The Beacon: Solstice Prize for Young Writers Anthology

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The Beacon Solstice Prize for Young Writers Anthology Winning poems and short stories from the inaugural Solstice Prize for Young Writers! Writing East Midlands

First published 2016 Writing East Midlands Competition, 49 Stoney St, The Lace Market, Nottingham NG1 1LX Tel: 0115 959 7929 Š Writing East Midlands and with the contributors, 2016

Design by Martin Parker at Cover illustration by The Unloved

The Beacon Solstice Prize for Young Writers Anthology


ell done and thank you to all the young writers that submitted their stories and poems to the first ever Solstice Prize for Young Writers! The winners and highly commended pieces in each age category are as follows:

10–13 Age Category OVERALL WINNER: Wasted Opportunities – Amelie Frost Highly commended pieces: Family Tree – Oscar Petter What a Box Can Do – Martha Bertram Death Wish – Nieve Ball Running with Hope – Natalie Grady Granny – Ava Harker

14–17 Age Category OVERALL WINNER: The Drinker – Carl Gilman Highly commended pieces: Seder – Roberta Sher Lost Hope – Jaleel Hudson Stranger – Imogen Dashfield Bird Flossing a Crocodile’s Mouth – Alexander Devon Dead Silent – Jemima Wakefield

Introduction W

e are so delighted to be able to publish this anthology of winning work from our first ever open competition for young writers between the ages of 10 and 17. The competition attracted more than 150 entries from across the UK, and was able to award prizes to two overall winners and 10 highly commended writers, split into two age categories, 10–13 and 14–17 years. For milennia, the summer solstice has been celebrated as a time when the sun's energy is at its height, a time when it makes its longest arc in the sky, a time for enthusiasm, celebration and empowerment. So it's no accident that we have taken the longest, most glorious day of the year as the time to celebrate the achievements of young writers in the UK. This resulting anthology, named The Beacon in reference to the chains of beacons traditionally set alight on the summer solstice, is a fitting snapshot of the diversity, quality and promise of creative writing from young people across the UK. We hope that as we develop the Solstice Prize for Young Writers over the coming years, it too will light the way for the next generation of creative writers. The Solstice Prize for Young Writers is delivered by Writing East Midlands which exists to seek out, nurture and champion writers working at all stage of their careers. We support young writers by providing a network of regular creative writing groups for young people, an 4

ongoing writer-in-residence programme in schools, an annual creative writing retreat for 9–14s, and now, by delivering the Solstice Prize for Young Writers (a little sister to Aurora, our main writing competition for writing by adults). We are grateful to Bromley House Library in Nottingham for their support of the Solstice Prize for Young Writers. Bromley House Library is one of the few remaining subscription libraries remaining in the UK, home to around 40,000 books spread over three floors of a Grade II listed Georgian townhouse in central Nottingham. Bromley House Library celebrates its 200th anniversary this year and supports the prize as part of its anniversary celebrations. Congratulations to all the young people published here. Keep on writing!


Amelie Frost Overall Winner 10–13 Age Category: Wasted Opportunities She sat on the desk top, twirling the scythe in her left hand. The office was a busy place but no one noticed her, naturally- she was trained to be invisible. At the moment, it was just a normal day in the office with the workers getting around their usual business doing insanely boring and repetitive jobs: hypnotized by the light on the photocopier; taking a sip of their long forgotten coffee, only to find that it had gone stone cold, and robotically pressing the keys, writing another mandatory email. But it wasn’t going to stay boring for long. She looked at the clock on the wall. 20 minutes to go. 20 minutes until the fun started. And he was late, typical. For the next 5 minutes she sat on the desk of the absent man and swung her legs back and forth, frowning as her brain cells shrivelled up and died from boredom. ‘Honestly,’ she thought as she looked at a woman massaging the frown lines on her forehead as she listened to the person on the other side of the telephone, ‘this was no way to live.’ When she was alive she had spent her time doing much more interesting things like skipping school and fighting the local gangs. Admittedly it had got her killed, but that wasn’t the point. She looked at the objects that littered the desk and tried hard not to yawn. They were scattered all over the place, with a carelessness that showed neglect, and none seemed to be of any interest or significance, just company pens, a pot of paper clips, a few photos of his four year old son and a planner... a planner, well this should prove some source of amusement. She walked over to it, through one of the many people wearing a pin-striped suit and smirked as he suddenly stopped and shivered. The planner was adorned with tacky pictures that were the embodiment of each 7

month in equally gaudy colours. She flipped the glossy pages until she reached today’s date, grimacing as she was contaminated with fluffy ducks that glowed like the golden sun. ‘Aww how cute,’ she thought as she examined the upcoming events,’ he has a date tonight, dinner with Lucy. Well, Lucy was going to be severely disappointed.’ Though she was probably doing Lucy a favour, he was nothing to be proud of; a pathetic, flabby, weak- willed man who had a strange fetish for cauliflower cheese. She looked back up at the clock. 12 minutes to go. That man really needed to understand the importance of life before it was too late instead of defeating the purpose of his alarm clock. Humans; given the opportunity to live life to the fullest but don’t take it, instead letting it slide between their fingers like sand. All the memories that could have been made, all the laughter that never left their lips and all the potential soul mates or friends for life left undiscovered and lonely, with a thin layer of dust covering their features. She scowled in frustration as they all failed to see what they were missing. But what did she know? She was a rebellious teenager that was under the false pretence that everyone lived like her: on the edge. 10 minutes to go. Her right eye twitched in annoyance. If his death hadn’t already been arranged she would hunt him down and kill him herself. She had already felt her once youthful soul dampen and age in the oppressive mediocrity of the office, turning grey and ashen. Finally, he waddled through the door, his white shirt sporting an impressive coffee stain and his mouth wearing the remnants of toothpaste like lipstick. She watched him disparagingly as he walked into two desks and a colleague, causing her to drop her papers all over the floor. This was who she had been waiting for, this ape that proved that evolution didn’t always do its job correctly. He sat clumsily in his desk chair, ignorant to the strain he was putting it under. 7 minutes to go. He really was grotesque; his uneven stubble had bits of scrambled egg stuck in it and it was obvious that his shower hadn’t been visited in a very long time.


She at least wished that he would die a dramatic death so he could have something interesting to his name, but even that was too much to ask – a simple blow on the head was going to be his downfall in exactly 3 minutes. He should have listened to the laws of gravity and not leaned back in his chair so far. She watched as he took his last look at the photo of his 4 year old son and then rested his legs on his desk. 1 minute to go. He leaned back, tipping his chair as it creaked under the sudden pressure. 20 seconds. He suddenly lost his balance and time seemed to slow down. She watched as his eyes widened and his hands flailed, trying to find something solid to grasp onto. She watched as his head grew closer and closer to the desk behind him and impacted with a sickening crack. She watched as he fell to the floor, motionless, blood pooling from the wound on the back of his head. 10 seconds. The light flickered in his eyes and dimmed, glossing over as his breathing stopped. Show time. She jumped off the desk and readied the scythe in her hands. His soul was slowly rising from his corpse in fragments, slowly piecing themselves together to form a ghost. She swung the scythe and watched as it slashed through the tether that tied his soul to his body to stop it floating away. No longer attached to this world, he disappeared, shock registering on his face as he realised what had happened to him. He had gone to the crossroads. 30 years of life and he had accomplished nothing. He had wasted his time on earth and that regret was going to stick with him for eternity. She sighed. Her job had been done. Turning around, she passed through his panicking co-workers and disappeared, hollowness in her stomach. So many people died without ever accomplishing anything and it saddened her. She wanted to yell and scream at everyone around her about wasted opportunities, but no matter how hard she tried, how loud she screamed, no one ever heard her. At least she had done something with her life; at least she had seen what it was worth. â–


Oscar Petter Highly commended 10–13 Age Category: Family Tree My hands may be muddy, But my soul is clean. Although I may be holding dirt, From the brown grows green. I hold the stem with tiny leaves, Quivering... testing. Ruffled by the mountain breeze, To the call of nature… listening. And why should my plant have to suffer? For it is I whose job is back breaking toil. My flesh and bones are tougher, For I am a man of the soil. For the soil is what grew my family tree, But I fear the tree may have already flowered. And a seed is all that is left of me, Trodden on by the Western powers. Which lie far over the mountain, Where the sun sets scarlet red. The hills maybe silent, but the cities are shouting, Shouting the word of the dead. And the ice caps start to shift, As we choke on smoke and burn the oil. Once again we turn to nature’s gift, The soft, moist, rich, black soil. 10

Martha Bertram Highly commended 10–13 Age Category: What a Box Can Do… With rain pattering on the ground, Millie and Daisy were wishing that they were outdoors; but instead they were inside. This was the first time Millie had been to Daisy’s house. Millie was the new girl in Daisy’s class at school. It was huge! The pristine sofa was as white as snow and there was not a speck of dust in sight. In the centre of the room, there was a neatly positioned rug printed with ‘’home sweet home’’, Daisy had said that it once belonged to her great great grandmother! “Have you found it yet?” Millie asked. “No, I can’t find the pieces anywhere,” Daisy replied. Whilst looking for the lost pieces of their world map jigsaw puzzle, Daisy’s mum shouted “Dinner’s ready in 20 minutes!” They were sitting in their den (a massive, old cardboard box) getting frustrated with the puzzle. Daisy’s mum came into the room and said “Fish fingers, ok?” “Yes mum,” Daisy sang in a jolly tune. They snuggled down into the box and closed their eyes tight wishing that they could find the jigsaw pieces. With a blink of an eye, warmth hit them; they couldn’t hear the rain anymore. What had happened? They thought. Daisy nervously opened her eyes and peeked out of the door, where were they? It looked like… China! She pinched her arm to make sure that it wasn’t a dream but sure enough it wasn’t. Millie looked up and nearly fainted with fear and shock before they cautiously stepped out of the box hand in hand. Millie walked up to a Chinese lady with two little boys and said, “Where is the nearest airport?” She did not understand what they were trying to say, so she shrugged her shoulders and walked away. With their heads held high they shuffled off towards an intricately 11

painted clothes shop. They went into it and a lady said, “Hi, English girls, you are lucky I can speak English, what do want today?” The lady told them that if they were to buy some clothes from her she would help them, so they each bought a red dress with white and pink flowers on it. Then the lady said if they went to the shop next door wearing their dresses the shopkeeper would give them a present. So Millie and Daisy went out and found the shop that the lady had told them about, which was even more bright and colourful than the last one. It was a mixture of red, white, pink and yellow. It had a fancy name that they couldn’t understand. They went in and an English man was sitting at a very cluttered desk surrounded by games, books and toys. ”Hello,” Daisy said with a wobble in her voice “Do you have a present for us?” “Yes, I do, here you go.’’ he said passing them a small jigsaw piece with the country China on it. “That’s the piece from our jigsaw!” Daisy said with confusion. “Now, let me see.” the gentleman said, “ Ah, to get the other pieces and to get to another country, all you have do is go back in the box, close the door, shut your eyes and click your fingers, then say the country you want to go to and you will arrive there straight away.” “Ok,” Millie said. They climbed into the box that they had been carrying around with them, clicked their fingers and whispered together “Australia!” All of a sudden they had changed countries and all around them there were kangaroos and koala bears. There was a sign just in front of them saying “Cairns Wildlife Park”. Millie had always wanted to go to Australia so this was perfect. Running away from a kangaroo on the loose, they bumped into a lady who shouted at them and said, “You girls need to watch where you are going.” They toddled off laughing and joking about, whilst trying to find the nearest toyshop. When they finally arrived at the closest one it was closed. There was also a note saying, “If you are looking for a lost jigsaw piece go round the back of the shop and knock three


times” So they did as it said and a woman with blonde hair answered. She gave them a small, brown, paper package and said that they should keep it safe. Full of excitement, they unwrapped it and inside there was a little jigsaw piece yet again, but this time it had Australia on it. Daisy threw the dirty, old and dusty box on the ground with a THUMP! They crawled into the teleporting machine. “Africa!” they shouted whilst clicking their filthy fingers. They pushed the delicate door open nearly ripping it off the box. Suddenly they heard something big… elephants were charging towards them! Millie spotted a small jigsaw piece with Africa printed on it; she grabbed it. The force of the elephants made red sandy dust blow on to their dresses. Daisy shoved the jigsaw piece into her pocket. She was in such a panic she shouted, “Wing land” instead of England. They tried to correct it but it was too late; the box had gone and they were left standing in nothingness. It was black all around them. They grabbed each other’s hands and fell… With their eyes tightly closed, they were turning around and around, and suddenly BUMP! They were back in Daisy’s living room! “Dinner’s ready.” Daisy’s mum said. But they had been so long. Surely it had to be a dream? they thought. But they both looked down to glance at what they were wearing and sure enough there were the dresses covered in sand. They quickly completed the jigsaw and then ran off to dinner. Daisy’s mum smiled at them and said “Girls, where did you get those beautiful dresses from?” “Oh my mum got them for us to play in and keep,” Millie said giggling with Daisy. “That’s lovely of her,” Daisy’s mum replied thoughtfully. They were feeling almost scared about how it happened but also excited and intrigued by the situation. Even though they didn’t know how it happened and it stayed in their minds forever, they decided not to tell their mums, so it was their secret for the rest of their lives… ■


Nieve Ball Highly commended 10–13 Age Category: Death Wish I had always had a dream, one in every way impossible. So let me tell you my story and how my dream came true. Slaves! This place is crawling with them. Slaves – just like me. Whipped, beaten, tortured; nothing is as painful, as agonising as a day just existing in this world. I sleep on the floor of my master’s kitchen, but I doubt that he even knows that I exist, let alone that I scrub his floors until my hands run out of layers of skin to sacrifice in His name. We are like caged animals waiting to be set free. It’s like being stuck in a hurricane; my head whirls around and around with all of the chaos in this place. It is a dark age of dawns that don’t get light when you walk out into the new day. Every Friday morning, I face the harsh burning sun to go to the market but still, I find time to sneak away and escape to the temple, to pray to Eleonora, the goddess of peace. My dream is to go and join her. To be with the great Goddess Eleonora and my parents, killed by the Roman soldiers when they couldn’t pay their taxes. I was just a few weeks old when I was dispatched off as an orphan and slave. I think I must have been praying too hard as I don’t notice the Roman soldiers approaching me from behind. Blood starts pooling around me. A red puddle. Fading voices. ‘Kill the girl! This lazy slave has abandoned her work,’ a sharp voice demands, ‘make a good job of it! Make the lousy wretch feel the pain.’ I tried to stand but I am pushed back down to the ground; my strength evaporating with my soul. 14

A brutal spear twists silently through my heart and I am still. Floating above myself, my soul is free at last. The Roman soldier made my dreams come true for I was soon in heaven; my parents were waiting with open arms and Eleonora was beaming, I was glowing; I was the happiest I had ever been. I have found real peace at last. ■


Natalie Grady Highly commended 10–13 Age Category: Running with Hope The inky ocean enveloped me and the numbing chill of perishing water reached my heart as I clung to a discarded piece of driftwood. I could see the faint outline of the Greek coastline in the distance. We were so close and yet so far from safety. I blame them. If they hadn’t taken my home and my brother’s life I wouldn’t have been here. I was asleep in the attic when the sound of shots woke me. Mum squeezed through my bedroom door minutes later, her eyes wide with fear. “Pack your bag,” she whispered, thrusting a satchel at me. I stared at her blankly, still half asleep. “Quickly,” she added and stole out. I grabbed what I could then spotted my book and threw that in too. I ran down the stairs skidding into the kitchen. My brother Rama was already there, looking pale and afraid. My new born sister, Hope was tucked into Mum’s backpack which looked a bit comical, but nobody was in the mood for laughing. We crept out into the moonlit garden. No one saw or heard the man dressed in black slip in behind us, following us in the shadows. A shot rang out sharp and clear. I glanced back and to my horror, I spotted Rama on the ground. I stopped to go back for him but Mum tugged at me. “He’s dead,” she said, her voice wavering. Tears prickled in the corners of my eyes, but I didn’t dare sob. Hope murmured inside Mum’s back pack. She understood. We fled. I’d lost my clothes as Rama was carrying my satchel on his back 16

and we didn’t dare retrieve it. We would have to remain in our pyjamas. None of us had had time to change. We lived in terror. Long days were spent trekking across the Syrian wilderness – the nights were sleepless and endless. As dawn broke over the mountains we were off – the only things we had in the entire world were Hope and each other. I lost the will to live more than once – each day was like a living death. Grief for Rama and for our country weighed us down as we trudged onwards. Hope kept us going; she was the sunshine in the darkness, I wonder if without her we might have given up and lain down in the sand to die. By week seven, we had reached Turkey and the coast. We were starving and exhausted, but elated to have made it so far. Relieved, we joined the vast queue that spiralled around the harbour. I couldn’t help switching my eyes between the British boat bobbing in the water beneath a Union Jack and the ancient wooden caique we were queuing to board. How different would my life have been if I’d been allowed on that boat instead? ■


Ava Harker Highly commended 10–13 Age Category: Granny We sit around the polished table: my parents, my brother and I. The overhead lights bounce off my father’s bald, egg like head and make him go the colour of orange juice. Meaty liquids drip down our chins and pool on our plates. “This is fantastic, Susan.” Father congratulates. “Mmm.” My brother and I mumble through our full mouths. “Thanks, Dave.” Mother smiles. “You know, I did the marinade a bit different to when I do chicken.” “Oh yes?” Father replies, a vaguely annoyed expression clouding his face for a second. “Yeah, I added the tiniest bit of thyme to kind of lift the flavour and bring out...” I tune out, as I suspect dad has too, and focus on what I’m eating. I can’t quite work out what meat this is; it tastes a little like pork, only sweeter. I’m struggling to match its flavour to any particular meat, yet somehow it tastes oddly familiar. “...Grandma’s funeral?” My brother is saying. He eats like a pig, devouring his food and talking with his mouth open so that chunks of spittle shower anything within close proximity. “Milo, not at the table!” Mum hisses. I’m not sure whether she’s talking about his mention of my grandma’s death or his bad table manners. An awkward gap in the conversation descends, punctuated by cutlery scraping against plates. My grandma, Maud, died last week. My dad tells people that she ‘passed away’ which I don’t understand, because she never really left us, did she? For a few years before she died Granny lived with us, in the tiny spare room stuck onto the edge of our house. She helped mum 18

cook dinner, and although mum was constantly saying how lucky she was that Granny was here to help, I think she was always a bit resentful of her close relationship with my father. I’m pretty sure I’m right because mum would always give her the cutlery that the dishwasher hadn’t cleaned properly and had bits of crusty old food stuck on it, even though she knew grandma found stuff like that disgusting. When Granny M was young, she worked in an exclusive restaurant that specialised in unusual meats; I suppose that’s where my family’s love of meat came from. The last time I talked to Granny she was lying in bed, her hand prune-like and papery in mine. “I’ll always be with you, in here.” She wheezed, pointing vaguely in the direction of my torso. Two minutes later her heart failed. Dad said it was because she ate too much fatty food, so her veins got all clogged up and her blood couldn’t get around her body. But back to present; Milo is helping mum wash the dishes, and dad and I are on drying duty. The water in the sink looks how I imagine Granny’s blood did, dark red and frothy with hunks of meat and gristle bobbing on the surface. “It’s getting close to your bedtime, Gretel. Go upstairs and get into your pyjamas.” I put down the plate I’m drying and look sulkily at my mother. “But mum, it’s only just gone half eight!” I whine. “Gretel.” She looks at me with steely eyes and flicks her finger toward the stairs. After I get into bed and turn the lights off, I lie on my back with my eyes open and think about Granny again. We didn’t have a funeral for her, but who would we have invited? All her friends died years ago. Dad wanted to have a really small one just for family, to give us closure. Mum said that it would only make us more upset.


Because my room is right next to Mum and Dad’s I can sometimes hear them arguing or shouting, when they think I’m asleep. I watch the shadows on the ceiling and let their voices calm me down. I’ve always been afraid of the dark. A couple of days after Granny died I could hear them talking to each other about her funeral. I could only hear individual words like ‘cremate’ and ‘meat’, but then I managed to catch a whole sentence. “Anyway, we’ll always have a piece of her with us.” I could tell it was my mother saying it, not only because her voice was higher than father’s, but because it was harder somehow too. In my dreams she was a snake, a dangerous reptile like one of the boa constrictors we learned about in school. Snakes have cold bloodnot like Granny; hers was warm. That’s what I’m thinking about when I hear a raised, unfamiliar voice from downstairs and the shadows on the ceiling disappear, replaced by flashing neon blue. My head is fuzzy from almost sleeping; I don’t understand what’s happening. “...Susan, just stop.” Resigned, flat. Dad. I can just picture the weary look in his hooded eyes, the hand he’ll be putting on mum’s shoulder. “...Gone, it’s all gone!” The freezing voice of my mother, now frantic. When I finally get to sleep, I dream of the snake writhing and twisting and then stopping all of a sudden, collapsing in a heap of scales and fangs. All the mice it ate scamper out of its mouth and scuttle away, free. ■


Carl Gilman Overall Winner 14–17 Age Category: The Drinker His back is a table, laden with empty glasses, His hair is freshly mown grass, His fingers are chimney sweeps, never still. His face is sun and shadow, half and half. His stomach is a barrel, fermenting On skyscraper legs from ground to sky. His voice is rocks rolling is snow, Words balling up like avalanches; His feelings are tools, locked in a shed; His dreams are all nightmares, raging in his head, His paradise is a forest, deep with no end, The bottom of the glass his only friend.


Roberta Sher Highly commended 14–17 Age Category: Seder Loaves are dissected, and the table a kaleidoscope of dry fingers; we are seated in silence. Outside in the desert a cruel Nissan sun softens to balm and a saturated sky descends; damp as clay from the oven. “Eat,” he says, and we eat; blissful and dumb. Hot flour clouds the air and mingles with browned animal skins; while stomachs swell quiet hangs, and bristles the hairs on our arms. A smile flickers over wet lips, as he reveals the basin of blood-red wine cradled across his chest like the reins of a camel. We pour and drink and pour again, until the burning walls dissolve; and our inflamed eyes strain to see the mesh of sand and oat. At midnight he departs. Abandoned, we watch stars resurface behind the walls exposing scintillating undersides, illuminating the silhouettes of our drunken bodies on the steps. Inside the room, shadows lengthen and a sticky residue of bread and wine accumulates at the bottoms of the cups. 22

Jaleel Hudson Highly commended 14–17 Age Category: Lost Hope Looking up from the balcony, Simone could faintly make out the hover cars swiftly passing above the skyscrapers. She never did get the chance to appreciate how amazing technology had been for new humanity. But she was ‘old’ humanity. Manoeuvring her wheelchair into the main apartment, she sighed. It was empty and dark, most of the furniture had been sold off to keep up with the medical bills. With no lighting installed in the studio, she was always submerged in darkness. However a miniature, glowing doll of a robotic girl, gave the corner of the room a neon glow – worth little but it made her smile every time, though her parents would have disproved of such an ornament. Her parents mocked the idea of any of their children getting bionic material infused into their system; all medical procedures were, in one way or another, linked to bionic material. The Flu could be cured within minutes with a simple syrup containing Polyonite particles found in new aluminium ores and headaches was exempt from anyone who had a microchip attached to their central nervous system. For years their family rejected any kind of medical help, but that would only lead to Simone paying the price 20 years later – handicapped, infected with the epidemic of Necropolis, and alone to fend for herself aside from the small financial aid of her fiancé, Cruz – she wished her parents had seen the benefits it could have brought her beforehand. As little as ten years old, Simone had always dreamed of being a cyborg; having the ability of being better at sports than her brothers and stabilising her emotions more. She wanted a long life of being seen as a strong cyborg and carrying the ability too. However Cyborgs detested Humans and Humans were inferior. 23

The feud between the two was rapidly getting worse; now in 3000 A.D, the working class was obliged to conform to the robotic standards, for survival. Suddenly her thoughts were interrupted by an incoming message on her tablet screen: INCOMING VIDEO INVOICE SENDER: CRUZ BILLING LOCATION: UNKNOWN (OUT OF BOUNDS) SENT: 14 DAYS AGO She froze. “Cruz, you’re…alive?” she stuttered. Shaking, she tapped on the screen which projected a hologram on her blank wall. “Simone my dear, I hope you’re receiving this message” he spoke; she missed the softness to his voice. She missed his voice. She missed him. “By the time this invoice has delivered to you on Earth, I would have reached the sixth galaxy of Azure, now approximately 14,000 million miles away from…you.” He paused. She continued to stare into his eyes, for what felt like an eternity – although it was a premade message, his eyes followed hers, trying to memorise every feature once again. He continued, “Now we’re soon to be at the new planet, and will begin the search for the fugitive humans. But… there’s a catch.” The hologram glitched, replaying his last sentence on loop. She yelled, “You stupid old thing, work!” as she bashed her fist at the side of the monitor. The video played at last. “-is closing in fifteen days, although our intentions were to stay on the planet for thirty days, we’re cutting it down to ten, which should give us enough time to do our search briefly before making a quick exit out of the force shield before, well, it engulfs us.” ‘What force shield?’ she thought, ‘What the hell is closing?’ If


only her monitor wasn’t second-hand junk from a hardware store, she would be able to replay the message. Then she remembered the message on the screen before the video played. Her breathing became rough, “Fourteen days ago...” “Now I know this is all scary – you being alone in a world that doesn’t accept you for your differences, but I do. My wiring may be faulty on rainy days, but they will never reject the thought of you being the amazing human I fell in love with.” He stretched out his copper hand in front of the screen; Simone did the same so they were aligned. For a moment, the humming of the hologram mimicked Cruz’s heartbeat. “The signal is soon to go, but I just wanted to say, I will always love you. I’m thankful my heart is still of a human so I know how to love naturally. Even if this ends up being the last message I ever send I want you to know I-” The apartment was submerged into dark shadows when the hologram vanished. Simone stared at the wall, trying to remember every little detail of his face. Whatever was apparently closing the gap between her and Cruz would be shut, forever, in 24 hours – and she wouldn’t have the slightest clue if he made it or not. She let out a dry sob; if she was a cyborg, such pain felt would have been ignored, and she could be strong and continue to have hope. Yet she was still a useless human, whose emotions got the better of her. Slowly wheeling herself back onto the balcony, she glanced downwards onto the shallow buildings beneath. Eighty feet. The weight of the wheelchair alongside hers would quicken the drop, but she didn’t have the arm strength to throw both her and the wheelchair over the railings. Gradually, she stood from the seat. Though unstable, she managed to grab hold of the railings and


shift her body over – standing on the edge, looking over the city below. All the despair she had covered with happy video calls to Cruz, that she couldn’t wait to be in his arms once again, had resurfaced. Her stomach flipped as she grew anxious. There was nothing left for her to lose. As she leaned further over the view of the city below, she heard rattling behind; looking past her shoulder, she caught a glimpse of a copper hand opening the door. “Cruz!” She gasped – but turning so quickly to face him, her foot slipped. The last thing she saw was his metallic hands, stretching out towards her, in desperate hope of reaching her in time. After that, all that was heard was an electrical buzz until her vision began to fade back… SYSTEM ACTIVATED CNS SUCCESSFULLY OPERATING SIMONE_2.0 ENGAGED, READY FOR LAUNCH


Imogen Dashfield Highly commended 14–17 Age Category: Stranger I remember walking down the bleak corridors and whipping round corner after corner for the first time, eventually reaching 32DT, East Wing. I sterilised my hands and rang the bell. A tired, sunken-eyed, but smiling nurse came to the window, peered through at me and bleeped the door open. It swished peacefully – a moment of calm – as it swung shut behind me, locking, and I padded towards the bluey-grey curtain surrounding yet another hospital bed. The nurse pulled back the shield between me and you, but before I broke the barrier she said, “Are you ready for this?” I nodded silently, biting back tears as I saw your face again, hair drooping over your eyes. You blinked as I tiptoed closer to the unwelcoming sheets and your big, brown eyes, which had curiosity flickering through them and were boring into my mind. “Who are you?” I couldn’t hold it back anymore, pain flooded through my veins and I sobbed as the broken words spluttered out, “Your sister” I whispered. The words almost lost in confusion. But I wasn’t. I was just a stranger to you. “Don’t cry” you whispered, “I don’t remember, but don’t worry. The people here say that’s normal.” You paused, scowling slightly at the word ‘Normal’. “Tell me everything. Please…” I swallow my heartache and cast my mind back to my childhood, as if it was a fishing rod to reel my brother back to me. “Okay, my earliest memory of us is when you were 5 and I was probably 2 and a half. I was learning to ride my bike and couldn’t get the hang of the pedals so I kept getting frustrated that I wasn’t moving anywhere. You came over, stood on the pedals yourself 27

and took us down the windy lanes to the village where I got us both a free ice-cream because I wouldn’t stop crying and the man in the van took pity on us. You had honeycomb flavour with strawberry sauce and I had a Twister which melted all down my new dress, which made Mum furious!” You laughed at the thought, remembering Mum and Dad, just not me. “What else did we do?” you said with excitement in your lisp. “Umm, when I was 6 and it was your 9th birthday I decided to go out at lunchtime from school, which I got a detention for afterwards, and I collected flowers from the hedgerows which I tied together with grass and gave you when I got home, and then when they started to die I pressed them inside my Winnie The Pooh book and gave you them to keep. I don’t know what happened to them in the end but you were so happy with them...” I trailed off at the horror of being scolded when I got back to school late when I realised you were staring at me, asking for more. “Oh! Then when we were 11 and 14 Mum trusted us to go to the city on the old bus and we went round the shopping centre and bought chocolates and socks and pencils and everything we liked.” I rushed, the thrill of all the commotion filling me with energy. “You saw a robot that you were smitten with but you didn’t have enough money left so when you went to the toilets I snuck back and got it without you and you hugged me so hard you almost broke it!” “Wow!” you murmured. Suddenly another memory overtook me. “Then there’s the time we went to the seaside one holiday and we would run along the pier every day and go in all the shops scouring the shelves for a present for your best friend, Josh, who had brought you something back from Prague. Eventually, on the last day, I found a Stormtrooper on the beach in a snow


globe which you thought was perfect.” I giggled at the memory. “Are we still as close as you say we were?” This came out as almost a sigh. “Well, we fight a lot more now we’re older but I like to think we are still best friends.” I come back every day telling you more stories about us, as if we’ve never met each other before. Tales of Christmas competitions, board game tantrums, racing ahead on family walks, attaching a rope swing over a river then falling in anyway. Countless memories come flooding back to both of us and you start remembering things that happened when we we’re tiny, things I don’t remember but Dad confirms. You still don’t remember why you’re in the hospital though. The doctors say we shouldn’t keep reminding you because it upsets you and then you forget anyway. They say you must remember on your own. I hate that. It’s a late Thursday evening and it’s just me and you today. You want to hear more stories, more recent ones this time. So I decide to tell you the one about Big Hill. “It was a spring day that felt like the height of summer. We raced down the roads on our bikes, which I can now ride, and drop them off in our secret hideaway that we found...” “When we exploring the bomb shelter, I remember, I remember that!!” you interrupt, grinning with pride. “Yes, but this time we were heading up Big Hill. We had stupidly decided that we would go all the way to the top in crocs, which got our feet soaked.” “And then what happened, did we get to the top? I bet we did, didn’t we?” “And. And then” I think about lying about the end. “C’mon finish the story. What did it look like from the top? Was the picnic tasty? I’m sure it was, you’re such an amazing sister…” I’m pretty sure a nurse must have come in behind me and shot me through the back because I fall to the floor, collapsing with


guilt, and I choke on a mixture of unfinished story and the blood from the wound. Your face is pitying but I know you don’t understand. I have to pull it together, I think it’s time you really knew. “I’m not an amazing sister, I’m the worst sister you could possibly have. We never made it to the top of Big Hill because I thought we should have a game of dares. First you dared me to scare sheep which was fine, we just had to run away. Then we walked further on before I found a large hole covered in grass and I dared you to jump over.” I stop for a few seconds, take a deep breath and soldier on to the end. “We later found out that it was an ancient mineshaft that carried on down for miles into extensive abandoned mines, and you fell about 10m deep, knocking your head violently and causing amnesia, and for you to end up here. It was all my fault. I’m so sorry.” You don’t say a word, but you definitely remember now. You don’t say a word but you get out of bed, kneel beside me and hug me for hours. I think this is forgiveness. ■


Alexander Devon Highly commended 14–17 Age Category: Flossing a Crocodile’s Mouth bird flossing a crocodile’s mouth

mango egg belly beak cut tip cut tip cut tip, living is like living in the hinge is like crawling through the belly of a snake look inside it’s a Moon’s dustbowl across the mile to the uvula, and I’m a moth-bot swimming at moderato – whip-whhiirr – and trailing a spider’s vine of copper cable like a climber I see a city possessed and a bronze fence. I’m pacing like the God of the Underworld in a black tracksuit terraced houses drip water and there’s stained glass/stained glass/stained glass at night, a front room is a stove cooking the heart of a star. enthralled, streetlights curl like intrigued ferns, then they gnash, mouth full of soapy salt-and-pepper static then the clock tower opens its video eye and the croc’s jaw shuts above. here and there unmanned working factory floor outside it’s howl a panther with a coat of plasma and a belly full of watercolours a howl which breaks stone makes the gold skin of the statues scaly. a manky wad of teeth / inside it’s sit home we little birds soon only programmers or poets.


Jemima Wakefield Highly commended 14–17 Age Category: Dead Silent The heavy steel door rattled. Metal grated against metal as the bolt slid back, and the door opened, flooding the room with piercing white light for a second before the prison warden stepped in. “G-Good evening, Edward,” said the warden. No answer came from the chair. “L-Let’s make this quick, shall we?” The man strapped to the chair still said nothing. In the dim, flickering light of the room, his face was completely blank, making it impossible to tell if he was frightened or whether he was angry. Whether he regretted a single one of his forty-nine murders, or not. The prison warden guessed not. The prison warden’s name was William Campbell, and up until he was transferred to execution, he had been extremely good at concealing his fear. He could deal with papers and documents, he could work as a guard, he could walk down the corridors lined with cells and listen to the cries and shouts of killers and robbers, all without one flicker of fear passing his eyes. But he was afraid. He was afraid of the dark and of spiders and of the empty, cold silence of the prison in which he worked. He couldn’t bear the sight of blood and if something went bump in the night he would sit up straight in bed, heart pounding and cold sweat trickling down his face. William was terrified of his job, but he was also terrified of leaving. Now, as he stood trembling in front of the calmest mass-murderer London had ever seen, he wished he had left a long time ago. Edward Byrnes was, without a doubt, what one would call a psychopath. He had led the police hundreds of miles across Europe for twenty years, and would probably have never been caught if he had not wanted to be. The story of how he came to be arrested 32

was the strangest story any police officer in London had ever heard. He had pulled over in the dead of night, right outside a police station in Soho. According to the officer who was on duty that night, Edward had climbed out of his car, gone to the boot, and removed from it three large sacks, which he slung over his shoulder and carried into the station. He had placed each sack carefully on the desk, all the while smiling pleasantly at the baffled man behind the desk, and when asked if he needed help he had simply replied, “I was going to dump those in the river,”(gesturing to the sacks)”but I thought maybe you guys might like to have them instead.” Of course, after examining the contents of these sacks, the police inspector immediately arrested him. He made no effort to run and even held out his hands for the rattled police officer cuffing him. He responded politely to all questions asked of him during interrogation, where he revealed his name and address, as well as the details of forty-six more murders he had committed, all which proved to be completely accurate. Two weeks later, equally calmly, he sat in front of an equally rattled prison warden, awaiting his death sentence. William had heard people describe a face as a mask, but he had never thought it true until he saw Edward Byrnes. The dim light bulb that hung above his head made the thin film of sweat on his forehead glisten lazily, blurring all discernible features and making them shimmer like a mirage. Sickly grey shadows carved out great orifices under the cheekbones and inside the eye sockets, making Edward’s face look gaunt as a skull. His eyes were glazed over and unfocused, but there was a wicked glint there too, making William absolutely certain that he was looking on the face of an evil man. He couldn’t stand it. He had only had to execute one person prior to this, and William had had to shut his eyes when he pulled the lever. He couldn’t bear to think he was committing murder, although that thought had played on his mind ever since. Shutting his eyes worked; for some reason it seemed to drown out the


screams as well. Edward was different. William knew that Edward wouldn’t scream. So far, he hadn’t even blinked. William’s palms were sweating, so he stuffed his hands in his pockets. His lips were quivering, so he clamped them together in an attempt to look stern. His legs were trembling like jelly, and when Edward turned his head ever so slightly to watch, they turned to water. Edward’s eyes were mocking, one brow was raised, and his mouth was curled upwards in a grisly half-smile. He was watching with the look of a hungry predator observing its next meal. William did his best to match the murderer’s gaze, but he knew that Edward could see through him. He knew he was terrified. And he liked it. During the several minutes they had spent in the room, neither man had spoken a single word to the other, except from William’s unacknowledged greeting. The silence between them was laced with a vile unease, which was only worsened by the dim, eerie lighting and the echoing drip, drip of water from a leak in the sagging ceiling. William couldn’t stand it anymore. He was weak and pathetic, and he knew it. What was worse, Edward thought so too. Edward may have been an unspeakably evil and despicable criminal, but at least he’d had the courage to do something with his life. Edward would leave a legacy behind, whereas William would probably die no less helpless and useless than the day he was born. Edward’s death would change nothing for either of them. William turned round and took the lever in his hand. The cold metal seared like ice on his flesh. He tried to pull it down, but it was stiff, and William was vaguely conscious of a slick dampness on the metal which made his grip difficult. It took three attempts (during which time William could have sworn he heard a mindless chuckle escape Edward’s lips) before it came down with a clunk. For a splitsecond, nothing happened. “Fifty,” Edward whispered. The room was flooded with blue crackling light and the sizzling


of two thousand volts of electricity. William had barely registered the sharp pain in his wrist before thin tendrils of white lightning snaked around the metal lever he was holding and punched their way into his body before he could tear his hand away. The force of the shock threw him across the room, and the prison warden was already dead by the time his head was dashed against the wall. He lay there, an expression of disbelief permanently etched on his face. And even as the electricity enveloped the murderer too, his livid eyes were still fixed on the dead ones of the prison warden. The bulb over his head blew, plunging them both into darkness, and Edward died with a smile on his face. â–


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