An old, slightly sad looking man, photographed in black and white

Short Story Challenge Week 15: Sackcloth and Ashes

The inspiration for this week’s short story should be pretty evident, I think.

As should the fact that I’m probably not getting invited to the palace any time soon… and I guess I have to hope that lese-majesty isn’t still a crime in Australia. Any of my lawyer friends know?

For anyone just joining me, I’ve challenged myself to write a short fiction story (or similar piece of writing) once a week for a full year. You join me, as the title suggests, fifteen weeks into the challenge.

And now it is time that we should all don the…

Sackcloth and Ashes

An old, slightly sad looking man, photographed in black and white

“Sackcloth! Get yer official mournin’ sackcloth right ‘ere. Only five quid per metre, loverly quality, can’t do better than that down the ‘igh street, now can you!

Ashes! No true mournin’ season is really genuine and heartfelt without ashes!

Ello luv, after some sackcloth are you? Finest quality, you won’t find any better anywhere else in the market, and definitely not from them big department stores neither.

Oh, you’re good for the sackcloth, are you? Well then, how about some ashes. Can’t be wearing the sackcloth and not having the ashes, now can you? Wouldn’t be right.

‘Ere, darlin’, I’ll let you in on a little secret, I will. These ashes here, I’ll let you have… ooh.. ‘arf a tub, enough for the whole family that is… and what I’ll do, what I’ll do just for you, just for today, don’t tell no-one else, I’ll let you have that ‘arf a tub for only three quid.

Three quid! That’s a bargain any day of the week, that is. I’ve been selling it all week long at five quid a half tub, so this is a deal not to be missed.

OK, I can see you’re not impressed.

But what you don’t know, what you’re not considerin’, is that these ain’t no ordinary ashes. Now, you go down the supermarket, you buy your ashes from there, you know where they’ve come from?

Let me tell you where those ashes in those little plastic packets come from.

They come from big factories overseas, burnt up in huge great loads from any old junk without a care in the world. You never know what’s in it, probly’ not much wood, mostly fillers and that absestos and all those other nasties. Mass produced, nasty, filthy ashes that shouldn’t go near no-one, never. No skill. No… artisan feeling to those ashes.

Wear those ashes, and all you’re saying is that you’ve got a grubby face and a cheap disregard for ‘er majesty. Definitely not that you’ve got geniune remorse and sorrowing and grief, like what you should have.

Whereas these ashes…. these is proper royal ashes. Mixed them myself I did, mixed them in with some of the very ashes that came up when the castle burned. You remember that? It was on the news for days, as them firefighters battled to save the west wing and all its paintings and historical artefacts and stuff.

Well, you see, I was one of them firefighters back in the day. Can’t do it no more, on account of my busted up knee.

Got that saving a massive painting of some… ‘ounds, in the west wing, you see. She loved ‘ounds, everyone knows that, and there ain’t no way I was going to let a painting that she, her majesty ‘erself, might have loved burn up, now was I?

Did I ever see ‘er lookin’ at it? Well… no, but then I didn’t live in the palace, did I? I was only there when it was on fire, because… it was on fire! Don’t be so daft!

Anyway, that painting fell off the wall, along with a whole lot of rubble, crushed up my leg real bad, and that’s why I ain’t a firefighter any more.

Left me in a real bad way for a while, that did. No job, no unemployment, national health couldn’t do much for me…

But anyway, one day I sees them hauling away all the rubble from the castle.

Yeah, right after they put all that national lottery money into rebuilding the castle, only you can’t rebuild if it’s full of burnt timber and cracked plaster and gawd knows what else goes into building a castle, now can you?

So they dumped that lot down on the waste grounds, down behind the dog track. Now, I know they shouldn’t be dumping it there where the kiddies might play in it, but then again, I ain’t no grass, so I didn’t say nothing.

But what I did do, because I’ve always been what me old mum used to call ‘a different thinker’, you see, what I did was drive round there in the car I had at the time. Even though it was only a rusty old Reliant, it was enough for me to haul away a couple of the more solid bits of timber.

Real timber, real good wood, because ‘er majesty… well, ‘er ancestors, I suppose, it ain’t like they’re buying the cheap building materials down the hardware store, now are they? No, madam, they weren’t. They had the best wood from the best trees brought to them special like, as befits their status as royals, innit?

So I kept that wood, to remind me, and the other night, when it was real biting cold, I put it on the fire.

Burned up real nice it did, lasted a good long time, and I’ll tell you what — I could feel the warmth of her coming through them timbers as they burned. Honest to god, I could.

Anyway, the next mornin’, I got up in the cold, and gathered up all the ashes. I mean, it’d be dead wrong and unpatriotic not to, now wouldn’t it?

And those ashes, those 100% genuine, certified, honest-to-gawd ashes, that’s what I’m selling you here today. You can’t get any closer to the funeral without being invited, now can you?

Alright… how about two pound fifty? And I’m only saying that because I like the look of your… smile. Yeah, so, how about two pound fifty?

Good? Lovely, there’s your change, and there’s your ashes. Remember to wail in time with the national anthem, and that you’ve gotta remember it’s “King” now, not “Queen” if you don’t want the coppers to come knockin’ around. People do talk, now don’t they?

Sir! Sir! Can I interest you in some sackcloth? Finest British sackcloth, feel that quality, go, on, give it a good squeeze. Loverly stuff, that sackcloth, home sewn it is.

What? Where does it say “Made in China” on it? Oh, that label there. Didn’t spot that… I mean, that’s a mistake, obviously. It’s meant to say… meant to say… oh yeah, it’s meant to say “Made next to China”

No, not Mongolia, or anywhere like that. My own mother made that sackcloth, and she made it next to the family china.

We’ve had that China for generations, gifted it was from Queen Victoria’s third cousin. Royal China, you see, so this sackcloth, right ‘ere, it’s quite special.

And just for you sir, just for you in this very special time in our nation’s history, I can let you have this very special, royally blessed sackcloth for only six pounds per metre…


Enjoyed this story?

It’s week 15 of my challenge, and that means there’s already 14 others (at least) you could read.

Maybe more if you’re reading this even later down the track (you could check the short story challenge tag to be sure), but at the time of writing, 14 others is your lot.

Short Story Challenge Week 1: Before The War

Short Story Challenge Week 2: Apples Cannot Scream

Short Story Challenge Week 3: Blankets

Short Story Challenge Week 4: Charles Leadworth

Short Story Challenge Week 5: Cloud Running

Short Story Challenge Week 6: The Bowl

Short Story Challenge Week 7: Mr Breckinridge

Short Story Challenge Week 8: Inspiration

Short Story Challenge Week 9: FreeDog

Short Story Challenge Week 10: Black Dog

Short Story Challenge Week 11: I Don’t Know What To Do

Short Story Challenge Week 12: Sacrifice

Short Story Challenge Week 13: Oak House

Short Story Challenge Week 14: Inside The Tube


As I already mentioned, the last time I did this, I ended up with enough short stories to fill an eBook. An eBook called Fifty Two, to be precise, and here I am, plugging it yet again. The bills will not pay themselves, you know?


Buy Fifty Two through Amazon for your Kindle e-reader here.

Buy Fifty Two through Apple for your iPad or iOS devices/Macs here.

Buy Fifty Two through Smashwords for any other e-reader format here.


And if you want something entirely different, there’s also my B-movie novel, Sharksplosion. Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think a book with that title might be like:

Buy Sharksplosion for Amazon Kindle

Buy Sharksplosion for iBooks (iPhone, iPad, etc)

Buy Sharksplosion for all other e-readers through Smashwords


Onwards to next week’s challenge. Unless King Charles has me thrown into the tower for writing this one. Maybe send some water and gruel my way, just to be on the safe side.

About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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