Writing Winners 2018

Writing Winners 2018

Jogging

Richard Westwood

I was barely conscious, but I recognised him by his faltering gait. It was the master who limped, a man further disabled by a clawed hand at the end of a paralysed arm; a man with the complexion of a corpse; a ‘man-of god’, so tall and thin that when he walked, his cassock billowed out like a vampire’s cape. I felt a cold draught of air against my back. I whispered ‘Momma’, but I knew she couldn’t help. Then the pain. A pain all too familiar. I closed my eyes tight and bit hard on my pillow. I tried to counter the sensitivity by conjuring images from happy days playing with my friends.

Pain. Brian playing football. Pain. Douglas careering down a hill on a sledge. I wanted to scream. I wanted to pull a curse down on all adults. I didn’t pray. ‘Suffer little children’. I just quietly cried until the torture ceased. I turned slightly to look over my shoulder. He appeared fragile but sinister. He struck a match to light a candle. I saw his eyes. His pupils were dilated. His pupil was cowered. When I came around my wife was holding my hand. Anne looked old. My deteriorating health had worn us both out. Dr Llewellyn said I shouldn’t have been jogging at all. He introduced a policeman who stepped gingerly to the foot of my bed.

‘I’m sorry to bother you, sir. But are you up to answering a few questions?’

I squeezed Anne’s hand to stop her protesting on my behalf.

‘Thankyou, sir. It’s not about your accident as such. I’m investigating another incident. A lorry driver who saw you knocked down said you ran out from the side road that leads from St Joseph’s?’

‘My usual route,’ I answered.
‘l just wondered if you noticed anything unusual as you passed the church. You see an old clergyman there was attacked this morning. He’s on life support. It doesn’t look good, I’m afraid.’

‘l don’t think officer…’ Anne interjected defensively, but I stopped her again.

‘As it happens, I did.’
The policeman looked hopeful.
‘l saw a young lad, around nine years old I’d say. He was sitting on the church steps, crying.
‘Perhaps he’d seen something that had upset him,’ the PC volunteered. ‘When would this be, sir?
Can you be precise?’

‘Oh, yes.’ I eased myself up as Anne adjusted my pillows. ‘It was 1961.’

Dull and Boring

Linda Lewis

Idly, Darren picks up the magnifying glass hoping it might be some kind of gadget but it’s just a magnifying glass. He puts it back down with a sigh. Like everything else in his grandparents’ house, it’s old and therefore dull and boring.

He dawdles through into the kitchen where his grandmother is baking. The smell of cinnamon and ginger hangs in the air. Darren doesn’t recognise either of them.

“There you are,” she says. “Make yourself useful and give this a stir.” She hands him a mixing bowl full of creamy coloured sludge.

He gives it a few, cursory stirs, then passes it back.
“What’s up with you?” she asks.
“I’m bored,” he replies.
“Why don’t you go upstairs? See what your grandfather’s up to?”

Darren ignores her question, steals a freshly baked cookie from a rack and takes a large bite, “Why do you even bother baking? You can buy biscuits for next to nothing in Aldi.”
“Yes, but homemade tastes better, don’t you think?”

He doesn’t reply. Instead he wanders into the living room and switches on the TV. Having to go to his grandparents after school is such a pain. They don’t have a Playstation or an Xbox. His smartphone had been confiscated because he’s been playing too many games.

He checks his watch — another hour before his mother picks him up, maybe two. He flicks through the television channels, stopping when he finds an old episode of The Simpsons.

Upstairs, in his study, Darren’s grandfather is writing a report on a series of grisly murders. His profiling skills are still in great demand, despite being in his late seventies. The perpetrator has been nicknamed The Time Bandit by the media because all he takes from his victims are their watches, probably as souvenirs.

As he sifts through the evidence, his thoughts drift to Marjorie, his wife of forty three years. What a woman! Tonight was meant to be their date night until their daughter called, asking for a last minute favour. He’d been looking forward to it all week. Marjorie was going to play the part of an ageing actress, trying to seduce a rock star who’s seen better days. Now they are stuck at home, babysitting a fourteen year old boy.

He’d imagined teaching his grandson how to play the drums, identify poisons, or crack codes but the boy’s not interested in anything that’s not found on a screen.

When he hears the TV come on downstairs, the old man sighs.

Darren is such a dull and boring child.

So Many Clusters, So Many Holes

Kate O’Grady

My best friend Robert has many phobias. He’s got several that begin with the letter A: Agoraphobia, Acrophobia, and Astraphobia. God forbid we’re ever outside, on a cliff top, in a storm. It’s not going to be pretty.

He texted me this morning: “Trypophobia! Please come over!” He lives close, so I went straight away. He was ashen. Trypophobia, he said, was an irrational fear of clusters of small holes. He opened his laptop and started showing me pictures of honeycombs, the inside of pomegranates, bubbles, octopus tentacles. I felt nauseous within minutes. “Dreadful isn’t it?” Robert said. “It’s more a revulsion than a fear. It’s to do with our innate terror of infectious diseases. They often begin with cluster rashes, and so we instinctively shy away from images that resemble them.”

“I’m shying away from you,” I said. “I’ve got to go. I’m having a parcel delivered. Stop looking at those photos.”

Back at my flat I couldn’t get the images out of my mind, and I was seeing small clusters of holes everywhere. The doorbell rang. It was Hermes Delivery Service. God knows why they named the company after a speedy Olympian God. My parcels never arrive on time. I tore open the side of the plastic bag and inside was the gold and yellow cushion I’d ordered, the one with the very tiny gold and yellow overlapping circles. “You look peaky,” the Hermes guy said, and he helped me inside. I told him about trypophobia and fired up the Dell notebook. So many photos! The lotus flower seed pod was the money shot. The Hermes delivery guy, his name was Alan, clutched his stomach and looked at me. “I know” I said, and went into the kitchen to make us both a cup of soothing Ginger tea.

I had just taken the bags out when there was a knock on the door. It was my neighbour Humpty from Flat 12. I call him Humpty because he’s the spitting image of Humpty Dumpty. That’s if Humpty Dumpty had a beard like Abraham Lincoln. He wanted to return the drill he’d borrowed. I invited him in and he sat on the armchair, and the three of us stared at each other. Alan and I both noticed it at the same time, a small cluster rash on Humpty’s cheek. I quietly dry heaved into my hand.
I finally got rid of them both, and sat staring at a blank wall. I needed the loo, but knew I couldn’t handle the sponge on the bathtub. My phone vibrated and I turned my head to look at it. It was Robert and there was a picture. I didn’t look at the image but I read the text: “Giant corals in the Great Barrier Reef!” the text said. “So many clusters! So many holes!” I turned my attention back to the blank wall and wondered where I was going to find a new best friend.

 Stroud Book Festival 2018: Graphic representation of Stroud town:

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