2015 Crediton Short Story Competition
- Read the winning entries
- FIRST PRIZE: Trapped by Shirley Muir
- SECOND PRIZE: The Half Way House for Abandoned Characters by Melissa Kay
- FIRST PRIZE IN 12-18 YEAR AGE GROUP: The Painted Lady by Amy Wei
- SECOND PRIZE IN 12-18 YEAR AGE GROUP: However Hard it May Be by Honor Wellington
- FIRST PRIZE IN 8-11 YEAR AGE GROUP: Summer’s Child by Abi Jones
- SECOND PRIZE IN 8-11 YEAR AGE GROUP: Going to the Seeeeaaaasiiiide by Xander Cleak
She would be his last victim.
The man limped towards her hiding place in the darkness, dragging the leg that had been crushed in the pit accident two years earlier. He knew she was defenceless against him. She would smell the sweat from his body as he stole across the uneven floor of the copse. She would hear his irregular gait over the turf. She would know he was coming.
The leather bag swung heavily on his shoulder. His eyes peered, his wits were vigilant for the slightest movement on this moonless night. She would be immobile in the undergrowth.
His peripheral vision caught a tremor in the blackness and he swivelled to face her. The little shape was indistinct, but clear enough.
The merest crack registered in the silence as he snapped her tiny neck, and she was dead. He sprang open the trap and deftly removed her mangled foot, then bundled the warm, velvety carcass into his now-full pouch.
George turned, weary, for home and his bed, satisfied with the rewards from his traps. He was thankful that he could put meat on the table for a couple of weeks.
Without warning a shotgun blasted the night peace, and George toppled onto the soft ground. The pouch spilled its newly-killed booty alongside his lifeless figure, his own blood trickling onto the shiny fur of his last victim and mingling with her own red wetness.
At the sound of the gun, Ken scrambled to George’s side from his lookout position. ‘Can you hear me, George?’ he hissed. ‘We’ve got to get you out of here fast.’
Ken dragged George, bleeding profusely from a gaping chest wound, and hauled him to safety through a gap in the wooden fence on the side of Square Wood. Gently organising the bloodied body of his friend on the waiting wooden barrow, Ken listened for breath. He whispered to George as he rolled the barrow into to the town. ‘You’ll be OK soon, George – hang on man, it’s only a scratch.’
Unaware of the calamity unfolding in Square Wood, Maggie stirred the cauldron of thick vegetable broth. Her neighbour, Mrs Greenfield was generous with her bread donations just when Maggie ran out of money and sensed the workhouse beckoning.
Maybe George would come back with some meat for the table. She looked forward to his return. Jack would soon be home from his night shift at the pit and drink tea with his da. In an hour or so the two girls would get up for school. Jack’s sisters idolised him. Not that they saw much of him, and he was generally shrouded in coal dust. But his smile shone though the black grime from the pit.
George’s earnings from casual farm work would never be enough to feed the whole family. Jack was proud to have the chance to contribute to the family coffers when he had been offered the job at the mine. ‘No, Jack, not the mine! It’s desperately risky! How many men have lost their lives in that hellhole? Look at your da, he can’t get work because of his smashed leg. You’re too young to go underground.’
‘I’m not, Ma,’ he had said. ‘The law says I’m not a child anymore and thirteen’s old enough to go down the pit. And if da’s foot hadn’t been injured he would still be making a good wage.’
Maggie’s heart swelled with anguish, remembering the hundred and sixty dead miners only four years ago at Stanley, just a few miles to the south. Mrs Hedley’s lad was only fourteen, and Jenny Doyle lost her da and her brother. Every family grieved for someone, mostly fathers and brothers and sons, but a lot of grandfathers, too. Many of the casualties had died from their terrible injuries in the days and weeks following the explosion. Some survivors were badly burned or suffered from gas poisoning. Grief and horror overwhelmed the population of County Durham and miners around the world had rallied with their sympathy and support.
It was still a raw memory for Maggie but Jack had accepted the pit job and now he toiled at the coal face ten hours a day, hacking coal from a seam that was less than three feet high. ‘And if the war comes I won’t have to fight, Ma, remember that.’
Hurtling through the kitchen door as dawn broke, scrunched-up flat cap in his hands, and tears streaming down his face, Ken confronted Maggie with the ghastly news.
‘George is hit, missus! The ghillie got him. He must of known we wiz there. S-s-sorry missus. He’s outside on the barrer, hurt bad. Oh, them wee bairns! Sorry, god help us…’ Maggie fled upstairs, scooped up her girls and bundled them off through the front door with a brown carrier bag filled with their school clothes, to Mrs Greenfield. She would send them to class, no questions asked.
Together she and Ken manhandled a gasping, bleeding George in through the back door and onto the big table in the scullery. Maggie caught her breath when she realised his proximity to death.
She drew his blonde head against her chest. ‘Don’t leave us, George. Please.’
Gassy blood oozed through his white lips and foamed in a red river down his chin. She mopped him gently with the clean part of her pinafore. His eyes watched her face in the soft gaslight. ‘George, me darlin’, I’m here,’ she coaxed. ‘It’s all right, lovey.’
And then, in the dawn quiet, with the birds starting to sing outside the window, he was gone. She grazed his forehead with a final kiss, and shut his pale blue eyes with a caress of her fingers. Maggie was desolate, but she had got her man back. He had died in her arms and not in the back of some police wagon for animals and criminals.
‘You’ll get caught, George,’ she had warned him a dozen times, but he had to go.
‘And who’d miss a few rabbits?’ he would say.
‘There’s a couple of rabbits for you and the bairns, Maggie,’ Ken stammered, lifting up the heavy bag onto the sink, with the still-warm bodies that George had so recently shoved inside. The dead animals wouldn’t make up for the loss of a husband.
‘Thank you, Ken.’ She met his gaze and imagined with despair the months and years that lay ahead, trying to bring up her family, bereft by the loss of her beloved George. Maggie saw naked terror in Ken’s face. He wiped his sleeve across his streaming eyes and nose.
‘Oh missus – Maggie, please don’t clype to the police… it’ll be prison for me, missus… it’ll kill me mam.’
Ken worked by day in the co-operative warehouse. He had money coming in every week. He had money enough to put food on the table for him and his mam. He didn’t need the high-risk night escapades like George did. He was merely the sentry. Ken slumped onto the now-bloodied chair and took George’s slack, dangling arm.
‘George, lad, I’m sorry. I should’ve been looking out fer ye.’ His shoulders wracked with sobs at the loss of his friend, slain over a bag of rabbits. Ken wept for fear of his own future. He laid his forehead on George’s mauled torso. ‘I’ll make it right, lad. I promise.’
Shot by the ghillie at dead of night, Maggie knew that in law her husband was the criminal. He was trapping only rabbits but the ghillie from the estate was entitled with impunity to shoot a poacher of estate rabbits.
The police would be at the door once the doctor had been in to write the death certificate and arrange for the undertaker. ‘Wash the barrer, Ken, and take it home. Nobody needs tae know. And as for clypin’ – well, you don’t need tae ask. I’ll go for Doctor Mackay meself.’
‘Thank you missus,’ he whispered, and slunk out of the door. Maggie took off her bloodstained pinafore, washed her bloody hands and put on her coat. She ran to leave word for the doctor. She would struggle to keep them all from starving, and to save them from the disgrace of the workhouse. Feet without shoes were one thing but the workhouse would be truly humiliating. The bairns would hang their heads in shame at the school.
She would withhold the gruesome details of George’s death from the girls, but Jack had to hear the truth. His father had striven to provide for them. And now Jack himself would have to put food on the table. At thirteen. Thank heavens for Jack’s pit job. Back home, Maggie covered her dead husband with a soft wool blanket, said her goodbyes and waited, numb. Doctor Mackay tapped on the scullery door and stepped inside. He took one look at George and raged inwardly. He knew there were too many cases like this, that the ghillie was trigger-happy with his shotgun. Murder was a step too far. But he kept his own counsel.
‘I am truly sorry for your loss, Mrs Bell. Your husband was a good man.’
‘Thank you, Doctor Mackay. You’re fair kind. I cannae think straight.’
Jack perceived alarm as he turned into the long street of terraced houses, trailing pit dust from his overalls and boots. In the dawn light he identified spilled blood drying in the gutter. His chest grew tight. Maggie waited in the doorway, pale as a sheet. ‘Mam, is it me da?’ Maggie nodded and Jack enfolded her in his black, soot-encrusted arms. She clung to him. ‘What’ll we dae, Jack?’
Maggie knew that the ghillie would freely admit to the shooting, as it would deter a whole network of rabbit poachers who operated nocturnal excursions in the Square Wood. But neither man nor woman in the town would give up a single name to the police.
Word of the tragedy spread fast through the little community. Packages of onions and flour, broad beans and eggs, milk and soap, and basic household items were brought by neighbours or left at the door by other pit wives and well-wishers. Maggie knew that Jack could repay some of the kindnesses with bits of his small coal allowance from the mine, but it wouldn’t keep them out of the workhouse long-term.
And then she resolved that she herself would earn money to keep her family together. She would take in laundry. She had the mangle from the rag-and-bone man that George had renovated. She would use her poss-tub and poss-stick to clean other men’s shirts and overalls. She would bleach and whiten other families’ bedlinen and flat-iron them to perfection. The bleaching lye and the boiling water would redden and ruin her hands for sewing, but it was worth it.
A week later at George’s graveside, Ken stood firm as an anchor, his neck chafed red by the gleaming, starched white collar, his shoes shining. George was the younger brother he never had, a trusted friend for over twenty years, right from schooldays. Taken from them by the murdering ghillie. ‘That man deserves a whipping,’ Ken had simmered all week to anyone who listened.
But it was all talk. Nobody would take up arms against the big estate. Too many from the town worked there day and night. Women in the kitchens, young girls apprenticed as scullery-maids, eager lads training to be gardeners, fathers driving tractors, fruit pickers, blacksmiths shoeing the horses, stable lads and grooms. Most local jobs – and families – depended on the mine, the estate, and the new steam railways which transported the coal to the waiting ships on the Tyne at Newcastle.
Ken cast the second handful of dirt over the coffin. Maggie, in her widow’s long black coat and wide-brimmed veiled hat, had filled his fist with the dirt, and nodded to him that he had earned the right.
‘I’m here for them, George,’ he said quietly, and crossed himself after he scattered the dust onto the polished wood box in the grave. Next to Maggie, Ken’s strong baritone joined in ‘Abide With Me’ as the shovellers rained earth down with a clatter.
Imperceptibly, Ken’s hand slid into the folds of her coat and found Maggie’s small, black-gloved hand. Tears glistened on her cheeks and her eyes looked straight ahead, but her mouth lifted slightly at the corners.
Clype = inform on, tell tales
“Now, now dear come along, where should you be? I can’t have characters lolling about all over the place. When will you realise that you need to be tidy and efficient if you are to be used in this day and age?”
“But Mama, I’m not sure I want to be used!” The girl did not move, but dropped her eyes, conscious of what she was saying. In the uncomfortable silence that followed she ventured to insert some further explanation.“It’s so wonderful to find a place where we all have so much in common. Everyone feels abandoned, most of us have only half a back-story and there is not one future among us. It’s such a relief. I had thought I was the only one who wasn’t good enough.”
“Yes dear, well it’s all very lovely for now,” Mama Portmanteau said, smoothing her skirt a little sadly, “But the absolute last thing you want it to be stuck here forever. Look at poor old Henry over there. Scraggy and unappealing and absolutely nothing about him. He’ll never escape to a storyscape if he can’t get more specific.” She sighed heavily.
“But can’t we at least all be friends?”
“No, you cannot all be friends, you’ll all blend into each other! Your goal is to be an individual, but also to be just like all those readers out there – see? Simple! If they can’t identify with you they won’t like you, and if you’re not a little different they’ll be bored by you. These are important lessons, pay attention, child!” She patted the cushion beside her on the little wrought iron bench, inviting her newest addition to the Rest Home to join her for one of her little pep talks. She could see the girl was slightly crushed by her bluntness, she stayed standing, looking slightly stunned.
Mama poured a cup of tea from a delicate old teapot and handed it to the girl, noticing a despairing tear contemplating a suicidal leap from her thick dark bottom lash. “It’s no good getting down about it dear,” she soothed a little abruptly.“They rarely want to pick up a tale that’ll make them feel worse, you simply can’t afford to be miserable.” She handed her a cup and indicated that the seat opposite her would do just fine. You need to be far more resilient than that!” She sipped her tea and smiled at the cup before carefully placing it back into its saucer.
To the casual observer Mama Portmanteau was entirely relaxed. A small tabby cat had climbed up and curled itself neatly into the seat of the chair beside her to complete the homely, gentle image. But to misjudge her was a mistake. If electricity wires were to represent the crackling intensity or the sheer power that is constantly present within them, they would surely be absolutely taut. But they are not. They appear slack and passive, sagging along the sides of roads and through fields. Mama Portmanteau was just such a lady, and most characters were no match for her. She drew her shoulders up and prepared herself.
“Ok, come now… what’s your genre? You’ve a classic look about you, but I think there’s a twinkle in those eyes of yours – oh dark green, how unusual! Well now, that’ll work. You’re a dreamer, an adventurer, a lost sort of soul. Am I close?”
“I guess so. I was a background character in the Wild West ma’am. But I was cut in the final stage of the author’s editing.”
“Well, that’s wonderful news! If you made it through to the final stage there must have been something about you. Tell me about yourself.”
She waited, but the girl only lowered her eyes and hid her face behind the cup.
“Come, come now silly, you’ll never make a character if you won’t talk. How did you get to be here? What got you into the story in the first place?” The girl raised and lowered one shoulder miserably. “Why so sad?”
“Well it was love, ma’am”
“Well that could be interesting! Perhaps I can find you a placement after all. I mean everyone loves a broken hearted beauty.”
“Oh no! I don’t want to just be that!” Her eyes had widened considerably and she half rose from her chair. China clinked in protest at the sudden disruption and Mama Portmanteau, after a moment’s surprised pause, changed tack.
“No need to worry, child.” She said in her most soothing tones, taking the girl’s hand across the table and gently drawing her back into the chair, noticing her clear skin and high cheekbones as she did so. If ever one had potential, surely this girl was it. “Now tell me, what do you most desire? We must at least try to find a story where you will be happy.” There was a pause and another sip of tea before her patience failed her. “Oh come along, don’t be shy. Is it to be an adventure story then?”
“Well, actually, no ma’am. It’s… well I’m not sure if it’s possible, you know, as a character, to do what I’d love the most. You see…” Her voice had become very tiny and the delicate, long-fingered hand which pinched the tiny handle of the tea cup shook just a little. “You see, I’d like to be a writer.”
From around her neck Mama Portmanteau pulled up a pair of steel rimmed spectacles and raised them to the bridge of her nose, without bothering to unfold them. She peered at the young girl who was now blushing in discomfort. “You want to write.” She lowered the spectacles again, but kept one hand rested on them, as though she might need them again.“Well, it’s a very lonely life, and you’ve barely lived enough to tell a tale just yet. Plus, it simply doesn’t involve enough interaction, you know, other characters.
“The likelihood is that the story of you as a writer would lack drama. Where is the conflict? The depth? The substance?” She sighed again, but this time far deeper, and leaned back in her chair. Her long grey plait trapped against the ornate iron back.“I can see now why you were left behind. I’m afraid it may be that you are simply too dull.” She pushed her cup away from her, with just a few dregs remaining, then changed her mind, opting to take the final sip.“Isn’t there anything else you like?… No, no dear, before you say it, I’m afraid reading won’t do!”
“Well…” the girl began slowly, but realizing this may be her last chance and feeling more and more that this was an interview for which she was ill prepared, she ploughed on blurting: “I didn’t like dry, old West but I would love to travel. And, I learned to ride. And I’m fascinated by history… And well to be honest I’m pretty angry about being cut; just abandoned without a thought. I don’t think I deserved that.” She stopped there, abruptly, breathless and blushing again. Before raising her eyes to steal a glance at Mama’s reaction.
She could almost see the workings of Mama’s brain, clicking and whirring behind her almost translucent blue eyes. “Well it seems there’s some fire in you after all.” She stroked the tabby cat absently. She seemed, for a moment, lost in a far away dream. Perhaps she was even reading the leaves remaining at the bottom of the cup she was gazing into.
“I tell you what, child –” she was talking more to herself really, than the bemused girl, “– go and find Mr Morgan Beaufort, I think he might provide you with some intrigue… and, indeed, vice versa. He never quite got finished, but I think he could be rather wonderful.” She smiled encouragingly, and in response to the young girl’s hesitation she nodded towards the large oak tree.“That’s right, he’s just over there, observing the sundial.He’s a period character, I think that could work for you. He’s rather handsome, but he does have a dark side, shadows in cupboards rather than skeletons but we’d have to draw those out. You can write when you have a story to tell, in the mean time go and ask him if he’d like a story.” She smiled encouragingly and the young girl slipped from her seat to do as she was told.
As she observed the two lost characters speaking briefly, him standing to meet the girl’s striking moss green eyes, Mama Portmanteausmiled to herself. She knew she had done it again. This was a story she would want to read.
She began to stack the cups and saucers, moving them to the other side of the table to clear herself a space.“It seems I have work to do,” she said, addressing the cat,whichstretched out a paw before tucking it back under his chin and closing its eyes again.And with that she bent to write, in her rolling hand, across a fabulously clean new sheet of paper.
The fresh blood traces a dozen rivers’ paths across my hands.
I like its sweetness; its tang of iron and brine;I like the feeling of it trailing down my skin, hot with the life it thinks it still holds within its saccharine viscosity.
This time, though, it is different. This time it is special. I have rewritten the line that defines too far. I want to laugh, bathe in the glory of my daring, in all that I have conquered with this one, fatal act.
But I mustn’t tarry. I have a lot of work to do before the blood congeals and cools. Charily, I rise and cross the room to where I had left the oil lamp to glow dimly beneath the maid’s staircase. The shadows dance as I lift it higher, revolving in a nightmarish parody of a child’s carousel as my eyes dart across the walls and the floor. It’s extensive, a larger canvas than I have ever played with before.
My fingers brush against the wall, feel the surface crumble at my touch. Lifting my hand to my nose, I smell the malodorous stench of aged plaster, then attempt to wipe the powder away. It clings, though, fusing into a cloying, gritty paste with the blood, and I slather it frustratedly on the wall.
I turn back to the room at large, taking in the unadorned cellar, clean angles cut as if specifically for this moment. Red drag marks lead away from the body, pooling thickly in cracks and hollows in the limestone. A thick horsehair brush lies crooked where I’d spat it out next tothe crumpled, bloody heap.
The sight of the corpse makes me smile. It is an achievement, beyond the dull amusements the others had served, purely to rouse the thrilling mirth of the chase. Tonight, I will cast the last link in the chain, create my final masterpiece. Too long have the stories ended without us getting the chance to make our final mark, to leave at our own behest; far better to leave early a winner than to stay long enough to become the loser.
I drop heavily to my knees beside the body. Deftly, I ease a hand beneath the taut sinews of its neck, and use the other to force the chin back, leaving exposed the raw red smile drawn across its throat. At the pressure, it gapes into a derisive grin, a stream of heavy ichor seeping out. I lay hold of the paintbrush and tenderly brush it back. Smirking, I sweep the brush across my palm, finding the blood thin and still tepid: I have at least three more hours yet.
The blood clumps with the plaster and I snarl in frustration; it takes a while to fall into a familiar rhythm: painting stroke after stroke, wall after wall, until the red envelops the entire room; making delicate incisions with my dive knife when the flow peters out, from wrist to clavicle, from ankle to hip; my heels clicking briskly as I stride back and forth and back and forth across the darklimestone.
Jesper does not even know that I own these heels. As far as he is concerned, I am still a picture of pure, unadulterated innocence, prancing around in a frilly white frock and a garland of flowers.
Then again, he is not concerned with much.
Jesper, regrettably, is my father. We have been estranged for so long that I have begun to refer to him by his first name, and he by my last. I think he is more comfortable imagining me as a faceless entity, another mindless cog in the rotting, defective machine that is his life.
It started when my mother died. After that, he grew disinterested in life and absorbed in his work. Whole days would go by when neither of us would even acknowledge each other’s presence.
“Hey. Sanderson! You the one left the front door unlocked?”One of the rare, stilted conversations that we had shared this morning.
“Yes.”He squinted at me suspiciously, then grunted and turned his back on me for the rest of the day.
But I do not need his attention anymore. I am no longer that petty little girl, and besides, I have the Detective Inspector. He gives me attention; enough attention to border on obsession. I have seen him up late at night, lights on and curtains drawn, a dark silhouette hunched over a labyrinthine murder board. He thinks he is in my psyche, and I his. A connection deeper than any a daughter could ever find with her father anyway.
The Detective calls me the Painted Lady, an anonymous pair of bloody heel prints in a bloody room, killing her way through Edinburgh. I like the moniker, and its allusion that my creations compare to the bright red beauty of the butterfly. It brings me a satisfaction after every killing, watching all those people pour their lives into the search for mine.
I feel a touch of regret that I have to end it like this. It’s a shame, that it had to be him. But there is a certain singular beauty in it, is there not? Something poetic? In having the end take us all the way back to the beginning, in finishing this together?
When I am finished, I lift my brush and my oil lamp, and sweep the room with my gaze. It’s exquisite. Smiling, I turn on my heels and head back up the maid’s rickety staircase towards the old oak door, behind which lies the dawn.
I stop halfway up. I hesitate for a moment, then pinch the oil lamp into blackness and drop it on the floor with the paintbrush.
Then, just before I am enveloped by the shadows’ dark curtains, I turn one last time and kiss goodbye to Detective Inspector Jesper Sanderson.
My parents had always been happy together. Despite their arguments, they were extremely passionate and their love continued to burn in both of their hearts for sixty years. Growing up I had always desired a partnership like theirs. I wanted to find someone who made me feel comfortable and at home, and yet never bored me. My parents had married young so in an attempt to mirror this, I began my quest for romance early.
By fifteen I had met the man I would marry, not that I knew it then. His name was Peter and he was friends with my best friend’s boyfriend. Through this mutual acquaintance we ended up seeing a lot of each other over that year. He was intelligent and witty, and I thought, or perhaps convinced myself, that he was almost perfect. I had hoped then that it might mature into something more meaningful than friendship, but inevitably our two friends broke up and our acquaintance was over just like that. To see him again would be a betrayal, and I had to pledge my allegiance to my best friend rather than a boy I had a temporary crush on.
School ended, and our passing smiles of recognition and polite nods of greeting, the only forms of communication we had left, ended. For the next few years I dated around, flitting from man to man, convincing myself that each one was ‘The One’, ignoring their flaws and breaking my own heart when they did not live up to my unrealistic expectations. Then, when I was twenty-five and working as a secretary in a leisure centre, running the desks, and filling out spreadsheets, I met Peter again. He walked in, carrying a sports bag and water bottle and headed towards my desk. I recognised him instantly, but shy as I was, said nothing, worried that he would not remember me after seven years apart.
‘Sorry, but are you Kerri Calvin?’he interjected, after good two minutes of discussion about which membership deal he would prefer.
‘Peter?’I said, as though the realisation that it was really him was just dawning on me, ‘I didn’t recognise you! It’s nice to see you again.’
He agreed and complimented my appearance, noting, to my embarrassment, how much I had changed. After a few minutes of catching up an impatient queue had formed behind him, complaining loudly about the wait.
‘I should go,’he said, ‘but could I get your number first?’
That was the end for me. I knew that this time I had found who I was searching for. A year of dating resulted in a proposal, and soon after that, a wedding. Yet over time our initially fun, upbeat, even passionate relationship had disintegrated and left me with a dull man in an icy marriage, full of tension and unresolved, petty arguments. By the time I fully comprehended that our dynamic had permanently changed we had three children. I could not have left even if I had wanted to. I had to stay to look after them, I would not have them grow up in a broken home. Aside from that, I did not want to leave. I believed that love lasted a lifetime. I looked at my parents, still so happy after all those years together and wanted it for myself, and I wanted it with Peter.
Four years on Peter was inattentive, rude and worked later and later, never spending anytime with me alone outside of our family. I longed for those first days of our relationship. I wanted it so badly that it made me unwilling to admit that anything had changed. It made me defensive and cut-off and difficult. Even though I knew it was not working anymore, I never thought that anything would change. Yet one day I came home to find Peter in the kitchen. Immediately alarm bells rung. He was never home before seven these days.
‘I want a divorce.’he said.
I was stunned into silence and my body went numb. I could hear him speaking but I could not take in the words. The phone rang and Peter picked it up. He spoke quietly for a few moments and then put the phone down. When he turned to face me his expression had softened and he looked anxious and pained.
‘That was your sister. Your – your dad just died.’
Two weeks later at the funeral he sat next to me and held my hand. We had agreed to not file for the divorce for a few months, until I had time to deal with this loss. We looked just like all my other siblings, with their partners, mourning together, comforted by each other. Yet, I knew we were not and never could be again. Our relationship, although held up in public now, was already over and in the ground like my father’s body.
Afterwards I sat with my mother after and we cried.
‘You were always the perfect couple.’I said as she wiped her eyes.
‘Kerri, we were not the perfect couple.’she said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘The perfect couple does not exist. Every couple has flaws. Your father and I argued constantly. We were strong and we got through it but we were far from perfect.’She paused for a long time. ‘Let me ask you something, are you happy with Peter?’
There was a long silence.
‘No, I suppose not.’I said, ‘not for a long time now.’
‘Then my advice, would be to let it go. Let your relationship go. Because the one thing your father and I always wanted to teach you and the one thing I hope you will teach your children is that you should always do what makes you happiest, however hard it may be.’
‘However hard it may be’. I repeated, a sense of acceptance finally spreading through me, seeping through my skin and into my very soul. ‘However hard it may be.’
At the edge of the sea, Pepper’s family lived on a little knoll . The cottage was a moonlight milkshake colour. Nanny had seven patches of vegetables in the garden, opposite the cottage. Behind the cottage, there was a wood. The branches from the trees curled round the cottage as if it was hugging it with apple green leaves.
It was the longest summer Nanny could remember. She was waiting for Autumn to come, so Lassie the dog could give birth to her new puppy’s. From morning
till night, Nanny would look after Lassie, while Pepper and Dad were outside in the golden sunlight, digging up the vegetables before they become dry. Nanny could not go outside to collect the wood so she could make the kennel for Lassie and the puppy’s. If Nanny did go outside the heat from the boiling sun would burn her alive. In the garden patch, Dad and Pepper were
busy in the sun. “If Autumn doesn’t come soon Nanny might die,” worried Dad.
“She needs the cool air and not to be cooped up inside .”
Pepper loved summer. She wanted it to last forever. Everyday, Pepper would construct sand castles then demolish them. Pepper snatched her towel and swimming costume and headed for the beach. Down by the curling waves, Pepper lobed her stuff onto the golden sand and ran into the sea. She leaped and peaked through the waves at the teal waterfall in the distance. Emerging from the sea was a tanned girl. Pepper thought there was something special about this particular girl. She had a twinkle in her coral pink eyes. This girl was magic, she could breathe under water.This girl and Pepper played all day until pepper heard her Dad calling.
“I’ve got to go now, shall we play tomorrow ?”
“At the first sign of the sun.”
Back at the cottage, the sky was clear of clouds and the sun was still out. Nanny’s plants needed water but every time Dad watered them, the sun dried it up. Nana is getting dehydrated. The nice smell of candy floss and fish and chips with golden syrup had been replaced by the decaying smell of rotten vegetables, especially the carrots. Every day,every hour, Pepper needed to walk to the grubby lake, 10 miles from home.
She filled the bucket and yanked it onto a stick and the same with the second bucket, then heaved at the stick then sat it wonkily on her shoulders and
walked slowly home. After a long day on the beach, Pepper came running in and
shouted” I WANT SUMMER TO LAST FOREVER!” She leaped on to the patio and ran inside. To her surprise, in the the corner , nanny was holding ice cubes under her arm pits and she looked very grey and sweaty. Nana summoned Pepper over with a miserable look and mumbled” Pepper fetch me the photo albums and you look after it for the rest of your life”.
In the window Pepper didn’t realise the figure sitting beneath her window.
Walking Up to the top of the field, Summer’s child was going home. “Where are you going?”asked Pepper.
“Its time i went home”answered Summer’s child
“Its my fault summers been to long”.
“I am Summer’s child Autumn can’t wake up until Summer and his child are asleep.“
“Will you come back Next year” Pepper asked concerned.
“With the first snowflake”said Summer’s child.
‘I’ll be ready in five minutes,’ Nanny says.
She says that a lot.
‘I’ll just have a cup of tea and then we’ll go.’ She clicks the kettle on and it starts hissing and gurgling.
Her cups of tea lasts a lot longer than five minutes. A lot longer!
Mum and Dad are having a Date Day, whatever that means, and Nanny is looking after me and my little sister all day.
‘Banana’s biting me!’ I yell to Nanny.
Banana is what we call my little sister, because she’s like a monkey. I don’t know why we don’t call her ‘Monkey’, but Banana has somehow stuck.
Nanny is singing to herself, ‘We’re all going to the seaside, going to the seaside, going to the seeeeaaaasiiiide.’
I don’t know if it is a real song, it definitely doesn’t sound like one, but some of the old songs she listens to on her battered CD player do sound strange.
I deal with Banana myself, with a mixture of tickling, throwing her blanket over her head and making up stories.
An hour later Nanny has finally finished her cup of tea.
‘Ready to go, kids?’ Nanny says.
‘Yes,’ I am about to say, but the phone loudly rings.
Forty minutes later, after she has told whoever is on the otherside everything she’s done since she’s got up and forced me and Banana to say hello to them, we are in the car. Not on the way to the seaside, but parked outside a charity shop that is having a clear out of all their wool. I didn’t even know that charity shops had clearance sales.
I don’t think anything, not even the clock, can measure boredom properly. I’m so relieved when Nanny has finished sorting through all her favourite colours of wool, only to end up buying them all. But then she starts chatting to all the random people in the shop.
‘Can we go now?’ I ask.
‘Just give me five minutes, James,’ she says.
James is my dad’s name, but my brain doesn’t have the energy to correct her. Banana is mixing up all Nanny’s new wool, making a magical raggedy army. Nanny likes chatting even more than shopping though and doesn’t notice.
Next Nanny sees what looks like a stray dog running down the road and has a sudden rush of energy chasing it. Although the dog’s owner then starts chasing her when he thinks she’s stealing his dog.
We don’t arrive at the seaside until really late. Everything is closed.
‘Oh no,’ Nanny says. ‘After all that rushing, the bad traffic held us up.’
Banana doesn’t mind though. She throws her shoes off and squeals and paddles.
I kind of mind. The wind is blowing and it’s cold.
But Nanny gives me a hug and she’s so good at talking to people that she manages to get the ice cream man who’s closing up, to stay open for a bit longer.
My family’s not perfect. But they’re mine.
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Shortlist for the 8–11 age group: Generations by Viv Chesterman, aged 10
Shortlist for the 12–18 age group:
- Commended: Picture Day by Sanjana Thakur, aged 17
- Commended: Three Reunited by Serena Fox, aged 12-17
- My Name is Courts Fire by Charvi Jain, aged 12
- Strings of Generation by Sophie Mannix, aged 12
- It Smells Like Hope by Opefoluwa Sarah Adegbite, aged 13
- Virtually Re-Generated by Jamie-Ann Rogers, aged 15
- Three Reunited by Serena Fox, aged 12-17
- Commended: Granddad and the Howler Monkeys by Roger Tayler
- The Apple Tree by Anna Sanchez
- Coffee with a Twist by John Bunting
- Family Matters by Gwenda Major
- Mothers by Phillip Vine
- Nasal Succession by Di Bagshawe
- Needled by Dee Gordon
- Whispers in the Olive Tree by Jan Baynham
To see the entry conditions and read about the judges please go to the Crediton Short Story Competition page.