Bring to mind a memory from early childhood. Jot down some details. Then structure it as a short story – it could be no longer than a scene – (sticking as closely as possible to the memory you’ve dredged up) which is as menacing as you can make it.  This means that you’ll have to transform the memory – which might be as benign as icecream cones and kittens – into something very different. We’re looking for a goose-bumpy mood and possibly an icy climax. Another stricture: use as few adjectives as possible – apart from colours.

The winning entry by Nimrod Zalk

The Sheriff and his men were the first to appear through the dust. It took some time before we saw him, alone, hands bound, and his horse tethered to the Deputy’s by a rope.

The crowd waited for the Sheriff to speak.

“This here is how we make an example of stinkin outlaws in this town. Mad Dog! Give him Ten lashes with the horse whip … and every time he makes a sound start the count again from One.”

Mad Dog raised his hand. But before he struck the Sheriff had an arrow through his neck and his posse was surrounded.

While Sterling rode out of town with his Apache blood-brothers the theme music began and the credits rolled.

As the test pattern came on he got unsteadily out of his seat, taking off his belt and turning back towards me. “Did you think I forgot, you piece of shit? And remember, every time I hear you cry the count starts again from One.”

Special mentions

Haunted by Colleen Oelofsen

My mother on her knees, screaming. Screaming at the small bundle that my father had fished out of our swimming pool. Screaming at my brother Stephen to NOT be dead…PLEASE…please….

A year drags by and we decide to take up a friend’s offer of a holiday cottage for a week. A change of scenery for my parents, especially my broken-hearted mother. Days spent on the beach. Sun, surf and picnics in abundance. Surely a distraction from our communal misery. My secret guilt. It helped for a while; even my mother smiled once.

One photographic souvenir remains. Two happy children clutch ice-cream cones and frolic together in the waves. A perfect holiday moment, frozen in time forever.

That photograph now lies in my hand; the edges protected with a border of sticky tape. My father told me that the photograph must have been a mistake, an anomaly, something called a double exposure, because the two children had been myself and Stephen. But I knew better. Then and now.

So much freedom.

Such infinitely clear blue, blue sky.

These four stark, white walls are all that Stephen and I have now. His rubber ball thwacks on the wall and the linoleum floor, and a small hand of palest white tugs impatiently at my sleeve. We’ve glimpsed the sun through the thick mesh that protects the windows and Stephen wants to go out and play. I’d better hurry, we only have an hour.

I think that he might finally be ready to forgive me.

Jeff Meyer

The sponginess of the brake should’ve told him something.

Too late now.

The single-decker refused to obey Jan Viljoen as it rounded the bend just before Edenvale Hospital. Only by double declutching did he manage to slow and sustain 55 kph before the next curve that would take him past the Institute of Virology. His foot slammed to the floor in a sickening absence of resistance. Beads of sweat made their way into his eyes, forcing him to take one hand off the wheel.

57…59…62…fok!!

The road became a single lane as he screamed through orange past Sandringham High School into Silvamonte.

65…68…O Vader, O Vader!!

The bus mounted the grass bank separating George avenue from the crescent of shops below, indiscriminately crushing poles and people. It slithered to a stop on it’s side in the parking bays opposite the bottle store.

Miraculously, only three people died. A blond 40-something man, who’s right arm and chest were a mess, was still clutching the Johnny Black in his left hand. An albino, no more than 30, was found surrounded by her week’s purchase. The pulp that was her face would surely be one for the dental records. The third, an obese elderly woman, succumbed to blood loss, the femoral artery dangling from her left stump.

At about 3am a shuffling sound made Jan Viljoen turn his head. Through the morphine mist he made out three figures standing next to his bed.

One man, two women.

Pale faces.

Very…very pale.

Summer Afternoon by Rachel Thomas

I put the key in the lock, turning round to wave at Mandy’s mum before opening the blue front door and stepping into the dim hallway. I feel the coolth of the house envelop me, and wipe away a bead of sweat from my brow. At the foot of the stairs I remove my grey school socks and shoes, the cool tiled floors a relief on the hot soles of my feet.

“Mum?” I call into the silent house.

“Mum? I’m home!”

My words echo back at me.

I wander through the kitchen, grabbing a green apple from the fruit bowl as I pass. The back door is open, the hot yellow sun glaring onto the brown tiles.

“Mum?” I call into the garden.

I shield my eyes from the fierce sun as I step out into the brightness, the lawn yellow and frazzled with the heat. In the corner, under a tree, I spot her on a sun lounger in her purple sundress. I walk over to her across the crispy grass, relieved.

“Mum !!” I call, irritated now. She doesn’t stir.

I then notice her knee, the vivid crimson gash dripping blood onto the white cushion, which is soaked with blood.

“Mum!!”

Nothing. I feel prickles rise on the back of my neck. I shake her frantically. Nothing. I can smell the sickly scent of Ambre Solaire. Then I notice the empty tumbler on the grass under her outstretched hand and pick it up, breathing in the familiar sharp tang of scotch.

And I turn back to the house.

Stuck Inside by Roger Layton

It’s happening again. Just like last night—and the night before—and the night before that. I am awake but I know I am sleeping—but I am awake inside—and I am screaming.

A scream that makes no sound. I want to get out. I am scared and my skin tingles with a thousand tiny pinpricks. I am attached to my body by a thin blue line, like a bluebottle, stretching, stretching out as I move fast away from my body. I am being spread thin and flat—more thin and flat. The cord stretches further and I try to scream again. I must wake myself up. But the more I try the harder it gets. I am inside and it is dark. I think I am dead. I did not make it through the night. This is what death is like. Lying here trapped, stuck and unable to move, unable to scream. There is something else here. I stop trying to scream and hold my breath. I listen. A few scratches, like fingernails on the chalk board, not stopping, more fingernails, more fingers, louder. Someone else is screaming and I can hear it. I try to scream with them. We all scream—the screams of a thousand dead children, like me, who died in their sleep tonight—getting closer and
louder. I will not wake up tomorrow. I want to get out. But I cannot. I am stuck inside.

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