We have the name of the winner of our April 2012 competition! This was the  challenge:

On a trip to a picnic spot, with or without friends, family or lover, you make a shocking or frightening discovery. Show us, in no more than 250 words, how the discovery shattered your expectations of the day.

Johan Verwey. Congrats.

His chilling little tale of a serial killer who left the knife behind works because of the tension between her breezy, happy-as-a-fat-rat-in-a-cheese-factory attitude on the one hand… and her sinister intent on the other. Lovely little tale.

Sarah is trip-happy to be OCD about picnics. She swears by it. It is remedial, suggested by her therapist.

The very thought of planning one makes her burst into song. ‘I love you like a picnic’ is the ultimate declaration of love a man can hope for. Today she is going to share her sacred picnic spot with him. She looks at how the wind plays in his hair and thinks how yummy he looks. It makes her giddy.

This is the perfect day. No one knows of their plans and like a good hostess she knows exactly what he likes to nibble on. Food at a picnic must be in finger-picking, bite-sized portions. No compromise. Cutlery today keeps the passion away.

As she beams at James, no, Jack. Oops. As she beams at Jack, she runs through the contents of the picnic basket in her mind. Red wine and rope. Food and fruit. Dips and dessert. Camera and crisps. Blanket and bin liners. Kn…

Sarah’s smile cools. She has to focus all her energy on keeping her smile just so. She left it next to the picnic basket. Then Jack whisked the things away to the car, pushing her ahead of him.

The final touch is still on the kitchen table.

Deep breaths.

A moody smirk twists her lips. She was so looking forward to it.

Well, you can’t flay someone without a knife, now can you, Sarah?

She is positively un-Zen.

They miss the turnoff.

The story that nearly pipped Johan to the post was a brisk little tale just 125 words long by Natalie Myburgh. It, too, concerned a female serial killer (what is it with you people?!) – and the reason that we didn’t award it top honours was simply the question of motivation (even if a serial killer does have different motivations from the rest of us): we couldn’t work out what drove the killer to use a trail of bodies as treasure hunt clues…

He hardly felt the ground hit his knees as his legs folded under him. His hands had gone cold and his hair stood on end. In the shade of the tree a girl lay on a blanket. Her pale hands were folded over the stem of a deep red rose on her chest. She stared sightlessly up into the branches above her. By her side stood a piece of paper folded in half, slowly drinking in bright red blood from the bottom edges upwards. A message was neatly penned on it:

Jason,
Here is your first clue to my fabulous treasure hunt. I’m hiding a series of these clues all over the park. The longer you take, the more clues I make.
Your prize,
Mia
Other notable entries:

A really nice piece from Esra Marshall which was slightly marred by a little bit of exposition at the climax, but with a very nice surprise at the end. And I love the simile: Her hair (was) as big as the picnic basket!

Today is the day. I will be happy again from this moment on.No more searching for Malkah. I understand that she is gone. She left me. I look around the room, the king size bed, already one side empty and cold. Don’t think about it. Look outside the window, look at the sunshine and the light green leaves. This is a day like bowl of cherries: sweet and condescending at the same time saying “Eat me, eat me.” How I miss that big, water green eyes? Today is a great day for a picnic. When was the last time we had a picnic? Some wine and cheese, some fresh bread and some pate. It will be a great surprise. I jump out of the bed, shower, shave for the first time in weeks and make my way to the kitchen. Where is that old faithful picnic basket? Not in the pantry, not on top of the cupboards. I walk  around and finally find it in the garage, behind some old boxes, all dusty but still charming. As I carry it I feel a rattle in it. I open it carefully. My Malkah’s favorite toy, a little mouse with a pink nose with batteries. Then I understand; in that instant: My wife of thirty years had something to do about the disappearance of my beloved cat.She wanted to be the real queen after the kids left for college, she wanted to go to holidays to some exotic places. I stroke the toy as I watch my lovely wife pulling up the drive way, her hair as big as the picnic basket, fresh from the hairdresser.

A fabulous bit of child-pov writing from Jill Gough.

The thought of the creamy, yummy, rainbow speckled cake that he helped Mommy choose earlier for the picnic made him excited. Mommy even promised that if he was good, he could dish it up for the others. He wanted to help Mommy so much.

She looked tired.

When they got to the park, all he wanted to do was run. He tried to walk next to Mommy but his naughty shadow kept pulling at his legs.

“Come back here!” Mommy screamed after him. But his shadow wouldn’t listen. It pulled him to a clump of trees.

“Nicky! Nicky!” Mommy tried to keep up but her shadow couldn’t pull her and the rainbow cake.

He burst into a clearing behind the trees. His shadow was gone. He looked everywhere for it. A man and a lady were laughing in their sleep on a blanket. His shadow was gone.

“Nicky! You are such a –“ Mommy must’ve noticed that her shadow was gone too.

“Derek? Derek!” That’s what Mommy calls Daddy. She’s so silly. Her shadow wouldn’t come if she called Daddy.

The man and lady stopped sleeping. The lady looked scared.

“Ah, Nicky. My boy!”

“Daddy!” He ran to the man.

“Ugh! Marie! What did you do that for?” Daddy let him go. The rainbow sprinkles were on the blanket. The cake was mushed up in Daddy’s face.

A skilfully written piece from Melanie du Plessis with a lovely detail right at the end.

What a stroke of luck! I put the tripod down and scanned the small park for a place to set up. I couldn’t wait to tell Steve about my discovery.

I should be able to give my early birthday present quite a workout. Pity though that he couldn’t cancel his golf game today. Anyway, I still had a brand spanking new 600mm lens to try out and a secluded park full of opportunities.

The zoom of the lens plunged me deeply into the scenes around the park. Almost voyeur-like. I clicked away, zooming in and out of different lives. Discreetly.

I turned my attention to the area near the pond and struck photographic gold. Half obscured between the trees and bushes surrounding it, a couple on a picnic blanket was kissing. The man had his back towards me and the woman’s blond hair was painted gold by the sun stealing through the leaves. Perfect, these were going to be just perfect! The man actually looked a bit like Steve. I must remember to tell him that he had a twin.

They broke the kiss and the man looked over his shoulder as the woman pointed toward the trees. Wow, he really looks like –

Suddenly, there was a whoosh in my ears as everything slowed down. Could it be? No. No, of course it’s not possible, he’s playing golf today. I stared through the lens, searching for what was not there. Something not Steve. He rolled up his sleeve. The dragon slowly unfolded. Rosalie. His Rosalie.

Raleen Bagg’s piece was (as always) great (and a change from all the bodies and the evidence of infidelity that many of the stories revolved round), but I felt I’d encountered the device at its heart once or twice before.

A scratchy blanket spread over a patch of lumpy grass. Plastic forks, paper plates, three-bean salad, potato salad and coleslaw in yellowing Tupperware and limp sandwiches. Picnics are for the birds, and the ants.

My friend was strolling towards a river.  I stayed behind to guard the haute cuisine. I poked around in the picnic basket and found a margarine tub filled with instant coffee and a thermos filled with hot water. I made coffee in a paper cup. It tasted foul; but what did I expect without a barista in sight?

I reached across to pour the coffee I’d made out on the grass and knocked over the tub. I shook out the blanket and put the empty tub in the refuse bag,

I dozed off and woke to find my friend sitting next to me.

“It was special for her,” she said softly, “that’s why I wanted to do it there.”

“Do what?”

My friend didn’t seem to hear me as she flicked a tear off her cheek with the back of her hand.

She rummaged in the picnic basket. Panic tightened her jaw as she hurled things out of the basket.

She stood up and wiped her palms on the side of her jeans. ‘”It’s not here!”

 “What Katie”

“My mother’s ashes. I brought them to throw into the river.”

“I’ll help you look … what are they in?”

“A Rama tub.”

And finally Lisa-Anne Julien’s story has some lovely phrases – and an undiscovered body.

“There’re bees at Cedar Park.”

“There’re bees in every park love,” Lynn said softly, stroking Annette’s taut cheeks with her stubby

fingers. “I know why you’re upset.”

“So why are we going there?” Annette hissed.

“I….I…. can say goodbye,” Lynn stuttered. “It was his favourite place.”

“He was never going to give you that divorce, you know that right?”

“Well, that doesn’t matter now does it,” Lynn muttered, commanding the lump back down her throat.

Annette screeched into the petrol station. “Gotta pee.”

As Lynn rummaged through the messy boot looking for the book of Yeats poetry they’d planned to read,

something shiny stung her eye. It was Jonathon’s wedding ring.

But…but…how?….why?….In Annie’s car!

At the sight of Annette’s long and purposeful strides Lynn shoved the ring into her pocket. Her stomach was flipping violently and she willed the bile to stay put. Her heart thundered.

“I wonder if the police have any new information about Jonathon’s disappearance,” Lynn said in a shaky

voice as they entered the park.

“They’ll phone you if they do.” Annette was staring at her. “Are you Ok?”

Lynn thought of the ring burning a hole in her pocket. “Yes,” she mumbled. “Let’s go to the dam.

Jonathon really loved…”

“No!” Annette said quickly. “Um, it’s a bit chilly on that side.”

Lynn watched her tears drop onto the cold concrete. “Oh, Annie,” she sobbed. “What have….”

“Shhh,” Annette said, putting her arm on Lynn’s shoulder. “’Don’t worry. Let’s go read Yeats.”

Well done everyone who entered! We enjoy all your work, whether or not we single it out for special mention.

Remember: Keep writing!

Click here for the May 2012 writing challenge.

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