Crystal Decanter Competition 2014

Crystal Decanter Competition 2014

This year's theme is: Epiphanies

Definition (from Wikipedia):

An epiphany is an experience of sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.

There is no restriction as to genre or subject but I shall be looking for a well-drawn main character in an original situation and some form of 'eureka' (penny drop) moment which profoundly changes that character and possibly their world, too. Make me laugh. Make me cry. Make me think about something in a new light. Above all, draw me into your character's world and make me feelthat epiphany.

RULES

1) The competition is open to all fully paid-up members of VWC.

2) This year you have 1500 words in which to tell your story. (This is a maximum word count. You will not be penalised for submitting shorter pieces. In fact this year's judge, being lazy, busy and attention span challenged, positively encourages shorter entries.)

3) Adherence to the rules should be considered part of the judging process, as is appropriateness of entries to the theme.

4) Your entry should be presented in a regular typeface (e.g., Times New Roman) 12pt, double-spaced, with numbered pages printed on one side only.

5) You should include a word count on your entry.

6) Neither your name, nor any other means of identification should appear on or with your entry.

7) A farcically ridiculous pseudonym should appear on your entry. (WARNING: Should you suffer the misfortune of your pseudonym being judged most original you will be required to accept the Gnome de Plume of shame, a ritual humiliation from which few writers' reputations ever recover.)

8) You should include a fee of £2.50 with your entry (Cheques to: Verulam Writers' Circle – in a sealed envelope to comply with 6, above).

9) Entries may be submitted at VWC meetings up to and including the deadline date, or by post to Oscar Windsor-Smith.

Deadline date for entries: 28th May

Adjudication date: 25th June 2014, at St Michaels.

Good writing!

Oscar Windsor-Smith

THE WINNING ENTRIES WERE:

The winner was by Ben Bergonzi

English Cleansing by
Euan Kipps (pseudonym)

It had taken
Danny Carver six months before he could go into autopilot. After that, he never
looked back. All the little details that had tripped him up before – soup on
the stove, toys on the floor, medicines and pleas of ill-health – they all passed him by. He continued on his
way like an icebreaker steaming through the pack. Soon he was a getting full
time work in the dehoming squads. He was trusted.

This morning
Jake Hutchinson, the officer, had stayed down in the van. 'You can take this
one,' he'd said, 'I'll get on with my breakfast.' He reclined the driver's seat
to allow more room for his belly against the steering wheel, and bit into his
Danish pastry.

No-one was about
as Danny and the lads made their way along the balconied passage past the flats'
front doors. Kids' bicycles, hanging baskets, Home Sweet Home doormats. Number
twenty six's door looked newly painted. He'd try and save that paint if he
could, though he knew Adge and Brett were itching to try out the hydraulic
enforcer if there was no answer to his knocking.

In fact she came
within a minute. She was wrapping a towelling robe around herself, peering out
through smeary glasses. Her hair was blonde, and her eyes blue and she was as
bloody pretty as they always were. That was one of the other things he'd
trained himself not to notice.

'Are
you Mrs Przelowska?' he said.

Her
hands flew to her mouth. Her eyes widened with the sharpness of her gasp.
'Matka Boska.' Mother of God. Danny
had picked up a few words here and there – Polish, Russian, Spanish.

He
held his laminated warrant card up in front of her face, then turned it over to
show the Polish translation of the standard notice. Once her husband was
standing next to her, a weaselly man pulling a t-shirt down over his chest, he
intoned. 'This property is being immediately repossessed under the terms of the
English Restitution Act 2017. You have fifteen minutes to vacate. If you do not
vacate peaceably you will be dehomed by other means. I recommend you vacate
peaceably. Is that clear?'

There
was the usual bluster about being up to date with the rent. 'Under the terms of
the Act non-English tenants lose all rights, including the right to pay rent.
Since the last election' – he emphasised last
- 'and its aftermath, the processes of law have been amended. As a warranted
officer of the Crown, the law allows me to me to take any necessary steps to
secure vacant possession of this property for an English family. Arrangements
are in place for you to be repatriated via the transit camp at Wolverton.'

Their
panicky angry tearful conversation amongst themselves, whilst they ran through
the flat haphazardly throwing books and clothes into checked plastic laundry
bags, repeated the place name. Wolverton. A railway town. A transit camp. It
sounded plausible.

After all, the
Channel was closed. And there was a comforting story that Independent Scotland
needed immigrants. They'd make the foreigners welcome.

The
guy was trying to squeeze a big yellow box marked De Walt into the laundry bag.
'No way, matey,' said Danny gently.

'But
it's my tools. You must let me take.' He was struggling with the box.

Danny
murmured, 'Tell him, Adge.'

Adge
instantly acted. He put an open hand on the Pole's chin and pressed him back
into a wall. The studwork cracked behind him. He slid to the floor. There was
no blood, but no more resistance. The man slowly picked himself up. Adge
chucked the De Walt box through the door into the kitchen. With a crash, it
landed on the plate rack, demolishing Mrs P's finished washing up.

She ran into the
kitchen. 'Leave it,' Danny said. 'You'd be better off putting some clothes on.'

He opened the
door to the bedroom – he knew the layout of these flats like the back of his
hand – and shoved her inside. Her husband followed. He pulled the door closed,
his hand shaking.

Brett put a
restraining hand on the edge of the door. He was a creepy sod, Brett. 'Let em
alone,' said Danny. 'This ain't a fucking drugs bust.'

Danny closed the
door and shouted through it. 'Right you two. I'll give you one tip. Put plenty
of clothes on.'

He turned back
into the living room and looked outside. A lorry was passing. He noted the
green of the Waitrose logo. Ah, this must be a nice area.

Within a couple
of minutes, the Polish couple were back, lumpily dressed and carrying their
passports. Passports that were bloody unlikely to ever see a welcome home stamp
at Warsaw airport.

But, it was just
a job. He turned to them. 'You must take your passports and you may take all
cash, credit cards, bank cards and any other financial instruments. You may not
take personal property beyond one bag each. Now, are there any other people
living in this property?'

'No, no. Just
us,' said the man.

'Our records
show two children, Agniezka and Witold.'

'Not here. Back
home,' said the wife. 'Back with-' she turned to her husband and Danny caught
the word 'Babcia' in her frantic question.

'With
grandmother,' said the man. 'In Poland with grandmother.'

Danny nodded. He
didn't say you'll soon be together again. Not any more. Some of that bullshit
he'd been fed in training – it was meant more to calm him down, than his
clients.

Adge was
muttering something about people claiming child benefit for kids they'd left
back home. Danny stifled a smile. A keen lad, that one. You couldn't fault his
enthusiasm.

'Out we go
then,' he said. Adge held the female in the prescribed manner, a hand on the
upper arm, another ready to restrain her from the other side. Brett propelled
the man out, a little more clumsily.

Danny stood in
the empty room for a moment, looking out of the open door. He could see the
courtyard below the flats, with Hutch standing next to the van and the rest of
the squad in their black uniforms.

Just a last
check now

He stepped
through to the bedroom. There was a shiny pink bedspread coiled around the bed,
and a cheap looking suitcase half pulled out from underneath. This was a top
floor flat and he knew these flats had attics. There was the hatch, and the
ceiling was very low. Within reach of his hand. The attic door was on pressure
clips. Just a push and a click, and down it came. A heavy old piece of MDF. It
swung hard and bounced back against its frame. The loft ladder glistened silver
just beyond it. He reached up and pulled at the cold aluminium.

The ladder
extended, he carefully closed its locking clips, switched on his Maglite torch,
and climbed up. The soft metal creaked.

In the attic, he
pressed a switch and a feeble bare bulb came on. He saw another suitcase and
some black bin bags. He reached inside one. A pair of jeans. Just the usual
crap.

He brought the
torch up and raked it around. Away in one corner the black bags were piled a
little higher.

'Hey, Danny,'
said a voice from below. It was Hutch.

'I'm up in the
attic, sir.'

'Right, good
lad.'

'Was
there something sir? Do you want to come up?'

'Nah.
I'm too heavy for that bloody ladder anyway.' There was a muffled chuckle from
below. But something must have made Hutch come up here.

Danny
stepped towards the pile of bags and reached out to lift one up. The plastic
crumpled under his hand as he gripped it. At first he thought it was a doll he
could see. Blond hair in little ringlets. He moved the next bag. Now there was
the rest of the face. A boy of about five was looking up at him, his eyes wide
open, blue, frozen with fear. He chucked a few more bags aside and there was
his sister, her arms around his shoulders, her hand over his mouth. She looked
about eight.

Witold and
Agniezka. She was looking him in the eye, with that dumb pleading that he'd
seen so often. Hell, it was only a job after all. His first proper job. No one
had ever given him a chance before. The jobs had all gone to foreigners. It had
to be done. If he hadn't taken this job, there'd be another bugger along in a
minute.

But even so.
There was a lot of bullshit in this job. And he didn't need to bother with all
of it any more.

'Anything
there, Danny?' said Hutch from below.

'No
sir, all clear.' He raised a hand with five fingers outstretched and gently
lowered one of the black bags into place in front of the children's heads, then
turned back to the ladder.

Second was by Simon Bowden

EPIPHANY by Rita Parsage (pseudonym) Word Count 1496

14 March 1992

A lone New York cop is performing heroic
feats against a group of terrorists – led by a brilliant, bad Englishman. The
gang has captured an entire office block – and is holding the staff to ransom.
Some hostages have been shot, before their eyes, in cold blood.

It was scary – but not for the man. He had
his arm round his ten-year-old daughter Charlie and 8-year-old son Geoff. They
huddled on the sofa, hooked to the screen drama with its confrontation of good
and evil grown-ups, a lonely hero against a crack team of criminals. A weird
keyhole view of the adult world.

Like the cop in the film, he was estranged
from his wife. The kids were down from Sheffield for the weekend to spend time
with him. They'd been to the open field to kick a football between the trees
and have a chilly picnic. Geoff had a lovely grace of movement and timing.
Already he could often dribble the ball round his slightly overweight father. Charlie
was a tom-boy – she'd always been the one closest to him. She was still a bit
stockily-built with short dark hair and blue eyes that showed a blunt
intelligence. Ever since a young girl she'd surprised adults by her direct
questions – and genuine interest in what might make the world go round.

The man was content. They'd had a roast
meal and fizzy drinks. A fire burned in the grate of the small terraced house
he'd bought in St Albans. A comedown from what he'd left, but it had that
Victorian sense of home. He had his kids – and they were united in the video
ordeal. Alan Rickman bared his teeth in a sophisticated snarl. Bruce Willis
looked dumb but cool, the street wise underdog in the conflict. The bodies were
piling up. Who knew how it would end?

15 March 1992

The forecourt
was a mess of taxis, coaches, and yellow lines – warning against parking at any
time. Surely some people must drive to the station – transporting children or
elderly parents? What was he supposed to do? Bruce Willis would have known.

The man was a brain worker – he made his
living from words. Cars, parking rules, the technicalities of city living –
were a struggle. But he muddled through. He parked in an obscure corner of the
yard and gambled that on a Sunday he'd get away with it.

The nearest platform was the one that
carried you north. And some of the City 125's stopped off here on their
journey. He waited with the kids – eyeing the clock, praying they hadn't missed
the train. As he questioned them about their schoolwork and friends, the
answers dwindled from small talk to secrecy. He was being allowed no further.
That was OK. He'd have done the same at their age. He was just grateful that
they still enjoyed being with him – they could have a good time together.

With a rasp of rail, the long train edged
down the platform and came to rest. They clunked open a door and he found them
good seats inside – by a window with a table. His daughter faced back at him.
As the train gathered speed he ran along beside it – unwilling to break the
contact. But to his surprise, he noticed Charlie was deliberately looking away
– her face like stone. He felt a stab of grief as she and her brother
accelerated into the distance.

May 7, 2013

The man offered his printout to the
inspector. "Identity card," she said – and he realised he had to fish out the
credit card he'd used to buy the ticket. It seemed a fuss.

He stared
through the dust-smeared train window, back along the river towards Prague. The
water was curdled and slow, hard to make out which way it flowed.

So many little riverside sheds and houses
on the banks. Some rocky outcrops – that reminded him of Derbyshire. But dark
rock and a sense that the people of this valley weren't wealthy. Maybe caught
in a time warp of simpler living. It was green and grey and dull but he didn't
mind. He'd mastered the computer booking and he was on his way to the reunion –
gifts in his suitcase.

The
man was half Jewish – his grandfather had been a refugee from the
Polish-Ukrainian border. But that was another world now. And he was bound for
Dresden, where the British had something to atone for. The people there had
seen it all. The carnage of the First World War, the mad ambition of the second
– then the firestorm of the allied bombing in 1945. The Russian occupation, the
Stasi. The rebuilding. For a moment he felt queasy.

He'd spent his life as a journalist,
weighing moral issues. Socialism versus capitalism. Pacifism or intervention?
Industrial progress – or Save the Planet? It was a quest he'd chosen – but he
couldn't say that he'd found the answers. Just unease at the questions.
Andreas' family were engineers. Did they have any space for doubts?

A second ticket collector, this time
German, leaned across to check his already-stamped ticket. "Identity card,
please."

May 8, 2013

It was like snow. A film of feathered
seeds wafted down the broad Dresden avenue. He was asking Andreas whether the
seeds came from linden trees, when a woman cycled by them on the pavement. She
looked distracted, apparently talking to herself – but as she passed, they
spotted a small child seated behind her. Andreas frowned and lost track of
their conversation. Then he said: "I am sorry. She really shouldn't be riding
there. It could be dangerous at that speed – when cars might be coming out of
the gateways!" These Germans – wanting
everyone to behave the same...

Later they sat round the table in the
garden, flanked by ferns and a climbing yellow rose. Charlie held George on her
lap. He was reaching and exploring a soft toy robot – with green cloth skin and
shiny metal patches – and a ring for teething. Andreas stood beside them,
lanky, making faces at his son and a little diffident. He was proud to be a dad
– but he needed a job. And until he found one, he wouldn't be comfortable.
Especially here, under the eye of his own hard-working German father.

He and Charlie had returned to Europe
after several years in south east Asia. She had risen in the ranks of the
British council – running a library and supervising teacher training. Andreas
had worked on environmental projects. He was one of those German greens for
whom it was almost a religion that cars and consumerism and the waste of
resources should be eradicated from the earth. A single-minded view – but still
a pleasant, easy guy.

"How was your night?" he asked his
daughter.

"I was up three or four times. I'm used to
it. It's been almost a year since I had a proper sleep."

Charlie grimaced at him then smiled. He
was impressed by her calm, strong face.
She knew where she was going: for now, the baby. Then maybe a PhD in
educational research. Or she might qualify as a teacher in Germany. But she
wouldn't drift – as he had done. In and out of marriage. Between jobs. Up and
down.

She handed George to Andreas and spoke
deliberately.

"Raisha is coming in ten minutes and
then we will go to the conversation class at the University. So I need you to
feed George and bathe him, so he's ready for bed at 6. I'll be back then."

Andreas gave a thin smile and
shrugged: "No problem."

The man looked at the young couple –
and sensed the strains. Charlie was struggling to get enough sleep to breast
feed the child – master a new culture – and still have head-space for her own
plans. But Andreas was doing his best – fighting for a place in the job market
of his home town. They were a lovely couple – open to life and people from so
many backgrounds.

He felt his own limits, now he'd
retired, with so little achieved. But in the sunlit Dresden garden, he was
ready for an armistice with his failures. As Andreas, slightly harassed by the
task and the deadline, went off to prepare baby food, he volunteered to stay
with his grandson. A useful pair of hands. He sat George on his knee and swayed
him gently side to side, an image of that horse game in his mind.

He looked into the baby's clear brown eyes. A little matt of dark hair.
Wide forehead. Already he seemed a serious, German male baby. Snot bubbled under his nose. He too was
struggling a little with the day. But now George was smiling at him – there was
a curl in his mouth. And in that instant, as he heard the ripple of laughter,
he knew that life had dealt him a fair hand. The wars were over. He would love
this child.

And third was by Wendy Turner

DROP OF AMBER by Albert Ross-Birdy (pseudonym) Word count 1490

It's
funny you should mention Yelton-on-the-Water. I was there for a while. It was
all a bit strange really. I'll tell you about it if you like.

I
travelled about as a sales rep in those days. I ended up in a small village and
found a comfortable old Inn for a night or
two. 'Drop of Amber' it was called. Lovely old place, creaking beams, low
lights. I felt perfectly at home there. I liked the Landlord too.

"Fred
Beare" he said, shaking my hand, "and no flamin' comments about the
carpets. I've heard 'em all before."
He was that kind of man. I grinned.

"Jack
Stone" I said. My glance fell on some planks and bricks stacked against
the wall. "Looks like you're having some work done," I said, but
before I could find out more, a rough middle-aged woman stormed in demanding
two bottles of stout. Fred served her in silence, rolling his lips in
disapproval.

"Thanks"
the woman snapped "and Mam says, leave the Cozy alone. When things get too
holy in heaven, she still likes a bit of a rest in there."

Fred
shot her a doubtful look.

"Now
now Cissie," he said evenly, " How can you say that? You of all
people know Rosie passed on years ago."

"Never
you mind," she said knowingly, "just you leave it alone." She
scooped up the bottles and was gone.

I
felt in the way.

"Sorry"
I said. "Have I interrupted something?"

"Take
no notice" Fred said. "That's Cissie, daft as a brush. Not like her
old mum Rosie." He smiled, closing his eyes in brief remembrance.
"Flower seller, she was, Rosie, but I liked her, you know? I remember the
lovely whiff of lavender as she passed by. Always stony broke of course, but
she had a real heart of gold. And a taste for a drop of the hard stuff. The
good hard stuff I mean." He chuckled to himself. "That bottle up there,"
he reached up and brought down a dust-covered bottle. "Real Old Scott's
Amber. That's what she really liked. I used to pour her a drop now and then
when the Missus wasn't looking."

I
looked at the bottle of twinkling amber nectar.

"When
did she pass away?" I asked as Fred replaced the bottle.

"Oh,
ten, twelve years ago. Used to sit right over there in the Cozy. I can still
see her now with a contented smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, a drop
of the golden stuff in her hand. Those were the days." He sighed.
"I'm just about to give the old girl a face-lift. The pub that is, not the
Missus. The Cozy specially. It's been falling apart since...well, since Rosie's
days really but Cissie and her cronies like to park their backsides in there
and don't want any changes. All these messages from the Other Side are just
ridiculous. It's my pub and I'll darn well do it up if I want."

I
picked up my pint and left Fred to his dilemma.

"Dinner's
at 7 if you're interested" he called.

*****

The
pub restaurant had an air of quiet relaxation that I rather liked. I was half
way through a most enjoyable plate of roast beef and Yorkshire
pud when I spotted Fred ducking and diving in the doorway. I beckoned him over
with my fork.

"What
is it?" I asked.

Fred
picked up a glass and buffed it with a soft cloth.

"Bit
strange really Jack. You remember that bottle of Amber, been on the shelf for
flamin' years? Seems there's some gone missing. I didn't spill any earlier, did
I?"

I
lowered my knife and fork.

"No,
of course not. You didn't even unscrew it."

"Well,
I've darn well screwed the top on hard now. And I'd better get on and let you
finish your dinner in peace."

I
smiled but Fred padded away shaking his head.

*****

Afterwards,
I wandered into the bar for a pint. Cissie and her pals were sprawled in the
Cozy like a row of fallen dominoes, revelling in loud laughter as they put away
their stouts. It wasn't a pretty sight I can tell you. A little later Fred called for last orders
and turned down the lights. Cissie and her gang staggered to their feet. She gave Fred the evil eye as she left. He
sighed.

"I
dunno, Jack. I miss the old times. Rosie and her crew might have been the poor
and simple kind but they were good folk, know what I mean? And compared to the
kids in here tonight with their mobiles and their lager, they were a class act.
What do you think?"

I
finished up my pint.

"You're
probably right. And compared with her daughter, Rosie sounds a treasure. Well,
thanks Fred. Goodnight."

"Night
Jack. Sleep well."

*****

Next
morning I wandered down for breakfast, and lovely it was too. I can still taste
the thick slices of nutty buttered toast and crispy bacon. Afterwards, I poked
my head into the bar to see if Fred was about. He wasn't and I studied the
bottle of Amber up on the top shelf for a while. I was amazed to see it looked
half empty. Just then Fred appeared lugging in some crates.

"Have
you seen it?" he asked, inclining his head towards the bottle.

"Mmm...Perhaps
Cissie's up to her tricks," I said. But we both knew it wasn't the case.

"I'm
having the blessed work done if it kills me," he said. Just for a second,
the strange combination of words seemed to float in the air between us.

*****

That
night Cissie appeared again with her crowd. She picked up her tray of beers and
eyed Fred over her spectacles.

"Mam
still says leave the Cozy be."

"Now
look here Cissie," Fred began, "the work's going ahead and that's
final." But Cissie had disappeared into the Cozy.

Later
Fred and I spent a pleasant half hour or so in the bar.

"What
d'you think, then? I asked. Fred's shoulders sagged slightly.

"Don't
rightly know," he replied. "But I expect it'll all come out in the
wash."

*****

Next
morning I wandered down to the bar. Fred was staring at the sorry remains of
that marvellous bottle of Amber, smashed to tiny fragments. All that lovely
golden liquid ran down Fred's shelves and dripped onto the floor. What a crime!

"I'm
getting to the bottom of this," he said, banging down a fist. "Damn
stupid tricks. It was priceless, priceless that stuff. Been up there for years. And I'll tell you
another thing," he leaned a bit nearer to me, "something's 'appened
to me darned Cozy. It's got a sort of - feeling in there. Cold like. Never noticed
it before." He shook his head. "You must think I'm crackers."

But
I didn't think he was crackers. I'd noticed how cold it was when I'd slipped in
to have a look. There wasn't even a window or an air vent.

"You
know," Fred said, rubbing his chin, "last night I remembered Rosie
from the war. Came into my head out of nowhere. She took in stray kids. Kids
from bombed out houses, scrambling about, filthy and hungry." He chuckled
to himself. "I remember she marched
them up to the big house and demanded hot food and water. Got 'em too. Them
kids never went hungry." Fred was lost in memories. "Strange,"
he continued, "but - I suddenly had a sort of funny thought last night,
that I could leave the blessed Cozy as it is, as a kind of - tribute to her, I
suppose. I'd quite like that but I don't
want that old bundle Cissie to think she's won."

"Why
not then, Fred" I said. "You obviously liked old Rosie. You could
preserve it for posterity, you know, give it a new name, put some old photos
up, have a grand non-renovation party."

Fred
stared at me. "I might just do that, Jack," he said. "Rosie's
Cozy! That's what I'll call it. Rosie's Cozy." He padded off chatting to
himself.

*****

That
evening was my last in the Drop of Amber. Fred made his announcement which met
with applause and cheering. He proudly announced the Cozy's new name and many
old customers tottered over to shake his hand. Even Cissie staggered to her
hind legs and slobbered her thanks all over him, saying that Mam could rest in
peace now.

You
mean you've won, you old bat, I thought. But strangely, I already felt waves of
warmth flowing from the Cozy.

*****

Next
morning I parked my case by the door and went to take my leave of Fred. I found
him rooted to the spot. There, on the bar, stood a fresh sprig of lavender in
an old-fashioned glass vase, its delicate little flowers filling the air with
its wonderful fragrance.