Recently, we were given a series of ‘challenges’ or constraints within which to write a short piece of less than 600 words. I combined a number of these into a single piece:

  • No use of the word “the”;
  • No use of the letter “o” (I also made that an exclusion of any words with apostrophes e.g. no “didn’t”);
  • No words longer than 7 letters;
  • First and last sentence the same.

Of all these, I found doing without “o” the hardest, then probably the word length restriction.

Anyway, here’s the finished piece – which got a small round of applause when I read it out!

He is waiting. Tick, tick, tick. Grey defines his cell, a dark cream streak in a granite rug limply accepts that there may be feint shades testing black. Silence, except tick, tick, tick. A timer he can’t see, hidden behind a wall panel, its edges absent. His fingers trace a surface flat and perfect, as if made as a single sheet then bent, made cubic, him left inside. Tick, tick, tick. Ten, nine, eight. It feels like that; getting smaller. And when it ceases? At what number did it start? That’s scary; really scary. Can he scream? What might change? What changed last time?

He raps a wall again, his dull thumps sinking like pebbles in water. He listens, wanting a ripple, a racket made besting a rhythm beaten by tick, tick, tick. Where an exit might have been, a plate rests; a little fruit, bread. Dare he try it? A trap, perhaps, testing his frailty, his bravery. Tick, tick, tick. Why? Why him? Answers he needed were absent. As absent as edges, as a fight between light and shade; as absent as a friend he recalls vaguely, spectre in a past that is sucked away, bled by ticking. Tick, tick, tick.

‘Hey! Hey!’

Wanting a reply – at any price – he answers himself.


It is sudden. He shivers, fearing his ears are lying. A timbre he hears and is laced with Matt’s calm; his flat, hard drawl.

‘What?’ Matt is upset. By him? Really?

‘Where am I, Matt?’


‘I’m here; in this cell. But where’s that, Matt? I recall…’


‘I was asleep, I think. Drunk, maybe. Did we have a drink?’


‘Wine. Gin. Sunny day; sea, beach, gin. Perfect match. And with a girl, maybe. Pam. Was Pam there?’


‘Pam. With us, sipping gin. I swim badly. If Pam swam, she swam by herself. I watched, I expect.’


‘Pam in that pink bikini. With stripes. A small pink bikini that she…’


‘Please. I… Gin talking. And I’m hungry. That’s it. There’s fruit and bread.’


‘A plate, there. I guess it’s mine, if I get hungry. And I am. But still.’


‘I’m waiting. Eating will wait. Like me. [pause] Matt?’


‘Hear that?’


‘Ticking. Just there, quietly; but there, in my…’


‘Cell. Is that what it is, a cell? I’m trapped; trapped in a grey cell. Trapped in a grey cell with a plate – fruit and bread – and a quiet ticking. Like my life…’


‘Is ebbing away, Matt. Like I’m dying. Like when it ends – tick, tick, tick – then I end. [pause] Say “Hi”; Pam, I mean.’


‘If she happens by – after her swim. If she’s been there. [pause] I liked it there, I think.’

Silence. Matt fails him, as he always failed him. He sees that finally. After all this time; there was a gap between them, and he knew – finally – that he had filled it with – what?

Tick, tick, tick.

He is waiting.

My Writing Diary

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