Contest Winners – Betrayal

Best short stories
Apologies to all of you (including Richard) for taking so long to get the results of Striking 13’s second writing contest online. This time our theme was ‘betrayal’ and it was great to see such a variety of takes on the topic.

 

Although there were plenty of contenders for our shortlist, Richard and I were in complete agreement about the top three. Congratulations to Eirlys Chui, Wesley Clark and Simon James for your winning entries — please check your e-mails for details about your prizes — and thank you to all who entered.

 

Our next contest will be announced shortly.

 

1st place:
A Moment of Stillness by Eirlys Chui

 

    She felt it creeping closer, edging and prowling like a predator in the woods. The Day. The Day when she wouldn’t remember. It was frightening, but not in the usual sense of the word—heart racing, breaths quick. The descent into madness was not erratic or volatile or explosive. It was slow, and sad, and sorry.

 

The doctors had told her a few months. She didn’t know what a few months meant. In any case, six months had passed, or maybe seven? The doctors also told her she’d face memory loss—this was evident in a couple weeks when the symptoms began to surface. She made a habit of memorizing faces and places, though it made no difference in the end. Medication was prescribed to dampen anxiety, mitigate headaches. There was no bottle labeled For remembering.

 

Her traitorous mind. Her treacherous, faithless, disloyal, double-crossing mind.

 

It hurt to see the people she was closest to fall apart because of her. It hurt that, later, she would not even remember to hurt. Lost her mind. As if she’d merely misplaced something, as if she’d find it under her bed or on the kitchen counter. Her enemy was not a demon to be slain by sword, a debate to be won with words. It was a war with herself, and it seemed strange that the same person would both win and lose. She trusted no one, least of all herself.

 

One night, she had a dream, or perhaps they were memories, she could no longer tell the difference. A girl learning to ride a bike, her brother running alongside her. Late-night movies with popcorn and ice-skating on the pond and pancakes (but only with strawberry syrup). I love you and It’s all right and R for Rae and R for remember. And then: misplacing keys and forgetting appointments and calling people by the wrong name. Blank stares and strange faces and hopeful looks and tear-streaked eyes. Who are you and I don’t know and I CAN’T REMEMBER.

 

She tumbled down and down, lost and alone.

 

    The next day or days later, the sun glinted through the window, bright and eager. She opened her eyes. Rubbed the sleep away, stretched, got up. She’d had a dream. The images were blurry, undecipherable, but the feelings remained. Remnants of brightness, joy, and something she couldn’t name. Something the opposite of lonely.

 

Her bare feet touched the cool, hardwood floor and she cautiously found her way down a set of stairs, into a kitchen where the smell of eggs and pancakes had led her. A young man sat at a table eating contentedly. She thought, distantly, that he looked familiar.

 

If she had known him, she might’ve noticed the twinge of sadness in his eyes, laced with something like hope or expectancy, but she didn’t, and so only saw his gentle smile.

 

There was a moment of stillness, of waiting, though she didn’t know what for. Then he spoke up.

 

“Morning, Rae.”

 

“Hi,” she replied tentatively, and sat down in the empty chair.

 

She reached for the strawberry syrup.

 

2nd place:
The Exonerated by Wesley Clark

 

The elevator door pinged cheerily as Anderson Wilman was escorted onto the 9th floor of the Warmock Planetary Courthouse.

 

“Mr. Wilman!” hailed a Squidian creature across the hall. “Descrespius Altunis of Nartswan Soup – your interplanetary attorney. Don’t you worry, Mr. Wilman. Judge Gavelstone can be very reasonable. I trust you have your tiles?”

 

Anderson traced his finger along the embossed letters of the 13 tiles in his jumpsuit pocket.
He recalled the night the old librarian approached his cell with a book cart and asked, with cateractous eyes, “Reading materials?”

 

“What’ve you got?” said Anderson.

 

The old man burst into a spasm of cackles. He wiped the spit from his lips. “An old man hasn’t the time or sight to go on reading titles – take a look for yourself.”

 

Anderson reached through the bars and examined the torn covers and splintered bindings.

 

“Not often you find such intrigue in a prisoner… What’re you in for, boy?”

 

“Petty theft.”

 

Ah, theft – a grievous sin on Warmock. But, not the worst of sins, yes? What tiles were you issued for your chance at redemption?”

 

Anderson studied him.

 

“Worthless; eager; are; am; you; toothless; kitten; shingle; ravioli; the; I; pained; you.”

 

“Not the worst tiles,” he pondered. “But they say the Judge is moved by bravery…too bad you drew the ‘kitten’!” The old man cackled, shot-gunning spittle all over his rusty book cart.

 

“Don’t remind me,” said Anderson, slinking back to his bed.

 

“No midnight reading then?”

 

“Not tonight.”

 

As the squeaky book cart wheels reengaged, a heap of paper hit the concrete floor. Anderson snatched it up. “Hey!” he called. But the old man was gone.

 

The cover read: The Exonerated, by Woody Graph.

 

He fingered through what appeared to be court transcriptions, dozens of them. The verdict for each case… exoneration? Their pleas transcribed here, clear as ink!

 

Mrs. pancake breath, you smack of whisky, and your daughter nose no decency.

 

Anderson counted the words. “Unbelievable.”

 

Hash brown, unibrow, your faucet is broken, as is your liberty canyon, now.

 

Billowing ape, there is none better for eating soap than your herbaceous face!

 

The Judge doesn’t want repentance. She wants bravery, conviction!

 

“Mr. Wilman!” said Descrespius. “Your plea tiles, please.”

 

The court bailiff announced: “Anderson Wilman step forward, the honorable Judge Gavelstone will hear your plea.”

 

Anderson sprang into the courtroom, into the spotlight below the sheer edifice of Judge Gavelstone’s pulpit. The courtroom doors clasped.

 

“Mr. Wilman,” said a spiteful voice from the heavens. “You are eligible for a shortened sentence on Warmock. What say you?”

 

Anderson gulped.

 

You are a worthless, toothless kitten. I am the eager ravioli, pained shingle!

 

Sudden strokes of thunder rained from the heavens as the Judge hammered her gavel.

 

“Contempt!” she shrieked. “Contempt!”

 

The bailiff seized Wilman.

 

“You will learn to respect the rule of law, Mr. Wilman! Until your twilight years, you will serve as the Warmock Penitentiary Librarian. Bailiff, arrange for the release of one Woody Graph. His time is served.”

 

“Wait, wait!” said Anderson as the bailiff ushered him beyond the closing courtroom doors.

 

3rd place:
Never Enough Time by Simon James

 

You can’t see the flame that is going to kill me, for the sunlight. The match burns as I drop it, the fuel whumping blue and hot out in front of me.

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

To understand, we really need to go back in time. Back to when my most complicated decision was which boxset to binge on next. Back to the warmth of the Spring. Back to when my boyfriend was still, well, my boyfriend.

 

We’d been together a little over five years. How we met doesn’t matter. That we did, does.

 

We started dating, then moved in together. It was exciting and exhilarating. We did the place up a little as you do, had friends over, played music, drank, and partied like you’re supposed to when you’re in your mid-twenties  and you have more money and time than you’ll ever have again, but not the sense to realise it.

 

We holidayed in hot and glamorous locations – Mexico, Vietnam, Australia. Boy, did we live for our holidays. And the time we could spend together, doing the things lovers do; being close, absorbed in one another, turning off the outside world.

 

There was never enough time, though. One week, two, three at tops, and we’d be back in what we called ‘the normal’.

 

Don’t get me wrong, the normal was pretty good. We had each other. Supported each other. Loved each other. Helped each other cope with the normal, and with our work. My boyfriend – sorry, my ex – is a fireman in a one firetruck town. He drives the one firetruck. Me? I’m a fully qualified personal trainer. I don’t drive anything. I ride a bicycle.

 

As I’ve said, we helped each other with a lot of things – my sporadic income, his shift patterns, his post traumatic stress, my lecherous middle-age clients.

 

Weekends were our mini holidays; our flat our sanctuary. I’d get lost in his eyes. ‘I’d die if anything happened to you,’ he told me, more than once. I said the same. More than once. I felt it. I meant it.

 

But there was never enough time. There never is.

 

Time splintered when he had sex with two of my clients.

 

How I found out doesn’t matter. That I did, does.

 

So now I am here: dropping a match into some petrol-soaked tyres on top of some old planks in the middle of a piece of desert-dry wasteland. Thick pungent smoke starts to curl upwards as I dial 911, beginning to cough as I call.

 

There is a fence aways back. A fence that borders the wasteland and the nearest house. A house I hide beside.

 

Minutes later there’s the siren, bouncing off walls and houses like a drunk banshee.

 

I time it right, break from cover, running.

 

There’s not enough time to react.

 

There’s not enough time to stop.

 

There’s never enough time.

 

But there is time enough for me today. Time enough for my ex to register my face, and my single, upraised defiant finger.

 

Runners up:

 

We whittled all our entries down to a shortlist of 10 before picking our winners above. The other entries considered for the prizes were:

 

The Fall by Ross Wilson
The Stone by Laura Pritchard
Exchange by Alyson Hilbourne
A Jubilant Elegy by Kit Storjohann
A Spot of Bother by Fiona Scott-Barrett
Sprung by Raewyn Bassett
A Scratch for an Itch by Helen Kreeger

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One thought on “Contest Winners – Betrayal

  1. So exciting to see my name on your runners-up list. Have a look, I’m there, at the bottom. Thank you, and congrats to the winners.

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