GDWC 2013 Short Story Winners

Short Story Competition - Winners

1st - George Hawthorn, N. Ireland – King Jazz

2nd – Bea Davenport, Northumberland – Grocer Jack and the Pirate

3rd – T. D. Griggs, Oxfords – Caesar’s Cat

4th – Margaret Webster, Tyne and Wear – Cookie Crunch

5th – Emma Norry, Bournemouth – Josie


Short Listed and Commended (in no particular order)

Bruce Harris, Devon – Beyond the Autumn

Tim Griggs, Oxford – Slave

Mike Watson, Darlington – A Gift from the Sea

Sherri Turner, Surrey – Open Door

Gerald Vinestock, Lancashire – Still Life

Penny Aldred, W. Yorkshire – Face North, Fly Home

Jo Tiddy, Oxfordshire – The Diplomat’s Wife


General Comments from Kat Lund our 2013 Short Story Judge

This years’ short list demonstrates a breadth of stories and narrative voice from the lyrical to the historical to the intimate first person. These invite us into personal life moments, to explore small moments in time or whole lifetimes and use a range of devises to do from the vivid description in A Gift from the Sea to the repetition and graduality of time Still Life. In Open Door we explore the intimacy of lifetime through the passage of small moments and its painstaking dissection in the form of dual narrative. A different form of duality is explored in Beyond Autumn; the theme of lifetimes been also picked up in Face North Fly Home and in the final two pieces, the Diplomats Life and Slave, where small and large life events meet and force actions and consequences on the larger and smaller scale. In different ways, and through different stories, this years’ short list offers a range of different ways to make us stop and reflect, perhaps about things that have never touched our lives, perhaps about things that one day will, in some way .


1st Place – George Hawthorn for “King Jazz”

Hung-over and over-tired, Jez steps from the breezy sunshine into the billowing cumulus of the marquee — and bang into a jab in the chest from Charlie. "If we weren't gigging in five minutes son, you'd be back busking down Pottinger's Entry." He tosses the young man a black T-shirt emblazoned with a logo depicting a large ship looming through a starry night.

"Stick that on quick."

Jez reads the jazz-age lettering out loud: "The Belfast Titanic Dry Gin Distillers Jazz Combo. Snappy," he declares.

"Listen up funny boy. It's who we are today. Who we're gonna be for he foreseeable future. Unless someone — you — screws up."

Jez is incredulous. "These distillers actually consider it auspicious to launch their brand using the Titanic motif! What's the concept? Drink our booze — watch your ship go down? One berg or two?"

"Did I or did I not say listen up? The guests here today are all top bananas in the hospitality industry. A good performance and we'll be booked solid until you're my age and I'm dead. Capice?"

Charlie watches way too many mobster movies in Jez’s opinion. He even wears a fedora, albeit a straw one. He yearns for the glory days when jazz was king — not just the jester it is now performed by paunchy guys in misconceived T-shirts.

"How come you were on the piss yesterday, anyway?" Charlie asks. "Thought you had Alice?"

Jez's head emerges through the neck hole of the T-shirt. He shakes it. "Karen wouldn't let me see her cos we were late back from the zoo last Sunday. I’d promised the kid we’d see the monkeys but we’d barely reached the fucking prairie dogs before it was time to turn back for the bus. We pushed on anyway."

The monkey house, Alice's favourite, is at the very top of the hill. A long trek for a four-year-old and an even longer one with a four-year-old on your shoulders and a cuddly orang-utan dangling in your face.

"I warned you son." Charlie slips off his shades. "Go to court, get a proper contact order. Otherwise she'll jerk you around like a Muppet until the kid's old enough to drive. I speak from experience."

"Yeah, but you know Karen." Jez rakes back the briar of his hair. "Minute she gets a summons she'll block all contact until the court makes its ruling. Which will take forever. The kid'll forget me."

"Least you saw the monkeys," Charlie says. "She'll remember the monkeys for sure. What's that cartoon she's crazy about? The Disney one where Louis Prima does that wild Dixieland number?"

"The Jungle Book."

"Yeah, The Jungle Book. The pair of you must have watched it a hundred times. Which means Alice is a jazz lover and you're a jazzman. How can she forget you?"

"Don't want to bust your bubble Charlie but really, I think, she loves it for the animals rather than the music."

"You think?" Charlie replaces his shades and slaps Jez's sax case. "Come on, the boys are all set up."

He leads the way between linen-clothed tables, each with a centrepiece of summer flowers, gin bottles and ship-shaped ice buckets. Glasses are clinking.

As they cross a parquet dance square to the stage Jim performs a roll on his drums and dings a cymbal. "Shag her then, Jezzy boy?" He is referring to the sexy blonde at their last gig. Eamon joins the banter by twanging a high-pitched guitar note and slinking it right down low and dirty whilst doing something reptilian with his tongue.

The blonde had only wanted to book them for her dad's fiftieth but Jez says, "She was a lot more fun than humping your drum kit, Jim."

Charlie shushes them and taps the mic. "Good afternoon everyone and welcome to Down Royal Racecourse and the Belfast Titanic Dry Gin Distillers Day at the Races."

"Fuck me," Eamon hisses. "He can remember that gob-full but not the lyrics to Summertime."

"Race cards are on your tables," Charlie continues, "and there's a tote betting point over on my right. Lunch will be served shortly. Meanwhile enjoy the gin and the jazz. Good luck." He raises his trumpet. "Okay guys, we'll kick off with Doctor Jazz — see if that won't cure young Jez's hang-over."

Smoked salmon starters are being served to the accompaniment of Basin Street Blues when a party arrives to fill the last table. Charlie gives Jez a kick but has to wait until the end of the first set before doing his Bogart impression: "Of all the gin joints in all the tents in all the world she walks into mine..."

Jez hadn't even noticed the arrival of his ex. Her hair now expensively blonder, curved in scimitars towards her chin. It seems she is the only female in a group of suits. The slap-head beside her Jez recognises as the new boyfriend whose picture was in the Sunday World in connection with some money-laundering racket.

Jez tells Charlie he's going out for his break and ducks beneath the canvas backstage.

"Half an hour," Charlie warns.

At the bar Jez downs a swift pint and carries a second out to the sunshine. Near the paddock he finds a spot to sit and consider Charlie's advice about instigating legal proceedings.

"Daddy!" calls a high, clear voice.

Scarcely daring to hope, Jez glances up and is thrilled to see Alice running towards him. Before he knows it he's hugging her one-armed whilst trying not to drench her blue dress in lager.

"This is my daddy," she tells a teenaged girl slouching up behind, whom Jez guesses is Slap-head's daughter.

Alice explains they were over at the bouncy castle and are now on their way to see Mummy in the big tent. Jez snatches the opportunity to suggest he takes Alice to see the horses run.

The girl looks up from her mobile. "Whatever. You're her dad." She wanders off.

As the horses parade around the paddock Alice picks out her favourite, a chestnut with white socks. "But they're not really socks," she states accurately. When Jez asks if he'll  win the race she frowns. "He might."

He places a tenner at 10/1 and holds up the blue and orange docket.

"High rollers, Alice — that's what we are now. And Prince Mojo is going to win."

Beyond the rail lush grass streams in wind-silvered shoals. The Mournes are lilac through the summer shimmer. As the runners and riders round the far side of the course they disappear from sight and the commentator keeps the spectators updated through echoing speakers.

Prince Mojo is well down the field but Jez is happy to have this out-of-the-blue moment with Alice's hand enclosed in his.

"Here they come!" alerts the commentator.

The crowd cleaves to the rail. Binoculars are raised. Prince has made ground and is tracking the leaders. Jez hoists his daughter onto his shoulders. With two furlongs to go the favourite makes his move and takes the lead. The spectators urge. But wait, Prince is coming with him. His white socks whirr. The ground trembles.

Jez's stomach tingles. "Come on Prince!" He raises his fist to whisk the air. “Who’s gonna win?” Alice's little fist follows suit. “Prince Mojo!”

"They're neck and neck," cries the commentator. "But at the line it's Prince Mojo by a length. Prince Mojo wins the inaugural Belfast Titanic Dry Gin Distillers Company Handicap — by the length of  a well-smoked cigarette!"

Jez kisses Alice. "We'll be able to go to the zoo lots of times now." He checks his watch. "Quick! Giddy-up! Let's see if we can run as fast as Prince." He gallops off with Alice giggling after him.

Karen is waiting outside the marquee, gin in hand. Her face is flushed, she totters on her stilettos. "I could have you arrested for abduction, you know."

"We just went to see the horses. I told the girl."

Alice is dismayed. "He did Mummy."

"Your father should have got permission from me first," Karen says.

Before he can stop himself Jez retorts, "I'll get it in court then."

Karen's eyes spark. "Just try. You'll be lucky to see her again in a month of Sundays. You haven't even a steady job."

"Maybe you being drunk and shacked up with a gangster will strengthen my case."

"He's a hotelier — with excellent lawyers." She trails Alice into the marquee.

Jez can’t help himself striding after them and the shouting starts. Slap-head is on his feet calling Jez an asshole, telling him to fuck off, and Jez is shoving him and gin bottles are clattering onto plates and the suits are on their feet in menacing unison and Jez is vowing to land one on Slap-head before going down but his biceps are clenched from behind and he struggles around to face Charlie's shades.

"Hate to break up the rumble guys but I need my saxophonist for the last set. Capice?"

The hoods glance at each other, bemused just long enough for the old sun-spectacled jazzman to propel Jez towards the stage.

Jez hooks his sax onto his neck-strap. "I've really screwed it up now."

"Don't worry," Charlie tells him. "It'll take a little time but everything will be cool. All the same," he winks to the boys, "I think we'll start with...Ain't Misbehavin'."

As the afternoon draws to a close Charlie thanks everyone and swaps his horn for maracas to lead his band in their mellow finale, his beloved, The Girl From Ipanema. Jim begins brushing his skins and whispers, "I've started playing this in my sleep."

Eamon quips back, "I've started sleeping while I'm playing it."

But Charlie is oblivious to their remarks. He never listens when they point out he should amend the lyrics as his girl, his true love, was from nowhere near Ipanema. He's eighteen again, way back when the song was a hit and he was a dumb musician and messed it up with the family he might still have had with the lass from Aghadowey.

His voice is wistful. The sifting of the maracas like falling rain. Jez accompanies as mellifluously as he can while wanting to unbend the curves in his sax over someone's skull.

Karen and her party rise before the end of the song and move towards the exit. She flicks her hair triumphantly at Jez as he strains for a final glimpse of his daughter through the forest of trouser-legs.

He doesn't realise he is blowing way too loud. Doesn't notice Charlie's sidelong glance. Doesn't hear the maracas cease. Doesn't realise Charlie has stopped singing his love song mid-chorus. Doesn't see Charlie reach down for his trumpet.

But he almost tumbles from the stage when a Dixieland riff suddenly blasts up into the canopy. The boys stumble to a halt and look to their leader. This is unprecedented. Eamon is first to grasp the buoyant new rhythm and cranks up his amp. Jim tosses his brushes and snatches up the sticks, starts drumming a jungle beat. Charlie nods at Jez to get in the action then lowers his trumpet and, Louis Prima-style, sings, "Now I'm the king of the swingers, oooh ... the jungle VIP!"

The crowd at the exit turn towards the commotion. The Belfast Titanic Dry Gin Distillers Jazz Combo are steaming full speed ahead. Eamon comes in with the shoo bee dee doos and the scoo bee doo bee doo bees. Jim screeches monkey calls. Jez blows a storm. The marquee beats like a gargantuan lung. Charlie is dancing. Jazz is king.

A small figure squeezes through the throng and hesitates on the edge of the dance floor clutching a cuddly toy — until the beckoning sweep of a straw fedora brings her running to clamber onstage where she is given a maraca and shown how to shake it to the beat.

"Forget a jazzman?" Charlie shouts to his sax player. “You think?”


What our judge, Kat Lund, said about “King Jazz”

Humorously written and with vivid characters who make their personalities leap from the page you are instantly thrust into this story as you are into a good piece of music. Reflecting its subject matter this is a narrative that subsumes you so that you feel at once in the piece, appealed to and engaged by the pace whose tempo creates the stories music and places one in the moment of the story and engages the senses. A reminder to us all to fight using our strengths, whatever they may be.


About George:

George Hawthorn lives County Down in Northern Ireland. He has worked as a bookseller and media technician. In his spare time, apart from writing, he enjoys sailing, fishing, photography and backing the occasional winner at the races.



 



2nd Place  - Bea Davenport for “Grocer Jack and the

Pirate”



 



There were two things to

be frightened of that summer. One was Aunty Maw. The other was Grocer Jack. The funny thing was that

Izzie had never met Aunty Maw, she’d only heard about her and seen a couple of

old snaps. And Grocer Jack was just a

song. It was on Mam’s big radio, that dark coffin-like box on legs that cast a

shadow across the living room. Little Izzie’s arms bubbled into goose bumps as

soon as she heard the radio man announce the song or play the first few bars.

It started with some kind of bells playing up and down a minor scale. Next, a

deep brass sound, mournful, like a funeral march. And then the first words,

scary as a sermon.



 



‘Count the days, into

years. Yes, eighty-two brings many fears. Yesterday’s laughter turns to

tears.’*



 



Izzie wished the

presenter man would just stop playing it, but it must’ve been one of his

favourite songs. She would hear it two or three times over just a few hours, if

the radio was on all evening – and it usually was, the box getting warmer and

warmer and smelling of old wood, burned dust and Bakelite. She’d heard it

enough to know all the words and the message behind them: death is waiting to

snatch you away.  



 



Izzie’s Mam had already

warned her about this. She told Izzie a story about how, at the age of 45, she’d

found out she was expecting her little girl. “I went to see the doctor,” she

told Izzie, pausing to suck on her cigarette and breathe the smoke back out

again, faint-grey like a little ghost, into the room. Izzie watched it float

away into nothing. “The doctor told me I was too old to have a baby. He said I

should just get rid of you.”



 



Izzie often wondered if

that might yet happen, on one of those days when she made Mam particularly

cross.



 



 “Of course I told him no,” said Izzie’s Mam.

“But Aunty Maw thought he was talking sense. You don’t want a kid at your age,

she told me. You’ll never live to see it grown up. Best get rid. But I just

couldn’t do it.”



 



The twist in the tale

was that this doctor, according to Mam, died himself, at a very young age.



 



“How young?” Izzie

asked. Mam wasn’t sure. But very young indeed, she said. So you didn’t have to

be eighty-two. It could happen any time.



 



Mam had a bad chest.

Every time she went to bed, Izzie wondered if this would be the night when Mam,

like Grocer Jack, would suddenly find that something was wrong and her heart

wasn’t strong. She would try to open windows, to breathe in some fresh air. But

it would do no good. Oh no, oh no-oh.



 



Izzie wanted to know

what would happen to her if Mam died. At first, Mam clicked her tongue and

said: “Don’t be so daft. I’m not going to die.”



 



But Izzie stayed where

she was, in the kitchen, looking up at Mam, and so after a while Mam added: “I

suppose Aunty Maw would have to take you. And she’d soon sort you out, I can

tell you. She wouldn’t stand for your nonsense.” 



 



In the photo on the

mantelpiece, Aunty Maw didn’t smile.



 



Izzie didn’t like going

to bed. She wasn’t good at getting to sleep, which Mam said was naughty. The

mournful voices of the children on the record would spin round and round in her

head. She would try, under the covers, to sing the other, happier songs the

Radio Luxembourg man played: Itchycoo

Park and the one about wearing flowers in your hair. But Grocer Jack was the only one she knew

all the words to and it just kept creeping



back. Where was this

terrible town, anyway, where children were told to go scream and shout at old

men? Where people sat at the breakfast table waiting for their marmalade to be

delivered?



 



She would try to read

her library book, but Mam would shout up the stairs to “put that light out”,

and it had such a noisy click that she daren’t put it back on again. So she

would creep barefoot to the top of the stairs and peer down into the living room.

If she could see and smell the cigarette smoke trailing up from Mam’s armchair,

then she reckoned Mam was still alive. Izzie would sit there, shivering, with

her arms around herself, rubbing her feet across the carpet to keep them warm.

As soon as she heard the chair creak and Mam’s cups and ashtray clatter, Izzie

would dart back to bed and lie still, skin prickling, in the dark.



 



Izzie had only seen two

dead things and one of them probably didn’t count. The first was a maggoty bird

the boy two-doors-down kept in a box. He was checking it every day to see how

much was left. He said it was science. The second was an un-favourite doll who

Izzie never liked enough to name. It was a naked baby doll that didn’t have

proper hair, only moulded plastic whorls around its head that looked like a

skin disease. She’d loaned it to the same boy and his friends one afternoon

because they needed a ‘hostage’. She’d watched guiltily, at the gate, as they

tied it to a tree, whipped it and punched out one of its eyes. When they handed

it back, Izzie couldn’t bear the reproachful stare of the remaining glassy eye.

She dug the doll a shallow grave in the back garden, under some big dark

leaves. But dead dolls were probably different to dead people, she thought.   



 



In the mornings, Mam’s

cough sounded like a drum roll. Some days it went on and on. Izzie put her

fingers in her ears. Oh no, oh no-oh.

Once, when the opening bars of



Grocer

Jack started up

again, Izzie made a grab for the smooth grey dials. But she turned up the volume

hard at the same time as tuning into a scream of static. It made a noise like a

motorbike driving through the living room. Mam came racing in from the kitchen

and smacked Izzie’s hand to the rhythm of her words. “Leave – it – alone!”



Izzie backed away and

Mam put her face in her hands for a moment, then looked up again, wet-eyed.

“Just go outside and play, Izzie. I’m not in the mood today.”



Izzie spent a long time

wandering round the streets. Eventually she found a house where some kids were

having a sort of picnic on the front step. She stood at the gate and stared for

so long that, in the end, the oldest girl said she could come in and play. She

ate some things that she’d never tasted before because Mam thought they weren’t

nice: cottage cheese and crackers with Marmite. Marmite was a really bad thing,

Mam always said, so Izzie was surprised to find she quite liked its taste of

earth and salt and earwax.



 



Late in the afternoon,

when she wandered home, Izzie found a strange woman sitting in the living room.

She was wearing trousers, which Mam never did, and her face was all sharp

corners. The woman didn’t say hello. She said: “Your mother’s gone to bed for a

rest.”



 



“Are you Aunty Maw?”

Izzie asked and when the woman nodded, Izzie burst into tears. 



 



“Bloody hell,” said

Aunty Maw. “What’s all that about?”



 



“Is Mam going to die?

Have you come to sort me out?”



 



The look on Aunty Maw’s

face was hard to read. “Your Mam has a bad chest, that’s all. I don’t think

she’s planning on giving up the ghost just yet. As for sorting you out - well.

Do you need sorting out?”



 



 Izzie shook her head. “Then I won’t bother,”

said Aunty Maw.



 



For two days, Mam stayed

in bed, and the only sound that came from her room was that cough. Aunty Maw

told Izzie not to pester Mam. Izzie put her head round the bedroom door once,

but the room was dark even though it was day time and it smelled bad, of

cigarette smoke and sweat and sick. Izzie and Aunty Maw kept out of each

other’s way. Aunty Maw even let Izzie have her tea in front of the television,

which meant they didn’t have to talk to each other.



 



On the third day, Izzie

was having her supper when she heard an ear-splitting scream from the bottom of

the garden. She went to the back door and ran down the path to where Aunty Maw

was standing, trembling and pointing to the ground.



 



“I went to pull some

rhubarb,” she was sobbing. “And  - and -”





 



Izzie looked down to see

a tiny pale hand sticking out of the soil.



 



“Oh,” she said, and

leaned down towards it. She pulled and the dead baby doll emerged, its eye

socket full of soil. Aunty Maw stared at her and Izzie took a step backwards in

case she was going to get a smack. Then Aunty Maw started to laugh, so hard that

Izzie thought she’d never stop.



 



When they went in the

house, Grocer Jack was on the radio.



 



Aunty Maw said: “If I

hear this morbid old dirge one more time I’m going to scream.” And she turned

the dials, but instead of static she found the sounds of people talking. There

were no songs. And even though Izzie didn’t really understand what the voices

were saying, she liked them murmuring softly in the background, like they were

sorting everything out.



 



The next morning when

Izzie got up, Mam was sitting at the table in her nightie and fuzzy dressing

gown. Aunty Maw had made a rhubarb tart and Mam said she just had to get up for

that, because it was her favourite. Mam’s face looked yellow-grey and a little

older than before, but every time she and Aunty Maw caught each other’s eye

they started to laugh. It was a long time since Izzie had heard Mam laugh, and

even with the coughing in the middle, it sounded good.



Aunty Maw was holding

something behind her back. “Here,” she said, and brought out Izzie’s baby doll,

all cleaned up. Only it wasn’t a baby any more. Aunty Maw had made it some

trousers and a red felt jacket and it had a hankie round its head. She’d turned

one of its hands into a hook using silver cigarette box paper and best of all,

it had a little black eye patch.



 



“It’s a pirate doll,”

Aunty Maw said, as if Izzie was too daft to know. “I called him Jack.” She

waved the doll from side to side as if it was dancing. “Yo-ho-ho. That’s what

the pirates say, isn’t it? He was too young to die, I reckoned.”



 



Izzie put Pirate Jack

into the basket on the front of her trike. She pedalled fast down the street to

show him to her new Marmite friends.  And

as she pedalled, her knees bumping the handlebars, she sang. Yo-ho, yo-ho-oh.



 



AUTHOR’S NOTE: In 1967, the ‘Summer of Love’, the single

‘Excerpt From A Teenage Opera (Grocer Jack)’ spent fifteen weeks in the UK

charts. * “EXCERPT FROM A



TEENAGE OPERA” WORDS AND MUSIC BY KEITH HOPKINS

AND MARK WIRTZ © 1967, REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION OF ROBBINS MUSIC CORP LTD/ EMI MUSIC PUBLISHING

LTD, LONDON W8 5SW



 



What our judge, Kat Lund, said about

“Grocer Jack and the Pirate”



 



The

terrors of our childhood are rarely explainable to adults nor are they great

world evils. This is a dilemma, and a truth beautifully captured by the author

of this evocative story of family relationships, childhood worry and doubt and

the quickness with which they pass and inexplicably turn with our growing

understanding of the world. The exploration of the relationship between all

three characters never comes close to sentimentality and in few words hints at

deeper and complex pasts and futures between not only Izzie and the adults but

perhaps most interestingly between the sisters themselves.



 



About Bea:



 



Bea

Davenport is the writing name of former print and broadcast journalist Barbara

Henderson. Her first crime/suspense novel, In Too Deep, was a runner-up

in the Luke Bitmead Bursary and is published by Legend Press.







Bea spent many years as a newspaper reporter and latterly seventeen years as a

senior broadcast journalist with the BBC in the north-east of England. She has

a Creative Writing PhD from Newcastle University where she studied under the

supervision of award-winning writer Jackie Kay and renowned literature expert

Professor Kim Reynolds. The children's novel produced as part of the PhD, The

Serpent House, was shortlisted for the 2010 Times/Chicken House Award and

Bea has also won several prizes for short stories.



Originally from Tyneside, she lives in Berwick-upon-Tweed with her partner and

children.



 



 



3rd

Place – T.D. Griggs for “Caesar’s Cat”



 



It was my last command.



 



The last time I would

wear a centurion’s crimson cloak, or that leather tunic, so moulded to my body

that it was soft as kid. Soon my gear would be packed away in the sleeping

chamber of my promised farm in Umbria. One day my grandson might find the trunk

in some alcove. He’d pull out a cracked cowhide jerkin with sweat stains and

clumsily stitched battle scars, and a nicked steel blade powdered with rust,

and he’d wonder what his old buffer of a grandfather had got up to in his

younger days. He’d look at me differently then.



 



It pleased me to think

of that.



 



The creature’s roar

shook the ship and woke me from my reverie. I got to my feet and stepped to the

quarterdeck rail. Several of the slaves looked around fearfully, as if the

animal might be pacing the benches among them. The overseer’s whip cracked and

all backs bent low over the oars. It amused me that these men - thugs who would

have murdered all of us given the chance - were not truly afraid of the whip,

nor even of the lion. They were afraid of me, with my scarred knuckles gripping

the rail and the scarlet cloak whipping around me in the dawn breeze. They had

good reason.



 



            I took a few paces along the deck to let them all get a

good look. We were cutting into the open sea out of Alexandria, flames from the

pharos fading behind us in the strengthening light of morning. There was a

catspaw of wind over the purple sea and soon the captain would have the square

sail raised, but for the moment there was only the rumbling rhythm of the oars,

the grunts of the slaves who strained at them, and the slap and thrust of the

prow.



 



            I climbed down to the lower deck. The breeze had cleared

most of the stench, but down here there was still that galley taint on the air,

sweat and fear and shit. And under it all an alien feral tang. There was

something ancient about this, some dread which made the skin crawl on the nape

of my neck, but I kept my back turned to the cage. The big cat bellowed again,

a vast despairing boom, enraged by my insolence. I could hear it scratching at

the timber bars behind me. None of the oarsmen dared glance up: if they had met

my eye they would have been flogged, and they knew it.



 



            I slowly turned to face the beast.



 



            He was enormous, quite the biggest I had ever seen, his

muscles moving like liquid under his yellow pelt. He prowled the narrow cage,

tail switching, his amber eyes, slanting with malice, fixed upon me. The

Nubians brought them up the Nile from deepest Africa. By the time they reached

Alexandria prime specimens like this commanded fabulous sums, but such was the

appetite for spectacle in Rome that the dealers knew they would get their

price. There were rumours about what the animals were fed while they awaited a

buyer. It was worth keeping big cats in good condition, and better still if

meanwhile they acquired a taste for human flesh: it saved time later. That

wasn’t my business. The creature was just cargo to me. As I was myself, a

forty-two year old centurion returning for discharge. But I still outranked

anyone on board, and I wasn’t about to let slaves, crew or even lions forget

it.



           



It was June, and the

gods sent us a fair wind and a calm sea which brought us into Tyre after a few

days. At the old Phoenician quay they loaded crates of Tyrean glass, bolts of

silk, and great jars of oil and wine. It took them all day, mainly because half

the stevedores wouldn’t go anywhere near the caged beast, while the other half

kept stopping to gawp at it.



 



            I got away from the bustle and stink and spent the

afternoon in the old city. I knew it well, having served in the province during

the Jewish revolt. When I got back to the ship, slow with wine, blue evening

was falling. There was a commotion on the cargo deck as I came aboard: the

greybeard captain told me that some fool had goaded the lion, then turned away

so his friends could see how brave he was. In that eyeblink the great cat had

laid open the side of his head and neck. They were binding up the groaning

victim as I climbed down, but I could see it was a waste of time. The crew fell

silent on seeing me and carried the wretch away, ducking their heads at me as

they went.



 



            ‘Who feeds this creature?’



 



            A thin boy stepped forward, clapping his fist to his

breast in salute. A Greek, I guessed, one of the captain’s household slaves,

apprenticed to the sea. I clubbed him around the ear so that he fell on one

knee.



 



            ‘Get up. You’ve been selling the animal’s meat.’



 



            ‘No, sir.’



 



            I hit him again. Once more he got up, rubbing his face,

his eyes filling with tears.



            ‘You’ve been starving him, that’s why he struck.’ I

pointed at the deck, slick with blood and gobbets of flesh. ‘I’ll have you

flogged.’



 



            At that moment the captain leaned over the rail above me.

‘Begging your pardon, sir, but they tell us we’re to let them go hungry every

few days. They say it sharpens them.’



 



            Well. It was his ship and the boy was his slave, perhaps

his catamite. Besides, the wine had put me in a forgiving mood. I grunted a

dismissal and the boy scuttled away, bowing and scraping as if I were royalty.



 



            The overseer was already yelling at the rowers, and with

a great rumble the long oars were run out. Sailors climbed the stays like rats,

ready to loose sail. Others ran along the gunwales, ready to fend off passing

craft.



I knew enough to stay

out of the way. I took a seat on a crate and watched the lion. He was prowling

again, rumbling deep in his throat, his wet mane matted with human blood. Some

shreds of flesh still lay just inside the bars, and he paused to lick them up

like a household cat lapping milk, but never took his yellow eyes off me.



 



The cage had been built

into the stern of the ship, shielded by a curtain of leather, now tied back. I

saw now that a wooden grating had been lashed across the cage to divide it. The

lion was cramped into one half, forced to tramp in tight circles over his own

stinking droppings, his rope of a tail thumping the bars with every turn.



 



I peered into the

darkness of the other end of the cage. It took me some moments to make out the

figure there, a dark figure, a woman, her cloak pulled up over her hair. I

realized with a shock that her face was uncovered and that her large eyes were

fixed on my own face.



‘Greetings, Flavius,’

she said.



 



Ruth. Ten years. The

dusty camp at Caesarea. Old Matthias, who held the contract to supply the

legion with bread and wine, and who grew rich on it. And Ruth, his daughter.

Eighteen then, with hair she could wrap around her pale body like a dark shawl.



My mouth was dry. I

said, ‘How is this?’



 



She shrugged. ‘My

husband defied the empire. Dead now, of course.’ The lion snarled and hooked

its paw through the cage at her, a cat after a mouse, not quite reaching her.

Ruth ignored it, got to her feet and stepped into the light. She was lovelier

even than I remembered.



 



‘They’ll sell you into

slavery.’ I meant to give her hope. Myself too, perhaps. Whoever was sold could

also be bought.



 



She smiled. ‘No.’



 



‘I have rank. Even now.’



 



‘You, Flavius? You are

more a prisoner than I am. No, I am for the arena, courtesy of the Governor. He

kindly left me my beauty so that Caesar can see it ripped from me with tooth

and claw.’ She nodded sideways at the lion. ‘Who knows? He and I may meet again

soon enough, with no bars between us.’



 



‘Ruth.’



 



‘I am not afraid.’



 



‘You should be. I have

seen it.’



 



She shook her head

again. ‘I’m only afraid of the crowd. Those tiers of bawling Romans, baying for

blood. I don’t wish to crawl naked and torn in the dirt before them.’ She held

my eyes steadily. ‘My body was not fashioned for their sport. You know that.’



 



I stepped to the bars,

opened my cloak so that she could see the hilt of the dagger in my belt. I leaned

against the cage, close enough for me to smell her fear, close enough for her

to reach the knife. For a moment our fingers touched. But then she stepped back

into the shadows.



 



‘I cannot.’



 



‘Ruth. It will be

unspeakable.’



 



‘It will be as it will

be.’



 



She moved out of my

sight into the darkness. I heard the rustle of her cloak as she gathered it

around her. The great cat rumbled, and nuzzled the grating and shook it against

its leather fastenings. I could feel the beast’s ripe breath, and knew that Ruth

could feel it too.



 



The weather broke that

night. I grabbed what sleep I could under the flapping awning they had rigged

on the quarterdeck. The rain lashed in over me, but I was used to that: it was

not rain, nor the wild pitching of the ship, which kept me awake. I rose and

stood at the rail. The black sea was broken with white all around. Above me,

and silhouetted against ripped rags of cloud, the steersmen toiled to hold the

craft steady. Spray burst against the hull and hissed down, sluicing over the sodden

covers where the oar-slaves huddled.



 



            I climbed down, unnoticed. I thought I was alone until a

slight figure appeared among the crates, whimpering in the storm, struggling

with a burden. The Greek slave, grappling with a great wooden basin.



 



            ‘What are you about, boy?’



 



            He was half sobbing with fear. He grabbed the rail to

steady himself: the basin slipped and offal and bone slapped to the wet deck

between us.



 



            ‘For the great cat, sir. He’s not been fed, and he’s

powerful hungry.’



 



            ‘Pitch it over the side.’



 



            ‘But sir, I thought you wanted -’



 



             ‘Pitch it over the

side, lad,’ I said, gently, ‘and go back to your rest.’



 



            He looked at me with wide eyes, but crouched and scooped

the scraps back into the basin and staggered away into the roaring blackness

with it. I waited. A few feet away I could hear the creature snuffling and

grunting. It had smelled flesh. I suppose it had been smelling flesh all night.

I closed my eyes for a second, and then paced softly on bare feet to the cage



.



            I could not see Ruth, but there was a wedge of shadow

against the bulwark which I knew must conceal her sleeping form. In his half of

the cage the beast circled once, thrashed his tail, turned on me eyes which

blazed like golden lamps. He nudged the partition. I slid out my blade, reached

through the bars and slit the fastenings.



 



            I believe it was over before I regained the upper deck. A

thud as the grating went down, one startled exclamation - just one - and then

the whipping rain and the moan of the wind blotted out everything else for me.



 



 



What our judge, Kat Lund, said about “Caesar’s

Cat”



 



This story centres and

is balanced around two caged lions whose pacing around ever decreasing and

tightening circles both creates and heightens the tension and atmosphere of the

piece. One is the actual lion who lies at the heart of the ship, the other the

metaphorical lion, the roman commander who lies at the heart of the piece who

is both mirrored and opposed by the beast in question.  As the two go head to head the commander is

really facing himself in the form a figure from his past and the cages of his

command that will never fall way. As we meet him thinking upon packing away his

soldiering gear to be unpacked one day by his grandson, so he is caged by Rome

as the lion is caged by bars and must face up to his nature  and to the limits of his cage as he makes his

decision at the end.



 



About

T. D:



 



T.D.GRIGGS was born in

London and has lived and worked on four continents. He holds British and

Australian nationality, and has worked variously as a truck driver, journalist,

film extra, MD of a successful communications consultancy, and - for about

seven sweaty hours - as a volunteer fire fighter. Despite that, much of the

Australian bush survives.



 



He has written many short

stories, and four novels, including the father-son drama THE WARNING BELL

(written as Tom Macaulay), and the Victorian epic DISTANT THUNDER and the

contemporary crime drama REDEMPTION BLUES, both under his own name.



 



T.D.Griggs is also a

professional business writer with an international client base. He lives with

his wife Jenny in Oxford, UK. They own half of a black Labrador dog called

James (a neighbour owns the other half).



 



To find out more visit www.tdgriggs.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @TDGRIGGS1



 



4th Place – Margaret

Webster for “Cookie Crunch”



 



“I’d laughed when I

overheard the couple arguing over whether to buy the cookie crumble ice cream.

‘To pot with the calories,’ she’d said, and plunged her hand into the freezer

cabinet.



 



‘I’m having it. I could

wake up tomorrow morning … dead.’



 



“So that’s exactly what

happened to you then?”



 



“Yes… and I hadn’t even

had the pleasure of the luxury ice cream… But how did you know..?”



 



“Your hand going straight

through that glass case was a bit of a give away.”



 



“Ah, I haven’t perfected

… much … about this experience.”



 



“It takes time. I’m

Quinn … O’Connor.”



 



“Claire … Sumner.”



 



“So, you like museums?”



 



“I always wanted to

visit Rome, but now I’m here, I’m not sure what to do. It’s not quite the same

… on your own. And … don’t laugh … I don’t feel dressed for going places.”



“You look … lovely.

That’s a cute checked night shirt you have there.”



 



“If I had known this was

going to happen to me I would have put on my slinky petrol blue nightie, before

I went to bed, the one with shoe-string straps. I only wore this because my

cousin Deidre bought it for me. And Brian was away for six weeks on a business

trip to Egypt.”



 



Quinn twirled with his

arms outstretched. “Didn’t you know embarrassing nightwear is all the rage in

Rome this year?”



 



I put my hand across my

mouth. “Your wife bought you those pyjamas didn’t she?”



“Worse, her mother did.”

He beckoned me to some lime green, highly incongruous seats. “So, how’s it been?”



 



It was a relief to share

the last hours, if it had been hours, with someone who obviously understood.



 



“I can’t start the day

without a cup of coffee.” I choked slightly. “Not that I’m exactly starting any day now. It took a lot of

deep breathing; borrowed from my yoga classes, and three smashed mugs, coffee

all over the floor … liquid and granules, before I mastered the technique. I

left the kitchen in a right mess. I gave up trying to get clothes … I kept

toppling into the wardrobe and knocking hangers all over the place.”



 



“You were on your own

then, when …?”



 



“Yes. I tried to phone

my friend … it was so inconvenient, I was meant to be meeting her for lunch.

And I was going to clean the cooker that morning. The cooker is filthy, what

will people think of me?”



 



“And did your friend

answer the phone?”



 



“She couldn’t hear me.

Of course she couldn’t.” The phone must be still off the hook; I hadn’t been

able to replace it on its charger.



 



Quinn put his hand very

carefully on my arm. “So you came to look at paintings.”



“I didn’t know what was

expected of me.”



 



It was true. I had

briefly toyed with revenge; but at whom? Brian maintained I was so laid back I

was horizontal. It might have been fun causing a bit of disruption to

neighbours; if I had been twenty-five instead of fifty-five. I pondered the

idea of doing ‘good works’ but the Santa Claus Syndrome was flawed in that I

hadn’t yet got a handle on moving objects safely. I would have been back in

poltergeist mode. I told Quinn my dilemma.



 



“I’m not exactly

Superman myself. It’s probably how I ended up in this limbo. The world and its

problems just never came knocking on my door, or if it did I never answered

it.”



“How did you …?”



 



“I had a heart condition

– medically, not emotionally. Back there they are waiting for the Coroner’s

Report, but I already know. I was, mistakenly, given medication for gout. It’s

got malpractice written all over it. That’ll please Oonagh; keep her in the

manner she was never accustomed to.”



 



“Brian! He’ll have to

come back from Egypt, and that won’t please him.”



 



Brian and I had lived in

amicable, partial separation for years. He had his work, mainly abroad, and I

had my life. No, that was wrong. I’d never had a life, not one I was ‘living.’



“So, do you know how you ….?” Why could neither of us say the

word?



 



I shook my head. “Do you

think I should have stayed around? I left such a mess … they’ll think the house

was broken into.”



 



Quinn smirked. “What an

exit. We could pick up an English paper; see what they are saying about you.”



 



“That I never cleaned my

oven.” I tugged at my short nightdress. “And looked a mess even in bed.”



 



The newspapers lying in

a hotel lobby yielded no information. It was probably too early; Time had no

meaning. Quinn, who was an expert now handed me a gin and tonic that had been

forgotten by its recipient, while I read aloud my stars.



 



“This

is a month of endings and new beginnings for you. A new dream is just taking

shape, but with so many plans in the making it may be difficult to keep your

feet on the ground.”I

lifted an eyebrow. “You can say that

again.”



 



“I don’t know how long

this is due to last.” Quinn spread his arms expansively. “But I intend making

the most of it.”



 



It lasted through two

more continents. We left Rome and headed for New York, then worked our way down

from North to South America. We picked up coffees waiting to be served by

apathetic baristas and glasses of wine left on side tables at parties. We didn’t

need to eat; we never felt hunger, or thirst, but taste was superlative so we

gleefully picked fruit from wayside trees. Was this Eden, or as Quinn had

described it; Limbo? We found out a lot about each other’s dreams and visited places neither of our partners would have deemed

necessary. Oonagh was content with her home town of Coleraine and holidays on

the coast of Donegal. Brian used his escapes out of Sunderland to belittle

those who never made it to Dubai or Hong Kong; though his encounters were confined

to airports and air conditioned hotel rooms.



 



Standing looking over

Machu Picchu; it had to be Machu Picchu, we both felt the world was about to

come knocking on our door, as Quinn had put it.



 



“I wish I could bottle

this and take it back to my friends.”



 



Quinn leant over and

kissed my cheek; we had reached that stage when embraces were common currency.

I felt it like the touch of the proverbial butterfly’s wing.



 



“You’ll never stop

thinking of others, will you Claire? Myself, I’m for drinking all this in, and

keeping it for number one.”



 



“No you aren’t…”



 



“…Ahem.”



We were used to pe



ople coughing

unknowingly in our faces, but not to gain our attention. He looked at us with

suspicion, his young face devoid of expression.



 



“I’ve got a message for

you missus.”



 



His black woolly hat was

pulled down almost to his eyebrows, his hands thrust in his pockets.



 



“Your man’s been

arrested … something about a murder charge.”



 



“My husband? Brian? Who

has he murdered?”



The lad shrugged his

shoulders. “You I suppose. It’s all over Sky News. Just thought I’d tell you.”



 



He sauntered off down

into the ruins. The gaping tear in the back of his sweatshirt tallied with that

made by a knife blade.



 



Quinn had seen a couple

taking photos of themselves reading an English paper this high up in the Andes.

He trotted across to their haversack, abandoned by the empty roadside while

they marvelled at the view, and extricated the newspaper. The news item was on

page four. Brian hadn’t been in Egypt; he’d been in…



 



“Barnsley!” I lost

control of myself and sank into the rock.



 



Brian had been with

another woman for two weeks prior to ‘the

incident’. The police alleged he had driven up to Sunderland on ‘the night in question.’ There were

signs of an argument.



“The broken mugs.” I

gasped. “My wardrobe…”



 



Quinn grasped my hand.

“This paper’s an old one. They’ve probably sorted it all out by now.”



 “I was on my own.” I pictured myself lying in

the bed with a pained expression on my face. I’d jokingly thought ‘no wonder I

have deep set wrinkles if that’s how I scrunch my face while I’m asleep.’ But

the grimace was not habitual, something had happened. And Brian hadn’t caused

it. “I’ll have to explain.”



 



“You don’t have to go

back.”



 



 “The weasel… it was bad enough when I thought

he was in Egypt, but with another woman… If he’d been there he could have got

help … saved me. I was in pain.” I read on. “The post-mortem revealed a blow to the back of the head  ... slight

fracture … anurism.” I gasped. “I’d been cleaning the windows and stepped

backwards … onto a bag of plastic bottles I was meant to be taking for

recycling…I lost my footing and hit my head on the floor. It was so stupid. But

it was hours before … could it really…”



 



“Have caused a blood

clot?”



 



 “Will you come with me?”



 



Quinn stroked his cheeks

with one hand.



 



I saw the hesitation.

“Something happened in the village we passed, didn’t it? You’ve finally heard

that knocking on your door.”



 



“It’s this altitude;

it’s playing havoc with my heart rate, making me illusional.” He perched on an

outcrop of boulders. “OK, I didn’t do much with my life, but not because I

hadn’t had the opportunities. I just took the easy road and made excuses for

not getting anywhere. These folks never took the easy way; otherwise they

wouldn’t have hauled all those building stones up this high. There’s a broken

down bus back in the village that belongs to a man with five kids. He hasn’t

got the pesetas to fix it.” He jumped down and looked out over the ancient

city. “Oonagh would have said ‘it’s just how the cookie crumbles’ and I would

have agreed.”



“So would Brian. Can you

fix the bus?”



 



“I worked for the

Department of Works and Pensions … I’m not a mechanic.”



 



“But you could be Superman.”



 



“There was an engine,

lying in a back alleyway in Lima. I’m sorry, but …”



 



I kissed him gently on

the lips. “Go and get it, Quinn. Then go and find new tyres … and some cans of

spray paint. You’ve mended me, and it only took a few cups of coffee … in

wonderful places.”



 



“This can’t be goodbye.”



 



“Au revoir maybe. I’ll

be drinking coffee on the Champs Elyse … if you can make it.”



 



I waited, minutes,

hours, who could tell. Quinn didn’t show. His Limbo must have ended. I wasn’t

needed in defence of Brian; there was insufficient evidence to convict him of

any wrongdoing. My tragic death was consigned to the Cold Case files with a

question mark hanging on misadventure.



 



I let the sun play on my

face; there was no misadventure about this. From the corner of my eye I saw

her. She was very young; young enough to be the daughter I never had. She was

struggling with sitting on rather

than in a basketwork chair.



 



“Let me.” I guided her

gently into a sitting position.



 



Her eyes popped, and

then slowly filled with tears.



 



“I know. But I’m here,

for as long as you need me.”



 



Isabelle; Izzy, was

twenty-two. Her cropped vest top advertised the needle marks that had led to

her early death, under a canal bridge in Rochdale. She never really got to know

her mum, before she had died in

similar circumstances. Her dad had tried, but even though there was only an

eighteen year gap, he ‘didn’t understand her.’



 



I stroked her straggled

hair. “Have you ever tried cookie crumble ice-cream?... Well let me tell you;

it’s to die for.”



 



Her hiccoughed laugh

filled my empty veins with warmth.



 



 



What our judge, Kat Lund, said about “Cookie

Crunch”



 



The

meeting of two people in an un-expected or unorthodox place is the traditional

starting point of many stories. Here the author uses it to show that the coming

together of two people can never happen too late to change your life or to

start you changing the life of others. Mixing humour, realistic voice and a

simply built feeling of poignancy created by an understated narrative this is

an interestingly conceived idea with a well sustained and created voice.



 



About

Margaret:



 



I live in a

semi-rural part of the North East where my husband and I have raised four

children. Stories have been a major part of my life, starting at the bottom

with stories and poems for children while Primary School teaching. I fulfilled

my ambition to write for adults when my children left for university. Winning

success came with a gentle ghost story for The Pages, a Crossword-based

mystery for Crystal, and a story about an asylum seeker,for Dawn,

among others. The idea behind Cookie Crunch started with that

‘overheard’ in a supermarket.



 



5th Place – Emma Norry for “Josie”



She’s an

attractive ten year old. She’s gone past the ‘cute’ stage – her corn on the cob

hair has darkened and her intense blue eyes have faded though she still has a

smattering of Pollyanna freckles across her nose. You can almost catch glimpses

of the woman she might turn into. She has the gravitas of someone three, four

years older and carries herself with a comical precision. She has an imaginary

friend called Sammy who sits down to dinner with us. We named her after my

favourite Aunt and she is our only child. I gave birth to her a week after my

fortieth birthday; I’d almost given up on having children. What a present, eh?

And it’s true what they say: my life really did

begin then.



 



She’s been missing now for three days. You never know exactly how

long twenty-four hours is until your child goes missing. Forget waiting for

exam results or the result from a medical examination. There is no comparison. I have observed all the imperceptible

shifts of the days – the approach of dusk and the fearful dawn. Sunrise has

never been so unwelcome. The saggy, stretched skin under my eyes will never be

rectified. I am too old for this.



 



Mike is asleep; he’s exhausted, we both are. I’ve tried to sleep

tonight but can’t; I’ve taken two Pro-Plus, God knows why. Now I’m jittery and

anxious, and very much awake. I sit at the kitchen table, it’s 2.40am. The

phone is in my lap and I can honestly say that I’ve never hated an inanimate

object as much as this. Cream, chunky and quiet – so quiet. Like a teenager waiting for her boyfriend to call, I keep

checking its dialing tone. Both our mobiles sit next to an overflowing astray

on the kitchen table. The laptop is open, and I’m refreshing my email

constantly. This situation is so unlikely and demonstrates that no matter what

you do, you can never totally protect yourself, or your children. Everyone will

judge us, the parents, to make themselves feel safe. They’ll look for a sign,

something we did or didn’t do in our upbringing of Josie. In the papers and on

the news they check to see if I wear too much make up or not enough; if I wear

a skirt or trousers. How I speak: am I more angry than upset? Should I be? But

what does it tell you if Mike and I hold hands in front of the cameras? If one

of us breaks down - what could it possibly tell you about us?



 



It’s exactly a twelve-minute walk from our front door to the main

gates of her school. If I stand at our front garden gate, I can watch her walk

a third of the way. She always walks with Kelly from next door. Kelly has been

ill with a cold, and last week Mike and I decided that she was sensible enough

to walk by herself. She looked so proud that morning she set off, waving to us

from halfway down the street.



 



Twelve minutes. 8.40am. 16th April. Wide, open streets

in a friendly small town. Strangers noticeable, strangers rare.



 



I didn’t wait at the gate that day. No reason: some days I wait and

some I don’t.



 



It’s 3.50pm and she’s not home. No banging doors, no cries of,

“Mum! Mum! Look what we did today!” It’s a bright afternoon so I decide to

surprise her and meet her on the way back. When I don’t bump into her, I wonder

if today is after school gym or ballet and I’ve forgotten.



 



When I

reach the main gates, children still wander about. I walk through the

playground and greet a few faces. You must understand – I am not worried yet.

You don’t think about things like this; you really don’t. You see horrible,

gruesome stories on the front page of the paper and you turn straight to the TV

section. Everything always happens to other people. So…I’m not worried yet. I’m

not even thinking about Josie, really. I’m hoping that the blue sundress in

Morley’s will still be on sale and wondering whether to cook chicken or pork

for dinner.



 



Gradually the playground empties and children’s voices fade.



 



 



I enter the assembly hall and see Josie’s English teacher, Mrs.

Hyde, hanging up a poster advertising the upcoming school play. She looks

surprised to see me.



 



“Hello there. How’s Josie? Will she be in tomorrow?” My brain

sludges and slurs as I watch Mrs. Hyde wobbling on a stool. My vision goes a

little fuzzy. Her voice sounds like a slowed down record and even before she’s

finished speaking, all my being knows what has happened and already I can

picture Josie laid out; school skirt torn, knees bloody, and her eyes wide and

staring. I can see her next to a bush or on a railway track or on the back seat

of a car…But, I have to go through the motions, so I reverse my thoughts and slow it all right down.



 



“Sorry? Josie’s not home yet, I thought she’d stayed late after

school for something.”



 



Mrs. Hyde looks stupidly puzzled – hasn’t her brain done the time

travel that mine has yet? She looks so pudgy and soft and confused I want to

hit her.



 



“Josie hasn’t been in today, Mrs. Walker.”



 



“What?”



 



“We assumed she was ill. That she had the same bug as Kelly.”  A light goes out behind her eyes.



 



My hand

shakes like I’ve got Parkinson’s. “She left the house as normal…”



 



“Well, I’m afraid she’s not here…”



 



She’s afraid? “Why didn’t anyone call me?”



 



“She’s not here.” Defensive. She sounds like a malfunctioning

robot. Fury and fear tussle within me.



 



I don’t know how I manage to keep talking, let alone stand. I bark

at this woman I find myself wishing I could be - because she has no children -

I growl and the loudness of my voice, its strange pitch, echoes in my ears.



 



“Where’s Mr. Boyd? Josie left me this morning at 8.40am. But she’s

not here. You say she never arrived. That means she’s been missing for…” my

brain floods, “Eight hours – Oh Jesus, eight

hours!”



 



I’m aware of a firm hand on my upper arm; helping to support me

since the world is sloping towards the floor.



 



Looking back, the first evening wasn’t too bad really, at least we

were busy. You’ve never seen such frenetic activity. We phoned all her friends,

checked the park, the toyshops and the video store. Then today the detective

superintendent told the press conference: “The chances of Josie being alive are

remote. Time is against us.” 



Not

knowing eats into me like battery acid.



 



It’s now 4am; still the phone - smug and smooth – sleeps in its

cradle. The police are fantastic; over two hundred people are involved in

searching for her. All local gardens have been searched and house-to-house

enquiries have been made. The police are concerned though since Josie had no

coat with her and no money. Josie. Ten years old. What kind of an age is that?

How many more days and nights of this limbo? They have to find something, anything, soon.



 



            My eyelids are heavy and I close

them briefly. The phone rings, vibrating in my lap. It’s so loud. I jolt and

stare at it, transfixed. I let it ring. I put my hand on the receiver. The

plastic is cool and smooth. I trace my finger along it. Twelve, thirteen,

fourteen rings.



I have

to answer it, don’t I? I have to answer

it.



 



My voice

sounds like it comes from another planet, I’m not even sure that I’m speaking English.



 



“H-hello?”



 



What our judge, Kat Lund, said about “Cookie

Crunch”



 



A

piece that cleverly plays on constructs of and references to age and time to

build its tension. It is constantly contrasting between measurements of time,

distances, people and object so that the piece is both at once full of time and

place and yet also at the same time filled with a sense of growing absence and

loss. Its central character is not its narrative voice but its absent titular

character and the author sustains this absent presence well throughout to

create the main emotional pull of the piece.



 



About

Emma:



 



Emma

Norry completed an MA in Screenwriting at Bournemouth University, graduating in

2007. Previous fiction has been published in Spiked, Aesthetica, Ink

and on www.fivestopstory.com. In 2005 she was a

runner up in the Rhys Davies Award. Her most recent piece published in

June 2013 is in Fading Light, which is a U.S. collaborative project

between writers and photographers entitled Open to Interpretation www.open2interpretation.com. She lives in Dorset

with her husband and two little people.



 




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