Contest Winners – Journey

Best short stories

The results of Striking 13’s first ever writing contest is here.

Before we get to it, I’d like to say a big thank you to all 383 people, from all around the world, who made a submission.

The winners should look out for an email from us in order to collect their prize.


1st Place: Of Milk & Bread by Georgie Peters

There were no shortages of entries that told the journey of a person’s life, but no others achieved the same level of emotional poignancy as Georgie Peters’ Of Milk & Bread. The beautifully intertwined memories perfectly remind us of the tragedy of mortality.

There was a time when I would have travelled twenty miles just to buy a quart of milk. For the sake of it, for the hell of it, just to enjoy the warmth of the sunlight beating down on every inch of exposed skin. And there were a lot of exposed inches, let me tell you. The radiant sun and my radiant smile, a hint of cleavage; and the world, the world would have given me anything I wanted, just for asking.

Now? Now it’s a journey just to the end of the drive to check my mail. I used to go everyday, but lately it’s every two days, three if it’s raining. I feel like the intrepid explorers of old, out uncovering a long-lost road that leads to ruins unknown, or fortunes untold.

I sink down into the creaky wooden chair by the door, and shuffle out of my worn, old carpet slippers. I let my stockinged feet slide across the bare wooden floors, briefly remembering the same feel under the blades of my ice skates, back when I was young. These floors have been here for a hundred years, nearly as old as I am, and there’s not a splinter to be had for love or money. The rich mahogany was once the color of my skin, where it is now grey and wrinkled, dulled like tarnished silver.

I slowly lift my feet into a pair of battered old boots. These boots have travelled more miles than even I can remember, each footstep they’ve taken leaving an echo in the leather, toughening and softening at the same time, much like what you did to my heart.

I don’t bother with the laces anymore; I don’t go fast enough to be worried about tripping. As I rise, I grab an old beekeeper’s hat from the side table. It was yours, I know, and there haven’t been bees here in thirty years. But it still reminds me of you, of the buzz buzz buzz of lazy summer days spent in the back garden, and of the sweet taste of honey sticky on your lips.

As the door opens I breathe in the scent of the world for a moment, letting the warm air send the dust motes into a flurry, all trying to escape at once. I follow them out, scrunching my eyes up to avoid the glare of the sun. I don’t want the sun to see me, not now I look like this.

Slowly, slowly, slowly, I do my odd shuffle-walk to the end of the dirt-packed drive. The ground underneath is the color of lightly toasted bread, and I think of soft Sunday mornings eating breakfast in bed. I mostly eat liquids now, my teeth worn and crumbling, too aged for the bite of anything harder, anything more adventurous.

When I reach the mailbox, I stop. I stop walking, I stop breathing, even my heart stops beating – just for a moment. And in that moment, I am nineteen again, and you are by my side, our journey just beginning.  


2nd Place: The Ride by Jess Molyneux

This entry stood out to us for the clever way it showcased the mundane drudgery of travelling. Jess Molyneux does a wonderful job of making the scene realistic, and anyone who has ever found themselves in a similar situation will be smiling to themselves as they reach the story’s final jest. 

Drenched in sweat, eyes drooping. Spirits broken. As the doors of the rickety, ancient Chilean van swung open, the stench accosted our nostrils and the heat, a tidal wave, engulfed us. Previous passengers plodded off the vehicle in a steady stream of fatigue and dismay. ‘Enjoy the ride,’ snorted one profusely perspiring American.

The journey ahead looked hellish at best. Piling on to the dilapidated vehicle in the surge of the impatient crowd, I couldn’t escape the feeling that this ride wouldn’t exactly rival the luxury of my 6-year-old limousine birthday party. Even the drunken taxi rides covered in someone else’s vomit seemed a fond memory by comparison.

Momentarily my attention was snatched from self-pity – the tussle for seats had begun.

Catapulted instinctively into a state of hyperactivity, my vision sharpened as my eyes dashed across the truck’s interior: empty, but not for long. Seconds, and the predators had descended; the clued-up passengers had made their move. Bums were super-glued to seats (or so they would have us believe) and smugly apologetic expressions were flung across the bus without shame. ‘You snooze, you lose,’ their arrogant smirks sniggered as they bagsied neighbouring chairs with bulky holdalls.

Deploring Brits stood distraught and horrified, too distressed to bemoan the dereliction of a queuing regime and all its comforts; vociferous Americans hollered at the chaotic scene as a whole, rather than to any particular individual, to ‘sit the hell down’; and apparently insensible locals continued to load their stock of fowl, cattle and all things in-between on to the overcrowded inferno.

98 degrees Fahrenheit.

Much to the relief of the irate, clammy gentleman who fidgeted grudgingly behind me, I ventured forth, managing to obtain one of the few remaining seats and install myself gratefully beside a grinning South American chap and his curious collection of livestock.

I breathed a heady sigh of relief.

I realised my mistake immediately, however, as the stench of unwashed Chilean male wafted towards me through the thick, sticky air. Homesick didn’t begin to cover the scope of my emotions; woebegone was a much more accurate approximation.

Noting that the goat beside me had just worsened the stench ten-fold (which my companion found not only laughable but thoroughly endearing), I sank further into the filthy bus seat and sobbed.

Resignation was the only way forward. Gazing out of the dusty window at the acres of baking desert which stretched before us, all I could do was pray that the travel agent had been erring on the side of caution when she’d said ‘a thirty-six hour journey’. Thus I remained, suppressing frequent outbursts of hysteria, whilst the sluggish hours passed.

A group of bright-eyed, bushy-haired students eagerly awaited our arrival at the tiny bus stop. As the doors swung open to release the stock of debilitated prisoners and I dismounted the vehicle, I couldn’t resist catching the eye of a particularly high-spirited girl who stood amid a gaggle of boisterous tourists. ‘Enjoy the ride,’ I remarked, and smiled.


 

3rd Place: That’s The Trick by Jacques Rouchard

There were several potential stories that could have taken third place but Jacques Rouchard’s dystopian sci-fi was just the trick. He does a great job of setting the scene of zombie apocalypse through the humorous telling of a zombie’s journey.

You walked until your feet bled today. It’s not the roughness of the road that’s the main problem, although it is damnably uncomfortable; it’s the temperature. During the day, the asphalt’s so hot that your feet cook in their shoes and you leave melted rubber in your footsteps, while at night, the rubber soles stick to the ground, and you have to focus on not falling over with each step. The sun beats down on your head, making your skull throb with heat, the freezing winds buffet you, knocking you to the frozen asphalt, and you keep walking. One foot in front of the other, that’s the trick.

Don’t think about the stench of rotting flesh coming from your shoes, don’t think about that weird rash you saw coming up your leg, don’t think about the disjointed baying of the chimera-wolves as their heads momentarily stop fighting each other to hunt you. One foot in front of the other, that’s the trick. Don’t look at the rusting hulks on the highways, don’t look at the disheveled, undying wretches forever trapped inside, don’t think about the weird colour your finger’s turning; that’s probably not a problem. Yeah, it’s not a problem, you can’t even feel it anymore. One foot in front of the other, that’s the trick.

Don’t worry about where you’re going, you’ll know it when you get there. Safety’s just around the corner, don’t you worry. It probably wasn’t that looted, empty husk of a town you passed an hour ago, just keep walking. One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the- huh. Why’re you on the ground now? Oh. You don’t think legs are supposed to bend that way. Snap-crackle-pop, it’s alright again, see? Doesn’t even bleed that much.

One foot in front of the other, that’s the trick. Don’t think about how you got here, don’t think about the actintic flares still burned into your eyes, don’t think about the balding, the sickness, the sloughing skin. Don’t think about the voices you hear as you walk, the singing, the screams. One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other, one-.

Oh. That’s not getting fixed, you don’t think. Oh well, you guess you haven’t tried crawling yet; how bad can it be? One hand in front of the other.

Yeah, why not.

That’s the trick.


 

Runners Up

Before there were a top 3 we had a shortlist of ten entries. Listed below, in order of rank, are the remaining entries that just missed out. Congratulations for making the shortlist, and many thanks for sending us your stories. We hope you’ll try again next time.

The Beast Ocean by Martin Sturrock
Battered Boots by James Moffett
Ghost Ships by Susan James
Words, Words, Words… by David McVey
The Dance by Amanda Buttenshaw
Journey through Time by Raewyn Bassett
Wings Of Ice by Jenni Wall

 

 

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