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2017 Competition Winners
2017 Winning Entries
First Prize, Best Short Story
By Hew Jones
All day he spent alone in the cell, fermenting in a haze of frustration and despair. No breeze blew through the slits they called windows and the view outside was bracketed by the cold reality of the bars. Even the Complete Works of Shakespeare could offer no escape; the fictional worlds created through words soon dissolved to sand. He could only feel the pain of losing the past, knowing what was would never… ever come again. He had lived a life which was the epitome of Freedom; traveling the world, experiencing things of awe and rapture, knowing no boundaries but the ever-changing horizon. Now all that was gone. It was no longer a reality but a shadow in the mind – a mere memory that would always reach out to touch him, but which was in itself untouchable.
It was true what they said: you really don’t know what you have until it’s gone; the value of something is only truly known in its absence. Why did he have to learn this the hard way?
The Judge was not to blame. Nor was the Jury. No, the man where all his blame and anger lay stood in the cell – he just had to look into the mirror. The smudgy plastic-glass was an emblem of self-loathing. But there was something else in the background, a presence that hovered malign. It was a black smudge on the blotchy reflection, moving in a zigzag path that defied sense or meaning. In shock and confusion he turned around, glimpsing a yellow-black striped fly – the archetypal colours of the Wasp Nation. It instantly cast a wave of revulsion and fear into his thoughts and there was good reason for this…
One of his earliest memories was sitting on a patch of grass playing with a toy elephant; it must have been when he was very young, as crawling came easier than walking. The experience was vivid; he had felt a sudden flash of stabbing pain centered on his palm and remembered watching in surprise as a yellow-black thing, which seemed huge, took a spiraling path into the sky. He must have screamed the park empty after that!
Since that first wasp sting he had several more, usually on the beach. Wasps seemed to be attracted to him; always home in on his skin, picking him out from a crowd. For many years, the mere sight of one sent him running. If one was in the same room, he could not return until it had left. Many times he had sprinted over fields, up hills and into the sea, just to escape an encounter from the yellow-black ‘devil insect’.
The wasp in the cell behaved exactly as he expected. It advanced straight towards him, like a razor blade wielded by some sadistic enemy. Quickly he backed away and reached for a spray bottle – creating a wall of water droplets that stopped the wasp in its advance. He did not relent in casting down a net of spray, which sent the wasp in a chaotic descent to the floor. The weight of the water clung to its glistening body as its wings beat an angry drumming rhythm on the floor. With only the briefest hesitation, he brought a newspaper crashing down on the would-be stinger. Spot on target.
He was pleased to see the impact had killed the insect out-right, rather than see it twitching in the last stages of death. In recent years, he had learnt a maturity that almost eroded this irrational phobia of wasps. Many times he had even gone out of his way not to kill them; choosing instead to trap them in glasses and then release them outside. Unfortunately, on one of these occasions he remembered the ungrateful creature came back to sting him, whilst many others had tried. Even as a child, he had once saved a wasp from drowning in a puddle, thinking such an act of ‘altruism’ would result in a ‘truce’ from the Wasp Nation. But they declared their warlike intentions by sending their saved warrior back to sting him.
Now he was alone and back to the predicament he started with. In prison, the minutes become seconds and the days become weeks; it was like becoming caught in a temporal vortex where everything passes so slowly, so predictably. Monday was Tuesday. Tuesday was Wednesday… and so forth. A day was distinguished by what happened, which generally wasn’t much. Enforced confinement can lead down two roads – one can stagnate like a swamp or burn like a forest fire. Today he was burning. By the time it reached mid-afternoon, he felt like smashing his fists into the wall or shoulder barging the metal door. A restlessness rose up within, further building on his resentment against the system and all who worked for it.
As if to herald a penultimate explosion, the second visitor arrived. This time it was the sound that betrayed it; an angry, inflamed buzzing that declared which species it belonged to. This wasp was hovering around the pillow on the bed against the wall. He reached for the spray bottle behind the chair and turned round to find… the wasp was gone!
He nudged at the pillow, but even this did not arouse the hidden insect’s wrath. He tentatively lifted it and flung it aside, but the wasp was not there. The creature was not under the sheets, the bed, on the floor, the walls, in his shoes, on the ceiling… it had vanished. He was certain the wasp could not have exited via the window; how could it, at a seconds notice? These things were not like bullets, which proceeded in a straight line from A to B; unless, of course, they were in an attack dive.
He remembered how this same situation had happened years before. A wasp had entered his room, then suddenly vanished when he turned away to get a glass to trap it. He thought it had left, but in the early hours of the next morning he awoke to a silky, spidery sensation on his left cheek. A light brush brought a nightmarish horror to life – it was the wasp. Incredibly he managed to avoid its sting back then, but there were several near misses where it dive-bombed the sheets and chased him as he leapt up and ran out the room. They were crafty, patient and relentless creatures.
So he placed the chair against the locked door, with the spray can ready in one hand, and waited. ‘I know you’re here somewhere‘, he said to the invisible companion, ‘I’ll get you eventually`. But soon he had to return to Shakespeare, trying not to lose vigilance for his surroundings as he plunged back into another past. For hours he read and waited.
There was no buzzing, no dark-zigzagging blob of wrathful yellow and black. A man of logic and reason would reach the conclusion that the wasp had left, taking an approach akin to Occam’s Razor; that ‘when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth’. But something deep inside him, a remnant of that primal instinct we humans never quite lose, told him the wasp was still in the cell. It was ready. It was waiting. It wanted vengeance. Maybe the insect he killed earlier was a close relative. Maybe one of them was a Queen (they certainly both looked big enough) and the new arrival had come to punish his High Treason. In either case, the thing was smart.
‘The Watch’ may have gone on much longer, if not for the lyrics of a song playing somewhere in an adjacent cell. ‘No one knows what its like’, they went, ‘to be the bad man… to be the sad man’. The words captured his attention like a lighthouse beacon on a stormy night. For a moment he came close to some revelation; a wide-reaching Truth that explained so much, and yet said so little.
No one knows what its like to be… the criminal, the suicide, the madman – the wasp. No-one took the time to really understand wasps, did they? Everyone despised them or ignored them at best. They were little miniature threats buzzing around, beyond any control or predictability. That was everything society hated. But really, what were wasps but living creatures, with their own life and a purpose that went beyond human understanding? Remove the sting from a wasp and you get a colorful fly – suddenly all the hatred and fear towards these creatures evaporates.
He realized then that it didn’t matter if he got stung. He wouldn’t be particularly bothered even if one of his fingers was snipped off. Sure, it would hurt as hell, but the pain would not be half as much as the pain of imprisonment – being cut off from all he lived for.
That night he slept in no fear of the wasp. When he saw it the next morning, he felt only surprise – and watched with a smile as it did a few circuits round the walls and flew out the window. He found himself actually wanting it to return, for now he was more alone without it.
Second Prize, Best Short Story
The Bloody Pyramid
By Natalie Cooke
Monday. The infuriating sun had chosen to take up its throne after a lazy weekend absence. The office was hot, stifling. Angry drivers blasted their horns in the traffic outside. I had just received an important call that had implications for one of the biggest deals the firm was undertaking. Two giant corporations were fighting over the corpse of a bankrupt retailer and we were supposed to be the intermediary… the arbiter, more like. My colleagues sweated and itched – not just because of the heat. Shirts were like armour, solidified by the pressures within. No-one dared to loosen their ties or bring back iced soft drinks from lunch. To do so would be risking the wrath of the building’s resident tyrant – the veritable King among sadists.
Some said he was in his fifties, others in his forties. With ink-black hair that never gave a hint of white, it was hard to tell. There were just enough wrinkles in his face to confound the estimates. Hard eyes gazed in perpetual condemnation between a thin, pointy nose. He was big, but not fat. Imposing, but not tall. His hands were bare of any rings or jewellery, although a secretary once claimed he wore a ring. There was only one thing for certain about him: he had the final say. As CEO of Dynamix Solutions, he had the power to hire and fire; the ability to direct all operations – and the ruthlessness of Mussolini. In my three years of working at the firm, I had never once heard a kind word spoken about him. Yet he maintained a loose network of minions who acted as informers and mobile surveillance units. Say something ‘out of line’ in the cafeteria and he’d know about it. Dare to be lax in the dress code and he’d soon appear over your shoulder – a shadowless figure under the strips of luminescent lights. The skill – or magic – to move like a panther at night was something he used with devastating affect.
It was after concluding the phone call when I was called into his office. The secretary who informed me of this was a petite blonde called Lucy, who I had dated a few months ago. I asked her what the CEO wanted to see me about, but she didn’t know. He was always calling people into his office, for one reason or another – usually to criticise or slave-drive them towards more ‘outcomes’, which was his term for performance. I walked up to the frosted-glass door, with his name centred in the middle and etched in bold black letters:-
E. Alworth, CEO.
I knocked politely and waited for the well-known gravelly voice to respond. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t – in both cases, you were meant to enter. Those who waited too long outside after knocking could risk coming face to face with him on the threshold. That was never a good… ‘outcome’. But if you went in too quickly, you risked interrupting him. So it was really a no-win situation. Consequently, I knocked three times, waited three seconds (taking three deep breaths) and entered.
‘Ah, Crosberg,’ the man himself said, ‘take a seat.’
Sitting behind a long metallic desk, his silhouette was framed by a large window. A low, straight-backed chair was positioned before him. The only other furniture was a filing cabinet and wardrobe at opposite sides of the room. There were no pictures hanging on the walls, only an array of certificates and awards – all proclaiming his achievements. On the desk was a computer and two folders, along with a few stationary items. There was also the pyramid. Nobody failed to notice that damned thing.
Sitting down in the dreaded chair, I found my eyes drawn, once again, to the pyramid’s sparkling apex. It was only about five inches high, but because of its position in the centre of the desk it demanded attention. The sides appeared to be made of gold, with a precious stone – quite possibly a diamond – set into the top. This was the paperweight of an emperor or sultan, not the CEO of a middling financial firm. But in this era business was the empire that drove the world… and CEOs were its kings.
He looked down at me and I refocused my attention to his probing eyes.
‘Is there a problem, Mr Alworth?’
I had to say something. Any attempt at small talk would be regarded as wasting time. To ignore the disapproving look in his eyes would be akin to walking straight into the path of a bus – a double-decker, at that. My thoughts immediately went to what work I had done recently. Phone calls, estimates, reports, database compiling….
Unable to find any fault in that, I waited for him to respond.
Tick, tock, tick, tock… I almost glanced around to see where the clock was.
Finally, Alworth broke into my anxiety. ‘It’s never been easy to tell valued employees like yourself,’ he began.
Immediately my heart sank. No, to be exact, it was like being punched in the face. Or hit by that bus. After all I had done, all the work I put in, this bastard was firing me! Of course, he never used that word. ‘Redundant’ was the term he used. Too many costs, not enough fees, escalating tax, the firm had to cut back. Blah, blah, blah…
I had never heard him talk so much. But after the first sentence, his words passed over me like smouldering leaves on an Autumnal breeze. I must have sat there too long in silence because he looked at me with a worried expression.
I could almost see a dim outline of genuine concern in his hard, hazel eyes as he asked ‘Are you alright?’
A pin was pushed through me. Like a balloon, I suddenly relinquished all the hoarded anger, bitterness and frustration that had been building for so long.
‘Am I alright?’ I shouted.
‘You fat, greedy bastard! You think I don’t know how much you get paid each year. How about giving me some of that cushy bonus you got last month? I’ve worked my guts out for you and this firm and all I get is pay cuts… and now this!’
I suddenly realised I was standing up, my hands on the desk, spraying spittle into his face. His expression had changed to something I found hard to register: fear.
But even that did not cool my burning anger. A flash of light drew my eyes down, back to the glittering pyramid, which seemed to grin back at me like a mocking symbol of inanimate value. I reached out and grabbed it, feeling the heavy weight in my right hand – cold, like a wedge of glacial ice.
Then I threw it at the window.
For a moment time seemed to be suspended, caught in the snares of a phantom giant. But with the sound of smashing glass, it crashed back down with frightful momentum. A rush of air funnelled through the room, reuniting me with reason.
Mr Alworth was still in his chair. His eyes were open, staring right at me in fixed coldness. Breathing death.
‘Mr Alworth, Sir?’
He still sat there motionless.
Small chips of glass were scattered on the desk and floor, sparkling like gems on a black dress. A gust of wind swept through the jagged opening in the window left by the paperweight and a spider-web network of spreading veins reached into the four corners. It was inconceivable that such a tiny object could make such a large hole.
Behind me, the door opened with a bang.
Lucy was standing there with a wide-mouthed expression. She rushed over to the CEO and stared at me in shock.
‘What happened?’ she gasped.
With leaden feet, I went around the desk. And then I saw it.
A triangular shard of glass was sticking out of his neck. Ruby-tinged stains were spreading along his collar, dripping onto the carpet. I fought back a wave of nausea, tasting the bitter vomit in the back of my throat.
By now Lucy had seen the glass shard. She let forth a piercing scream, which rose above the shrieking wind and ululated across the urban sky.
Third Prize, Best Short Story
The Island I Want to Return To
By Amanda Neat
Turquoise waves crashed over the bow with each paddle into the wind as I rounded the northern cape of Nananuira Island. The ocean met the surrounding horizon in a patio of rising white crests, each wave pushed back and flurried like a stream of tiny pearls. No floating shades gave contrast to the hues of blue because the sky was devoid of clouds. Only the line of palms backing off from the rocks gave an indication of a realm which was deeper – not to mention the sea itself, whose unknown depths were always… Below.
As the kayak came closer to the shore, the coral reef formed a visible barrier of breaking surf – a danger zone to be avoided. Once more, I paddled into the north-eastern wind.
Ahead, far ahead, there was only the vast Pacific Ocean.
The island was one of many, less than five miles from the mainland of Fiji. Rectangular in shape, it was about four miles in length, but circumnavigating it was more like a distance of fourteen, due to the rocky outcrops and reefs.
When I rounded the northern cape, the forceful wind became an ally rather than a foe, thrusting the kayak onto the backs of rolling waves. Speeding past two sandy coves, I spotted a third one and paddled crossways into the wind, trying to manoeuvre into an avenue devoid of coral.
Due to the cove facing south and being sheltered, it was an easy landing place. Navigating past the break with its maze of coral outcroppings was not difficult. You could gaze down into the sea as the colours of the bottom took shape; a darting school of rainbow-scaled fish, the fernlike form of blue starfish, and the shadowy presence of patrolling barracudas.
I heaved the kayak up the beach, away from the reach of the waves, and sat beneath a leaning tree. Only birds had imprinted their tiny feet on the white sand, patterned here and there by coral pieces and shiny stones which glittered under the overhead sun. The line of palm trees was a peaceful place; providing a spot to eat and rest, with the music of the gentle surf nearby. A few little crabs scurried across the marks in the sand made by the kayak, uplifting their claws like proud flags as they ascended each ridge.
After a while I set off again south.
The island had one main settlement used by fishermen and visitors; with a few huts, a school, church and a jetty with some boats. On this side the southern mainland could be seen, along with a smaller island to the west. Locals waved as I passed the village, with its silver-flashing roofs paying testament to a good day’s catch. They used to dry some fish on the roofs in order to sell to the mainland, making enough money to buy food and clothes.
There was never a frown or fear among the people of the island; most Fijians were noted for their friendliness. What other life could be better – living simply in nature, away from crowds and polluted, ‘civilized’ towns? This place surely lived up to the depiction of an island paradise – with its natural beauty, unspoilt seclusion and happy population.
But humans were always seeking to explore, going beyond familiar horizons, often returning to their home only to find it irreversibly changed. Few of the young people chose to stay on their small island, instead going to the mainland to find a new life – to make their mark on the world.
On one level or another, we are all travelers; our nature taking us to places we will always remember, and also some we would rather forget…
[AUTHORS NOTE: And today those same islands now have tons of plastic wash up on the beaches, with pollutants from an oil refinery killing the fish; for the first time there are people without jobs, and the coral is heavily bleached. What virus is this that is sweeping our world?
It is the virus or parasite of capitalist mankind.]
2016 Competition Winners
2016 Winning Entries
First Prize, Best Short Story
By Joao Rousa
Meal times are the kindest clocks. They divide the day, help keep us focused. We are fed two times a day and each one of us can’t wait to get our plate, even though the taste of the food leaves much to be desired. How I long for a thick juicy steak!
Anyway, let me introduce myself. I’m Benny, as the name and picture on my ‘room’ door states. Of course, it’s really just an extra-big cage. I’ve been here 2 years now and I’m not sure when I’m getting out.
Right opposite used to be my palaces room, he got out yesterday, lucky geezer. Now a new ones in there, pining away. His cheap coat looks like its been through plenty of homeless nights. When exercise time comes he’s going to wish he died younger than he is now. Just look at those eyes!
We’ve all been through pain, both outside and in here: betrayed, made to fight for our lives, chased down like monsters, kicked down and called names until nothing seems to matter. Sleep away your days, I try to tell him. Because in here sleep is the only escape.
When I dream I am always running, from what, I can never remember. There are trees and fields, mountains and rivers. I can taste the air, so fresh and cool, carrying with it the many scents of life. They say we are descended from a simpler race, no, a stronger and more noble tribe. Some of the ones here bear their features: a proud brow, piercing brown eyes, strong legs, chest and shoulders. They walk more slowly, pacing their rooms night and day, perhaps dreaming the same dreams. Running.
A bell sounds. Here it is: exercise time. The new one looks up. I don’t bother smiling.
One by one, the doors open. The guard on duty today never says anything but bad words. He’s the sort that finds power and strength only in attacking those who can’t fight back, and if they do well, lets just say things can get a lot worse.
Out into the sun, across the pavement, onto the grass, in a rush and swirl of bodies and faces. The fence keeps us from going very far. I look around and see the familiar gangs getting together, playing their dim-witted games. My spot, as always, remains unoccupied. It’s in the shade, out of the way. This is where I sit and watch and wait.
The newcomer zooms out, his head low. One look at the main gang seals his fate. They close in, faces fixed in the same twisted snarls. I blink and he’s down. After about half a minute they let him be. Probably in his toes that seemed more like a day. Coat torn, blood streaking his nose, he looks even worse than before. And he’s slinking over in my direction.
I consider flashing the evil smile that ensures I’m left alone, but his eyes make me reconsider. He sits nearby, licking his wounds. He’s a runt, a weakling; how he had the guts to stare at one of the Bigs is beyond me. Still, he’s learnt now. In here we all learn the hard way.
In my younger days I used to fight with the best of them. I used to roll in fields of gold, ruling a kingdom that seemed everlasting. No one dared look into my eyes, for fear of the fire that burned within. I was an athlete, an expert at pleasing who needed to be pleased.
That’s all gone now. I’ve got nothing to show for my former wealth, all my friends have left, even my family have disowned me. All for being too stupid and too proud.
Let me tell you another thing about this place. After a while, for the long-termers who no longer have any place in society, you are led away by ghosts. Not to freedom but to death. Yes, and Benny’s time is coming soon. Part of me wants it, and yet a part of me doesn’t.
Exercise time is over. Back to my cage.
I sit, watch, yawn, sleep.
Again the snowy fields stretch away to a setting sun. Running. I feel the others beside me, breathing hard, hearts pumping in synchrony, legs kicking white. We can sing to the moon, if only to catch the echoes of tomorrow. Something lies ahead; nothing lies behind. There is
More noise. It’s particularly vigorous this time, which can only mean one thing, a visitor has arrived.
I can see her now as I can’t refrain from joining the cacophony. She’s got long auburn hair, a kind face. I can’t believe she’s looking at me, can barely contain my excitement.
That ones got a history, as the stupid guard beside her says, it’s been here too long.
She smiles at me “Oh please let it be so”.
I’ll take him, she says, if only to make him happy.
Yes, yes, yes!
Are you sure? There’s a better Retriever over here.
No. I’m certain.
* * *
Out of the cage, along the corridor, enduring the envy of his former companions, Benny leaves for good. The woman beside him strokes his coat and says good words. He is happier than he can ever remember, with a great big doggy smile that will last the rest of his days.
Second Prize, Best Short Story
By Laura Cao
The train was already packed when I boarded. Hot and sweaty bodies were at every corner of Carriage 12, the air inside was damp and humid even though almost all the windows were open. Still, it was better than the 33-degree scorching heat outside. Who knew the weather in July could be this oven-like, especially as it’s England? I hurried forward, phone and ticket in one hand and a small travelling bag in the other. Thank goodness I had a sitting ticket! I would never be able to last standing for the whole journey home, which was five long and tiring hours.
Pushing past a crowd of chatting ladies, I found my seat, stuffed my bag into the overhead storage unit and plonked down on the soft fabric, giving a contented sigh. I was absolutely exhausted, having just taken a two-hour bus ride to the station and been in line for the train for what seemed like hours. Turning on my phone, I texted my best friend.
On the train! So tired, can’t wait to get home x
I watched the other passengers as we all waited for the train to leave the platform. Beside me was a burly man, most likely in his mid-forties, tucking into a huge chicken salad sandwich dripping with ketchup and what looked like mayonnaise or cheese sauce. Next to the wrapper was a large container holding a sizeable portion of rich and creamy chocolate cake. A few other passengers gave him looks of disgust but he was completely oblivious to their stares. He saw me eyeing the cake, though, and pulled it towards himself protectively.
Opposite me, separated by a small wooden foldup table, was a woman engrossed in the book she was reading. Maybe also in her mid-forties, she looked like those posh people probably still stuck in the early twentieth century, with immaculate hair tucked under a vintage hat and wearing a long floral dress. Next to her sat an elderly man with snowy hair and soft wrinkled skin. He was asleep and snoring softly, head leaning against the window.
I leaned back on my seat, closing my eyes. I was finally going home for the holidays. Being a first year student at university money didn’t come very easily so I was forced to work the night shift at a local diner, a job I will be ecstatic to quit. It was tiring work and had a meagre salary.
Sorry! Sorry, excuse me. Sorry, sorry. I opened my eyes to see a blustering woman stumbling down the aisle of the carriage. With two big suitcases by her side, a handbag and a cup of coffee, she was bumping into every possible person she could while apologizing profusely.
Bloody hell, I thought to myself. What a klutz.
Pillock, Sandwich Guy mumbled beside me while chewing vigorously, globs of god-knows-what-sauce dribbling down from the corners of him mouth. I was confused as to what he meant so I did a quick search on Google: Pillock, a stupid person.
How mean. But also true.
The carriage doors closed and the train lurched suddenly. Pillock stumbled forwards and some of her steaming coffee spilt onto the table in from of me and leaked over onto my phone. I pulled it back in horror.
Oh my god, I am so sorry! She exclaimed. She tried to dab the coffee from the table and my phone but backed away when I gave her a dirty stare, a warning to stay away. Fumbling through the back pocket of my jeans I managed to find a piece of clean tissue and began scrubbing furiously. Those kind of people irritated me a lot, the ones who were unorganised and unprepared and caused trouble for other people. I glanced at Pillock again. She was trying to lift both her suitcases up to the overhead storage, grunting and gasping as she pushed them inside. No one was making any move to help her, everyone was probably still huffy about their toes being squashed flat under the weight of her luggage.
After her cases eventually made it into storage, she gave a sigh of relief, took a look at her ticket and stood still for the first time after boarding the train. The intercom then sounded, Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard Chiltern Railways. Please have your tickets ready for our ticket attendants who will be coming over to check them shortly. Have a great journey and thank you for travelling with Chiltern Railways.
Ticket in hand, I waited for the attendant to reach Carriage 12. A soft buzz of conversation spread throughout the second-class coach as everyone scrabbled around for their own tickets. The Elderly Man was also awake and was searching feebly for his own ticket. He gave weak grunts here and there as he did so, prompting Twentieth Century Woman to offer her assistance, which he gladly accepted. Sandwich Guy was now tucking into his massive slab of cake, giving me suspicious glances once every now and then.
There was a hushed, indistinct murmur from everyone as the ticketing attendant arrived. I wanted to be over with it as soon as possible, I was very tired and sleepy and I could fall asleep as soon as I closed my eyes. Hopefully Pillock or Sandwich Guy wouldn’t interrupt me. Elderly Man fell asleep again and Twentieth Century Woman’s head was stuck back into her book. I looked up at Pillock, sandwiched between a young woman and a tall framed man, both who had their backs to her. She shifted from one foot to the other, looking uncomfortable. I felt a bit sorry for her since her suitcases did all look really heavy.
Ma’am, can I see your ticket please? Pillock turned around to face the ticket attendant. Oh yes, here. The attendant took a look. Ma’am, do you know you have a sitting ticket? 29. That was where Elderly Man was sitting.
Oh yes, Pillock replied. She lowered her voice a bit. I just thought that the old man looked very tired, he probably won’tbe able to stand the whole way so I let him sleep there. It’s okay, I can stand. Healthy as a horse, I am. The attendant smiled and moved on. Twentieth Century Woman handed in her ticket swiftly without even looking up from her book. Elderly Man woke up and gave his too.
I have a standing ticket, he told the attendant in a gentle, wheezy voice. I’m just sitting here to rest for a moment, when the person comes I’ll give the seat to them.
I gave mine and Sandwich Guy also handed in his chocolate-and-ketchup-stained ticket.
I was surprised, frankly. About Pillock, I mean. I guess you can’t judge a book by its cover right? What made me feel so guilty is that I myself probably wouldn’t have given that old man my seat, I would’ve just thought about my own needs.
I nudged Pillock. Hey, I smiled, if you get too tired you can sit here for a while. She looked surprised. Oh no dear, that’s fine, she said, chuckling. I stood up. No, I insist.
She beamed at me broadly and sat down. We introduced ourselves and started chatting.
Meanwhile Sandwich Man rummaged through his travel bag, took out a bumper pack of crisps and started munching. The noise of his loud, crunching chewing and appreciative murmuring filled the whole of Carriage 12.
Third Prize, Best Short Story
By Anita Russell
How could he grip the wheel so lightly, yet still be able to see into the mist that haunted us? Whenever I felt threatened, whether in times of strife or uncertainty, my grip involuntarily tightened. It was an inherited instinct, perhaps a genetic one, but it entirely escaped his behaviour, as if he was more relaxed in danger. Maybe there was some internal battle raging inside that calm exterior, or maybe it was just that bottle he thought I did not know about, stashed beneath the seat.
[Anita’s story is too long to include here but we invite all those wishing to see the full version to email: firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a free copy]