Cook’s Matches, Lentils, and Sofa Stuffing | Short Story

A yellow box of cook's brand matches, lying open on a white background

Siren’s wail and loudspeaker’s bark are dampened as Adam closes the door against the night. One, two, three padlocks go on. Two deadbolts scrape across the pitted iron of the doorframe. The smell of the flat welcomes him home – mildew and rusty water.

Adam lights a candle using the box of Cook’s matches. A man at the food line had told him that, pound-for-pound, matches were now worth more than gold. The expectation had been that Adam would have been impressed, or even disbelieving, but who had use for gold anymore?

The candle is placed atop the cardboard box that serves as a table, and Adam uses its guttering light to place plywood over kitchenette and bedroom windows. It doesn’t stop the wind whistling through the blown insulation, but it might persuade the after-darkers to move on to the next house. The next target.

A guttering candle on a dark background

A dinner of cold lentils, soaked all day, is eaten. Adam’s eyes never leave the guttering, tremulous flame. The wax is cheap. It runs down the sides of the candle and pools, translucent, on the cardboard. The candle occasionally pops and fizzes as it burns, like fireworks.

Adam glances covetously at the book he is halfway through, but he knows he cannot spare the wax. Licking the tips of his thumb and forefinger, he pauses, and then pinches the flame out. The lumpen, darken shapes that he knows so well immediately rush into the grey. The sofa, stuffing removed to supplement his duvet. The bank of bottled water that has to last until spring. The squat radio in the corner – his one link with what now passes for civilisation. Adam only switches on at 5pm Sunday for the emergency broadcast.

It was alright, he thought, picking a lentil from between his teeth. The Prime Minister’s budget would get people working again.

*Thanks for reading, folks. Images courtesy of Flickr and Wikipedia. My recent short stories include ‘Snatched‘ and ‘A Kind of Magic‘.


Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, Best MicroFiction 2021, Writer’s Egg, Idle Ink, The Wild Word, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0

Snatched | Short Story

Moving across a room is more of a challenge than it used to be. Mark has given up waiting for his sea legs – landlubber ones will have to do. He opens the door to find the first mate about to knock again. The man doesn’t even bother to sneer at Mark’s seasickness anymore.

                ‘We’re here.’ The man looks warily at Mark as though worried he might shortly be wearing his guest’s breakfast. ‘Although why anyone would want to be is another matter.’

Mark nods and begins to follow the sailor up the narrow corridor, arms braced against the corridor walls like a drunkard. His lifejacket puffs up in front of him ridiculously, and the first mate opens the door at the end of the passage for him.

The wind, whose fingers had already been tendrilling through the broken seals in the door, seizes the opportunity and heaves through the doorframe, salt-spittle-flecked and cold. The first mate does not waste any more words in the squall. He mimes that Mark should remain clipped in whilst on deck, and through a wagging finger the fact that no-one will be coming after him if he does go overboard. Mark nods and clips in.

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The Road | Short Story

Beginnings everywhere, like tributaries. The barely-there footpaths over the needled forest floor, the slightest heelprint in the wet sand moments before the tide arrives. Beginnings everywhere, and nowhere.

The path begins to become more cultured, more knowable. Towpaths trail obediently canalside. Lines of scree wind up Bens Lomond, Vane, Ime, slowing only to slip underneath footworn styles or to dip beneath the scurried, hurried surfaces of highland burns.

Soon, the little country lanes with thick, sunblock hedgerows, honeysuckle woven over the threads of sunlight that have made their way through. The pitch-dark laybys overhung with blackberries and sloes, indigo fruits on an indigo road under an indigo sky.

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A Spaceman Came Travelling | Short Story

Morning folks,

I’ve been lucky enough to have a short story picked up by Idle Ink. ‘A Spaceman Came Travelling’ is an odd little piece that went through several iterations in my head before eventually making its way onto laptop screen. I’m not sure it fits comfortably in any particular genre, but I’m reasonably pleased with how it turned out.

Read it here.

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Water Memory | Short Story

They say that the Pacific has no memory. Whoever they are, they say this in such a way as to invoke images of old men looking wistfully across sun-beaten bays, and of winsome young girls with sea-grey eyes walking on beaches, their shoes dangling from one hand. What is says to us, to my brethren and I, is that the Pacific is a body of water in its dotage.

Subject to vicious mood swings? Sure.

Hiding her fair share of secrets? What grand old lady isn’t?

Where I’m from, memory is muscle. Without it we are formless, foetid water, stilled in a dip in the ground.

We provincial rivers remember. We remember the low-lying expanse of flood plain waiting to be crept across. We remember the imperceptible shift in the levee during the last spell in spate, the fingertip journey through crowded gabion.

To rely upon brute distance a la Point Nemo is clumsy – girth is no guarantor of fear. I have people looking up at bruised, pregnant skies with fear written large on their faces. Villagers listen to the thrumming on their roofs whilst in their minds already clambering on to those same roofs. My tributaries of threat steal across minds like capillaries over brains.

The river has burst its banks trills some bedraggled reporter, her umbrella tugging at her hand. Surely your forebears taught you that I have no banks, no boundaries. I wend my way through rock and soil as I will, as I have willed since the crushing darkness of mile-thick ice carved out the routes I follow still. Memories are made this way.

*Thanks for reading, folks. Image courtesy of Piqsels. Recent stories of mine include ‘Something Borrowed, Something New‘ and ‘Alder, Beech, Hawthorn, and Hazel‘.


Matthew Richardson is a writer of short stories. His work has featured in Gold Dust magazine, Literally Stories, Close to the Bone, McStorytellers, Penny Shorts, Soft Cartel, Whatever Keeps the Lights On, Flashback Fiction, Cafelit, Best MicroFiction 2021, Writer’s Egg, and Shooter magazine. He is a doctoral student at the University of Dundee, a lucky husband, and a proud father. He blogs at www.matthewjrichardson.com and tweets at https://twitter.com/mjrichardso0

Something Borrowed, Something New | Short Story

Thimbles are old hat. As are hatpins, come to that.

We don’t skirt along wainscots anymore – linoleum and robot vacuum cleaners have made that too dangerous. Nor do we abseil down curtains – blinds are not nearly so conducive to a silent descent. And the pets…People still talk about Eggletina having been eaten by a cat, a story whose horror is not in any way reduced by its being apocryphal, but in modern Borrower life the Human Beans are far more eclectic in their tastes. Ferrets, parrots, tarantulas…my cousin Dimmer swears he had to squeeze through a letter box brush to escape a fucking micro pig. These days it is ventilation grilles, wood burners, and shimmying down USB cables.

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The Inn at Lettaford | Short Story

The residents of Lettaford are thin-lipped and watchful. Some put it down to the hamlet’s isolated position on the edge of Dartmoor. Others say that the place was borne from the people and that there’s nowt as queer as folk.

One thing everyone agrees on is that the moor is a dangerous place. Mists eddy and creep over the hillocks and streams and do strange things to people’s sense of direction. Rowan and Willow root wind underneath the peat and the heather.

When travellers stop by the low-slung inn, mauve smoke curling from the chimney, the villagers warn them not to set foot upon the moor, no matter how clear the path may seem. Some are foolhardy, though, sneering at the patrons with coaldust in their hair and dregs of ale in their beards.

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Night at Kinlochleven | Short Story

Cheap pitches. Free showers. View of the loch. Save for the omnipresent midge, there seems little reason not to stop at Kinlochleven campsite. Strange then that no-one stays a second night.

Looking west along Loch Leven as the sun dives horizonwards, the summits seem benevolent, cradling the little town in a gnarled embrace. Binnein Mor, Na Gruagaichean, Am Bodach, Sgùrr a’ Mhàim and more lie in wooded repose lochside, benign under the last sideways-slung rays. This dying of the light is picturesque to be sure, reaching up into the loch. Weary trekkers and wellness bloggers snap pictures for their Instagram accounts, their eyes on their phones whilst locals search the gullies, the craggy overhangs.

It is not the dusk that the townsfolk are wary of. At least, not the dusk alone. It is a stillness in the evening air, a sense of heavy dreichness. The villagers can sense it. They close their doors over softly and stuff dishcloths and rags in the loose window frames. Curtains are drawn, lights dimmed.

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HMS Cleopatra | Short Story | Finale

Read part one here…

Read part two here…

Read part three here…

Read part four here…

The woman showed no surprise at the midshipman’s entrance. She stared at him, a smile nudging at the corners of her lips.

Bligh stood with mouth hanging open; a small boy caught stealing apples from the orchard. He had seen this fine green dress once before; across Bantry Bay, on a captain’s wife with a kerchief pressed against her mouth because she could not bear the smell of the harbour. Gone was the timid, sickly looking woman who had rushed off in her carriage as soon as it was politic, replaced with this confident, sensual creature.

                   “I was looking for…” whispered Bligh. His voice sounded childlike and tiny amongst the oak beams.

                   “You were looking for Ugly Bertha,” prompted the woman, her voice low and melodious. Bligh could smell orange blossom from the woman, the scent replacing the dank rot of the hold.

The woman held out her arms to each side of her petite shoulders. “Here she is.”

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