Competition Winners

Reader’s Choice: The Beast Beneath

The Beast Beneath

by Claire Twinn

Rumours were flying around the zoo concerning a mysterious creature. Its strange thumping sound resonated everywhere and it had strewn a trail of dirt all over the place, yet no one had seen it.

“It can’t be anything nice if it creeps around at night,” Toucan said, clipping his curved beak together noisily to emphasise his point. “Like those blinking bats I had to live next door to a few years ago. They’d hang around upside down all day pretending to be cute, but at night they were evil!  Nicking all my fruit and gobbling up any poor moths who got in their way.”

Orang-utan sighed and picked at a flea on her chest. “It seems to be everywhere so I bet it’s not stuck in a cage like us.  Must be small enough to get through the bars.  Maybe it’s one of those rats that skulk around the bins?”

“I bet it’s that cat who lives in the zookeeper’s house. He’s always taunting me about how he goes hunting at night,” sighed Cougar as he paced up and down.

Marmoset nibbled nervously on a nut. “It was making a right racket last night. I reckon it’s one of those massive wild deer, like that gnu who died last year or that moose who went away and never came back. I don’t know what those humans are up to, but it’s not good. I swear they’ve given me less papaya than yesterday – they’re starving us, I tell you!”

“Oh Marmie, you say that every day. If you didn’t spend so much time running around you wouldn’t get so hungry all the time,” Sloth suggested.

“A great big bird landed on top of my prison last month and made a hell of a noise padding around. Told me she was a goose all the way from Canada, then she pooped on my head!” Quail quivered in indignation at the memory.

Capybara waved her paw at the mess outside their cages. “Look at all those piles of earth, it’s like something’s been making huge jumps and pushing all the soil up when it lands.  The only creature I ever saw who could jump like that was a kangaroo.”

The rumbling noise grew louder. “It’s coming closer! Help!” shrieked Meerkat, scuttling away.

A mountain of earth erupted in front of them. They watched aghast as an innocent worm wriggling past was sucked underground, gobbled up by the beast beneath. Worse still, the creature was burrowing closer and closer, spewing up a pathway of debris, heading straight for their cages.

“It’s going to suck us all up!” screeched Toucan, flapping frantically.

The tunnelling stopped just before their cages. The animals trembled as they awaited their fate. Meerkat held his breath for so long he passed out. After several minutes the tunnelling restarted, to their relief heading away.

“The ground’s too hard. It can’t get in just like we can’t get out,” Orang-utan grunted.

Everyone slept soundly that night, safe in their havens, dreaming no more of freedom.

(Inspired by the song ‘I am a mole and I live in a hole’.)

When not having to be grown-up, Claire Twinn loafs around on her boat writing silly or strange stories. She is a member of Didcot Writers.

Our Reader said:

A funny story told from an unusual perspective, this put a smile on my face.

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Reader’s Choice Winner: Found on the Underground

Found on the Underground

by Alice Little

‘I’m just not sure you’ve got the go-getter spirit we’re after at CrowdFundIt.’

Logan remembered Michelle’s words as he sat on the Underground going home. She had turned him down for promotion, and let him know that there was no point re-applying. He would remain a junior salesman.

He glanced around the empty carriage. There was rubbish everywhere. He idly picked up an umbrella. He couldn’t get it to collapse fully – that was probably why it had been left behind. A second umbrella, this one with ripped canvas, was rolling about on the floor, and among what he had assumed were just newspaper pages he found a cracked vase, presumably dumped when the newspaper hadn’t proved enough protection.

Logan took these three items to the ticket desk, which was closed. He shrugged at the cleaner, who responded, ‘Is all broken? Then no one wants.’

Logan didn’t like to throw the things away and, with nothing better to do that weekend, he set about repairing them – if he could make good the damage he could sell them on.

The closing mechanism was damaged on the first umbrella, so he took the slide from the second and used it to fix the first. The second umbrella, he stripped the canvas from entirely (he could use it to patch his tent), and papier-mâchéd the frame. He spray-painted it, and listed it on Etsy as a trendy wall decoration. It sold before he’d even finished mending the vase, which he then also painted and listed as upcycled glass art.

On Monday, coming home from work, he kept an eye out for further discarded items, and by the end of the day he had a shoe with a broken heel (which he made into a jewellery stand), a stained cushion (which he washed and made a new cover for), and a briefcase with a broken handle (which he mended). By the end of the week his first items had netted him over sixty pounds; the following week’s haul raised over two hundred. By the end of the month he was making more from repairing and repurposing left-behind items than he was at the crowdfunding company. And Michelle had said he lacked entrepreneurial spirit! He showed her.

He could make a real go of this, he thought. He used his staff account to set up his own crowdfunding page, and within a fortnight had raised enough money to rent a workshop space and tools. He took out ads encouraging people to bring him what they saw as junk, and to buy items they regarded as vintage, craft, or designer.

Six months later, a woman smiled uneasily at him across his workbench.

‘Michelle! What a… lovely surprise.’

‘I came down to see what all the fuss was about. Maybe I should have promoted you after all,’ she said. ‘Imagine what you could have done if you’d stayed at the company.’

‘If I’d stayed at the company,’ Logan replied pointedly, ‘I’d still be a junior salesman.’

Alice Little is a writer of short and long fiction, and runs workshops for Didcot Writers. Find out more at alicelittle.co.uk/fiction, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @littleamiss.

Our Reader said:

An uplifting story about opportunities appearing where least expected. The ending was incredibly satisfying!

Our Reader for January

Our Reader for January’s competition, themed ‘underground’ was Sarah Byrne. Sarah returned her winning choices to us in less than 48 hours, which sets a record!

Sarah Byrne.png

Sarah is a film and theatre researcher who also writes speculative fiction and has had a number of short stories published in anthologies.

About being our Reader, Sarah said:

I found this quite difficult as there were loads of good stories and poems and quite a varied approach to the theme. I’ve tried to pick a wide selection of styles and genres!

Follow this site at didcotwriters.wordpress.com to receive the winning pieces straight to your inbox on Mondays and Fridays.

Winners for January (Underground)

Many thanks to those who entered our January competition, themed Underground, and to our Reader this month. The Reader has made incredibly fast work of choosing the winning pieces, and they are:

Reader’s Choice:
Found on the Underground, by Alice Little

Other choices:
The Beast Beneath, by Claire Twinn
Sweet, by Emma Cheung
In the Tunnel, by Rose Little
Underground, by Sheila Davie
The Tunnel, by CG Brik

Congratulations to all!

These pieces will be published on Mondays and Fridays over the coming weeks, so Follow the blog at didcotwriters.wordpress.com to receive them straight to your inbox each time.

If you would like to be a Reader for our competition in a future month, please email didcotwriters@gmail.com. The entries are read anonymously, and it takes just a few hours, as close to the start of the month as possible.

Our theme for February is ‘confrontation’; and don’t forget to send your short stories for our next print anthology, ‘First Contact’: didcotwriters.wordpress.com/anthology.

Reader’s Choice: On the Verge…

On the Verge…

by Alan Issler

Are you doing this on purpose?
Pushing at our sound barrier?
Banging that saucepan like a gong?
But it’s just dinner cooking,
The hob is made of metal,
In silence it can’t be done.

Why did you do that?
What were you thinking?
Throwing spaghetti at the wall?
But the strands stuck there and stayed
Meaning its cooked fine line al dente
As everyone should know.

Why did you say that?
What’s with your sniping?
Trying to take me for a fool?
But by sticking to that story,
Watching all day for strangeness,
Limits everything I do.

How can you think that?
When did I do that?
Knowing the lines I crossed for you?
But being stuck in this moment,
Stranded in your narrative,
Is like a sentence being served.

What are we doing?
Where are you going?
Crossing a threshold on the floor?
But does my straining at these chains,
Mean the strongest link is breaking –
While the weakest one remains?

Alan Issler: Trying to write regularly and work out if ‘rats live on no evil star’ read backwards will reveal life’s meaning.

Our Reader said:

The utilisation of the question and answer form is highly effective. A memorable and impactful poem.

Reader’s Choice: Permission

Permission

by Margaret Gallop

Halfway across the road in East Berlin

the small red man tells me to stop.

A real man beside me hesitates,

his wife defies the order and walks on.

 

She crosses two more roads and finds

a seat on the old canal bridge.

She seems triumphant as she waits,

the water underneath her drags.

 

She looks away from where we stand

with broken glass around our feet,

a ridge of tar and complicated lines

telling the bicycles where they may go.

 

At last the waited for green man appears,

his bowler hat a sign of East Berlin,

his arm and leg thrust forward, ‘Go ahead!’

Permission, we may cross the road.

Margaret Gallop: I write poetry to respond to the world around me and reflect on what I have seen and experienced.

Our Reader said:

So much is said in so few words, I am in awe at the author’s ability to reveal a great deal in only four stanzas.

Reader’s Choice: I Wanted to Tell Her

I Wanted to Tell Her

by Jody Kish

Alone again, I cried myself to sleep buried underneath cold sheets. He had promised me he’d be home. Hours passed and still no one. How did it get this way? A marriage that once was so vibrant had become stale like a mouldy piece of bread. I didn’t know how to fix it. Was it me? I tried expressing my concerns to him, but his tendentious view only exacerbated what was already a one-sided argument.

I never lost hope, but I began seeing that my naivety wasn’t going to fix the damage that had been done. He would accuse me of imaginary affairs and blame me for the continuous distrust between us. He’d come home later and later—sometimes not at all.

I would prattle on to my dog for hours while I waited. “I don’t know what to do, Jake.” His big, brown eyes would look at me with such empathy—I felt like he understood. “I don’t know why or how this happened.” I buried my face in his soft fur, unleashing sobs of my suffering that I had suppressed for so long.

“Come on, old boy. You can sleep with Mama tonight. Dad’s not going to be here anyway.”

Jake exuberantly jumped up and for the first time in months; surrounded by his warmth and happiness, a calmness enveloped me.

***

I wanted to tell her how much I loved her; how much I missed her smiles and hugs. I wanted to tell her that it was going to be alright, and that I would be there to support her through the good and bad.

I wanted to tell her to leave him; that I would take care of her.

But, it was against the rules.

Instead, I licked her sweet face, and woofed, “I love you.”

Jody Kish loves writing fiction. Her hound dog inspires many of her stories.

Our Reader said:

A heart wrenchingly moving piece that makes me want to pull in everyone dear to me and embrace them all in a big hug.

Reader’s Choice winner: Too Close for Comfort

Too Close for Comfort

by Max Cantrell

In the corner, back against the wall, inches from my face. Sinatra sings Cheek-to-Cheek. He leans in. I lean out. Pew! Talk about putrid breath! Any nearer and I’ll puke. Or whack him.

I want my arm about you

That charm about you

“’Scuze me…um…need to pee.” He looks hurt. The peeing ruse always works at parties. His right arm – the one he’s using to praying mantis me into the corner – drops to his side. He moves reluctantly backwards. Like he’s throwing a really big fish back into the sea. Mutters of course, sorry, didn’t realize. Looks at his shoes. Shiny black suede divorcee shoes. He’s afraid I’ll pee on them if he doesn’t move fast enough. You never get the smell of pee out of suede. The idea pulls strings at the corners of my mouth. I ‘d love to really pee on his shoes. Just to see him Fred Astaire clackety-clack. I burst out laughing at the thought. Enough Martinis. He lifts the customs barrier and I squeeze past.

I imagine his ex-wife, Pond’s Night Cream all over her face, putting the black suede shoes lovingly next to the armchair, under the pin-stripe suit ready for the next day. With the give-away striped pink tie. Poor bitch. There’s a seedy hotel nearby and he’s banging his peroxide secretary’s brains out. Now I really want to puke.

And pee.

Downstairs there’s a pretty brunette with colourful tattoos waiting at the toilet, humming. She turns to me and smiles. She leans in. I lean out. Don’t people know about personal space?

“You alone?”

“Nope.” Never tell a stranger you’re alone at a party. Just in case.

“Me neither.” The answer makes no sense. Her big green eyes have way too much mascara. She wants me to ask her.

“Got a boyfriend?”

She shakes her head. “Nah. Don’t like men.” A couple come out, cheesily arranging their clothing, and push past us. You can smell the fast sex.

The brunette shrugs. “Some people have nowhere to go.”

“But in a toilet? I mean it’s so…” She can see the disgust on my face and laughs.

“Wanna pee first?” She motions to the open door.

“It’s OK. You go. I can wait.” She smiles and disappears inside the toilet.  Doesn’t close the door. I hear pee gush. For crying out loud! I pull the door closed. She giggles. The toilet flushes and we’re face to face again. She leans in, her lips much too close. I lean back. Slightly.

“See you upstairs?” She smiles widely and high heels clatter up the stairs.

Why not?

Max Cantrell: Painter, writer, life-lover and recently married lover. Who needs more?

Our Reader said:

This is a quirky and stylishly written piece, jam-packed full of glamorous metaphors. The narrative voice was enticing and I was pulled in by their clever imagery and witty remarks.

Our Reader for December

Our reader for December’s competition, themed ‘boundaries’, was Angus Broadbent.

Angus picture.jpg

Angus Broadbent is a full time creative writing student and a part time book seller. Incidentally his life now seems to revolve entirely around books. Some snippets of his writing can be found on his blog at www.angusblogbent.com.

About the winning piece, Too Close for Comfort, by Max Cantrell, Angus said:

This is a quirky and stylishly written piece, jam-packed full of glamorous metaphors. The narrative voice was enticing and I was pulled in by their clever imagery and witty remarks.

Follow the blog at didcotwriters.wordpress.com to receive the winning pieces straight to your inbox on Mondays and Fridays.

Winners for our December competition, themed ‘boundaries’

Many thanks to those who entered our December competition, themed Boundaries. The reader has now read all the eligible entries and made their choices.

A quick note on eligibility – a number of entries this month were way over the word limit (which is 500 words – one or two words over is OK, but 200 words over is not!), and several people submitted more than once without getting in touch to make a payment for a second submission (the first is free, don’t worry), so these entries had to be rejected – sorry! We’d love you to enter our competition again, but please do check the guidelines at didcotwriters.wordpress.com before submitting.

The winners are:

Reader’s Choice:
Too Close for Comfort, by Max Cantrell

Other choices:
I Wanted to Tell Her, by Jody Kish
Permission, by Margaret Gallop
On the Verge…, by Alan Issler

Congratulations to all!

These pieces will be published on Mondays and Fridays over the coming weeks, so please Follow the blog at didcotwriters.wordpress.com to receive them straight to your inbox each time.

Our theme for January is ‘underground’, and there is still time to send in your entry before the 31st; we also have submissions open for our new anthology, ‘First Contact’, details can be found at didcotwriters.wordpress.com/anthology.