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Competition 11: Jeff Taylor
Fishing with Charlie
My old mate, Charlie, has taught me everything about fishing. In the school holidays he’s shown me how to read the tides, the moon and the weather. The age gap between us is no problem. He always uses a hand-line and scoffs at my fibreglass power stick with the level-wind reel and all the flasher rigs (He’s always more successful than me, of course).
So here we are again, coming up to our special fishing place in the old clinker dinghy, and tying up to the channel marker.
“This’s been our lucky spot for so damn long,” I say gratefully as I get out the bag of burley. It’s our own secret ground bait formula.
The old sea-dog I love like my own father kept very quiet about his slow decomposition from within. Not unlike a prize catch kept too long in the fridge.
The water’s still and the sun’s shining, as I carefully measure a teaspoonful from the urn and sprinkle it in the burley bag before dropping it over on a rope.
I’m going to keep on fishing with Charlie for as long as I can.
Competition 10: Julia E Sands
There was a bird hide up by the reservoir, where they flocked in great numbers every year. All through the summer they shifted restlessly inside the little hut as the birds flitted from branch to feeder, murmuring observations to one another.
‘Look at that spotted one there. Quite something, isn’t it?’
‘Yes. Amazing variety this season.’
Flasks of tea swapped hands, steam clouded the view. There were rumours this year of a snipe. Somebody’s phone went off. A brief scramble ensued, followed by dour silence. Eventually, the birds began to sing once more.
‘I’ve not heard one of those before. Have you?’
‘No. I wonder which of them it was.’
Late in the afternoon, just as hope began to fade, there came a rustle of reeds. The veil of steam parted on the snipe, revealed in all his drab glory.
At the end of a most satisfying day, the last of the birders rose to depart. One tugged on her polka dot coat as the door banged shut behind her. Another sheepishly checked his phone.
The woodpecker bobbed his head at the nuthatch. ‘Fantastic viewing this year.’
‘Indeed,’ said the nuthatch. ‘Brilliant idea inviting the snipe.’
Competition 9: Rosa Carr
The Unknown Statue
‘The sculpture has been there for many years. No one knows who created it,’ said the guide to a group.
No matter the weather, I come to this tranquil garden throughout the year to sit by the unknown sculpture. It’s better in bad weather and there aren’t any people ogling and nattering.
Sitting here now I look at the flowers that have sprung up. This time of year it’s lovely to just see the colour popping up. With the sun highlighting the colours.
How I would love to pick one and smell it. I wonder if I can-
The group move on and one of them has walked right through me.
I come here often, through all seasons to watch over my sculpture. I sometimes wish they knew my name, but then I remember that it’s much more fun with a mystery.
I brush my hand along the flowers and smile as they sway ever so slightly. I wave my hand again with more force hoping to jostle the flowers into movement. Absentmindedly my attention wanders around the garden as my fingers step from one to the other.
My smile vanishes as I see someone’s eyes following my hand.
Competition 8: Fred McIlmoyle
As the door creaked open my eyes hypnotically swivelled towards it. There, in the doorway, eerily framed, the gleaming steel spikes glinted threateningly. Their air of impending menace was intensified by the fiendish leer on the face of the man gripping them, fondling them. As he advanced towards me his cold eyes never leaving my face, an icy tremor slid up the back of my neck and I felt the hairs slowly rise, prickling.
How could I ever have allowed myself be trapped in this horrific situation. Visions of those spikes possessed my mind – flashing, descending …biting; the sticky flow oozing down my body. I could sense the intolerable pain as my lungs screamed for air, my heart pounding like a trip hammer. I could visualize the sadistic, vicarious pleasure in the eyes of the watchers, gradually intensifying, necks cranes to avoid missing the tiniest detail of my gruelling torment.
Now he was gradually moving closer, pushing those dreaded spikes towards me – too late! no escape now from this impending torture. Finally, with a lunging gesture and a fiendish chuckle, my coach growled, “Time to get these spikes on lad and run those losers into the ground”
Competition 7: Chris Ryder
When he opened his eyes, nothing had changed. The figures on the chessboard remained exactly as they had been: the white pieces few and accusatory; the black, strategic and unyielding.
He had won dozens of championships and vanquished thousands of challengers, some by total devastation, others by clawing his way back from situations far worse than this. He was allowing the stress to overwhelm him, focusing obsessively on what was at stake. He just needed to stay calm. It was just another game.
He saw that he was running out of time. With ill-feigned confidence, he moved his one remaining knight to queen’s rook six. His opponent – ancient and slow, though no less sharp for it – reached out mechanically and made reply.
And there it was.
Defeat was now inevitable.
The certainty of it was strangely cathartic.
He stood up and ran his hands down his face. His opponent rose too, holding out its own bony hand. With one last look at the scene below – of his own form lying in the road, surrounded by desperate paramedics – he released his last breath in a great sigh of acceptance. Then he took the hand of Death, and faded into Eternity.
Competition 6: Shirley Bold Trott
All Service and No Return
Waiting with anticipation for the difference between a good day and an epic fail. Heart beating with determination, willing our partnership to be at its finest on this beautiful morning. We have been together 5 long years, pleading “Please don’t let me down, please don’t leave me hanging”.
I look in wonder and wish I had paid you more attention, listened the last time you asked for help. Radiating calmness but with fear in my eyes “We can do this, it’s okay” and a lame “next time it will be different”.
Minutes left to spare, and we have done it, right now I love you more than anything, you have made my day complete. I turn and walk away, rushing as I go with a promise of time spent with you on my return.
The dawning realisation that change was upon us gave me a heavy heart. That last morning, walking out the door I knew the end had come. Unplugging you makes it final. Removing your cartridges and the last piece of paper, indicates your demise and your lights are gone, the gleam in my eyes turns to another and the void is filled.
Competition 5: Claire Loader
We were playing headless horseman and I took things a bit too far, didn’t know the strength of my hand. It has to be authentic, I said, hands battling with your struggle, blood pouring upon the grass. I had to tie you then to keep you upright, your lolling body hanging from the reigns, seeking out the waiting ground.
Mother came to check on us, applauded me for my vision, how I was able to set the stage, propel the narrative forward. I always knew I would be a famous director, find my fame on the stages of Broadway.
The men in white suits come daily now, leave a tray of pills and gruel. This is all part of my training – one must live in the shoes of many before telling their stories to the world. I ask most days where next I am to train, their eyes fixed to the soft walls of the cell, before the latch clicks shut once more.
Competition 4: Shiv Saywack
‘Noah should be so lucky,’ I said.
‘He had God on his side,’ she said.
‘Did anyone ever consider the fishes?’
‘Two by two,’ I said gazing across a frigid lake, once a ploughed field spread cold below a dripping sky. ‘I bet they’re enjoying it.’
‘Them and the ducks,’ she says.
The rain that fell in January fell throughout spring, then summer and autumn. From morning till noon, unrelenting throughout winter, flooding towns, bursting riverbanks, washing away houses, laying waste the country, never stopping for a moment. The ceaseless pitter-patter always in our ears.
‘Was it like this before the flood?’ I ask.
‘The government says it’s not climate change,’ she said.
‘The rains will stop at Christmas. The Jet Stream will change direction.’
But on it falls.
Christmas eve, I snuggled up, luxuriating in her warmth, suddenly aware of how quiet it has become. No more pitter-patter, no drip-dripping, no splish-splashing. Not even the wind. Just the wet house creaking and the gripping silence.
They were right.
It has stopped raining.
I close my eyes and sleep happily for the first time in a year.
Outside, from a leaden sky, snow quietly drifts down.
Competition 3: Dan McQuain
Father and Son
“But dad, I still don’t get it!”
“Jesus! Stop pestering me!”
“But nobody believes in creation anymore! Scientists have the math pretty much down behind the big bang theory.”
“Whoa, dad, I didn’t say that I believe them.”
“Damn those scientists! I showed you the truth!”
“I know, but I was pretty young then. If you went over it again, I’m sure I would understand better.”
“There’s a lot of people on our side. Creationists are still a force to be reckoned with.”
“Not as many as you think, dad. Some of them have been talking to me. Most of them don’t really believe in creation. The ones that do are mocked as unintelligent.”
“You try telling them about creation. Nobody listens to me anymore.”
“I want to tell them, but I don’t remember enough to argue with the science! Can you show me one more time. Pleeeeease!”
“I could never say no to you. You’ll pay attention this time?”
“You bet, dad!”
“All right. Are you ready?”
And there was nothing.
“LET THERE BE LIGHT!”
And there was light.
Competition 2: Rhiannon Cousins
The Runaway Groom
She stepped into the aisle. He was at the opposite end talking, laughing. He had never looked more handsome. As she got closer he turned. Their eyes met and time froze.
When it started again she watched his expression change; at first happy, then amazed, then ashamed. He turned, tried to run but at that moment the train doors closed and his path was blocked by commuters.
She continued to the end of the aisle and as the train left the station she took her place by his side.
“Hello Ben, remember me?”
Without looking, Ben solemnly replied,
Competition 1: Sue Dawes
‘My brother died in combat’
The pause he leaves between sentences, silently screams.
I place my hand on his arm, still sheathed in khaki.
‘Sorry for your loss.’
I will help him move on, one truth at a time.
We take it slowly, with no sudden movements until the trees stand naked, half-camouflaged in snow.
But his mood changes as the summer heat pushes us down; spiky as dead grass.
I find a letter from a BPO address, shredded.
From his brother, begging him to stop wearing his spare uniform and to take his medication.