A couple of months’ back I was one of 1500 people to submit a story to Fortnum and Mason’s short story competition. I did not win (otherwise I wouldn’t be able to publish the story of my blog, duh), but I have learnt a valuable lesson: I am not a short fiction writer, and that’s OK. My shortest fiction is 1000-1200 words, which gives me enough space to explore the details I love and feel a sense of completion.
The prompt I chose was “On a cold autumn night, one of Britain’s smallest villages will become the country’s most infamous, with the perplexing disappearance of all its inhabitants”, which was linked to their whisky chocolate. Of course. Because of the requirement that the story started with the prompt, I had to edit the draft you find below into something I didn’t like much, and I already wasn’t very keen on the original story because I had a 500 words word-count and felt it ended abruptly, but I wasn’t too keen on removing what, in my opinion, makes something nice to read. So, yeah, I am not a short fiction person. Sorry. If you’d like to read the short story, though, here it is, with no words cut to fit an arbitrary number or anything.
“Prime Minister, I’ve been urged to deliver a letter” the staffer at Number 10 Downing Street looked panicked as he handed an unposted envelope, yellow with age, addressed to The Right Honourable Boris Johnson, MP. Curiosity crossed the man’s face at the sight, and he swiftly opened the missive: it was a letter in neat cursive dated 24th October 1820.”This is Sir Victor Humphrey. This letter will be reaching you 200 years into the future, as I left it in my will for it to be passed on in my family with the greatest care. This is the account of what happened on the 24th of October 2020, the night our village vanished into thin air…”
Sir Victor and Lady Humphrey were returning home from a concert when they felt the earth shaking beneath their feet, and darkness enveloped their surroundings for a little while. As the darkness dissipated, they saw the village in which they lived, but something didn’t seem quite right. The light of the moon and a rare lightened window was all the light they could see. At first, they thought it must have been a power outage, but the lamposts were not there, nor was the car they had just parked. Sir Victor was a man always in control (you don’t climb to the top of the civil service without that skill), but the situation perturbed him.
“Chocolate, dear?” asked his wife, opening her clutch bag to take out a bar of Beneath the Amber Moon. She always kept one at hand for those situations where you needed a pick me up, because nothing beats the blend of sweet and mellow milk chocolate and whisky at such times.
“I’ve often thought this habit of yours is rather outlandish, but I am grateful for it tonight” he savoured the bite, trying to make himself think straight. “It looks like the lights are on in the Andersons’ home, we should pay them a call”.Chief Constable Gavin Anderson and his wife Professor Lucy Anderson were the closest thing to a friend the couple had since retiring in the village. They were both sensible people, which pleased Sir Victor, and good company, which pleased his wife. If anyone could get to the bottom of these odd circumstances, it was them. “Chiara, Victor, do come in” Lucy greeted them with a somber face “this is the most astonishing thing I have ever witnessed. I was working late on my computer editing some papers and then it was all gone”. As the Humphreys sat on the sofa in the living room filled with candles, Gavin came downstairs in his dressing gown, brandishing a broadsheet larger than anything they had read in years: “The heated blanket is gone and the Earl of Liverpool hasn’t been the Prime Minister in 200 years, as much as he looked a bit like Boris. I don’t even think there is a living Earl of Liverpool”.
“There is” said Victor matter-of-factly “but I believe, as astounding as it sounds, that we are in 1820. Look at your hands” Gavin’s eyes turned to his hands almost automatically, not even registering the absurdity of the situation; Victor continued: “I don’t think whoever bought that paper pressed it first. The ink would be dry by now.”