I had 13 entries in the ‘Newbie’ category and 26 in the ‘Open’ category.
Thank you to all 39 people that entered!
Whenever I run these little mini saga competitions (and next time I will do something a bit different, I promise!), there’s always a Gremlin sitting on my shoulder saying ‘Well, that’s a stupid idea’ and ‘Who on earth do you think is going to be interested in that?’ so it’s great when the Gremlin is proved wrong and has to go and sulk in the corner.
Working on the principle of shortlisting approximately 1 in every 5 entries (which just about works!) I’ve shortlisted 3 ‘Newbies’ and 6 ‘Open’ stories.
On Sunday I’ll announce the winners in each category and post a little ‘judge’s report’.
Congratulations to the shortlisted writers. A shortlist is definitely a ‘success’, even if you don’t go on to win, so give yourselves a pat on the back!
It’s taken quite a while to do this today. I had sole charge of ‘the pupster’ and when she wasn’t ‘tailing’ me (hah!) around the house, she was romping round the garden eating grass, twigs, snails (!) and, wait for it: BARK. (I removed as much as I could and tried to teach her to ‘leave it!’ Roll on puppy classes from next week…)
The 3 shortlisted stories are (in alphabetical order, by title):
* Hair – Amanda Quinn
* Holy Relic – by Julie Lees
* What’s Going On In The Veggie Plot? – Liz O’Dell
‘Hair’ by Amanda Quinn
It started with a stray hair. A blonde alien in our family of mouse browns. It was on his collar. My first thought was to check for lipstick. My second was to be irritated by the cliché. He denied it of course, made excuses. It must have been the new secretary; hair like an Afghan hound moulting all over the office, even found a strand in his coffee the other day. I noted the second cliché and went back to brood over my washing pile.
There were other things after that. The way he never left his phone on the side table any more. The rediscovery of his gym membership card and a sudden propensity to work late. I persisted. He told me to leave it out. Complained I was like a dog with a bone. I swallowed my response about just who was the dog and it tasted bitter. So I decided. One more thing and that would be it.
I arranged the flowers – lilies, I hate lilies, surely after 30 years he must know that – and made my plan.
By September it was all over and I was on my own in a place where I could breathe again. I’d always wanted to live by the sea but he had talked darkly of sea frets and damage to paintwork and that had been that. My hair whipped across my cheek in the raw breeze. Blonde now, for a change. It felt good to have a change.
‘Holy Relic’ – by Julie Lees
‘I was expecting you twenty minutes ago.’
‘The bones had to be blessed.’
Her brow creased, puzzled, as he nodded to her left. She caught a glimpse of the white hyphen of a dog collar punctuating the blackness of a cassock.
‘Okay, what do you want to know?’
The pathologist pulled the box closer and removed the lid.
‘Firstly, are they human?’
‘Without doubt,’ she nodded. ‘Definitely human skeletal remains.’ Her glance fell upon the expectant face at the window. ‘What’s his interest?’
‘They were found in ancient burial ground. A stray bone, initially.’
She extracted the first.
‘That one,’ said the policeman, scrutinising her expression for signs of a clue. ‘A dog unearthed it.’
‘A femur: the largest bone in the human body, and by my estimate belongs to a male; about sixteen I’d say.’
Removing the others, she began piecing the puzzle together.
‘Cause of death?’
‘Initial findings: compression of the hyoid bone.’
‘Strangulation. Remind me, again,’ she said. ‘Why is he here?’
‘He’s been the parish priest there for the past twenty years.’
‘How ancient is this graveyard?’
‘Last burial: 1805. Why?’
She finally raised her eyes to meet his.
‘I’m no forensic anthropologist, but I would say these bones have been in the ground no more than twenty years.’
The priest was unaware of the new found interest sparked by his presence; he was too busy trying to blank out the face of the altar boy who lay on the mortuary slab before him.
‘What is Going On In The Veggie Plot?’ by Liz O’Dell
You are in the Dentist’s waiting-room, leafing through dog-eared magazines, desperately trying to distract yourself from that high pitched whining of drills. Usually you flick, unseeing, through the pages. This time, your attention zooms in: you read about a lady who unexpectedly found her wedding ring, lost 16 years previously while gardening. You lost yours last year in the allotment. You absently massage the empty ring finger of your left hand, feeling for the familiarity of the dent, still there, but only just. Apparently this Swedish lady was digging her vegetables, and as she unearthed a carrot she saw her long lost ring sitting like a collar near the top of it! Ta dah! You cannot help smiling.
The accompanying photo shows the carrot being held up in triumph, as though it is a hero.
Your thoughts stray to that embarrassing day when you stormed down to the allotment, ready to catch your husband out. You’d been so sure he was nestling down with Her behind bags of fertilizer and bone-meal. And now you shudder, recalling your hysterical accusations flung along with your wedding ring into the veggie patch. It had taken a while for you to register their innocent and injured astonishment: they were pruning the roses he was growing for your wedding anniversary. Although all three of you scrabbled in the soil, you never found the ring. But now you will suggest to him that you grow carrots next year, and every year till it turns up.
The shortlist was more difficult in the Open category. At one point I had 10 stories on there. ‘Flight of The Collared Dove’ and ‘An Inspector Calls’ were both close. I also liked ‘The Job’, ‘The Last Train’ and ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’ but I had to make the cut at just 6 stories.
So, here’s the list, in alphabetical order by title and the stories are below. They’re all very good and it’s going to be a toughie to choose a winner…!
1. A Timely Solution – Maggie Cobbett
2. Collared – Jan Halstead
3. Gallows Hill – Jo Tiddy
4. Mr Wolfe Comes To Lunch – Patsy Collins
5. This Is A Safe Attachment, Trust Me – Cath Barton
6. ‘Tim’s Dog’ by Alyson Hilbourne
‘A Timely Solution’ – by Maggie Cobbett
Getting Madame de Pompadour ready for her assignations with His Majesty the King has been much easier since the Doctor’s last visit. He’s a very old friend of hers, or so she told me the first time I found them together in her boudoir. The twinkle in his eye made me wonder, but it’s not my place to question my betters and my lady has always been very good to me. Anyway, the dear Doctor has saved my position as her maid and possibly even my life.
There was a dreadful row when one of the pins I’d used to secure my lady’s collar stabbed one of His Majesty’s fingers, which then bled all over the expensive blue silk brocade of his favourite waistcoat. The fiddly little bone buttons I spent hours sewing onto my lady’s finest apparel after that greatly frustrated His Majesty and annoyed him even more than the time he fell over her little dog and split his breeches. Not to laugh at the sight of the suddenly exposed royal nether regions took every ounce of my self control and even my lady’s painted lips were twitching. Anyway, I’m straying from the point. The Doctor appeared one morning in that sudden way of his, winked and handed me a very useful addition to my sewing basket. Now I can get my lady dressed in a fraction of the time and His Majesty can do the opposite, all thanks to a roll of something the Doctor calls Velcro.
‘Collared’ – by Jan Halstead
The thing is, I’m a dog person. Always have been. Always will be. I explained this to our Lucy when she dragged me along to the rescue centre, although she shouldn’t need telling. She thinks I can’t walk a dog now, with my old bones. But, as I said to her, ‘There must be arthritic dogs. We could creep along together’. But she wouldn’t have it. Youngsters think they know it all. ‘What if it trips you up?’ she said. ‘What if it’s set upon by some stray Rottweiler?’
‘Or what if a tree falls on us,’ I said, ‘or we’re abducted by aliens?’ Life’s full of ‘what ifs.’
I wasn’t going to go except that I had some old towels to take along. They can always use those. And I took Jasper’s dog toys in the end. That was hard, but…
Anyway, the thing with dogs is, they know who’s in charge so there’s no conflict of interests. Whereas cats. That’s a whole different ball game. No pun intended.
I mean, with a dog, you choose him. There’s none of this ‘paw shooting through the bars of the cage and latching on to your trousers’ thing. Frankly, that was embarrassing. Lucy said I might have to go to casualty for surgical removal of a cat.
Still, on the plus side, I will say you’re a good listener. Nice eyes too. But don’t get too cosy. This is just a trial, right?
Well, just so you know.
‘Gallows Hill’ – by Jo Tiddy
Father Mckillop is a hunted man. He has stopped, gasping for air, up on the high heath by the barrows. He wipes his face, tugs at his grimy dog collar, where the sweat and fear have pooled, and listens. Only a lonely curlew calls above him, the thin notes piercing the lightening sky. No sounds of pursuit. He wonders briefly if he has gone mad.
He tends to avoid the heath, not least because it is where she used to walk. He can’t bear the thought of her. The barrows hold old bones, dead voices rustle; pagans and witches. She’d said they talked to her, he didn’t listen, just gazed on her perfect face and prayed for deliverance. And the church court had delivered, had condemned the girl to the fire. Had set him free. Of course there were mutterings among the goodfolk of the parish, about the harshness of the sentence. But she was Eve, she was a temptress, she led men astray, him included. Her fate was most deserved.
He draws another breath, calmer now, and turns to face the sea. Below he can see the tower of his church, pointing the way to heaven. He should be there now, preparing for morning mass, but the nightmares have chased him out.
A crackle behind him, the dry dust of a dead fire. He turns, and there she is, she’s been waiting.
“You can’t kill a witch, priest.” She smiles then, and pulls him to her.
‘Mr Wolfe Comes to Lunch’ – by Patsy Collins
“… I’ll bring Jacob for lunch on Sunday.” My daughter disconnected, leaving me with an image of her boyfriend gnawing a hunk of raw meat.
“Isn’t she coming?” Izzy asked from the kitchen doorway. My wife’s face looked as hangdog as I imagine mine did.
Fortunately it was easy to reassure her. “They both are.”
“Lovely!” she returned to her sanctuary, undoubtedly planning the menu. Izzy doesn’t believe our daughter eats unless she sees her doing it.
I’m different. I don’t need to see Jacob howling at the moon to know there’s something not right. Just another of her mangy strays, I’d hoped at first. None of the men she’s dated have been anywhere near good enough for her, but this one’s far worse than the rest; she says it’s serious.
I haven’t exactly met him. We’d arranged to, but a puncture delayed us. There was hardly time for me to focus on the hairy brute, almost bursting out of his collar and tie, before he rushed off to catch a train.
I went into her bedroom a while back, looking for the little girl I knew I was losing. I flicked through her Twilight books. My suspicions were aroused then. Learning his surname and about his monthly business trips away haven’t calmed them.
“I thought we could have a nice leg of lamb on the bone,” Izzy suggested, reminding me I’d have to face him soon.
“Good idea,” I replied. “Where’s the silver carving knife? It needs sharpening.”
‘This a Safe Attachment, Trust Me’ – by Cath Barton
I clicked on the attachment to the e-mail. Next thing there were multiple windows opening and reopening again as fast as I closed them. The screen was pulsating with the speed of it but I didn’t panic, just turned the computer off and went to make myself a cup of coffee. It was a shame that the cat got under my feet and hot coffee spilt on her, but I still didn’t panic.
Rebooted, the computer seemed fine. But as I started typing a document a little dog strayed onto the screen.
“Woof,” it went.
“Woof to you,” I said, “go away.”
“Won’t,” it said. I turned off the sound. I was not going to be dictated to by an animation.
“Be careful,” said the cat, from her seat behind me.
I whirled round. The cat was curled up like a cinnamon whirl, apparently dead to the world. I turned back to the computer. The dog on the screen had started eating my text and spewing it out of its backside in a mangled heap of letters.
This was too much. I started banging the desk, remembering too late what this would do to my collarbone.
“Ow!” I yelled, as pain shot up my arm.
“You should be more careful,” mewed the cat gleefully.
I’m thinking of selling the computer. Pen and paper have a safe track record, and no attachments with hidden secrets to trip you up. Perhaps I’d better ask the cat. She’s offering opinions on everything now.
‘Tim’s Dog’ by Alyson Hilbourne
When he was three, my son, Tim, acquired a dog.
“Him’s big,” he said, stretching his arms wide like a fisherman describing a catch. “Him’s yellow,” he added. Oddly this was also Tim’s favourite colour.
“Does he have a name?” my husband asked.
“Dog,” Tim said firmly.
Dog needed a lead. I baulked at paying for one and offered one of my husband’s old ties. Tim walked round with it attached to his wrist – dog was not allowed to stray. Tim wouldn’t go anywhere without him. Fortunately Dog liked cats so we were still able to visit Grandma.
Dog required to sit in the prime position on the sofa, needed a dish at mealtimes, and like Tim hated green vegetables or anything with bones. He also apparently adored custard.
We had to accommodate Dog in other areas. He loathed shopping unless it involved a toyshop, and he was likely to need the toilet in the middle of a long car journey.
Just as we were beginning to adjust to dog, he left. Tim had been talking to the postman, showing him the tie and gesturing. I saw the look of horror on the postman’s face as he backed away.
Next day Tim appeared without the lead.
“Where’s Dog?” I asked, relieved.
“Him’s eaten,” Tim said, staring grimly across the kitchen to where dirty dishes were piled on the sink, “by Lion. Him’s big, him’s yellow…”
Now what size collar does a lion need?