Reader’s Choice: Framed Canal Prints

Framed Canal Prints

By Bridget Scrannage

Suzette sketched the monochrome lock gates, then the terracotta brick paths that ran in quarter circles beneath them.  Her fair, freckled skin reddened in the hot sun, exposed shoulders showing white lines beneath a strapless top, blonde hair flowing in cornrows down her back.  She glanced up from her barge every so often at the dog walkers and families who traversed the tow path, looking for suitable figures to draw.

‘Is that called the stern, or the aft?’  A young, male voice broke her reverie.  A canal nerd.  Suzette sighed.  The warm weather always brought them out with their plethora of inane questions.

‘Neither.  It’s the pointy end.  I don’t do technical terms.  Go bother somebody else,’ she said.

‘What’s that for?’  he persisted.

‘What’s what for?’  Growing irritated, she shielded her eyes to look up at him.  He was around 15 years old, with dark hair and an inquisitive face.  He pointed at a rusty L-shaped piece of white painted metal that lay on the floor beside her.

‘It’s my favourite murder weapon for people who ask too many nosy questions,’ she replied.

‘Oh come on, tell me what it is, please?’

‘It’s a key for the canal locks,’ she gestured towards some black and white gates further up the stretch of water.  ‘It has holes one end that you fit over a sticky out bit that’s attached to a mechanism thingy.  Wind it around like a mangle handle.  Flaps open and let water in.  Once both parts are level you can go through.  Happy now?  Will you shut up and let me get back to my artwork?’

‘What’s a mangle handle?’

‘Go away!’

‘Can I have a look around?’

‘No, you can’t.  It’s my home, not a tourist attraction.’

‘You live on it?’

‘No, I use it as a very slow getaway vehicle,’ Suzette sighed.  ‘Yes, I live on it, year round.’

‘Do you need any help?’

Suzette considered for a moment.  ‘Actually, I could do with moving along a bit further.  You’re not coming onto the barge, but you can run ahead opening the locks whilst I drive through if you like.’

‘Cool.’

‘I’ll get my new key, not that rusty old thing,’ Suzette said, ducking inside the cabin, where she pulled on a pair of gloves, took the key out of its plastic wrapper and placed it into a cloth bag.  Then she returned onto the deck and handed it up to him.  ‘Be sure to put it into the bag before giving it back.’

Suzette smiled as he ran off along the tow path.  His fingerprints would be all over the metal bar, but not hers.  She’d let some more canal nerds open gates and add their prints too.  When she did use it as a murder weapon they’d never trace it back to her.

Bridget Scrannage lives near Bath with her husband.  She’s founder of a writing community with more than 150 members, bridgetscrannage.wordpress.com

Our Reader said:

A powerfully written story that reveals just enough. There are a lot of unanswered questions at the end but that just makes it better.

Reader’s Choice: Millie Reading Her Mirror

Millie Reading Her Mirror

by David Hamilton

My family dithers a short hop from Gotterdammerung. Dad, a mini-tycoon unfettered by ethics, postpones the onset of alimony while he finishes re-defining a murky Swiss bank account as preposterous rumour. Ambition to plunder is why Mum stays married. Dad’s mistress Millie doubles as his secretary who wiggles around family edges.

‘Mum let on she bribed the shadiest of his three accountants – don’t ask how – and it boils down to Dad’s nefarious need for anonymous account access,’ my sister Julie whispered. Julie enjoys relaying teaser tit-bits. ‘After seeing a password the accountant told Mum, the bank will show text in code. If you can decipher it, the account’s open to you. He said she’d need a code key he can’t get, and it must be too involved to memorise because Dad boasted his copy is where nobody would dream of looking for it.’

Millie is a dreamy beauty who often reacts with a motive more innocently immediate than fully considered. That’s how a spilled cup of tea escalated into the display of bare thighs starting where a longish tee-shirt ended.

Mum and Julie felt a lad of only twenty shouldn’t watch and began ushering me from the room. ‘Tee-shirt flapped, I glimpsed a tattoo,’ I hissed in amusement.

They paused, exchanging glances. Then Julie wrestled my phone from my pocket and slammed the door on me.

I stood deflated, then the penny dropped. Two minutes after my hiss had dropped it for Mum and Julie, but in piranha mode they often do scent meat sooner than I do.

I blustered back in and wrenched my mobile from Julie. ‘Didn’t have yours on you, eh?’ I guessed.

Millie now wore a towel as a skirt. ‘Do wash it before you return it, sweetie,’ Mum sniped as she left.

‘Why have a tattoo where normally nobody sees it?’ I enquired.

With Mum gone Millie could giggle and retort, ‘Your father normally does. He never explains it or why he wanted it so eagerly. I assumed it fits some kinky fantasy he has and had it done just to please him.’

Later I cornered Mum and Julie. ‘Spoiled the plan by getting my mobile back, did I?’

Julie fenced, ‘You’re mincemeat if Dad sees the photo.’

‘Mum knows the password and the tattoo will be readable on my computer. Third each if the Swiss roll?’

*

The bank official wore deadpan, with matching speech. ‘That is password correctness. Please now decipher this coded text.’

Mum performed.

‘You have conformed. The account is open to you. Following a co-conformer’s visit yesterday it holds ten Swiss franks.’

*

Millie is buying a new car and moving house, going up-market. She told Julie, ‘Your eagerness to photograph my bum made me think really hard.’

Julie warns that after borrowing my computer, Dad is going berserk. He hasn’t caught up about the bank yet, but wants revenge on a son who couldn’t have got that photo except by sleeping with Millie. Gotterdammerung is here.

David Hamilton: The piece you think will slay them never wins. The ones you send timidly occasionally do better. Sums me up.

Our Reader said:

This was a completely different take on the prompt and not one that would have occurred to me. I enjoyed the dynamic between the various characters.

Reader’s Choice: Once in a Lifetime

Once in a Lifetime

By Jan Brown

Mine’s not an attractive job: the thick miasma of worn shoe leather, burning rubber and polish; the constant teeth-aching whine and grind of machinery as people tap their feet impatiently, willing me to rush what once was a skilled, precise job but is now duplicated in moments. Mates pretend to recoil when I pop into my local for a quick pint before going home and no amount of shower gel can remove that subcutaneous layer of odour I’ve accumulated over time. But it’s my life now.

I’ve a display where the more patient customers can peruse the fruits of my years of searching for unusual keys. I usually find something intriguing when digging around in filthy car-boot boxes my wife wouldn’t touch.  A key can be a beautiful thing, a work of art. I’m torn between restoring them to their former glory or letting them retain the patina of life. I’ve stuck with the latter, believing that history should speak for itself. You shouldn’t botox away wrinkles and you shouldn’t polish keys. Yet there in the centre of my collection is one key, polished within an inch of its life. I buff it weekly and daydream.

It came into my possession when I was just finishing my apprenticeship. The key itself is less significant than the owner. In France they call it a coup-de-foudre: my perfect girl walked in, shook the rain from her curls, wrinkled her nose predictably and beamed at me. I melted. She needed a copy, please. How long would it take? Entranced, I foolishly suggested thirty minutes, gesturing to a chair where she would wait and I would procrastinate while engaging her in witty conversation, culminating in asking her if she fancied a drink later. It didn’t work that way of course. She looked at her watch, did a mental calculation and suggested her boyfriend collect it on his way home. He was moving in so they might as well start on the right footing. She wasn’t going to be his servant. Hopes of an after-work drink shattered, I took his name and never saw her again.

I never saw him either. He didn’t collect it. In my daydreaming moments, I created all sorts of possibilities. Did he bottle out? Was he run over on the way here, leaving her broken-hearted, alone? Was she living like Miss Faversham? If only I could have duplicated her as easily as her key. Each story became more preposterous. Had she too experienced that coup-de-foudre and dumped him? I reluctantly ruled that version out – she never came back to the shop. But I held onto the key, hoping.

I like to handle that key. It’s worn smooth by the mindless caress of my thumb over the decades. It links me with the romantic lad I once was. I’ve a grandson just like me, head in the clouds. When the business closes, I’ll give him that key. I’ll advise him to never stop dreaming.

Jan Brown lives in the UK. She’s learning how to write flash fiction and enjoying rediscovering her imagination.

Our Reader said:

The imagery in this was very vivid. I’ve never really thought about what it’s like in a key cutting shop but the description in the first paragraph summed up the sounds and experience perfectly.  The character was brilliant too.

Reader’s Choice winner: Savoury Encounter

Savoury Encounter

By Avanish Tiwary

I was quite happy for the first 30 minutes of opening my shop that morning: the first batch of jalebis was ready and I had already started kneading the dough for rasgullas.

It was then that a person with a big backpack came to the shop. “First customer,” I thought.

“Please give me keys,” he said.

“Don’t you see I sell sweets? Go to Sharma’s key shop down the lane,” I said, almost snapping.

“Keys, please,” he demanded. “Everyone has already given their keys. Only you are left,” he added.

It was then I remembered what had happened at Pathak’s house last night. Someone had knocked at his door and asked for all his keys. When the hot-tempered Pathak, slapped the stranger taking him to be a mischief maker, he had run off, only to return and break his window. In no time, he had acquired all the keys from Pathak’s house. He left the valuables untouched. He was just interested in keys—“all” of them.

I was certain he could feel my fear. Unmoving, he kept staring at my trembling hands kneading the dough, which was almost done. None of my staff would be in for another hour or so.

To check if he was the same key aficionado, I asked if he wanted the keys to the cash box. He said, “All the keys, please.” I put out all my keys on the counter.

He took out a cylindrical disc from his backpack. Placing it on the ground, he moved the knob attached to it and all of a sudden the keys from the counter flew and stuck to the disc. The magnetic pull from the disc was so strong that it seemed the shop’s metal shutter would tear itself and follow the keys too.  The shutter only stopped rattling once he had turned off the knob.

“That’s how he got Pathak’s keys,” I thought.

He walked out, unhurriedly. Although I was shaking, I followed him.

After walking for two hours we reached a railway crossing outside town. He cautiously crossed it and stood at the centre of a farm on the other side of the tracks. The sun was almost overhead, making it difficult to look up without squinting.

But this mysterious key-man stared right up. Still standing on the other side of the tracks, I followed his gaze by shielding my eyes with my palms. Suddenly, I spotted an almost-camouflaged circular disc in the sky. Its edges were not visible at all; the disc looked exactly like the clouds around it, only more circular.

It continued to change shape and colour as it passed over trees and houses, staying hidden till it landed near the key-man. As its door yanked open, he threw his bulging backpack in. Out came flying another one, this seemed empty.

Just as the ever-camouflaging disc took off, a train arrived. It whistled as it carried the man and his bag away to a new city still full of keys.

Avanish Tiwary is full of shit when it comes to writing stories. He does it anyway. What he gets right is yoga.

Our Reader said:

A twist in the tale turned this story from what I expected it to be about to something completely different. It’s an intriguing story that left me wondering about what happened next.

Our Reader for May

Our Reader for the May competition, themed ‘key’ was Emma Crees.

Emma Crees.jpg

For the last several years Emma has many been a nonfiction writer.
She writes blogs and book reviews in addition to editing a hyperlocal community newspaper.  This year she is rediscovering her love for writing fiction.
Emma’s blog is at writerinawheelchair.co.uk and she can be found
much more often on twitter as @FunkyFairy22.

About the winning piece, Savoury Encounter, by Avanish Tiwary, Emma said:

A twist in the tale turned this story from what I expected it to be about to something completely different. It’s an intriguing story that left me wondering about what happened next.

Thank you to Emma for taking the time to read all the entries this month.

If you would be interested in being our Reader for another month, please get in touch at didcotwriters@gmail.com.

Competition Winners for May

Thank you to everyone who entered the May competition, on the theme of key.

A quick reminder that this month’s theme is ‘toast’ and full details are here.

Our anthology, The Most Normal Town in England is also open for submissions until the end of September. Details here.

Meanwhile, our winner for May was:
Savoury Encounter, by Avanish Tiwary

And the other Reader’s Choices were:
Once in a Lifetime, by Jan Brown
Millie Reading Her Mirror, by David Hamilton
Framed Canal Prints, by Bridget Scrannage

Congratulations to all!

Don’t forget to ‘Follow’ this site to receive all winning entries straight into your inbox, compete with comments from the Reader, as well as details of the Reader themselves.