Competition Winners

Reader’s Choice: Let the Games Begin

Let the Games Begin

by Fia Coldwell

3am. She couldn’t remember what had woken her.
 She sat up. Just a bad dream? She strained her ears. No, there was a siren in the distance. She was about to growl at the injustice of life and go back to sleep, when she heard a creak.

She froze. Her arm was still suspended holding the corner of her blanket. She had no cats; she lived alone in a three-room apartment.
 Another creak.

She dropped the blanket and pulled herself into a foetal position.
 Two more creaks, each one closer than before.
 She wanted to scream, but stuffed her fist into her mouth. She’d done a self-defence class once, but how would she know where to punch the guy in the dark?

Light. The synapses in her brain finally started to ring. She put her hand to the switch.
There was a squeak as the door handle was pushed down.
 She hit the light. Nothing happened. Hit it again and again, but nothing. She swore. When had the light bulb died on her? She didn’t know.

The door started moving.
 She crawled off her bed. Hide or attack? Hide or attack? She repeated the phrase like a mantra. Had no idea what to do. She couldn’t remember any of the moves they’d taught her in class. Punch? Kick? Find a weapon?
 Who the hell was this person?

The door was now fully open. She thought she could see a foot in the opening, but it was too dark to make out anything. Hide or attack, she thought again.
 Attack, she decided, feeling the presence of someone enter her room. She had the advantage of knowing the place inside out, even in the dark.
 She pounced on him then. Or where she thought he’d been. She could barely catch herself before she hit the floor.
 Where had he gone? She spun around. Nothing moved.

Slowly, she picked herself off the floor. She couldn’t hear anything now. No creaking of floorboards, no breathing beside her. Nothing.

Her eyes wide, she scanned the darkness around her. Still nothing. Her hand moved to the light switch on the wall behind her. She counted to ten silently, then hit the switch, her other arm wildly lashing out defensively.
She had to blink a couple times to get used to the light. Her room looked a mess. She’d torn down her shoe rack in an attempt to catch the fall.
 Nothing.

Her heart was beating faster than ever. Carefully, she checked the hall. Checked the other rooms. The bathroom. The kitchen. There was no one in her apartment.
 Her eyes found the note on her fridge, Call me when the visions return. This couldn’t be a vision. She’d seen the guy, no, felt him. Her door had opened.

She closed her eyes, heard her doctor saying her mind was playing games again. It wasn’t the first time.

When she opened her eyes again, they settled on a note she’d never seen before. Let the games begin.

Fia Coldwell: Psych student writing psychological suspense. Figures.

Our Reader said:

A nervy description of feelings with a menacing ending.

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Reader’s Choice: Remains

Remains

by Jody Kish

Maggie’s heartbeat increased, beating like a drum in her chest. She wasn’t sure what she’d stumbled upon. She looked down with hesitant eyes, smelling a stench of something that foretold a life lost. An animal? It had to be. The alternative was too gruesome for her mind to wrap around. Slowly, she adjusted her booted foot, which had hit the mysterious object. The remains of what looked like a human jaw lay before her. Losing all sensibility, Maggie ran as fast as her trembling body could carry her down the wooded path. She had loved taking walks on their lush acreage, but, she vowed, never again.

Maggie’s vision was obstructed by the sudden onslaught of rain. Limbs reached out, fingers grabbing at her body and long, black hair. Her boots were sucked into the earth with each step she took, impeding her quick retreat. Covered in twigs, leaves and mud, she finally reached home. Maggie’s shaky hand turned the doorknob illuminated by the porch light, finding brief solace, and then running inside. Her muddy footprints followed. “Dad, Dad! There’s a… a…” Her words were lost in sobs.

“Maggie, what’s going on?” He brushed her tangled hair back from her face. He wrapped her in a thick fleece blanket. “Get near the fire. Are you alright?”

Ben looked at his dishevelled fourteen-year-old daughter and thought to himself, “Okay, she’s not injured.”

Her teeth chattered uncontrollably as she began telling her tale. Her dad listened intently while she explained what she’d seen. He promised to go to the spot early the next day before calling the police.

Formerly working for the FBI, Ben knew to take people’s concerns seriously. In the twenty years he’d been an agent, five bodies were discovered deep within the woods, silently waiting to tell their story to the scientists who painstakingly looked for evidence to bring closure for the families. Only three of the bodies had been properly identified, the others still waiting to find peace.

Ben had lost his wife to his long hours and obsession with unsolved cases. Then, he lost her permanently in a tragic car accident, his daughter being the sole survivor. Being Mr. Mom was far from the world he knew so well. He had a hard enough time being a dad! After giving up the FBI, Ben vowed to make up for the time he had lost with his daughter.

In the morning he went out to search for a body in the area she described. The stench of death was indeed in the air, but his older, wiser mind knew to look at all the evidence before any assumptions were made. A smile crinkled his lips upon seeing the remains of the rotting corpse his daughter had described—the deer’s jawbone exposed by her boot. With a sigh of relief, he went back to tell Maggie the news. Thankfully, it was a false alarm. This time.

Jody Kish is a proud nana who finds joy and inspiration in every moment of the day to play and write.

Our Reader said:

Well written and to the point.

Publication opportunities

A brief interruption to our Reader’s Choice pieces this month to make an announcement!

Alongside Didcot Writers’ monthly themed competitions (December’s theme is ‘boundaries‘) with online publication for Reader’s Choice pieces, did you know that we also publish paperback and ebook anthologies of short stories? In December we published two new anthologies, and we are about to open submissions to our new title!

Compositions: a collection of short stories on the theme of music

ebook cover small.jpgThis book includes 14 stories drawn from our summer 2018 competition, which was a triple-length challenge at 1,500 words rather than the usual 500 limit.

Stories range from fantasy to romance, realism to humour. From the point of view of musicians and their instruments, those who listen and those who collect, this anthology introduces a mysterious piano player, a song that helps solve crimes, and a refugee violin. The book is available to buy here.

The Most Normal Town in England

ebook cover small.jpgThis stand-alone anthology (ie, not drawn from an online competition) contains 42 stories that reveal what goes on in a normal town… revealing that things aren’t always what they seem. From memories of childhood to imaginings for the near future, this anthology includes horror, sci-fi, literary fiction, humour and more. What happens when AI takes over the community? How do the characters on an estate react to a brutal attack? Why does no one live in the old house down the road? Buy it here.

New anthology: First Contact

From January-April 2019 we will be accepting submissions for a new anthology, titled and themed ‘First Contact’.

From lovers touching for the first time to alien species making initial contact with our own planet, from estranged family members finding out about each other to machinery that sparks, what happens when they make contact for the first time? Maybe your main character works in a call centre, maybe there is a significance to the first person in your contacts list, or perhaps the first time two people make contact is also their last?

Find out more about the book and how to submit your story here.

Reader’s Choice: The Last Polo bear

The Last Polo bear

by Rose Little

The last polar bear stood at the edge of the ocean. He sniffed the air landwards: an unfamiliar scent – danger, but far off. He continued casting towards the sea. When the moment was right he would launch himself into the waves in search of food.

A paw print in the snow thirty centimetres across – so the report was true! Elated after their fruitless day in the desolate wilderness, the two men scanned the featureless landscape. Despite their sun-visors the brilliant reflection seared their eyes. Greg glanced at Len, he had been so edgy lately since they had had to make a recce alone. The others were full of ’flu and confined to base. They hurried back to their snowmobile, Len driving, Greg riding pillion.

Cold and hungry but vigilant, the men rode on across the frozen white waste, mile upon at mile of snow-covered ice, raised at intervals into dunes. They had twenty-four hours’ daylight but they would have to return soon.
Driving demanded Len’s attention but the stupefying glare caused his mind to wander. He saw himself as a child again, safe and warm at home with his favourite furry toy, Polo Bear – of course, that was where it all began, he was thinking ruefully, when a strange sight on the horizon startled them both.

‘What’s that!’ Len gasped, and the two-up veered sideways and stalled. ‘It’s nothing. You know – an illusion caused by ice crystals.’

Exhausted, both strained ahead, staring at the shimmering apparition of a coastline suspended in the air. They couldn’t be that near the coast? The bear must be close, and they were going to be the only humans to see it, the last polar bear. The team was here to capture it, rescue it, take it back to the zoo, preserve it in life and beyond.
Time was running out as they drove on.

‘What’s that noise?’ Len’s arms locked on the handlebars and Greg clutched the sides of his seat in shock.

‘Ground sea,’ he grunted, setting his jaw, while Len sat rigid.

The terrible noise thundered beneath them as the sea moved, the ice was thinner here than they had thought.

‘Do you want to turn back?’ Greg asked through gritted teeth. Len shook his head and held their course.

As they rounded another snowdune they saw the magnicent creature, ursus maritimus, still some way off, but in an empty landscape he stood out clearly: lord of his environment, straight and tall on the shrinking ice, facing the ocean. Len switched off. Undetected, they watched the almost motionless bear, for an interval without time.

The spell was broken when, horrified, they heard the cracking of splitting ice ahead of them. Len turned the snowmobile round and drove away fast towards base, leaving the bear on the ice-floe.

The polar bear sniffed once more landwards. The unfamiliar scent had receded and the danger had passed. False alarm. He turned and slid into the cold water, swimming strongly out to sea.

Rose Little is a long-time writer first-time competitor enjoying the inspiration from the group and the shortbread at Cornerstone, where they meet for ‘Shut up and Write’.

Another of Rose’s stories, Sixty Words a Minute, features in Didcot Writers’ anthology, The Most Normal Town in England, available to buy here. [if this link isn’t live, check out our Publications page, linked from the main menu]

Our Reader said:

The vivid evocation of the Arctic stayed in my mind. I enjoyed the use of a wide range of vocabulary.

 

Reader’s Choice: I am Here for You

I am Here for You

by Shirley Muir

There is no car
despite the dense rural dark
and the remote country lane
that meanders through it to the village.

She does not want to impose noise on this tranquil place.
She has feet and they have shoes,
one strong shoulder to sling a bag
(the other is damaged)

And clustered around the green freshly-painted mosque
are food shops with olives and white crumbly cheese
and twenty sorts of nuts.
And always the intoxicating smell of fresh warm bread.

In the shed, the blue bicycle leans patiently
against the grey powdery stone.
In the shadows by the back wall,
with its traffic of mice and spiders
that mate in spring or shelter from winter’s drenching storms,
the bicycle is grimy, oil-less, parched, doleful.

Last year, its moving parts black and lubricated,
it ferried farm eggs, juicy oranges, lush ruby tomatoes
and tiny cucumbers like fat green fingers,
all jumbled in the safety of its capacious basket.

This year it knows that one hand to brake
or one to grip the handlebars
and only one to steer
is not enough
(the other is damaged)

‘Buyurun*’, the bicycle says quietly, waiting,
its basket empty, save for silvery webs
and the droppings of baby mice.
It gathers dust and perhaps rust.
It hopes for her broken wrist to mend,
her frozen shoulder to thaw.

It wishes her walks to the village will become rides
instead of feet plodding the muddy tracks
that in spring are edged with swaying scarlet poppies
for bicycles and riders to admire slowly.

It hopes she will smile at the squadron of snails sliming over gravel after rain
or peek at an alert lizard basking, head lifted in brightness
near a handy chink in a wall.

In summer these gentle winding ways waft with the wings
of yellow, white and orange butterflies,
Tiger moths, buzzing honeybees and dragonflies.
The blue bicycle knows these things.

But today she walks past the shed
and trudges into the village,
her bag slung over the good shoulder.
‘Buyurun’, the bicycle whispers,
and its little bell tinkles in the gloom.

*Buyurun is Turkish for ‘Can I help you? I am here.’

Shirley Muir is a molecular biologist, tarot reader and student of Turkish. She spends some of her time in Turkey.

Our Reader said:

I liked the rich and subtle use of language and the gentle poignant feelings the poem conjured up.

 

Reader’s Choice Winner: Maybe Next Time

Maybe Next Time

by Ella Syverson

It’s Friday, and the night is young. You’ve finished studying, and are looking forward to finding some live music with your friends after you meet up at Hannah’s place. You hum to yourself as you stride down the empty street, shivering a bit in the sharp November air. It’s only when a car drives past that you catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of your eye, reflected in the car’s windshield. Just a guy. Another student, most likely. Suddenly self-conscious, you stop humming and pull out your phone to check your notifications. It’s dead. Dammit. You can borrow a charger from Hannah once you get to her dorm, though. You put your phone back in your pocket.

For no reason in particular, you glance over your shoulder and realize that the man is closer than he was before. And he’s crossed to your side of the street. A spike of adrenaline shoots through you and you begin to walk a little faster. You’re almost to Hannah’s. You look behind you again, he’s matched your pace and is closing the distance between you — less than half a block.

“Hey!” He calls out to you. You don’t answer. As you’ve been told, you grab your keys in your pocket, knowing that they wouldn’t be much help to you. You cut into an alley – it’s quicker to get into Hannah’s dorm from the back way – and he follows, and yells at you again.

“Hey, wait up!” You break into a run, but trip over an empty bottle and sprawl on the gravel. The man catches up to you, panting. He reaches out a hand, but you inch away and he pulls back, putting both his hands in the air in surrender. In one of them, he’s holding a down jacket.

“Hey, I didn’t mean to scare you. Is this your jacket? I think you left it in the library.” You blink, the panic subsiding and you let out a strangled laugh.

“Oh. Yeah, that’s mine. Thanks.” Again, he offers you a hand, but you decline and scramble to your feet yourself, brushing dirt off your jeans. He hands you the jacket.

“Are you okay?” He asks. You nod, and turn away.
“Alright, um, have a good night then. Sorry again for scaring you.”

“No problem. Thanks for my jacket.” He leaves, and you let out a long, shaky breath. False alarm, you tell yourself. But internally you grimace, knowing next time, it might not be.

Ella Syverson: I’m a student at a project based high school where I can pursue my passions: creative writing and social justice.

Our Reader said:

This was a clear and vivid response to the words ‘False Alarm’. It was memorable, and summoned up the rising panic I feel about being followed. I enjoyed the little twist at the end.

 

Our Reader for October

Our Reader for October’s competition, themed ‘false alarm’ was Margaret Gallop.

Margaret.jpg

Margaret enjoys teaching creative writing to children and now enjoys supporting adults in their writing as well and helping people to put their own stories into words.

About the winning story this month, Maybe Next Time, by Ella Syverson, our Reader said:

This was a clear and vivid response to the words ‘False Alarm’. It was memorable, and summoned up the rising panic I feel about being followed. I enjoyed the little twist at the end.

Competition Winners for October

Thank you to all those who entered our October competition, themed ‘False Alarm’. The stories have now been read, and the winners are:

Reader’s Choice Winner:
Maybe Next Time, by Ella Syverson

Other Choices:
I am here for you, by Shirley Muir
The Last Polo bear, by Rose Little
Remains, by Jody Kish
Let the games begin, by Fia Coldwell
Volunteering, by David Hamilton

Congratulations to all!

 

 

Reader’s Choice: Baker’s Practical Segue

Baker’s Practical Segue  

by Matthew C. McLean

The pentagram was correct, the symbols along its border were perfect. Dee had double checked each facet of the summoning circle seven times, once with the computer’s scanner, making sure everything was in place. The salt made a mess on the Persian rug, but he’d clean it up later and, if he couldn’t, it was worth the price. The ritual had to be performed in the privacy that only his penthouse could afford. Otherwise, his public might find out his secret, and the ideal life he had carved out for himself would come to an end.

Satisfied with the fidelity of the protective circle he smiled and walked to the piano.  Sitting on the bench he adjusted the small audio player on the grand’s top board, then pressed the play button. The ethereal voices of a cantata came forth from the box’s speakers and Dee took a moment to enjoy the high sweetness before he laid his fingers to the ivory of the keys. Like the voices, his accompaniment started out slow and light, but progressed at an increasing rhythm. His hands moving further and further down the bass keys of the piano as the voices became higher, strained and tortured, as if victim to the music itself. The dissonance between recorder and piano continued until it seemed to drain the light from the room itself, darkness enfolding player and piano, swirling out to occupy greater space until the crescendo mounted to its zenith. If anyone had been present there would have been nothing for them to see at the final notes, the room cloaked in blackness.

With a concluding, striking piano chord, the darkness dissipated with a quickness that belied its slow arrival. And standing in the pentagram, where no man had been before, stood a grey and tired figure: what might have been a young man, in tattered clothes and with a simple guitar, an itinerant in this life and the next. He kept his hat on, shading his eyes from the room’s central chandelier, and frowned a, “Hello Dee.”

“Hello Baker.  Feeling rested I hope?”

The grey around the spirit called Baker darkened into a shadow that poured down his body from the brim of his hat. “What do you want, Dee?”

“Good news! I’ve been invited to the royal wedding. They’ve asked me to bring a new composition to the reception. I need something light and catchy.”

The shadows around Baker darkened until he appeared as an onyx figure. “You know the kind of pain it causes me when to bring me back into this space. And you only want me to make you some ear-candy?”

“As only you can.” Dee arched his thin fingers together. “Preferably with some lyrics about eternal love.”

Baker shifted, holding his guitar by the neck as if it were a club. “My take on eternity is a little different these days.”

Dee used the temple of his fingers to point at the spirit he had called upon, as if it were a petulant child. “Don’t be so grim.”

“You bring me back here to write songs for you, making yourself rich off a talent that never got me recognition in life.” Baker’s eyes burned through his shadow. “And your advice is to ‘lighten up’?”

Dee smiled, splaying out his fingers, indicating an obvious conclusion. “Indeed. It’s not as if you have a choice.”

Baker stood, moments passing and the dark shadow around him draining away. “Maybe you should try asking Michael. I heard he was working up tunes for the Heavenly Choir.”

Dee frowned his disapproval. “You know I can’t bring up anyone with a recognizable style.”

“So you need someone who died in anonymity.”

Clapping, Dee spoke fawningly. “But a genius who died in anonymity!”

The shadow and his resolve drained away, Baker slowly responded, “Thanks.”  He shifted the guitar he carried into both hands, cradling it. “Could I at least get a stool?”

Dee gave a laugh that was famous among the media, a laugh some had privately thought carried a tone of menace. “That’s almost clever, Baker.  You know I can’t break the circle.”

Baker gave the guitar a strum. “Or I’ll get out.”

Tilting his bald head, Dee smiled pityingly. “You escaping is not what I’m worried about.  There’s always another unsung talent in the Great Beyond I can call on.”

“You’re worried about what I’d do to you if I got out,” Baker smiled.

Dee returned the grin. “I’m so glad we understand each other.”

“I’m not a killer Dee. Never have been.”

“Pardon me if I don’t take that chance.” Running a finger along his scalp, the necromancer turned to leave. “Now, get to work. The sooner you’re done, the sooner I’ll put you back.” Dee checked his watch, the anachronistic time piece so bejewelled it might have been the reason they invented the word bling. “How long will you need?”

Baker tuned his guitar, looking down the struts, pointing the instrument’s neck at his summoner like a gun sight. “Not long. I’ve got something I had been working on no one’s ever heard. I can rework it pretty quickly.”

Dee smiled with approval. “I’ll be back in an hour.” And in an hour he returned, sitting at the piano’s bench with a patient smile. “So what do you have for me.”

Baker didn’t reply, but instead began to play a song. It didn’t sound to Dee like what he had asked for, not some light pop tune, but had a familiar strain of notes. It so struck the necromancer that he began to play it out on the grand when Baker came back to the chorus a second time.

Dee felt the music move into a shifting etherealness that carried him through several more rounds of music. Accompanying the guitarist, he asked, “This is… unusual. Does it need percussion?”

“No.” The response caused Dee to jump, the music broken by the dissonance of his hands banging into the pianos keys. Baker hadn’t spoken. The voice came from behind Dee. Glaring over his shoulder, the necromancer saw another grey figure, a bearded and bald man in an ancient tunic with a flaring white ruff around the neck. His eyes burned with a fire not dissimilar to what Dee had seen in Baker not long ago. The man’s rigid posture held him taut like a string ready to snap.

“I’m happy to disappoint you Dee,” Baker spoke from what seemed a great distance away, “but that tune isn’t mine. I learned it from one of the Utom people on the other side.  They’re South American forest dwellers who speak to their ancestors through music.” To put a finer point on it, Baker concluded, “to summon the dead, but without circles or any components.”

Dee eyed the man standing next to him. “This is…?”

“Oh no,” Dee could hear a laughter in Baker’s voice. “He’s not Utom.  This is Carlo Gesualdo da Venosa. He’s a count and composer from sixteenth-century Italy.”  Baker paused, then added, “He also tortured and murdered his wife and her lover.”

“He’s got a thing about personal property. So I asked him to come up here and have a chat with you about stealing other peoples’ work.”

Matthew C. McLean is a writer living in North Carolina.

Our Reader said:

I enjoyed this story very much: not only is it focused on music throughout, but the ending was unexpected and amusing.

Reader’s Choice: An Unforgivable Act of Generosity

An Unforgivable Act of Generosity

by Jan Brown

Never date a collector. I speak from bitter experience. Unless you’re on the same track as train-spotters, collectors are beyond normal human comprehension. I had the misfortune to date a record collector, in my innocence. I say misfortune now; at the time, I was an innocent, blinkered by love and lust. I listened to bands I’d never heard of, admired freaky artwork and faked interest in sleeve notes. That’s what good girlfriends do.

I’ve been thinking about the warning signs I missed.

One: likely to be a total control freak regarding anything vinyl-related. I knew exactly which albums I was allowed to play and which were off limits. I was taught how to handle vinyl using only the pad of my thumb and middle finger, for fear of the dreaded finger mark. I learnt that the inner sleeve wasn’t just a bit of paper with a pointless hole in; it was an intrinsic part of the whole album and must never be forced into a space it might be reluctant to fill – and believe me, inner sleeves often put up a fight. When I chose an album to play, I marked the location with a slip of paper to ensure it would always be returned to where it belonged, according to a system unique and comprehensible only to my boyfriend.

Two: there may be obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Albums alphabetised on custom made shelves in a temperature-regulated room, many not there to be touched, let alone played. Just there. Immaculate hand-written catalogues with every minute detail transcribed, pored over daily and updated with each acquisition. Once a book was filled, a new one would be purchased but it had to be identical: black cloth, hard cover, A4, 100 pages. An inordinate amount of time spent on esoteric websites, tracking down deluxe editions, elusive new pressings, illicit recordings, maybe the rare album with the misprint that got withdrawn. Did you know there’s an early Beatles worth a small fortune because they printed Lennon and McArtney? Do you care? Apparently one should – such things are valuable.

Three: probably no idea about desirable presents but unfailingly generous with home-made CDs of rare downloaded tracks no one else would want to hear. Not me anyway. These CDs had to be played, usually in the car to and from work, because a quiz invariably followed (see Four). They were sweetly left on the pillow while I slept, a loving offering comparable to the mangled vole your cat might drop at your feet. The same flummoxed eyes when I expressed my thanks in underwhelmed tones which silently said ‘I’d rather have roses.’ At least I didn’t scream like I did at the vole.

Four: not the best conversationalist; in fact, a probable absence of people-skills. He would often embark on one-sided discourse (for that, read lecture) over ‘romantic’ dinners about what missing tracks had to be located, what constituted a reasonable price on his budget; what he could have got if he hadn’t had to pay for half this meal. What did I think of the CD he made me? He wasn’t trying to catch me out; he genuinely cared. Oh, and a distinct need always to be right. To be fair, he generally was, but a total intolerance of anyone who claimed to have ‘all the U2 stuff’ when he could be pretty certain they were completely unaware of the extensive catalogue of U2 stuff that didn’t reach the charts. Charts were anathema.

Five: cautious with money. Not a bad thing but, OK, tight-fisted. Never given to spontaneous expenditure because there was a strict budget and most of it was allocated to The Collection. Which brings me to…

Six: zero interest in fashion and incapable of brushing up well for more formal occasions; at least, not without assistance. A wardrobe of jeans, T-shirts (usually from gigs), button-down shirts in a vast range of shades of blue and grey – and Doc Martens. Smart meant putting on a suit jacket from the charity shop and swapping blue for black denim. Maybe a buff of the ancient bovver boots with his sleeve…

Seven: complete and utter heartlessness. He dumped me over a record. If I’d scratched a Comsat Angels or made dinky flowerpot holders out of melted Grateful Deads, I’d have understood. I was visiting my mum and asked if I could rummage among Dad’s old stuff in the attic. I found something I thought he might appreciate. I was so chuffed. I was no longer an outsider – I’d located a gem.

I rang him straight-off.

“Guess what I’ve found.”

“Oh God, not a lump.” (That’s Eight, by the way: a tendency always to think the worst.)

“No, silly. Listen. Remember I said Dad was into Dylan in his youth? He used to talk about how he visited New York – bragged about buying some Dylan album that got withdrawn?”

“The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” he replied like a computer. “1963, Colombia. Four tracks left off later pressings. Replaced with others but no one knows why. Stamped with -1A. Worth a fortune but you can’t find it for love for money.” (Nine: full of information of negligible interest to others, generously shared; oblivious to numbed reactions.)

“Maybe not for money, sweetheart, but definitely for love. I’ve got it here in my hand.”

There was stunned silence, a strangled moan, more silence. I could picture him struggling with his astonishment, the mental gymnastics as he cross-checked his catalogues with the online information he visualised, and I positively glowed. Surely this was worth an engagement ring!

“Yep, Dad had a copy and it’s yours, sweetheart.’

“Stereo or mono?” I should have expected that. I knew where to look by now. He’d trained me well.

“Stereo.”

“I don’t know what to say.” That was good enough for me. He was happy.

“And Mum’s written a little inscription on the cover for you: Dad’s name and then ‘given to Adam, with our love.’ Isn’t that sweet?”

More stunned silence.

“Well, aren’t you excited?” I felt a bit miffed.

“Have you any idea what that means?” I flinched at the cold anger. “That was worth twenty or thirty thousand dollars. It’s worthless now.” He slammed down the phone.

He dumped me by text that afternoon. Next day, all my belongings were delivered by a very embarrassed friend of ours who didn’t know where to look or what to say. Actually, I say all my belongings: my albums weren’t there. They’d been appropriated to his collection.

Eventually I would Google Freewheelin’ and realise the enormity of the desecration. But it wasn’t about the money for him; it was the ownership. With a few strokes of Mum’s pen, his dreams were shattered like an old 78 dropped on a scullery floor. But it confirmed for me that one should never date a collector.

Ten: unforgiving.

Jan Brown is still refining her writing skills and enjoying writing flash fiction, without dreaming of The Big Novel.

Our Reader said:

This story was well-paced, and felt very true to life. I really felt for both characters. Also, though Jan didn’t know who the Reader would be when she submitted the piece, I happen to work with music collections and collectors, so this is right up my street.