Crazy Headlines

Sometimes the headline writers just get it wrong, with hilarious results.

Here are a few of my favourites:

Miners Refuse to Work after Death     Lazy bunch!

Sheffield Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide   No! Really!

Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says   I’ll say.

Iraqi Head Seeks Arms

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers     That should get rid of them.

Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted      Smack!

Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case        Tight fit.

Survivor of Siamese Twins Joins Parents          Revenge?

Prostitutes Appeal to Pope

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over   Above and beyond the call of duty.

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant      If that doesn’t work, string him up!

High School Drop-outs Cut in Half           Bit drastic!

Two Sisters Reunited After 18 Years in Checkout Counter    Damn, and I thought my local Tesco’s was slow.

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges     Wow, gotta get me some of that stuff.

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks    I still prefer a Mars bar


Sorrow Point

A spooky little tale.




Sorrow Point

By John S Alty

Sheet lightning bloomed inside the bank of clouds on the horizon and Aaron knew there’d be a storm before nightfall. On the bayou, flooded cypress stumps threw long shadows like gnarled fingers towards the east. The only sounds were the rhythmic dipping of his paddle, the rustle of leaves in the slight breeze and the occasional slap and roil of a feeding bass. He nudged the pirogue up against a spit of solid ground and stepped ashore. A grey heron barked its indignation and lifted off.

It was one of many shacks in the vast swamp, crude structures erected by fishermen who came for the catfish and bass; it would provide shelter from the gathering storm. Shutters were lowered over the un-glazed windows but the door was open. Aaron could make out a plank table, two chairs and a single bed frame with no mattress, a dirt floor littered with crushed fast-food cartons, rusty cans, yellowing paper.

Darkness had fallen quickly but lightning lit the shack, shadows danced on the clapboard walls and the thunder rolled. A fetid smell faded in and out as though there was something rotting nearby and the breeze was wafting it around. Aaron tried to push open a shutter but the rusted hinges and catches defeated him.

Something about the bed frame caught his attention and he went over to it. Clipped to the rails at each end of the bed were handcuffs. The bare boards under the bed and the wall beside it were stained black. Aaron sensed a presence; he stepped away from the bed, eyes darting, nostrils tightened against the smell and his hand felt for the comfort of the filleting knife on his belt. A figure appeared in the doorway; a tall man wearing a rain slicker, water dripping off the brim of his steel safety helmet, his face in shadow. Lightning flashed and Aaron glimpsed an expression of deep melancholy, of utter despair.

Then the figure was gone and Aaron lurched to the doorway and ran for the pirogue. By the time he got to the Fin ‘n Fur it was nearly midnight but the bar was still open; a couple of diehards nursed shot glasses and the owner sat behind the till reading a newspaper.

“Gimme a whiskey, Pete.”

“Hey, Aaron, you OK?” He lifted a bottle of bourbon and poured. “You don’t look so good.”

Aaron took the glass in both hands and drank half its contents, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“I pulled into Sorrow Point before the storm hit, sheltered in an old shack. Weird shit goin’ on, really spooked me.”

“There ain’t no shack on Sorrow Point, you got yourself turned around somehow.”

Aaron took a folded chart from inside his jacket, laid it on the counter, stabbed at it. “That’s Sorrow Point, right?”

“That’s Sorrow Point but there’s no shack there. The only thing at Sorrow Point these days is a memorial to Lizzie Blackmore.”

“The shack was there, dammit.” The drinkers looked up and Aaron lowered his voice to an urgent whisper. “I was in the fuckin’ thing, and…” He shuddered.

“Look, young Lizzie lived with her papa, he was a roughneck on the oil rigs. When she didn’t get home after school he figured she was with a friend but when it got real late he called the Sheriff. First light they organised a search. Me and a couple guys took the swamp east of here, checking the fishing shacks. We found her in the one on Sorrow Point, handcuffed to a bed. I ain’t gonna tell you what was done to her but it was bad. And the smell; I’ll never forget it.”

“But you said there was no shack…” said Aaron, but Pete held up a hand and went on,

“I got some guys together and we went out there and took that shack to pieces, carted it away. Lizzie’s papa built a monument of stones. A month later he fell to his death from the drill floor of the rig. I don’t know where you were tonight, Aaron, but there ain’t no shack on Sorrow Point.”

Den of Writers

Well, The Word Cloud has bitten the dust. For some times its demise has been predicted and now it’s gone. The problem wasn’t lack of interest but dodgy hosting.

Now the good news – from the ashes of The Word Cloud has risen a new forum – The Den of Writers. Many of the Cloudies have taken up residence there, along with a lot of new faces. It has all the good stuff from the Cloud – Chat, critiques, competition and so on.

Why not join in the fun?

They lied


This is the winning entry in the Word Cloud July 2018 flash fiction competition. The brief was to write about a severe weather event that leads to a discovery – I think she nailed it:

They said we were the lucky ones. They lied. The lucky ones were those we lost on Day One, the day the supervolcano ripped the seams of the world apart. The day the rest of us were condemned to death in slow motion, defenceless against the icy temperatures that crept across continents and horrified in our hopelessness as we watched the earth stutter and fail.

At first, we waited. Waited, child-like, for those who could tell us when normal service would be restored. Waited until the golden haloes of sunlight we depended on faded until light no longer filtered through the layers of pyroclastic cloud. Waited even as we were cast into perpetual shadow. Midday became a memory when everything was twilight.

Leaden grey skies blended with bleak grey buildings and hunched grey people stumbled through invisible grey streets searching for hope. There was none.

Silence enveloped the world. The echoes of our dying planet hung suspended in an atmosphere of decay, and the insidious scent of death permeated everything. Ash and acid rain fell steadily, laying waste to the plant life and contaminating our drinking water. With no alternative, we poisoned ourselves with every mouthful. Mountains wept in cascades of rust-red and silver, and the wind carried Nature’s song of mourning until it too, died.

We sleepwalked through an existence like the state between sleep and wakefulness until each time we slept it was in the hope that there would be no awake.

They said this was the worst natural disaster the world had ever known, but they lied about that too. Nature had nothing to do with it.

Safe in their underground haven with no world left to govern, only they know what did.

By Gail

Writing; a bit like sailing

Sailors will tell you making progress in any direction is better than making no progress at all. That’s a lesson for the frustrated writer if ever there was one. Keep going, no written words are ever wasted.

On a yacht we can’t sail directly into the wind so we head off in a direction we can make, sails tightened-in as far as they’ll go. Then we tack and then we tack again, and again. By means of this zigzagging course we make progress towards our upwind destination, impossible as it might seem.

Sometimes there’s a tidal current running against us and this means we might actually make negative progress; we’re creeping towards our goal but the water we’re sailing on is moving away from it. But the experienced sailor knows this is only a temporary setback, the tide will eventually turn, then we’ll have it pushing us towards our goal.

Just like writing, isn’t it? Some days you have the wind on your beam, you can’t do a thing wrong, a couple of thousand words of scintillating prose pour onto the page. Yipee! Another day the wind is on the nose and you toil for hours but end up with nary a word writ.

Think like a sailor. Any progress is good and it’s the average progress over time that matters. At times you surge forward effortlessly, at others you fight an upwind battle against mighty waves and ferocious winds.

And sometimes you leave the boat at the dock and go and do something else.


If you’re one of the lucky few to have read my memoir you’ll know I was sent to Peshawar, in the northwest frontier region of Pakistan, to start up a new flour mill. I was a very young and still wet behind the ears engineer dropped in at the deep end. I was there for three months and it was a fascinating experience. Here’s my first trip to downtown Peshawar, it was 1970:

I was driven into downtown Peshawar by Salahuddin in the mill Land Rover. The city centre had a decrepit and rather chaotic feel to it. Many of the old buildings were of unbaked brick with intricately carved wooden window frames, doorways and balconies but it seemed as though these were being demolished to make way for characterless and poorly built modern concrete structures.

Crowds of people filled the pavements, the men in their pyjama-like loose trousers and shirts, the women uniformly anonymous, covered from head to foot in blue or black burqas, peering out at the world through mesh-covered peep holes. The dusty roads carried handcarts and donkey carts and old diesel trucks belching fumes. The shops in the bazaar sold leather goods such as Peshwari sandals, belts, holsters and bandoliers, there were colourful mountains of fruit, piles of exotic eastern spices and bolts of material in every hue.

The slight breeze carried the aroma of wood smoke from the small bakeries turning out coarse chapattis. Goat carcasses hung from steel hooks outside the butcher’s shop, the proprietor occasionally flicking a whisk to momentarily interrupt the gorging of the black flies which encased them. Men squatted in groups drinking green tea, smoking and chatting, their eyes following me as I strolled by, an alien interloper in downtown Peshawar.

(The pictures aren’t mine but they’re from that time)





Don’t you just love coincidences? That little shudder, the little frisson of surprise.

People who buy a lottery ticket are anticipating a coincidence – that the numbers they select will be the same ones chosen by a machine a few days later. The chances of that happening are incredibly small – in fact one in 14 million in the UK.

At the other end of the scale of coincidences would be meeting someone with the same name as you, wearing the same shirt as the bloke next to you in a restaurant, a car number plate one digit away from your own. That sort of thing.

Last week, Wednesday, I finished a piece of flash fiction in which the main character was called Aaron and he was the victim of a tornado which destroyed his farmhouse. My short fiction MC is usually called Adam but I changed it to Aaron, Adam didn’t seem quite right. Anyway, on Thursday I did the Times quick cryptic crossword puzzle, I do it most days. The answer to 6 down was tornado and to 10 across it was Aaron. The two clues formed a neat crucifix. Ooh, that is weird!

Anyone know what the chances of that happening are?

Five-man pedersen

This is an object of art. It could also be an answer to the low-cost transport aspirations of a family of five.

It was made by Simon Starling and it’s called “Five-man pedersen.”

I photographed it at the Tate Modern in Liverpool.