Microcosms 30

This week’s contest is based on the work of actor, David Niven, the anniversary of whose death falls today. He was the quintessential urbane English gentleman, in real life and pretty much all of his almost 100 film/movie roles.

While he was co-hosting the televised Academy Awards in 1974, a naked man streaked across the stage behind him. Unphased, Niven quipped, “Isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”


As usual, our contest will begin with three things: character, setting (disaster), and genre.

We spun, and our three elements are character: Spy, setting: Fortress, and genre: Comedy.

Write a story using those OR feel free to click on the “Spin!” button, and the slot machine will come up with a new set. Be sure to include which three elements you’re using.


  • Spy
  • Commando
  • Adventurer
  • Secret Hero
  • Amateur Sleuth
  • General
  • Casino
  • Fortress
  • Hot-Air Balloon
  • Revolutionary France
  • Mansion
  • World War II London
  • horror
  • adventure
  • sci-fi
  • steampunk
  • mystery
  • fantasy
  • romance
  • comedy
  • poetry



Judging this week is Microcosm 29 Judge’s Pick, Sal Page.

All submissions should be a maximum of 300 words in length. You have until midnight, New York time to submit. All being well, results will be posted on Monday.


If you like, you may use the following picture to inspire you (optional).

Fortress in Koporye, Leningrad Oblast (CC 2.0)
Microcosms 31
Microcosms 29

27 thoughts on “Microcosms 30

  1. Steve Lodge – Spied ‘Er With Dozy
    300 words

    I only met Melissa last week, but she looked like a winner to me. So feminine and sweet. Her smile made my knees go weak. We became inseparable instantly. In that week, I never saw her chew gum and eat dinner at the same time. That would have impressed my Mum.

    I wanted her to like me, I may have tried too hard. “No need to be sorry,” she had said, so I took my apology back.

    She took me to the Fortress Of The Damned (the first night there was such fun, till someone found the axe. Later I befriended an owl).
    Now as I stand looking over the Fortress turrets, out across the sea, there’s a moon over the bay that wasn’t there yesterday. There’s also a distant light across the harbour, too low to be a star but it is insistent, it makes me squint like a semi-professional squinter and gives me a striking headache. When I’d finished vomiting the turtle, basil and wasabi snackette, she had gone.

    I slouched out of the fortress, towards the pier. I don’t know what made me look at the upturned boat on the beach, but there was Melissa, all cosy under the stars, cuddling my mate, Dozy. Some mate. They were smoking and laughing, sometimes both at once.

    Oh, oh, Melissa, I’ll try hard not to Miss ‘er.
    As a poem, it’s a work in progress, but I’m very proud of it.

    The church bell struck noon. I had been sitting on a park bench across from the upturned boat for hours. I heard her giggling as I went off to find breakfast at The Hall Of The Shepherds Pie. I don’t know if they saw me.

    I only met Philippa today, but she looks like a winner to me.

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      1. You are exactly right. It should be a squintessential part of life as we know it. Back to my trombone practice. Happy weekend.

    1. You’ve gotta love a trier! I liked your interpretation of the character element. (Welcome to Microcosms, Steve!)

      [ I was wondering if the internal rhymes – week/weak, winner/dinner, gum/Mum – were intended or accidental: they had me looking for an underlying poetic structure. Perhaps I ought to get out more… 🙂 ]

      As I read of Rebecca de Winter,
      I was struck in the eye by a splinter.
      It’s the ”Manderley” curse!
      There can be nothing worse
      For a semi-professional squinter.

      [ Rhymes intentional 😉 ]

      1. Thank u for the welcome, Geoff and as for your poem…well the word inspirational springs to mind. Semi-professional Squinting should be an event at the Rio Olympics, but it isn’t. Happy Sunday.

  2. Bring on the Empty Horses
    Spy, Fortress, Comedy 295 word
    Please note the rich language is a direct homage to Niven and is not intended to cause offence.

    ‘Is Reverse Trojan? You yankee doodles love.’ The Russian offered another spinach samosa.
    ‘Ivan, mate, wtf?’ The American flossed his teeth, ensuring both a perfect smile and providing a string for Langley to check for any drugs.
    The Russian smiled his best vodka-topped smile. ‘These Syrians love their ‘orses, no? We steal their favourites and run them up to the gate. They are like ‘Wah, woah’, let them in. But they are full of trackers and microphones and cameras. We now inside Citadel. We have knowledge of their plans. Bingle!’
    ‘It’s bingo. I get the Trojan bit. Horses. But Reverse?’ The American disinfected the neck before swigging quickly and slipping a nano-recorder into the bottle.
    ‘They empty. We use empty ‘orses!’ The Russian tipped the remaining booze into an ashtray and set it alight.
    ‘That stinks. They won’t swallow that.’
    The Russian shrugged his steroidal shoulders. “Is on fire. Of course they not swallow.’
    ‘Your plan, dullard.’ The American rubbed his waxed chin. ‘Though we could build animatronic horses, exact copies of the originals. That would be the bizz.’
    ‘Da, Da, yankee doodles always want show off his toys. ‘Look at me, my ICBM is bigger than yours.’ Bullshit.’
    ‘How do you get their horses? What’s your cunning plan, Baldrick?’
    ‘Who Baldrick? He not have Kremlin clearance?’
    ‘He’s a figure of speech, you moron.’
    ‘You think I know fuck nothing, when really I know fuck all!!’
    A short knock disturbed them and a square jaw appeared.
    ‘Er, news just in from Central, sirs. The Brits apologise but they’ve just bombed the Citadel. They wanted to know if it was important.’
    As the American’s gaze met his Russian counterpart’s the super-heated nano-recorder exploded. The Russian, his eyebrows aflame, smiled. ‘Now that is real booze.’

    1. Great atmosphere of secret agent sparring, Geoff, and some wonderful lines too (‘Look at me, my ICBM is bigger than yours.’ Ha!)

      [ However, you have the Russian saying ‘Ja’ (yes) when even I, with my handful of Russian words, know that it should be ‘Da’ – would you like me to edit these for you? DA / NYET 😉 ]

  3. Spyte and Polished Off

    “Ah, Cyril, when that damn wall came down, that’s when the mystery died.”

    “I know, Harry. But you have to think of the greater good. That wall was a giant cancer on the world. Like any wall that doesn’t respect the free-flowing movement of people. Like the wall that hairball who wants to be President wants to make.”

    “Don’t bring up that damp squib, Cy. I get heartburn every time his name is mentioned. Keep confusing him with Donald Duck. Easy enough to do, right? Quacks everywhere these days. Anyway, I was glad of the invite. It can get pretty depressing at the old Hale and Hearty. Nice to get out.”

    “Is that what they call the home?”

    “Yeah, well, mind you it is frequently said in a loving fashion. And it rolls off of the tongue better that The Nathan Hale Residence for Espionage Veterans.”

    “It does that. I have been meaning to ask…you don’t feel a tad iffy, being a Brit and all, living there?”

    “We’ve got all sorts. Last month, Igor Trumpshenko moved in. You remember Igor, surely?”

    “Oh do I! Igor was deadly. Roots in the NKVD. I’m surprized that old commie is still alive and jack booting.”

    “Hobbles, mostly. But he has some great execution stories. I have always found it fascinating how the Ruskies got away with their repression and political assassination. Those were the days…”

    “Yes, it’s easy to feel nostalgic. So, what do you think of the view?”

    “Gorgeous. Whatever made you take up ballooning? Is that what they call it?”

    “Yes, ballooning. Good question. I find it an excellent way to dispose of old colleagues. Especially double agents who might prove to be embarrassing to me…and my memoirs.”

    “You’re writing a book? Wonderful.”

    “You never did listen well, Harry. Goodbye…”

    Spy; hot air balloon; fairly dark comedy that never quite reaches giggle heights
    300 dark, cold words

    1. Still keeping up the “Trump for POTUS? No way! NOT US!” demo, Bill? Don’t forget to pace yourself – it’s quite a while until the fat lady sings!
      (Customary typos spotted – missing commas in “Ah, Cyril” and “I know, Harry…”; and did you mean ‘loving fashion’, rather than ‘lovingly fashion’? Le me know.)

      1. Job done. It was a creative expression and It did seem a shame to change it, but “lovingly” is pretty much synonymous with “in a loving manner”.
        (Don’t have sleepless nights, Bill. Here in the UK we seemed at one point destined to have a buffoon for Prime Minister, but we escaped that. The longer the campaign goes on, the more illiterate, ranting tweets will be spewed out without anyone vetting them… No worries!)

  4. Spies Like Us
    299 words
    spy/fortress/(dark) comedy

    “I thought this was a day spa,” Angela said as rough hands removed the blindfold. She was surrounded by large men, with large guns. None of them were smiling.

    “Welcome to the Fortress,” the one closest to her gestured toward the winding stone steps. Angela caught a glimpse of cliffs overlooking a sea. She had heard of the Fortress, of course. It was spoken of in whispers, in the circle of spies she had been a part of. It was on an island somewhere, it was said. People disappeared, never to be heard of again.

    Inside the Fortress, it looked like a shopping mall, the floors spiraling upward in chrome and glass. There was a waterfall along the escalator, an atrium with a banana tree. The men nodded to the receptionist at the security desk, and they crowded into a glass elevator. As they ascended, Angela could see there was indeed a day spa, a bookstore, a designer boutique.

    “Everything you need.” the blonde guy said.

    “Do you mind if I smoke?” Angela reached for her handbag (Coach, Rambler, with hidden pockets)

    “No problem,” the blonde guy said. His eyes were bluer than the sea. “You see those cameras? They are also air purifiers. This is a world-class place. They even have Gitanes, here.” His teeth were very white.

    They stopped on the 4th floor. There was a coffee place, crowded with people drinking coffee, reading newspapers. She recognized Yuri, from the old days.

    “Angela, so good to see you.” Yuri was older, grayer, but charming as ever. He offered her a seat. The guards left. A waiter brought coffee.
    “I think you”ll like this place,” Yuri said. “Many old friends, here. Spies like us.”

    “Why am I here?”

    Yuri lit a Sobranie. “Why are any of us, here? “

  5. @AvLaidlaw
    299 words
    Spy, Fortress, Comedy.

    Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Action-Hero

    George Grinly was having a bad day. No, he corrected himself, a worse day. There were no good days in the interminable grey morality of the cold war, the pointless betrayals in fog bound streets and nicotine stained bedsits. Some days, however were worse than others. Such as days when one found oneself suspended above a shark infested pool.

    “So,” said the bald headed man who called himself Professor Villain. “The British send their best agent to infiltrate my secret fortress.” The bald man stroked a white cat as he talked. Grinly mused on the similarities of cats and intelligence agents – both hunting in the dark with prickly aloofness, their loyalty extending no further than the next meal.

    “But you will not thwart my plans for world domination.”

    Who would wish for this morally compromised world, thought Grinly. He remembered the innocent Natasha in Berlin whose killer he had exchanged in a snow covered forest on the Czech border for a MI6 mole called Andre.

    The rope jerked and he was lowered inches towards the pool. The shark fins broke the surface in a perfect metaphor for the game of espionage.

    Grinly’s thoughts were broken by gunfire. The woman he called Gladys when she served cups of milky lukewarm tea at the Circus, but whose real name was Double Entendre, ran into the room. She had forsaken her usual grey tweed for a Walther PPK and a leather jumpsuit displaying what Grinly believed was called a “cleavage”. She’d catch her death on a January night at Checkpoint Charlie, he thought.

    “Damn it,” Gladys said. “Villain’s escaped in his rocket pod again. But we’ll get him next time.” She hauled Grinly away from the pool and cut the rope. “How are you feeling?”

    “Shaken,” he replied, “but not stirred.”

  6. Decoration
    298 words
    Spy, fortress, comedy

    The prisoner was affronted by the officer’s question.

    “Spies never give away their secrets,” he huffed.

    “I thought that was magicians,” said the knight.

    The prisoner – he insisted upon being called “Night Thief” (which was lame as far as secret identities, in the knight’s opinion) – rolled his eyes.

    “Look, Sir…”

    “Sir Watts.”

    “Look, Sir Watts, I’m sure you have better things to do than interrogating a cat burglar,” said Night Thief.

    “You just said you were a spy.”

    “No I…Shit. I did. I’m not a spy, I’m just a lowly cat burglar, I promise.”

    “The thing is, Nighty – can I call you Nighty? – it wouldn’t be so bad if you were a cat burglar, but you trying to burgle actual cats. The queen’s cats. She’s not going to let that go.” Watts was newly-knighted, but even she knew that one did not mess with Her Majesty’s beasts.

    “Who sent you?” Sir Watts asked.

    “Pft. As if I’m going to divulge that.”

    “You already divulged you were a spy,” Sir Watts pointed out. “Why steal the cats?”

    “Everyone knows Her Majesty tells them her secrets,” said Night Thief. “By procuring the cats, I could get my employer the information he and/or she desires.”

    “From talking to cats.”


    Sir Watts decided to let that go.

    “You got caught though, didn’t you?” she said. “Whether you’re a cat burglar or a spy makes no difference. You’re in for it now.”

    “When I get out of here, you’re the first one to die,” Night Thief growled.

    “I wouldn’t bet on it, Nighty. There’s only one thing more difficult than getting into this fortress, which you already failed.”


    “Getting out.” Sir Watts replaced the lock and waved goodbye. “Enjoy your stay, Nighty. Your head’ll be decorating the queen’s chambers soon enough.”

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    1. Amusing take on the given elements, Holly.
      [ I took the actual liberty of replacing ‘actual actual cats’ with ‘actual cats’. No need to thank me, actually. 🙂 ]

  7. Fortune Favours the Knave
    A.J. Walker

    Castle Miss Fortune towered above the below average farms of Borsetside. It used to tower a bit more, but the contractors had played a little with the cement to sand ratio resulting in a fair bit of said tower doing a good impression of a scree slope.

    It was well known that the fearsome gate was the hardest place to get into the castle – even when it was supposed to be open. It was either hung by a couple of drunkards who had forgotten to bring a plumb line or equally possible there may be an issue with the floor and door frame arguing with the angle of the floor.

    Lord and Lady Fortune looked forlorn as they tucked into the four bird surprise. The surprise was there were actually five cooked birds as they sliced through the unknown immense big bird. Unfortunately the fifth bird had been last week’s thrown out dinner (which had resulted in a rather rapidly filled up cess-pit).

    The Fortune’s were running low on everything and were in danger of keeping the castle; the last thing they wanted. They’d hiked up their insurance on it over the last year before putting in a claim for fire damage. Their hope had been that the insurance company would look at the map and make a remote call rather than seeing the place.

    Then Señor Garibaldi had turned up at the Stuck Gate, apparently a wandering monk from Tuscany. But the Fortune’s recognised a Hull accent when they heard one. He was a spy, or worse; a loss adjustor.

    ‘Garibaldi’ while not good at Italian accents was clearly not blind and their insurance scam was doomed. They’d no option but to stuff him with the infamous ‘fifth bird’ and hope the next adjustor didn’t like to travel.


    WC: 300
    Cluedo guess: Spy in the Fortress with some comedy.

  8. Agents and Spies 280 Words

    A word to the wise – If you ever find that you must hide in an old stuffy mansion, DO NOT hide in a suit of armor. It gets freakin hot in there. Especially in the middle of August.
    Ah, but how rude of me – let me introduce myself. The name is Bob, Just Bob. I am a spy. I have been a spy for almost as long as I can remember. I really wanted to be an Agent, they get all the glory. So did they make me an Agent? Nooo – spy it is for you Just Bob.
    My mission is critical and I must not be caught by the Agent. I don’t know who the Agent is, but I can feel him out there – searching. Nothing can stop me, I am good at what I do. I use my natural ability to blend into the background, like an animal of the forest. I can hide anywhere.
    I have completed my mission for today and I am making my escape now. So far I have eluded the Agent. He is probably good at what he does, but not as good as me. I run through the yard and clear the fence in one mighty leap, gingerly waving to the stunned Agent as I go.
    The next time we play this game I want to draw first so I have a better chance of being an Agent. For now I will place the Old Lady’s nickers in the trophy case with the rest of the booty we have accumulated, and make sure my name is proudly displayed with them – Bob, Just Bob.

  9. The Man Who Mowed His Lawn With a Revolver

    A man’s home is his castle. In this case, it was his fortress. Frank Allison had married an heiress to the Miracle Grow fortune. Their life grew together with a bright green lawn spilling out from a large mansion. Their lawn was mowed with the precision of a beauty queen combing her tresses with a brush fitted with a snipers scope; perfect lines spoken by the preacher of a sunlit horizon.

    Then his wife left him. She gave no reason other than their relationship had stopped growing. Frank took this very badly. You see, Frank had been trained in the military for Black Ops. He then became a spy. So using his paramilitary training, Frank built a moat around his home and set up surveillance cameras. He then started mowing his lawn with a revolver. Soon there were thousands of holes all over his lawn. People would stare through a gate and watch as Frank took aim at each blade of grass. His holster and cowboy hat with his narrow blonde moustache matched with his Armani suit, made him look like James Bond crossed with Josey Wales. Soon his lawn looked like a connect the dots type of drawing that children drew; when you connected the dots it looked like a picture of a lawn that had been mowed with a revolver.

    “Man left by Miracle Grow heiress shoots his lawn!” That was on the front page of his town’s newspaper. Soon Frank set up cannons and ballistic missiles. He was determined to keep love away.

    Then his wife returned. She looked at the lawn and started to cry. The tears entered the holes in the lawn and soon water flowers started to grow. Their petals were streams. And they had the scent of a garden of flowing forgiveness.

    (299 words)
    Spy, Fortress,Comedy

    1. Some great lines in this one, Richard. (‘When you connected the dots it looked like a picture of a lawn that had been mowed with a revolver’!)
      [ I used the cannon, rather than a revolver, to remove the redundant copy of your story. 😉 ]

  10. The Woman Who Was Angry At Me
    292 words of a spy, a fortress written as a comedy
    by @The_Red_Fleece (I remembered this time, Geoff!)
    The fortress rushes up towards me looking like it is made out of a very hard material. The impact confirms it is stone, the painful kind. First task is to get inside. The window opposite seems the best place starting place. The wind reminds me that my first task was, actually, to disconnect my parachute. I click it away before I’m blown off the building completely. Back to the window. Spy training tells me a gentle lean against the glass will reveal the weak points. I disappear inside with a scream. Not my scream I should add but the lady who was asleep on the other side.
    “Who the hell are you?” she asks rather unsurprisingly.
    The truth would only make this situation worse so I go for a lie. “A window inspector.”
    “At this time in the morning? It is three am.” She points at her alarm clock that clearly shows it is three am.
    “Well that is ideal time to check windows in case a vagabond tries to break in.” At least I’ve found the master bedroom. All I have to do is place the bug.
    “Like you?” Her crossed arms suggests she is somewhat angry.
    “Yes…” I drop the bug and flick it under her bed with my foot. Wait, my answer catches up with me. “No I meant no. Definitely not, no vagabonds in this room. Absolutely not.”
    “I don’t believe you.” She reaches for the old fashioned telephone on her night stand. It has a dial. Time to go. Back through the window with even less style than last time. Back on the roof, what next? Oh yes glide over the walls using my parachute. The newly turned on searchlights reveal my escape plan fluttering into the night.

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    1. An amusing tale, Stephen, that reminded me of a hapless version of the black-clad secret agent in the old Milk Tray TV ads; or perhaps the most famous spy of all: “The name’s Bond, Vaga-Bond”.
      [ Seems like you didn’t have time for editing, though: “First task is to get inside.”… or maybe “my first task was to disconnect my parachute”. 😉 ]

      1. Less of an editing issue Geoff, more of a badly written joke. The insertion of the word actually after ‘The wind reminds me that my first task was [actually] to disconnect my parachute’ might have made it much clearer.

        The milk tray man wasn’t in my thoughts when I wrote the story but I might have come up with a better ending! Less spy like but probably funnier

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