Reader’s Choice: Really Looking Up

Really Looking Up

by Alan Issler

It’s going to be a lovely day. The sky is blue and the weather pleasantly warm with everyone on the viewing platform down to their shirtsleeves.

Everything is going down great and we are all enjoying the spectacle.

I had been a bit nervous about watching this show, as funnily enough, I have not always had that great a head for heights.

Also big groups of people can make me nervous.

So this event could have made me feel a bit of a misfit but I needn’t have worried.

The various solo flybys have been fantastic and the enthusiasm of the people watching, totally infectious. Looking up, pointing waving, taking photographs, cheering. And being really friendly.

“Wow did you see that?”

“Yeah amazing.”

“Weather’s pretty fair as well. Quite cloudy but clear enough to see and warm, so no problem.”

I nod and smile happily at this.

And now it’s time for the fantastic formation display. The crowd are cheering and waving again. I have a great view.  I am feeling excited and a bit anxious as well.

I don’t suppose I can totally change who I am.

I hold my breath but start to feel quite hot. The planes are going very fast and seem quite close to me. The crowd are still happy waving and smiling and I don’t want to be the one to rain on everyone’s parade by seeming glum.

“Come on,” I tell myself “you have seen air shows before.”

But one of the plane’s engines does not sound quite right.

I start to feel dizzy and cannot talk.

And some of the crowd are now pointing at me and almost shouting. “Look at that weird cloud, it’s totally breaking up… and. look there… ohhh….”

Looking down, for a split second, I can just about see a man in a bright red shirt really looking up at me, just before… I totally drift away….

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 air show was a popular theme, and this one resonated most as it was told from a highly personal perspective. I could connect with this character, was there with them and felt their emotions: they laid them out on a plate for all to see. A very touching piece.

Image credit: Milan Milićev

Reader’s Choice: Orange

Orange

by Srijani Ganguly

In a line they all stood and looked at the sky, but none of them knew what they were looking for.

About thirty seconds ago, a young man who was part of their group, had suddenly shouted that he had seen something unusual in the sky. “What is that?” he had said, pointing skywards. And since no one else was talking at that time, in a moment of collective silence, his declaration was heard by them all. One woman, who had just sat down on a chair, didn’t bother getting up and looked up from her slightly lower vantage point.

“What are we supposed to be looking at?” a woman whispered to her husband. “I can’t see anything but a few odd-shaped clouds. Do you think that’s it? He probably saw a bunch of clouds and got a tad bit excited?”

Her husband didn’t reply, just softly laughed.

The young man put on his sunglasses and pointed towards the east. “There!” he said. “Look at that orange blob of light.”

And sure enough, suddenly, there was a orange-tinted sphere of light that was moving towards them all. The woman who was sitting down tried to get up, but couldn’t. Those standing were unable to move as well.

“What is happening?” a woman whispered into a husband’s ears, as he tried to shift both of them away from where they were standing. “I don’t know,” he kept repeating. “I don’t know.”

The young man, satisfied that they were all transfixed, went to everyone in the group and took out money from their pockets and wallets. He did so surreptitiously, without catching the attention of the three or four other people in the vicinity.

He walked a few paces away, looked back at the orange light and clicked a button on his phone. “Thank you for your generous donation,” he said under his breath, and hopped on to a cycle that had been waiting for him.

A full two minutes later when the group was able to move again, the light was gone, as was the young man who had taken away all of their money. The woman on the chair was the first to speak.

“Thank god I accidentally sat down on my wallet.”

Srijani Ganguly: I work as a journalist with a Delhi-based media house in India. I love to read science fiction and historical fiction.

Our Reader said:

I very much enjoyed this piece for its focused narrative, lightheartedness and lively dialogue. The references to the prompt photo were also a nice touch. A highly original and imaginative take on the prompt: I wasn’t expecting to read a story about such a character.
Image credit: Milan Milićev

Reader’s Choice: Clouds

Clouds

by Zoe Chater

There are clouds above you. Do you care? Do you even notice?

Each one of you has a cloud above your head. It baffles me that most of you can go about your day seemingly unaware of this fact, or simply ignore it because its familiarity makes it feel mundane.

For most people, a cloud is ordinary. This frustrates me. I can see the miracle in each one. When I gaze up at one I can visualise the forces that came together to allow it to exist, to make it uniquely beautiful.

For some people, a cloud is an irritation. A blemish to an otherwise wonderful day. This infuriates me. They have no idea what they are blessed with. Protection from intense cosmic rays and painfully bright sunlight. A dramatic, thunderous backdrop to your darkest emotions. Most importantly, the promise of rain, water, life. We would all be nothing without clouds. We owe everything we have to them.

For everyone I have met, and for you too I am sure, a cloud is a natural, simple occurrence. Its formation is something you don’t have to worry about; it simply is. Natural is the word; its mystery belongs to nature. It isn’t for us to know how. To try to control it would be wrong. This boils my blood. Why? Because I have spent so long trying to cultivate my own cloud and it simply doesn’t happen. I wonder if your opinions on nature would change if you found yourself, like me, without a cloud.

Many of you walk around, lost beneath your own cloud, hardly ever stopping to look up at someone else’s. The only exception is when someone moves by you with a cloud heavy with rain or loud with thunder, deep grey or almost black. You take notice of these clouds. You run from them, in fact. You take cover in your homes and close the curtains. What a shame for those who stand under them and cannot run. However, more subtle clouds are missed; the light ones that gently spatter across a blue sky, the ones that have evolved to create the shape of a dinosaur or rabbit or heart. It is only children who notice these clouds.

This is why, of course, no-one has noticed that I do not have a cloud. It is a strange kind of open secret: I don’t hide it but of course you aren’t looking for it so you don’t see it. Or you simply ignore it.

I am not angry with nature; I will continue to build my cloud machine, I won’t apologise for trying to fix what nature failed to get right, but I am not angry that this has happened to me. In a strange way I am grateful, because now, I see the clouds. I really see them. It hurts, but it is beautiful. I am, though, angry at you, you who do not see, you who simply ignore. Won’t you open your eyes? Won’t you look up?

Zoe Chater is a secondary school physics teacher who likes to write fiction and poetry in her spare time.


Our Reader said:

This stood out for being beautifully written and thought-provoking. The writer presents a unique and intriguing perspective. It had an introspective melancholy to it that contrasted with many of the others. Not a story in the traditional sense, but a fine piece of work.
Image credit: Milan Milićev

Reader’s Choice: A Matter of Time

A Matter of Time

by Sheila Davie

“The case continues into the death of 31 year old Helen Mowbry, the British woman  who fell to 20 metres to her death at a popular sightseeing viewpoint whilst on holiday in Lanzarote. A vital piece of evidence is a photograph taken by the tour bus driver seconds before.”

Maggie Bright switched off the radio, leaning back into the chair.  “What photograph?” she thought.

“You OK love, you look a bit pasty?” Stiffening, she felt Tom move behind her, his hands on her shoulders, his groin pressing into her neck. “There’s nothing for us to worry about, the police will be interviewing everyone who was there. I’m off to work now. Got everything you need? See you later.”

Gripping the arms of the chair, Maggie recalled the holiday in Lanzarote to celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary and the fateful excursion to the volcanic area of the National Park. The bus journey had been bumpy and made her feel nauseous.  She’d had to sit down when they arrived.

That was when she sensed a shadow in front of her blocking out the warmth of the sun and heard that spiteful voice.

“I’ll stand where I like, she can’t see anyway.”

So Tom had added insult to injury. They’d argued. Maggie didn’t think much of a sightseeing trip. Her imagination would have to run wild, she was used to that. But that voice was something else, and it was here, and it was now.

Judging by the “wow, look up at that, amazing” chorus of the group Maggie visualised the tour group standing along a wall, looking up in awe at the highlight of their trip, not hers.

A sudden shout behind her “Time’s up, let’s have a photo”. Then all hell let loose. Screaming, panic, and Tom’s voice, loud, booming reverberating around the crater of the volcano. “Helen, Helen.” And that’s when Maggie knew she had been right.

It seemed like yesterday, not weeks ago, although she had forgotten about the photo until today. Maggie got ready for her two o’clock client. Another young woman suffering from anxiety.

Later on, coming in from work, Tom switched the television on.  Breaking news on the strapline.  “Further developments in the death of Helen Mowbry.” The newsreader reported an alleged affair between Tom Bright and the dead woman and suggested that Helen Mowbry had previously been a client of Tom Bright’s wife Maggie, a local counsellor and hypnotist and that she may have committed suicide.

The Bright’s doorbell rang. A woman police officer stood on the threshold. “Maggie Bright, we’d like to interview in connection with the death of Helen Mowbry.” Maggie muttered “time’s up”. Raising her arms, she lifted her chest towards the ceiling, leant back, and hurled herself onto the floor smashing her head against the coffee table. She had rehearsed Tom’s catch phrase in her mind thousands of times. He’d taught her all he knew.

Sheila Davie: a quirky writer drawing on experience as an occupational psychometric consultant.  All is not what it seems, look behind the mask.

Our Reader said:
This was a very imaginative use of the prompt – the photo as a photo – and highly readable, with convincing characterisation and vivid scene setting to move the story along. I did not expect to be reading a crime mystery, and this piece had me gripped from the first paragraph.
Image credit: Milan Milićev

Reader’s Choice Winner for April: The End is Nigh

The End is Nigh

by Alice Little

On Unit Four the thirteen stare
And, squinting in the sultry air,
They watch and wait
While in the sky
The starlings swirl, the aircraft fly:
Distractions, little heeded there.

The end is nigh. For years they’ve told
This warning to their doubtful fold
To no avail
For just thirteen have gathered here.

At half past two the clouds will part,
And chanting, hymns and prayers will start
To sound, while in the city’s squares
The unrepentant unawares
Will know their fate
And wish they were on Unit Four.

Alice Little is a writer of short and long fiction, and historical non-fiction. This is her first poetry publication. See alicelittle.co.uk/fiction for more information, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @littleamiss.

Our Reader said:

Nothing could be more apt for the prompt than this piece. The end-of-world theme was popular, and this one stood out straightaway. Firstly, for the choice to format as a poem. Then, for conjuring up such a powerful image in so few words. ‘Unit Four’ was a brilliant handle on which to hang our sense of foreboding.
Image credit: Milan Milićev

Our Reader for April

Thank you to everyone who entered April’s competition using as their prompt the above image. We had 22 entries this month, which means we have enough for it to be a great competition, but it’s a small enough number that all good writers are still in with a chance of winning!

Our Reader for April was Kathryn Evans:

didcot me

Kathryn Evans lives in Plymouth. She got into creative writing last autumn when she undertook a MOOC in the subject. Since then, she has become addicted to reading and writing flash fiction, and you can read some of her stories on 50-Word Stories, Zeroflash, Sweek, Chris Fielden and Paragraph Planet. She belongs to an awesome online writing group and you can find her at https://www.facebook.com/kathryn.evans.355.

Of April’s winning poem, The End is Nigh, by Alice Little, Kathryn said:

Nothing could be more apt for the prompt than this piece. The end-of-world theme was popular, and this one stood out straightaway. Firstly, for the choice to format as a poem. Then, for conjuring up such a powerful image in so few words. ‘Unit Four’ was a brilliant handle on which to hang our sense of foreboding.

The winning work and all the other Reader’s Choice pieces for the month, together with brief comments from Kathryn, will be published on this site during May. ‘Follow’ to site using the link in the bottom right to receive the pieces direct to your inbox when they are published.

Header image credit: Milan Milićev

April’s Competition Winners

Thank you to everyone who entered our competition in April, using the above image as a prompt. The winners were as follows –

Winner:
The End is Nigh, by Alice Little

Other Reader’s Choices:
A Matter of Time, by Sheila Davie
Clouds, by Zoe Chater
Orange, by Srijani Ganguly
Really Looking Up, by Alan Issler

These pieces will be published on our website over the coming month. ‘Follow’ this site using the link in the bottom right corner to receive them straight into your inbox.

For May our prompt is ‘key’. Maybe it’s the key to a door, to a safe, to a padlock, or perhaps it’s the solution to a puzzle, a cipher, a code, the piece of information that makes the meaning of events fall into place. You can see the guidelines for how to enter the competition here.

If you would be interested in being our Reader in a later month, please email indicating which month you would like to be considered for. You don’t have to be based in Didcot – the only requirement is that you don’t enter your own work in the month for which you are a Reader!

Image credit: Milan Milićev