May 2012 writing challenge 

The title of your short story is Ms Antoine’s Dark Encounter. Now write 250 words, deploying as many of your senses as you can both in your descriptions and your dialogue.

Congratulations to Slick Tiger winner of the May 2012 250 word writing challenge.  He wrote a beautifully balanced little tale of claustrophobia that began with intrigue and ended with finely judged horror. Poor Ms Antoine.

Ms Antoine woke in a warm sluggish fog of dreamy half-thoughts. She struggled unsuccessfully to open her anvil-heavy eyelids and take in her surroundings. She felt warm and cosy and could taste the damp, earthy scent of fresh pine.

A languid contentment spread through her as she surfaced from the deepest sleep she’d ever experienced. Her thoughts drifted and changed like smoke-shapes in murky light. Memories of Dr Mormo floated into focus, the acrid smell of his skin, the sound of his baritone whisper in her ear during their lascivious encounters.

“I will save you…”

She sighed sleepily and tried to swallow but her oesophageal muscles rubbed like sandpaper behind her cotton wool tongue.

The rusted iron taste of thirst caught in her throat. She was getting hot. She imagined cracking a window open and drinking the cool night air in, the scent of blooming jasmine floating up to her from the garden she played in as a child.

Those were better days… before the doctors and the smell of iodine, the constricting leather straps, the torture, the humiliation.

Dr Mormo said he would get her out. She remembered the sting of the needle as he slid it into her, the lava hot tetrodotoxin burning through her veins.

“When you wake my love, this will all be over…”

It was getting hotter and a deep-down ache was settling into her muscles. She turned to roll over, but her shoulder grazed against rough-hewn pine boards, the same ones she was lying on, the same ones that surrounded her on all sides.

Her eyes snapped open violently as she started screaming.

The dark came flooding in.

Close behind, losing by a nose and no more, was Kelly Ansara, whose madhouse blues were quite as atmospheric as Mr Tiger’s – but whose ending was just a tad less accomplished. But only a tad.

Charlie Antoine sat with her knees to her chest, toying with a doll that she had worked together out of hessian and straw – that scratched the thin skin of her fingers. The doll’s smile was crooked and its eyes were different colours – one blue, one green. Charlie’s room carried the stench of old urine; soaking through her bed sheets, making her clothes stick to her skin during the nightmares that plagued the dark hours. She was humming a tune of a nursery rhyme, her mother had once taught her, trying to drown out the hum of the generator above her.

The room was three metres by four metres; tiled white and fitted with fluorescent lights. She heard the door gradually open – it had a hair-raising creak that made her bite the inside of her cheek. She shifted but didn’t look up. Mr Wiley had arrived for their daily 14h30 appointment. His cologne made her sick; it wafted up her nostrils, teasing the bile upwards into her throat.

 ‘Afternoon, Charlie. How are you?’ his voice slithering up her spine, his shoes squeaking on the linoleum floor.

Ring-a-Ring-Rosy …’ she sang.

The song again, Charlie?’ he tilted his head and smiled, ‘Tell me, Charlie … Was that the song you sang to him?

Charlie stopped singing. Sweat prickled on her forehead. She stifled the screaming and gnawing images that crept slowly up her pale skin.

A pause

Charlie, how did David die?’ he asked.

She knew.

We all fall down …

Others worthy of mention were Riaan Els, whose tale of Darren Ark had us rolling in the aisles…

Being a millionaire philanthropist, fighting against animal cruelty was his higher calling. Unfortunately for Darren Ark a million Zim dollars did not get you far in the philanthropist business, so by day he moonlighted as a pool boy. At night he followed his two and a half great passions: the conservation of squirrels, taxidermy and a rather nifty talent for miniature dressmaking. It all resulted in a somewhat interesting apartment full of stuffed squirrels in really fashionable clothing.

His friends called him the D.Ark Night due to his unique nocturnal activities. Well, he called them his friends. They just never called him back.

It was at his latest water management project, aka cleaning the Smith pool, that Mr D. Ark saw his crowning moment of glory – a monster half pound, grey squirrel living in their big tree. It had to be conserved! And he knew just what dress would look good on it!

The clock was approaching midnight, as it often did, when Ms Antoine stepped out of the shower and walked into her bedroom, enjoying the warm summer breeze blowing over her naked body. As fate would have it, it was also the exact moment that Ms Antoine encountered a head-shaking Mr Darren Ark and a struggling monster half pound, grey squirrel in his mouth, in a tree, on a branch, outside her room window.

Both stopped struggling.

Both looked at her apologetically.

And awkward silence eased over the scene.

Ms Antoine screamed!

So did the squirrel.

Patricia Grove with a convincing tale set in an antique Turkish Cistern (although we wondered what “the dark shape rising from the water” was)

Guide book in hand, Ms Antoine descended the steps to the Basilica Cistern. She was early and there were as yet no other tourists about.

The stone pillars of the cistern stood like sentinels rising out of the eerie, watery darkness, the orange lights at their base creating an atmosphere reminiscent of Hades. The only sound was the drip, drip, drip of water as it echoed around the cistern.

Ms Antoine walked nervously along the boardwalk to view the carving of Medusa. The handrail was slimy and wet to her touch. Ghostly shadows of fish drifted in the inky water. The air was damp and clammy and smelt of the decay of ages.

She reached the Medusa carving, lying just below the silent water. The snakes of Medusa’s hair seemed to be writhing in the water, ugly and treacherous, monsters from a nightmare. The darkness enveloped her with its dankness, like a black shroud. Ms Antoine’s heart beat faster and a chill crept down her spine.

Suddenly there was a splash and out of the corner of her eye she saw a dark shape rising from the water. This was too much for Ms Antoine. With heart pounding, she fled down the boardwalk, past a group of astonished German tourists and out into the blessed normality of the Turkish sunshine.

Colleen Oelofse, for her fabulous details (“red wine, rosemary, bacon and bay leaves”) and the sensory explosions these ignited

Greedy Ms Antoine!

The house was so dark and so quiet that it was like being wrapped up in a shroud of black velvet. Ms Antoine tip-toed across the minefield of a lounge, every old floorboard waiting to explode with noise; and the cold, cold tiles of the kitchen floor with care.

Her nostrils are full of the memory of red wine, rosemary, bacon and bay leaves. Beef so tender that it melted on her tongue, summons her to the refrigerator.  Opening the door, she expects illumination but nothing.

Bugger!

The little bulb must have blown. It doesn’t matter. She blindly explores the shelves for the bowl of leftovers that she knows is there, but cannot see. Finding it, she uses her fingers to scoop some up. She shovels this into her mouth, smearing what cannot fit onto her face, and nightclothes. Something is very wrong. The meat is chewy and the gravy tastes.

Strange.

The bright beam of a torch, and…

“Ma Antoine?”

Pointless dolt of a daughter-in-law!

“Ma Antoine! Why are you eating the stew that I made for the dogs? I thought that you hated the taste of offal?”

Stumbling out of the kitchen, taste buds writhing in disgust, she doesn’t see the gleam of malicious mirth in her daughter-in-law’s eye.

Squeamish Ms Antoine!

Jeffery Meyer’s alcoholic details (he’s so good at his wines!)

Spearing an escargot with her two-tined fork, Ms Antoine – Mimi to her friends was struck yet again how something as visually appealing as a big piece of snot could evoke such pleasure. Flavour certainly confirmed aroma as the morsel exploded in her mouth with an intensity that almost brought tears to her eyes.

Incroyable!!The boldness of the garlic! The sweetness of the shallots! The sublime balance of parsley, salt and freshly-milled black pepper, the…what was that…ah, of course… Courvoisier!

When it came to Escargots à la Bourguignonne Maurice Dupin was the last word. Even the great Bocuse conceded defeat.

Summoning the sommelier, she said “Rudi, these little treasures demand something a touch lighter than this Malbec – perhaps some of your cheeky Beaujolais?”

“Certainement, Madame, let me check downstairs.”

“I have a better idea. Why don’t we look together?”, she replied, with the hint of a wink. Surely by now he guessed that Maurice’s famous gastropods weren’t the only reason for her visits.

The spiral stairway was steep and narrow. Searching opposite racks in the dim coolth, Rudolphe eventually spied a bottle of the famous wine tucked away near the bottom.

“Voila!”

His voice echoed in the compact space. Turning simultaneously, they faced each other, centimetres apart.

After an eight second eternity he reached over her shoulder for the switch that transformed the darkened cellar, now lit by only a feeble shaft of moonlight, into a garret straight out of Puccini’s La Bohème.

Stephen Doherty for a brilliant evocation of “surgery on a running engine” in the very heart of darkness

The swirl of water behind the boat brought green river roots to the surface and formed a twisting tail like that of a kite lost from a child’s hand. The tangle of weeds drifted back from the boat to a small wooden jetty where stood a tall man in a dapper white suit holding his arm aloft as if bewildered.

As the boat bounced forward, curls of water grabbed at the banks where the river turned, claiming slabs of mud and quickly widening the river. During the rainy season as the little shuttle carried passengers upstream on the swollen river to the schools and missionary stations it struggled with only the small outboard motor full of dirty fuel to push it upstream.

Now and again, the captain shouted for his first mate to perform a surgery on the running engine. The first mate, a boy of around twelve, would unscrew the beaten metal cover plate from the engine and reroute the rubber fuel inlet through a makeshift filter of grass and rags to clean out the black globules that had formed in the jerry can before they became a problem. Clever fingers would work around the small but very nippy pistons and finish the job before the reserves in the pipes had depleted and the engine stalled.

On the prow of this small boat on a lost tributary of the vast Congo River, Ms Deborah-Jane Antoine sat silently contemplating her dark encounter.

And Esra Marshall for her utterly charming conclusion

She passed a couple of falling apart houses; girls with too big dresses standing in front of them. They have the biggest, the brightest smiles but no hair. “How can they be happy with so little?” Ms Antoine thought as she kept on walking. As the group hiked between the fields, women attending their carrots and potatoes under the changing light, one or two sheep here and there, white fluff, indifferent. The smell of newly pulled weeds, poppies and milk. She could also smell her own sweat, sunscreen and powder. Fear and curiosity mixed perfectly, running down her chest, tickling her.

“We are entering the jungle.” said the guide in front of a wall with the big stones.

“But don’t worry; we have a gun.”

The panic moved like lightning in her. “What am I doing here? Me in the African jungle?” She took a deep breath and let go of fear of the unknown and wildness. She let the jungle swallow her with all its greeness and ever presence, with all its bugs and poisonous plants. She watched the big trees all patient and green leaves breaking the sky in a million pieces. She forgot everything; the divorce, old age, drug addicted son, crime, wars.

“They are here.” the guide said as he pulled her arm gently.

A huge, black female gorilla was playing with her baby.

“This is darkest Africawith a pink bow.” said Ms Antoine her chest bursting with happiness.

Need we say that we enjoyed all the entries, and continue to encourage everyone who reads this newsletter to try their luck (and their talent, of course) on the next challenge which you’ll find in our June 2012 Newsletter..


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