Short Story Competition 2022

Winning Stories

‘The Voice’

‘Hello?’

The writer stopped short – even though he had not written a single word for a while – and stared at his laptop screen. Ever the self-analyst, he tried to retrace the steps that may have led to this improbable occurrence. Yes, as a writer he was obviously prone to insomnia, but he was used to little sleep, and this had never resulted in any hallucinations before. He took a cautious look at his coffee cup but could find no evidence that it had been contaminated in any way. Besides, he was miles from anywhere, and who would want to drug a struggling storyteller (to say nothing of the fact that he had been drinking from the same vessel all week, with no similar after-effects)? He was about to call out but, being the apanthropist that he was, he had retreated to a fortress of solitude for two weeks, and had seen no one but the cleaner. He briefly considered phoning someone but, in all honesty, who would believe him? Running out of options, he could only do what he had seen on cartoons numerous times and rubbed his eyes vigorously, but to no avail: when he opened them, the words he had not written were still showing on his screen.

‘Hello?’ he typed, apprehensively.

There was a tense pause, during which he almost convinced himself that this was just the by-product of a late-night cheese snack, but more words appeared, jolting him.

‘Thank Heavens!’ the new line read. ‘I thought you weren’t going to reply.’

‘Where are you?’ typed the writer.

‘It’s me – Reggie,’ came the immediate reply.

‘Reggie?’

‘Yes.’

‘Reggie…from my story?’ he wrote, incredulously.

‘That’s right.’

‘Reggie, the fictional character from my fictional story?’

‘Yes,’ the writing on the screen reaffirmed. At this point, the writer stood up, put his hands to his head, and paced around the room. This was not possible – he thought to himself – a character from his own story communicating with him through his own computer. His first instinct was to run, to leave it all far behind, hide behind a closed door and forget this ever happened. But he was a writer, and that natural curiosity is hard to resist, so he returned to his desk.

‘OK,’ he typed, uncertainly. ‘So how is this happening?’

‘We don’t really know,’ came the eventual reply. ‘We’ve been trying to contact you for a while and, somehow, we managed it.’

‘We?’

‘You know, all of us: Marisa, Brian, Jack, that unnamed driver in page 32.’

‘Ha?’ This was not typed – the writer had exclaimed aloud when reading the names of some of the other characters in the story he had been writing for the previous six months.

‘We were hoping we could ask you a question,’ said Reggie.

‘Sure,’ replied the writer, aware that he had about a billion questions of his own.

‘Is your story almost finished?’

The writer knew the answer to that one. His editor asked the same only a few days earlier, and he had consulted his notes to be able to give him an estimate. Besides, he only had a few days left on the cabin’s lease.

‘I’d say I’m not far from the end. Maybe 3-4 more chapters. A few thousand words.’

‘Oh.’ Even over the screen, the writer could sense the disappointment.

‘What’s wrong?’

‘We were wondering,’ came the reply, ‘if you would consider keeping going.’

‘Keeping going?’

‘Yes. You see, when you finish the story…

What’s going to happen to us?’

‘Well, Marisa and Brian get married, but you could probably guess that, and you find a new lease of life when you quit university and decide to go travelling instead. It’s quite a reversal.’

That’s not what I meant.’

The writer was thrown. But finding yourself telling one of your own characters how the story would end would do that to anyone.

‘What happens to us when the story ends?’

The writer had no answer.

‘We stop existing,’ said Reggie. ‘The last page turns and we are no more.’

‘Well…’ stammered the writer, ‘lots of people would read the book and you’d be alive to them, right?’

‘Lots of people?’ repeated Reggie. ‘That’s quite presumptuous given your poor sales so far.’

Damn – a review from one if his own creations!

‘And, anyway, when someone reads the story all we end up doing is re-enact the same events over and over again. It gets a bit – ‘

‘Irksome?’

‘I was going to say dull, but you’re the one with the thesaurus next to you.’

Why was he surprised that Reggie would turn out to be so brazen? He had created him like that.

‘We like it here,’ appeared on screen. ‘This world you’ve created for us, it’s nice. It’s picturesque, it’s cosy, it’s idyllic. There’s a pub, a school, a church, a village green. Maybe in the next chapter you could add a cinema? But we’re happy here.’

There was a pause.

‘Are you reeling because I used the word ‘nice’?’ asked Reggie.

The writer smiled – he was beginning to like Reggie. But, then, of course he would.

‘No one ever thinks about the lives that are cut short when stories end.’ The writer could feel Reggie’s passion. ‘Think about the thousand of characters who have ever died with that last full stop. You writers, you create us, and then you destroy us. Without so much as a thought for the lives we are yet to live.’

‘I guess I’ve never thought of it like that,’ acknowledged the writer.

‘Oh, by the way, early on you wrote that I was lactose intolerant, but then in chapter sixteen you have me drink a milkshake. Can you be more careful about continuity? That was a difficult day, I tell you.’

The writer laughed.

‘So, please: let us live.’

‘I’ll see what I can do.’

‘Thanks. Thank you so much.’ With that, the conversation disappeared.

The writer carried on writing. And he never stopped.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“The Voice is one of those stories which cross the boundary between reality and fiction.  With the advent of virtual reality, the digital world, the omnipresence of laptops and smart phones, we have entered an alternative universe, one which threatens to undermine our everyday world. The initial ‘Hello’ of our story emanates from the virtual world a character in a story manages to communicate with the writer.  No explanation is needed though implausible at the moment, we cannot tell what the world of AI, intelligent robots, and sophisticated communication systems will eventually achieve.

This wonderful story consists mainly of a dialogue between the fictional character, Reggie, and the bemused author. Reggie is intelligent, knowing and slightly pedantic with a humorous streak.  The exchange is ably handled, until Reggie acquires all the characteristics of a real person, to the extent of being worried about his and the other characters’ persistence in existence when the story comes to an end.

This overall winner is a story about writing a story, about the nature of fiction and the porous interface between reality and fiction and about surviving the whims of an author.  The judges were very impressed by the high level of literary sophistication of this engrossing story.”

‘Ebb and Flow’

 

Freezing…. you’re freezing cold and wet. A high-pitched drill rings inside your head.

Blue-black water rises and falls, tossing you from its crests to the troughs of hell.

Gnarling white teeth snap at you from all directions. A sharp pain is lodged in one of your shoulders – in this flicker of consciousness, you can’t tell if it’s the left or right. And there’s a stinging sensation, like alcohol being poured over an open wound. You splutter and spew out a cocktail of saltwater and diesel.

How could you not bother with a lifejacket? You were drunk then, but you’re raw- knuckle sober now. Pressure pounds at your skull. The swell thrusts you upwards, and through bleary eyes you see a distant row of lights on the shore. It could be Morocco or Spain. You turn around and the jutting rock of Gibraltar looms into your peripheral vision. Judging by its size, you know it’s too far to swim. You must be out in the shipping lane, subject to the colliding currents between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. Kicking and fraying, you wait for the next peak to see if an ocean liner is drawing up behind you, threatening to drag you under its steel bows and churn you into its propeller.

Instead, in the dim moonlight, you catch a glimpse of the dull-grey inflatable boat. It’s upside down on the next rising wave. Then your memory kicks in – the tequila shots, your brother taking Valentina’s hand and leading her outside, the woman you love, how the fury brewed inside you, how you could never let this go – betrayal of the most sinister kind. You recall grabbing the keys to his RIB and pelting out for a joyride, zigzagging across the Straights in the dead of night. The exhilaration of hurtling into the blackness in a super-turbo dinghy had blasted the circling vultures of self-pity from your mind until you’d spun the wheel into a lateral wave and capsized.

And now….

You swim towards the upturned boat. It’s your only hope, and you have to reach it before the levante wind carries it further into the mouth of the Atlantic. Shooting pain renders your shoulder immobile. Your blood must be blending with the diesel-coated sea now. How long before the sharks smell it? They say sharks can detect blood from miles away. Although you’ve heard that killer whales are the main predators out here.

lcy saltwater blows into your face, making you choke. On the next rise, you can still see the RIB, the same distance ahead. Your Jordan I high tops are slowing you down. Drawing a knee to your chest, you fumble with the laces. The current pulls you under. You let go and try to force the shoe off with the other foot, but this only tightens the laces. Each second that passes puts the boat further away.

Panic wedges into your gut. Again, you tug at the laces, and this time manage to yank a cord that releases the knot. One foot is free. You clamour at the other lace until you can toe off that trainer as well. What if the shoes disturb a sleeping whale as they sink to the ocean floor? The thought propels your legs to kick harder and your good arm to thrash against the turbulent surf. But your muscles are stiff and slow to respond. Blades of cold cut into your thighs. You’ve heard it said that it only takes a couple of hours for hyperthermia to fasten its grip on a body.

Rolling over, you change to backstroke. Above you, the sky is a picture of serenity. The half-moon smiles down on you, and you think of Valentina – the expression of bewilderment in her eyes as your brother led her away. She’d hate him as much as you if she knew you were fighting for your life because of his egotistical play for power. He’ll never make it as a drug lord, that much you know. But if you survive tonight, you’ll become a legend – an invincible hero.

Something slithers past your foot.

Or did it? Because you can’t feel your feet. They’re numb, like your fingers and cars. Diesel-laced saltwater lashes into your nostrils, and the current sweeps you under again. You come up gasping and haul oxygen into your lungs. Treading water, you try to get your bearings. Another wave throws you into a backwards somersault. The next time you open your eyes, you’re high up, and you can see the far-off lights of Tangier… but not the RIB. You set your course regardless and kick madly towards the Atlantic. The wind must be blowing the boat faster than you can swim. If you could make a sail, it might work. You could use your tracksuit top, but the pain in your shoulder is unbearable.

The caterwaul of a seagull pierces through the rumbling noise of the wind and sea. You didn’t know birds flew out this far at night. You’ve seen the gulls viciously attack pigeons in Casemate’s Square and pray this one hasn’t come for you. The bleak realisation that you might not make it flashes in your mind like a strobe. The last thought you have before another wave curls over you is that you don’t want Valentina to have to identify your body with the eyes pecked out.

It’s quieter underneath. Water seeps into your lungs. Opposing forces tug at you the current wrenching you down, while a loving presence lifts you upwards. You lull in a peaceful limbo between the living and the dead. The urge to fight dissipates and is replaced by a sense of bliss like you’ve never known. You succumb to a sweet persuasion to allow the consciousness to be withdrawn from your cells.

Floating higher and higher, you see your body, and the RIB a good fifty meters ahead. Then, as if in a dream, a radiant light beckons, and you willingly merge into its warm embrace.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“Sibling rivalry between two drug traffickers has led our protagonist on a reckless spree out into the Straits on a RIB.  The doomed joyride is fuelled by sexual rivalry and alcohol.  But the boat capsizes and a frantic struggle for survival ensues.  This is the heart of our narrative: an exciting, desperate attempt to survive alone, cold and lost in a welter of freezing water.

The story is expertly handled with powerful descriptions of the protagonist flailing about to remain afloat, battling against lethal hypothermia, avoiding predatory sharks and killer whales at the same time as he lunges forward to reach the capsized RIB.

Occasionally, and in order to emphasize the sheer horror of the experience, tranquil moments punctuate the narrative: the half-moon  shines in the night sky, thoughts of Valentina cross his mind, until he slips into semi-consciousness as water engulfs his lungs.

The narrative is all the more effective because of the ambivalent ending.  The radiant light could be a rescuing ship, the reflection of the moon, or the prelude to a post-mortem existence.  Well done!”

‘The Poem’

 

I’d been meaning to clear the boxes piled in the attic for years but had always found an excuse for putting this off- “no time”, “not a priority”, “dust allergies”, “cut finger” …. the list was never ending, but sometimes circumstances and ‘needs must’ take over and I finally couldn’t put it off any longer.

 

So, here I was in an old pair of jeans and a motheaten jumper, sitting on the floor of the afore mentioned attic with one of the many boxes open in front of me. I’d chosen this one because I hoped it would ease me in gently, filled with scraps of study material, written ramblings, old letters and the such. I ploughed in, pulling things out, sorting everything into different piles, to throw away, to check or to keep, and was doing well (or at least the pile of ‘to keep’ was doing well!), until I found the poem.

Suddenly the years rolled away, and with the accompanying knots in the stomach, I was catapulted back to that summer of teenage angst, of upheaval and emotional confusion, of burgeoning adult hood seen through the fears and hopes of my still childlike filters. I sat back, leaning against the slanted beam and drifted away to those heady days of unfettered extremes and to that first awakening of the realisation that something was finishing and something new was beginning, and the consequent dread of change this brought me!

 

He erupted into my life in a cloud of second-hand impressions and overheard comments from those who already knew him. His arrival was eagerly anticipated and feted, endowed with all the qualities of a demi-god he appeared larger than life even before I met him. Hence, I was not blown away by my first sight of the rather squat, swarthy specimen that descended on our little cohort. There was nothing spectacular or remarkable about him – except for those eyes of deep velvet brown.

 

I didn’t expect to be noticed, the dull little sister, inconspicuous and unassuming, watching from the fringes, hoping desperately for the courage to join the group yet dreading I’d be noticed. I’m not sure when I became aware that he was watching me too, but I was slowly drawn into his magnetic sphere hanging on his every word like all the others.

 

To think no thoughts was bad enough,

To think the wrong ones worse,

These things he said and I believed,

Believed implicitly.

 

His effortless ‘savoir faire’ drew me in while at the same time irritating me, I didn’t want to be pulled in following the others, I wanted to resist, to remain impervious to his effortless magnetism but gently, like a limp fish on a line, I was reeled in. From the fringes I watched the posturing, the circling and vying for his approbation and attention, the over loud laughs and the fawning comments, everyone wanted to be with him, to be him and yet, instinctively, I felt underlying currents of something uglier already brewing and, a little removed as I was, I watched and noted the slowly shifting attitudes.

 

It started unobtrusively, a discreet whispered aside, an almost inconspicuous flexing of a muscle, a testing of the ground, assessing how far to push, no one wanted to be the first one to break ranks and risk getting left out in the cold, dropped from one circle before a new one was formed, excluded from the inner cabal.

 

The gentle unfurling of butterfly wings

Morphed into menacing shadows,

Circling with vicious intent and talons,

In feathered guise, extended

 

I knew he hadn’t sought or felt entitled to the attention and adulation, it was handed to him, but now those same people resented and begrudged the standing they had given him, wanting to wrench it from him but not sure how or with what they would replace it. He remained strong, visibly unaffected, but the eyes that before held nothing but open friendship now held something deeper and more inscrutable, as though evaluating their actions he understood exactly why this had to be. I watched, drawn ever deeper into the unfolding drama, compelled by those eyes that seemed to find me constantly.

 

The sharpened beaks no longer masked

With shrill discordance lunging,

Meeting stoic unmoving trust

With cacophonous zeal deriding

 

I moved forward, no longer so far out in the fringes, after all there was space now where others had moved off, and as I drew closer he turned, looked me straight in the eyes, and smiled. To my utter surprise, it wasn’t a smile of regret or loss or sadness, it was one of warmth and fun, and as he saw my uncertainty, he threw back his head and laughed. A deep laugh full of unrestrained humour that rocked his body and made his eyes water, a laugh so contagious that soon I was laughing with him. He took my arm and led me away, the others looked after us not sure if they should follow, after all they were the ones pushing him away, he was supposed to be beaten, he was supposed to be trying to hang on to them, not leaving without a care in the world. They hoped he’d be crushed as they knocked him off the pedestal they’d placed him on, and as we left without a backward glance we felt their disconcerted eyes following us.

 

Completely lost in the reverie, the poem resting on my lap, I didn’t notice a head popping up through the loft opening until a deep voice said “I see you’ve really made a dent in the clearing ….” and a pair of laughing brown eyes smiled into mine. I didn’t need to read the rest, the unstructured and badly metred words just a memory now, I knew the ending and as I leant over and dropped a kiss on his nose I whispered,

 

Till of the god only a man was left.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“Old things are consigned to the attic, forgotten and then re-discovered with a sense of amazement, nostalgia and yearning.  The speaker, a woman, is sorting out odds and ends in her attic when she comes across a poem.  She then constructs a moving narrative which both recreates a powerful emotional experience and at the same time serves as a commentary on the poem.

She recalls the encounter, when she was still young, unprepossessing and timid, with a man on whom everyone fawned, looked up to and praised.  She remembers how the circle of admirers swirled around the stranger, apotheosising him and placing him on a pedestal.  But the inevitable disenchantment ensued: the god has feet of clay and the friends are ‘morphed into menacing shadows;’ they have removed their masks to reveal ‘the sharpened beaks.’  It is then that she realises that the quondam hero has feelings for her.  The unexpected ending confirms our suspicion that the diffident young woman and the demigod have ended up together.

The poem traces the metamorphosis which occurs among the so-called friends.  Their ‘vicious intent’ when the ‘butterfly wings’ change into talons.  The imagery conveys the nasty resentment behind the amiable exterior.  This story is a very mature blending of poetry and prose.”

‘The Radical Power Of A Song’

 

 

There’s a song that weaved through her life long before her childhood had been extinguished. The song became the backdrop to the seventies alongside David Cassidy, bell-bottoms and fuzzy felt. She first heard it as an impressionable eight-year-old girl.

 

When recalling those days, she would picture her lanky self, perched at her bedroom window nestled amidst the olive-green shuttered balcony enjoying the last few moments of the Mediterranean sun. Her short dark hair dripping wet, pixie style and smelling of Johnson’s shampoo, always parted to the left in celebration of her idol Twiggy. She would wear her soft pastel blue nightdress and pink furry slippers, a size too big, always a size too big. They were bought in anticipation of her progressing to the next size, she couldn’t wait to grow up. Little did she know that in years to come, she would realise that growing up is severely overrated.

 

She would patiently wait for the retail world to shut down during the evening, then like magic, another world would awaken in those narrow-cobbled streets that were so familiar to her. The grown-up world of bars would open each night, and the busiest one stood right across the street from her three-storey block of flats, The Glorious Bar it was called, and there was nothing glorious about it.

 

As the sun would bow out, and the dark would sneakily creep in, she would watch the comings and goings in her protected balcony and await the sound of the iron padlocks signalling opening time. The padlocks would creak noisily as the bartender opened the double doors to welcome the impatient customers already queuing up. She would never forget that irritating, creaking sound, and at the time, she would place her hands over her ears tightly to block out the noise. It never worked, and she subjected herself to the rigmarole of doors opening each night. Then she would wait patiently for the song to play.

 

Standing on tiptoes she would stretch out her neck to observe the thirsty men queuing up by the bar demanding alcoholic beverages, then each one would walk towards the jukebox trancelike, carrying their drink tightly as if their life depended on it. She was curious about adults’ behaviour and couldn’t quite understand their fascination with a frothy beverage drink that resembled urine, and probably tasted like it. She would watch it all unfold and listened out for the ‘clink’ sound as each punter would slot a shiny ten pence coin in the Jukebox, then Roberta Flack’s haunting melody ‘Killing me softly’ would commence.

 

She enjoyed hearing the tune rise to her window, awaiting the chorus with anticipation, mouthing as many words as she had been able to memorise in the weeks prior. In years to come, she would close her eyes and upon hearing the tune, her memory would float back to her cosy bedroom, her space­saving fold up bed and Pippi Longstocking duvet cover. Visions of her teenage sister entering their shared bedroom after returning from a late night out, walking clumsily in her ill-fitting platform boots, trying to sneak in quietly but failing abysmally at it.

 

Momentarily, she would feel a wave of sadness remembering the long goodbye she was subjected to in the hours before her brother set off to university. The dreaded phone call her father received after dark, leaving him bereft of a mother, and her of a grandmother, and she recalled the family bent over with sadness, receiving the news from afar. The memories would swim around her mind in a never­ending pattern.

 

The song became a backdrop enveloping the family throughout the early years, and in her infantile brain, she would try to piece together the words of the song, to try to make sense of them. Who was killing who and why was he strumming her pain with his fingers?

 

The rank smell of alcohol emanating from the bar, together with the association of the song was a marriage that would haunt her for years, leading to an intolerance to alcohol. If she was ever unfortunate enough to be in the same vicinity as any spirits, the smell would bring her right back to that time, and images of the local drunk Paolo strutting out of that bar each night would emerge. She would flinch at the thought of him looking disorientated, walking from side to side, greasy hair in severe need of a haircut, swigging a beer bottle in his hand. She always peeped behind the net curtains, terrified that he would look up at the window and see her.

 

For five decades the song would come to her mind, and the heaviness that carried each of Roberta Flack’s words would reverberate in her ears. By the time she would listen to the third chorus, her mood would drop to a filthy grey, but she would make herself listen, as the song had bore witness to her childhood and was the evidence that it had existed.

 

It was only years later she learnt the story that marked the song, a young female musician struggling to find the space where her voice and ideas would be respected and not used whenever it best suited the purpose of others. It held a meaning far beyond the reaches of the bar, it had not been a mere song, but a radical statement she learnt to live by.

 

She recalled when the Glorious Bar was demolished, it felt like a part of her early life crumbled too; and a few years on, the three-storey block of flats she had lived in was rebuilt into a Scandinavian mini market. Echos of her past were now only relegated to memory.

 

She no longer had the pink furry slippers or the pastel blue nightdress.

The only thing that would sustain her from that early period in her life would be that song.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“A song, its melody and lyrics, can become lodged in our minds and evoke memories, reminiscences and deep feelings.  A woman, now in her fifties or sixties, recalls the role played by the well-known seventies melody, ‘Killing me softly,’ in her life. The song weaves its way into her fondest memories:  the death of her grandmother, her brother leaving for university, her elder sister tip-toeing into their shared bedroom late at night.

The first part of this bewitching story concentrates on re-creating the atmosphere in ‘The Glorious Bar’, the honky-tonk opposite her balcony: the creaking of the padlocks, the half-drunk punters gingerly transporting their urine-like beer to the jukebox and Paolo, befuddled, stumbling and reeking of alcohol.

But it is the song which makes the story so touching and humane.  The mysterious lyrics exercise their fascination and become a commentary on her growing up and, when she leaves childish things behind, serves as an umbilical cord connecting her to her lost childhood. This is a very moving and beautifully written story.”

‘El Cordon Plateado’

 

 

De repente, esas carcajadas jubilosas, que habían hecho retumbar con vitalidad todo el entorno, se transformaron en silencio. Sutil, y a la vez profundo, anunció la llegada de aquel a quien muchos llamaban Dios, y se dejó sentir. En cuestión de segundos, la luz más bella y cálida, una luz casi imposible de imaginar, bañaba con luminosidad incandescente a cada alma, que con gran entusiasmo esperaba tomar un cuerpo en la tierra.

 

¿Cuánto queda? preguntaba emocionado uno de ellos.

 

¿Puedo ir yo primero? ¿Puedo? ¿Puedo? rogaba otro.

 

Con un gesto casi imperceptible, Dios pidió que se acercaran, y ahí entendieron instantáneamente, que eran sumamente valorados y eternamente queridos.

 

Escuchadme  digo Dios.

 

Estáis a punto de tomar la decisión más importante de vuestra trayectoria y debéis pensároslo detalladamente. Sé que os preguntareis por qué. Sé que vais a darle muchas vueltas, e intentareis justificar el desenlace de vuestra decisión, después de haber tenido en cuenta todas las opciones, que como relámpago, pasarán por vuestros pensamientos. Debéis saber, que una vez tomada, no hay vuelta atrás. Pero os digo ya. Lo que decidáis hoy, embriagados por este gran estado de amor, quedará sellado para siempre, y es la decisión más perfecta que llegareis a tomar.

 

¿Y como lo sabremos? ¿Cómo sabremos que es la decisión perfecta? preguntaron dos inseparablemente acurrucados simultáneamente.

 

Lo sabréis. contestó Dios. Confiad en mí.

 

Todas, absolutamente todas las almas presentes, bebían de esa fuente de sabiduría y amor con tanta seguridad como anticipación. Y cada palabra, cada silaba, dejaba claro que la vida de cada uno de ellos, sus vivencias, realización y felicidad, dependerían solo del amor propio, y del amor a otros, fuera cual fuera la decisión que tomaran ahora.

 

El silencio orquestal seguía sonando, y Dios continuó…

 

Llegareis al mundo en el envase más perfecto; el útero.  Durante esos meses, el útero os cuidara, os alimentará y os protegerá, aunque algunos de vosotros escogeréis uno que dificulte el viaje y correréis peligro. Para otros, ese viaje tan ansiado será interrumpido, y volveréis sin nacer. Pero os aseguro. Esa no fue una decisión equivocada, y tendrá un impacto sonado en la vida de los demás.

 

En el útero, podría ser el comienzo del desenlace de vínculos. Igual desde dentro, reconoceréis las voces de aquellos que tuvieron la fortuna de ser los designados como padres. Igual no. La persona que guarda el útero, puede que solo sea el vehículo de entrada al mundo, y no el destino escogido.

 

¿Entonces cometimos un error al escoger?  preguntó uno de los más pequeños.

 

No   contestó Dios. Y no todos los padres guardan un útero. Esa será vuestra decisión también. Pero si el guardián del útero, no es el que finalmente os extiende los brazos, ambos lo sabréis.

 

¿Y como sabremos si lo son? preguntó el que más brillaba.

 

Con la mirada fijada en el infinito, Dios convocó a los ángeles más hermosos del cielo que descendieron y raudamente colmaron de esperanza a todas los ahí presentes.

 

Justo en el momento que toméis la decisión final, estos ángeles lo sabrán. Sabrán quien os va a entregar su corazón. Y con un amor intenso y oficioso, volarán directos hacia la luna, donde despacito, muy despacito, empezarán a deshebrar hilos. Hilos plateados, que entrelazarán con destreza, para tejer un cordón imposible de romper, tan fuerte como el acero, pero a la vez invisible. Cada ángel fundirá una punta a vuestro corazón, y la otra al corazón de los padres que escojáis.

 

¿Podéis escoger un padre, o dos dijo Dios. Una mujer y un hombre. Dos mujeres. Dos hombres. O solamente uno. Todo está bien, porque solo el corazón tiene valor. Como, y lo que escojáis, no tiene importancia. Lo que importa, es que esa decisión se tomó en un perpetuo estado de amor, y fue sellada por ángeles guerreros. El reto en la tierra será no olvidar, que esta decisión fue sagrada y aunque la trayectoria hasta al final sea una gran lucha, todo estará bien. Escogisteis con certeza y gran propósito. Y sí, todo estará bien, porque ese lazo nació de la aceptación, y del amor. Solo lo olvidasteis.

 

¿Y si el cordón es invisible en la tierra como sabremos? ¿Cómo sabremos que rendirnos no es una opción? preguntó el que más cerca estaba de Dios.

 

Dios miró fijamente a cada uno de ellos.

 

Hay varias formas de saber. Cada cual utilizará el más desarrollado de sus cinco sentidos. Puede que baste con una mirada, puede que baste sentir el latido de un corazón, puede que lo sintáis en el fondo de vuestro ser. Y lo sabréis. Ambos lo sabréis. Vuestros padres entenderán en ese momento que fueron los dichosos, los escogidos, y sus ojos se inundarán de lágrimas. Lágrimas de alegría y de dolor a la vez. De la alegría y el dolor que ambos aportareis a la vida del otro.

 

Todos los presentes entendieron la importancia de la tarea tan transcendental que se les presentaba, y cerrando los ojos, reflexionaron.

 

Dios se retiró sigilosamente.

 

Entonces los ángeles, con esa magia, adormecedora y vigorizante a la vez, alzaron sus voces en armonía, y comenzaron a tejer con la dignidad que les caracteriza.

 

Y en la tierra, en ese momento, y solo por unos segundos, miles y miles de corazones ansiosos, alzaron la mirada al cielo. Y en el mismísimo núcleo de su ser, paralizados por el amor más puro e intenso, sintieron con un gran sobresalto, la fusión de un cordón plateado, que selló sus destinos para siempre.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“Plato is credited with having invented the myth of the ante-natal existence of souls destined to be embodied in a human person.  Our story, however, seems to take place in a Christian heaven where ‘aquel a quien muchos llamaban Dios’ calls a meeting to address the souls next in line for birth.  The process is described in some detail-the incarnation in the uterus, gestation, the risk of abortion, the forging of ties with parents, even surrogate birth.

The angels are entrusted with the sacred task of unravelling silver cords which will connect individual souls with prospective parents.  Sexual tolerance and inclusivity prevail in this heaven: soul can select their parents: heterosexual couples, two gay men, two lesbian women, or a single parent.

Love is the basis for a good parent-child relationship and all parents will be aware they have made the correct choice.

The story ends with a vision, only captured in some early Renaissance paintings (Fra Angelico comes to mind), of the congregated hosts of heaven gathered around the godhead, a vision which represents the Christian version of eternity. The ‘cordón plateado’ is a poetic version of the umbilical cord.  The author has transformed what is essentially a classical Greek myth into a Christian story.  Well done!”

‘El Comité

 

Era de mañana y casi medio dia cuando Francisco, ‘El Kiko’, terminaba su reparto. Como buen chico de recados hacía su trabajo con esmero recorriendo las calles de Gibraltar. Estaba muy contento con su empleo y sueldo, viviendo con su padre viudo que poco lo veía. Siendo huerfano de madre con tan solo diez anos, su padre, era marino mercante y siempre estaba embarcado.

Kiko fue mandado a llamar desde la oficina del ‘Comité’ esa misma mañana, querian una entrega algo especial y delicada; como tan solo el podía llevar a cabo. Era un recado algo diferente, ya que el asunto era al otro lado, cruzando la frontera. Elegido por su cualidad de contrabandista previo de pie y carrera – era el hombre ideal. La necesidad, vida dura y su difunta madre, lo habian moldado en un verdadero hombre hecho y derecho desde muy jovencito. Si, el era uno de los mejores en ese oficio de correr por las arenas, llevando estrasperlo y demas. Le encantaba esa dulce adrenalina que hacía correr su sangre. Ese fuerte latir de su corazón que sentia en sus oídos y ese frio sudor que le erizaba la piel. El Comité sabía la destreza de Kiko, ya que el recado era de suma importancia. Su vida pudiera estar comprometida y en peligro, dado el contenido del pequeno fardo – en un macuto – que hubiera de portar esa misma noche hacia el otro lado.

A la tarde se presentó en la oficina del Comité donde un hombre elegante y de grandes bigotes habló con el. ‘Lo que llevarás es de suma importancia, vidas inocentes dependen de la entrega. El Comité te estara eternamente agradecido por tu valentía,’ dijo muy serio el caballero entregandole el macuto. Kiko sin hacer preguntas ni mas se marcho. El macuto pesaba muy poco pero hacía algo de volumen. Dentro se encontraba el pequeño fardo, muy bien envuelto en lona encerada. Con una nota escrita a mano diciendo: “Taberna de la playa – Jacinta” Todo quedaba explicado. Con su respeto y ciega confianza en el Comité, intuía que todo era para una buena causa – dependían en el!

Durante la tarde y en su casa, Kiko, se fue preparando para la noche. ‘Otro chapuzito más,’ se dijo a si mismo, como tantos en el pasado había hecho. Tabaco de picadura en cuarterones, medias de nylon, penicilina y mucho más había acarreado y correteado por las playas de Levante. Pero este pequeño fardo era diferente; la diferencia de ser llevado a presidio o costarle la vida a tiros de fusil. Todo tenía que salir bien, contaba con su buena suerte. Se preparó sus alpargatas de esparto, su chaqueta negra y su petaquita de whisky; para hecharle valor a la cosa cuando escondido. Calmando sus nervios se tumbó en su cama a dormir, para luego estar lo mas lucido e espabilado posible. Esta entrega no podía fallar, el Comite contaba con el y no los podia defraudar. Pensando largo en todo esto quedo dormido, respirando profundamente.

 

Kiko se puso en camino hacia la playa de Levante poco despues de haber despertado, era ya pasada la media noche cuando llegó junto a una cuadra. Allí se preparo armandose de valor, y muy despacio, anduvo hacia la orilla, la arena estaria mas densa allí por si tuviera que correr. Caminó junto al mar en calma, en silencio, se detuvo de vez en cuando para observar y escuchar; asegurandose que todo estuviera claro. Eran tiempos de guerra y la frontera estaba muy vigilada en ambos lados. La noche oscura y sin luna era perfecta para el propósito que estaba por emprender. Después de esperar unos minutos junto a la primera valla la saltó como un gato, sin hacer ruido y muy sigiliosamente caminó por la playa militar. Policías militares con perros patrullaban esa playa, había que tener vista larga y mucho cuidado; parándose, agachándose y escuchando – todo claro! No había razón para correr pero a Kiko el corazón le latía fuertemente cuando alcanzó la reja del otro lado. Se trató de tranquilizar bebiendo unos tragos de whisky para entrar en calor y envalentonarse. Era desde aquí donde el peligro mas serio acechaba. En esta misma reja era donde siempre hacía sus entregas, pero no en aquella noche; había que saltarla y adentrarse hacia el otro lado. Se aseguró que no hubiera nadie y echándose el macuto bien atras, trepó y saltó, como sombra negra fantasmal.

Se quedó muy quieto y acurrucado pegado a la base de piedra de la reja. La garita del Carabinero se encontraba a unos cien metros, y playa mas arriba, muy cerca de la carretera. Con suerte el Carabinero pudiese estar dormido, Kiko pensó. Se armo de valor, se levantó y lentamente encorvado se dirigió tierra adentro a lo largo de la orilla. Sin quitar ojo a la garita, Kiko se deslizó como una pantera negra hasta estar fuera de vista y comenzo a correr sin parar hacia las chabolas de los pescadores.

Sudando y desalentado Kiko encontró la taberna de pescadores. Una cálida luz y murmullo de voces salía por la puerta y ventanas. Caminó despacio hacia el mostrador donde le atendió el tabernero y Kiko, casi sin aliento, preguntó por Jacinta como la nota escrita decía. El tabernero lo guió hacia la trastienda  donde cuatro mujeres lo esperaban allí. ‘Tu eres Kiko muchacho?’ preguntó una de las mujeres – la que mas mando tenía entre ellas. El asintiendo con la cabeza y quitandose el macuto; Jacinta lo tomo en sus manos. Sacando una navaja detras del cinto de su falda, corto las ásperas costuras del fardo, a cual todo compresado salió; billetes de dinero, medicinas y hojas de propaganda de “EL SOCORRO ROJO”, en letras muy llamativas. ‘Has sido muy valiente muchacho, a muchos aliviarás de necesidad y escasez. El Comité del ‘Socorro Rojo’ te lo premiará,’ dijo Jacinta mirandolo muy fijamente, mientras todas salían por la puerta.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“Frontier towns are notorious for their smuggling, black market deals and illicit trading.  Our story concentrates on the activities of Francisco, popularly known as ‘El Kiko’, especially on one delivery he is entrusted to make by the committee.  El Kiko is an expert smuggler, a veteran who knows how to cross the frontier and elude guards, police and dogs.  Though he is not told the contents of the back pack in his care, he resolutely obeys orders, even though he knows capture could mean arrest, summary trial and execution.

The writer makes El Kiko into an attractive character: he lost his mother when he was ten, his father is in the merchant navy, and the boy has fallen on hard times.  The narrative stresses his struggle to survive and to a certain extent we suspend our judgment of this intrepid young lad.

The whole adventure is expertly recounted and we respond to the sense of danger and suspense.  When we learn the contents of the rucksack we are reconciled to the illicit activity.  The pack is full of much-needed medicine and pamphlets, which seem to propagate communist ideals in what must have been at the time fascist Spain.

This story has all the ingredients of a swashbuckling tale: secrecy, darkness, danger from many quarters, and an uncertain denouement.  Excellent in many ways.”

‘The Bored Student’

 

The fearless king Aliath peered down upon his sworn enemies. He watched, aboard his spaceship, as the armies of the galaxy converged around Centris IV. The day of reckoning had come. The rebellion leader, the fearsome warrior Orion, mounted his Galaxy Horse and soared to the front of the fleet.

“Today, we will avenge our friends, our families, our worlds!” He cried.

The armies behind him cheered in unison. The colossal army closed in on Aliath, who made his final stand against his foes.

“It’s now or never,” he readied Edriok, the Singularity Sceptre.

“Stop!” Paul interrupted.

“You didn’t like it?” John asked, “It had everything you suggested; suspense, action, and a complex story.”

“That wasn’t complex, it was confusing!” Paul replied, “There was no opening, no introduction; you jumped straight to the story.”

“Well, my original draft involved a backstory, but it exceeded 1000 words. I needed to cut down,” John explained.

Paul flicked through the pages of the notebook, trying to discern the plot from just a few words.

“None of it makes any sense!” Paul exclaimed, “You never explain who’s the bad guy, Aliath or Orion. You bring up invented words and items and expect the judges to understand. Do you think the judges read weird fantasy sci-fi?”

John shrugged, “How would I know, I don’t know the judges.”

John snatched the notebook back from his best friend, “To answer your previous criticism, you’re not supposed to know who the bad guy is. Some stories benefit from the questionability of facts.”

Paul sat down on the end of John’s bed, “Could you take a look at my draft now?”

It was a rainy afternoon.

“Stop!” John interrupted.

“You only read the first sentence!” Paul protested.

“And I’m already bored,” John retorted, “Who cares about the weather outside? The focus of the story is inside the house, with … ”

{/Sarah/’ Paul finished for him, “The main character’s name is Sarah.”

“Exactly! The first thing the reader should learn is about the characters. You reveal certain traits immediately, like the name Aliath, and some you keep hidden until later, like the fact that Aliath is Orion’s father.”

“Okay, you may know all the techniques, but that story is nothing next to mine,” Paul bragged, “My story is about a girl that has to write a story but can’t come up with an idea.”

“How is that an interesting story?” John argued.

“It’s ironic! When the judges see that they’ll think it’s hilariously creative.”

“Or,” John rolled his eyes, “They’ll think you’re too lazy to write a real story. You can’t send in a story about writing a story!”

“Well, I like my idea and I don’t care if you don’t,” Paul folded his arms, “I’m not stopping you from sending in your weird Star Wars rip-off!”

“Okay, fine, if you insist, maybe you can improve on it; for example, add a second character, with their own story entry. You could then balance out the story with some dialogue.”

Something that John said sounded familiar. With no internal prompt, Paul spoke.

“John, do you think we’re characters in a story?”

After a statement as ridiculous as that, an awkward silence ensued. For the sake of continuity to the talkative nature of John’s character, the silence didn’t last very long.

“Did you hit your head on something?” John asked him.

“No, but think about it,” Paul elaborated, “That story you described sounds very similar to our current situation. We’re talking to each other and reading our stories.”

“Yeah, but that was something I just came up with now, this is real life!”

“But what is real life?” Paul queried.

“Don’t get all philosophical now, it’s not in your character!” John answered.

“But what is my character? Think about it, this whole time I’ve been in your room, all I’ve been is an obstacle to you and your story. I’m not sure I remember what I was like before being in your room.” “If this were a story,” John started, “It wouldn’t be very consistent; based on our story ideas, you would imagine our roles to be switched; I would believe the impossible and you would disagree.” Paul shook his head in disbelief, “It’s genius! It’s something I would do too; our author has switched these ideals in us and made you say that as an extra comedic poke.”

“Yeah, well our author is also making you or I say all these things, giving the game away and not leaving anything for the readers to figure out,” John tapped his finger to his temple, “You can’t underestimate the readers.”

“You also can’t overestimate them,” Paul countered, 11Perhaps he, or she, is worried these nuances will come across as lousy writing rather than subterfuge.”

“This is preposterous!” John concluded.

“More evidence,” Paul cried out, “How many eighteen year olds say ‘preposterous’, or ‘subterfuge’? It’s the author’s attempt to show off a varied vocabulary by using overly complicated words.”

“Or a varied ability to use the thesaurus,” John opposed.

Paul grumbled, walking over to the window and closing the blinds, “Without looking outside, where’s your house?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Where’s your house?” Paul repeated, “Tell me what estate we’re in.”

John scoffed at the question, “Obviously, my house is in … ” He paused for some thought, “Surely, my house must be in, um, Montagu Gardens?”

“See!” Paul delighted, “You didn’t even know where your own house was, because our author never needed you to know. What else don’t you know? Your uni application? How many siblings you have? Your surname? I don’t know for myself!”

John stared at the ground in disbelief, “I- I don’t know. Maybe you’re right, maybe we are in a story. I must confess, I also don’t remember anything before you were here.”

“That must be the beginning of the story, which means there must be an end.”

“Do you think this story also has a 1000 word limit?” John gulped.

“I don’t know, but hopefully it doesn’t, because we’re probably getting close … ”

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“This story is expertly crafted.  We are plunged into what seems a ‘fantasy sci-fi’ tale with the usual spaceship, galactic wars and improbable weapons. However, we quickly realise this is only the opening gambit of a much more sophisticated meditation on the nature of fiction, narrative flow and the interface between story-telling and reality.

Two friends, John and Paul, engage in a clever interchange about meta-fiction-what does writing a story entail, what is the relationship between so-called reality and the stories we tell one another?  More disturbingly, the two aspiring writers consider the possibility they themselves might be characters in an over-arching story. The thought, reminiscent of an incident in Alice in Wonderland, where Alice is told she might be part of the Red King’s dream, is profoundly philosophical and intellectually challenging.

Writing about the nature of writing is always interesting and thought-provoking.  ‘The Bored Student’ has all the qualities you expect from this type of composition: mature ideas, quick turns of phrase, unpredictable twists in the narrative and sudden insights.  This is a sophisticated, searching and enlightening story.  Well done!”

‘Consumption’

 

Liyah woke up that morning with a pit of vipers in her stomach, as though she could not quite remember the nightmare that had haunted her uneasy sleep. She glanced hazily around her room, feverishly tucking a strand of short, pitch­black hair behind her left ear. Thin rays of golden dawn sunlight slithered in between the slats of her painted wooden shutters, a natural phenomenon which slightly calmed her nerves as it politely asked her to revel in its beauty, in lieu of continuing to pallidly shiver as she was.

Her mood warmed with the sunlight from its exiled reverie, and she made unconscious eye contact with her cat. Royaki, or ‘Roya’ as she liked to call him, was lying at the foot of her bed, sprawled amid the wrinkles of her sheets. She sensed he had been gazing at her in this way – lazily, through slanted eyes – for some time now, though she had never been able to place his exact emotions in all the fifteen years he had watched her.

Without warning, a wave of dissociation spilled over Liyah, and for a moment she felt a vividly wild vertigo. After what felt like an eternity, she regained her composure, and decided her body was likely just craving some nutrient or other. Making her way out of her alcove and down the soft-carpeted steps, still clutching the polished banister to avoid toppling over her own queasiness, Liyah reached the wideset entrance to her parents’ kitchen. She stopped dead in her tracks as she noticed her mother, father, and sister all staring at her mechanically, perfectly motionless in their poker-faced rigidity. As she managed to take a few uncertain steps forward, their heads swivelled round to follow her like spotlights might illuminate the hero of a play. Cautiously, Liyah uttered a few words:

“Hey, guys? What’s up?” she edged.

Receiving no audible or visible response, her anxiety swelled. Extracting her own stare from her robotized relatives, she went to open the fridge, muttering under her breath, “Right. That can’t be normal.”

The girl opted to stand rather than install herself with her so-called family around the glass table, which seemed to tremble slightly within itself at the handof infinitesimal microseisms apparent only to it. She went to pour milk into her bowl, only for it to slump out in vile, vibrant bruise-coloured chunks.

Murmuring a syllable of distaste, Liyah elected for some dry cereal instead. She chanced a fleeting look at her zombified sister, only to encounter her lingering, deadened stare, her parents’ clone. Liyah’s serpentine guts began to writhe agonizingly.

“Guys, if this is a joke, I find it very funny, you can stop now”, she managed to pronounce.

Slowly, impulsively, they began to simultaneously draw a figure of eight with their right index fingers. Their left hands composed some sort of ‘L’ shape, moving flawlessly in time with each other. As they completed three circuits of this bizarre dance, they swiftly clapped twice, almost causing Liyah’s bones to leap out of their protective covering.

“I am not doing this right now,” she established. As briskly as she could endure, she collected her cereal and stumbled out of the vicinity as though in a fever dream. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed these creatures rotate to shadow her, though they did not physically move to pursue her.

Now acutely disturbed, she slackened, reached the landing, and nudged open her bedroom door to identify her feline licking the oil from a lamp she had been painting. Scattering her breakfast all over the floor, she lunged at him, quietly exclaiming, “Roya, no!”, and carefully moved the lamp to a higher shelf.

He glowered at her from the corner he had been banished to, and Liyah grunted a muffled “Stupid cat”, in his general direction. Out of nowhere, she suddenly doubled over with a piercing headache. Letting out little utterances of agony, she opened her eyes and discerned a perfectly steady Roya, regarding her distress with impeccable tranquillity. As she looked on, she watched as his tail, almost imperceptibly, sprouted into two, just as a beanstalk might. Clutching her temples with a vigour that likely worsened her pain, she collapsed onto her cushioned bed.

“What is happening to me?” she groaned. Her mutilated pet continued to observe her with an impenetrable indifference, and while she became entranced by the apathetic sway of his duplicated, hypnotic tail, she was overcome by an old memory.

When they had all lived in Japan together, her grandfather had told her an old wives-tale that had spooked her greatly as a child, but as she grew older, it became insignificant to her except as a fond memory. She had asked the old man about a picture of her great grandmother and a fox, sitting side-by-side, that they had hung on the wall earlier that day. He explained:

“Many years ago, my mother had a strange rendezvous with the Yokai. The Obake she had met with, specifically a Nogitsune in the form of a fox, became one with her, and took control of her aura. We keep this image with us at all times to warn the generations ahead: beware the fox trickster, who strives for chaos. Beware the badger, the Bake-Danuki, who sings the songs of little boys in kimonos. But most of all, beware the felid Bakeneko, who licks the oil of lamps and has two tails, for he will drain your soul, and morph your universe to unrecognizability.”

Liyah’s terror now climaxed as the gravity of her position struck her. She began to convulse with spasms of paralysis. The ringing in her ears shrilled to a deafening frequency and the world around her fogged until all she could focus on were the pinpricked yellow orbs of her shapeshifter’s eyes. She struggled to fight their lulling vortex, though she knew she would succumb. And succumb she did.

Liyah did not wake up the next morning. The Bakeneko, however, did.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“Most of us have the feeling that cats live in their own mysterious world.  They appear enigmatic, withdrawn and mesmerising.  Our story reflects a particular cat’s impenetrability and disturbing power.

At the beginning Royaki or ‘Roya’ seems just another pet though Liyah admits she has been unable to fathom the cat’s emotions in fifteen years.  The morning starts unremarkably, with the sunlight flooding Liyah’s bedroom, the need for breakfast and making her way to the kitchen.  Something, however, is not right when we meet Liyah’s family:  they are frozen in time, staring mechanically and seemingly hypnotised, and tracing puzzling figures in the air.

A panicky return to her bedroom only compounds the problem.  Roya is caught ‘licking the oil from the lamp’ (this is a feature of the Nogitsune) and sporting two tails instead of one.  This strange metamorphosis of the tail makes Liyah recall a family story back in Japan of her grandmother and a fox (one of the animal forms the Nogitsune can adopt).  We are not warned of the ‘trickster’ who appears in different shapes.  Poor Liyah has encountered the ‘felid Bakeneko.’  Liyah is overcome; the Bakeneko survives. This is a strange story which casts a paralysing spell on the reader. Anyone interested in the whole Nogitsune lore should consult the Internet.”

‘Vengeance’

 

Killian Romano. Son of an Irish landlady and a Neapolitan construction worker. Once recognised as the sophomore thief, better known now as Boston’s finest mob boss. He worked his way up the ladder quicker than quick and carved an image faster than fast. Mr Romano was the next big thing.

As on most Mondays, we sat around the booth in the corner of the ‘Bottle Opener’, Mr Romano’s club. If a man wanted to speak without opening his mouth, this was the place to do it. For the arrogance of the gold furniture and red leather seats, sat upon with dozens of mobsters in tailored suits with thousands of dollars in rings and watches. It was a place where a man would make or break.

The booth was impenetrable to those who couldn’t withstand the smell of tobacco. Like sitting with a fuel pump at a gas station. You could often laugh at the faces associates would pull when they began to experience neuralgia. On the table sat a large coffee pot coupled with a white mug, a pack of ‘Benson and Hedges’, and of course two slices of bread with a slab of butter and jam.

As he invited each member of his racket to review their week or inform him of any bribes or deals, an entourage of men in all blue suits flooded the booth. One man sat down directly across from Mr Romano and hollered at a waiter. Ordering a dry martini, Romano scoffed and removed his golden glasses. Mr Romano was around five foot eight but had the presence of a Scandinavian lumberjack. Quiet and loud altogether. His slicked back hair gave him a more striking presence paired with emerald devilish eyes. He stared at the man with an unaffected gaze. Rather like a pedestrian sees a pigeon.

He started, “Who do I owe the pleasure of speaking with today?”

The man sitting down carefully sipped before saying, “Mr Markelov wants to know why a group of Italian men have moved ‘office’ across the street in Long Wharf.”

Mr Romano glanced at his newly made pocket watch.

“Marco never came back from a meeting with Mr Markelov. Maybe you could tell me why?”

The men chuckled in union.

“Yeah. He got a bittoo excited, so we took him home.”

Mr Romano grinned.

“I never liked him anyways.”

With the surrounding congregation left stunned by his response, he refocused his attention to his ’employee’.

“Any trouble today Darragh?”

Darragh replied sharply,

“No boss. Not yet at least.”

The men across the table became uneasy.

“Please, sit down,” pronounced Romano.

They did so. Mr Romano sat back,

“Gentlemen, I am going to become the largest exporter of methamphetamine in all the United States. Now to achieve this I need to make sure my boys are able to take our shipments off the boats without too much commotion.”

He paused, glanced at his stopwatch, and commenced.

“Now, I know Mr Markelov runs Wharf district and I am prepared to make sure he is compensated for any negotiations that I make in his part of town. So, I need-”

“Do you know who you’re talking to?” started the man in the middle.

Mr Romano looked up at the ceiling and back down for a third time at his watch.

“Listen boys, you can wear the pants for Mr Markelov. Do you wanna deal or not?”

Disparaged by his statement, the group of men got up and exited the booth. Each one pulling down on their lapels, readjusting their blazers and walked off. The man who did the talking turned round and said;

“You take care of yourself Mr Romano,” before shoulder swaying off.

“Well, they took their time,” he stated before sipping on his mug.

Instantaneously, the sound of bu I lets began spraying outside. The woosh of each round demonstrated the heat given off at that barrel.

Unfazed, Mr Romano looked up and saw at the door a man in a black suit bearing a black bowler hat and perched in his hands a smoking tommy gun.

“Mi dispiace che ti abbiano fatto aspettare Marco,” remarked Mr Romano.

“Yeah. And they say Italians are too emotional!” exclaimed the man.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

“Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy introduced a whole generation of film buffs to the murky world of the Mafia; it also made fashionable a few words with a menacing undertone: omerta, consiglieri and mobster.

‘Vengeance’ is an offshoot of the Mafia genre.  It describes a meeting between Boston’s mobster boss, Killian Romano, stylish with his pocket watch and golden glasses and ‘slicked back hair’ and the reps of a rival gang which is headed by Mr Markelov (the mobsters always observe social etiquette, though they will not hesitate to kill you if you get in the way!).  Supposedly set up to fix a deal, the meeting ends with the Markelov boys gunned down when they leave the tacky joint Romano owns and runs.

The incidental details are brilliantly handled.  There are the ‘tailored suits’ (mobsters dress fashionably); the tobacco-laden atmosphere; the clandestine unloading of mind-blowing drugs; the line in Italian is a stroke of genius.  Every word contributes to creating an authentic picture of a mafia hoodlum and his synthetically contrived world. The dialogue is also well managed so that we seem to be eavesdropping on a real mobster conversation.  ‘Vengeance’ is very entertaining, stimulating and convincing.  Well done!”

The Nothing of Nowhere’

 

He never was good in crowds. He would feel anxious, but not about what he was doing, or how he was acting. He was worried about what mistakes he could make. Always second guessing himself before every action, after every action. Hardly able to cope under the building pressure of the presence of another.

He tried to cope but it was difficult. Whenever there was someone nearby he would become nervous. Whenever he wanted to try something he would worry. Whenever he was unsure he would panic. Whenever he was sure he would doubt. Whenever someone saw him he wanted to hide from view. Whenever he was alone he felt safe in the solitude of his mind.

It was easier being alone. It was easier to stay quiet. It was easier to be at home. It was easier to sit down. It was easier to do less. It was easier to do nothing. It was easier to stay in bed. Why bring discomfort? Why risk pain? These questions lead to him never wanting to do anything again. Life was safer and without risk within the cell of his mind.

Life within the cell was predictable, familiar. Monotony was safe in how it hurt. Rise, avoid, sleep. Rise, avoid, sleep. Rise to avoid facing life and then fall back into a sleep where worries subside. Until one dream. In the dream there was nothing. Nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to smell, nothing to feel, nothing to do. No voice to call out with, no legs to walk with, no ears to hear with and no eyes no see with. There was nothing.

But then there was something. A shape of a person could be seen in front of him, a light in the darkness. Then it spoke. “This is the end, and this is your end. Your life has been wasted cowering in fear and avoiding all challenges.” He wanted to cry, to scream in fear, to go back. But he couldn’t do anything, just like he had done in the past. The person spoke again. “You’ve spent all your life fleeing from hardship. Yet all that brought was nothing. You did nothing in life, and there is nothing in death.”

He was distraught. Why had he done nothing? At the first sign of challenge he would falter, it was the easier option. And yet here he was at the end, having faced no challenge, having done nothing. He wished he could go back, to try again.

“You can’t go back, what’s done is done. Everything will meet its end eventually. The people, the trees, the planets, and the stars. They will all end eventually. You can’t go back. But you can go forward. Do not forget what has happened here. Do not forget the nothing of nowhere, for you will one day experience it again.”

The man jolted awake in his bed. He could feel the cold air of the morning. He could hear the birds outside the window. He could see his body, his clothes, and the bed he was lying on. He could hear the sobs escape his mouth. He could feel the tears rolling down his cheeks. He could feel, and he had never felt more free. He got up and could feel his legs pressing against the floor that he could see beneath his feet. He got dressed and could feel the fresh clothes on his body. He went to the door, but as he went to open it, he hesitated.

He could find discomfort. He could find pain. He could find hardship. He could find challenge. It would be easier to stay inside. It would be safer to stay inside. But to stay inside would be to do nothing. He would find discomfort, pain, hardship and challenge. But he would also find purpose, accomplishment, contentment and reason. His reason to be. With that final thought, he opened the door and stepped outside.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

The puzzling title to this story may be intentional.  The speaker is a modern anti-hero, self-absorbed, introspective, absurdly diffident, and suffering from aboulia. Everything presents an insurmountable challenge, everything is threatening and fearful.  The person seems to have stepped out of some play or novel by Samuel Beckett-even the choice of words to convey the air of nihilism is reminiscent of characters like Estragon, Vladimir, Malone and Murphy: ‘nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to smell.’  The most striking phrase which sums up the negative feelings is ‘Do not forget the nothing of nowhere.’  King Lear would have agreed!

Zachary must be congratulated for creating this species of hopelessness; life has been drained of meaning but toward the end there is a glimmer of hope, a determination to inject a sense of purpose into life, so ‘he stepped outside.’  Without bothering to articulate this new ‘raison d’etre’, he decides to give life a chance.

This is a very existentialist meditation on a contemporary predicament.  Well done!

‘Regrets’

 

We are all born to crave, to live with healthy addictions. It’s one of the foundational pillars of creation. We biochemically need love, food, water, warmth, shelter, basic necessities, and if one is absent or in short supply, or worse, there is fear and damage. We need to meet those inborn biochemical requirements to avoid suffering. If the only way available is negative addictions -drugs, alcoholism or any other unhealthy habits … then that is what will happen. Shame and guilt can’t cure these things, only love in action mode can. And unfortunately, what she craved was love.

She really loved him.

She regrets never telling him how much she loved him and never giving him the love that he deserved.

She regrets never telling him that she loves his constant smile. The smile that shined like the sun, illuminating the room, casting away all the darkness lurking in the shadows. She always believed that the amount he smiled would be infuriating, but in the end, she realized she just couldn’t get enough of it and the way it gave her that fuzzy feeling in her stomach, like a bunch of butterflies fluttering their wings. The way his smile could make any situation ok, and could make anyone who sees his smile, smile by default. It’s what she craved.

She regrets never telling him how beautiful he was. The way his eyes looked like the eye of a storm, like crashing waves and blinding lighting. A combination of a multitude of blue, creating the most breathtaking color, a color which you could drown in but feel no pain, only at peace. And those freckles littered across his face, she could never get enough of them. The way they looked like a galaxy of stars scattered across his face, he always thought that they were ugly, but all she could ever see in those freckles was an infinite beautiful universe.

She regrets nevertelling him how much she loved the sound of his voice and the way he laughed. The voice that would never seem to stop prattling on, talking his head off about his passions, hopes and dreams. She always teased him about how silly they were, and the amount he talked, but it was all a lie, and she regrets nevertelling him that. And that laugh, she loved it so. She loved how contagious it was, and how it sounded as sweet as honey. How it always managed to lift her spirits, and the way it would echo around the room in an almost angelic manner. He was always embarrassed by his laugh, but she thought it was everything and would do nearly anything to hear it again.

She regrets not letting him know that she knew all his little habits, and how much she would always pick up any new ones. The way he went unnaturally quite when he was angry, or how his eyes always had this gloomy look, and he would bite his lip when he was sad. The way he would continuously run his fingers through his hair, leaving it in a tangled mess, or scratch his hands when something made him anxious. And the way his eyes would have this little twinkle every time he would see something he loved. That twinkle always used to be reserved for her, but now she must get used to seeing it gone.

She regrets all those things, but one thing she doesn’t regret is spending nearly all her time with him. She doesn’t regret dropping everything to help him. She doesn’t regret staying up nearly all night to talk to him, which left her falling asleep in most of her classes the next day. She doesn’t regret a lot of things, but there is more she regrets.

There is one thing that she regrets the most, and that is she regrets the fact she never got to say I love you one last time.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

This account starts rather impersonally, itemizing our desires and needs.  But this is only a prelude to an intimate confession of love.  The speaker has lost the beloved person and now examines how she behaved towards him.  She is full of regrets and the story is carefully structured so that the paragraphs all start with the ominous words, ‘She regrets…’

Briefly, she regrets not having commented on his winning smile, his beautiful eyes, his voice and laughter, his ‘little habits.’  When we are in love, small, seemingly unimportant things, mannerisms, quirks, even annoying habits, acquire a transcendental value and significance.  This is apparent when the girl says she regrets not having commented on the way he ran his fingers through his hair.

Sadly and, predictably, as the story is full of regrets, the story looks back to a time when all she regrets now could have been expressed and enjoyed.   But, engagingly, she doesn’t regret making the boy she loves the centre of her universe, even though she missed the opportunity of making a last confession of love. This is a moving, emotionally mature story, where regret is essentially an inescapable part of life.

‘The Platform’

 

I remember the day he left like it was yesterday. We were only sixteen, but to the recruiting officer stationed in our little coastal town, that meant nothing. His mother was devastated when she got the letter, and she did everything in her power to try and get him out of it. But it was never enough. The army were low on men, the officer had said, and every able-bodied non-essential man was to become a soldier.

The day on the platform was probably one of the worst days of my life. Crying mothers and sweethearts spanned the station for as far as the eye could see, all trying their best to be strong for their families who so desperately needed something to cling onto. I understood then, why my mother had never cried when my father was sent off to the Boer in South Africa.

My stomach dropped as I stared curiously around the platform once again. The boys who were being sent off to die were mostly people I knew, people I was at school with. Beside me, Effie was crying into an old handkerchief, her shoulders shaking as she pulled her three youngest into her arms. Teddy wrapped an arm around his mother affectionately,

“It’s going to be alright, mum.” He smiled broadly and wiped away her tears. He hadn’t yet stopped growing and was already over a head taller than his mother, making them quite the pair to look at. The two shared a warm hug, before Teddy leaned down and pulled his siblings into a bearhug. I’d always liked the Shelby’s dynamic. Never forced, never awkward but so natural in its strange casualness. Teddy stood up, and his bright blue eyes met mine for the first lime that morning. He took my hand and pulled me away from his family, murmuring something to Effie that I didn’t quite manage to catch.

Teddy led me towards the edge of the platform before stopping abruptly. “I need you to promise me something.” Ted took both my hands in one of his and lifted them to his lips, kissing my palms. “Promise me you ‘II take care of mum. She can’t do it all by herself. She’s strong, my Effie, but no ones that strong.”

I nodded my head. I loved Ted’s mother like my own and I would do anything to help her relieve the burden she was facing. Then he hugged me. We had never hugged before. I hid my head on his shoulder, trying to hide the fact that my eyes were beginning to fill with hot, wet tears. When he let go, I felt colder, emptier than before. We walked back to the platform just as the warning whistle sounded. It was time for the damned to board the train. Teddy said his final goodbyes to his family, wiping away Effie’s tears and whispering in her ear. Just a she clambered onto the lumbering machine, I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and in a moment of blind courage, I kissed him on the cheek. He flushed and hugged me again. “I’ll see you around, yeah?” I smiled, tucking a strand of hair behind my car. “Yeah, l’ll be back by Christmas.” He nodded, and fora moment, I believed him.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

Few scenes are more heart-rending than seeing young men, still callow and innocent, saying goodbye to family and friends, when leaving to fight in a war.  The railway platform becomes the setting for tears, hugs, confessions of enduring love, and mothers aware their sons will be far away from their protective embrace and exposed to the indiscriminate bullets of the enemy.

Our story is a classic example of such a poignant parting scene. Sixteen-year-old Ted has been called up and the fateful day of his departure has arrived. The tearful farewell is seen from the girlfriend’s point of view.  She is obviously a mature person, fully aware of the deep feelings, unexpressed emotions which lie stifled within people’s breasts. Ted, though a mere sixteen, comes across as a solicitous son, worried about his mother and asking his girlfriend to look after her.

Martha has written an emotionally charged story where the gathering at the railway station becomes an emblem of humanity, vulnerability and suffering. The war in Ukraine is a reminder that scenes like these are not just part of history.

‘The Night’s Sharp Eye’

 

1PM:

A plethora of noise and colour surrounds me. It is the busiest time of the day. Main Street is overflowing with life; brimming with a bright, buzzing energy. The crowd is thick. Focused office workers are rushing through town with their heads down and phones in hand. A dog is barking, frustrated at being tied to the lamppost. Smiling people shake their tins, collecting money for charity. Generous passers-by are adorned with stickers in return for their kind donations. A screaming child is demanding lunch, trying to wrestle out of his pram. Shop vendors are handing out free scented samples to passers-by. A delivery van is hooting. It’s impatient driver is trying to carefully cut through the hustle and bustle. The herd of tourists are following their shouting guide, oblivious to the vehicle behind them. A street performer is dancing to the music blaring and thumping out of a huge speaker .. Shoppers are pushing past one another desperately trying to avoid the long queue for the cash machine snaking up the street. I can smell churros frying in the nearby cafe. A cacophony of voices, languages and generations fill the street. Friends embrace and chat with animated warmth and cheer. The church bells chime in the distance, drowned out by everything else.

 

1AM:

A breathless calm hangs over the still night. The sky is black and inky, filled with a smattering of stars. A row of lampposts line each side of the cobblestone street. They stand upright like silent, solemn soldiers; wearing their hanging baskets like epaulettes. Their beacon of warm, yellow light illuminates the deserted street. I can hear the quiet hum of the street cleaner in the distance. A lone cyclist passes by, her wheels making a slight squeaking noise on the uneven pavement. I stop to sit down on the bench. Darkness oozes out from behind the buildings which tower above me. I look up. My vision is sharpened. The colourful, wooden shutters and ornate twisted black metal on the balconies stand out; things I had never taken the time to notice during the day. My attention is focused on my surroundings and the playful details which seem to dance out of the shadows. The street names and shop signs seem brand new, I have never properly looked at them before now. Eye-catching window displays frame frozen mannequins clothed in expensive labels. The uniform, geometric patterns of the colonial tiles on the same building are beautiful and unique. Modern and historical features stand side by side in juxtaposition. Without the noise and cheerful laughter of the busy and hectic shoppers it feels like I am in a completely different place. I stand up and slowly begin to walk home. I hear the church bells ring again cutting through the silver silence of the night.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

Few scenes are more heart-rending than seeing young men, still callow and innocent, saying goodbye to family and friends, when leaving to fight in a war. The railway platform becomes the setting for tears, hugs, confessions of enduring love, and mothers aware their sons will be far away from their protective embrace and exposed to the indiscriminate bullets of the enemy.

Our story is a classic example of such a poignant parting scene. Sixteen-year-old Ted has been called up and the fateful day of his departure has arrived.  The tearful farewell is seen from the girlfriend’s point of view. She is obviously a mature person, fully aware of the deep feelings, unexpressed emotions which lie stifled within people’s breasts. Ted, though a mere sixteen, comes across as a solicitous son, worried about his mother and asking his girlfriend to look after her.

Martha has written an emotionally charged story where the gathering at the railway station becomes an emblem of humanity, vulnerability and suffering. The war in Ukraine is a reminder that scenes like these are not just part of history.

‘Where Are You 62?’

 

Everything about her was a lie. Where she came from, her family, her job – all lies.

Joyce leant back in her armchair, thinking about her day. It was nothing unusual, just another boring day at the office dealing with numbers. How could real accountants deal with it? It was such a tedious job.

“As a child, I hated maths.” she said to her hot chocolate. However, that was her old life, she was an accountant now. An accountant who lived in Liverpool.

The smell of hot chocolate flooded her thoughts.

“I used to love hot chocolate,” she said. The memory triggered a smile. “when Mum made it for me and Jessie.” However, Joyce Smith was an only child, whose parents died in a car crash.

Outside the weather wasn’t looking too good. The clouds were grey like lead and the ground was covered by a blanket of glittering snow.

“I used to love snow.” the hot chocolate didn’t reply. The snow lay neatly on the ground, as if it was trying to push Joyce into thinking of her unspoken past. Those intense days. With actual excitement. When her life didn’t revolve around weeks and weeks of mundane and monotonous counting.

The sound of snow being carried by the wind sounded like a fairy’s whispers, and the heat from Joyce’s hot chocolate was a hearth for her fingers. Her eyelids felt heavy above her eyes. She felt comfortable in her armchair – about to fall asleep – when there was a knock on the door. She groaned.

“Good evening ma’am.” said the man at the door.

“How may I help you?” questioned Joyce, slightly exasperated.

“I’m looking for Evelyn Miller.” his voice was low. He must have seen the shock on Joyce’s face and mistaken it for confusion. He looked slightly left, then right as if to see if anyone was watching.

“You know … Agent 62?” he said in an even lower voice.

After a moment of hesitation, Joyce replied.

“I think you’d better come in. It’s cold outside.”

 

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

Joyce seems to be an undercover agent whose life is a tissue of pretence and lies.  The story revolves around Joyce reminiscing about her former life when her mother made the hot chocolate and she had a sister, Jessica.

Now life is grey, monotonous and repetitive.  Then, a knock on the door brings Joyce back to everyday reality and we are plunged into a world of secret codes and false names.

This short story is packed with innuendoes, implicit meaning and understated references.  It portrays a world full of suspicion, fear and threats.  Its conciseness and brevity works well as its power lies in what is not said as much as in  what is explicitly stated.

‘The Perfect Day’

 

My eyes open to a dark place with only a sliver of light inside. Crawling towards the light I peak outside and see the forest of my home under the bright shine of the moon. I walk out of my den, and head towards the town wondering what I’ll find tonight. I walk to the other end of town as usual aiming for the family’s house. Each night I do the same thing, go to the family’s house, look in the box and then lie in the old man’s garden. Walking along a quiet street towards the family’s house, I look for their sign saying, “All animals welcome, humans tolerated”. Each night they leave me some of their dinner outside the back door.

Once I arrive, I look around for danger as their neighbours are quite grumpy and their dog is huge! I can already smell the tasty food, so I peak inside the kitchen window and see the family with some weird boxes they’re eating out of. I’m wondering what it is, when the idea explodes into my brain and I whisper,

“its Chinese takeaway day!”. Once I finish looking, I run full speed to the door, I see my cardboard box with the food inside. I sniff and conclude its Chinese chicken with noodles! I eat the chicken first then my noodles. Chinese takeaway day is my favourite and usually its only once a month, so I make the most of it. Once finished, I scratch the window on my way out, so they know I’m done, and I give a quick squeak to say thanks.

I walk along the path to an old rusty gate, and squeeze under it making my way to the old man’s house. I scratch the back door and walk to the overgrown garden, looking up to see the old man watching over me from his bedroom window. Lying down we watch the early morning sunrise together. Just a few hours in this peaceful safe place with the old man are my favourite part of the day. Perfect!

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

This simple story has a charm all of its own. What is presumably a cat goes out prowling at night.  But the animal has a clear itinerary: the family house. Once there, and having avoided the monstrous dog next door, it espies the family tucking into a Chinese takeaway. This is promising as it means it will enjoy a share of the exotic grub which happens to be its favourite. The return journey takes the cat to the old man’s garden, where, another ritual, they both enjoy the sunrise.

I think it is the picture of harmony between human and animal which is so winning and attractive. Also, the discreet signals, the scratching and squeaking, establish communication between species, devoid of language, but nonetheless full of meaning and purpose. This is an enchanting story.

‘Growing’

 

The last day of the best time of the year is always the saddest. The saddest because tomorrow a new school year begins and so will the bullying. I love summer with my friends, but now it is over and tomorrow my classmates will start calling me names like they always do: shorty, stumpy, dwarf and other horrible things.

 

As I opened my eyes that morning, I felt a sense of dread all over me and I just wished that I could stay in bed. I slowly got dressed and I felt uncomfortable in my uniform. I went to the kitchen for my breakfast and as I ate my toast every bite took an effort to swallow.

 

‘Hurry up sleepy head,’ said my dad. Then Mum took one look at me and said, ‘after school we are going to buy you a new uniform. That one is looking a bit tight on you.’ Was I becoming fat too?

 

I walked to school and I felt sweat run down my forehead as I saw the familiar school gates with so many children passing through. I took a deep breath and entered.

 

I immediately spotted Bill, one of the worst bullies, although somehow, he did not look as big as before. As he walked up to me, I braced myself, but he cheerfully said, ‘Hi Lilly, isn’t it nice to be back? I hope you had a good summer.’ I was completely shocked that he had called me by my real name. I thought he did not even know it.

 

That break time Marie, another bully came up to me and asked if I wanted to play with her and the others. I was thrilled and casually answered ‘Okay,’ trying not to surround desperate. By the end of the day nobody had called me any names.

 

After school, my mum took me to buy a new uniform. As I tried on a bigger size my mum exclaimed, ‘My, you have grown a lot over the summer!’ That was when I realised, and I thought to myself, maybe this year is not going to be so bad after all.

 

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

 

Bullying in all its multifarious forms has become the subject of endless studies, psychological profiling and campaigns to put an end to it.  Unfortunately, it is still endemic at all levels, from schools to the higher echelons of so-called professionals.

Our story reflects this form of ugly behaviour, this time in school.  Poor Lilly dreads returning to school and becoming again the target of bullying.  However, during the summer holidays, he has grown and, apparently, acquired a more imposing physique.  The bullies now approach him with respect and a show of friendliness.  The new uniform mother is buying for him signals the new phase in his life-he is now more self-confident, mature and happy.

This story, though simple, should be required reading for all those who have the makings of a bully.  Well done!

‘The tale of the Rabbit, the Eagle and the Dolphin’

 

I want to tell you about the day I met a dolphin. Now I don’t think there are many rabbits that claim to have met a dolphin. Rabbits live on land and Dolphins live in the sea. Rabbits cannot swim and Dolphins cannot walk. But it happened….

 

The day started like any other, with me eating plants from one side of the Rock to the other fleeing from predators in between. I don’t know how much you know about rabbits, but we are at the bottom of the food chain. We have to assume everything wants to eat us and RUN!

 

So, there I was enjoying my feast when suddenly a golden eagle swooped down grabbed me! I felt sharp claws wrap tightly around my waist and I was flying! Through the clouds I could see the Caleta Hotel before we flew above the sea. I wriggled and I started falling! I have never been to the sea, I spend my days on the top of the rock, on solid land, away from the houses and nowhere near the sea. It was cold, wet and I was sinking, I couldn’t breathe when suddenly, I was back on the surface. It happened so fast, as if I was on a jet ski, being pushed really fast towards the rocks! I reached them and hopped off my mystery vessel. I was soaked and immediately laid down to catch my breath.

 

I heard a splash. I opened my eyes and there in the sea was a beautiful dolphin. ‘You saved me!’ I exclaimed. ‘Thank you.’ She looked at me and made a high-pitched squeaky sound. I couldn’t understand but she had the kindest eyes. She stayed with me until I had the strength to hop back up to the top of the rock where she watched me from the sea. I waved at the top and always look for her when I see the sea.

 

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

 

The animal fable must be one of the oldest genres in literature.  From the time of Aesop, through Chaucer with his Parliament of Fowls to Farid ud-din Attar’s The Conference of Birds, animals and their behaviour have served as cautionary tales for humans.

Our story is a true animal fable where three different species become involved.  However, unlike the classic animal fable, no moral is drawn and we can make up our own minds about its implicit meaning.   The poor rabbit must represent vulnerability, victimhood and inoffensiveness.  The eagle surely stands for unthinking nature-swift, strong and oblivious of the needs of others.  The dolphin is caring, altruistic and kind.  The rabbit is rescued and now forms a connection with his new friend.

This is delightful story because the animals are not moralised or humanised; they are themselves, in their natural habitat, and their  reactions are perfectly in keeping with their animal nature.  This is a very pleasant and entertaining story.

‘Curious Chuckles’

 

Chuckles is the name of my pet chicken. I adopted her from my auntie in England and she has been the delight of my life since that day. She is an astonishing chicken. She is smart, calm, and kind with black and yellow feathers making her look like a cheetah. Her face is as cute as a puppy, with big brown eyes and little white beak. She is so calm that she will let you stroke her and pick her up.

When I was living in England, my neighbour’s dog broke our fence and attacked all the other chickens we had. We panicked, thinking they had been killed, but all of a sudden we saw Chuckles appear, she had miraculously survived. We then moved to Gibraltar and I was very sad to leave her behind and I could tell she was going to miss me, and I was right.

Once we had moved, our friend was looking after her. She told us that Chuckles was not the same. She was always on her own, she didn’t want to be picked up, and seemed very upset. Then one day, my mother excitedly told me that we were going to bring Chuckles to live with us in Gibraltar. This made me incredibly happy.

We brought her to Gibraltar and she lived opposite us in a big pen with other chickens. Life was good, she seemed happy, and I would go and visit her every single day.

Then, one day, I had a big fright as we saw she wasn’t in her pen. We looked everywhere, but Chuckles had escaped. After days of looking for her throughout Gibraltar, my mother found her, and as soon as she put her back in her pen, she escaped again.

We have come to the conclusion, that Chuckles is just curious about where she is living now and she wants to explore the world around her. I am very glad I brought her to Gibraltar, and even though I cannot see her everyday, I know she is safe because she is such a clever chicken.

 

Judge Charlie Durante’s comments:

Chickens are seldom treated as pets, but Chuckles is the exception.  We learn that she is ‘smart, calm and kind’ and the favourite of our story-teller. When the owner has to leave her behind, Chuckles becomes moody and unfriendly- she obviously misses her human  companion.  Once they are reunited, Chuckles reverts to her former self but she now often disappears and goes exploring. Being ‘Curious Chuckles,’ she wants to learn about her new surroundings. However, the speaker is confident Chuckles will always return to her pen because ‘she is such a clever chicken.’ Even chickens have the potential to become loved pets!

There is no hidden meaning here but that is precisely the story’s charm and appeal.