PR Failure

Lilac Breasted Roller by Nigel Whitehead lunasonline
Lilac Breasted Roller ©Nigel Whitehead

“It had all been going so well,” said the Lilac Breasted Roller to his mate. “Everyone thought we were the National Bird of Botswana. Even though there’d never actually been one.” The bright coloured little bird sighed heavily. “It was such a PR triumph just letting all those safari visitors think that.”

“I know,” replied the female. Her wings drooped.

“But now the Kori Bustard’s been given the title. It’s official.”

“That bird’s not nearly as pretty and charming as us,” she said flapping her bright turquoise wings.

The male sighed again. “You may as well close our Twitter account.”

©2018 Chris Hall

Kori Bustard
Kori Bustard ©Jody de Bruyn




Log jam

log jam lunasonline

From my Flash Fiction Collection

‘Okay lads, let’s get going, the tide’s turning.’ The foreman shouted to the gang of stevedores standing at the quayside. The log vessel was docking. Ropes were thrown and secured to the moorings; shouts were exchanged between the men.

Young Eddie Stevens entered the cargo hold immediately it was opened. Jimmy McCabe was right behind him. ‘Wait, Eddie. We need to get the ropes,’ shouted Jimmy. Too late, Eddie was already scrambling over the slippery stripped logs. He lost his footing and, as the logs turned in on themselves, Eddie was sucked down like a towel in a mangle.

Jimmy tied a rope around his waist, throwing the other end to Joe Taylor. He scrambled to where Eddie had been swallowed up. Glancing behind him he eased himself down. The hold was deep and dark. The air felt thick. He called out to Eddie. No response.

Jimmy twisted and turned through the narrow spaces between the logs. His chest was tightening; his head began to pound. He reached out again and felt something yielding. It was Eddie’s arm. He felt around; found his face, soft like a baby’s. He wasn’t breathing. Jimmy clung on to him. His brain seemed too big for his skull. Jimmy closed his eyes in the dark, warm womb of the hold. His last thought was of his pretty young wife, Marie, his little son and the child Marie was carrying.


Marie looked at the clock; half past five. She looked down, Jimmy Junior was playing on the floor with the shiny Dinky cars which Jimmy had brought home for him a week ago. Marie smiled and rubbed her back. She was eight months gone with a little brother or sister for Jimmy Junior. She sat down, sighed and murmured happily, ‘Daddy’ll be home soon.’

©2018 Chris Hall

Do writers really go on holiday?

Do writers really go on holiday
©Island Safari Lodge, Maun

Well, this one does! Or rather, I’m going away from home – just for a week – to somewhere new and exciting.

Tomorrow we fly to Botswana, to Maun by the Okavango Delta. A rather different part of Africa from where we now call home (Somerset West in South Africa). More like ‘wild’ Africa.

I’ve scheduled a couple of posts but my laptop is staying at home, so back to pen and notebook. Will there be scary, dark stories? Will there be animal adventures and tall tales set in the bush?

Time will tell. But be assured, I’ll be writing!

The Beautiful Game?

The Beautiful Game picture by Dermot Carlin lunasonline
Photo by Dermot Carlin

She’s put out the snacks and brought his beer, chilled, in his special glass (one of them). More beers are in the fridge; she has a pie ready to warm for half-time – steak and kidney – his preferred.

Pre-match build up: pundits pontificate; re-runs, highlights, triumphs and near misses. There is success and then there is shame. Which will it be today? National Pride is at stake, for this is the World Cup.

As she sits, small and submissive on the far end of the couch, she plays a different commentary in her head. Missed penalties, own goals, bad decisions by the ref. The repercussions: cuts and bruises (hers); failure on the field reflected in domestic disappointment.

Predictions are favourable. The odds of a positive outcome are weighed in favour. She weighs up her own odds: win or draw 20 per cent, lose 50 per cent (the chances of a beating).

©2018 Chris Hall

Incidents of domestic violence rise significantly during the World Cup

Little Malice 2

Little Malice 2 lunasonline credit Art Wolfe-Science Source
Source: Art Wolfe/Science Source

She’d taken a dislike to me, made that doll-thing with the pins stuck in it. I stole it from her house while she was out, but she saw me on the way back. She knew.

I tried to make one of her, as a precaution; sure she’d make another one of me. But I couldn’t get the likeness. She didn’t though. Those pains never returned; the ones from the pins. Just that sick feeling whenever something reminded me of it.

Folk in the village cottoned on; others had suffered too. I never said much; smiled, nodded and moved on.

The following spring, I was visited by a crow. He sat on my washing line and looked at me, his head on one side. He came every day. I fed him titbits; told him my troubles.

Other people had crows visit too; the ones who’d fallen out with her.

One spring day more arrived. First a couple; one alighted on the church spire, the other on the maypole – mine, I thought. More came, settling on her roof, on window ledges and door frames, covering the house in a black shroud.

Folk gathered on the village green. Windows cracked, wood splintered. No-one went to her aid. We drifted back to our houses.

Night fell.

In the morning, they’d gone. The little house had been stripped bare. The small, stooped skeleton pecked clean inside.

Some called it a murder of crows. I called it revenge.

©2018 Chris Hall




The Chosen One

The Chosen One lunasonline

From my Flash Fiction collection

Moonlight shimmers on Jenny’s dress. It is the winter solstice and the night is clear, the bright white moon surrounded by velvet blackness.  Jenny is the Chosen One. Her long golden hair crowned with a mistletoe and ivy garland cascades over her shoulders. Tall and slim, she holds the silver chalice aloft

She must be so cold, Cal thinks.

The villagers stand in a circle holding blazing torches, their faces reflected oddly in the flickering flames. The priest throws back his head and starts to chant. The gathering echoes his words of power. The spell reaches a climax and suddenly there is silence. Jenny puts the chalice to her lips and drinks. It falls to the floor and rolls away as the trance takes hold of her.

The chalice stops at the edge of the circle by Cal’s feet. He picks it up feeling the warmth where his sister had held it.

The priest lifts Jenny onto the stone table. A woman comes forward and takes the garland from her hair, replacing it with a delicate silver circlet. The priest starts to chant again and the woman returns to the circle. The transformation is about to begin.

As the villagers depart, Cal slips away and hides behind the old oak tree. He watches as the priest raises his arms and performs a final incantation before following the line of villagers back down to the valley.

Jenny is alone on the hilltop now. Cal shivers although he is dressed in his warmest clothes.  How can Jenny stand this?

Something rustles in the undergrowth beside him. Cal looks down. A small furry creature looks up at him with bright black eyes. More rustling: a rabbit, now a fox and a fawn.  Forest animals gather around the stone table. The smallest ones climb up and nuzzle up to Jenny. Soon she is covered by a living blanket of fur.

Out of nowhere, thunder; sounding like galloping horses. The noise reverberates around the hilltop. Clouds cover the moon. Cal cowers.

Then a column of the brightest light that Cal has ever seen strikes the hilltop. The creatures scatter leaving Jenny exposed on the stone table. The beam glows and throbs, alive with energy. Cal watches open-mouthed as Jenny’s body is lifted up.

The transformation, Cal thinks. No one has ever witnessed this.

*          *           *

The following morning the priest walks up the hill to bring back the Chosen One. As he looks around to check he is alone he notices something at the foot of the old oak tree. He hurries over. It is the boy, Cal, who picked up the chalice last night. The chalice is still clutched in his hand, but the body is lifeless. The priest shakes his head.

He walks over to the table. The girl is sleeping peacefully, covered in a shiny silver blanket. As he removes the strange material, she stirs and opens her eyes. Bright turquoise: the transformation is complete.  She is truly the Chosen One.

©2018 Chris Hall

Brief Encounter

Steenbok ©2015 Nigel Whitehead On Safari Wildlife Photography

From my Flash Fiction collection

The sun is low in the sky, but the baked-on heat of the day throbs out of the concrete stoep.  The bush sings with insects.  I sip my sundowner slowly, the sharp, grassy taste lingering on my tongue, the liquid cool in my throat.  Condensation beads on the glass and drips drops of fine rain on my bare knees.  Wood-smoke from someone’s early evening braai wrinkles my nose.

The thicket rustles and a tiny antelope appears in the small clearing beyond the stoep.  He sees me and freezes.  I keep still-still not wanting to frighten him.  We stare at each other.  I hardly dare breathe.  He is so close, so wild and timid.  Motionless, our eyes locked together, a minute passes, two…

‘Top up?’ a large hand holding a green bottle accompanies the question.  The little animal starts and skips off into the bush.  The spell is broken.

©2018 Chris Hall

Trading Places

Trading Places lunasonline

From my Flash Fiction collection

John stared at the spreadsheet in disbelief. He placed the sheet inside the file in front of him carefully and looked across the desk at James, his finance director. The man opposite him shifted uncomfortably in his seat and adjusted his tie.

‘It’s…it’s…’ the man stammered, fidgeting desperately with his fountain pen.

‘It’s a total disaster,’ said John quietly. ‘How have you allowed this to happen?’

‘There was a problem with one of the traders were using. It seems that he has been siphoning off large amounts of cash, investing them in high risk stocks in the hope of covering up…’

‘What trader?’ John interrupted.

‘Well, I’m sorry to tell you, but it’s Jeremy.’

‘Old Northrop’s son?’

‘Yes sir, that’s the one.’

‘I don’t believe it,’ John said, shaking his head. ‘Such a bright boy, impeccable credentials and all that…’ John frowned. ‘Does Northrop know?’

‘No-one’s been able to get hold of either of them, apparently.’

‘Apparently? Have you tried to reach him yourself?’ John put his hand out for his phone.

‘Yes, of course, sir. I even tried his wife at home. She’s in a terrible state.’

‘I imagine so,’ said John slowly. Picking up the receiver, he started to dial but then thought better of it and pushed the phone aside. ‘Okay, James, will you contact the relevant authorities.’

‘Already done, sir.’

‘Very well, James, see what you can do in terms of damage limitation.’

‘I’m sorry, sir. The way Jeremy was working, well it was clever, but of course it was unsustainable and when…’

John held up his hand. ‘Stop. I don’t need apologies or explanations. What’s done is done. We all need to work out a way forward.’ John looked down at the papers on his desk. ‘Thank you, James,’ he said without looking up.

James hurried out of the room, closing the door behind him. He strode along the plush office corridor and pressed the upward call button for the lift.

John got up and crossed the thick pile carpet to the floor to ceiling window behind his polished mahogany desk. From 22 floors up the view over the Thames was spectacular. He picked out the office blocks and apartment buildings in which he had invested: the banks, the investment houses and the post-modernist stock exchange building all of which were, or had been, the bedrock of his life. Sunlight sparkled on the river hiding its murky depths and reflecting the imposing buildings which lined its banks representing the city of London’s success.

John too reflected. He had spent so much of his life building up his fortune. He had hardly seen his children as they grew up. Of course they had been sent to the best schools and colleges and enjoyed expensive and exotic vacations, from which John had been largely absent. But nevertheless, he had ensured that while they wanted for nothing, they had not spoilt them in the same way as some rich fathers had. They never were simply given handouts, in some way or another they had had to earn their privileges. Both had taken what John considered unusual careers; his son, a semi-successful sculptor and his daughter a member of the Covent Garden ballet company. He was proud that they did not rely on his money; they had made their own way in the world.

He thought about his ex-wife, who had played her supporting role to him so successfully in the early years. But when the children flew the nest, so had she. He had let her go. He supposed he should have fought harder, but in the end Sylvia had accepted a modest settlement from him and went off to California to join an artists’ commune.

And so, here he was John Sutherland; his investment business all but ruined by the shiny bright son of an old friend. On a personal level the situation was survivable. He still had bricks and mortar assets he could sell. He didn’t need his country house, his New York apartment or his share in the Caribbean resort. Maybe it was time to embrace a simpler life.

John turned away from the window and plucked his jacket from the coat stand. He checked his pocket for his car keys and headed for the lift.

Five minutes later John was easing his silver Audi out of the underground car park and into the early afternoon traffic. He switched the car radio on, drowning out the impatient hooting of the taxi behind him.

Had John lingered over his spectacular view just a little longer, he would have seen James Springer, his finance director, as he plummeted past his office window on the way down from the roof.

On the radio Seasick Steve was singing, ‘I started out with nothing and I still most of it left.’  John was smiling as he tapped the steering wheel in time to the song.

©2018 Chris Hall


Transmoggified lunasonline

Susan sat back and admired the trunk, now in place under the living room window. It had been a chance find in the local junk shop, but just the thing she had been looking for. It had been a bargain too, as the shop keeper had no key for the complicated looking lock and since she wouldn’t be able to store anything in it he dropped the price for her.

Susan’s ginger cat, Bertie had followed her indoors as she lugged the trunk from the car. He leapt onto the dining table to watch as she rearranged the sitting room furniture to accommodate the new object. When she was satisfied with the new arrangement, Susan placed a large vase with two wooden bowls on either on top of the closed lid.

Bertie jumped off the table and approached the trunk cautiously. He sniffed around the base and rubbed his face on the corners. He prodded the iron work lock with an inquisitive paw then sat back on his haunches observing the trunk intently.

Susan sat on the edge of the couch watching him. Bertie tilted his head to one side as if considering something, then mind made up he jumped into the top of the trunk. The vase wobbled as Bertie crouched down between it and the bowl next to it. He peered down the back of the trunk. Then he stood up and moved to the other side of the vase. He turned round and crouched down again staring at the lock on the front of the truck. He reached down with his paw and prodded the lock. Then he jumped down and started to attack the lock from the front.

Susan knelt down next to Bertie, who was now clawing frantically at the lock. “What are you doing, Bertie?” Susan said to the cat, gently pulling him away. Bertie let out a low growl and lashed out at her. She let go of him but not before his unsheathed claws scratched the back of her hand. “Hey,” she exclaimed. “What was that for?”

But Bertie had resumed his assault on the lock. He had both front paws on the top of the lock and was pulling with all his might. Susan could see the muscles in his back straining. There was a loud click. The lock opened and the lid of the trunk sprung up. Bertie fell back, but immediately righted himself. Susan just managed to catch the vase before it tipped over. The two bowls rolled onto the floor, where they clattered on the tiles until they came to rest.

Susan set the vase down and pushed the lid back. She and Bertie peered into the trunk.  It was filled with embroidered fabric which was faded with age. Bertie jumped inside and began pawing amongst the material. Susan reached in and drew the nearest piece aside to reveal one end of a tightly wrapped package. Bertie turned to face the object, back arched. Susan gently pulled back the rest of the coverings.

The package was about 18 inches long. It was bound in strips of what looked like linen in an elaborate crisscross pattern and it had.., “Oh,” Susan gasped, the head of a cat. Susan picked it up gingerly and laid it on the floor. Bertie snaked his way out of the trunk and sniffed at the object.

“I think it’s a mummy, Bertie,” Susan touched its face gently.

Bertie hunkered down on the floor next to the cat mummy, his chin resting on his outstretched paws. Susan stood up wondering what to do with their find. It gave her a vaguely uneasy feeling. Bertie seemed transfixed.

Bertie continued his vigil for the rest of the day. Susan left him to it. She had a report to complete.

Later when Susan was preparing for bed, Bertie was nowhere to be found, which was unusual for him. She opened the back door and called to him, rattling the box of Cat Crunchies loudly, but even this failed to solicit a response. She sighed, locked the back door and went into the sitting room. She picked the cat mummy up from the floor, looked at it for a moment and laid it back in the trunk, closing the lid carefully.

Morning came and there was still no sign of Bertie. Susan had had a troubled night. Fragments of her dreams came back to her, convincing her that the mummy had to go. The obvious place that occurred to Susan was the British Museum, which fortunately was only a couple of tube rides away.

Susan took the cat mummy out of the trunk and wrapped it in one of the pieces of embroidered cloth. She laid it aside while she checked the trunk for any other objects, but there was none. Putting the mummy in a Tesco bag seemed disrespectful, so Susan took her small haversack instead. Fortunately the mummy just fit. It wouldn’t do to cross London with the cat’s head poking out of the top, Susan thought, smiling wryly to herself.

It was almost 10 o’clock when Susan arrived at the grand entrance to the British Museum which was flanked by a row of thick Grecian columns running the length of the frontage at the top of the wide stone steps. As Susan approached the building, she glanced to her left where a woman was singing in a lilting voice.

The woman was singing to a row of seven or eight cats which were lined up on the low wall at the side of the entrance. In the centre of the row was a ginger cat which looked very like Bertie. She took a few steps towards the wall. It was Bertie! What on earth was he doing here?

She hurried forward and then paused. The woman stopped singing and came towards her. None of the cats moved.

“One of them’s yours,” the woman announced.

“Bertie,” said Susan, holding out her hand to him. Bertie didn’t move. He stared right through her as if she wasn’t there. She turned to the woman.

“He’s become a Trapped Cat,” she said, nodding gravely.

“A Trapped Cat? What are you talking about?”

“You have the answer in that bag of yours,” the woman gestured to the haversack. “Clever girl, you’ve done the right thing.”

Susan frowned, “I don’t understand.”

“You have a little trapped soul there in your bag and it won’t release Bertie until it’s been freed. Take it in and ask for Mr. Jeffries, he’ll tell you what to do.” Susan looked at Bertie. “Don’t worry, luvvy. He’ll be fine here with me.”

An hour later Susan emerged. She walked over to the wall were the woman was holding Bertie in her arms. Susan opened the empty haversack and the woman lowered Bertie into the bag. Susan patted something in her coat pocket and smiled at the woman, who nodded back.

Susan made the journey home all the time carefully cradling the haversack in her arms. Bertie remained silent and unmoving. She helped him out of the haversack and laid him on the couch beside her. All she could do was wait.

At the stroke of midnight Susan was in her back garden next to a small hole which she had dug in the flower bed earlier that evening. She took the package she’d been given by Mr. Jeffries and placed it carefully in the hole. She pronounced the guttural sounding words which he had made her memorise, then she filled the hole in. She stood for a moment, contemplating. Then she turned to see Bertie gazing at her from the kitchen door. He meowed loudly and trotted towards her. She picked him up and carried him inside.

©2018 Chris Hall

Games Aliens Play

you wine

Probe Agents Delta-Zero-Four and Beta-Two-Two were waiting for the next batch of human minds to be loaded for processing. Something had gone wrong with the scanner and their monitors were blank. Delta-Zero-Four was idly picking at her front claws while Beta-Two-Two was playing a game on his cellphone, his forked tongue curled around his upper lip as he concentrated. The phone was emitting a series of beeps and whoops interspersed with the sounds of gunfire and explosions.

“What’s that you’re playing, Beta-Two-Two?” asked Delta-Zero-Four.

“Mmm?” said her colleague, jabbing away at the screen with his manicured claws.

“What’re you playing?” she asked again, peering over the divider which separated their desks.

There was another rattle of gunfire and a flash of light from the screen of the phone. A cry of jubilation escaped Beta-Two-Two’s leathery lips. “Gotcha!”

The four operatives at the next bank of desks looked round at him and scowled.

“Show me?” wheedled Delta-Zero-Four.

Beta-Two-Two looked up. “Okay, bring your chair around here.”

Delta-Zero-Four hooked her tail over the back of her chair and propelled it round the desk on its castors with her broad scaly feet.

“Look,” he said, showing her the screen. “It’s the new Live-Game from BlatherTech, and it’s set here on Earth. It has awesome graphics!” Delta-Zero-Four nodded. “It uses live feed of actual human beings.” His claws tapped busily on the screen. “Here have a go.”

Beta-Two-Two handed her his phone. She studied the screen. The game was called ‘Fight your way to the top.’ There followed a series of instructions on the levels of play and the points.

Beta-Two-Two watched as Delta-Zero-Four made a few moves before selecting a target and firing a rocket launcher at the doors of Bankalot on Wall Street. ‘200 points’ flashed on the corner of the screen. She trashed the security desk with a couple of hand grenades and picked off a mixed group of secretarial staff and junior traders on the way to the elevator. The score climbed to 1000 points. Bursting through double doors on the fifth floor, Delta-Zero-Four pressed ahead, felling a handful of middle managers and a post-boy, who appeared out of a side office right on the edge of the screen (2500 points). Following the signs, she paused at the doors of the boardroom while she scooped up some passing ammunition, then she let loose with a pair of automatic pistols. The glass doors shattered and she strode into the room. Delta-Zero-Four sprayed bullets around the table. Spot bonuses of 500 points flashed up on the screen as she took out assorted senior executives including the Finance Director and the COO. Both guns flashed up as empty, but Delta-Zero-Four had collected a Smith and Wesson pistol on the way out of the elevator. She aimed and fired, hitting the man sitting at the head of the table between the eyes. The phone made a series of excited beeps and a message flashed up. CEO down! Score 10,000 points. Click to play again.

©2018 Chris Hall