You’ve written the word “Redemption” on your screen. You’re not sure why. It just popped into your head and your fingers tapped it out. Now you wonder what to do with it. You think: I could write a short story about redemption. In tune with this season of goodwill and forgiveness. (You decide to tune out the murder and mayhem in Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere – or maybe not? Maybe, you think, that’s part of the backdrop to your story, a world in chaos, while your character manages, somehow, to create a small circle of peace and serenity in the here and now.) So you begin…

“As (your character’s name here) approached his/her front door, s/he registered, a second or two too late, that the door, which s/he’d left locked, swung open at his/her touch…”

Now write another 225 words on your theme, making it as tight, as detailed, and as unsentimental as you possibly can.

Winning entry – Jayne Morgan. Her story is wonderfully enigmatic, thrilling us with its bizarre (but unremarked-on) details. We wrestle to come up with a hypothesis that could account for the events described – and the protagonist’s response to them. And, to top it all, there’s not a word out of place, not a word I’d suggest she subtract.

As Mr Skelton approached his front door, he registered, a second or two too late,that the door, which he’d left locked, swung open at his touch. It hit something hard, which then toppled over.

“Do you mind, sir. That’s police property.” He turned to find a uniformed officer behind him on the step. Looking back through the doorway, he could see a row of orange cones down the middle of the hall. A man in blue overalls was painting a white line between them, his foam roller gliding over the parquet.

Mr Skelton’s heart sank. He’d been sure he’d done well this year, what with bellringing and the Thai cookery classes. Theresa would have been proud. He swallowed.

“How bad is it?”

“Not too bad. Just half the hall and some of the lounge. Shouldn’t tell you this, but the crowd at Number 26 has only been left with the broom cupboard and the guest loo. But they’re classic TTs.”

“TTs?”

“Telly and takeaways.” The policeman shook his head.

 Mr Skelton sighed. “I try, officer. It’s not easy …”

 “I know, sir. But rules are rules.”

An engine roared and Mr Skelton looked inside to see the overalled man preparing to chainsaw the telephone stand in half.

“Must be off.” The policeman saluted. “See you next year, sir. Or rather, let’s hope not. Try some charity work, lots of points in that.”

“Thanks, I will”, said Mr Slater, and went to see if his sideboard was still intact.

There were other entries worthy of note and praise. I liked Jeff Meyer’s piece, which consists largely of just one end of a telephone conversation, and plays on a nice ambiguity…

As Henry approached his front door, he registered, a second or two too late, that the door, which he’d left locked, swung open at his touch…

Dresden, 1944.

The only thing left untouched was the heavy Congolese drum. Even his mother’s silver crucifix…

Bastards!

“Tim…hi…

Yeah, it’s me.

Not great, you…?

Lissen, M&F’s not going to be thrilled to hear this after that October claim, but I’ve been hit.

Yeah, home. My lounge looks like a whore’s handbag after a long weekend. Pricks must’ve been watching when I went for a run.

Jeezus, I don’t know! Half an hour…maybe 40. Lissen, that instruction I gave you about dropping the

contents section…yeah, on the 19th…not in place yet, is it?

It is?…damn!

No, no, I hear where you’re coming from, but I’d rather not.

Yes, I’m sure… I just don’t think it’s right.

No Tim, I’m not going religious on you!

Ya, I know…ok, thanks…

Merry Christmas to you too. Cheers.”

What bloody timing. 3k excess and now, this. Ok, the TV was an old Panasonic, but still, what’m I gonna…

Wait a mo…of course…my eBucks! Forgot about those…must be worth a whack by now.

Click here for points balance…

What the fu..eB48 728!!

Appliances…

Hisense 32″ LED HD Ready, eB33 990.

Click here to redeem.

Click.

Hello! What’s that under the…the crucifix! Of all the…the buggers must’ve dropped it.

Maybe that guy on TV had something.

Redemption.

Ok, maybe…

Michelle Preen’s story was based on a lovely idea, and featured a great twist…

As Damian approached his front door, he registered, a second or two too late, that the door, which he’d left locked, swung open at his touch…

Not good. The finger scanner seemed intact, so it could only mean one thing. How had they found out? Surely his patrons would have kept their sickly mouths shut. They were the weak, the un-chosen ones. Their lives depended on his intervention.

He stepped into the stark passageway, his hands trembling defiantly. Treason was punishable by lethal injection.

A member of the Darwin Squad stood resolutely before him, his black boots shining threateningly in the harsh light. Damian swallowed.

“We’ve been watching you,” said the guard in a deep robotic monotone.

Damian stared at him, knowing that speaking was futile.

“We are aware that you have been practicing the forbidden science. That you have been disobeying the laws of natural selection, and healing our weak citizens. Prolonging lives and defying nature.” He paused, as if expecting Damian to disagree, but then continued when he saw that no words were forming on Damian’s dry lips.

“Is that correct?” His voice was a degree louder now.

There was no point in refuting it. Damian had been flouting the law of the land and spitting in the face of so-called natural selection. He nodded his head, accepting of his imminent fate.

The guard continued in a matter-of-fact way: “He who leads us is unwell. He is lifting the ban and granting you a pardon. Please follow me.”

Patricia Groenewald’s story exhibited a great deal of admirable restraint…

As Beatrice approached her front door, she registered, a second or two too late, that the door, which she’d left locked, swung open at her touch… Carefully she pushed the door a little way open, then slammed it wide in a bid for courage. The astonished eyes of the cleaner met hers. She groaned in embarrassment. It was Thursday today. Her thoughts had been so taken up with those cats…

“Sorry,” she muttered, hastily closing the door behind her, “er, the wind caught it out of my hand.”

Alice looked at her a moment longer, then shrugged and continued dusting the porcelain Alsatian that sat on the shelf in the entrance hall. It looked ridiculous, sitting in front of the wilting fern, but it was a gift from her sister and it was visible there.

She moved through to the kitchen. Too old to tame. Too young to sterilize. Not enough money to feed them all. They had been happy at the shed. Mangy, but happy. Her hands shook as she poured her tea.

There was a knock at the door. Alice answered it. Before the visitor could say anything she heard Alice’s business-like, “Ek sal haar gou gaan roep, Meneer.”

The cage in his hands was familiar. She thanked him and eagerly carried it to the sitting-room. The ball of fluff stretched its claws as she picked it up. She cradled it against her. Here was her chance. The small bundle with blue eyes was her chance for redemption.

Martin Stokes wrote beautifully – although I thought his piece was a tad too enigmatic…

As Jodi approached his front door, he registered, a second or two too late, that the door, which he’d left locked, swung open at his touch. There, down the narrow hall and just beyond the mouth of his lounge, were two stiletto-clad feet which undoubtedly belong to Jamie.

He fetched a resigned sigh and shambled into the lounge, a sheaf of papers clutched in one hand, expecting Jamie to throw a fit like she usually did, hurling accusations and rebukes at him for which he had no answer. He made a mental note to get the key that she had to his apartment, the one they both used to share.

Standing up as he entered the room, he was still shocked by her beauty. A beauty mark caressed one cheek of her finely drawn face. Her eyes were a dark and enigmatic green.

‘Jamie – ‘ He began, but she pressed a finger to his lips with gentle pressure.

‘Stop,’ She said quietly. ‘Stop everything. Stop feeling this guilt which I know has weighted you down for so long. Casey wasn’t your fault, she just happened. I know I blew up at you about this, but we’re fine now… because of you.’

Jodi started slightly. ‘I was told it would be kept secret.’

‘Mr Ferguson just couldn’t hold it in. He loves Casey you know, even after the split.’

Ferguson was their joint lawyer and Casey’s Godfather.

Jamie stood up and kissed him. ‘ I’m sorry for everything. But I forgive you.’

Frankie Francis’s entry had some very nice things in it, not the least the idea of an instantly responsive vengeful god!

As I approach my front door, I register, a second or two too late, that the door, which I’d left locked, swings open at my touch.

I freeze as Tubby, my lazy tabby cat shoots past my legs, hackles raised, and takes cover in the geranium bushes.  My mind is jumbled like squares on a scrabble board.

I’m pulled backwards into muscular arms which fasten like a vice grip around my torso.  My nose twitches at that sickly sweet stench of sweat and alcohol, as my attacker blindfolds me with an oily smelling rag, and binds my ankles and wrists.

Huddled on the ground near the geraniums, I listen to the mumble of native voices, mixed with sounds of moving furniture, and the diesel fumes of my Isuzu bakkie, as it’s revved into life.

‘Dear Lord, have mercy on them.’ I pray, as my fumbling fingers find my Mother’s solitaire diamond ring, and I thank God they didn’t see it.  Using it as a Rosary, I chant my ‘Hail Marys’.

The first clap of thunder echoes from the heavens.  Tubby emits a spine-chilling screech and pounces onto ‘Muscle-Arm’s head, ripping open his face with his dagger-like claws. Golf-sized hailstones smash into the Isuzu’s windscreen.  My attackers echo Tubby’s voice, running hell-for-leather away from the scene of destruction, leaving behind a trail of spaghetti like TV cords and wiring.

Six months later at Chapel, I notice a new trainee cleric, his face badly scarred.  He catches my eye and winks.

I loved Ali Burns’ story, turning on the redemption possible through writing (she’s currently enrolled on our online Creative Writing course, so there!)

As Ella approached her front door, she registered that the door she’d left locked swung open at her touch.   Honestly, had she really not locked it?   She had been so preoccupied these last few days by the prospect of this writing course she had signed up for, and even worse, paid for!   What was she thinking? How inordinately presumptuous to think she could write.   It felt very, very silly now, but, having committed  money to it she would have to save face and at least look willing, then endure the humiliation of being the dunce once again.

She set the shopping bags down in the kitchen and was startled by a movement in the sitting room.   Feeling strangely unfrightened she peeped into the room and there was;

Julia – doing her best imitation of relaxed, taut and sleekly posed

Teddy- her husband, concentratedly laconic, smug and haughty, yet also not quite believing himself either.

The room itself looked grander and that was herself, at the far end, dusting the antiques, complete in maid’s cap and apron… then it dawned.   These were her characters, waiting for her to enliven them, or maybe it would be the other way round, they would enliven her.   Either way, she was redeemed.

And Riaan Els needs to be commended for his beautifully suggestive story. Take particular note of his second paragraph.

As Alfred approached his front door, he registered, a second or two too late, that the door, which he’d left locked, swung open at his touch… Bright lights flashed at the end of the corridor, partnering with muffled conversations and a glass of red wine visible on the side table. Then he heard it! A cold sweat shivered his spine. His mind screamed a fatal warning. Yes, it was happening again!

She was watching Shawshank Redemption and that meant only one thing: He had to dress in his authentic striped prison uniform and obey the warden. And she liked being the warden! She even had a realistic looking baton. That vibrated! She fondly called it “Redemption”. He just called it a pain in the ass.

By now the cold sweat had reached his shaking socks. Vivid images of her riding his chained body, shouting “Redeem yourself!” flashed in front of his watering eyes. His left eye twitched. Silently he closed the door, praying that she had not heard his arrival. With wet socks and cheeks, his spine barely able to support him, Alfred shuffled with muffled steps to the nearest bar – Late Night Redemption.

Hopefully she would fall asleep while he was gulping down some liquid courage. If not, Redemption was going to be his in a less than enlightening way.

When he got home the warden was waiting. The warden was not happy. Alfred shambled into the house, pulling an invisible ball and chain. Redemption awaited him upstairs…

Don Stevenson’s story misled us cunningly – but the redemption at the end didn’t really compute.

As Francoise approached his front door, he registered, a second or two too late, that the door, which he’d left locked, swung open at his touch! A twinge of fear shot through his gut as possible explanations flooded his consciousness.

“This is not good, boytjie!” He raced through a couple of scenarios. “Did I secure the Colt? There’s no flipping way to make this easier!”

One thought was banging on his skull, “Where the hell is Beatrice?” She was in the flat when he left. Was she OK?

“Just breathe, Francoise!” He proceeded silently toward the sitting room portal, sliding tight to the wall. Down to the floor he confirmed the room was vacant.

Next space, the bedroom! The best way forward was obviously close to the floor. Could he gain an advantage?

At the door he caught new data, something that registered as vaguely familiar.

Yes, breathing!

Fighting fear he thrust his face into the opening! What he saw didn’t compute!

Beatrice, at eye level, regarded him, but did not move! Was she injured? What the?… he looked at a heap of clothes in the middle of the room!

Francoise stood. “Girl, what have you done?”

Under her body was a messy mound of humanity, throat a tangle of flesh, blood everywhere. The guy probably hadn’t known what hit him. Beatrice had gone for the jugular as he crouched to gather his booty!

Then it hit him: redemption? For a thief? Or for him, costing a life for chattels?

I liked Janine Simon’s set up – and one line knocked my socks off (“Heey Sheryldeene, Sheryldien – where the fuck have you beeeen.”) – but I wasn’t altogether sure exactly what happened. Maybe I’m just dof.

As Sheryldene approached her front door, she registered, a second or two too late, that the door, which she had left locked, swung open at her touch.

She could smell his intrusion. Axe deodorant. So soon, she thought, though she’d been waiting. It was dark inside. She’d left the curtains open, to watch the sun breaking through the soft mists over Houghton ridge. But they were violently drawn, upturning the stained pine chair at the window. The baby slithered inside her.

“Heey Sheryldeene, Sheryldien – where the fuck have you beeeen.”

He was slurring in a low whisper, the outline of his knee jutting beyond the arm of the sleeper couch.

“You owe me, chickie. Big time. They fired me because of your lies. Now its my time, Christmas bonus time.”

When he left, she opened the curtains and sat carefully on the edge of the righted chair in the moonlight. It was Christmas. She was due at work at 8am – overtime, double pay and first chance to buy that brandy cake past its sell-by-date. The sky turned steel grey.  She bent forward, found her bag under the Checkers packet and spilled rice, and stirred till she found the pen and business card she’d scored at the staff party.

Smiling, she wrote  “school fees, mouthwash, airtime, bus ticket, Edgars” next to the name:

Paul W Pieterse
Regional Training Manager
WOOLWORTHS
Gauteng

The sun lit the ridge as the radio alarm blared: “O come all ye faithful…”

And finally, Bridget Day’s little story was nicely chilling…

As Jocelyn approached her front door, she registered, a second or two too late, that the door, which she’d left locked, swung open at her touch. A year ago she would have run, or called the cops.  But a year’s a long time.

The gun was heavy and familiar, her guarantee of control. She nudged open the door, slipping silently into the shadowed room. He stood before the window, his outline etched by the flickering streetlights. “Get out.” Her voice echoed flatly in the stark room. She tossed her bag in a careless puddle on the floor and headed for the sideboard, exchanging the gun for a glass.

“Joss, we need to talk… Please.” Hesitantly he stepped forward. “You won’t take my calls, or answer my emails.  It’s time to… start over…  We need to rebuild our lives, try for another child… ”  The whiskey seared a pathway through the wasteland within, leaving a vestige of warmth in its wake.

“You killed the first one, James, and now  you want another one from me?”

” Jocelyn! You know it wasn’t my fault! I couldn’t stop them! Please, Joss, you have to forgive me, it’s been a year now…. I’ve given you space.  You need to give me….

“What, James… forgiveness? Redemption? Her blue eyes glittered and the crystal chimed like a bell as she set it down on the tray. “Redemption it is.”

The hole in his chest blossomed, rich and red.

Funny, she thought, I feel so much better now.

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