Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): The Legs

The Legs

by Zoe Chater

As Essi takes another step, and another, she pats each thigh with her tiny hands, squeezes a little. Just to check.

“Nope!” she chirrups to herself, and, standing straight again, she plods a little further into the garden. Mums, following behind, share an amused smile and continue to talk. As the words jump forward to meet her, Essi only catches a few. “Funny.” “Mittens.” “Munchkin.”

Essi taps each foot down purposefully, making firm thuds with the soles of her wellies on the damp ground. “Nope!” No signs yet, she thinks, and treads more softly now, though still in bits and starts. She’s scanning the grass and borders intently, spotting little curious treasures. Fallen catkins from the hazel tree are funny, crunchy caterpillar-like things that fall apart when squeezed. She wants a few for the pocket of her grey bubble-coat. Blossoming snowdrops are lovely little lamps peering down into the soil, and she wants to pick off flower heads with delicate fingers. However, beneath yellow mittens, her hands can only settle for stroking her finds gently until little flecks of dirt catch in the wool.

“Hop! Skip! Jump!” Essi shouts suddenly, and starts to jump dramatically, nearly toppling over as she lands. Mums are laughing. Mums don’t know that Essi, still testing out her legs, is expecting at any moment to begin a magical transformation. This is, after all, her very first Leap Day. Mum Emma told her yesterday as she was tucking her in, and again this morning, Mum Alice was making breakfast and said “Happy Leap Day!” Essi has wild and detailed visions of what’s to come. She will, for one day, develop the great, strong, muscular legs of a kangaroo. Or, possibly, she will sprout funny spindly elbow-legs like a grasshopper. Or perhaps from the arches of her feet curls of springs will grow and she will bounce on them like Tigger’s tail. Soon enough she will bound up higher than the trees, the house, into the clouds, and look the birds right in the face.

As she nears the pond, her leaping vision is brushed away by a slight rustling sound. She fixes her eyes towards it, near the green fuzzy rock at the water’s edge. She spots a touch of movement in the greenery and lets out the tiniest “Ooh!” before instinctively muffling her mouth with the damp wool of her hands. Mums, too, stop still in mild anticipation.

The ferns waft and there is a wriggling from between the leaves. A muddy-coloured friend hops out into view and then again once, twice towards Essi, stopping inches from her feet. He has wet skin and bug eyes and a fleshy, throbbing chin.

“Aah!” she squeals into her glove, “A frog!” The startled critter propels himself off, displaying his magnificent hind legs and soaring into the pond with a splash. “Look, the legs!” It all makes sense now, Essi thinks, quite pleased with herself. She’s never seen a leap frog before.

Zoe Chater is a physics teacher by day, wannabe writer and mushroom enthusiast by night.

Our Reader said:

This story is very cute while also utilizing the title in a humorous and playful manner.

Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): The Deportation Letter

The Deportation Letter

by Kirtan Savith Kumar

Deportation Order

Issued by: Virginia General District Court
Date: 07-12-2019
Case Number: ZB 81-9268 H-09
In the matter of Pasha Geeta Kumar
A national or citizen of The United States of America
Country of Deportation: India

On the basis of evidence adducted from affidavits and recorded testimony, the above-named person is a member of a prohibited class described under Title 516, General Immigration Code, sections 8, 29, and 65. They cannot or do not fulfil or comply with the conditions or requirements of section B of the Regulations of Citizenship Act of 1997. The individual shall be scheduled for deportation on 01-03-2020.

 

*

I can’t bring myself to finish the letter.

Neither can my sister, Aditi. She storms off into the kitchen before I can finish reading it, her eyes brimming with angry tears.

I follow her in and perch on a barstool, still trying to calm my nerves, which flutter about like butterflies. I take deep gulps of air, trying to maintain my composure, but it doesn’t work. I know full well nothing will ever be the same again.

Aditi, meanwhile, can’t sit still. She paces about the kitchen frantically, the heels of her stilettos clicking angrily against the parquet floor.

Suddenly, she stops, and meets my eyes. “Is Mum an illegal immigrant?” she asks, the words barely above a whisper.

“No way.” The words come spilling from my mouth before I can even rationalise what I’m saying. “There must have been a mix-up.”

I don’t know if what I’m saying is true or false. It’s a poor attempt at trying to defend Mum, at making sense of what we’ve just read.

Aditi continues staring at me. “Aisha…” she says, almost pleadingly. But I don’t know what she wants me to say. Does she want me to admit the possibility that Mum was a stowaway? Does she want me to continue spinning lies to comfort her?

“We need to do something,” I say at last.

“There’s nothing we can do. Mum will…” Aditi begins, but she can’t finish her sentence. And neither can I.

We lapse into silence, the kind so profound and deafening it needs to be broken:

“2020’s a leap year, you know,” Aditi says suddenly.

I stare at her, baffled.

“It’s an extra day for Mum to stay here with us,” Aditi clarifies, “And then she’ll leave on March the first.”

I didn’t know that.

“That’s one good thing,” I finally say. “One extra day with Mum.”

“One more day to make memories with Mum,” Aditi continues. She takes the letter from my hand and reads it again.

“We’ll have to tell Mum, right? At some point, I mean.” Aditi whispers.

As soon as she says it, we hear the door creak open. Mum’s back from the wet market. She enters the kitchen, smiling blissfully. By then, Aditi has slipped the letter into her jacket.

“Any mail?” Mum asks, unpacking the groceries.

Aditi and I dart a glance at each other.

“Not yet.”

Kirtan Savith Kumar: A student of the Humanities Programme in Hwa Chong Institution, Singapore, Kirtan enjoys collecting vintage stamps in his free time.

Our Reader said:

The usage of “deportation letter” (that might or might not be real), along with the dramatic prose that follows it, creates a very dramatic written work.

Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): The Cycle

The Cycle

by Anthony Timofte

The flashing of the blue lights and the screeching of the sirens had already began to stir  up a frenzy between the doctors and nurses who were scurrying all around the theatre. Panic set in: they were working against time to help the young man fight for his life.

Ben Rogers, the young rider, had been looking forward to his trip on his new two-wheeled machine: he was going cross-country to visit family for the holidays.

Ben worked as a financial advisor in the city and had recently been putting in extra hours, saving up for his trip. He hadn’t seen his family in some time as the winter has made travel impossible. But now spring was nearly here: it was the end of February, and a leap year, no less. He felt hope for the year ahead, the budding flowers, the cycle of life just beginning.

He had always been a fan of motorcycles, from casual riding to racing. He had owned plenty throughout his life, the only difference now was that he’d got his current bike brand new: he had saved up for months to be able to afford his dream bike. And this weekend he had been looking forward to the 300-mile trip: he set off early on Saturday morning, with the sun breaking its first light.

He left home with a rush of adrenaline, and hit the highway with ferocious intent, his hand twisting this accelerator. The sun rose higher, and its warmth made the ride all the more enjoyable. It was almost lonely on the highway, Ben barely saw another vehicle for a hundred miles. But then, out of nowhere, a truck careered onto his side of road, and the head-on collision had sent Ben and his bike spinning into the air.

The paramedics strapped Ben to the stretcher and hurried him at speed to the nearest hospital. His family had been called and were on their way when things took a turn for the worse: Ben was in critical danger.

As the doctors and nurses continued their excruciating work, trying to stop his internal bleeding, life dripped from Ben. His unconscious mind swam, his emotions and memories seeping away. He saw a light, and he heard familiar voices, the voices of his family begging and praying for Ben to get well, to recover. But as the hours passed it was becoming clear that this was not going to happen: there would be no miracles.

Ben saw a white tunnel, and as he started to walk towards it the voices faded. The noises of the machines by his bed were nothing more than a dim beeping. He walked further into the tunnel, and then he heard sighing, crying, and voices loud with joy. The light came into focus. The doctor announced, ‘Congratulations, you have a healthy bouncing baby boy.’

Anthony Timofte: I’m not an author or published writer, I just wanted to enter the competition.

Our Reader said:

The plot is simple, but its simplicity makes it very quaint.

Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): Spaces

Spaces

by John West

It started when Neil took offence at yet another inane Facebook post. Something about the gender politics of midget mudwrestling. The instant he expressed his digital outrage, the shark took his face from eyebrows to chin.

That’s what we called them. Sharks. Not at first. At first, we stood wide-eyed and open-jawed, wondering where our friends’ faces had gone.

I believe Neil was the first. As his faceless body collapsed onto Delta Park’s disc golf course, bloodying the manicured green, I remember checking my watch and noting the time. Twenty-nine minutes past two. Of course, this was on the twenty-ninth of February, when the world changed.

*

Some say for the better.

But they only say it in private. Behind closed doors. Usually in the dark. With no cellphones nearby.

It took a long time for people to accept that, the cellphone connection. I mean, it was obvious from the start. Take offence, let something trigger you, and before your friends had a chance to dislike your comment you’d be bleeding out into your milky latte.

Emotions attracted them, you see. Particularly outrage. And indignation.

When the news broke, it went viral. In the farthest corners of the internet, people took offence to having their faces ripped off by invisible inter-dimensional predators.

Ouch.

The sharks launched a feeding frenzy that left most under-thirties unidentifiable and no longer capable of expressing outrage, digitally or otherwise.

*

Those of us still alive by the third of March had developed a more tolerant attitude online. With the odd messy exception, we were no longer triggered by anything we read. Not even the government’s complete failure to prevent or even explain the attacks.

Small groups of survivors around the world communicated calmly amongst themselves, often dictating their messages from a distance.

Then the second wave hit and put an immediate stop to that.

*

We called them space beasts. Spaces, for short. Not because they came from outer space. We had absolutely no idea where they came from. But we knew what summoned them.

Spaces. Unnecessary spaces at the end of sentences, normally left after accepting a predictive text suggestion. Double spaces between words were just as bad.

If grammar Nazis had a face, it was blank and cross-eyed. Those of us who survived those first three days were understandably shaken. Anyone still determined to use a cellphone was not fully focused on spelling or punctuation.

The Spaces came as soon as messages were sent. Senders had a chance to edit them, to use the backspace key first. But years of sloppy typing habits took a toll.

People would be smiling, chatting, then the blank look crossed their face, and their eyes, and they dropped. Comatose. Brain-dead.

Took our brightest minds a few days to figure this one out. Most of us had already stopped using cellphones completely. The extremists even took a stance against writing, in any form. But then we’d be unable to pass this on, as a warning for future generations.

John West: Born in Scotland, I now spend my days managing client finances, writing novels and short stories, and growing old disgracefully.

Our Reader said:

This work of prose is effective because it references historical events to remind readers to learn from the past while also striving for a brighter future as well as enjoying the present moment.

Reader’s Choice (Leap Year): Leap Day

Leap Day

by Adele Evershed

On the leapt over day the milky eye sees what it wants in the tilted mirror.

Smears of a bloody living
Lie on the crimpy mat
As she licks the yolk
From a tawny just laid egg.

Outside, in the milking fold,
Rimy-mouthed litanies
Mumbled on bad breath
Drain the white cow
Until it turns to dun.
‘Blame the pigeons or the hag-witch
Craving bread and cheese.’

This is a could be time
Of rough bowls of milk
And crumbles of bread
Strewn on a flagstone floor.

Roast the unplucked hen
Tell the cobblestones to air
An oath of family lies
A changeling child
Nursed as his own.
‘Shoe the elf with gold
So he’ll live to be a hundred.’

The widow melancholy
Longing next for
Some indigo gloves
Swims to the bony isle.

Her frozen fingers clutch
The blue slip milkweed
But her icy lips
No longer blow winkle kisses
To smudge the glass.
‘You will never crave
What is easy in the getting.’

On this hidden day Queen Mab –
Splendid in her pussy girdle
– Treads blue buds under foot
Beneath the lopsided moon.

A gnarly shepherd
Throws down his crook
To join her in the dance
Pirouetting like a loon
To make a perfect circle.
‘Let’s gather on the hills
Beside Dina’s seat and sing.’

 As the splashy harp grows dim
And ploughmen bristle yawning
The fairy queen spinning hastily
Tips the glass once more.

On the day of David
Flinty evening blunders in
So widows and knights
With ashes in their mouth
And reeking of wild thyme
Pay the debt.
‘Speak ever softly as
Fay folk and love are dangerous.’

 Y Tylwyth Teg (the Fairy Folk).

Adele Evershed is originally from Wales transplanted to Connecticut. She dabbles writing poetry often based on myths remembered from childhood

Our Reader said:

I like this poem because its dark tone reveals the fundamental fact that new years do not always bring happiness (including leap years).

Reader’s Choice Winner for December (Leap Year): Déjà Vu, February 29, 2020

Déjà Vu, February 29, 2020

by Karla Linn Merrifield

At the confluence
of past and present
a shame-free woman
is poised: hands on hips,
legs astride the streams of Time,
one foot planted on the stone
of eager youth, the other
upon a slab of urgent maturity.

The boy who grasped her ass,
hard-pressed her closer,
shaft firm against her pubis,
trembled when she gasped
in surprise between bumbling kisses.
Soon comes a wise unabashed man
to her opened door, readied bed, bearing
seeds of adolescence to spume
in their ripest imaginations.

She’ll lean into the imperative
current of unadulterated waters.

Karla Linn Merrifield‘s 2018 Psyche, Scroll (Poetry Box Select) is the newly released full-length book Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North from Cirque Press.

Karla’s poem, Self-Realisation at the Library of Congress was published in our ebook and print anthology Museum Collection in December 2019.

Our Reader said:

I like this poem because it deals with tough subject matter in a subtle and compelling manner while also addressing the theme of the competition that is both indirect and effective.

Our Reader for December (leap year):

Thanks to our Reader for judging our December competition – with an extra day this weekend, why not use the time to enter our current competition? You have until midnight on the 29th to write an entry on the theme of ‘cloud’, or check out didcotwriters.wordpress.com on 1st March for our new theme.

Alex Phuong headshot.jpgAlex Andy Phuong graduated from California State University-Los Angeles with his Bachelor of Arts in English in 2015.  He currently writes film reviews voluntarily and passionately, and the link to his profile is at  https://movieboozer.com/author/alex-phuong.

If you would be interested in judging our competition in future, get in touch at didcotwriters@gmail.com and tell us a little about yourself.

Winners for December: LEAP YEAR

It’s almost the end of February, which means we’re about to experience something that hasn’t happened for the last four years: a leap year! Perhaps you can use your extra day for writing and enter our competition? See didcotwriters.wordpress.com for details of the current theme and guidelines.

Our theme last December, in anticipation of this moment, was ‘leap year’ – and our winners are:

Winner:
Déjà Vu, February 29, 2020, by Karla Linn Merrifield

Reader’s Choices:
Leap Day, by Adele Evershed
Spaces, by John West
The Cycle, by Anthony Timofte
The Deportation Letter, by Kirtan Savith Kumar
The Legs, by Zoe Chater

Congratulations to all our entrants, and thank you to our Reader. Make sure you Follow this site to receive the winning pieces straight into your inbox as they’re published!