Announcing the winners of the December/January Writing Challenge

 In Writing Challenge

The challenge to write in the second person clearly intrigued you because we’ve never had so many entries! What I found fascinating about the exercise was the varied effects created by the use of this unusual voice.

I’m sure you all had fun – that’s visible in the exuberance of the writing. And I think that everyone succeeded in the primary objective of the challenge, which was simply to remain consistent in your use of the point of view.

But of course there must be winners, and of course you’re all to be congratulated on rising to the occasion.

So here goes:

For her strikingly creepy exploration of a stalker’s point of view, we award first prize to Georgia Hardiman. Does the strange ambiguity possible using the second person make it the perfect point of view for horror? She wins a literary assessment for 5000 words – or a voucher equal in value to that to be redeemed against any of our courses.

Runners up in no particular order:

Colleen Saunders for her really amusing monologue… Liza Sears for deploying so many telling details as her character prepares for take-off (and another day)… Kate Francis for her piece on the uncertainties of being pregnant (or not)… Samantha Collins for her rather edgy exploration of guilt and blaming… Karuna for her excellent piece on what you might call power relations in the workplace…  Janet Lopes for her focus on my kind of pedantry… And, finally, Bindi Davies for her neat skewering of an over-inflated narcissist…

Read the winning entries below, and check out the guidelines for our February/March challenge here.

Georgia Hardiman

You’re walking alone. The brown leather handbag you bought in the souk in Istanbul nearly 4 years ago is slung over your left shoulder and your hand is resting on it lightly. Your nails are freshly painted pearly-pink. Your auburn hair glints in the late afternoon autumnal sunlight and the red poppies painted on your long skirt seem to be on fire in the gloaming.

You turn the corner sharply and run up the path to an old Victorian terraced house. The door shuts silently behind you, leaving just a hint of hyacinth in the air.

You switch on the living room light and you are visible through the glass, moving about inside the house. You bend down to caress the cat, or perhaps straighten a cushion. Then the flicker of the TV screen lights up your beautiful face.

Night thickens.

Go to bed, go to bed.

You stand up and switch off the light. A few moments pass, you’ll be going up the stairs now.

The light in the bedroom comes on, and you appear momentarily in front of the window. The curtains close. Your shadow passes across the  glowing square of the curtain, once, twice, three times.

Finally you turn off the light.

Sweet dreams ex-beloved. Sleep well.

 

Colleen Saunders

Babe, hey, howzit… What? I can’t hear – Bees! In the bedroom? And is the window… closed. How many – no, don’t say thousands – all over the curtain. Wait, you what? No-no, you can’t smoke them out, you’ll set the house alight. Unless… got a joint? No. Ok. Honey, I’m putting you on hold. Ok, I won’t say “Honey”. Listen, let me quickly Google.

It says here bees get aggressive when they lose their queen, especially Africanised honey bees. What colour are – Ok sorry. Wait, listen: “If under attack by Africanised honey bees, run away quickly in a zig-zag pattern, and seek shelter indoors.” Whaahahah—Ok, sorry, I won’t laugh…. “Africanised honey bees are dangerous and have been known to chase people for more than a quarter of a mile once they get excited or aggressive.” Khehhehh– Ok-ok, I – No, I’m not being racist…. Yes, I know. Sorry.

It says bees don’t like garlic powder. Got any garlic powder? Only paste. Sure, try that. Fetch the paste and go back into the bedroom. You have to open the window, but real slow, no sudden moves. Sort of sway. Hum something. See, weed would’ve helped. Now sl-o-o-w-l-y put your hand through the curtain… Hey, have you got something covering your arms and face? No, not the paste! Don’t rub – They’re getting aggressive? Shit. Ok, rather get out. They’re coming for you? Honey, I mean sweetie – you’re not allergic are you? You don’t know!

Babe, what’s that sound?

Hello – you’re breaking up…

Melissa?

 

You take a plane by Liza Sears

You are taking that flight again are you?

The 9.10 from Heathrow. You simply loathe that airport.

To catch the 9.10 on a Monday you have to get up at 5.30. Restless waves of sleep surf through the night tossing you up onto the shore as your phone brrrs softly… Insistent but solicitous.  You rise, you shower, you step into the pattern of clothes splayed out on the armchair. A text sizzles your phone. You hear the taxi, check your passport, take your bag and slide into the car.

Traffic is heavier as you near the tunnel burrowing beneath the runway to disgorge you at the automatic doors. Take off your overcoat. Take off your shoes, proffer your laptop, show your passport, stride through the archway.

Past the Duty-Free. Who are you visiting today? Need a gift? No, this is business.

Check what gate. You walk. The pace is fast, single-minded, your thoughts on the day ahead.

There it is. Gate ten.

Grab a hot-chocolate. Soothing like a blossom of mimosa in your heart.

The warm drink slides down smooth as a Swiss tennis player. The plane is announced. You let the pushy passengers get ahead. Another queue outside. Weary already.

You breathe the hot stale air inside and dive right into it. You put on your seatbelt. You switch off your mind. As the safety routine lulls its familiar song in your ear you drift back to sleep. The day has only just begun.

 

Kate Francis

You feel like you should feel something, excitement perhaps, but you don’t. You’re just relieved you aren’t going mad, and that there is an explanation, no matter how abstract. Your best friend asked you a direct question about it and you felt nothing saying you aren’t, because you don’t feel like you are. You can’t see it or feel it and when you aren’t feeling sick you wonder if you fabricated the whole thing. Your only acknowledgement of its existence is keeping off the booze and caffeine and popping a few more vitamins. When you saw that tiny nothing-shape for the first time on a grainy black and white screen it felt like you could have been looking at someone else’s. It’s not that you don’t want it, you do, it just doesn’t feel like a sure thing. Every day towards the first milestone stretches into a week. You finally receive the all clear, well, as all clear as you’re likely to get from the doctor. You realise that actually, life is never going to be all clear again.

 

Samantha Collins

You ruined it. You fool. You imbecile! Buffoon! Moron! Whatever you want to call it, it’s you. Everything is over. The police know and you can’t take those words back. You bit your tongue so hard that the words flowed out in your blood. Next time you should bite your tongue off and then you cannot spill our secrets. Fool. Imbecile. Moron. I shouldn’t have trusted you. I will never trust you again. I probably won’t get the chance. You snitched and I’m paying for it. Fool. Moron. Imbecile. Traitor! Above all, traitor. The money was for mom. Don’t you get that? Is it so bad to steal for a good cause? I can’t help her from jail. You ruined everything.

 

Karuna 

You never thought it would happen to you. After working so hard for so long; surely you were safe? Navi’s mouth is moving. “See this graph. That’s your sales and that’s your salary.” Your belly implodes and your shoulders shield you. But her voice is very loud. You peek around – people pairing over their morning coffee. You also have a coffee. It stares back at you.

She spoke fast enough to avoid the impact of her words. “My job is to look after the collective.” Of which you’re clearly not a part. That graph could just as well be plotting the closeness between her and the team. Sunlight glints off her fork, drawing your eye out and up to the parting in the clouds, while she speaks herself off the pedestal you had placed her on.

“But you can stay if you take a 30% pay cut.” You look back. Now that Navi could see without glasses, you could see her more clearly – the dark patch above her right cheekbone, the too-long upper lip that made her look both girlish and shrewd. There’s a homunculus in her eyes – a tiny, yet clear, outline of a person. Your shoulders settle down your back and a full breath swells your belly for the first time in months. You are not her. The left edge of your mouth quivers. You don’t even want to be her.

I finish my coffee, cold and bittersweet, shake Navi’s hand and walk out ahead of her.

 

Janet Lopes

My husband has always been an absolute pedant when it comes to correct language usage and spelling.  You’d think I’d be used to it after ten years of marriage but it still drives me mad.  He’d sit and read the newspaper and draw red rings around the missing apostrophes and once, to my great embarrassment, inserted corrections with his pen on a menu in a fancy restaurant where we were having dinner.  I often wondered how his new secretary Tiffany could cope with him since he said her spelling was atrocious.  I felt quite sorry for the poor girl.

When he injured his right hand in the car door, he often refused to send text messages at work in case he made a spelling mistake while texting with his left hand.

He had been working long hours recently so you can imagine that when I heard the beep of a text message on my phone late one evening when he should have been home already, I felt a flash of relief that he was on his way.  The message read:  Sorry love but I’ll be late.  Busy with the paperwrok for a big order I just recieved from Kimberly for our new bisciuts.  See you in about an hour.  Love you.

You can picture my shock and total disbelief.  In a wash of rage and despair, I threw down my phone and went upstairs to pack my bags.  You’d really think I should have seen it coming.

 

Bindie Davies

You’re speechless.

Heaving throngs line the streets, clamouring to get a closer look. Even you would find it hard to estimate their number. But rest assured, no exaggeration is necessary on this special day.

The tarmac shimmers, and there’s not a breath of wind. Not even enough to flutter the flags. But the heat doesn’t bother you. You’re cool, detached, a bit deflated actually. Not your usual self at all.

A little girl in a starry blue and white dress with a red bow in her hair points at you, laughing. Her father gently pushes her arm down, but there’s a wry smile on his face.

Turning the final corner, you’re greeted with a loud cheer from a large group of placard-carrying women. One tries to burst through the security barrier. She’s got something in her hand, bobbing from her wrist. You’re moving so slowly that she almost manages to get to you. As two policemen pull her back, she lets the object go and it drifts above the road. A giggle ripples through the crowd. No more than a titter at first. But then, as more people catch sight of the orange baby blimp, hysteria builds. Your wife’s lips twitch, but you’re oblivious.

As you rumble to a halt, an arrow of jets shoots overhead.

There’s no draped flag for you, and whose idea was the glass casket? It gives the occasion a fairy tale quality. The Emperor’s New Clothes, perhaps.

And a black tie finally replaces the red.

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