The ‘Open’ category of my little writing competition was harder to judge than the ‘New Writer’ category. There were more entries (32) for a start and the standard was generally much higher (and the stories more varied) – as we’d expect!
I could easily have shortlisted 8 or 9 stories but I had to cut it down to just 5 and they are, in alphabetical order:
• ‘Dirty Talk’ – Tracy Fells
• ‘A Little Problem’ – Keith Havers
• ‘Banded’ – Christine Howe
• ‘Billy’ – Jackie Sayle
• ‘Ordinary Day’ – Stacey Taylor
I’d like to give a ‘special mention’ to ‘Rendezvous’ by Angie Green, which was all in dialogue and worked very well. And also Patsy Collins’ story which was very clever and just missed out on the shortlist (Patsy, I’m sure you could use that idea again! It actually made me a bit nervous!). And I particularly liked the chilling last line in Carol Warham’s ‘The Final Deterrent’.
The winner has already been decided and I’ll reveal the winners of both categories here tomorrow evening, but if you’d like to read the 5 shortlisted and comment if there’s one in particular that you like (let’s keep it all positive, eh?), that might be fun but it WON’T affect the result – the winner is definitely NOT being decided by a ‘vote’!
(The picture, by the way, is a ‘Plague Doctor’! They apparently had no qualifications but could just ‘tell’ if someone had the plague. Nice).
Here are the shortlisted entries:
1.’Dirty Talk’ – Tracy Fells
“Ugh, there’s another one. What do you think it died of Dad?”
“Probably starved to death. They’re a nasty selfish species, never look out for each other.” His dad sniffed at the bloated corpse and scurried past. “Do you know son we’re never more than twenty feet away from one of these vermin.”
“Yeah, but the babies are real cute.”
“Only when they’re asleep, or even better when they’re blue-bottle fodder,” his dad snorted, scratching at greying whiskers. “Wasteful and greedy they drain our world of all that is bountiful. They’re a plague, a foul pestilence. And because they breed like rampant fleas their numbers are spiralling out of control. Soon the total population will hit eight billion.” He concluded with a well-aimed globule of saliva, which landed on the corpse’s bulging eyeball.
“Blimey Dad, where do you get all these facts?”
“Chewed it in one of their glossy magazines, didn’t I son. Those Sunday supplements make excellent insulation for your mother’s nest.”
The young pup hesitated, reluctant to scamper over the green sausage fingers of the dead man’s hand. “Can I just have a nibble Dad?”
“Don’t come squealing to me if you catch the Black Death. We got the blame for that one too. Yet every decent rat knows it was all down to Yersinius pestis. They’re such unhygienic beasts, crap at personal grooming.” He sat back on his haunches to lick his tail. “After you with that digit son – I’m a bit peckish.”
2. ‘A Little Problem’ – Keith Havers
“I hate this place,” thought Brian as the waiting room gradually filled up. “I wish I could find somewhere else to go.”
He glanced across at the reception desk and wondered if he should explain his problem. But he’d had run-ins with them before and was reluctant to go through another unpleasant scene.
“I hope Doctor Mason is on time,” he thought. “He was very understanding the last time this happened.”
He looked down at the table with its scuff marks and out-of-date magazines and sighed. “This is a terrible place. I ought to find a private practice. I’m sure I’d be much happier.”
He tried to avoid contact as another hapless individual arrived and sat next to him. The guy immediately convulsed in a bout of coughing and wheezing.
“Good grief!” said Brian to himself. “I’ll be lucky if I don’t catch the plague before I get out of here.”
Brian was becoming more agitated as the clock crept round.
“I must do something about my absent-mindedness,” he decided. “It’s getting so bad I’m losing sleep over it.”
“Doctor Carter! What are you doing over there?”
Brian looked up to see Doctor Mason approaching the waiting area.
“Had another episode have you, Doctor Carter?”
“Forgotten the keys to your surgery again?”
“Come along with me and I’ll get reception to dig out the master key. After surgery hours we’ll have a chat and see what we can do about your little memory problem.”
3. ‘Banded’ – Christine Howe
Miss Timms spotted the rubber band outside her door; it was red. She picked it up, approving its tensile strength.
Later, she came across another on the pavement, then another. She glanced round before scooping them up.
The next morning she challenged the postman. ‘The rubber bands – you don’t pick them up?’
‘S’right. Don’t want to put my back out, bending. You like rubber then? Pick them up, do you? I’ll try and put a few your way.’
Miss Timms snatched her mail from him and shut the door, her face burning.
Within days Miss Timms had picked up sufficient rubber bands to secure the gingham covers on her plum jam. Then, through the letterbox the following week dropped a plastic bag full of red rubber bands, and a note. Dear Miss Timms. We have learned of your rubber band crusade. Herewith, a contribution from Acacia Avenue. Miss Timms clutched at the banister, her heart thumping. A crusade…
Sleep became a reluctant companion, despite herbal tea and her favourite magazine at bedtime. The soft, springy packages were plopping onto the doormat every day. A plague of twanging rubber bands haunted Miss Timms’s dreams and she awoke feeling constriction in her throat.
‘Got enough to fill the bath yet?’ Miss Timms recoiled from the postman’s leer and failed to reply. Something inside her head had twanged and as her vision blurred and she sank down, her last glimpse before the blackness came was of a red rubber band on the path.
4. ‘Billy’ – Jackie Sayle
Billy has a magazine over his face when I get home and dried egg down his jumper.
“Hello Billy,” I say, greeting him the usual way. “Busy sleeping again?”
The magazine jiggles and I know that beneath it Billy has a big, happy grin on his face.
Jean emerges from the kitchen. “How’s your day been?” She looks tired as she plants a welcome kiss on my cheek.
“Oh, the usual,” I say, hugging her. “Six hours teaching the joy of English to reluctant teenagers and a couple more striking out the plague of text speak from their written work. You?”
“He’s missing Ellie,” Jean whispers. “Six months is such a long time to him.”
“Whispering‘s rude!” shouts Billy, emerging from beneath the magazine and holding it out in front of him. “Wasn’t sleeping. Was reading.”
“It’s upside down, son,” I say, gently turning it around .
“Not upside down,” he says, turning it back. “Right way up in Australia. Reading it for Ellie so she knows what’s what at home.”
“G’day, big brother,” says our daughter as she appears on the webcam next morning and briefly lifts one hand from the floor to wave to us all. “I hope you’re keeping up with all the goss for me?”.
“Sure am, little sis,” says Billy, grinning as Ellie does a flip. He turns so that his hand reaches hers in a high five. Her hand is pointing one way, his another. Who’s to say which one is the right way?
5. ‘Ordinary Day’ – Stacey Taylor
You can’t decide which socks to go for. You settle for the stripy blue pair, even though the left one has a hole in it. Nobody will notice.
You look out of the window and notice it isn’t as sunny as yesterday. You hope it will be better tomorrow for your granddaughter’s birthday.
You amble down to the kitchen for breakfast. Jam sticks to your chin. You wipe it away as you try and read the paper, resulting in inky prints on your fingers.
Your wife kisses you on the cheek. You notice the label is sticking out of her top as she walks away. This makes you smile.
Noise distracts you. A bee has flown in. This has happened so many times lately you wonder why they plague your kitchen in particular. You give it a quick whack with your wife’s magazine. You yawn. Maybe you’ll sleep when you get home from work.
‘Jim’s on the phone,’ says your wife, walking back into the kitchen. ‘Do you want to play golf on Thursday?’
You consider as you gently tuck the label into her top. You feel reluctant. ‘Sure. Tell him yes.’
You look at your watch. You should leave.
People stand when you enter the room. Hours pass. You listen patiently and leave the room. On your return you ask for the verdict. Guilty. You look at the man standing before you as you sentence him to death. You feel the hole in your sock.