The President's Competition 2017

This year’s competition theme is ‘Character’. 
Write a short story of up to 1000 words, which features a strong, not necessarily likeable, character who experiences some major change in his/her life.
The rules 
  • Entries must be no longer than 1000 words but can be shorter
  • Each entry must be accompanied by a suitably awful pseudonym.
  • Each entry must be printed, single-sided, on A4.
  • Your real name should not appear anywhere on, or with, the entry.
    • An entry fee of £2.50 must accompany all entries.
    • Please could you supply two copies of each entry (one for each judge).
    • The closing date for the competition is: 1st February 2017.  You can either hand in your entry on the meeting for that date (or earlier) or post it to:

John Spencer                                    or                    Tina Shaw
Posted entries must not arrive later than the closing date.

Entry is restricted to paid up members of the Verulam Writers Circle.
Adjudication by John Spencer and Tina Shaw (Last year’s winner) will take place on 1st March 2017 at St Michael’s Church Hall.

The adjudication was dealt with at the meeting of 1st March and below I set out the first, second and third winning entries.

 

Winner: Molly

OUTDOOR GIRL
By: Pat Chitup

Each day, Outdoor Girl ran down the path, passed a field of cows, passed the field of kale and on to the woods to the home she had made for herself out of fern.
It was cosy in there and safe. She would look at her bruises and the red finger marks left on her arms and legs and wonder what had upset her mother that time. The beatings always happened when her brothers and father were absent.  She wondered whether it was because she had green eyes and the rest of her family had deep blue.  Her wavy fast-growing hair was a mixture of the autumn colours found in her wood, unlike the dark brown of her family. She wondered if she was adopted as she seemed to be treated differently from her brothers.
She would watch squirrels from her hideout and listen to voices of walkers in the woods. She would look up at the sky and envy the birds able to fly and have that freedom to explore the world. She wanted the day to have no dusk. Often, it was cold in the late evening, so she would make a dash for home across the fields. Her mother rarely asked where she had been.
From her home in the woods, she started to explore the world around her. She watched ragged men sifting through the huge landfill site filled with London rubbish, a site left by the excavation of gravel used for the construction of the M25. The site had no fence. She walked across to an area marked ‘Quicksand’, skirting round the grassy sides, passing yet another field of young Christmas trees.
Later in the day, she would look at the large still shiny claws of the saws of the logging operation and touch the long conveyor belt, which had been whining and clunking throughout the day. She smelt the newly chopped wood pile and walked in bare feet on piles of sawdust, all the time being like a wood ghost. Nearby, huge twelve foot spikey plants with large leaves had notices of ‘Do Not Touch, Poisonous’, so she decided not to touch the giant cow-parsley, although part of her was curious to know what would happen if she did.
She would safely return to her fern home and be comforted by the fact that her father and her Aunts were kind to her. Perhaps they were aware of the situation, perhaps not.   Outdoor Girl knew she could never speak to her father without her mother always being there next to him.
As she grew older, Outdoor Girl was tempted to answer back or demand an explanation of her treatment.
Her favourite possession was a small crystal radio. She could, for the first time, sway and dance to music in her bedroom. One day, her mother caught her dancing in the sitting room and accused Outdoor Girl of being ‘a gypsy’. She was forbidden by her mother to dance freely. One night, when Outdoor Girl listened to her small radio under her blanket in bed, she heard about an organisation called The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. She wrote the contact telephone number for the NSPCC on a small piece of paper and slipped this under the black landline telephone in the front room downstairs.
Shortly afterwards, items were packed and Outdoor Girl and her family moved away from this area. The piece of paper with the NSPCC number on it had disappeared from under the black telephone.
Outdoor Girl was never beaten again.

 

Note; This was Molly's first entry and first vistory - so a special congratulations to her.

Second: Richard Bruckdorfer

Home alone

By A. Manov Lettuce
I have only one rule in my life. Don’t trust anyone - especially if it’s someone you know. Trust them less if they say they have your best interests at heart. They are always the worst. Well, not quite, reserve that for people who claim that they love you. You may think I’m harsh, but after losing two wives who went off with my money, and spawning three daughters who never give me the time of day, I have a wealth of experience to draw on. The only person I trust is my cat Ginger, because I know he’s only stays for the food, and pays for his keep by catching mice. He and I have a fair understanding. 
I’ve seen off all the do-gooders who come round our mobile home park. That smarmy vicar wants to know if she can help, or would I like to go to the coffee morning? Bloody women in dog collars – is nothing sacred? She’s been put up to it by her next door; the fat cow who offers me a cup of tea every time I sit in the garden. She’d be in here all day if I ever accepted. The old fellah opposite is half demented, but at least he doesn’t pry.
I can’t visit my doctor without getting a lecture on smoking. She takes one look at my nicotine stains. Do I eat plenty of fruit and vegetables? On her bloody money I might afford it. For Christ’s sake, who’s coming now - not that Jehovah’s Witness lot? They bring their kids to soften me up. I told them to bugger off a couple of weeks ago, and here they are again. I’ll blast them before they get through the gate.
  *     *     *     *
‘Mr Cooper can you hear me?’
 I can’t speak properly. I can’t see. Why can’t I move my arm?

 ‘You’re in hospital. These kind people rang the ambulance – they found you on the floor outside your home. They’ve saved you.’
Why don’t they understand when I answer?
‘Don’t try to talk, Mr Cooper, you’ve had a stroke. Do you have family? Nod if you have, or blink. We’ll look after you.’
                            *     *     *     *

‘Back already from the physio, Sid – you’re making such good progress. The speech therapist will be here soon.’
It’s been six weeks. Why is she so cheerful? I’m not ungrateful, but I’m sick of being pulled and poked and asked to do things I can’t manage. I’m a basket case. Look at me - drooling down my pyjamas and pissing my pants. Can’t they put me down? When the chaplain saw me, I told her what I was thinking but she refused to ask the doctors. 
I cheer up when the tea trolley comes round. She’s a decent sort that Marjorie - makes me laugh - her and my nurse, Pareen – and that’s got to be a miracle. I’m not laughing now Pareen’s breaking the news.

‘I should have told you earlier, Sid, but the police did go round to your home and made it secure. The lady next door’s got your cat.’

I don’t know why it makes me angry, but it does. I haven’t given permission.
‘You wouldn’t want him to starve, would you? They found your address book too, but we weren’t sure which ones were for relatives. A lot of the numbers were dead.’
That makes me even angrier.
‘Have you been phoning people? You shouldn’t stick your nose……’

 The words stick to the back of my tongue while Pareen disappears behind the curtains round the next bed.

            *     *     *     *
I can see the outline of someone coming my way. It seems familiar, except for the young lad beside her.

‘Hello Dad - long time, no see.’

 I can’t be sure, but I’m hopeful.                                                                      
‘Is that you, Angela?

 ‘It’s me all right.’ Her voice is as cheery as ever. ‘The hospital found our number, so I thought you’d like us to come. This is your grandson, David.’
I wonder how many grandchildren I have. It’s embarrassing not to know. She’s kissing me on the cheek. No one’s done that for years. 
‘Holly and Annabel send their love. They’ll be here tomorrow - it’s further for them. You’ll see all your daughters together.’

 Angela is at the information desk while David’s fiddling with a phone. I can’t do grandfather talk, but my heart is fit to burst. I thought I’d lost them for good.
                          *     *     *     *
I’m sitting at the table with Pareen, some guy from occupational health, a woman from social services whose name I didn’t catch, and my daughter Angela. It’s all seems very serious.
‘We’ve called this little meeting, Sid,’ says the social services woman, ‘to think about the way forward when you leave hospital. Pareen says you’re progressing well, but your recovery will need more time.’
Does she think I’m daft or five years old? We all know what’s coming next.
‘However, we feel you’re not ready to live by yourself.’
 I think I’m going to have another stroke. 
‘Not just yet anyway,’ said Pareen, and puts her hand over mine. ‘What do you think?’

I knew it. They want me in a home. I’ll die first. 
‘How would you like to stay with Angela? You can have your therapy at the hospital near her.’
Angela was smiling.
Do you think we can make it, Ange?

    *     *     *     *

It’s hard work living with kids. Angela’s showing the strain and that husband of hers looks right fed up. The doctors keep saying there’s been improvement, but I’m still not ready. I’ve just got to go home, and now. The vicar will help, and I can go to the day centre. I’d even have tea with Brenda next door. I wonder if Ginger remembers me. 


Third: Phllip Mitchell
The man who hated stars – Phillip Mitchell

For most people, including you and me, the night sky is full of beauty: the stars shine, too distant for us to fully comprehend their brilliance, and the moon casts his pale gaze upon us. We stare upwards, imagining long & wondrous journeys across the cosmos in futuristic spacecraft, and we dream of floating, weightless and serene, without the confines of gravity. For centuries, we’ve studied the stars; attaching meaning to their position and giving them personalities. I’m a Sagittarius: optimistic and careless. He’s a Taurus: stubborn and uncompromising.

He didn’t like the stars. To him, they were repulsive light-spots ruining the crisp black sky. He’d extinguish all the stars and sweep them into a vast black hole from where they’d not escape.

This man is my neighbour. He’d often be found ranting on the rooftop of our town’s tallest building, telling the stars:

“I hate you. I hate you. Stupid, stupid stars.”

When I asked why he despised them, he shook his head:

“They’re pointless, ugly, and they hurt my eyes.”

I told him, I could stare at the stars all night, every night, and never get bored. He said I was very unusual.

However, he had no issue with the moon: “If the stars vanished and the moon wasn’t there, how’d we know it was really night-time and the sun hadn’t disappeared forever?”

One evening, as a means to cheer him up a little, I did a neighbourly thing and suggested we visit a lovely old pub I knew. After a couple of drinks, I drove us deep into the countryside, leaving the orange glow of the town behind, to a hill, where a winding road took us to the top. He asked me where I was taking him. “Just wait” I said. I parked with a wide view of the sky and the farmland below where only the light from one distant farmhouse stood out in the darkness.

“Look,” I said, “look at all the stars. Have you ever seen so many?”

He was silent.

“Let’s get out” I said opening the door.

“No,” he said, “they’ll prickle our skin.”

“Pull your scarf up over your face and put your gloves on.”

He stared angrily at me. “No, I’ll be too warm.”

“There’s frost on the ground” I said. “Trust me. We need to stretch our legs, it’s a long way back.”

My neighbour reluctantly followed me out of the car. We stood with necks angled to the sky. The moon was full and cast a soft light over the scenery. We were quiet for a long time before I realised he was crying.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“I’m reminded of something” he said.

“Of what?”

“My wife.” He cleared his throat. “She’d spend hours out in this cold, wrapped in thick blankets, sipping coffee from her flask. She’d stare at the sky through that telescope of hers, seeking stars & planets, tracking comets, scribbling notes in her book. I’d go to bed, and she’d wake me up early morning, slipping in beside me with toes like ice, asking me to warm her up.

“Then one night she didn’t come home.” He dabbed at his eyes with a gloved hand and continued: “I walked to the usual park she went to. There was no sign of her. And then on the way back I noticed the bent lamppost. The light flickering, dangling by a few wires, and there were black marks in the road where a car had braked and swerved. I drove to the hospital and after a lot of waiting, they told me she’d died.” He sighed deeply. “I know it won’t make much sense to you, but I blame the stars.”

I told him they named a star after her. He didn’t know that. I said I’d show him how to find it. He resisted the idea with a wave of his hand and got back in the car, but I took my telescope from the boot and set it up facing north.

I took my time focusing on a star, a bright star, in truth - any star.

“This is her” I shouted, urging him to look through the telescope.

He grumbled as he got out the car and shuffled over to me. He put his eye to the lens and looked. He looked for a long time, until my fingers were numb with cold. He looked silently, only pulling back to blink now and again. I said we ought to be going soon; it was late.

“It’s just like her” he said. “She’s the brightest, biggest star in the sky.” 

As he continued to look through the telescope, I smiled, gazing upwards, drinking-in the stars and the space in-between, turning in every direction until I felt dizzy and the sun began to rise.

“Thank you” he said.