Reader’s Choice

Changing the Tide

by Louise Snape

“Now, Miss Waters, for the record, you describe yourself as ‘indispensable’ to all of them, is that correct?” he asked, notepad in hand.

“Yes, that’s right. They can’t live without me,” she said, chuckling. “Quite literally. And yet, it looks like they couldn’t care less what happens to me.”

“And that’s why you felt entitled to punish them for their lack of reaction?”

“I was acting in self-defence! What else was I supposed to do? No one was helping me!”

“And did you ever think of asking anyone for help?”

“Asking anyo— They know! They all know!” She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “They just don’t care, not one bit. Except maybe a few good Samaritans. But what good are they, when the rest just continues?”

“And because you felt bullied, you decided to, as you say, ‘defend yourself’ by murdering random people?” he asked with an arched eyebrow.

“Bullied? Bullied? Is that what they call kidnapping and attempted murder these days?”

“We have yet to find any proof to your allegations, Miss Waters, but perhaps you would like to explain what you believe happened?”

She looked angrier by the minute. “It’s not just what I believe happened, it is what happened. They all like me, you see. I’m indispensable to them, so I get that. But they seem to think they own me. They all want a piece of me, and they fight among themselves to claim even the tiniest lock of my hair, and it’s ridiculous. They’ve been doing that since they met me, though, so I can live with it. But the thing is, they used to respect me, you know. They’d be afraid I’d refuse them, so they’d give me gifts and sing for me, you know, to make sure I was happy. But now— Now they just—”

Her voice broke, and a single tear escaped her lashes to write a salty line of heartache down her cheek. “Now they just take. They assault me. They grab, they tear, and they’ve stolen pieces of my clothes and fistfuls of my hair. I stood naked before them more than once, unprotected and defenceless, and they just don’t care. They’ve tied me up, locked me up. What else was I supposed to do?” Tears were streaming down in rivulets now, like an unending tide of grief. “Don’t you understand how wrong that is?”

He looked unperturbed. “That does not mean that your own reaction was right.”

“They were poisoning me! They still are! I’m dying! I had to defend myself. And anyway, if I die, they die, so I was saving them too. I had to make myself heard. I regret it had to come to this. But I had to try. Even if they still don’t listen. They still don’t understand.” She looked down at her hands.

“So, for the record, you wish ‘self-defence’ to be your official reason for killing hundreds of people in a tidal wave?”

“Yes.”

He closed the notepad. “Very well, Miss Waters. That will be all for now.”

Louise Snape is a Dutch/French writer who loves English and creative writing, and who went to study in the UK.

Our Reader said:

Interesting take with some great imagery.

Reader’s Choice

Bounty

by Annie Coggle

She had to take the risk.  Darkness wouldn’t come before it was too late; her energy supplies were low.  She could see her quarry, teasing.  She darted, pink tail licking the frozen ground in her wake, her swollen abdomen apparent beneath her sleek brown fur.

Squeezing her body under the pile of broken fences which had become her home, she hid once more, nibbling the seeds she had gleaned from beneath the bird table.  It wasn’t enough; she was thirsty.  Venturing a second time, aware of danger, she edged as far as the garden pond, her nose touched something cold and hard.  Ice.  She had to go further; she heard noise, crunching like rustling leaves of long forgotten autumn.  A shout, “Hey,” She turned, fled to her shelter, a wide yard brush narrowly missing her as she ran.

She felt movement in her belly, waves rippling her fur from inside.  Soon her babies would come, pink bodies burrowing beneath her, greedy mouths sucking at her teats.  She waited, all was quiet.  Thirst forced her from hiding, scurrying to the pond, not stopping to sniff at the edge she ventured onto the ice, she drank from the melted edge at its centre.   A crack, she moved backwards, feet sliding, scrambling, tail flaying, she tipped into the freezing water.  Sinking through knotted weeds, dark and gloomy, instinct dictating in this world she had never known before.  Touching solid ground, she pulled her feet free of the tangle, following bubbles rising from the air trapped in her fur, she pulled herself upwards, breaking thin ice with her head as she emerged.  She wasn’t saved yet, the bank too far away to reach, she dived into the darkness, rising again against a clump of reeds.  Clinging to their matted roots, she pulled herself out of the water, skirting the bog until she found hard ground.

The effort had taken her strength, cold and hungry she dared not cross the open ground again, the bird table was vulnerable.  She kept close to the hedge under the stark cover of bare branches as she continued to her hideaway.  More noise, barking, the dog had detected her scent, escape was impossible as he cut off her retreat.  “ Mercy,” the rattle of a dish on stone paving,  the indulged animal turned, forgetting his prey.

Relieved, she returned to her haven to await the night.  Her nose detected food.  She sniffed at the blue pellets secreted beneath the rotting wood, gratefully she gorged on the unexpected bounty.  Sated, she curled into her nest.  She and her babies were safe.

Newly retired, living close to the Peak District, Annie Coggle includes walking and writing among her many pursuits.

Our Reader said:

Deftly written tale with a subtle touch, our disgust turning to empathy then horror.

Reader’s Choice

Going Swimmingly

by Alan Issler

Joseph, the second son of the King family, had always found it hard to be taken seriously. His parents had not really thought things through when choosing his name and years of hearing “you must be Joe King” from school mates and teachers alike had been somewhat irritating.

Joseph found the everyday world by turns mundane or quite frightening and always said he was trying to find a certain sense of reality in life. His job as Cultureshift Recreational Arts Project leader at the council did not always help with this. This was a recent promotion from the ‘front line’ and he recalled his new boss’s initial advice – “Joe, now you’re a manager, everything you do will either be wrong or too late.”

He was now 42 and had started going swimming at Splash Out City Pool three mornings a week before work. The idea was to get fit and lose weight and it definitely made him feel better. It also helped to think and plan ahead. It wasn’t that all the crap went away but kind of went onto a back burner and simmered gently – like perfectly cooking basmati rice. He had been going regularly now for six months but had recently felt that something was not right.

Helena Hancart, deputy manager and senior lifeguard at the pool was the go to person if anyone had problems. She was currently in charge of the funding appeal to make the changing rooms fully accessible and feeling under pressure. They usually got on well but the last time they had spoken she had seemed distracted. “Time is tight,” she had almost snapped at him when he asked how the appeal was going, “I might have to pull the plug on it.”

When Joseph arrived at Splash Out for his Friday swim, things appeared almost normal. But the other swimmers seemed to be giving him sidelong glances. As he started his forty lengths people seemed to be hovering at the edge of the pool more than usual making completing a length more difficult.

As he was approaching the deep end he saw Helena walk to the pool side. She blew her whistle and shouted for attention. “Out of the pool people please, now. Unfortunately the funding target for the accessibility changes has not been met by the deadline.”

“Really sorry to hear that Hel,” said Joseph as he swum toward the pool steps. Everyone else was out.

“Not you Joe,” said Helena, “your donation was limited and… too… late…” She put her foot on his chest and pushed him back into the pool. Then leaning forward she pulled sharply on a large plug chain under the waterline.

As the water started emptying at speed, Joseph wondered how he had never noticed the plug chain until now. And as he was dragged down toward the large plug hole he could vaguely make out Helena pointing at the written instruction on the pool wall – ‘Obey ALL Lifeguard instructions’.

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

Our Reader said:

I enjoyed the surreal humour and word play in this unusual piece.

Reader’s Choice

The Anxieties of a Widow

by Fabiyas MV

May stretched its legs into grave.
The thunder heralds the rains.
A hut on the bank of Kanoli canal
Is not re-thatched this year.
Her infant’s illness made the doctor gay
With all the wages she had kept.
Summer takes the last breath,
But the coconut leaf thatched roof
Is not re-thatched this year.

As the widow stands on the threshold,
The rain clouds gather over her sky,
And the wind scatters terror in her corridor.
Will the tattered roof be flown away?
Will the rain drops make pores
On the roof of her life?
Where will her child crawl and smile?
Question waves are thus getting high;
Her canoe is ready to be tossed.

(The summer season ends in the month of May and rainy season begins in the month of June in Kerala.)

Fabiyas MV is a writer from Orumanayur village in Kerala, India. He is the author of Kanoli Kaleidoscope (Punks Write Poems Press, US), Eternal Fragments (erbacce press, UK), and Moonlight And Solitude (Raspberry Books, India).

Our Reader said:

An evocative portrayal of the tangible effects of a loss.

Reader’s Choice

Lady of the River

by Shani Robinson

Grief, grief is all she feels now. Overwhelming, sucking her soul into a dark place where there is no hope of escape. A beloved father gone, murdered by the handsome prince who once sought her hand. He too has abandoned her, rejected and abused.

She has tried to caution the others at court of the dangers coming, words of warning have fallen on deaf ears.  The darkness surrounding her is reaching out to welcome them. Has fate brought them to this or have they been damned by choices they made? The lady has done her best to save the others, warning them with columbine and rue.

Soft sunlight illuminates the dell, warm on her face, cheering her heavy heart.  The darkness abates for a time, drifting to the furthest edges of her awareness leaving only wisps of shadows. She will bide here a while and gather some flowers, memories of this place and the peace found there. A brook gurgles and giggles, winding past trees and flowers. One bough of a weeping willow hangs low over the water, long tendrils of leaves trailing gently with the current. A perfect throne to settle on for a time and muse.  The river sings sad songs of spurned lovers and courtly treachery, she joins in – pouring her grief and emotions out in song.

Gone, taken by the river.

Cold ripples enveloped her like hands welcoming her into their embrace, inviting her to join them. A frozen grasp.

A slip was all it took for the lady to become one with the river, a moment in time and she tumbled from the bough to join the water below. The same undulating welcoming hands of water clutched at her dress, weighing her down, preventing an escape. Surrendered to her fate. She was one with the river now, a nymph, a mermaid, a sweet fish. She had tried to be a sweet fish, moving with the ripples and eddies of life, bending to the will of her father and brother doing as they asked of her. Grief and memory bubbled to the surface of her consciousness, grasping at her soul and sucking at her sanity.

Regret binding memories of folly and deception to her mortal being as the rue and columbine bound the pansies and rosemary in her crown.

Hair spreads, fanning out, flowing with the stream like wings to carry her aloft. Her crown of flowers floats from her head as it submerges beneath the cool crystal surface. Pansies, fennel and rosemary bound with columbine and rue are caught by the eddies and take flight. The daisies and violets were long gone; they had tumbled from her grasp when she slipped and lost everything that was dear to her. Her father murdered by her love, he who existed in the very fibre of her being and reached the depth of her soul. Now she lies, becoming one with the cleansing water flowing over her, releasing the Lady Ophelia from her torment.

Shani Robinson has recently rediscovered a love of writing fiction and is attempting to catch up on lost time.

Our Reader said:

Gorgeous descriptions in this piece, invoking the image of one of my favourite paintings.

Reader’s Choice Winner for February

Laughing Water

by Oluchi Shere

Consider water. Like really consider it. Why does it move the way it does? Why does it look like that? Why is it so important, yet so dangerous? Does it feel? Can it feel pain or sorrow? How did it feel when it snatched a little boy away from his mother? Did it laugh at or cry for the woman who screamed at it, who begged for her son back, who would have followed suit if not held back by strong hands that belonged to reasonable minds who knew that her boy was long gone?

It was the kind of summer day that begged for the outdoors. She decided to take the kid out to the beach. Just to lie around and be lazy while her son played with his kite. All it took was five seconds. Five seconds, he was there, then he was gone. Lost to the ocean. Just a speck of bright red swimming trunks amidst the blue green sea.

The water laughed at her. She knew it when all that it did when she screamed for her boy back was to spray salty mist on her. She knew it when she came at night to apologise for her earlier behaviour and beg for her son back and it tickled her toes. She knew it when, trying to join her son she swam as far as she could into the water but it returned her to the shore every time. She knew it was laughing when the police showed up at her front door confirming her name and the address of the house. She knew it was laughing when a tiny figure wrapped in a blanket was brought to her and her son’s sleeping face peeked out at her. She knew it was laughing when she was told the story of how he wandered after his kite, was taken by the waves and somehow ended up safe, cold and drenched on another beach.

She knew it was laughing when she went back, tears streaming down her face, to thank it for bringing her son back to her. She knew it was laughing and she laughed with it.

Oluchi Shere was born and raised in Nigeria. Has three siblings, two parents, and is a really fun but weird person. You’ll love her.

Our Reader said:

This is such a powerful piece I could almost smell the salt air. We invest forces of nature with our emotions and here they rise and crash like waves on the beach. A simple story, sparsely told, but packed with rich details.

February’s Reader

Thank you to everyone who entered this month’s flash fiction competition on the theme of water: we had twenty entries, and the quality was very high.

Our Reader for February was Fiona Clegg:

Fiona.jpg
Fiona Clegg lives in South Oxfordshire and writes short speculative fiction. Award winning publishers Fox Spirit Books included her story Sunday’s Child in their Winter Tales anthology. You can find her on twitter @thepurplecleric.

 

Of February’s winning story, Laughing Water, by Oluchi Shere, Fiona said:

This is such a powerful piece I could almost smell the salt air. We invest forces of nature with our emotions and here they rise and crash like waves on the beach. A simple story, sparsely told, but packed with rich details.

Thank you to Fiona for taking the time to read all the entries and for being our Reader this month.

If you would be interested in being a Reader in a later month please email didcotwriters@gmail.com.

Our February competition winners

Our Reader has been busily reading all of February’s entries, and the winner and other Reader’s Choice pieces have now been selected for publication –

Winner:
Laughing Water by Oluchi Shere

Other Reader’s Choices:
Lady of the River by Shani Robinson
Anxieties of a Widow by Fabiyas MV
Going Swimmingly by Alan Issler
Bounty by Annie Coggle
Changing the Tide by Louise Snape

These pieces will be published in full 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.

Congratulations and thanks to all who gave their time and sent their work in to our February competition.

Our prompt for March is the last request – it could be a deathbed promise, a last meal before the firing squad, a last request stipulated in a will: a fortune could rest on fulfilling it. It could be from the point of view of the person making the request, or granting it, or from a different perspective entirely. The deadline for submissions is 31st March 2018, and full details can be read here.

If you would be interested in being our Reader in a later month, please email Alice 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!