Microcosms 67

Hello and welcome to MC67. Another Friday, another Microcosms contest… another last minute trawl through Wikipedia’s list of people born on this date: 14 APRIL.

This week, we’re looking at thespian astral twins – actors born on the same day – and roles they have played.

1925 – Rod Steiger: Victor Ipolitovich Komarovsky (“Doctor Zhivago”: 1965)
1933 – Shani Wallis: Nancy (“Oliver!”: 1968)
1940 – Julie Christie: Bathsheba Everdine (“Far From the Madding Crowd”: 1967)
1958 – Peter Capaldi: The Doctor (“Doctor Who”: 2013 to present)
1961 – Robert Carlyle: ‘Franco’ Begbie (“Trainspotting”: 1996)
1973 – Adrien Brody: Władysław Szpilman (“The Pianist”: 2002)



(If YOU have an idea for a future contest and would like to be guest host, please contact us.)


Our contest this week begins with THREE things: character, setting and genre.

We spun, and our three elements are – character: Psychopath, setting: Victorian London, and genre: Horror.

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 – you can keep clicking until you have a set of elements that inspires you.


*** HEY! Remember to include which THREE elements you’re using AND a title for your entry. ***


  • Russian Politician
  • Thief
  • Farmer
  • Galactic Adventurer
  • Psychopath
  • Pianist
  • Moscow
  • Victorian London
  • Rural Village
  • Time Machine
  • Urban Slum
  • Warsaw
  • Science Fiction
  • Crime
  • Romance
  • Horror
  • Memoir
  • Comedy


Judging this week is Microcosms 66 Judge’s Pick, the prolific Bill Engleson.

All submissions should be a maximum of 300 words in length. You have until midnight, New York time (EDT) to submit.

*** If you are new to Microcosms, remember to check out the full submission guidelines. ***

All being well, results will be posted on Monday.

Microcosms 68
Microcosms 66

71 thoughts on “Microcosms 67

  1. Alva Holland
    299 words
    Thief; Rural Village; Memoir

    Bad Life, Good Friday

    Good Friday seems like a good day for me to repay my debt to society. The village sleeps, unaware of the evil living in its midst. Most of my wrongs were against those who have long gone: passed, dead – not moved away.

    No, they stayed in their violated homes, ignorant of the double life their trusted neighbour lived. I had that way about me. People trusted me, let me into their halls, living-rooms, even their bedrooms, some. Each time we buried a villager, I recalled what I had taken from them, wondering if guilt would ever visit me.

    Today of all days. The pub is closed, the only day in the year apart from Christmas Day I can’t wander into its darkness and fill myself with the excuse for living they call drinking.

    Can I redeem myself?

    Inside the cramped tenement lives Maria Crowley and her six children. Knowing nothing but hardship, poverty, hunger and abuse, what miracle is this she finds on the dirty mat outside her front door? A box full of fresh, delicious, nutritious food – enough for a month if she stretches it. She drags the box inside and throws her arms in the air to thank God, not me.

    Old Mr. Farley wants to visit his daughter, but hasn’t the money for a bus. The small white envelope pushed under his door gives him a Bus Pass – valid one year.

    Mrs. Nicholl just wants someone to talk to, but she doesn’t have the weekly sub for the bingo hall. Until today, postie only brought bills. She opens the strange red envelope. A 52-week sub. Her heart flutters. She smiles and opens the door.

    This is my attempt to make up for my life of crime. I will be buried soon. Not soon enough.

    1. Wonderful. I can’t help but wonder, with the Easter reference, if he’s hoping for some second life/chance…but then the last line seems to suggest that he won’t be changed and regrets the possibility of more. It’s quite a dark tale, gritty. Thank you 🙂

    2. Wonderful seasonal story, Alva, although any day is good for repentance, even if it’s too late for atonement toward those long dead. Sad that the MC feels that death is preferable to a life where he is able to continue to do good to others.

      [The convention is for titles to be capitalised but NOT end with a full stop / period. (I removed the offending punctuation here. 😉 )

      Also, I’m not a big fan of sentence fragments – although they seem to be used widely these days… maybe too widely. Starting the second paragraph with one was confusing to me, especially after the ending of the previous paragraph. If you are trying to clarify the meaning of ‘long gone’, perhaps it would be better to end the first paragraph ‘…those who have long gone: passed, dead – not moved away.’ ]

      1. Thanks re the title, Geoff.
        Yes I agree re the ending of the first paragraph. I had it like that first and changed it! Aaargh! If it’s not against the rules to change it now, yes please to your suggested amendment.
        Re the MC, I figure his guilt has overwhelmed him to the extent he just wants his life to be over.

      1. Thanks, Angelique. Somehow I missed commenting on your story here. Correcting that now!

    3. I agree that the title is great. You have me wondering what he did. I love the line,
      ‘People trusted me, let me into their halls, living-rooms, even their bedrooms, some.’
      I also like each of the things he does. A really interesting story. Excellent!

  2. @fatimat91
    299 words
    Psychopath; Victorian London; Horror

    Peckforton House

    My father, Lord Ferdinand Stevenson of Peckforton House, started with me when I was much littler. I had not yet broken blood, and the sole occupants of my chest were two dot-sized nipples. Slaps landed and curses poured forth in an unending stream when my Mama caught us, but she went pale as his hard palms found their way to her neck, and the fingers squeezed.

    He was up early the next morning, sweaty and gulping down cups of black tea with our butler, Arthur. They kept glancing to the shovel against the door in turns. “Your Mama has returned to _______ Castle,” he announced. “I shall not have her spoken of in this house ever.”

    Ever since, whenever he wishes, he orders me to spread my legs and he’d do it so many times, I stopped counting. The red marks across my back taught me never to complain.

    Papa went on to marry three times. Lady Adelina, I strangled in her dressing room on the pretext of borrowing a hat pin. I poisoned Lady Charlotte’s tea; she wouldn’t stop trying to arrange marriages for me. I stabbed Lady Aurora with the steward’s knife. She annoyed me the most; always saying nasty stuff about me to Papa. Peckforton House became renowned as the ‘Death Castle’. It was a miracle I was never suspected or caught.

    No one will ever share me with Papa.

    Now he was planning to wed the young Cherry Chillingsworth; niece of the Viscount Thornton; a bewitching beauty still in her blooming youth.

    I suspect Papa knows about the murders and my pregnancy. He looks at me oddly all the time. There shall never be any opening for a wife in Peckforton as long as I live.

    I’m not scared of Papa or should I be?

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    1. The writing style caught the essence of a period drama extremely well and beautifully. The whole story is chilling in so many ways. Excellent story.

    2. Grim tale, Fatima. Great response to the prompts.
      [ Direct speech needs to be indicated with quotation marks: I amended your entry to show: “Your Mama has returned to _______ Castle,” he announced. “I shall not have her spoken of in this house ever.”
      Also ‘renown’ is a noun; I amended that to ‘renowned’. 😀 ]

  3. @ewanandsmith
    Psychopath; Victorian London; Horror
    300 words

    Best Friends Forever

    “Your parents were really very cruel to you,” he said softly. “But that’s all over. You are free now.”
    But she had always been free. No matter what they did to her, at some point sleep would come and then no one could reach her. Sleep had been her freedom.
    He leant forward. “We live in wonderful times. Have you heard of Professor Freud? We know now that the mind can be healed, not just the body. There are ways that I can help you.”
    He seemed kind. But then they had seemed kind too.
    “I want to sleep.” She longed to slip into its darkness and anonymity.
    “Of course,” he murmured. “You must be exhausted. First, let me introduce you to Eve. She has had a troubled past too. But I believe the two of you will become great friends. You will help each other.”
    Eve had a ribbon in her hair, lace edging to her dress, satin shoes. “Please join our tea party,” she said, smiling sweetly. “Big Bear, you move beside me so that our dear new friend has a place.” She was sitting in a circle of toys, each with a tea cup, sideplate and napkin.
    There were so many rules. You must introduce yourself, talk in turns (particular topics only), pass sandwiches, hold your cup this way, say thank you, not wriggle. When Soldier Boy burped, Eve tore off his arm and pressed him into a box.
    She left abruptly, unable to bear any more. In her room, she curled in a corner, covered her head with a blanket and slipped into sleep and freedom.

    There was a door in her dream. She opened it. “Please join our tea party,” Eve said, smiling sweetly. “Isn’t it lovely to have a friend who never leaves you?”

  4. @stellakateT
    300 words
    Farmer; Moscow; Horror

    The Horror Within

    It started when my wife found the cat dead. It wasn’t pleasant, entrails hanging out and two broken legs. She blamed me, said it was the barbed wire around the farmhouse and the illegal traps I’d set in the barn.

    I couldn’t tell her I’d received communications from Moscow. She thought I was delusional at the best of times. Said it was to do with me being born on April 14th, like her favourite actor, Rod Steiger. Sometimes I thought she was just plain daft!

    It really started on my birthday. Strangely, the hens didn’t lay that day. Bob, the postman, brought this letter with Russian stamps on it. He laughed, saying was it from Putin! It wasn’t from the President but a guy I used to go to school with telling me MI5 would probably be looking into my comings and goings, due to him defecting and me sitting next to him in Russian lessons!

    I sent a letter back saying that nothing would interest the local Vicar, let alone MI5. Then I found a letter under the water trough up on the far pasture. He said to use it as a dead letter box, like spies do!

    I sat up there one night when I’d left him a letter telling him about my wife’s impetigo and my left leg that needed a new knee cap. I’d be able to speak to him face to face. He wasn’t in Moscow.

    What I saw that night made me pray for my own sanity. From that time on, I let no one up to the farm. My wife died three weeks ago. She lies in the back bedroom. I’d locked her in there when she tried to leave. She didn’t understand the horror lay outside, not here in the house with me.

    1. I really like the idea of someone you sat next to at school causing you bother several years later. So many great lines such as ‘I couldn’t tell her I’d received communications from Moscow’ and ‘Strangely, the hens didn’t lay that day.’ Fantastic tale of intrigue.

  5. Bait

    Alfred leapt from the train, and made his way through the narrow streets. When he reached the King’s Head, he pushed his way to the bar and ordered a pint of ale, downing it in one when the landlord called out and beckoned for him to follow. Rounding the bar, he winked at the barmaid and headed for the stairs. The stench of stale beer and tobacco hit him as he descended to the sound of his boots tapping against the treads.

    In the centre of the room he recognised the circular pit. The landlord asked how many he had, nodding towards the large leather bag he carried. Happy with the answer, the landlord asked for the rats to be released into the holding pen. When one escaped, Alfred grabbed hold, snapping its neck before throwing it back in. Both men stood in silence as the screeching rodents picked away at its flesh.

    What had previously been a dreary cellar came to life for the evening as more lamps were lit and the punters arrived. The atmosphere changed as money and ale flowed. Bets were made and the excitement mounted as barking preceded the arrival of the dogs. The snarling terriers strained at the leash sensing what was about to happen. Alfred pushed forward to lean over the wooden edge, watching the rats frantically circling.

    The first terrier waisted no time in attacking, shaking the rats until blood and entrails splattered the pit walls, not to mention several onlookers. The barking, the screeching, the cries of horror, the blood and guts; Alfred loved it all. When an argument broke into a fight, it made his evening. Pulling the knife from his boot he joined in, striking out at whoever got in his way. This was what he lived for.
    WC 299
    Psychopath / Victorian London / Horror

    1. Loved the description in here and the steady build up to him joining in, and the title was really apt: gives the whole story a new edge.

    2. As graphic as graphic gets! Once again trying to unsee the seen here! Horror is harrowing for me. Great story!

  6. Danny Beusch
    288 words

    The Piano Lesson

    They all repulse me, but none more so than Jakob. Learning an instrument requires discipline, a quality entirely absent from my simpering, sweaty pupil. Nowadays I only seem to teach the disinterested teenage offspring of pushy parents. My glorious grand piano, at least a century older than vast sections of this concrete city, is tainted by such talentless pretenders.

    We’ve been rehearsing the same pieces for months, but Jakob still struggles through them. His stubby fingers, sticky with sugar and caked with grime, repulse me. I rush to open a window, hoping that the biting winter air will placate this wave of nausea. Hustle and bustle drifts in from the market square, a welcome distraction from my charmless Chopin.

    ‘Well done, Jakob. You’ve clearly been practising.’

    He grins. He must think I’m stupid.

    ‘You deserve a treat.’ I pass him a plate of freshly-baked mazurek. They’re too sweet for me, but perfect for this graceless glutton. The dough is layered with chopped walnuts, lashings of jam, and a surprise ingredient or two. He devours a slice in two bites, mouth wide open.

    The doorbell rings. His mother – stick-thin and sour-faced – has been late collecting Jakob ever since I increased my prices. She thrusts the money at me. Twenty zlotys short, again.

    ‘Thank you so much,’ I say, feigning ignorance. ‘Jakob, I look forward to seeing you next week. Keep working on those scales.’

    Door closed, I throw the rest of the mazurek into a carrier bag and smash it into bits. The dishwasher is loaded with evidence and set to intensive. I brush up crumbs. Heading out towards the river, bag in hand, I finally smile. Those grubby fingers will never touch my beautiful piano keys ever again.

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    1. Grim tale, wonderfully told, Danny. Well done. ‘… tainted by such talentless pretenders’ – love it.

    2. You can just imagine the piano teacher gritting his teeth when his student’s ‘stubby fingers, sticky with sugar and caked with grime’ touch the beloved ivory. Marvellous tale of revenge.

  7. Psychopath/Victorian London/Horror
    Word count: 293


    She had followed him around Whitechapel for months. Down every dark, damp alleyway, through every winding tunnel, under every filthy tunnel, she was there along with him. She knew how to keep her distance. It would never do if he were to find out that she was there. She had thought he was seeing another woman behind her back, but this! This was more than she had ever hoped for. She followed the blood delightedly.

    Her doctors had told her parents that she was an unstable personality. She showed the promise of being a psychopath, they said. Her mother had dabbed the lavender-scented handkerchief to her eyes while her father stared stone-faced at nothing outside. When they got home, her father had given her a good belting. He believed she had been indulged and he would beat her into a lady if it was the last thing he did. It was. A fire broke out that night, killing her parents, leaving behind a seemingly sorrowful, rich orphan.

    Her heart is thumping in her chest. She strokes the blade along her fingertips gently. Her soft tread belies her dark, savage mind as she follows her prey, Jack, into the alley. She has studied his every move to gain his approval. Their first and only date had ended rather poorly but she was going to change that tonight. She looks up. He has disappeared. A scream in the distance indicates his presence and she rushes there, just in time to watch him stab and eviscerate his fifth victim. She approaches slowly as the rusty smell of blood hits her senses. He sees her shadow and looks up. She swings the knife across his throat. He gurgles his last breath as he smiles faintly, recognizing her.

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    1. Oddly romantic. Still mulling over the possibility that she carried on his work…with the other ‘possible’ victims attributed to him? Great read.

    2. You know you have a good story when showing ‘promise of being a psychopath’ comes across as an attribute! Well done, Angelique.

  8. Sian Brighal
    298 words
    Farmer; Urban Slum; Horror


    This part of the city—long since partitioned off—was deemed a gangrenous limb they were too scared to lop off. The snobs hoped it would just auto-amputate one day and drop off, like diseased toes. As such, supplies trickled in. The people in the slums learnt to take care of themselves.

    And everyone knew to go to Jonas. He was the last of the farmers. The old ones would cross themselves, but the youngsters sent scurrying to him, basket and payment in hand, just shrugged, picked up the supplies and scoffed a juicy tomato on the way back. Yeah, Jonas had the best meat off-cuts, mushrooms and tomatoes, and all it cost was a few mechanical odds and sods. He was a thoughtful man, too: always asked how folks were and if everyone was well in their stretches of dismal alleyway. And he always popped round to the sick ‘uns with something nice to eat.

    ‘Course no one asked how he got his ‘shrooms or toms so nice; the old folks tell the youngsters never to ask and just be grateful for what they got. I reckon it’s been that way since his type of farming began… when people were dying from hunger in their millions. You see, I didn’t ask, but I went and looked.

    I followed him and found out why they’d been called farmers back in the day. See, it was better to call them farmers… was better to think of soil and fields and fresh things than consider what could be used as a plot of land or what could make the meagre soil fertile as they collected the dying and dead. Funny, but now I know why my old Gramps used to laugh and say we are what we eat, but hunger makes anything taste good.

    1. So sorry, Geoff, but I just noticed that I’m missing a word. The line ‘…but now I know why my old Gramps used to laugh and say we are we eat…’ should be ‘… we are what we eat…’ and the word count is therefore, 298. Sorry.

    2. Gorgeous grisly tale, Sian. ‘… drop off, like diseased toes.’ Wonderful imagery. Love the structure too, easing us to the end.

    3. Oh so dark. I love the final words. They round it all up nicely, although I don’t feel hungry now!

  9. Selfish
    He trapped the moment in his invention. A tiny trinket of time collected and confined in his new-fangled memory box; an impression of a face pressed up against glass; flat as a flower might be between pages. Saturation was still too intense, lips and cheeks smudged rose-red, spilling beyond original lines. In Time, in the workshop, he’d correct the mechanisms. He’d have to reduce the device’s overall size. It needed to be more mobile.

    He took four more images. The bloody fingerprint on the butcher’s knife. The blood-spattered table. The material beneath fingernails.
    Future pleasures.
    The plods from Whitechapel station would arrive soon. But he needed the final  image.  
    He knew it was far from dignified, but it’d become ritual. He knelt next to the corpse, outstretched his arm and clicked.

    Victorian London/Psychopath/Horror
    126 words

    1. Excellent snippet. The first of the snappers! It could be me misreading, but it seems that he could be someone other than the Ripper…some grisly photo hunter. Reminds me of those who rush in to snap photos of the hurt rather offer help.

  10. @el_Stevie
    300 words
    Elements: psychopath, rural village, memoir

    Reaper Man

    They call me Reaper Man after the rusty old scythe hanging from the porch, a relic from the past … much as they regard me. Local kids run by and call out names, occasionally throw a stone at my cat, trying to rouse her. She’s old like me. Doesn’t move much. But she likes the sun, so I lift her up and put her in a new position from time to time, push back her stuffing. Sometimes they target me. They think I’m senile. So I put on a show, smile and dribble good-naturedly. After all, I like youngsters. Got two grandsons myself.

    You should’ve seen them, chips off the old block. We used to live in a little hamlet, next county along, just me and the boys. And I would take them out into the fields, show them how to swing that scythe, how to angle it to get the cleanest cut, the least waste. Golden days they were, filled with the sound of singing steel and us humming along with it. They didn’t last though. The boys wanted to go and find their parents. Well I couldn’t have that. Told them they had to wait until the harvest moon. But they kept on and on. Wouldn’t listen to their Grandpa. But I knew they’d listen to the song of the blade, so I agreed they could go provided they spent one more day in the fields.

    That last day was perfect. Clear blue sky, the sun golden, like the crops, like my boys. And we went out and we swung those blades and yes, I brought my harvest home. They’re at the dinner table, waiting for me. My family, perfect, forever golden.

    And that blade, it’s not rusted. In fact it’s been used quite recently. It just needs cleaning.

    1. I should learn not to be shocked by your psycho/horror stuff, Steph, but each time you get me! Brilliant story.

    2. Brilliant! I love the hints at the start that make you just a little uneasy, and then the end that smacks you in the face.

  11. The Broken Doll
    A.J. Walker

    London was the centre of the world and the noise from the docks enveloped the Thames all day and all night. The city truly never slept. At night the fires and furnaces lit up the riverside with an orange glow, hidden only by the passage of trains and horse-drawn carriages, the splash of colour pulsed by smoke. On a grey October day the scene was not much lighter with smog covering the industry of Victorian Londoners in a dirty blanket, the windows blackened to pointlessness by heavy soot. And so too the body of a flower girl. She lay with her hands clasped at her chest a posy of yellow carnations clutched in her cold white hands. The soot of the night’s work flecked the flowers and her china doll face. Sergeant Molloy shook his head as he inspected the too familiar scene.

    ‘It’s him again. No doubt,’ Molloy said, whispering under his breath.

    He kicked out at a scrawny cat that approached the body as if looking for scraps. ‘Get out of here, you evil fucker.’ The cat ran as little as she needed to and slipped between the legs of the onlookers that had gathered by the gate to West Dock. Grubby faces peered at the body and at Molloy. It was entertainment for them. Watching the police stumble about hoping a clue would fall in their lap. He used to hate them for it. But now he accepted it. Part and parcel of the city’s life.

    He knelt down and looked into the eyes of the unnamed girl. Her eyes, impossibly green, stared up at him.

    ‘What did you see last, little lady?’

    He looked across at the perfectly-posed body, six feet away from the head.

    ‘What kind of warped bastard can do this?’


    WC: 298
    Psychopath /Victorian London /Horror

    1. The scene was set brilliantly, hammering home the depression and the callousness of the people, ogling the scene for entertainment. It offset the seemingly beautiful arrangement of the ‘doll’ with her yellow flowers and calm, elegant pose. I agree. The title is eerily apt. At the last sort out of kiddie toys, I had a surplus of free range heads. Great story!

  12. @geofflepard
    299 words
    Psychopath; Victorian London; Horror

    When The Tide Turned

    Sergeant Reynolds paid the fare.
    ‘No cozzie, guv’nor?’ The cheeky youngster eyed the policeman. ‘Not swimming? Just ‘ere for the Belles?’
    He’d strangle the oik, if he hadn’t a job to do. On board the steamer Princess Edith, he sat and watched Frank Johnson play cards. He knew Johnson was the killer and he’d strike today. He’d not resist the Bathing Belles. Then they’d have to believe him.
    Johnson breathed evenly. That bloody policeman. He’d slip him and find a filly, once on the beach.
    Later, with Reynolds having stuck close, Johnson felt fit to explode. That stupid, sweating moron. He needed a release, and soon.
    As the ship passed Rainham on the return, it began to pitch, and Johnson slid outside. He caught his breath; the stench was awful, but he smiled. As the new sewage system disgorged thousands of gallons into the river to catch the retreating waters, no one would leave the saloon – apart from the young girl disgorging her lunch over the side. Johnson crept forward, watched through a porthole by Reynolds; all Reynolds needed was Johnson grabbing the woman and he’d arrest him.
    When Johnson reached the woman, the ship pitched wildly and she lost her balance. As if in slow motion, the woman slipped over the rails, caught in the paddle wheel and jammed the mechanism, gruesomely crushed and causing the already unbalanced ship to tip completely.
    The boat went under in twenty minutes. Many drowned, but many more suffocated in the methane sitting above the water, Johnson’s last thought was how Reynolds had won and that made him furious.
    Reynolds was one of ten to survive. The images never left him but one recurred repeatedly – the sight of Johnson sinking under the waves and with him, Reynolds’ last hope of promotion.

    1. Interesting. The police officer was colder than the killer, and both of them were thwarted. Reckon Reynolds will find someone else to help him out: bet he’s resourceful like that. Great read, thank you. Again, the title was fantastic.

    2. A well-wrought tale, Geoff, avoiding the obvious Victorian London psychopath… or does it?

      [Technically speaking, pitch is when bow and stern alternate in up and down movement, meaning the girl hanging over the rail would be thrown to the side onto the deck. A roll or list – a port-starboard tilt – would be necessary to throw the girl over the rail. You’re welcome! 😉 ]

      1. Lol. I hate Johnson…He is a psychopath. But Reynolds..All that build up to catching a criminal when all he’s really interested in is a promotion. That’s messed up.

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