May writing challenge winners
A clutch of four of our own alumni’s books, recently published, is the prize for this month’s writing challenge. The books are Ekow Duker’s The God who Made Mistakes; Christa Kuljian’s Darwin’s Hunch ; Gail Gilbride’s Under the African Sun; and our anthology The Eleventh Month, consisting of stories written during an All About Writing weekend in McGregor.
The challenge, remember was to write a scene about getting lost, either literally or metaphorically. The entries were astonishingly varied, and the quality of the writing as good as any crop we’ve harvested.
The winner is Robyn Porteous for her disturbing, even dark, little tale of the loss of a child – and, we can only believe, the death of a marriage. Runners-up include Penny Castle for her tale of a relationship saved by a Romany Cream; Pamela Williams for her poignant, even whimsical story of a man with dementia, lost and then found; Shirlane Douglas contributes a worrying story of a diver surfacing to discover his buddies have, apparently, abandoned him; Pam Newham tells a tale of a different kind of abandonment, with a lovely late Shyamalanian reveal; Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen has written a laugh-out loud story of the epic voyage of a lost sock; and Celia Fleming’s story deals with the final stage of grief.
Do yourself a favour and read all of these – they are all, in their very different ways, fabulous takes on the theme. Here they are:
“It reminds me of Sarah” I blurt. I hope John hasn’t heard me, but the stillness of his eyes on the newspaper page indicates he has. “… in that it has a lot of fight.”
Moments before, I’d fished the moth from my tea. It’d mesmerized me, swimming in haphazard circles in my cup. But the will to help prevailed, and I’d saved it, setting it on the table between myself and John.
I look at the moth. I think of doing CPR, before the mental image of crushing the creature with well-intentioned fingers, changes my mind. LIVE, I plead silently. Slowly, its feelers begin to twitch. My heart soars. It’s alive! The moth lifts its wings, first one side, then the other.
“He’s stretching his wings. Look!” John doesn’t.
The moth fans its wings and walks across the table towards the fruit bowl, then to the edge, then in a circle, back towards me. It’s wonderful to watch and I imagine how BIG everything must look. My heart swells at the manner in which my moth has revived. He comes to a stop, fluttering his wings.
“I think he’s going to fly!”
I imagine the moth’s pre-flight check: Ignition: On, Fuel Gages: Check, Lower Flaps, Elevate Rudder, and – WAM!
A newspaper lies where the moth stood moments before. I stare, my mouth ajar. John lifts the paper, surveying a mess of wings, awkwardly-angled legs, gooey insides, and indistinct body parts left behind.
“Now it reminds me of Sarah, too.”
“We are either here,” Pauline is still panting from the strenuous hike we’ve made along a stony game path up the mountain. She prods at our sodden Ordinance Survey map, “or here.” She points to a different spot. “If we are here, we still stand a chance to make the time cut off.” She looks at her watch.
I try to peer at the map and an icy waterfall runs from my hood onto the map. I swipe it away and the map tears down the soaking fold.
“If we are here,” I prize the left half of the map from Pauline’s grip and point back to the first place, “there is a mountain rescue cabin about five miles away.” I too look at my watch. “We could make it by sun down. We can wait out the rain until Mr Lofthouse realises we are not at the end point and comes to look for us.”
“If you’re wrong, we will have walked five miles further in the wrong direction. We also wont qualify for our Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.” She hitches her rucksack higher up her back. “I’ve worked too bloody hard to qualify to lose it because you,” her index finger hovers by my nose, “took a stupid short cut.”
I watch her high visibility jacket march off east.
“I brought hot chocolate,” I call. “and Romany Creams.” Pauline’s pace slows.
“Normal or white chocolate?”
“White chocolate Romany Creams are an insult to mankind.” I say. I walk west.
Wandering by Pamela Williams
Ever since the doctor said I was suffering from this, this . . . , Betty’s been hovering, treating me like a child. Won’t even allow me to go out on my own – as if I don’t know my way around. And I hate it, hate being a prisoner in my own home.
But this morning I have managed to escape. Waited until she was hanging the washing and then slipped out of the front door.
Down our street, turn left, turn left again, turn right . . . But where am I now? I’d better start getting back.
These roads all look unfamiliar, though, and I’m getting tired. Confused, too. Perhaps I’m going round in circles, seem to have walked for miles and miles. Don’t even know which way I should be facing to go home. What if I never find it, if I go on wandering until I just fall over somewhere? How would Betty know where I was?
I feel in my jacket pocket – no envelope with an address, no telephone number. Nothing to identify me.
Ah, there’s a bench. Maybe if I rest a while, I’ll remember. Once, when I was a little boy, I lost my mother in a department store at Christmas time. That’s how I feel now. Near tears.
I slump on to the bench, lean back, stretch my arms along the warm wood, close my eyes . . .
And then I become aware that someone has come to sit beside me, that there is a hand in mine. Betty’s hand.
Thom surfaced, pushed up his goggles and spat out the regulator.
“Hey boys, a couple of cow sharks, right here.”
A wave thumped the back of his head. He braced against the rolling swell and rotated a full circle, frowning at the dark clouds scudding towards him.
“Guys?” Thom pushed down on the water and scanned for the boat above the peaks.
“Hey guys? Pete, Ash?”
Prickling heat spread through his suit and crawled up his neck. He shouted again, then again, only to hear a whisper rasp out of his throat. Flecks of sea spray slapped his face. Stop, think, breathe, act. Mantras of long-forgotten trainings came back to him. Thom began deep breathing to the rhythm of the words. Stop, think, breathe, act. The wind roiled crests into dirty brown meringues and he tasted rust in his mouth. A seagull landed a few feet away on a kelp bundle, cocked its neat head and stared. Thom stared back.
“Hey there.” He stuck up a hand. “Can you tell me where my buddies are?”
The boat. Behind the bird, flickering white between pulsing waves. Thom’s stomach surged. He brandished his arms and bellowed, “Guys here. Here. Fuck man here.”
A bloated swell blotted it out. He plunged through the waves, pulling at froth. The seagull crouched on its seesawing raft, hissing at the flailing arms. Thom howled at its jabbing beak, and pummeled the water. Rain began to needle the grey expanse as the bird fluffed its feathers and looked the other way.
Revelation by Pam Newham
It takes a while before I realise he is gone. At first it seems impossible that he would leave without me. I am everything to him. I know because it has always been so. Everyone else has gone, too. And even though this place is so familiar, without him, I feel lost.
As it grows darker, I become more afraid. Moonlight glints on steel. Something brushes against my cheek. I hear a rhythmic creak and recognise the sound. Perhaps it is the sudden wind that is causing it. A cloud blocks the moon. There is the rumbling of thunder.
I begin to worry about him. Will he be afraid without me? I know his moods, his needs, his fears. And then it strikes me. Has he left me forever? I am aware of those who believe I have too much influence over him. And they have all the power. I feel sick. Is this why he has gone?
And, it is in this moment I face, for the first time, the inevitability of what we have had. It was never going to last forever. I feel as if I am going to break into a thousand pieces.
Then I hear footsteps approaching across the gravel. There is a flash of light.
“Oh, thank God! Here you are.”
I am being lifted up.
“Poor thing, we left you under the swing, did we? Josh has been screaming for hours. Now, Missy Bear, maybe we can all get some sleep.”
Where do they go? by Mitzi Bunce-van Rooyen
Round…round…round…the socks swished in the silver washing machine.
The gods would choose one of them. There was no escaping their fate.
Each pair of socks hoped it would be another.
Sylvester shouted to his mate through the spin cycle: “Stick close to me, Solly! The cycle is drawing to a close, and it’s almost time for someone to go!”
Solly looked petrified and shouted back: “We’re the new pair! It’s always the new pair!”
Suddenly there was a loud bang.
A bright light assaulted them.
This must be the portal they’d heard so much about.
Solly felt inexplicably drawn towards it.
Sylvester warned: “Don’t go towards the light, Solly! Never towards the light!”
But it was as if Solly were hypnotized. He continued on his tragic trajectory, into the big nothingness, that was the home of the ‘one missing sock’.
Sylvester was tossed onto the ‘rejects pile’.
He would be transformed into whatever ‘Pinterest’ suggested you could do with one sock.
His owner grumbled: “Every time…always the one sock…always the one bloody sock…”
Solly woke in a strange world. A world where small gnomes wore socks on their pointed heads, to keep them snug.
This isn’t so bad, thought Solly. Now if only I could give Sylvester a heads- up.
The Club by Celia Fleming
It is six months since Raymond died and still I wake up every morning feeling bewildered. I cling on to the elusive threads of my drugged dreams – and then I am fully awake and the fog is gone and he is definitely, most awfully not there. I am in unmapped territory and all around me is jungle.
Dr Stacey is kind; he is helpful; he is determinedly encouraging. He gives me tips, ideas. “Journalling!” he declares. “Write it all down! Every thought, every feeling!” But I feel so numb. The pages stay empty.
Because she thinks I am becoming self-absorbed (is that really such a bad thing?) Kathryn drags me along to the women’s voluntary club. We sit in groups in the old cold church hall and knit blankets for babies. We all knit, and some chatter. “You’ve met Marion?” says the dear next to me. “Pink top, over there, in the group next to the tea?” I shake my head. “She’s the one who started us off here. Got this club going after her husband died. Needed a distraction, I believe.”
I rest my needles on my lap and look across at the group near the steaming urn. Someone says something to the lady in pink, and she laughs.
I feel a tiny shift in the dark space inside me; a glint in the thicket. Kathryn is staring at me. “I think I have something to write in my journal,” I say.