April Competition (The Real One)

Mon, Apr 10 2017 11:10pm IST 1
248 Posts

The Inquisitive Girl (And What Happened To Her)

Mr Steals Books, the sign said. Lottie had a smirk at that one, before pushing the door. It fought her with a reluctant judder but still let her in. Shelves floor to ceiling faced her, the whole width of the shop, save for two arched portals at either end. A wall of old books. Hard backs, all. Heavy tomes with scaly leather spines.. The air thick with musty paper smell. Dust motes hanging in the wan light.

Lottie chose to go left. Widdershins. Whats the opposite of that? In the next row, the silence was absolute. She could hear her own breathing. Her fingers traced along the books, stopping on a crimson cover. 'Anatomy'. Below it, in italics, 'Zachus'.

My subject, she grinned to herself. The cover slid sensuously beneath her fingertips. The book creaked open and she blinked at the illustration of a flayed torso. The picture glistened at her, so realistic it was almost tactile. But the organs? They're not …? She traced the bones of the skeleton on the opposite plate, fascinated by the complex joints on display. Can't be human …?

“Medical student, are we?”

Lottie gave a yip of fright, the book snapping shut and tumbling to the floor. The squat speaker in a shirt and waistcoat smiled at her. His teeth, small and white and even, were too many.

“Are you Mr Steal?” Lottie asked, flushing at the dumbness of her own question.

“Mr Steals. No apostrophe. No.” The speaker tipped his head back to stare at the ceiling, let out a huff of air. “Mr Steals is on a buying trip. In. The. Low. Countries.”

He fixed her with his gaze. “I'm Payge. Not my cup of tea, anatomy. All that blood and bare flesh. Not old Zachus there.” He pointed a toe at the book. “He liked a drop of blood. A bit of naked flesh too, by all accounts. Not your kind, though. The other ones.” His gaze dropped to the carpet. “ I forget the word.” He turned. “Anyway, you all taste the same to me.” His back was to her now. “Boys. That's the ticket.”

Lottie snatched up her fallen book. “I'll take this.”

Payge spun round, reached out further than she would have though possible, to grab her forearm above the book. Calluses on his hands so rough, they scratched her. “So fair , your skin. I should so like to see much more of it. If you want it, take it from me.”

Lottie stared at his Cheshire Cat grin, at his serried ranks of teeth. “Get your ugly mitt off me,” she snapped.

Payge's smile grew to a grotesque parody. “Good. I think we'll be seeing more of you, Lottie.”

His grip loosened a mere fraction. She ran. Bumping and crashing, until she made the street. Composed herself then walked off with her prize, wondering when she had told Payge her name.

Tue, Apr 11 2017 12:33pm IST 2
1331 Posts
They moved into a cross draft that allowed an icy wind to penetrate.
'This is the lowest level of the vaults,' Jim said.
They crossed under the first arch and Duncan noticed a different feel to the room, a heaviness that made him aware of all the structures above them. The air smelt of old pennies.
'Watch this step.' Jim turned the torch to illuminate the brick floor. The warning and the crumbling edge made Duncan put one hand against the wall.
'What's this?'
Jim turned the light. 'Looks like blood.'
Splatter trails and more defined patterns glistened in shades of black and dark red.
Duncan leant back, fighting against the urge to wipe his fingers down his trousers.
Jim let the light wash over the length of the wall. 'Jesus.'
Duncan focused on the scene as he took a further step back into the room. The place where he'd touched the wall had been the start of painted letters.
Ten pounds.
Jim turned to him, his eyes wide in the torch light. 'What does it mean?'
'I have no idea.'
Brush marks were visible in the thick coating of colour. Duncan could see the writer had loaded up each stroke due to the drip pattern from the letters. He considered that he was standing where the killer would have stood to examine his handiwork.
'She must have been killed down here.' Jim's statement sounded flat and lifeless in the damp space.
'Unless he collected the blood and brought it with him.'
'There's a lot of it. I hope this is the only message we've been left.'
Duncan was aware of Jim looking into the next vault down the step.
'Sweet Jesus,' his partner whispered.
Duncan looked over Jim's shoulder at the room. Flashes of his torch presented a tableau of violence as each image was lit.
A woman's naked body. On her back. Legs straight. One arm by her side with the other pointing outwards from the shoulder.
Something silver across her breasts and stomach.
A knife placed along her sternum, its handle against her throat.
Clothing discarded in a corner.
A small alcove in the vault where candles and other objects popped into view.
The whole picture was overlaid with grey and black shadows that teased the focus of his eyes.
Duncan shook his head as though trying to flick out the images. 'Do we know who has access to the vaults?'
'Uniform's getting a list.'
'Was it a tour group that found her?'
Jim nodded. 'The tour leader. She was standing in the doorway of the lower room. Hadn't walked in yet.'
'So no one went in there?'
'I think they were more focused on setting the land-speed record for getting out.'
Tue, Apr 11 2017 06:00pm IST 3
2530 Posts
Walter's Abduction - 491 words

They swept along the motorway for a while before turning off onto narrower, winding roads. Walter’s home lake came into view. There was Kreuz am See over on the other side, with its white church tower and cluster of mainly wooden buildings. Bright yellow and red blobs moved against the backdrop of conifers on the mountain side. The cable car. Walter recalled taking Agnes up in it, right to the top where the air was always fresh and cool even at the height of summer. The lake glittered and a lump formed in his throat. He had so wanted to be back home and now he was trapped in a car being taken away for - well for what? A beating probably. Walter wasn’t sure he could take another. He prayed that Herr Gritzler could be made to see reason.

Walter stole a sidelong glance at his captor. He was not often seen in the village, although he would sometimes appear in church, when he would ostentatiously stuff a great wad of notes into the collection bag. He lounged back on the black leather seat of the limousine, eyes closed. Herr Gritzler was a short, slender man, probably in his late fifties, who didn’t look the type to administer beatings. Walter thought he probably had a lackey or two for such purposes. Maybe the chauffeur was one of them.

They had now reached the outskirts of Kreuz am See, travelling along the high back road. Walter wrapped his hands around each other, knuckles white. The car slowed, a pair of tall wrought-iron gates swung open and they turned onto a driveway which cut through an area of dense forest. Walter thought he saw a man melting back into the trees, but couldn’t be sure in the gloom. The forest gave way to a cobbled courtyard. They passed two stone fountains - replicas of those at the Schönbrunn Palace - and pulled up in front of the house: itself a smaller version of Schönbrunn. It must have cost a fortune to build.

The chauffeur came to let Walter out. Should he make a dash for it? No, that would make things worse. He walked to join Herr Gritzler, the chauffeur following closely, and they proceeded towards a pair of double doors, which opened as they approached.

'Thank you, Oleg, that will be all,' said Herr Gritzler. He put his hand on Walter’s shoulder, ushering him inside. Walter gaped at the huge hall. It was an expanse of marble: the floor a deeply-veined pink, the walls grey, the tall pillars champagne-coloured. Filigree plasterwork covered the ceiling, mirrors in broad gilded frames adorned the walls and the pillar capitals were decorated with gold leaf. Directly opposite was a life-size portrait of Herr Gritzler. Crystals on two vast chandeliers threw sparks everywhere. It was the most vulgar display of opulence Walter had ever seen.

Herr Gritzler turned to Walter. 'Do you like it?' he asked.

Wed, Apr 12 2017 01:34pm IST 4
3676 Posts

No Return

The rising sun crested the tree tops, casting a net of sparkling light that bounced off the surface of the lake and shimmered around brightly coloured houseboats which dotted its glassy surface.

Annie could only stare in wonder. This was not what she’d expected to see – not in a million years. Huge willow trees stood intermittently like sentries, surrounding the magnificent lake, protecting it from the outside world. Their long branches drooped over the grass bank; the still water reflecting thin green leaves which trailed like fingertips just above it. The maze of bushes she'd negotiated with Sol, successfully blocked the way of any unintentional discovery.

Once inside the natural confines of greenery, voices carried with crystal clarity across the water. She could hear a baby crying and its mother talking to it. Even the woman's hushed tones drifted to where they stood. Sol touched her arm briefly and indicated to his right. She followed the direction of his pointing finger and caught her first glimpse of his home; a large houseboat painted bright green, red and yellow. It was beautiful. The most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.

As they approached, the smell of frying bacon floated out of an open window towards them. Annie's stomach did a double growl and Sol smiled. He'd been that hungry himself, once.

With an elegance that belied his stature he stood back and, with a deep bow, swept one arm before him to allow Annie onto the duck-board, which led from the grass bank to the boat's deck. He cupped his hand around her elbow as she stepped down onto the deck area, and with an almost silent movement, landed by her side.

A pretty female in a short-sleeved, bright yellow, dress, appeared in the doorway. With slender arms folded across her chest, she peered at them both. On either side of her, the cabin doors folded back against the outside of the boat, displaying artwork of castles and lakes on the top panels and multi-coloured flowers set on a black background on the bottom ones. The girl must have been about fourteen years old, with the unmistakable tanned skin, dark curly hair and deep brown eyes of, Annie could only assume, her father.


The joy in that one word, tugged at Annie. It was how she’d re-acted to her own, precious grandfather, right up until his murder when she was eighteen. He had been sixty seven. Seven years older than she was now.


In a flash, the young girl was in her grandfather's arms, hugging him.

‘Something smells delicious, sweetheart. I hope you've enough to make it stretch to one more?’ he murmured.

Annie stood quietly behind them, watching. Grandfather's face materialised in front of her, smiling. Momentarily taken aback by the vision, she studied him as he lingered. Then realisation dawned - he would always be with her - she had only to think of him. With a final acknowledgement, he faded from view.

(Taken from a WIP) 495 words excluding title

Wed, Apr 12 2017 03:19pm IST 5
794 Posts

Kingdom of the fox – 480 words excluding title

The old mill village turned to slumber. Its black-faced dwellings stood shoulder-to-shoulder, curtains drawn; each row facing another like ranks of stone warriors guarding their walled domains. Between them, a cobbled no-man’s-land, each small stone daubed by moonlight, except by the corner where a tilted streetlamp spilled an orange puddle around it. The flags that ran each side of the cobbles were like broken, uneven teeth.

Padding across the orange puddle, a fox surveyed his night-kingdom, now free of the running, laughing man-cubs who were locked inside their dens with their adults. All was quiet, save for the occasional passing of a bright-eyed monster.

One such monster rolled to a halt and spread out a wing. A man creature stumbled out from behind it, calling to another still inside the belly of the beast before he clunked the wing back into place and hobbled to the safety of his den. The bright-eyed beast crept away with a flubbering of tyres and a low, metallic growl, as though displeased at the loss of its morsel.

It was with morsels in mind that fox ambled on, past the gated dwellings whose tall bins were out of bounds. He cut across a snicket and tried his luck down the next row of crowded dens. Ah, this looked more promising. The lamp on the corner of this street stood lifeless, leaving moonlight to trace the path with watered silver. The first gate he reached lay broken and beyond it, a fallen bin spewed out its contents around a rusted man-cub’s swing, its seat hanging loose like a broken jaw.

Sniffing around the pungent debris, fox came upon a small, lidded carton. Tearing it open, he found scraps of spiced meat surrounded by a few limp, chopped leaves. It was mean pickings and fox soon moved on.

A yowling of tom cats echoed out from the darkness and fox halted in his tracks. He squatted, marking his territory to make clear who owned it.

At the end of the street, fox came across another dwelling free of any barrier. A tattered curtain dangled like a cobweb across its broken window and a panel at the base of the door hung by a thread. Fox sniffed around the rotten wood and squeezed through into the cavern.

A square of light lay shattered across the floorboards of the abandoned den – or was it? Fox lifted his nose and sniffed again. Amid the dank was a scent that had him perking his ears; not as appealing as bin-fodder, but this meat would be fresh. Lowering his haunches, he crept towards a wooden crate in a corner near the window.

Amber eyes met black.

A hiss became a squeal as fox lunged and clamped sabred jaws around his pray.

He left the house to its memories and trotted back along the cobbles, a long tail hanging from his jaws.
Fri, Apr 14 2017 03:29am IST 6
3227 Posts

The Hunt

‘We’ll follow them tomorrow at dawn,’ said the tour guide from the Hemingway Lodge, tipping his hat back and misquoting his bard. ‘In Africa everything is true at first light and a damn lie by noon.’

Harvester squinted through the heat haze, his eyes betrayed by glimmering reflections of the Serengeti. Out there, maybe the endless plains were vast water holes, but wouldn’t there be groups of impalas, gazelles, and wildebeest drinking their fill? He lowered the camera, and rubbed a hand across his brow. ‘Can’t make out much.’

‘Call it a day, and rest up,’ said the guide. ‘That’s what our pride is doing.’

Mason King Junior from Amarillo lowered his rifle, a 416 Rigby. ‘Great for lions,’ he said. ‘And buffalo…in fact, any big game. Bring ‘em down sweeter than sugar candy. Ain’t that the goddamn truth?’

Harvester studied him: bull-necked, big-bellied, safari shirt soaked with armpit sweat, creased combat pants, snorting out bravado at every stop. Harvester turned away, and began to repack his NikonD5.

Next morning before sunrise, the guide stopped the Land Rover about seventy metres downwind from the pride. ‘We’re in luck,’ he said, lowering his field glasses. ‘Fresh kill.’

Harvester looked out and up at the sky. Perfect vision. Through the camera lens he could make out individual blades of long grass swaying gently in the breeze. Reminded him of maize fields. The lions, though, were half-hidden.

‘Closer,’ he told the guide. ‘I need a clear view.’

‘And me’, said Mason King Junior. ‘Get to it, mister. I’ve paid plenty for the shot.’

The guide seemed to hesitate, but shrugged and slowly rolled the Land Rover forward. Two male lions, shaking their resplendent auburn manes, were feasting on the body of a young buck – rebuffing three growling lionesses each time they approached.

‘Okay, good’, said Harvester, unwinding the window and leaning out of the cab with his Nikon. He could smell the kill – coppery pungent tang as he focused. Close enough to see the buck’s gory innards, close enough to see the lions’ bloody jaws, close enough to see giant paws swipe away the lionesses.

Behind him, the Texan was arming the rifle. Which lion on death row – it would be one of the dominant males – was devouring its final meal before execution? Harvester imagined the slug penetrating the lion’s body, a reactive jump, a painful roar, and a frantic tongue trying to lick away the wound, as life ebbed away.

He wouldn’t be killing. Pictures would be his trophy. An exhibition, even, at Carnegie Hall. He rattled off a few succulent snaps before he heard a commotion behind. Then the acrid smell of wildlife. Sharp claws dug into his shoulder, ripping his skin, exposing his flesh, as he was dragged screaming out of the Land Rover.

It’s all a damn lie, he thought as a shot rang out and darkness descended…

479 words.

Sun, Apr 16 2017 04:44pm IST 7
215 Posts
500 words, including the title.

A Place of Work

It always felt like the dead of winter no matter when he arrived, but that was the nature of the place - it could suck the soul from a stone. Squatting on the crown of a low, lonely hill, safely removed from the city, the gallows nestled in the last vestiges of the morning mist like a malignant wooden spider, deadly and patient. Early morning dew sparkled, coating it with shimmering drops of poisoned crystal.

He stood at the foot of the gallows and gazed up, his dark eyes searching for defects. He followed cables and rusted grey runners along the platform’s underside, shading his vision with one gloved hand. From between the edges of the trapdoor brilliant sunlight lanced, to strike bare earth where nothing ever grew but so many things died. Like an eager beast, the machine was ready to go. He had but to snap his fingers and it would perform its one single task, and it would render its service to perfection.

He stepped underneath the trap, blotting out the fierce white sun, and took a lantern from its hook, lighting it patiently. He shone the flickering glow up into the recess of the lever mechanism, noting with satisfaction the slick glistening of fresh oil. Then he doused the lamp and put it back on its hook before turning to inspect the sturdy legs upon which the machine rested, those four stout, squared pillars wrapped in dull bands of blackened iron, all of it hardened by the elements into something akin to granite. Here, too, all was well.

Emerging into daylight, he ascended the thirteen steps at an unhurried pace. These, too, had been built to last. As old and weathered as everything else, they creaked their faint protests as he trod and then squealed like baby rats as his feet lifted. He made a mental note to have them looked at properly; perhaps they could tighten the screws and replace the nails. He preferred a machine that was as quiet as it could be, the better to calm people – at least, as well as he was able. When the moment came everyone handled it differently, but he had learned from experience that nothing rattled the poor fodder quite like an inefficient, badly-maintained contraption that squeaked with every footfall and clattered with every move.

He stepped onto the trapdoors that ran from one end of the oaken platform to the other. They were firm, giving just a little under his weight before resting on the bolts that held them in place. The beam was massive, load-bearing, roughened and worn, but it was sound and ready to go, so he turned to the lever. He eased his fingers around the handle and gripped. It felt so familiar, like the handshake of a dependable old friend. To many the gallows was the abode of a monster, but above all else it was a place of work and today, he knew, he would be busy.
Sun, Apr 16 2017 05:40pm IST 8
1230 Posts

The Dragons’ Eerie

Stiorra climbed. Another step, then another, until her breath came in agonised gasps. Behind her the mocking laughter of her brother. She glanced back and her hair pulled free of her hood, streaming behind her. The path disappeared around the mountain, then zig-zagged back into sight, meandering to the moss and thatch village nestled at the mountain’s base. From here Stiorra could reach out and cup it in her hand.

Tomas appeared, face flushed, climbing fast.

‘Don’t. I want to be first.’

‘Too slow.’

He pushed passed her, long limbs carrying him effortlessly. Stiorra followed.

It must be close now.

One final twist of the path and Stiorra froze, heart battering at her ribs, hand to mouth, holding in a scream. The monster’s mouth snarled wide from the mountainside. Fangs as long as her arms, saliva glistening paly in the depths of its maw. She raised her eyes passed slit nostrils and armoured scales to glowing amber orbs that pinned her to the spot. Its howl rumbled against her ears.

Tomas was gone. It would swallow her next.

A chuckle from behind. ‘Don’t be afraid Stiorra, it’s just rock and stone. Welcome to the Dragons’ Eerie.’

Her parents climbed passed her and she scrambled to keep up on wavering legs.

‘Will I be chosen?’

‘Not on your first visit.’

Up close the illusion faded to cunning carving and paint. She followed her parents into the dragon’s mouth, pausing to rest her hands on the milky stalagmites that filled the chamber.

The air vibrated as the wind tore down the tunnel. She swallowed and followed the path into the mountain, out onto a ledge at its hollow centre. Tomas was there, perched on the edge, legs dangling.

‘I wish you wouldn’t do that,’ Stiorra’s mother said from behind them.

Tomas laughed and Stiorra edged closer. The world dropped away. Sheer walls fell into nothing. Below, dizzyingly far, a disc of blue glistened. Above, a matching circle of sky. Which way was up, which down. Nausea punched her stomach.

‘Ay-yeeee,’ her brother shouted into the void, and the sound bounced around and around, flung back from the red and gold walls, echoing into hundreds of yawning caves, until it was swallowed in the depths.

He leaned forward, suspended for a moment, then swan dove into space. Stiorra’s heart slammed into her throat.


She scrabbled to the edge, watching. Tomas’s body shrank as he fell. Another cry echoed and an emerald green shape detached from a cave mouth and plummeted after the boy, scaled body arrow straight, falling faster, diving beneath the boy. Wings snapped wide, stopping their descent.

It climbed. The jewelled lizard hove upwards and others joined it, erupting from the caves. Blues and purples and yellows. A chaos of colour, circling upwards on wings that cracked the air, driving Stiorra flat to the stones. A whirlwind of dragons beating into the sky, until only one remained, hovering before the girl.

Will I be Chosen?

(498 words)

Sun, Apr 16 2017 09:58pm IST 9
846 Posts
Rock Step

The glacier was God's chisel. As Michelangelo carved away everything that did not belong when he sculpted David, the Ice Age created Cumbria, for you, my love.

For you, striking out from the car, the fells ahead are the panorama of your playground. We slog up the first slope, air burning our lungs, heart rate rising to meet the heights above. Grass underfoot, only grass before our eyes, greeting the Herdwicks as they stare through inscrutable eyes and baa greeting or warning. Our breath jets in the air.

And then we are on the ridge. I see it reflected on your face. You are adapting, something wild released. As we crest the brow, we both take a breath. Mine, to supply a physical need. Yours too, perhaps, but not the same. A moment ago we were swaddled in a broad U of green-flanked valley - it has released us into a forest of towering peaks. Right across the next valley Knott Rigg already below us, and looming behind it, the giant cone of Grasmoor, scalloped ridges extending to each side like the wings of a dragon whose lair we've invaded.

But after taking this in, you turn left, looking up the ridge we've just surmounted, to the summit of Robinson, its twin Hindscarth beside it. I can see you reckoning their statistics - height, profile, their places in the lists of Wainwrights and Marilyns - but there's something else, something I can't read.

We continue along the high-level catwalk hanging above the valleys. The path starts to turn upwards. I stop again to catch my breath, and you're fifty yards on before you notice. I point out the mercury surface of Derwent Water peeking round Catbells, the heavy shoulders of Skiddaw climbed yesterday, soft with distance. You smile, but impatiently.

Grass gives way to stone. The path vanishes. And then we reach it. I ask if this is right. It must be wrong. A stone wall, forty feet high. You talk about 'rock steps' - now I understand. You say you'll go first, hopping up onto a narrow ledge, scuttling along a tilting slab, no foothold but friction. I'm at rest but my heart is thudding. The ground falls away on both sides. No way round.

Earlier the fells were placid giants furred with green. Now they are brooding ogres, creatures of black stone. They terrify me. You terrify me. I try. Heaven knows I do, but my hands are shaking, sweating. I know how much you want this but I still can't go on. The wind gusts, chilling the tears as I sob back at it. You clamber back and guide my feet down. We trudge back to the car, widening the fracture.

Ten thousand years ago, a glacier carved out a gulf. Implacable, uncaring, brutal, pushing over Little Dale edge, gradually thundering towards Newlands, separating High Snab and Scope End, and punching an unbridgeable space between you and me. When you come back, you will be alone with the fells.

500 words not including title
Mon, Apr 17 2017 08:50am IST 10
1230 Posts
Cough 'Dragons' Eyrie' even. What was I thinking. :#
Mon, Apr 17 2017 10:58am IST 11
487 Posts


It is all sumptuous perfumed silk. Soft as dove breast, unplucked and tremulous. Sweet as marchpane or golden madeira. Rolling, unfurling, velvety smooth. And faint but clear, a heavenly sound, a tinkling like the splash of water upon marble thigh or sculpted belly, growing louder and turning on a sudden to a deep, vibrant plucking, a strumming and thrumming, dark and insistent. The squirming, sensual delight of flesh against satin, the slippery descent into muffled hollows heady with the perfidious scent of jasmine and lily. Confined yet unconfined, floating without purpose, forever onward …

So spring crept north again this year, brought back with it blue days and fair, and I to my pledged word am true, I have not failed our rendezvous.

(125 words inc title)

Tue, Apr 18 2017 11:25am IST 12
1404 Posts
Can you really transport your readers to a different time and place? Come and have a go in this month's comp. Everybody's welcome. There's a fantastic crop of stories so far.
Thu, Apr 20 2017 04:21pm IST 13
5 Posts

The Silence of Wood of Leather

The office was an isolated place set aside from the shop and barely used. To reach it you had to pass through a tiny cluttered kitchen doubling as storage, boxes ceiling high, walk through the stock room, up a flight of stairs, down another to cross a small yard into the office on the first floor. Cold clung to the walls and filled the air with winter. Dread hung over me whenever I entered. There was something about this room I couldn’t put my finger on and didn’t want to.

I’d been told I could use the heater – no central heating here. I’d switch it on, fiddle with the thermostat and sit as close as I dare. The heat scotched dust motes as they floated by.

The office itself was all wood and leather, dark smells that endured. It reeked of maleness. The desk was large and heavy, solid, feet planted to stay. The top was inlaid with green leather edged in gold filigree. Ink wells and a calendar stood regimented like the wooden filing cabinets in the corner.

It was in this place I was expected to eat my lunch for there was no other space. I had to trail my hot mug through the stock room, up and down the stairs and across the yard in all weathers. My sandwiches transformed into pappy mixes of bread and filling, sterile as the room. Unappetising as they were I forced them down.

The silence didn’t help. The absence of others was filled by something else, something that kept me on edge. Here I was far away from the world and the shop, contained unwillingly between these four walls, yet I felt I like I was being watched. I could never relax. I’m someone who actually enjoys my own company. I crave my own space but this was claustrophobic. The maleness of the office was so overwhelming I could hardly bear it. There was no give, no softness only a curtain of anxiety and foreboding wrapping itself around me. The only redeeming feature was the swivel chair, but even that was cumbersome with its solid wood frame and wheels difficult to manipulate. Still, I found it soothing swivelling one way and the other in perfect rhythm as I ate. Whatever secrets this room held were imbedded in the wood and leather. It bore my silence with its own.

One day I opted to flee to a local café for some peace amongst the chatter of people and the aroma of food. It sounds silly to say that my place of work was dangerous. It wasn’t just the trail across stock room and the dodgy stairs it was the office with its menacing demeanour cloaking the walls. Now, I’m not one to feel atmospheres as a rule, but the office, and to be honest, the work space itself uneased me to the point that after a few days I quit.

488 words (excluding title)

Sat, Apr 22 2017 06:55am IST 14
Monica Handle
Monica Handle
16 Posts


Not for the first time, he awoke in a room with no idea of where he was. And so? He could remember, not two months ago, having to spend ten minutes at the window of a guesthouse bedroom, studying the harbour scene in front of him, until a delivery truck address told him he was in Trondheim. He thought the Norwegian strategy might assist again.

In any case, the bed was hardly comfortable. He was lying on a thin, lumpy mattress and he could see a metal frame with peeling cream paint. He turned his head towards the door, on which hung a laminated sheet of fire safety instructions. A cheap hotel, then, by the look of it. There was an ancient, dark-wood wardrobe and a marble-topped chest of drawers to his left; to the right, a corner sink complete with a tiny bar of packaged soap. “Everywhere and nowhere,” he thought. And yet … he couldn’t deny that, somehow, he felt at home, as if he was a returnee, an erstwhile emigrant or, indeed, a prodigal son. The ochre floor tiles and the flaking dark green paint of the window shutters were undeniably familiar. He felt a pull of childhood.

He swung his legs off the bed and padded over to the door. The instructions for what to do in case of emergency – don’t use the lift, gather in the courtyard, alert the hotel management, and so forth – were not written in English, which he had been assuming was his native tongue. They were written in something else, in a text which used accents and some non-English letters. He had no memory of having learned this language, yet he found he could understand it perfectly.

This was beyond unsettling. “Dementia?” he wondered. “A brain injury?” He thought he should test the latter diagnosis, and tried saying the words in front of him. Sçi ascult ó dziren, vage fra’an ovra. The sentence spooled out fluently, just as it would have in English: if you hear the alarm, make your way to the exit.He read the rest, which he understood – even as he processed it in not-English – as being written in a flowery official-ese, addressed to the ‘honoured guest’ who ‘is welcomed to our humble establishment’. No clues here.

Next, the window. This gave onto a small courtyard, flag-stoned and shaded by an overgrown loquat tree. Its branches held dirty-yellow fruits, suggesting that he had arrived in this place, wherever it was, in early summer, and that he must be in the frost-free south of somewhere. He remembered a tree very like this one, and eating from it, while standing on the fire-escape landing of an apartment block, on his tenth birthday. His arms couldn’t quite stretch to reach the fruits, so his father had picked them, one by one, peeling the thin skin to reveal cool, sherberty flesh.

He stared at a loquat, still out of reach, and burst into tears.

493 words, inc. title

Tue, Apr 25 2017 05:56am IST 15
1331 Posts
Wed, Apr 26 2017 06:29am IST 16
1404 Posts
Five days left to test out your descriptive prowess. Some great stuff already in the monthly comp. Come and try it out.
Wed, Apr 26 2017 02:16pm IST 17
215 Posts
One thing I've learned to do is to copy the file from Word and into the Notepad (assuming you're using a Windows system here). Transferring it this way eliminates all of the formatting and any potential errors and, once you've opened it in the Notepad, you can manually add paragraph breaks. Then copy it again, from Notepad into the comments box here in the thread. Add any bold text or italics manually and bob's your favourite relative. It's a bit of a drudge compared to simply porting from Word, but it's a lot easier to fix any formatting strangeness that might crop up.
Fri, Apr 28 2017 11:42am IST 18
Mashie Niblick
Mashie Niblick
1072 Posts
This month's competition is open to all - 2 days left.....
Sun, Apr 30 2017 05:08am IST 19
2370 Posts
One last bunp*
Sun, Apr 30 2017 05:09am IST 20
2370 Posts
Gah! bump*
Sun, Apr 30 2017 08:29am IST 21
Mashie Niblick
Mashie Niblick
1072 Posts
Mon, May 1 2017 12:22am IST 22
1404 Posts
Can I just say that I am genuinely astounded at the quality of these pieces. These must be amongst the best I've ever seen in a monthly comp. So thanks for making my job so difficult. You maybe wondering how I got the results up so quickly but I read them all as they came in and for the last four hours me and my friend Jack (Daniels) have re-read each one, writing my comments as I go.

So here's the entries as I see them:


Offbeat Pirates (non-entry)

A Desert Island paradise that may be hiding something more. Great setting. I could practically hear the waves lapping the shore and feel the salt spray on my face. Good description entwined with that strange sense not being alone. By the end, I wanted a tot of that rum.

Mashie Niblick

Eastwater Cavern

A cave, but not just a cave. You had to go and turn it into a watery grave. I held my breath whilst reading this, felt trapped when the character got stuck and I couldn’t work out which way was up or down. Very disorientating with your usual brand of great story telling, with the cave playing its part in the death of the MC.


Vacant Possession

A dingy room. I expected no less than this sinister treat, and even then it gave me goose-bumps. I felt present in the room with the odour of mould spores and used sheets. The limp clothes on the coat hangers and school books on the shelves gave me the shivers. Dark, dank and dirty. Great writing.


The Advent of the Wyverns

An open plain with the shadow of a cloud, but not just any cloud. With it comes a cacophony so great it could send one insane. This was a visual and auditory assault of the highest order. Beautifully written with descriptions that painted a 3d surround-sound movie rather than a single picture.



A dungeon maybe or a dark room or a cellar. I still don’t know and I still don’t care. I felt trapped. This place was horrible, without actually knowing anything about it other than it had stony floor and a wall. The sense of not knowing is what made this piece special. Right up my street this.



A bedroom – In outer space. Harmonia and its three moons had me believing in human colonisation and the politics that go alongside it. I wasn’t quite ready to up sticks and move onto the war-torn planet. I’ll wait until all those Grakkon things are exterminated and the house prices slump. Good fun and truly immersive



A beautiful garden or the inside of a Nintendo DS. I’m unsure. But wherever I was it was so clear. I could see for miles. And then, looking up, up, up at the giant Tetris wall of colour. I’m so intrigued and feel there is a lot more to this than I’m aware of. Strikingly visual descriptions of the vision of an artist. Wonderful. Left me wanting to know more.


Untitled 1


Bujumbura. What I love most about your writing is being transported to places I’ll probably never see in my life. That and the fact that you know some poor bastard (sorry for profanity) is about to meet his maker. I loved the armoured limo being breached, but it made me realise just how scary you are, Prop. Utterly entertaining as usual.


High Teas of Opulence

Crow Grange. The description of the servant quarters was so vivid. But this took on a new feel once she stepped outside. It reminded me of a haunted castle. I was half expecting Christopher Lee to appear. Moody and atmospheric. And, once outside, it felt strangely claustrophobic. Great piece of writing.



An abandoned harbour, and childhood playground. This piece made me sad, but in a good way. The descriptions were brilliantly depressing and the entire place wreaked of dilapidation. I loved the way it pictured the disappointment of returning to a place from your youth that no longer matches up to your expectations. Fabulous.

Jenni Belsay

Bone Hill

A sixteenth century cottage set amongst a most vivid backdrop. I felt damp. Could smell the wet earth and hear the drips landing. This was isolation at its best. A little like the hotel in The Shining. And what’s with that wall? Where’s the previous assistant? And why’s this guy so paranoid? All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. RedRum!



The Palaçio da Cintra. Is it just me or does anybody else feel hot? We’ve all done it, right? Fell asleep after a few beers and been visited by three ghosts. No, Just Lee, myself and Ebenezer then. You made me drowsy. Great description and wonderful story telling. Loved the rusty blood stain.


The Inquisitive Girl (and what happened to her)

A musty book shop. My God this was tense. The feeling of being trapped, or even buried alive by a sea of ancient books had my heart pounding. Especially when you introduced Payge and his teeth. You created a real otherworldly type atmosphere that added to the tension. Gripping.



A crime scene. Dark and grisly descriptions were, once again right up my street. This felt like an extract from a well-executed crime novel. The imagery was vivid and gruesome in equal measure. A sense of disgusting discovery through the eyes of a hardened detective. Once again left me wanting to know more.

Bella M

Walter’s Abduction

Kreuz am See. Whisked (whiskied) away to another location I’m never likely to visit, and now there’s no need to. I could see the houses dotted in the hillside and reflected in the calm water of the lake. Nice to see Walter again. Loved the description of tacky proportions that led to that final question. Great piece.


Untitled (not an entry…sniff)

London at daybreak. If you’ve never been to London or never been much of an up early and out for a jog type. Read this one and you’ll have experienced a true reflection of both. Fabulous storytelling as only you can. Love the dark humour. Actually, I loved everything about it. Did I ever tell you about the time I ran the marathon……?


No Return

A houseboat. Loved the willow trees trailing their fingers through the still waters of the lake. The sense of homeliness created was great and my mouth was watering as they approached. The description of the grandfather and his granddaughter was touching. A really nice piece.


The Kingdom of The Fox

The Old Mill Village. Great description from an unusual POV. I loved the car (sorry monster) rolling to a halt and spreading its wing. Some real touches of class here. The puddles of orange street light and moonlit cobbles. A real old-world village described through non-human eyes. Impressive.


The Hunt

The Serengeti. This picture-perfect description of nature carrying on blissfully unaware of the predators stalking their prey. Or is it? I have to say that Harvester was a right bastard and I was rooting for the Lions all the way through. Strong visuals, great story telling and sharp dialogue. Ain’t it the goddam truth?


A Place of Work

The gallows. Brilliantly dark. I was the executioner. I loved the attention to detail and the way the actual executioner went about his daily routine inspections with pride. There’s nothing better than a well maintained killing machine. (just ask OFP) Is it wrong that I actually wanted to visit these gallows?


The Dragon’s Eerie

The Dragon’s Eerie. Beautifully descriptive piece. I was in shock when the boy dove from the ledge, but by the time the dragon hovered over his sister I was in total awe. This was classic fantasy meets Avatar. Stunning. I want a dragon of my own. Do you have one in Liverpool red?


Rock Step

Cumbria. There’s something remarkably soothing in the way you write. You always put me at ease. I love the descriptions and it’s like I’m being taught a lesson at the same time. The use of the second person was a great touch and helped knit together the emotional side of the piece. Remarkable piece.



Unsure exactly where this took place, but this is purple prose at its purpliest. Poetic and flowery with promises of a secret rendezvous. It felt like I was a woman allowing some exotic nightdress flow over my skin whilst preparing for the arrival of a handsome prince. Delightful.


The Silence of Wood of Leather

The office. This came across as a genuinely frightening place. I don’t know if you actually worked here but it felt real, like you were recounting rather than telling a story. Great description that gave me a real sense of unease. It reminded me of my days in the stockroom in Woolworth’s. That place was definitely haunted.

Monica Handle


A dingy hotel. The description of the room paints a perfect image, and at first I was thinking Jason Bourne. Then came the touching memories of his father and the finalé. It was equally grounding and disorientating at the same time. A strong piece with a tug on the heart strings.

John Alty

Untitled (or Okay let’s have a go)

A decrepit apartment block. Everything about this said run-down. I felt as if I was in a poor neighbourhood in somewhere like Cuba or Brazil. Strong sense of place portrayed through the eyes of the main character and then a little teaser at the end. Was that a metaphoric abattoir or an actual murder scene. I hope it’s the latter. Mwa ha ha haaarggh!

I feel sad that I have to choose. At least I have a shortlist of twenty three, thanks to OFP's dq's and Bazbaron's first withdrawn entry. Beyond that I have genuinely struggled to short list further. I'm going to give special mentions to two that stuck with me from first reading them. They are Jenni Belsay's creepy cottage in Bone Hill and MosquitoFB6's gallows in A Place of Work.

And as for you, Prop... one day you'll actually enter a genuine contender.

But for me one piece made me see and feel everything just that little more vividly, and that is astounding given the quality on show: So well done to Seagreen. I'll pass the shiny baton into your more than capable hands.

Mon, May 1 2017 06:03am IST 23
2370 Posts
Oh, crikey! I've dropped it already...

First of all, PB, thanks for a wonderful comp which obviously appealed to a few of us, given the number of entries you had. And what entries! The standard could not have been higher. I've never envied the person judging the comp and, in this case particularly, never been more glad it wasn't me.

As for me, I'm gobsmacked, pleased as punch, and terrified in equal measures. I need to sit down and have tea.
Mon, May 1 2017 07:31am IST 24
Jenni Belsay
Jenni Belsay
694 Posts
Congrats Seagreen! A most worthy winner. There were so many fab entries but I thought your piece was stunning.

Didn't envy you the judging, Pinks, but great feedback, and thanks so much for the SM. Didn't expect that.

Ditto what Prop said about this month's comp. And last month's in fact. Those two challenges really focused the mind and in my case might have just kick started my WIP again.
Mon, May 1 2017 07:49am IST 25
2157 Posts
That'll learn you, Sea!! And well done to Pinks for judging such a stonkingly challenging competiton - I didn't envy you. Great stuff everyone who entered.

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