Spring Festival Short Story Competition 2021 – School Years 11-13 Category
Spring Festival Short Story Competition 2021
School Years 11 to 13 Category Winner
Closer Than You Think
Written by Cameron Walker
Good morning Daniel”
Urgh, I turn over and cover my head with a pillow.
“GOOD MORNING DANIEL!”
“Shut up Nikita” I growl into the mattress, which has moulded itself around my head and is threatening to suffocate me if I don’t move.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand that!” Nikita chirrups with irritating perkiness.
“Nikita, alarm off, turn on the lights” I shout.
A warm green glow pulses from the LEDs surrounding my bed and slowly morphs into blue and then pink and then back to green. I swing my legs out of bed, and slam them straight into the Vacuum-Bot which has been silently circulating around my living space like a shark searching for a shoal of tuna.
“Great” I mutter as I rub my foot and hop over to grab the steaming mug waiting for me in the T-Bot.
At the flick of a switch, the blinds open to reveal the dark grey sky hanging heavy and oppressive. Angry clouds race past at seemingly terminal velocity whilst sheets of rain pelt relentlessly. Below, the water is chopping up and its oily black surface carries all sorts of debris into shore, I notice with surprise that this includes a couple of plastic bags. I thought they disappeared long ago; soon after the world realised it was killing itself.
I gulp my tea quickly and throw some veg and micro protein into the Chef-Bot for dinner tonight.
As I dump my mug in the Pot-Bot, the wind outside shrieks, a weird hybrid of a baby’s cry and a dog mournfully howling at the moon. I swear the wind is getting stronger every day, the eGov weather warnings are coming through thick and fast on my Wrist-Bot which is never a good sign.
Grabbing my coveralls and protective mask I shout “Nikita, turn off the lights” and head out into the squall.
Work is the always the same routine, fingerprint scan access followed by 8 hours monitoring user activity data with a few obligatory screen breaks.
Since the first outbreak, most workers have accessed the system from home, so I am usually alone in my pod which suits me fine. I’m not a very sociable person, which has turned out to be a blessing, because a lot of people couldn’t cope with the enforced isolation. I lost a couple of good friends that way.
Sometimes Sunrise drops in. She says it’s to check the place isn’t falling apart but I know she has Eye-Spy Bots and can see every inch of the place so I suspect she just likes to see another human being. Obviously I don’t tell her that, she is the boss after all.
The day passes quite uneventfully. The Risk-Bots detect some Red Flags and I temporarily freeze some accounts to enforce our “Play Safe” policy, and later the IT Bots force a system reboot due to suspected Hack-Bot activity. Thankfully this is all over within 90 seconds so the complaints are limited to around 10,000 which is a good result, all things considered. When my Wrist-Bot vibrates to tell me that it is 1700hrs, I am pleasantly surprised. As an added bonus, the rain has slowed to a steady pour rather than a driving onslaught which means that I can actually see my surroundings.
Things appear the same as they always did, the buildings are still standing (although generally overdue some maintenance) and the trees and plants still thrive but the life in the place has gone. I glance at the park where kids used to kick footballs and mums picnicked with toddlers. It stands empty. In the play area, some swings hang broken and the wind pushes the roundabout, an invisible hand for the ghosts of children who once played there. Tears prick at my eyes. Occasionally I am blindsided by a sentimental streak which I need to keep under control if I want to stay sane.
I pass no one, unless you count the occupants of a couple of cars drifting along, their electric motors undetectable even without the incessant howling of the wind. Probably on their way to the drive-thru, one of the few things from The Before that survived relatively unscathed. Thank heaven for McBurgers – we’re still loving it.
Back home, shedding my sodden coveralls into the Dry-Bot, I grab a cold can of beer and some mush supposed to resemble a meal from the Chef-Bot. “Nikita, play some Coldplay”, I say as I sink into a huge leather armchair, which I still remember struggling to fit through the front door, Serenity laughing hysterically at my efforts. Serenity …….. I boot up the Face-Bot and select a white sandy beach as my background.
She answers after the first ring; “Hey, Danno! Nice beach again!”. Her background is a snowcapped mountain scene today, like something out of the Sound of Music. She always was more imaginative than me. We chat for what feels like minutes but before we know it, it is 2200hrs, curfew time. We end as always – standing at our windows and waving to each other, sometimes she blows a kiss.
It never gets easier, not being able to hold her but at least she is here, and she is alive. We count our blessings; many others were much less fortunate.
I grab a shower and head to bed. “Nikita, turn off the light, set the alarm for 0700hrs and log off.”
“Alarm set Daniel. Logging off, Queensway, Gibraltar, 22 January 2021.”
The future ……. .it’s closer than you think.
Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:
“This story takes place in a futuristic world which is uncannily and disturbingly similar to the one we live in now. Cameron has enhanced the gadgetry and technology we are already familiar with to create a sterile, cold, and insipid world. Reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, the personal has been nearly expunged, surveillance is almost inescapable, the survivors of some ecological disaster live a lonely, cocooned existence where love, sex, emotion and relationships have almost disappeared. Daniel, our narrator, lives surrounded by bots which carry out all menial tasks; he follows a soul-destroying routine, and there are no children in the park, and he is upset when overcome by emotion. Cameron’s story is ingenious, convincing and betrays a deep awareness of how technology will develop, to the point when it will oust reality as we know it and install a virtual existence instead. The restrictions imposed during recent lockdowns are clear evidence that what might have seemed a sci-fi nightmare is, in the words of the title, closer than you think. Well done!”
School Years 11 to 13 Category Runner-up
Written by Reuben Johnson
I woke up, dazed by the loud and alarming squawks of the seagulls, it was the crack of dawn. I didn’t feel particularly excited about this day. The weather was worse than usual, and in Wales that’s never good. The wind was so strong I thought my window was going to crack and the fog was so thick it seemed like I wouldn’t be able to see my own fingertips. These were not the ideal conditions for a town full of fishermen. The rain was smashing down on my roof, I almost couldn’t here my father knocking on the door. “Owen, it’s time to get going lad, have some breakfast, grab your raincoat and let’s head off, alright?” he said. Nothing I’m not use to. I enjoyed my corn flakes like I always do, I said goodbye to my mum and my pets and then I grabbed my raincoat and my father and I went outside.
Right next to our house there was a cosy building with a big red and weathered sign and a dated font; it read “Gwen’s old bakery”. Everyone in the village loved the bakery, it had the best bara birth and laverbread in all of Wales. It wasn’t hard to get to the docks, everyone was already out there getting ready to go off to sea. The mood was mixed as many people were happy about Arsenal’s win over Leicester but the weather heavily undercut everyone’s attitude. Everyone wanted to finish this day and get to the pub: drink a beer, eat fish and chips and watch TV, if you were feeling happy that day you would get a sticky toffee pudding, it was immaculate. However, the best bit about the pub was it was warm. The clatter of teeth freezing from the cold was very audible. Nevertheless, people needed to get food and make money. My father and I quickly approached our charming little fishing boat, it was a tad rusty but it was a beautiful mint green colour, on the hull the name of the boat was visible, my dad named it “Pretty Gwendolyn”, he named it after my mum. Just as everyone was about to set sail and leave Trevor swooped by. Trevor was a seagull with the brightest beak in the village, every day he would perch on top of the same pole when we left and he would be there when we came back. According to my dad, he had been doing this for 20 years. It always put a smile on people’s face, here in Aberdaron, the simplest things make us happy. Just like always, Trevor put a smile on everyone’s face, especially when they needed it. However, this time, Trevor flew out with us, it was the first time he had done this in a long time. The journey was rough and the hammering wind made today and especially difficult fishing trip but my father and I managed to pull through and we caught some mackerel and cod. We were still a bit puzzled as to why Trevor had flew out to sea. We soon found out. When we returned, Trevor was not sitting on his usual pole, and he was nowhere to be seen in town. We figured that Trevor must have gone out to sea to die. As everyone went to the pub, everyone was quieter, sadder. I guess here in Aberdaron, while the simplest things can make us happy, the simplest things can also make us sad.
Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:
“Reuben has successfully evoked the atmosphere and stark reality of life in a Welsh fishing village. The weather is the supreme arbiter of your fate when your livelihood depends on the mood of the sea, wind and rain. In this harsh world the simple things like the camaraderie of the village folk, a win by your favourite football team, recently baked local bread, the convivial gathering, after a hard day’s work, at the pub are what make life bearable and fulfilling. Reuben then adds the telling detail of a friendly seagull which has become a kind of mascot or totem. However, sadly, this time Trevor the seagull flies out with the boat for the last time and fails to return. Clearly Trevor represented continuity and the kinder aspect of nature. This is a very poignant re-creation of village life, full of local detail, a certain healthy sentimentality and a genuine love of simple things. A very enjoyable read indeed.”
Looking Out the Foggy Window
Written by Christopher McKay
Walt Kleezac was a special man that used to be as strong and brave as superman, he loved to help people no matter the cost. But that was fifty years ago, now he is all alone in his living room on his 83rd birthday in silence. Walt could see the sunrise through the window, but it looked more like a gloomy painting due to a blanket of fog covering the glass.
The intense whistle of the kettle broke the eerie silence, so Mr. Kleezac got himself up, poured his morning tea, and sat down once again sipping his tea in the tranquillity. Walt lives in a remote part of town that used to be full of life and children but now there is not a single soul left. Walt misses the sound of children playing outside, he misses the sound of distant music and he somewhat misses the sound of cars passing by.
Even though Walt has two daughters and a son who all have kids of their own, they were not able to visit him on his special day. Walt would rarely leave the house because the family next door would normally do his shopping but last week, they said their goodbyes to Mr. Kleezac and moved away, leaving him with extraordinarily little food and no form of transport. It was now up to Mr. Kleezac to fend for himself and get himself food. Walt had been dreading this for days, but the time had come to leave the house. Walt prepared himself by changing his old clothes, getting his shoes, and getting his walker, and he was finally ready to leave the comforts of his home.
The closest bus stop was in another pa1i of town, so he knew it was going to be a long walk. As he hiked all you could hear was the thump of his boots hitting the wrecked tarmac and the sound of change rattling in his coat pocket. He walked whilst the surrounding street signs gave him a countdown of how far he had left to walk but he could never see the glowing lights up ahead, but he kept walking.
After what felt like a decade of walking Walt saw something brilliant. A bench! For many people, a bench wouldn’t be very special, but for Mr. Kleezac it was astonishing because it told him that he was close to civilization. His legs had swelled up to the size of balloons, so he waddled to the bench and sat on the cold metal bars.
After a while sitting on the bench Mr. Kleezac knew that he had to continue his journey to the shops. He yanked the lamppost as he struggled to get up and he carried on walking. At this point, the sun had risen so the temperature was also rising, beads of sweat ran down Walt’s face and even though he had taken off his jacket and put it in his little trolley, it was as if there was a magnifying glass above his head heating him up. By now he had seen more benches, but he refused to sit down as they were as hot as frying pans and Mr. Kleezac did not want to get cooked like a steak. After even more walking he couldn’t believe what he saw. It was a human figure, he had seen the finish line, he was relieved, he was proud of himself. But that moment of glory ended when Mr. Kleezac tripped and fell because of a pothole in the damaged road. Walt’s body froze into stone and although there was a lot of pain, his expressions didn’t leave his body and his consciousness faded away.
Walt woke up in this white bed, in a white room. He was thinking about how death snatched his body and his soul before anyone else could find him. He let out a sob, then followed by a monstrous wail of sadness. “How could someone have such bad luck” he babbled. “I haven’t left my house in months!” his crying was hailed to a halt when he saw three people enter the room. His wails of sadness turned into a howl of happiness as he realized that he was still alive, and he was just in a hospital. He called over the people whom he realized were his children and he embraced them with a strong grip whilst thanking them for coming. Shortly after his grandchildren walked in with a big cake and Walt couldn’t be happier. Walt spent the rest of the day in his hospital room celebrating his birthday with his family, and he realized that the best moments happen at the worst times.
Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:
“The trials and tribulations of old age are all too common nowadays when the elderly often have to cope on their own. Impaired mobility, lack of inner resources, frequent illness, the feeling of loneliness, the awareness of the proximity of death, all contribute to making the twilight years painful and distressing. Mr Kleezac is old and lives on his own, but he is still keen to venture out on his own, even if it’s with the help of a walker. The trek to the shops starts promisingly, but the weather, the swelling in his legs, the distance which seems unending once he starts the painful journey, all come to a crisis when he falls and loses consciousness. The poor man thinks he is dead, only to wake up in a hospital bed. What could have been a tragic ending is transformed into a joyous occasion when his family visit and he has a truly happy birthday! This is a story with no hidden meaning or moral-an old man, despondent and crestfallen, has a moment of great joy and celebration with his beloved family.”
Written by Ella Scarrott
I breathe the fresh air of the countryside. A new beginning is upon me. The universe is finally on my side. The others trail behind me as we trek further up the mountains, occasionally gazing out at the magnificent view in awe. After some time, we reach the top and stand in silence, admiring nature’s beauty. As we inhale the thin air, I look around as I breathe heavily, exhausted from our journey so far. A concealed cave catches my eye and intrigues me and, before I know it, I trudge over to examine it closer.
“Where are you going?” asks Sam. “Be careful, you know, it’s dangerous up here; one trip and you’re gone!”
“Don’t worry, I’m just quickly checking this out.” I say as I enter the mysterious grotto. I am met with darkness. My curiosity intensifies so I continue looking around. I am greeted with emptiness. I continue to look further into the darkness. Suddenly I see it: the dead body of a vaguely familiar teenage boy. It horrifies me. I feel shivers all over my body. I feel faint. My legs are about to give way when my friends turn up outside the cave.
“Geez Zara you look awful!” Bella exclaimed. The others murmur in agreement. I stay silent. I cannot find any words. I beckon in the direction of the grotesque creature. The screams are slightly delayed but still pierce my ears.
“What is that?!” Jenny cries in terror, body shaking. “Why is it here? What should we do? It’s not our fault!” Jenny continues, getting increasingly worked up.
“Simply put, it’s a dead body. I don’t know who it is or how it got here, but we have to do something about it.” Sam replied in a relaxed manner, despite having seen the disturbing site.
“No! We can’t do anything! We’ll end upon the list of suspects. How will my parents ever trust me again?” Kelly whines. No one answers. She’s right. But so is Sam. Nobody speaks. Eventually we decide to report the body, even though we know the repercussions. Nobody mutters a word on the long walk back down. All of us are fearing for our lives.
In the following weeks, we were in and out of the police station, constantly being interrogated on the events of the one day I stupidly decided to enter the cave. I never knew how I could have been so unlucky. I was just exploring because I was curious. I wouldn’t have entered the cave had I known the consequences. The five of us were all severely distressed during this time but Sam seemed especially shaken, always restless. I dreaded falling asleep because, when I did, I had vivid nightmares of the frightful sight of the body in the cave. I wondered if life would ever return to normal.
One day, Sam messaged me asking whether I had been called in to be interviewed on my own. I hadn’t but I’d given the police my story of the events several times. So had Sam, for that matter. The day after this, I called him to check if everything was alright, but he declined the call. At this point I started to worry. I hadn’t seen him in several days and I couldn’t contact him either. I decided I had to see him and talk to him.
Knock knock knock. I hammered on Sam’s door. Bella, Kelly and Aaron had joined me on my mission after I explained everything to them. They were equally worried about Sam. The door opened slightly, and Sam popped his head out. Before he could shut the door in my face, I kicked it open and held my arm there. Sam was not going to be avoiding any of us anymore. “We know something is up Sam. We just want to help you, but you can’t keep avoiding us,” I said. Before I knew what was happening, Sam started to cry.
“I have to tell you something,” he muttered, in between sobs. “I put the body in that cave because I knew somebody would find it there.”
To say everyone was shocked is an understatement.
”You knew that boy? And you killed him?” inquired Aaron, sounding confused.
“No! It’s not like that! It- it was an accident! I was on a hike with Jeremy and then he tripped, hit his head and then fell off a cliff. I knew I would be suspected of murder if I immediately reported the body, so I found a cave nearby and hid the body there.”
“But who is Jeremy?” I questioned. “You’ve never mentioned him.”
“I was just so embarrassed. See, Jeremy and I were really good friends,” replied Sam. “Actually … more than friends.”
We were all dumbstruck. It was not disapproval that we felt, we just needed time to process this unexpected piece of information. After the penny had dropped, the silence was broken as usual by Kelly.
Oh Sam!” exclaimed Kelly. “You should have told us about the body. And everything else…. ”
Sam burst out in tears again. And then instinctively we all hugged him and that was it.
We all then headed to the police station with Sam where he finally opened up fully to the police and, at that point, they knew that he was telling the truth because everything he said corresponded with the medical report. The police decided not to charge him and just like that, the nightmare was over. I went to sleep that night feeling more at peace than I had in a long time, knowing that everything would work out. Life is a learning experience and the one thing I now know for sure is the value of honesty and friendship.
Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:
“A trek up a mountain turns into a nightmare when a group of friends find a body inside a cave. The experience becomes truly unnerving when one of the friends, Sam, starts to behave in a strange manner. Goaded by his well-meaning friends, Sam confesses to having put the body there after a tragic accident. Not only was Jeremy Sam’s close friend, but they were lovers. Unbeknownst to his friends, Sam is gay and it is only after confessing to his involvement in Jeremy’s death, that he decides to come clean with his friends. This story has a strong narrative thrust and we feel we want to reach the end so that the mystery of Jeremy’s body will be cleared up. It is also a testament to the importance of friendship and how only the truth can solve painful emotions and renew trust and restore relationships. A very heartening story.”
Written by Adam Sacristan
I lifted my head off the wheel, a cacophony of crunches tingled in the air as I moved. Mounds of glass shards were scattered elegantly over the front two seats of the car, crisp sparkles against the cold glare of desolate light. The air was raw and pointed as it filtered through the open front of the car, where the now smashed windshield would have resided. My head was heavy with confusion, a think chthonic smog chocking my thoughts. I stepped outside. My body ached, as if battered for centuries, the chills of night crept in from the surrounding foliage as the lone mountain road led nowhere except into a facade of blinding mist, hiding the land. Like a thief that stole the mountains. Bouquets of vapour slowly glided through the air as I breathed out. Slowly making my way to the front of the car. The headlights, luminous daggers piercing the deep navy canvas of night. Then I saw it, sprawled out and still, hiding under the think black cloak of night.
It lay there wrapped in feuding rain, a lifeless lump of tissue, turned cold and stiff by the moon’s stinging stare, yielding a wave of pity I carried on looking, its clothes painted deep brown in rain, mud and blood. A tenacious deep crimson fluid slowly crawled down the front of the car, a web of burgundy fingers weaved over the dented bonnet and splattered against the tarmac road. Evanescent shadows of feeling tinged my thoughts, with a feverish tide of life it all came back.
Into the purple sea orange hues of heaven sunk silently, the moon rose slowly, chasing the sun in an internal cycle. Shard daggers of rain fell on the windshield. Fog chased the car as I continued down the road. There under the subdued purple and golden light of the heavens it was, slowly crossing the road. “Look at him” I thought, so small, so insignificant in such a vast world. Half chocked by a rising paroxysm of rage, fury held me in a vice, foot affixed on the accelerator pedal. Tears of outraged anger blared my vision, the thrill of taking someones life carved into me, my insatiable hunger about to be nourished. His face contorted in fear, eyes glistening in the rising moons silver rays. And then the impact. A rumbling force shook the car as the banshee wheels screeched to a halt. Blood rushed to my head as it collided with the wheel, lost in delirious thought, I had never heard a silence so deafening. Until golden light faded black.
I focused on the present, exhilarated in an ecstasy of pleasure, a smile slithered on my face as I glared down on the lifeless mound; A lifetime of suppressed desires was unleashed, an intense and insatiable hunger was set free and now I wanted more. I crawled into the dead bodies arms, feeling the blood as it hugged my skin. I lay there thinking … “I can’t wait to do it all over again”
Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:
“This is not a straightforward narrative where events are linked causally. Instead, we have a highly impressionistic account of what seems to be a collision somewhere up a foggy mountain. The time sequence is also distorted so that we seem to go back to an earlier time in the second half of the story. Then, what we thought was an accident, turns into a conscious attempt to kill someone. The language is charged with poetic descriptions, the overall impression is one of mystery leading to the desire to take someone’s life which drives the narrator to target someone perceived in the enveloping fog. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to obscure the real happening in a fog of uncertainty and conjecture. A disconcerting story in its enigmatic ending, with the narrator gloating over the death he has caused and yearning for another opportunity to commit murder.”