Short story competition 2019

WINNING STORIES

— Winner —

Jack Heslop
The Shelter and the Stones

Blue, pink, yellow, green, and white. The stones are in a rough circle on the bench between us. It’s a blisteringly cold Halloween. While walking here I saw pumpkins watch the world go by from front gardens, faces in an audience, most smiling, one rather furious in what must have been an esoteric flourish of the artist. More than one house had a bloody handprint on the door’s glass. The door of what I knew was a childless couple’s house had a handwritten sign saying “no trick or treaters PLEASE!”

We sit in a shelter with a clock in its spire, like the top of a church that stretches far beneath the earth. Ahead of us the sea rolls in and out. My companion’s gaze is fixed on the coloured stones as if he’s trying to make them dance, or tell secrets. His name is Adam Turner and he obsesses me, or did, a very long time ago. This memory is very old.

I remember that he kept the stones in his bag, amongst other such totems of pagan magic. Adam Turner was a witch, though I’d tried many times to convince him that boys couldn’t be witches. He’d tell me of his trip to Epping Forest, ostensibly to visit a maiden aunt, but during which he danced among the trees and cried out incantations. He claimed to have met the Devil himself on the Naze at Walton, just after midnight, and pledged allegiance to him with a forbidden act.

Oh to be the Devil, I thought. ‘I wish she was dead’ he said, to the stones.
‘Come on, Adam, don’t say that.’ He smiled at me.
‘I thought you didn’t believe in magic?’ he retorted.
‘I don’t, not really, but you shouldn’t say things like that.’
‘Why not? She wants me to act like her latest boyfriend’s my dad. I told her, if I did that with all her boyfriends I’d have a new dad every month.’ I chuckled. He narrowed his eyes at the stones as if he expected them to play Ring o’ Roses. ‘The next time she gets drunk, I hope she never wakes up.’ It was then that I had my vision, whether conjured by witchcraft or the weird processes of thought, I’ll let you decide: Adam’s mother lay on the beach, hair splayed like light surrounding a saint’s head in a medieval fresco. It was night, and the Frinton sands adjusted to her shape. Her eyes were closed. Somehow, despite their being no expression on her face, she encouraged an overwhelming sadness in me, as though I’d found someone’s pet, abandoned.

The vision ended and Adam collected the stones. We walked away from the shelter. The vision haunted me for about five minutes and then dispersed like mist on a brisk Essex morning. I’ve long since lost touch with Adam. Remembering that day 20 years later, it occurs to me that everything comes home, in one way or another.


Runner Up

Claire Pearson
Taking Flight

The sea disappears below the horizon as she drives into the village. Chalets sweep past her car window, their pointed gables sharp against the blue sky. ‘Dreams can come true’ she mouths along with the radio, her shoulders sway to the rhythm. The car bumps along the narrow track and halts outside the bungalow. She checks her phone messages; no news yet, disappointing. She glances at the client printout: lives alone, recent hospital discharge. She bustles to the door, lets herself in and trills out a bright ‘Good morning.’

Her voice hangs in the dusty air. Light streams through the net curtains forming a lacy pattern on an empty armchair. She raises her voice.
‘Hello Neville…I’m Keeley, from the agency…What can I help you with today?’
Only the clock responds.
But the house holds clues: the kettle is warm, the toilet cistern is quiet, the bed sheets smooth.

Seagulls swoop in the buffeting wind. Neville can smell the sea. He wears his raincoat and scarf, but decides against a hat. Clasping the hand rail he steps down onto the beach. He clasps a bag and carries his crutches across the dunes. He halts, lets the metalwork fall into the sand and sinks down.
Sometimes a smiling woman in a white tabard appears in his living room asking him how he’s slept, but his answers slip through his fingers. He dreams of wet paws pressing into his cheek. He feels vibrations growing in the dark and panic as his feet plunge into stinging water, relentless rising water. Crouching on top of the wardrobe, coat hanger in hand, he hacks a hole in the ceiling and squeezes into the loft. He forgets how he made a hole in the roof tiles, forgets the shivering, the waiting.

With the morning a blur of shapes emerge below him through the half-light. A pair of spectacles gifted by the rippling rug knock gently against the bed frame. His beloved kite slowly circles the room, its colour bleeding into the water. His beautiful kite, made with his dad from bamboo, string and shoebox tissue. The companionable silence sitting at the table on a Sunday morning while Mum sang in the steamy kitchen. The smell of brussel sprouts in the air.
Neville pulls an orange kite from his bag, places it on his knees and slowly unwinds the line. The wind is anxious to lift it free. The kite whips and dances around his sensible shoes and then a sudden gust scoops it up. He lies back on the sand and with subtle movements works the strings through his fingers and watches as the kite darts, dips and climbs high into the air.

Keeley initials the home file, checks her messages and smiles. Behind her shapes of dog walkers loom through the net curtains as they fill and fall with the breeze and the dream catcher gently turns.


Runner Up

Lavinia Hamer
Witchcraft

Sarah heard the faint jingle of a horse’s harness and a man’s dry cough as she picked the first ripe elderberries from the hedge. She huddled into the bush. The villagers already disapproved of her wandering alone but allowed her dispensation as the local midwife and they often benefitted from the herbal remedies she had learned from her mother. Old Mother Hocking had been swollen with the dropsy and sure to die until Sarah dosed her with an infusion of foxglove leaves. Today Michaelmas was drawing near and it was Sarah’s last chance to gather late herbs; St John’s Wort for distress, Willowherb for migraine, Dill for the digestion. She walked from the woods all along the Stour enjoying the late sun as she took the path up to the lane.

She peered through the leaves as the riders drew near. Several men dressed in sombre clothes stirred up the dust on the road to Mistley. She was relieved to see they were Puritans and not soldiers. The battle between Parliament and the king had divided families and taken too many young lives. It was time to stop. The leading man coughed again. ‘He needs some of my honey and elderberry syrup for his throat’ she thought absently. She pushed the basket further under the brambles with her toe, and crouched down. She had placed a cloth over the herbs and filled the basket with wild apples. The puritans would chastise her for her immodesty if they found her alone in her colourful mustard skirt and green kerchief. All week she had feared they may come looking for her.

Last week Mary Hocken had visited her cottage, begging for a potion to help her win a young man ‘I don’t make spells’ Sarah explained patiently. ‘I try to help ease the afflicted. Why you’ve had my nettle tea yourself, there is no magic!’
‘But where does the sting go? That’s magic ain’t it? And anyway I heard you chanting over Mother Hocking when she were near to death and she is well now!’
‘I was just saying some prayers for her, to ease her mind, dear, that was no spell.’
‘I know you’re a witch’ the young girl shouted,’ I’m telling the witch-finder and they’ll hang you for sure!’

Cowering in the bush Sarah watched the leading man draw near. He was clothed in black and wearing his puritan hat. A stern young man but so thin and pale he appeared older. She recognised him now. It was Matthew Hopkins, the witch-finder, heading towards his home in Mistley. She shivered in fear as he came nearer. He had denounced so many women as witches and seen them hanged or burned. Once again she heard the hacking cough of the dour faced man.’ I know that cough’ she thought. This gaunt, ashen-faced man had the wasting disease. The consumption that would surely kill him this winter. She would not pray for his soul when he was gone.


Highly commended

Sthiranaga Barrenger
The Power of the Sea

The twinkling chatter between the pier lights and the fading stars accompanies her steady crunch on the pebbles. Up ahead Harry’s paws tap out a jazz beat and then abruptly stop. She peers through the mist as if trying to locate a girlfriend in a smoky Oscar’s Nightclub, back in the day.
Then she sees it and the eerily still world freezes briefly before a panicking heart kick starts blood into feeding her anxious mind. The chill air in her lungs invades her bones and possesses her soul. “Oh God, not again”, she murmurs as she arrives at the neatly folded pile of clothes being nasally inspected by Harry.

Before dawn was always going to be the best time he figured as the black icy water begins to seep through the outer layer of his skin. As the sensation begins to envelope his chest he feels the shelf of the seabed dramatically give way, and suddenly his feet no longer support his body. A swirl of excitement and fear laps around his head as he exhales and slides slowly down into the chilly deep. And in that darkness he sees her. His beloved sister. He feels the agony of her decay during those final months. She knew long before of course and had made peace with the downward trajectory of her short life. But in his waking moments, surrounded by the memories promising such a bright future, all he felt was an injustice and pain. It should have been him.

On the beach Joy fumbles for her phone. Maybe there’s still time. Harry senses her fear and begins his own dance of distress. The search of her small bag becomes frantic and Harry starts to expect the appearance of a treat. She sifts through dog bags, tissues and other loose items before seeing her phone still in the charger on the sideboard. Harry waits expectantly. Guilt and despair pin Joy to the beach and she looks wildly out across the water. She will never forgive herself.

The depth of sensation is unmatched by any other experience. Letting himself go, infusing his body with water, so intense and cold that his negative thoughts don’t survive long. A deep equanimity arises within his mind as the barriers between his consciousness and the water around him dissolve. After minutes of deep absorption his feet find the shelf and he begins to stand and slowly walk ashore.

Joy clasps her hand across her mouth as a vision of Daniel Craig emerges from the water. Harry matches her trembling relief hoping that this will finally result in the pre breakfast nibble he deserves. Daniel lifts his clothes and wraps the microfibre towel around his shoulders, placing a thick woollen hat over his head. His radiant smile creates a golden light that matches the growing promise of dawn light as he nods to Joy and walks towards the promenade. Harry feels his stomach growl and looks up despondently at a stunned Joy.


Highly commended

Tony Oswick
The Silver Gull

It is a warm day but a soft breeze blows and the sun shines fitfully through the clouds. Two boys stand on the beach at the water’s edge with little else to do but throw stones into the sea and prod each other and laugh, as do all eight-year old boys who stand at the water’s edge with little else to do.

A girl sits beside them, running her hands through the sand, searching for sea-shells and idly humming a familiar tune. She gazes across the sea where two sea-gulls are arguing in mid-air about something she doesn’t understand. She watches until the birds become bored with their argument and disappear into the distance.

She turns her head upwards where the clouds dawdle across the sky like lazy school-children.
“Where are you going fluffy clouds?” she whispers and, as she does so, she hears the noise of flapping wings and a bird emerges from the clouds, a giant sea-gull, larger than any bird she has ever seen, its feathers radiating a shiny silver.
It is the silver gull of her dreams.

The bird lands on the beach and she climbs on to its willing back. It glides into the sky, and the girl gazes down as the sea and the beach and the pier dissolve beneath her, the bird taking her higher, higher into clouds which surround her in a comforting mist, and the girl does not cry for she knows she is safe on the back of the silver gull. She reaches for the sides of the clouds, her hands feeling the softness of tiny droplets of frozen ice crystals which tingle her skin like the cooling air of soft dew.

As the silver gull drifts out of the clouds and back into the sunlight, the girl watches the movement of the slowly-changing shapes of the windmills on the horizon and feels the sun’s kind rays warming her but she hears nothing, no waves, no wind, nothing except the beating of the bird’s wings.
The journey has lasted no more than a moment and the silver gull is floating downwards, returning the girl to the safety of the sand. Now it is time to return home. And, as the silver gull soars back through the clouds, the girl resumes her place on the beach, running her hands through the sand, searching for sea-shells and idly humming a familiar tune.

And the two boys stand on the beach beside her at the water’s edge with little else to do but throw stones into the sea and prod each other and laugh, as do all eight-year old boys who stand on the beach with little else to do.


WINNERS ANNOUNCED

Overall winner

Jack Heslop, The Shelter and the Stones

Runners up

Claire Pearson, Taking Flight
Lavinia Hamer, Witchcraft

Highly Commended

Sthiranaga Barrenger, The Power of the Sea
Tony Oswick, The Silver Gull

Thank you to everyone who submitted stories to the Tendring Tales competition. We had 28 entries, which is amazing, and the quality of the submissions was exceptional!

TENDRING TALES
The Frinton Literary Festival are pleased to announce a 500-word Flash Fiction competition for 2019, to coincide with the Literary Festival.
We are looking for stories with a strong flavour of Tendring. We are blessed with a wonderful coastline, countryside and towns, as well as a rich history, interesting characters and coastal and rural industries. Your story can be of any genre, and set anytime in the past, present or future. Whatever aspects of Tendring you choose as the basis for your story, just make sure you tell us in up to 500 words (excluding title) and email it to us by the deadline of October 31st 2019.

Prizes:
The winner (in the opinion of the judges) will receive a £50 Caxton Books and Gallery gift token.
Two runners up will be awarded a £25 gift token (for Caxton Books and Gallery) each.

See the terms and conditions below for further information about how to submit your entry.

Two FREE workshops will provide prompts and flash fiction story techniques:
16th October 2019 – 10:00-12:00 and 18:00-20:00
These will be hosted at:
OASIS,
2, Connaught Avenue,
Frinton-on-Sea
ESSEX CO13 9PW
Tendring Tales 2019


Terms and conditions of entry

• Frinton Literary Festival 2019 Flash Fiction Prize is only open to writers resident in the Tendring council area.
• Entrants must be over 18.
• Family members or close friends of the three judges will not be eligible.
• There is no limit to the number of entries any one entrant is allowed to make. Each entry must be sent in a separate email.
• Flash fiction pieces of up to 500 words, excluding the title, are eligible for entry. Entries over this length will not be eligible.
• Stories of all genres are accepted.
• All submissions must be written in English.
• Format your story in Times New Roman or similar font, Size 12, 2.0/1.5 spacing, using black font colour
• Please supply your name, the name of your story and the genre in the body of the email and attach the story as a Microsoft Word .doc or .docx file.
Stories must be submitted anonymously, without any identifying information on the attachment. Attachments that include names or contact information will not be eligible.
• We are unable to offer personalised feedback for entries.
• All entries must be submitted via email only to:
frintonliteraryfestival@gmail.com
We are unable to accept postal entries or hard copy entries. If this poses a problem, please contact Caxton Books and Gallery.
• Our competitions are run and judged internally. Our judging team is comprised of 3 professional authors from Frinton Writers Group who are also members of the Frinton Literary Festival Committee.
• The closing deadline is Midnight, GMT (23:59pm) on the 31st October 2019.
• Winners will be announced on or before Sunday, 10th November 2019 on the Frinton Literary Festival website http://www.frintonliteraryfestival.co.uk
Winners will also be notified by email with details of how to collect their prize.


Judges:
Anita Belli: Anita is both a traditionally and independently published novelist. She writes 20th Century Historical Novels and Contemporary Romance, and has published a craft book to accompany her workshop series. She works in schools, libraries and communities to inspire as many people as possible to explore creative writing, tell their own story and to publish their work. https://www.anitabelli.com
Lesley Kara: Lesley Kara is an alumna of the Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course. She completed an English degree and PGCE at Greenwich University, having previously worked as a nurse and a secretary, and then became a lecturer and manager in Further Education. She lives on the North Essex coast. The Rumour is her first novel, published by Transworld. http://lesleykara.com
Gerald Hornsby: Gerald has written several full-length novels and hundreds of pieces of short and micro fiction. Active in independent publishing since 2010, he has published books on writing craft, and a collection of his own short fiction. Gerald has been a co-host of the Literary Roadhouse podcast for over 3 years, is co-founder of writing consultancy The Novel Makers and writing support services company writer.support. http://gerald-hornsby.com