Taylor's twists


After winning a mystery and ridle-solving competition, five hundred guests attended a private reading of Margaret Taylor's final work

Peter Edgerton

Friday, 4 February 2022, 12:23


The sprawling gardens of Lanchester House were buzzing with the nervous chatter of five hundred guests resplendent in evening dress. They had entered a competition to solve a series of devilishly tricky riddles and mystery clues set by the short story crime writer, Margaret Taylor. Having been the fastest five hundred to do so, they would now be privy to first private reading of Miss Taylor's latest and, indeed, final work.

Margaret Taylor was renowned as the greatest short story writer of her - or possibly any - generation. Her tales were little jewels, each exactly five hundred words long and they had earned her the respect and admiration of thousands of fans worldwide plus a small fortune in film rights. The secret was in the unexpected endings which characterised her stories - Taylor's Twists as they had become known. The other factor - some called it a gimmick - was that each of the stories was released annually, on her birthday, which never failed to create an air of mystique and expectation.

Now the lucky five hundred were gathered to hear what was to be Margaret Taylor's last ever work, only this time the wait had been three long years because, as Miss Taylor herself had put it, "this will be the most unexpected ending of all". The excitement was palpable as the guests sipped on Martinis and waited for news. Suddenly, and dramatically, the large French doors swung open and Margaret Taylor swept out onto the marble staircase overlooking the rolling lawns of Lanchester House. Her voice carried perfectly over the crowd on the late summer evening breeze.

"Ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to follow me round to the ballroom, I will be delighted to read my last ever short story to you. Thank you."

The crowd barely managed to maintain a dignified walking stride as they hurried around to the back of the house. Upon entering the ballroom, they were greeted by staff members who handed each of them a large book exquisitely bound in blue satin and gold leaf - The Complete Works Of Margaret Taylor. Each book was signed and dated inside the front cover, each distinguished with a serial number from one to five hundred.

Once the guests were seated, Miss Taylor stepped up to the microphone.

"Thank you so much for coming, everybody. I'm delighted to present to you all my final work, the title of which will be revealed to you later on this evening." She began to read, immediately drawing the audience in, setting the scene to her tale with an economy of precisely chosen words. Her guests listened intently until, a short while later, she came to the final paragraph. All assembled held their breath - here comes the Taylor Twist. A collective gasp and then ... Nothing. There was no twist. None at all. The story was as predictable as the worst kind of soap opera. Nobody knew quite what to do or where to look and, by the time anyone had plucked up the courage to turn their gaze back to the stage, Miss Taylor had disappeared, never to be seen again. What an almighty let-down.

In spite of the subdued atmosphere, the waiting staff brought around a farewell cocktail as promised and all of the guests stayed on out of politeness, all trying, with varying degrees of success, to hide their bitter disappointment.

Still, their books were quite beautiful and, with nothing much else to talk about, many began to leaf through the contents until, after a while, one guest asked another what date Miss Taylor had written in their book because his was clearly a mistake.

"Oh , er, it's 3/2/33 – Eh? How very odd."

Slowly, word passed around the room and it soon became clear that the dates that accompanied Miss Taylor's signature were strangely random: 4/9/67, 8/10/86 and so on.

A renewed buzz descended on the crowd until, eventually, a young woman stepped onto the stage and took the microphone. She had been the first of them all to solve the competition of riddles and mysteries.

"Good evening, everyone. Who among us has book number one, please?" A bearded man raised his hand tentatively. "And two?" Another hand. "Let's please get in line, in sequence, from one to five hundred."

Soon the guests were assembled in the correct order. The woman spoke again

"Number one, what's your date, please?"


"What's the ninth word of the fifth paragraph on page 45?"

"Er, it's 'Nothing'."

"Right, everybody, let's get to work. Please find the word in the book that corresponds to your date code."

Four hours later they had compiled the hidden short story, the hardest part being where to add the correct punctuation. It was a magnificent piece of writing - no wonder it had taken three years to execute such a plan.

Nothing Is At All As It Seems was, it was widely agreed, was Margaret Taylor's best-ever short story. As always, it was precisely five hundred words long.


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