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As you can see, the bulk of our budget goes to paying writers, like Philip Brian Hall, the author of this month’s story and the Third Place Winner of our annual Short Story Contest! A big congratulations to Philip and his delightful story, A Most Unusual Proposal, which you’re about to read…
Danny Hankner
Danny Hankner


Dear Story Unlikely,
     I was sent the link to Story Unlikely by the wife of an editor friend of mine. I often get sent links to where I can enter my work, though I'm not sure if they're sending it to try and boost my morale or if they really believe my work is worth publishing. I write all the time. I help others with their writing. It's what I know better than anything.
     I looked over your site and was surprised to see that you don't want woke material. People can read whatever they want, but I find woke material gets in the way of telling a story how it was intended to be. This may be the first time I've entered my work where the editor just wants good content.
     Also wanted to add, I love your art. From the time I started writing, I've never worked with a company/publisher/agent that has given that kind quality to their clients. Never. I know I shouldn't be this way, especially as an author, but covers do pull me in. I think they're every bit as important as the content inside. Much like a movie, a book without a good cover is like a movie without a good score.
Morden Grey

~If you host a podcast and would like one of our staff as a guest, send an email to dan@storyunlikely.com~

(Clever / Witty / historical romance)

     Necessity gives birth to invention, so they say, but postnatally, she considers her job done. Does she nurture her child?  Never! When did Necessity ever teach young ladies the rules of husband hunting? And if you haven’t been taught the rules, how can you be expected to play by them? As a result, the matrimonial gladiators of genteel Edwardian England showed less respect for traditional English Fair Play than did those of the Roman Colosseum.
     Angela Laxman was one of Necessity’s children. New Year, 1911, found our respectable merchant’s daughter obliged to concede, reluctantly and to herself, that she was no longer in the first blush of youth. Contending fiercely, she had slowly and reluctantly given ground before the unrelenting assault of humanity’s common enemy until, at length, she stood at the very edge of that daunting precipice beyond which lies the bottomless abyss of spinsterhood. In short, she was twenty-six years old.
     In deepest Shropshire, meeting eligible bachelors was not easy. All sports except foxhunting were ruled out by the requirements of decorum and, having been born in town, Angela did not ride. Cultural events such as concerts or exhibitions were conspicuous by their absence at such a distance from the metropolis. The occasional country dances held in the village hall of Chipping Bedminster were vulgar affairs, dominated by loud and uncouth young farmers who seemed determined to hurl their partners from the floor rather than romance them. Strangely the shop girls, dairymaids and others of the lower classes never seemed to mind, entering into the spirit of the occasion with great shrieks of affected terror. Angela did not shriek. In any case, she did not envisage a future of bravely-borne bucolic bliss.
     In her utmost need, she turned to bridge. The local club was held within the safe confines of the vicarage. The vicar's wife informed her that it enjoyed a regular influx of new members, yet thereafter three whole months passed with no exciting newcomer. Angela almost resolved to fall back on that final forlorn hope of the truly desperate, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society, when, one evening in May, Marion arrived at the bridge club with Robert.
     Previously, the local news reporter had always come alone. She was an odd creature in more respects than her unsuitable employment, having short-cropped, jet-black hair and habitually smoking Black Russian cheroots. To these modern eccentricities, she added the mental agility of reading the mind of her bridge partners so infallibly that, in any establishment but the vicarage, one would have sworn she'd marked the cards.
     Robert did not play bridge but declared himself willing to learn. This was the only declaration of his that made any sense all night. Even Marion's prodigious insight deserted her when partnered with Robert, whose proclivity for making strong bids on the basis of weak hands seemed undimmed by experience as the evening wore on.
     During the coffee break, Angela managed to engage Robert in conversation whilst Marion was elsewhere. She learned his full name was Robert Aubrey Waters, he was heir to a baronetcy, thirty years old, and enjoyed a sinecure in a well-established merchant banking house. The bank in question had a well-populated letterhead and more sense than to require Robert's actual presence. He accordingly divided his time among the various family estates in different parts of the country. To Angela’s astonishment, the only thing lacking in his otherwise idyllic existence was a wife.
     “There are half a dozen really quite passable mansions that might be suitable for a matrimonial residence,” Robert remarked to Angela. “But, you know, one couldn’t possibly live in any one of them alone, with just a dozen or so domestic staff. I mean, they really are dreadfully large and one does rattle around in them so.”
     “I know just what you mean,” said Angela, who didn’t. “Whatever is the use of a snooker room, for example, when there’s no one with whom to play snooker?”
     “Exactly!” cried Robert. “How well you put it.”
     In the ladies' cloakroom at the end of the evening, Angela was able to create an opportunity of speaking alone with her presumed rival.
     “What a nice young man Robert is,” she began amiably. “You have a great catch there Marion.”
     “Oh there's nothing like that going on," Marion responded. "He's a relative of my editor. The boss asked me to show him around the area. Apparently, he hardly knows anyone in this part of the world. The poor boy needs to get out more. He's been following me around like a puppy. Not my type at all."
     “You’re quite sure?” asked Angela solicitously, though with a gleam in her eye.
     “Do I strike you as the sort of person who’s looking to join the ranks of the aristocracy?” Marion demanded tartly. “If he’s your cup of tea, my dear, you have my full permission to try drinking him!”
     Angela required no second invitation. Feeling herself falling passionately in love, she decided to strike whilst the iron was at least tolerably lukewarm. Hastening from the cloakroom, she found Robert awaiting Marion in the hallway.
     “Dear Mr. Waters," she smiled. "How very nice it's been to meet another beginner. All the experts have been very helpful, but one always feels one imposes on their good nature, you know, by partnering them. I do so much hope you'll come again next week so we may support each other?"
     Pursuing the scent with the ardor of an old member of the bitch pack on the trail of her last fox, Angela soon inveigled an invitation to visit the family mansion about which Robert was presently engaged in rattling.
     The following Sunday, having arrived expensively by taxicab in order to make a good impression, she presented herself at the grand entrance to Waterloo Hall, one of the most eminent houses of the district.
     Despite skies threatening rain, Angela wore her very best summer dress and a hat that in its day might have graced the Royal Enclosure at Ascot.  Sadly, its day might well have coincided with that of the late Queen Victoria and Angela might have inherited it from a deceased maiden aunt rather than purchasing it in Knightsbridge.
     A butler conducted her into a beautifully furnished library, its walls and ceiling coruscating with late-baroque magnificence.
     Robert greeted her effusively. “Angela,” he said, “how delightful you look. Do come and sit down by the window. Will you take tea?”
     Robert evidently enjoyed a lifestyle to which Angela decided she'd have no difficulty at all becoming accustomed. She admired the silver tea service and the delicate Dresden china cups and saucers; she admired the tall bookshelves lined with leather-bound volumes; she admired the Chippendale furniture, the Persian rugs, the view across the landscaped parkland from the French windows. In fact, there was nothing about Waterloo Hall that Angela did not admire.
The two of them got on famously. Robert hung on her every word, laughed at her weakest jokes, complimented her appearance repeatedly and eventually took a gentle hold of her hand while gazing longingly into her eyes.
     Even so, she was unprepared for what came next.
     “How would you like to move in?” he inquired.
     Angela was astonished. “Move in?” she finally managed to stammer. “Here? With you?”
     “Of course," he smiled sweetly. "Well, that is to say," he continued, "to be strictly accurate, I couldn't be here all the time, you know. I do have five other estates to manage; I should have to continue to visit each of them. I should only actually be here for a couple of months each year, but you'd be mistress of the house all the rest of the time. You could spend what you liked, within reason, and the servants would look after you."
     “This is so sudden,” said Angela, recovering her composure and at last remembering her lines. “We’ve only known each other for four days; we know so little about each other.”
     “That’s true,” said Robert. “Ordinarily I shouldn’t rush you, but it’s my father, you see; he’s becoming very insistent that I provide him with an heir.”
     Angela had the delicacy to blush prettily.
     “And he’s threatening to cut off my allowance if I haven’t at least started on the job, as it were, within twelve months.”
     Angela took a deep breath. Eligible young ladies were not usually required to discuss such matters prior to matrimony and common practice was to affect total ignorance. However, she was ineluctably obliged to acknowledge herself neither the youngest nor the most eligible of her class.
     “Well,” she said, “one can hardly offer any guarantees in that respect, though I suppose we could get a special license and be married very quickly. But afterwards, you know, it would really make no sense for you to go off around the country on your own, wasting ten months of the year. If you really need me to be...”
     She took another deep breath, but then, reckoning that a fair lady never won faint heart without calling a spade a spade and inextricably mixing her metaphors, she continued, “If you really need me to be pregnant before the year is out, either you must stay here, or I shall have to travel around with you.”
     “Ah,” replied Robert, “I can see I haven’t explained my proposal sufficiently clearly. You see, I really do need that allowance. My salary from the bank is only two thousand a year and a chap can’t be expected to live on that, can he? Do you know, a motor car is more expensive to maintain than a horse and carriage? Would you believe it?”
     Angela was unable to comment.
     “So, you understand, I can’t take a chance that my wife won’t become pregnant within the year. The idea is, the pregnancy comes first and the marriage second. Oh, it would be well before the birth of course - defeat the whole purpose of the thing if the little blighter were to be born illegitimate, don’t you know.”
     To say that Angela was shocked would be a profound understatement; nothing so outrageous had ever been suggested in her hearing let alone suggested to her. But she was made of sterling stuff; moreover, she was twenty-six years old.
     “This is a most unusual proposal," she declared, putting as much dignity into her voice as could be mustered in the context of an acceptance that would inevitably be undignified. "Yet, I can see your point of view, and so I suppose I must do my best to oblige. But Robert, that makes it even less sensible for you to leave me behind here. We shall need to spend all our time together."
     “Ah,” smiled Robert, “just one further detail. You see, Waterloo Hall is the last family mansion on my list. I already have young ladies installed at the other five. You could look upon the arrangement as...”
     “A sort of competition!” exclaimed Angela, aghast. “The winner to be the first to...”
     “How well you put it,” said Robert.
     Angela was shocked all over again. Robert’s scheme was not so much undignified as indecent. Nice young ladies would naturally have stalked from the house in great dudgeon and never spoken to the horrible, lecherous bounder again. On the other hand not all nice young ladies faced the imminence of a life of total celibacy and a future as an old maid. Moreover, the potential rewards far exceeded any remotely possible alternative that had ever swum into her ken or ever was likely to swim by again. In for a penny,  as they say, in for several thousand pounds a year. She regathered her courage.
     “And the losers?” she inquired. One hated to contemplate the possibility of failure, but given odds of five to one against Mother Necessity inspired a girl to certain precautions.
     “A small annual stipend and the life occupancy of one of the various country cottages on our Scottish estate,” Robert replied. “Somewhere in Caithness, I think, or is it Sutherland?”
     Whichever it was, Angela was sure its inhabitants still wore animal skins and wolves roamed the gloomy forests. She did not smell the attractive tang of the Highlands. She preferred a palatial residence situated in four hundred acres of parkland, surrounded by extensive well-managed woods and a grand estate of rented farms. Something would have to be done.
     Within hours of moving into Waterloo Hall, Angela had reached two decisions: one, she would on no account be moved out of it; two, urgent steps must be taken to remedy the disadvantage to which she’d quite unfairly been subjected. The sixth and last mistress to be recruited would not otherwise have the remotest chance of victory in the contest.
     Having established by a close questioning of Robert, that when last seen, none of his other mistresses had shown any signs of being enceinte, Angela resolved upon an immediate game changer.
     “Of course,” she said to him over the breakfast marmalade next day, “you’re taking care to ensure there’s no cheating in your competition?”
     “I don’t know what you mean,” Robert responded. “The rules are quite straightforward. The first to establish beyond doubt that an heir’s on the way is the winner.”
     “My dear Robert," Angela smiled, "how charmingly naive you are. Have you considered that you're absent from each of your fiancees for five-sixths of the time and that five of the six can hope for nothing better than banishment to some primitive wilderness?"
     Robert frowned.
     “Have you also considered that, during your prolonged absences, there will be ample scope for the forces in play to conduct, shall we say, auxiliary maneuvers? By what measures shall you ensure that the first-announced prospective heir is not in reality the offspring of some footman or gardener?”
     “That’s a most unworthy suggestion!” blustered Robert, to whom the obvious did not always occur instantly and sometimes not at all. “They’re all young ladies of good family.”
     “But not, I believe, terribly young. Think carefully, Robert. I gather you proposed this scheme to each of us after a similar short acquaintance. Novelists romanticize love at first sight, but six such coincidences in quick succession place a certain strain upon one's credulity. Do you imagine a young lady driven by circumstance to stoop to accept your proposal would hesitate to stoop a little further in order to guarantee success?”
     “I take your point,” Robert conceded, his face briefly a mask of confusion but soon brightening as an idea presented itself. “Perhaps my scheme was not quite so well thought through as I’d believed. I shall immediately appoint private investigators to the domestic staff of each of the mansions.” He smiled, well pleased with his own wisdom. “Their task shall be to watch each of you minxes with close attention.”
     “How close?” Angela looked up archly from beneath fluttering eyelashes. “In order to be quite certain, your investigators must spend the whole night, every night, within each lady’s house.”
     “Yes, I agree.”
     “Do you suppose private detectives earn a great deal, Robert? Enough, say, to eschew the temptations, both financial and physical, that might be offered to them?”
     “Harrumph! I shall dismiss the male staff and have you all surrounded by naught but females for the whole of the year!” declared Robert, in anguish that his inspirational solution should prove so short-lived.
     “Which none of these females,” Angela continued equably, “shall have any male relatives or acquaintances of their own who might be willing to supply the lady of the house’s lack, for a consideration to be shared with the relevant female staff member."
     "Oh," said Robert.
     "And in the meantime, all your estates will go to rack and ruin for want of physical labor."
     “Ah,” said Robert.
     “Then you will also need female guards on all sides of your estates to prevent the ladies from slipping into town, over to a neighboring farm, or even,” Angela pressed both hands earnestly to her bosom, “perish the thought, behind some hedgerow or haystack.”
     Not so much an old fox as an inexperienced cub, Robert was run swiftly to earth. In his mind's eye, he saw himself overwhelmed by six simultaneously-pregnant fiancées, each outbidding the next as to the anticipated date of the happy event and none of them carrying a true heir.
     “Of course,” Angela continued gaily, “you could always wait until after the births in order to ascertain which, if any, of the babies were sons, and which, furthermore, bore the desired family resemblance, though that's a notoriously inexact science and would, in any case, require the unfortunate infant to be born illegitimate."
     “And even should you subsequently marry the mother, I doubt your father would approve of the scandal thus brought upon the family name.”
     “No,” said Robert.
     “And if a second child were thereafter to be born legitimately to dispute the dubious patrimony of the first, the case could then run forever in the law courts, just like Jarndyce versus Jarndyce."
     “This is terrible,” groaned Robert, his head sinking into his hands and his nose in perilous proximity to the butter dish. “What shall I do?”
     “Why, Robert, that’s surely obvious to a man of your intellect,” Angela said, looking at him with unfeigned admiration. “Did you not yourself tell me that you left Waterloo Hall until last because it’s the best of your houses? I’m sure it must have occurred to you to bring all your young ladies here, where you yourself may watch over us all.”
     “You’re quite right, I did!” exclaimed Robert, who’d thought of no such thing but now perceived its wisdom.
     “But you dismissed the thought for fear of rumor spreading around the county that you’d established a Turkish harem, replete with concubines?” Angela inquired thoughtfully.
     “Ah!” groaned Robert. “Exactly what I thought. How well you put it.”
     “Though at the time you reached this conclusion, the even greater dangers attendant upon your alternative scheme had not, perhaps, become quite clear?”
     “I fear they had not," Robert nodded, following which incautious movement he was obliged to wipe the butter from his nose with his napkin.
     “So now,” he finally managed to say, emerging from behind the linen, “I’ve reconsidered and decided to bring the other five ladies to Waterloo Hall immediately. We’ll put it about that they’re my nieces.”
     “Who’ve all descended upon you simultaneously,” agreed Angela, “and are so enthusiastic for your company they can’t be prevailed upon to depart for a whole year.”
     “Just so,” admitted Robert, faintly detecting the odor of another drawback.
     “During which time away from all other male contacts, one or more may be found to be in the family way; a not quite insuperable obstacle with nieces, I believe, but not ideal for one's reputation."
     “Not ideal,” admitted Robert.
     “Of course,” Angela went on, “it will not have escaped you that five of your nieces have already been left to their own devices for some considerable time. You have, after all, impressed upon us all that, whilst the greatest of races may not, this particular Earthly race most certainly goeth to the swift.”
     “I... er... yes.”
     “So there’s absolutely no way, in the case of any pregnancy announced upon the arrival here of your other fiancees, that you could be certain you’re the father. Nor indeed for several months thereafter.”
     “I was indeed thinking along just such lines,” Robert said mournfully.
     “And that, I am sure, was when the solution occurred to you.”
     Angela was in full flow describing his thought processes, and Robert, who’d not yet thought these thoughts but felt sure he would have done if given sufficient time, considered it best to let her complete her admirable description of his great idea.
     “You’ll have reasoned,” said Angela, “that for at least four or five months, and possibly more since some ladies will show very few signs in the early stages of pregnancy, no man must have any access to these five ladies. Until you’re quite sure they are each effectively restored to the starting line as it were, they must all be confined to one wing of this house; the west wing I think, that has splendid views and you would not wish to appear harsh on the poor dears.”
     “I had thought that I should bring them together here in order to exclude the possibility of their consorting with other men,” Robert ventured to protest, “but I’d not considered I’d have to exclude myself.” He gave Angela a puzzled look.
     “Oh? But when, a month after you lay with one of them, she told you she rather thought she might be pregnant, would you say to yourself, How wonderful, she’s a month pregnant with my child? Or might you worry she could perhaps be six weeks or two months pregnant with someone else’s?” Angela asked.
     Robert gulped and said nothing.
     “No,” Angela continued, “as I said, you must confine them here long enough to be sure it’s safe to start the whole competition again from the beginning. Only when you’re positive they’re not already pregnant is it safe for you to release them and – how shall I put it? - recommence relations.”
     “But this is a disaster,” cried Robert. I’ve barely nine months left before my allowance is cut off! I can’t wait five months before... recommencing relations!”
     He looked so desolate that Angela almost pitied him. "But Robert, my dear," she smiled, "do recall that all I've said applies only to the other five ladies. It’s their starting line that must be re-established. I've been with you constantly, ever since you made the proposal to me yesterday. You have evidence of my prior virginity and I've had no opportunity to stray, even should such an unworthy and treacherous thought have crossed my mind, which in any case it never would because I've set my heart upon you."
     “You mean,” said Robert, eyes opening wide with sudden comprehension, “That you and I could... recommence relations... at once?”
     “How well you put it,” said Angela.
About the author:
Philip Brian Hall is a graduate of Oxford University. A former diplomat and teacher, he’s had short stories published in The USA, Canada and The UK. His work has appeared in numerous anthologies as well as magazines and online publications. His novels, ‘The Prophets of Baal’ and ‘The Family Demon’ are available in e-book and in paperback. He blogs at sliabhmannan.blogspot.co.uk/

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“Every great story begins with a snake” - Nicholas cage
while you were reading
Our 2023 Short Story Contest has come to a close; stay tuned for the publication of our remaining winning stories. In the mean time, we received over 900 submissions(!), so allow us to list off our (truly!) Honorable Mentions: (if your name is listed, respond to this email to claim your fancy certificate)
Disclaimer - We can't verify whether or not Nicholas Cage supports Story Unlikely, but as a gentleman and a scholar, we think it's safe to assume he does.
Honorable Mentions:
THE TAROT READER, by Uri Rosenrauch
UNSUNG, by Randall Hayes
STONE COLD, by Wulf Moon
MUMMER'S PARADE, by Zev Lawson Edwards

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“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:11
Twelve months ago we published a memoir, Ivory Tower Pastor - a twisted affair about an abusive clergy and the Gallon Drinkers (think Gallon Donor, except we're talking Kool-Aid, not blood) he has surrounded himself with.
Well happy - or not so happy - one year anniversary. A shame that this sorry story still lingers on. And it certainly could have - and should have - been wrapped up by now. But this is what happens when all the people who have information and testimonies to share, instead of speaking the truth (exposing the fruitless deeds of darkness, as we're called to in scripture), decide not to. So here's to you, real men of genius gutlessness…
Until these men are finally held accountable - removed from their positions of power and suffer the necessary consequences for their perverse behavior - we will continue to follow this story.  And there are those (cough Acts 29 Network cough), who need to - for once - start taking abuse within their church network seriously and deal with this. 

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The Excrement List
Disobey our submission guidelines, 
and find yourself amiss.
Disobey the guidelines,
wind up on the list.
(It's like when restaurants used to post bounced checks on the wall, but for the digital age)
As a publisher, we have rules that writers must abide by if they want to get published. Some of these aren't that big of a deal, but others, like ‘if you submit to our contest, don't submit this story anywhere else until the reading period is over,' or ‘don’t mark our emails as spam', are a major no-no.  Offenders get put on our ~dun dun dun~ Excrement List, aka lifetime ban on getting published. We keep this list to show people that - for once - we're not joking..  Don't be like the perps below - you're much too savvy for that:
Gillian W, Cat T, Adam M, Olasupo L, Mick S, Leslie C, Patricia W, Tim V, Andrew F, Sam P, Aaron H, N. Kurts, 
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