Write a 150-word story on the day that changed everything for your character. For good or ill, after whatever it was that happened, nothing would ever be the same again.
You could make the incident tragic – or life affirming; hugely dramatic or comic. It’s entire up to you. My guess is that what you need to avoid is being too obvious, too on the nose. And remember to show us what happened, rather than tell us.
The competition entries are read separately by Jo-Anne and Richard, (and blind – we don’t know who the authors are), and then compare notes afterwards. We don’t always agree. Sometimes we each have to argue our case with the other, until we reach some form of consensus.
This month, there was no argument: we both loved what we knew as Entry Number 9.
Number 9 turns out to be Riaan Els.
It’s a beautifully imagined (or recreated) moment of panic and existential angst, which ends with a boon of eternal relevance: “I am definitely,more of a leg-man than a breast-man.”
We loved the mass of details, which weren’t explained at all. Even the final revelation has to be teased out by the reader.
The French red wine arched dramatically over the flying grilled chicken and a half-eaten small potato. Three peas tried to catch up with the main meal, only to be intercepted by a bemused looking pillow. Angels of all major religions rejoiced as a host of previously unheard voices called out their Master’s name. The laws of nature revolted and a number of passengers experienced what only a few astronauts have: zero gravity bladder malfunction. A less than silent genocide of dust mites occurred as white knuckled hands clenched down on innocent armrests, trying hard to reinvent gravity.
As the Boeing 747 did a controlled free-fall through an air pocket for an infinitely long fifteen seconds, prayers raising the eternal mass of the heavens and an attractive airhostess came flying by, my life suddenly produced a picture clear revelation:
I am definitely more of a leg-man than a breast-man.
Jo-Anne and Richard agreed on the winner – but weren’t of one mind when it came to the honourable mentions.
Richard loved Yvonne Fontyn’s piece, which took us on a wonderfully misleading detour, before depositing us in the suddenly chilling conclusion.
Lying in bed, the two boys tried to imagine their new home. “Remember the mamba!” Leonard said suddenly. They’d taken Dad’s knopkierie into the bush. “I got a fright, hey!” he whispered. They’d slung the dead reptile over the handlebars and raced home to Mom, who, after she calmed down, phoned the Broken Hill Voice. “Local boys fell mamba”, the headline read next day.
“You two are wild!” she liked to say, but always with a smile.
Dad started the car at 6 sharp and the boys scrambled onto the back seat. “I spy…”
They left the green of Natal, passing dry mealielands. It was after lunch when they arrived, driving past factory chimneys belching brown smoke, and four new churches. The treeless streets were lined with unfinished buildings. Dad stopped at a small house with a wire fence, sitting in the veld. “Well, we’re here,” he said.
Jo-Anne preferred Jeff Meyer’s submission.
In Hamish McFarlane’s book, Sir Thomas Beecham left out one really important thing when he suggested trying everything once except incest and folk dancing.
The big Scotsman’s loathing for the “devil’s food” was exceeded only by his passion for garlic.
“Channarong, ‘at’s a nice name. Wha’ does it mean?”
“It mean “great warrior” in Thai.”
“Ah! Ok Channarong, we’ll both hae the 614, the Phad-Mee Phuket Thaley, ‘cep…and please listen vurrry carefully laddie, ‘cep there must be nae, and…I…mean NAE coriander in mine. You understund ‘at, don’ ye?”
“Yes, two 614, you…no colliander. Yes, unnerstan.”
Some say it was head chef Mongkut’s besmeared lenses that did it. Others swear it was his turning away to test the Tom Yum Goong while plunging the toothpick labels into the two 614s?
Hamish’s bail application is on Tuesday.
Richard loved Tim Owen’s story, which identified the hero’s first, as the most important, day.
I was warm the day it happened.
Odd that that is my first memory of that day, a memory rendered unremarkable by its lack of exception to every other day. But then again, it was to be a day of countless exceptions, the warmth on my body being just one of many. Perhaps it’s the warmth I miss the most.
I knew something was wrong the moment I opened my eyes, no, before that as I sensed the walls squashing in, constricting, suffocating. The calming pink haze that I had taken to be as much a fact of life as the fingers on my hand was gone, replaced by a brutal violet glow, the gentle weight around me no longer a loving force but an angry tide, pulling me down, tugging at my head, falling, falling, draining.
And then air met my wet skin, and it was cold.
Alex Moll also identified his character’s birth day as the day on which the world changed.
It’s warm and dark; the soft rhythmic pulsations are soooo soothing. I am floating! I love it!
Oops, what was that? Something weird just happened; like a squeezing, all around my body.
No, stop that please! That is too much. My head is being jammed down and my legs are still floating above! It’s outrageous!
Oh no, something is seriously wrong! That squeezing is much stronger. My whole body being pushed, jammed downwards. My head is being squeezed, tighter and tighter. I don’t think I can take much more of this!
Aaargh! This is so weird! My chest is sucking air into my mouth! There is a loud screaming in my ears; my screaming! I can feel my arms and legs jerking around! I’m not floating anymore! Something is grabbing my legs! Yikes!
What’s this, now; a warm body cuddling me; smell; taste?
So this is life? I think I’m going to love it!
It’s ….. absolutely sensational!
Others that Jo-Anne and Richard singled out were submissions by Patricia Groenewald,
Most of the three hundred kids sitting in the soft seats of the high-school’s auditorium were older than her. Somehow she’d made it to the brightly-lit stage without tripping. The first slide was up behind her and it was time. Her hands trembled. Look at a point above the audience and talk.
Afterwards they told her of how her shoulders shook in the shadow cast by the lectern light. All that she remembered was to click the button and talk. At least they laughed at her slide of the long drop with the two slats for a seat and the title ‘When you gotta go, you gotta go!’ And they hadn’t spoken. No one had jeered at her or made cat calls. At the end they had applauded. Not many of them would have done it. A speaker had a certain amount of power, and the taste of it lingered.
Marilyn de Villiers,
Seven years, seven months and seven days. It was biblical in its symmetry. For the seventh time, he peered at his calculations on the computer screen and an orgasm of ecstasy shivered up his spine. To the ignorant, a meaningless mess – a jumble of scattered digits and symbols in Latin Extended-A. He alone could savour the beauty – nay, the perfection of the patterns.
He leaned back, fingers entwined behind his head, shirt buttons straining. He shut his eyes. The applause washed over him. The lavish Stockholm hall rose to its feet in homage; the President of the Academy held out his right hand in reverence…
He opened his eyes. There it was – his alone, for now. Later he’d share it with the world. Validate his long, long quest; prove the sceptics, the unbelievers wrong. He glanced out at the menacing clouds. A forked tongue lashed out, splintering the dusk. His computer flickered. And died.
The day that things changed.
Joshua was always there for company, Toni talked to him before sleeping or when she woke in the night he would make an appearance. His serious face, light brown smooth skin, two crooked teeth and his hair dark just like hers.
‘Who is it?’ her mother asked
Her mother’s face contorted and she fled.
That look became etched on Toni’s memory.
At other times her mother would see her playing and pause to watch with a wistful hint of a smile or a solemn face.
One night Toni was listening to Joan Armatrading’s deep voice, thrilled by her unexpected change of octave. A noise drew Toni from her room. Her parent’s door was ajar. ‘It wasn’t your fault’ her father said soothingly.
‘Well why did he die?’ her mother sobbed.
Toni crept away recognising from whence Joshua had materialised. If it wasn’t their fault whose was it?
Angela van Schalkwyk.
What a day. The ATM swallows my credit card and the girl at the bank information desk tells me that I’ll have to wait till tomorrow for security to retrieve it. They’ll let me know when I can collect. Dream on, I’m not coming back here. I want it delivered to my home. Not possible miss. My cheeks flush. Call whoever’s in charge. Her superior sidles up. That’s right, delivery won’t be possible. Oh really, we’ll see about that. The two women stare back defiantly. I give them my special drop-dead look. Can I assist, says a soothing voice. I gasp. Ralph! Three years ago, I cried for weeks when he left ‘to discover the world’. Great to see you, Jen. I tingle deliciously as he steers me by the elbow into an office labelled ‘Acting Manager’. OK if I drop by at six tomorrow … with your card, naturally.