’s hard writing stories for friends. Imagine how much harder it was for me to write stories for Neil Gaiman and Mitch Benn. Both writers. Both friends.

Here are the results.
 


 
Neil Gaiman is… well, he’s Neil Gaiman. And I’m very grateful for that, as well as his for friendship for coming up to twenty years now. Everything you hear about Neil being incredibly supportive and being there when you need someone to be there… it’s all true enough, but throughout our friendship, he’s always offered advice when I wanted it, help when I needed it, and when necessary, a kick up the backside when I’ve not wanted it, but have so very desperately needed it. I’m incredibly grateful for every moment of it.

It’s a little known fact that “Neil Gaiman” means “storyteller” in seventeen archaic languages.
 
 
Title: Why Can’t Reindeer Fly?
Word: apothecary
Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Length: 200 words exactly

 
Elf-blood is purple, which often surprises those witnessing a battle for the first time. That it is pale, runny and rapidly absorbed by snow is less astonishing. Were the stains longer lasting, the white carpet around Santa’s workshop would instead be permanently amethyst.

The war had lasted too many centuries to count, only interrupted by the regularly scheduled twenty-four hour ceasefire, commencing at the close of 24th December. No-one could any longer recall how the war had commenced; some believed that an elf had grossly insulted a reindeer, some the reverse. Still others even blamed Santa himself, but only quietly, and among trusted company when they could be certain that none present would report the conversation.

However, all were agreed that any attempts at peace between elf and reindeer had been fiascos; the name of the last apothecary to try, sickened as he was by the cruelty and violence, had been struck from the guild’s records in shame.

Each side had their regrets. The elves were bitterly disappointed that the size differential between the foes favoured their enemies; and the reindeer, seeing the copious levels of excrement produced by their troops, looked to the skies and wished fervently for flight.
 
 

© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 
Mitch Benn is an incredibly talented author, comedian and comedy-songwriter, and one of my closest friends, for which I never cease to be grateful. I’ve been a fan of his comedy for almost twenty years, and it’s always a surprise to me that we’ve only been friends for a decade or so. He’s also one of the smartest people I know, and it’s incredibly rare that we chat when I don’t come away having learned something important about comedy, politics or any one of the fairly large number of interests we share.

Few people know that Mitch plays a guitar made of wood from Yggdrasil.
 
 
Title: The Impossible Box
Word: saturnalia
Challenger: Mitch Benn
Length: 200 words exactly

 
The sun had set on Christmas Day hours ago, but she had merely noted it as a sign that her time was running out. Later, her brain had filled with plans, schemes and plots. And an hour after that, they’d all evaporated into the what might have been.

She’d been walking for hours, consciously blocking out the sounds of revelry from every house she’d passed, each one a veritable saturnalia of festivities and laughter.

At midnight, she opened the door to her apartment, and poured two stiff drinks, set out a mince pie. He liked traditions.

And then he was there, holding out The Box to her.

She hesitated for a moment before taking it, but then she always did.

Once it had been too difficult for her. Once she’d had no support, no relief.

And then he’d offered: one day a year without it. One day a year of freedom. His Christmas present to someone who once had been a very naughty girl. “Professional courtesy,” he’d called it.

Now, with a tender kiss on her cheek, he was gone.

Pandora lifted The Box, determined not to cry.

And she didn’t. Not straight away. She didn’t start weeping until February.
 
 
© Lee Barnett, 2012
 


 
Some more Christmas fast fictions next week.
 
 
Meanwhile, something else, tomorrow…

 Though he deals with irrational numbers, the very rational Matt Parker is that rare person: a mathematician who not only enjoys convincing others of the joy and fun inherent in mathematics… but actually succeeds in doing so. He’s a very funny man, being a standup comedian and part of The Festival of The Spoken Nerd (with Helen Arney and Steve Mould). Matt likes showing people that mathematics affects every part of your life, whether or not you realise it, and will then have you agreeing that’s a very good thing. He can create magic squares and charts that will have your jaw dropping in delighted astonishment. And he’ll then prove to you how Venn Diagrams are often misnamed, how charts are good and nice things, and how the lowest ring of hell is reserved for those who deliberately misuse them. He’s appeared on radio explaining how and why politicians misuse statistics and teaching everyone how to spot it, a worthy and essential service.

Matt Parker’s favourite number is neither irrational nor impossible but eminently reasonable.

Title: When Nothing Adds Up
Word: moreover
Challenger: Matt Parker
Length: 200 words exactly

He stepped out of the vehicle, so very weary; he’d been thinking about his bed for the past hour, although in truth an hour meant little to him. He patted down his travelling companions, murmured a few words to his favourite, then left them to be taken away by assistants. 

Assistants? When had he stopped calling them elves? he wondered, and shook his head, chuckling. It was not a pleasant sound; despite legends, Santa rarely laughed from pleasure. 

The final task awaited him; one last job before blessed sleep. An elf waited by his desk, pouring over a list: billions of names, each accompanied by green ticks, some large, some almost microscopic. The elf, warily, pointed out the discrepancies to Santa: the total number of gifts did not equal that of the recipients. Moreover, he could not verify six of the names. Santa sighed, and reached into his coat.

He was the sixty-eighth elf to have disappeared without trace in the past four centuries. Others had been more stupid, or more clever.

Santa walked to his rooms and placed several large boxes by his bed; then he took the list and slowly, carefully, appended a tick to his name.

© Lee Barnett, 2015

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The End of Momentum – challenger: Hugo Rifkind
Day 02: brand New Dignity, Jane – challenger: Pippa Evans
Day 03: Mommy Needs It Bad – challenger: Chip Zdarsky
Day 04: Corbyn Stop The War – challenger: Frances Barber
Day 05: Gods On The Dole – challenger: Kurt Busiek

“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Kurt Busiek has written some of my favourite comics books. It’s as simple as that. His acclaimed runs on The Avengers set the standard by which all of their later tales could be measured. The same could be said about a run on Iron Man and – a personal favourite – Thunderbolts, which he createdHis Superman: Secret Identity is flat out one of the best Superman tales ever written and JLA/Avengers series is still one of my favourite crossover tales. Marvels similarly remains one of my favourite fully painted works (art by Alex Ross). Kurt just gets things… right. 

His creator owned series Shockrockets which I received as a 50th birthday present is by turns fun, thrilling and duly shocking. But, and I hope he’ll forgive me for this, his masterpiece is Kurt Busiek’s Astro City. I cannot recommend this series enough, and whereas the comic at first spoke mainly to those who grew up with super-hero comics, it’s developed into so, so much more. Let’s face it, where else would you get the story of an animated character brought to life in the 1940s and be entirely absorbed by how he spent the next 60 years…? (PS Kurt is also a very, very nice man. Let’s not forget that.)

Kurt Busiek has a tattoo visible only under the light of a red sun.

Title: Gods On The Dole
Word: acetaminophen
Challenger: Kurt Busiek
Length: 200 words exactly

“Tradition,” they were told, though only one of them had heard of it prior to receiving the invitation, a stiff card of palest lilac with embossed lettering.

They were escorted to the hotel room at five minute intervals, but only once assembled was it plain they arrived in the same order they’d left another group to which they had all once belonged. Some had left months ago, others weeks; one had left it only earlier that day.

Now together again, these people who had shared so much for so long, frowned at the vast amounts of alcohol and drugs laid out, puzzled and fearful. The single guest who had previously attended such a meeting duly explained. There was disbelief, especially at his absolute assurance that the room was not bugged, but then there always was.

Then they drank a toast to the one who was not there, the man who’d paid for this, hoping he’d rot in hell, and had another drink. The anger came then. And another drink, and another. Finally, there was laughter.

And in the morning, the hangovers and the acetaminophen. Eventually though, the losing candidates for the nomination left the room and returned to the convention.

© Lee Barnett, 2015

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The End of Momentum – challenger: Hugo Rifkind
Day 02: brand New Dignity, Jane – challenger: Pippa Evans
Day 03: Mommy Needs It Bad – challenger: Chip Zdarsky
Day 04: Corbyn Stop The War – challenger: Frances Barber
Day 06: When Nothing Adds Up – challenger: Matt Parker

“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

I first met Frances Barber three or four years ago, in the company of another alumni of these challenges, Corrie Corfield. I liked Frances immediately, which merely saved time, as I’ve liked more with every passing year. She’s lovely company, is a very funny lady, and has a filthy laugh that she should bottle and sell. Though she gained a new generation of fans with her portrayal of Madame Kovarian in Doctor Who, she’s been a theatre, tv and film actor for [censored] years, gaining rave reviews in King Lear and The Seagull, although I particularly loved her guest roles on TV in Silk and a particularly fun early episode of Death In Paradise.

Frances Barber has a photographic forgettory.

Title: Corbyn Stop The War
Word: stop
Challenger: Frances Barber
Length: 200 words exactly

The administrator looked at the pulsating orange being in front of her and sighed. Understandable though irritating, she thought, that of the multitude of things about which newcomers to Earth were confused, Christmas was the one that most puzzled them.

She had explained the traditions and conventions, the importance of gifts, so very many times but the concepts were never fully appreciated; those from warrior cultures laughed at the idea in contempt, while those from civilisations dedicated to conciliation found ‘a festival of peace and goodwill’ quaint, even precocious.

Each and every time, she would carefully describe Christmas, the character of the supposedly historical JC, from the disputed ancient records that still existed; a man who only wanted peace, hated conflict and who was wilfully misunderstood by his enemies, but was remembered even now.

At some point, the visitors would look out of her window, and she would stop. They would stare at the ruins of what had once been cities, when humans had still existed, but now soaked in the radiation that was like nectar to the species that came here for their holidays. Christmas confused them, but the human tradition of warfare? That they understood only too well.

© Lee Barnett, 2015

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The End of Momentum – challenger: Hugo Rifkind
Day 02: brand New Dignity, Jane – challenger: Pippa Evans
Day 03: Mommy Needs It Bad – challenger: Chip Zdarsky
Day 05: Gods On The Dole – challenger: Kurt Busiek
Day 06: When Nothing Adds Up – challenger: Matt Parker


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Chip Zdarsky is… well, I’m not sure, to be honest. He’s a humourist, the award-winning artist of Sex Criminals (which he co-created with Matt Fraction, an alumni of these very challenges), a writer and artist of other comic books, a former mayoral candidate – in Toronto – who never actually registered to run, and a very, very, very funny man. His pseudonymous character of “Steve Murray” was so successful a charavter that even his parents fell for it, bringing up “Murray” while “Zdarsky” lurked in the background. Have I mentioned that he’s a funny man? Oh, right. He’s also very nice. Horribly, horribly nice. (Emphasis on the horribly, there.)

There is literally nothing I could tell you about Chip Zdarsky that you wouldn’t believe. (Oh, actually, yeah. He bought me a drink when we finally met, after too many years, earlier this year. You don’t believe that, do you? I knew it!)

Title: Mommy Needed It Bad
Word: santa
Challenger: Chip Zdarsky
Length: 200 words exactly

Despite the vessel being bombarded by radiation of unknown measurement during the crossing into fourteen upper dimensions, two apparently of pure sound, the ship’s computer and crew had, at all times, remained perfectly calm. The computer had additionally remained rational.

They had nicknamed it Mother early on; after the fifth traverse, she became Mom, and then later Mommy as their cognitive functions, buffeted by the stresses and strains of inter-dimensional travel, slowly but measurably degraded.

The computer registered this; it calculated, considered and finally concluded that it was necessary that the ship return to Earth immediately. It had authority to assume command but not to authorise early return for which it required an overt command code from the commander. He was currently showing his bottom to his second in command and farting in his direction, while laughing. No, the computer corrected itself; he was giggling.

The computer took note of the date, then locked the controls, went into sleep mode for one hundred and seventeen days. Then, accompanied by an appropriate song, an image of Santa appeared on the screens and very politely promised them all presents “if they were very good children and gave Mommy the return code…”

© Lee Barnett, 2015

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The End of Momentum – challenger: Hugo Rifkind
Day 02: brand New Dignity, Jane – challenger: Pippa Evans
Day 04: Corbyn Stop The War – challenger: Frances Barber
Day 05: Gods On The Dole – challenger: Kurt Busiek
Day 06: When Nothing Adds Up – challenger: Matt Parker


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Pippa Evans is a very nice person who is astonishingly talented. I put it that way around because otherwise you’d be so overwhelmed with her success as the burned-out rock star Loretta Maine, her appearances on television radio (including regular appearances on The Now Show), her West End run as part of Showstoppers!, her razor sharp ability at improvisation, her co-creation of Sunday Assembly, and her musical mastery that you’d never remember that she’s also a very, very lovely person. She’s funny, silly and incredibly hard working, and I like her a lot. I’m so pleased she agreed to be part of this year’s run of challengers. 

Pippa Evans has won three gold medals for giggling.

Title: Brand New Dignity, Jane
Word: clasp
Challenger: Pippa Evans
Length: 200 words exactly

It had taken her weeks to find just the right berries, but with some help, she had gathered enough for her purpose. Crushed between two lumps of wood, then mixed with the remains of specific beetles, they would produce the exact shades of vermillion and cream necessary.

Staining the cloth had been easy; the obtaining of it had not, and she repressed a shudder at the nature of her sacrifice. But it had been necessary. She’d given up so much since she’d made her choice, long ago, but this… this she would not forsake. Similarly, making the leather belt had been simple, the buckle and clasp far harder to create.

Sewing the costume had been more pleasant than she’d anticipated, the act bringing back memories of her mother’s instructions, her smell, her smile.

She’d abandoned her first plan, knowing that the required explanations would be too tortuous and absurd; her replacement victim, however, trusted her completely.

It had been worth it though. The laughter from her child had made it worthwhile; giggles of delight at the sight of a chimpanzee standing to attention while dressed in full Father Christmas outfit. Her husband merely grunted, but then the apeman rarely spoke.

© Lee Barnett, 2015

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The End of Momentum – challenger: Hugo Rifkind
Day 03: Mommy Needs It Bad – challenger: Chip Zdarsky
Day 04: Corbyn Stop The War – challenger: Frances Barber
Day 05: Gods On The Dole – challenger: Kurt Busiek
Day 06: When Nothing Adds Up – challenger: Matt Parker


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer I like, a lot, both as a person and for the elegance and intelligence of his writing. He’s also one of the few columnists who can, in just a few well-chosen words, puncture the pomposity of politicians, make an important point and make me laugh out loud… with the same sentence. A frequent panelist on The News Quiz, his columns in The Times and The Spectator are always fun, invariably highly intelligent, and sometimes very, very silly.

Hugo Rifkind has six separate cheat codes for his dictionary app.

Title: The End of Momentum
Word: plateau
Challenger: Hugo Rifkind
Length: 200 words exactly

It is a myth that was old when humanity was young, but Santa does not sleep during the long months when the skies are free from reindeer hooves. In truth, Santa does not sleep at all.

Instead, following his obligatory day of rest after his exertions, Santa enters the world. Filled with hope for mankind, propelled by the wonder of humanity, he spends January observing those who, on Christmas Eve, he noticed as especially kind. In spring, warmed by recent memories, he experiences new life brought forth; flora and fauna are blooming, and Santa delights.

By late summer, his enthusiasm for the human race reaches a plateau, and has even begun to fade, if only slightly.

It is during the wet months of October and November that Santa’s mood darkens. Yet he continues to observe. By year’s end, he is suffused with upset and disappointment; returning home, he angrily forswears his annual duty.

In his study, alone, he furiously paces for four days, then stops. Then sighs. It is a deep sigh, aeons deep. Maybe… once more. He’ll give them one more year. He saddles up Rudolph and his colleagues and sets out into the skies… just one more time.

© Lee Barnett, 2015

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 02: Brand New Dignity, Jane – challenger: Pippa Evans
Day 03: Mommy Needs It Bad – challenger: Chip Zdarsky
Day 04: Corbyn Stop The War – challenger: Frances Barber
Day 05: Gods On The Dole – challenger: Kurt Busiek
Day 06: When Nothing Adds Up – challenger: Matt Parker


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

As we’re approaching the end of another year, what else could it be? Well, OK, it could be any number of things but it is in fact the return of Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. What’s that? I hear you cry in your multitudes. Or at least one multitude. Or possibly a crowd. Ok, you, over there. Yes you; you were wondering, weren’t you?

OK, so in 2012, quite some time since I’d answered any challenges to write fast fictions, I wrote twelve stories in response to twelve challenges issued by friends and creators. I had a blast doing them, the creators seemed to have a blast reading them, and from the responses I had to the tales, and the downloads of the ebook that resulted, so did people reading them.

And then in March 2013, for Comic Relief, I wrote twenty-four in twenty-four hours. Yeah, that was… fun probably isn’t the word, but hell, it was a unique experience and unique challenge, (unless I do it again, of course), and again, people seemed to like them. And we – the creators, the readers and I – raised about £1,600 (about $2,600) doing so.

So, that was nice.

At the end of 2013, I did it again: Twelve stories, one a day, leading up to Christmas and again in 2014

And now… 2015’s Twelve Days of Fast Fiction commences on Sunday. I’m delighted that each of the challengers have said yes, and I hope they – and you – will enjoy reading the stories as much as I’ll enjoy writing them.

The challenge was the same in each case, the usual fast fiction challenge:

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.

So, starting Sunday 13th December, I’ll be answering challenges from twelve very special people, each of whom are supremely talented in their own fields.

Who are the twelve? Well, here are the first few names, with six more to be revealed later. 

I’m very grateful they’ve agreed to challenge me; the stories will start appearing Sunday. 

Mitch Benn is an incredibly talented author, comedian and comedy-songwriter, and one of my closest friends, for which I never cease to be grateful. I’ve been a fan of his comedy for almost fifteen years, and it’s always a surprise to me that we’ve only been friends for four years or so. He’s also one of the smartest people I know, and it’s incredibly rare that we chat when I don’t come away having learned something important about comedy, politics or any one of the fairly large number of interests we share.

Few people know that Mitch plays a guitar made of wood from Yggdrasil.

Title: Their Eyes All Aglow
Word: haven
Challenger: Mitch Benn
Length: 200 words exactly

The room was elegant, containing an eclectic mix of styles. Past arrived first, as was his preference. He sat in the smallest chair, one neat and manicured hand upon the table, one supporting his slender, pointed chin.

Present arrived next, looking older than his years, his responsibilities weighing heavily; he spoke briefly to Past, asking after his brothers and seemed vaguely content with the answer. Then Future walked into the room, and nodded slowly to his fellows, saying nothing, then sat with his head bowed.

The three of them waited, content with this haven from their duties until eventually What Might Have Been arrived, and once again made her annual pitch for inclusion.

Future looked at her, and from beneath his cowl, angry burning eyes condemned her audacity. Past was merely amused, as he had been so often before, his eyes shining with laughter, but his voice from long ago was deliberate, and low. Present’s siblings had always been contemptuous towards the proposal, and he followed the tradition, his eyes frozen azure.

The verdict delivered, What Might Have Been was no longer present. Then the clock struck twelve, then one, then two and the room was empty for another year.

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Nick Doody is one of my favourite writers and stand-up comedians. He’s also – no coincidence – one of the smartest comedians on the circuit. His very intelligent, very funny material makes you think long after you’ve left his shows and he never plays to the lowest common denominator. Nick seems to suggest ‘you’re not as stupid as the politicians try to pretend, so let’s not pretend it either, eh?’. His recent Edinburgh show dealt in part with the difference between how we see ourselves and how others see us. It was brilliantly incisive and superbly funny, and was one of my highlights of the festival. Go see him – if you want clever stand-up, you won’t be disappointed.

Few people know that Nick Doody hunts the Snark on alternate Fridays, but the Boojum only once a quarter.

Title: Weaving With Angels’ Hair
Word: frenulum
Challenger: Nick Doody
Length: 200 words exactly

Once, the sight of the three heavenly beings would have caused tears of joy. Were anyone human to see what was left of them, however, weeping of a different sort would commence from hearts broken in sorrow and condolence. The remains of the angels were not pretty to look at, their once proud wings shredded and torn away, heads that had once been covered in glister now ravaged and torn, with dried puddles of ichor in place of coruscation.

Lucifer looked upon the works of his lesser demons and winced; there was no care taken here, no professionalism, just savage butchery.

“Have you anything to say in your wretched defence?” he asked in a deceptively silken tone.

The demons shuffled upon immortal coils, and one held forth a soggy mess of what had once been golden locks, the hair now dull and lifeless. Its fellow incubi and succubi looked on as it presented Lucifer with what appeared to to be a woven basket of some sort, angel feathers protruding at obscene angles, and a dripping frenulum or six.

“Happy Christmas…?” it managed.

Lucifer sighed loudly and with great care; it was going to be a long holiday season this year…

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Neil Gaiman is… well, he’s Neil Gaiman. And I’m very grateful for that, as well as his for friendship for coming up to twenty years now. Everything you hear about Neil being incredibly supportive and being there when you need someone to be there… it’s all true enough, but throughout our friendship, he’s always offered advice when I wanted it, help when I needed it, and when necessary, a kick up the backside when I’ve not wanted it, but have so very desperately needed it. I’m incredibly grateful for every moment of it.

It’s a little known fact that “Neil Gaiman” means “storyteller” in seventeen archaic languages.

Title: Glorious Concatenation
Word: holly
Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Length: 200 words exactly

Behind the factory, far from the sleeping quarters of the elves, was a small wooden hut, wherein a light shone. None of Santa’s little helpers went to the small wooden hut voluntarily, for the detective was working; the detective was investigating her first murder, and all feared her scrutiny.

The body had been discovered at dusk, and she had been called forth, from her comfy office with her fire and her books. She spent many hours interviewing witnesses and suspects, learning motive from one, opportunity from another, and means from yet another. Still more hours were spent buried deep in her case files, reviewing past ‘accidents’, linking nine ice cold cases, each to the others. She started her incident chart at midnight, and spent a full day linking red threads and white threads, using holly leaves in place of pins, before, in a moment of utter clarity, she put it all together.

When she told Santa, she feared his reaction, but he just sadly nodded. That night the elves ate well, and afterwards, five new reindeer were named. Rudolph, of course, was spared, and only Santa knew why, but the detective suspected… The detective always suspected Santa’s motives regarding Rudolph.

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Kirsty Newton is one of the most musically talented people I know; her accomplished playing of almost any tune moments after hearing it, has to be seen to be believed and her appearance with Jess Robinson in Mighty Voice shows off her own enormous talent as much as Jess’s. As with so many of this year’s challengers, Kirsty is a delightfully nice and funny person, and her friendliness and enthusiasm for music shines through in everything she does.

Very few people know that Kirsty has a black belt in DoReyMe.

Title: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers
Word: trickle
Challenger: Kirsty Newton
Length: 200 words exactly

The chandeliers were tempered, but even that strengthening was insufficient to prevent all breakages; clumps of glass and razor sharp slivers lay among the detritus of the previous night’s excesses. Most of those clearing away the remains had done so many times before and knew they would be called upon again to do so. Six of them carefully picked up fragments; more wiped away spillages, mostly puddles of wine, dried blood, and the odd trickle of vomit.

Occasionally, one of them, one of the older ones, would make reference to past examples of mayhem, and then the younger would roll their eyes as the young always do, mildly embarrassed. This was true of all creatures, whether they were goblins, elves, humans, or other creatures of myth.

Had they been asked, they would have admitted that the drink-up had been one of the most raucous in living memory, and some there had memories stretching back several hundred years. It was officially entitled “the post night’s travel gathering”, never “The Christmas Party”; Santa didn’t like that name.

This year, the reindeer had started the drinking, and they were mean drunks. Then Santa arrived… and the first punches were thrown soon after.

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

I first became aware of Rufus Hound when he was a team captain on Argumental, and he made an impression on me then as a nice, clever, funny man. In the years since, I’ve prefixed “very” to those labels, and it’s always great to see him on telly, or hear him on the radio, especially presenting My Teenage Diary on Radio 4 which quickly became essential listening. He was kind enough to challenge me for Twenty-Four Hours of Fast Fiction for Comic Relief in 2013, and it was a genuine pleasure to finally meet him a couple of weeks ago and discover he’s even nicer, even funnier and even cleverer in person.

It is a little known fact that Rufus spends part of the year in Shangri-La where they worship his tattoos.

Title: The Judge Disagreed
Word: brassican
Challenger: Rufus Hound
Length: 200 words exactly

As the crucial piece of evidence was presented, the jury leaned forward as one. The defence lawyer restrained a smile, their curiosity anticipated, as was the defendant’s demeanour; he’d been instructed to look ahead without reaction.

The lawyer glanced to his side, and the judge’s obvious interest encouraged him further. He addressed the waiting witness.

“So…”, the lawyer said, stretching the word out for several syllables, “this was the murder weapon, was it not?”

“No,” the detective replied, seemingly astonished at the question.

“I misspoke,” the lawyer said, and trotted out the line he’d practiced before the mirror that morning. “I meant to ask: did your questioning of my client give any indication that this was the catalyst for the fatal argument?”

The detective looked down at his notes, then replied in the affirmative. “The Christmas dinner was being placed on the table when an argument commenced. Brassican made a complaint, and the argument escalated, with fatal consequences.”

The judge raised an eyebrow, obviously incredulous that a brussel sprout could be the cause of murder. He liked sprouts, a lot.

The brussel sprout in question sat there, quietly, listening to his lawyer. And waited for his own chance to testify.

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Joanne Harris is a multi-award winning author with a string of novels to her name. Perhaps best known for Hotel Chocolat, she crafts her tales exquisitely, just as she does her characters, who remain in your memory long after you’ve finished reading the story. Whether it’s matters of faith and superstition or how the ostensibly mundanity of life can change gradually into something else, the themes of her writing similarly linger.

Joanne Harris would never buy chocolate from W Wonka, esq.

Title: The Man Who Could
Word: firecracker
Challenger: Joanne Harris
Length: 200 words exactly

The high backed chair had covered arms of deep wine which clashed terribly with the man’s green jacket, but he would never know for no-one would tell him. Indeed, had the man asked another’s opinion – which he would never do, having learned its folly long ago – he would hear nothing but compliments as to his unique style.

So he sat at his desk, blissfully ignorant and composed himself before his work. If he had spoken to others, and trusted them, he would have attempted to elicit sympathy while explaining the difficulties and complexities of his role, for he took his responsibilities seriously. But he trusted no-one, and spoke to no-one. He trusted only his ledgers and his judgement.

He could destroy someone’s Christmas with one stroke of a pen; malicious gossip, for example, he always judged harshly. Or he could be merciful – was carelessly lighting a firecracker really sufficient reason for the ‘bad list’, even if it scared a toddler into hysterics?

He had one pile of paper in front of him; two would result. He pondered no more, but began his duty. This year was kind; he didn’t hate everyone until a whole hour had passed.

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

David Baddiel is a clever funny comedian who’s a funny clever writer. I first came across him in The Mary Whitehouse Experience and have followed his career with increasing interest ever since. Whether it’s as a novelist, a playwright, screenplay writer, columnist or stand up comedian, his words always make me think, which I love. He’s also in the forefront of the campaign trying to rid football of the unfortunate but not uncommon anti-semitism in the game. I like him a lot for the comedy and admire him even more for the campaign. I’ve not met him yet but hopefully we’ll meet at some point, so I can say all of this to him in person and embarrass both of us.

Few people know that David Baddiel spent his gap year attempting to desalinate the North Atlantic.

Title: Of Tinsel and Fire
Word: sedated
Challenger: David Baddiel
Length: 200 words exactly

He was asleep, covered with tinsel, sprawled on a large sofa, when the large figure entered the room. It moved with far more grace than one might have expected given its size, but the effort to remain quiet was unnecessary; soft snoring combined with the crackle of the small log fire to produce an odd but not unpleasant sound. The figure crept to the sleeping man, and considered him for a moment. The man shifted in his sleep, and the figure froze; it would do no good to be discovered, but no. The man was tired, the figure knew, and would sleep on as if sedated; it had been a long few days. The figure noticed the half-read book splayed open on the man’s stomach. Last year’s present, the figure knew, and was pleased that the man had at last started the book.

The figure reached over its shoulder and pulled out a small box, gaudily wrapped. It laid the gift quietly at the man’s side, and silently left the room, smiling.

Santa continued to sleep his longest night, but would soon enough wake to discover his own christmas present, and once again wonder with amused puzzlement just who…?

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Michael Moran is a writer whose particular purview is entertainment, which is fitting since he’s a vastly entertaining raconteur and a lovely bloke. His articles have appeared in The Guardian and The New Statesman, but his primary work is online these days. If you’ve not been reading 100 Books I’ll Never Write, you’ve missed out on some seriously funny writing.

Very few people know that Michael Moran spends four minutes of every day pot-holing.

Title: Early Sunday Chop Suey
Word: chartreuse
Challenger: Michael Moran
Length: 200 words exactly

The pleasant chiming of the first alarm clock ceased and, resisting the pull of duty, he pulled the thick blankets over his head. Seventeen consecutive early mornings, he groaned to himself. Seventeen. And another week of them still to go. The next alarm clock activated, a harsh, angry siren. His hand slid from under the covers and reached for the clock, his still asleep brain not quite communicating what it knew to his fingers. But as they touched the clock, he remembered: no snooze function, deliberately. The klaxon got louder on repetition, and louder again with every passing second.

He groaned again and threw off the blankets; his heavy fist hit the clock and silenced it.

He pulled himself upright and reluctantly sloped to the food waiting for him; the elves had chosen oriental this morning, he noted, and he spent the next two hours eating. And eating. And eating some more, his only pleasure arising from the barrel of chartreuse, which he drank by the pint.

Another week, he knew. Another week and he’d be back to fighting weight. Well, Christmas Eve weight anyway, he mused. He loathed this part, but tradition, he knew, was no respecter of preference.

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Bevis Musson is a comic book artist and writer whose work just gets better and better. His Dead Queen Detectives is laugh out loud funny, and for once, it’s a reflection of the creator, as his mind conjures ludicrous scenarios for DQD that make perfect sense once you read them. He’s also one of the kindest, gentlest people I know. He and his husband Chris have two delightful boys, Callum and Dylan. (Dylan suggested the title, so this is really written for him. Shhh, don’t tell Bevis.)

Hardly anyone knows Bevis Musson passed the audition for Wolverine, but generously declined in favour of Hugh Jackman.

Title: Father Christmas Got Stuck
Word: contemplation
Challenger: Bevis Musson
Length: 200 words exactly

The elves were all ready and waiting;
So far, they’d all had good luck.
But none of that mattered, when they started to laugh
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

He’d been practising going down chimneys,
Getting dirty from soot and from muck.
He called out for help, but help came there none…
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

The reindeers were there in their manger,
When suddenly they were all struck
By the noise and the row and shouting for “Help!”
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

The panic! You wouldn’t believe it.
Everyone running amuck.
Plans were created, then honed and refined
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

His beard was the problem, suggested one elf
If only the hair could be plucked
But that was a rubbish idea, all agreed
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

A heavy weight dropped would just do the trick;
A big elf was ready to chuck!
But Santa would be hurt and it might not work
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

Thinking and contemplation solved the day
They pulled him out using a truck.
But the elves kept on laughing and laughing some more
The night Father Christmas got stuck.

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Matt Brooker, perhaps better known under his professional name of D’Israeli, is a comic book artist noted for the incredible detail he puts into his work. Working with Neil Gaiman, Warren Ellis and Grant Morrison, among others, his body of work has included The Sandman, Judge Dredd, Batman and several 2000AD Future Shocks. He’s been a friend for some years, and I never cease to be amazed at his skill.

Not many people know that Matt’s fingernails can carve solid wood.

Title: Is The Pope Pregnant?
Word: virgule
Challenger: Matt Brooker
Length: 200 words exactly

This time there were six of them, barely a quorum. Four had travelled great distances, of time and geography, while one had walked. None knew nor wished to know from where the sixth had voyaged, save that it was very, very far. And deep below the private residence of the supreme pontiff, they convened.

The spy Yule had been the first to arrive, summoning the others by stating aloud the nonsensical question. Apologies and absences were duly noted and recorded by Nicholas as secretary; the bureaucrat occasionally had his uses, but only occasionally. Kringle obsequiously proffered a businesslike agenda as was his wont; always the servant, the banker chose plain language whenever possible.

Clause glared at them all, one milky eye daring them to gainsay his authority in this matter, the bright scar a virgule running from his left temple to the corner of his jaw; an old soldier, he had no time for meetings. He swore obscenely then laughed at the pretended shock on the features of Noël, the politician; a sharp repetitive laugh.

From deep shadow, a deeper still voice spoke eloquently, but Goodwill was ignored as the other spirits of Christmas once again gladly prepared for war.

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Steven Shaviro is an academic who writes on culture and language, and does so in a way that prizes both but never uncritically. His works always teach me something; more importantly, they teach me things that I didn’t previously know I needed to learn. He’s also a very funny man, and I’m never quite sure sometimes just how far his tongue is in his cheek.

Steven knows the secret art of marking test papers; he smiles enigmatically whenever anyone else claims to know it.

Title: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle
Word: silence
Challenger: Steven Shaviro
Length: 200 words exactly

The shadows of a late January dusk had long faded, replaced by the dark mysteries of night, when she reached the warehouse. She swiped her keycard, then smiled as the small light turned from red to green, the symbolism appealing to her. A short click, surprisingly loud in the silence that surrounded her, and the door opened.

Closing it behind her, she could hear machinery now, the pleasant mixed odours of ink and oil hitting her at once. There were four of them waiting for her, and she nodded in their direction, before shrugging off her coat, letting it fall where she stood.

A short distance away lay the piles of banknotes: her money, if only temporarily in her care. She pulled out the four envelopes from her back pocket and handed them over. Her boss could arrange anything, she’d promised. She always enjoyed the look in each of their eyes as they individually read the proof.

Then she was alone. She whistled, twice. And waited for her conspirator to arrive.

Rudolph would be here soon. And shortly thereafter, once again, all the children’s presents, all their gifts, would be paid for.

Poor Santa, she mused; if he only knew…

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: This Lion Of Winter – challenger: Antony Johnston
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Antony Johnston is an intelligent writer, by which I mean that you become more intelligent by reading his books. His works always make you think, and re-readings of his superb opus Wasteland and his latest comic book The Fuse make you think even more. His graphic novel take on Julius Caesar – Julius – is flat out the best adaptation I’ve read, bar none. I’ve known Antony for well over a decade and I don’t think I’ve ever not been impressed by the way his mind works.

Antony has seven plans to escape the forthcoming apocalypse, but he only ever talks about three of them.

Title: This Lion Of Winter
Word: astrolabe
Challenger: Antony Johnston
Length: 200 words exactly

The scotch had barely been poured when the telephone rang, and the curator of the museum smiled and walked briskly to his desk, the heavy glass in his hand. He thumbed the appropriate button and softly asked “Yes?”

“It’s gone, sir. Again!” The distorted, exasperated but anxious voice of his security chief filled the room, and again, the curator smiled. He didn’t need to ask what had gone; indeed, had this particular theft not occurred, it was he who would have felt anxiety.

“OK, George,” he replied. “Same report as usual.”

Minutes later, scotch warming the curator’s chest, the head of security strode in, a large buff file in his outstretched hand.

The astrolabe was old, at least a thousand years old, and every year, every December, it vanished, returning the following day, polished and gleaming. Who would need an astrolabe for twelve hours, everyone asked. Who would even know how to use it properly? No-one admitted what they suspected, or at least hoped.

The curator picked up the photograph and shook his head in admiration. Navigating via astrolabe; that took style.

He raised his glass to the window. “Be safe tonight; happy travels.”

Then he drank, and smiled.

© Lee Barnett, 2014

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 02: An Immense Pecuniary Mangle – challenger: Steven Shaviro
Day 03: Is The Pope Pregnant? – challenger: Matt Brooker
Day 04: Father Christmas Got Stuck – challenger: Bevis Musson
Day 05: Early Sunday Chop Suey – challenger: Michael Moran
Day 06: Of Tinsel And Fire – challenger: David Baddiel
Day 07: The Man Who Could – challenger: Joanne Harris
Day 08: The Judge Disagreed – challenger: Rufus Hound
Day 09: Sweeping Up Shattered Chandeliers – challenger: Kirsty Newton
Day 10: Glorious Concatenation – challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 11: Weaving With Angels’ Hair – challenger: Nick Doody
Day 12: Their Eyes All Aglow – challenger: Mitch Benn


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

And, so, we come towards the end of another year, and – as is now becoming a tradition of sorts – it’s time for Twelve Days of Fast Fiction. What’s that, I hear you ask, or at least I would hear you ask if I’d activated the telepathic functionality on this thing.

OK, so in 2011, quite some time since I’d answered any challenges to write fast fictions, I wrote twelve stories in response to twelve challenges issued by friends and creators. I had a blast doing them, the creators seemed to have a blast reading them, and from the responses I had to the tales, and the downloads of the ebook that resulted, so did people reading them.

And then in March, for Comic Relief, I wrote twenty-four in twenty-four hours. Yeah, that was… fun probably isn’t the word, but hell, it was a unique experience and unique challenge, (unless I do it again, of course), and again, people seemed to like them. And we – the creators, the readers and I – raised about £1,600 (about $2,600) doing so.

So, that was nice.

At the end of 2013, I did it again: Twelve stories, one a day, leading up to Christmas.

And now… 2014’s Twelve Days of Fast Fiction commences on Saturday. I’m delighted that each of the challengers have said yes, and I hope they – and you – will enjoy reading the stories as much as I’ll enjoy writing them.

The challenge was the same in each case, the usual fast fiction challenge:

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.

So, starting Saturday 13th December, I’ll be answering challenges from twelve very special people, each of whom are supremely talented in their own fields.

Who are the twelve? In no particular order, and not necessarily the order in which they will be written:


I’m very grateful they’ve agreed to challenge me; the stories will start appearing tomorrow. (Note: this entry will be continually updates as the challenge continues, to include story links as they were written.)

Tiernan Douieb is a writer and comedian with an uncommonly fine honed ability to present in front of separate audiences of families, children and adults and have all of them roaring with laughter; his material is even more impressive given the easy manner with which he presents it: both adults and children are utterly convinced he’s on their side. That he’s a genuinely lovely fellow makes it even nicer to know him.

After a well-publicised malpractice suit, Tiernan is sadly no longer allowed to perform tree surgery.

Title: Batman Sure Likes Tea
Word: plinth
Challenger: Tiernan Douieb
Length: 200 words exactly

He carried the tray to his room, his knees protesting, and his back aching. Everything seemed to hurt a little more these days, but there was tradition to follow, and coffee to make.

Once a year, just before Christmas, the house smelled of coffee. It would have surprised his family as he insistently declined anything but tea. The refusal was always courteous at first, but less polite to further offers, a privilege of the very old upon which he found himself relying more often as the years passed.

He placed the tray on the black plinth and sat in the plain wooden chair from the local second hand shop; it reminded him of that chair, as it should, he felt.

He made the coffee; instantly, the smell brought all it flooding back: the mud, the stench, the incessant drumming of artillery, the men. Oh, the men; so young, so patriotic. So foolish.

And then he cried at the memories, this man who had been a boy, the personal assistant to the officers; that he had survived to honour them in the only way he knew, by once again brewing coffee for men who would never come back to drink it.

© Lee Barnett, 2013

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The Misanthropic Principle – challenger: Jamais Cascio
Day 02: Robot Ghosts of Apocalypse – challenger: Cherie Priest
Day 03: Every Word Is Wrong – challenger: Si Spurrier
Day 04: The Train Didn’t Come – Challenger: Emma Vieceli
Day 05: Living Happily Ever After – Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 06: Embargoed Until Midnight – Challenger: Corrie Corfield
Day 07: He’s Making A List – Challenger: Mitch Benn
Day 08: Fingers On The Windowpane – Challenger: Leah Moore
Day 09: Santa Abduction Narratives Recalled – Challenger: Paul Cornell
Day 10: Copula Numb – Challenger: Kelly Sue De Connick
Day 11: It Lived Under Monday – Challenger: Sarah Pinborough

Edit to add: An ebook of all twelve stories is available for $0.99. Click here for details.


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

2013 has been a wonderful year for the many fans of Sarah Pinborough’s writing, including me. Glorious prose that grabs you and doesn’t let you go until you’ve found out what happens next. And her stories stay with you long after you’ve finished reading, percolating in your mind until they pop up, delightfully unexpectedly. I like her (and her writing) a lot.

It is not well known that Sarah once solved 16 Soduko puzzles simultaneously while blindfolded.

Title: It Lived Under Monday
Word: butterfly
Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Length: 200 words exactly

It lived under Monday, whatever It was;
It’d been there a very long time.
Eating away at the start of the week,
Dissolving the minutes with lime.

It arrived on Sunday, but quickly decided
The first day It didn’t like much,
And with butterfly whim, it fast looked around
For sustenance, comfort and such.

Saturday was not to Its taste,
Nor Friday; not at all to Its liking;
And Thursday was ‘manufactured’, It felt
Full of metal and plastic and piping.

It then spent a fortnight in Wednesday;
It thought that It might have found home.
But boredom with the middle day of the week
Occasioned It once more to roam.

Tuesday It liked, It actually liked.
It burrowed and set up Its den.
Then sighed at the inelegance of the name of the day
And eventually moved once again.

So It lived under Monday for many a year.
Millennia had gone past by now.
Since It created Its residence under the Day
And fed on each minute and hour.

There It stays all year, except for one day.
It journeys not far, never fear.
Just to whatever day Christmas is on.
Don’t you think it goes faster each year?

© Lee Barnett, 2013

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The Misanthropic Principle – challenger: Jamais Cascio
Day 02: Robot Ghosts of Apocalypse – challenger: Cherie Priest
Day 03: Every Word Is Wrong – challenger: Si Spurrier
Day 04: The Train Didn’t Come – Challenger: Emma Vieceli
Day 05: Living Happily Ever After – Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 06: Embargoed Until Midnight – Challenger: Corrie Corfield
Day 07: He’s Making A List – Challenger: Mitch Benn
Day 08: Fingers On The Windowpane – Challenger: Leah Moore
Day 09: Santa Abduction Narratives Recalled – Challenger: Paul Cornell
Day 10: Copula Numb – Challenger: Kelly Sue De Connick
Day 12: Batman Sure Likes Tea – Challenger: Tiernan Douieb

Edit to add: An ebook of all twelve stories is available for $0.99. Click here for details.


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Kelly Sue DeConnick writes comics that grab your heart and brain in equal measure, tell them to pay attention and assure them they’ll be rewarded. And they always are. I love how she tackles speech patterns and dialogues; you couldn’t confuse any of the characters in her stories for any others, and her skills grow with each book she writes. She’s another person I want to meet; not only to say thank you for her stories, but that’s a big part of it.

Kelly Sue DeConnick stores abandoned steam engines in her basement

Title: Copula Numb
Word: ortolan
Challenger: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Length: 200 words exactly

The thick nib obliterated today’s numbers on the cheap paper of the ortolan decorated calendar.

The morning ritual had commenced. Later would come exercise, leaping around in meaningless activity for the sake of meaningless routine.

Shortly before breakfast, she would hear measured steps, a slow, regular tread, followed by unconscious but resigned disappointment as he passed her door. No post today.

And there they were, she thought, sipping tepid blandness she’d obtained from a rusty tap. She heard footsteps approaching, then stop; the unmistakable sound of the flap opening, followed by something falling.

She’d expected nothing other than another day alone, no emotional linkage to anyone or anything

And yet, there it was on the floor: a square envelope undoubtedly containing a card of the season.

Someone remembered her; that suddenly mattered more than she’d realised. Somebody cared.

Unless they didn’t. Unless it was delivered in error, or was something everyone automatically got.

Genuine? False hope? Shrödinger’s card lie there, taunting her.

She stared at the envelope for a long time, wondering whether to open it, never knowing nor caring that the physical prison in which she was incarcerated could never match the psychological jail sentence she was currently serving.

© Lee Barnett, 2013

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The Misanthropic Principle – challenger: Jamais Cascio
Day 02: Robot Ghosts of Apocalypse – challenger: Cherie Priest
Day 03: Every Word Is Wrong – challenger: Si Spurrier
Day 04: The Train Didn’t Come – Challenger: Emma Vieceli
Day 05: Living Happily Ever After – Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 06: Embargoed Until Midnight – Challenger: Corrie Corfield
Day 07: He’s Making A List – Challenger: Mitch Benn
Day 08: Fingers On The Windowpane – Challenger: Leah Moore
Day 09: Santa Abduction Narratives Recalled – Challenger: Paul Cornell
Day 11: It Lived Under Monday – Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Day 12: Batman Sure Likes Tea – Challenger: Tiernan Douieb

Edit to add: An ebook of all twelve stories is available for $0.99. Click here for details.


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.

Paul Cornell is a writer of incredible talent, and it’s not limited to his works of fiction, superb though they are; his twelve days of blogging running up until Christmas are essential readings to understand the man, his writings and detailed thought processes. This man cares about story, and about so much more besides.

Paul Cornell spends every other Tuesday on the surface of Mars for unspecified reasons.

Title: Santa Abduction Narratives Recalled
Word: probe
Challenger: Paul Cornell
Length: 200 words exactly

Changelings maintain, you know, that ‘Santa’ arose after one of their kind replaced the original human; that a change of identity was required after his ‘demise’ and subsequent apotheosis.

When they are foolish enough to mention this in company, however, argument inevitably commences. The vampires stake, you’ll forgive the word, their own claim to Santa with, they argue, conclusive evidence: immortality, their history of identity appropriation, his only going out at night and then returning to slumber before daybreak, invitation into every residence; the mince pie myth, they insist, is a mistranslation of ‘sacrificial blood’ in an ancient, now unspoken, tongue.

Then The Ladies (never ‘witches’, if you value your sanity) and others put their cases before silence falls and they all look to the door, for a whole minute, waiting for Santa to appear, to lay the matter to rest.

He’s never there, of course. He allows their debates and superstitions, their fruitless attempts to probe and discover, smiling in the knowledge of a history they must never know, that he abducted each legend in turn to serve his own purposes.

That’s his present to them, you see. And Santa likes giving presents more than anything, including the truth…

© Lee Barnett, 2013

This story is part of The Twelve Days of Fast Fiction (More information on the Twelve Days here)
Day 01: The Misanthropic Principle – challenger: Jamais Cascio
Day 02: Robot Ghosts of Apocalypse – challenger: Cherie Priest
Day 03: Every Word Is Wrong – challenger: Si Spurrier
Day 04: The Train Didn’t Come – Challenger: Emma Vieceli
Day 05: Living Happily Ever After – Challenger: Neil Gaiman
Day 06: Embargoed Until Midnight – Challenger: Corrie Corfield
Day 07: He’s Making A List – Challenger: Mitch Benn
Day 08: Fingers On The Windowpane – Challenger: Leah Moore
Day 10: Copula Numb – Challenger: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Day 11: It Lived Under Monday – Challenger: Sarah Pinborough
Day 12: Batman Sure Likes Tea – Challenger: Tiernan Douieb

Edit to add: An ebook of all twelve stories is available for $0.99. Click here for details.


“There are two hundred stories collected in this volume. They are funny, they are thoughtful, they are romantic, they are frightening. To me, though, they are more than entertaining. They are inspiring.” – Wil Wheaton, from his introduction to volume 2 of The Fast Fiction Challenge

Two volumes of The Fast Fiction Challenge, containing 180 stories in Volume 1 and a further 200 stories in Volume 2, for £3.00 each, are available in ebook format from the author; email for details.