The dinner party was in full swing. Suzie's guests had finished their starters when Nigel decided to tell his tasteless, crass joke about a missing girl. Silence. Broken only by the Lionel Ritchie CD on the stereo.
Stefan, the Cambridge graduate who worked in Suzie's department, was the only one to laugh.
As he became more hysterical, he threw his head back.
His neck seemed to tear, and his laughter ceased as his head came away and thudded to the floor.
It rolled across the carpet irregularly, coming to rest against the sideboard.
Lionel continued singing 'Dancing on the Ceiling'.
The driver of the Ford Mondeo saw the lollipop lady prepare to step out into the road, as per her line of duty. Two schoolchildren crossed in front of her, chatting away happily.
As they reached the safety of the opposite pavement, the lollipop lady stood her ground. The Mondeo was still roaring towards her, if anything at a faster speed than before.
This happened most mornings on the school run; on each occasion that Mondeo had swerved to avoid her at the last second.
Today however, Miriam Rimming, lollipop lady of some thirty-two years, was not so lucky.
'Here kitty, kitty...' called Sam. The seven-year-old held out his hand, enticing the cat into the garden with the promise of some chicken.
The cat, initially wary, trotted into the garden, hunger overcoming its fear.
'Good kitty' Sam cooed, delighted that the cat wanted to be friendly.
With the chicken devoured, the cat brushed against Sam's hand in a show of affection. Sam smiled.
With alarming swiftness he grabbed the cat, holding it firmly as he removed a hunting knife from his pocket.
The blade plunged into the cat's eye socket. Sam hugged it tightly as it screeched.
I force my head down, nearer the spoon, as I scoop up another mound of fleshy, bloody remnants and push them - greedily yet reluctantly - into my mouth. Those around me undertake a similar ritual; dirty, shabby men, grim-faced women trying to ensure their children get enough to eat.
It's best not to ask what the reddish-grey gruel consists of, just cram it in. Don't worry, it all comes out as a shit. If it were not for the Skaggerston Homeless Shelter, I'd starve.
It may not be gourmet, but it's food. And for that I'm eternally thankful.
It was definitely getting hotter, little Sally Cupp thought as she crouched inside the sacrificial Wicker Dwarf. She could see through the slats in the structure the revellers of the Skaggerston Town fete, singing along with a band. Her parents had told her this was a great honour, but that she would have to go to Heaven afterwards, and never see them - or their pet chinchilla Aristotle - ever again. This made her sad. Then she recalled the smile the Mayor had given her - one of respect, of pride.
She clutched her teddy bear tighter as flames licked at her feet.
He loved the snap of the rope as it went taut; the crack of the victim's neck as they dangled and danced the jig of death at the end of the noose. It was the feeling of power, literally having someone's life in your hands - to see that life snuffed out with one push of a lever. Norman often fantasised about indulging his auto-asphyxiation fetish on the gallows: he was useless with knots, but it looked like fun.
Until government regulations were relaxed, he would continue teaching kids their lesson in his role as Official Schools & Colleges Hangman.
'Tramp's piss! That's what this lager tastes like! Why do you always get the cheap shit?' Malcolm roared.
Brian clenched his teeth as he heard his brother-in-law's outburst from the other side of the garden.
Why did he always have to ruin family barbeques? Why did he always have the gall to question the quality of his beer, when he had the nerve to bring shitty burgers - full of arseholes and trotters? Why did he bring his flaky...skanky...freeloading girlfriend, who was a fucking vegetarian?!?
'Buns are dry, too!' Malcolm shouted.
Brian stared at the breadknife on the counter.
Bruce sat slumped in his chair, vaguely aware of the crap game-show on the TV. He was even less aware of the queue of men extending out of the lounge and into the hall, all waiting their turn to ejaculate on his wife, Sue.
Sue had, until May this year, been a complete alcoholic. Fucked by 8am (and for the rest of the day), Bruce had suggested she replace her addiction with a hobby.
The fact that she now charged men a tenner to come violently over her face in their living room was besides the point, wasn't it?
'OK...and what's your name?' The Duke asked, looking at his clipboard.
'Mandy' replied the girl, nervously.
'So Mandy...you've come here to be a duchess, is that right?'
'Mm-hmm' she murmured.
'Well. We need to make sure you're made of the right stuff' explained Rodolfo, sitting in an armchair, smoking a reefer. The Duke nodded his agreement.
'Please...take off your skirt and underwear and kneel on the desk' Rodolfo requested. Mandy did as she was asked, as Rodolfo pressed record on a camcorder.
'Lovely. Now...shit on the desk, please. In your own time' he continued.
Mandy nodded dumbly, and squeezed.
Riddled with it, he was.
The doctors hadn't quite put it like that, but he knew.
He'd come to the reservoir to end it himself, on his terms.
He actually had the pistol in his mouth when he heard the voice behind him.
'Why are you doing that?' the small girl asked, sweetly.
Morris explained his disease, his pain. Why he was killing himself.
'Can I do it for you?' she asked, squinting in the afternoon sunlight.
Morris, taken aback, asked why she should want to do such a thing.
'I've always wanted to kill a man' she replied, smiling.
Standing at the back of the congregation, Handley - a member of the Winkies religion for some twelve years - was having doubts.
Their illustrious leader had delivered a sermon, a declaration that they were too good for this world, that greater riches awaited them at the end of "the tunnel of pain".
One sip of the "elixir" they had been given would take them there. Looking at the contents of his cup, Handley thought it looked like Coke. What if it's not Diet? he pondered.
Slowly putting down his cup, he shuffled silently out the back door of the meeting hall.
Gilbert woke up on the recovery ward of the back-street doctors. Filth and empty takeaway wrappers littered the floor.
He was handcuffed to an uncomfortable, threadbare armchair, his feet weighed down by dumbbells. Beside him sat others in a similar predicament, drips hanging from hooks attached to their arms.
Looking down, he saw he too had a cannula attached to his hand. The tube led back to a bag hanging from a stand next to him.
Topping up the bag was a large, haggard-looking doctor.
'Gin' he said, by way of an explanation. 'Keep you hydrated'.
As winner of The Freckled Ginge's bare knuckle fighting tournament, but also the perpetrator of a betting scam that netted him a million pounds and the wife of a local businessman, Alec Crufts needed to choose his next move carefully.
That move came with a meeting about fighting various animals for an internet show run by an enthusiastic young vlogger.
'So...could you fight a swan?'
'Swans are evil fuckers.'
'Please...give me a challenge at least...what else?'
'That's it - badgers. I fucking hate badgers. TB-carrying little shits.'
'I'll make the arrangements then.'
Mrs. Fulton loved to look through the travel catalogues and holiday brochures she had sent to her. Such lovely beaches...such glorious sunsets... Of course, she kept them hidden from her husband. Mr. Fulton was a staunch local. Didn't believe in foreign holidays, never had. He'd disconnected their internet when he realised she was researching holidays online.
'What's wrong with this shire? With our shores?' he'd incredulously exclaimed once, after she suggested a weekend away in France.
Wistfully, she continued flicking though the Spain & Canary Islands catalogue.
She'd never get away now that Mr. Fulton had had her legs amputated.
10:58pm. Lucas Stevenson had his trousers undone and the lube ready.
Barry's call was imminent.
As the digital clock ticked over to 11:00pm, his phone broke the silence in the Skaggerston branch of SpeakEasy, the counselling charity.
'Hello? How can I help...please, only talk as much as you want to' Lucas said, soothingly.
'It's...my dad. He's, ah...been abusing me for some time...'
Definitely Barry, Lucas thought, squeezing some lube into his palm.
'I see...and what would be do?' Lucas probed.
'He'd...put his finger up my behind...make me tug him off...'
Lucas began stroking himself, eager to keep up the pretence.
'Not bad thanks, Bert. Got any dead 'uns for me today?'
'Couple of the nippers - went in the night, like'
'Damn shame...still, better than sufferin''
'True, true...'ere, is that the Hendersons?'
'Yup, all six of the buggers. Went within an hour of each other. Fuckin' tragedy...'
Bert let out a long sigh. This bloody disease would be the end of Skaggerston if it carried on like this. The doctors reckoned it was some distant strain of the Black Plague, but were handing out "lozenges" to keep the germs at bay.
Bert kept taking them, however useless they were.
'Killer' Keith Stone approached the counter of the pawn shop, smiling hopefully.
'Yes sir, can I help you?' the owner asked.
'Yes...you may recognise me - Killer Keith Stone? Former National wrestling champion, 1974-78?'
The pawn shop owner looked blank.
'I have a newspaper here, celebrating my first title win - I wondered what you'd give me for it?'
'Give you for it, sir?'
'I'm afraid you can't pawn a newspaper, sir.'
'Please - Killer Keith...'
'Whatever, Killer Keith...now do one.'
Resignedly, Keith took his newspaper, wishing he still had the physique to plant the man with a body slam.
Harry had been diagnosed with narcolepsy when he was seventeen. Rather than the usual teenage laziness, he was glad his condition had a medical name.
It didn't stop the frequent bouts of unconsciousness, of course.
Waking up, Harry found himself shivering cold, on a rough stone floor. Sitting up with a jolt, he stared at the ragged man wearing only a loincloth. A fire lit the otherwise dim interior of...a cave?
'Where am I?' Harry asked, frightened.
'Ugg...ugg' the man urged, handing him a hunk of meat.
Harry took it nervously, wondering what the hell had happened.
The caveman smiled.
'Welcome to the meeting of the Skaggerston town council, gentlemen' said the mayor, sucking on a sherbet dip. 'What's the first item of business?'
'I think we need to discuss the playground allocation' said one of the ministers.
'I've drawn a pretty picture of the bestest playground ever' said another, brandishing a pencil-crayon sketch of a climbing frame.
'Where's the football pitch?' asked the Mayor, distraught.
'Durr! It's there, dummy!' said the minister, jabbing at a patch of green.
'I've got a splinter' cried another minister. 'Look! Look!'
The Mayor had an urge to play a game of tag.
#2673 came around from his inter-planetary realignment with a start. He was in a dark, smelly room, full of strange noises. His mission from The Elders of the planet Sysyphus 12 repeated in his head...
Catalogue the humans. What they are. What they do.
Standing, he retrieved his probing equipment from his metal carry-case. He switched to night vision, focusing on the four-legged, black and white creatures in the corner.
Ah, the humans!
He approached the nearest cow and planted his probe into its anus. The Elders will be so proud #2673 thought.
The cow looked angry.