2019 – Winner!
The winning story – ‘MIDNIGHT’ – is from Madeleine Williams.
Well done Madeleine.
The Runner-up story – ‘Vintage’ – is from Ramona Key.
In third place was – ‘Bus Stop’ – by Margaret Poulter
You can read the winner and runner-up stories here:
The creaking and whispering of trees set him on edge, Harry never liked going into the woods… especially not at midnight. He looked over at Sam, who seemed as calm as ever. His friend was flicking his torchlight over the pine needles and branches covering their path, manoeuvring himself to avoiding tripping. He couldn’t leave Sam. Besides, the other boys wouldn’t let him live it down if he ran home now. The torch’s beam flashed into a pair of eyes ahead of them, and he grabbed Sam’s arm in fear. “Oh my God, it’s only a fox!” Sam hissed at him. His heart was beating too fast in his chest. Suddenly, Sam pointed into the trees ahead of them. “There it is!” he whispered excitedly. Harry stared in the direction of Sam’s finger and saw it: the old, yellow school bus, now a faded grey and covered in dirt and leaves. Sam was already sprinting towards it; he had no choice but to follow.
As he reached out to wipe the grime from the closest window, Harry felt a shiver run through him. He didn’t want to be here, he wanted to be safe at home, under his duvet. He shot a glare at Sam for forcing him to come on his stupid mission, but Sam was too busy trying to wrench open the rusted door handle of the driver’s seat. “They say the bus rolled over three times before coming to a stop here. And by the time the police got here, the children and the driver had disappeared.” Sam whispered in his most dramatic voice. Harry rolled his eyes.
“Good evenin’ lads!” A voice said brightly from beside them. Both boys jumped and stared up at the old man leaning against a tree trunk, staring lovingly at the rusted shell of a bus. “Who are you?” Sam asked angrily, recovering his composure. “Well I’m the driver ain’t I?” The old man replied, taking a cigarette out his pocket and lighting it casually. The boys stared at each other, then at the man. The driver took a drag from his cigarette, then continued. “Nasty business this was, eh?” The boys blinked at him in horror. “So, you’ve been living in
the woods all these years?” Harry croaked. The driver laughed and began to walk around the bus, running his hands along it as though it were some beloved pet. “She’s still a beauty, eh?” he murmured, as if to himself. “Everyone thought you were dead!” Sam shouted in disbelief, following the driver behind the bus. They had both disappeared from sight. The windows were so filthy, Harry couldn’t see out the other side. “Sam wait, stay with me!” He shouted in panic, edging around the bus to peer around to the other side. There was nobody there. “Sam?!” He shouted, spinning around to check the surrounding woods, now black without the light of Sam’s torch. But he was completely alone, both the driver and his friend had vanished.
Marjorie cocked her rifle and fired another shot into the air. This time, a warning. Next time she’d take aim.
“Get off my property,” she shouted, cigarette flapping between her lips.
She saw Jim’s hands go up in truce as he slowly emerged from behind the dilapidated, hollowed out old bus which sat at the bottom of her driveway.
“Margerie, I just wanted to tell you we’ve had another enormous offer.”
“My land’s not for sale, Jim. I ain’t telling you again.”
“They’ll give you 2.5 million. C’mon Margerie, think of your retirement, or inheritance for your grandkids.”
Margerie cocked again and found Jim’s foot in the viewfinder. Her wrinkled, manicured finger teetered on the trigger, dancing with the tension as she followed Jim’s footsteps coming towards her up the drive. The thin line of smoke from her cigarette made her view hazy so she stubbed it out and pushed her leopard-print cloche hat back along her forehead in order to get a better shot. Jim’s hands were still in the air. He wore a polyester suit and cheap square-toed shoes, probably plastic as well. She hated plastic.
Margerie pulled the trigger and Jim’s feet sprung from the ground, as if by electric jolt.
“Jim I ain’t gonna move my hands from this trigger until I see your scrawny legs get off my land.”
Jim stood hunched over, catching his breath for a moment before pushing his gelled hair back into place. Finally, he started to make his way down the gravel path, keeping his hands up all the while. By the time he reached his car he looked a shell of the former confident man who’d swaggered up to her house no less than ten minutes ago.
As Jim reversed away into the dust, Lucy emerged from the house, clad in Chanel pearls and a fur hat. The ice in her whiskey tumbler clinked as she walked with the uneven arthritic steps old age had gifted to her. She handed Margerie a cigarette and draped a fur stole over her shoulders.
“Here Margie you look cold, take this.”
“That was a close call.”
“He didn’t see inside that bus, did he?” Lucy said, lighting both of their cigarettes.
“No. I don’t think so.”
They walked towards the bus, two lifelong friends dressed to the nines and in the sunset of their lives. They peered through the dusty cracked windows of the vintage European relic. Inside lay no less than 50 suitcases, bursting at the seams with cash. Their husbands would have died another death if they saw what their wives had been up to these past few years.
“Think about our retirement,” said Marjorie, shaking her head. “Why would anyone wanna retire from having this much fun.”
It has been a really tough decision this year to choose the stories to make our short list. We had so many excellent entries we have decided, in addition to a first prize of £50, we will also be giving a prize of £25 to the runner-up.
2019 – In alphabetical order – the titles of the short listed stories are:
Only the story titles are listed to protect the anonymity of the authors.
My Old Friend Rocket
Sticks and Stones
The end of the Road
The Project, Unfinished
Where they lie
We had 74 entries
2018 – Winner!
This story is from Janette Owen who sent in two entries and whose other story came second! Well done indeed, Janette.
‘Dad’s News’ by Antony Dunford
‘My Daddy’ by Sally-Anne Crowther
‘The Word Unspoken’ by Peter Collins
‘Peculiar’ by Wayne Danting-Langdale
‘The Possessive Gene’ by Pamela Trudie Hodge
We had 41 entries.
Here is Janette’s story:
A Thread of Hope
I watched from the dormitory window while they handed my baby to strangers. They said I wasn’t a fit mother for my little girl, made in love but out of marriage. No name allowed to go with her, only a simple teddy – one I made from my maternity smock. My cries turned to screams as the nuns waved her away, crossing their hardened hearts while leaving mine in tatters.
The years passed, as they do, only mine without hope of ever setting eyes again on those which once looked up at mine, since my name had changed and I never discovered hers.
‘She’ll be fifty today,’ I told my son when he found me clutching the remnants of that old smock.
John joined me on the sofa, covering my hands with his. ‘You still have that old thing?’ he said, eyeing the floral fabric.
‘It’s all I have left of her.’
I expected John to tell me it was time I let go; that I had him at least. But he didn’t. Instead, he gently took the remnants of that old smock and run his hands over its threads as though he might make it speak.
‘Could I borrow this?’ he asked.
I never thought to question him or build up any hope. After all, nothing had ever come from hope before.
Yet here I was, thanks to John, waiting in the park café. Who would have believed a photo and a simple internet appeal could find her? I thought it fitting to see her come back to me from a window, since it was through one I saw her go.
Did she blame me? John said not. He said she was keen to come.
But how would I know her? Would she have my hair? My dimpled smile? Would she share my silly laugh?
My heart thumped each time a woman came into view. Fifty years she’d known another mother. Why should I presume to share anything with her? We might have nothing in common …
Though the woman who had just climbed out of a taxi was another who had fought to tame her wild locks, hers still boasting remnants of copper. We both clutched onto floral cloth while gazing through glass with questioning eyes.
Eyes that had a fleck of green, like mine.
Always was and ever will be.
You’d think I’d be bounding from my chair to the door, except I could barely stand. I couldn’t move my trembling arms to wipe the trickle of tears. Words froze in my throat.
A creak of hinges and barriers no longer kept us apart. She held up a thread-worn teddy, one blue button eye replaced by a brown. ‘Snap,’ she sniffed, eyeing the rags that I clutched
‘Snap,’ I sobbed, offering up the tatters like a broken-stemmed bouquet.
Tears mingled and arms entwined.
Those nuns, they tried to part us, but in the end blood proved thicker than bile.