Thanks to everyone who submitted to The Short Story Competition 2013. The winners are:
FIRST PRIZE: Say a Prayer – James Gering
SECOND PRIZE: By the Tracks – Adrastos Omissi
THIRD PRIZE: Keepin the Numbers Down – Douglas Bruton
Below are the reasons why I chose the winning stories. There are a few spoilers in there, so I’d read the stories first!
Say a Prayer
I do love an anti-hero and I do love a strong final last line. This story had both. Failed business man, Walter, publicly protests against his community by chaining himself to the front pew of the synagogue. It’s an imaginative act of rebellion directed not only at the white-suited success story, Jerry Kahn, but also at the money-grabbing rabbi who rewards the most generous donors by giving them seats that bit closer to God.
The congregation – including the ex-wife – act as a Greek chorus of criticism, spitting out their venomous words against Walter the interloper. They suspect he may turn his “weapons” on them and for a moment so did I. But no, the chains are only used to lock him into a spot that he feels he has every right to occupy.
Few come out of this story well but as Walter flies through the air with his ignominious expulsion, there is a soaring optimism to his landing. That image has stayed with me since I first read this story and every time I read that final line, I am left with a smile on my face.
By the Tracks
This is a funny yet sinister story. Omissi establishes character very quickly through excellent use of dialogue. There is a power play between these two “penniless drunks” that is very unnerving, and yet at the same time there is a dependency that is quasi-romantic in their dealings with each other. They share peanut butter together, the loose coins found in trouser pockets and the dregs of cheap and nasty lager. It is reminiscent of Withnail and I with a much darker twist.
Where the story excels is in Omissi’s showing, not telling. He is the master of inference, with just one example of many below:
“…I just hoped he wouldn’t put any cans in his pocket. I didn’t like it when he did that. We had already lost the pub in the village last week, and we could not afford to be barred from the 24/7.
Omissi doesn’t say what happened in the pub last week. He doesn’t need to. The reader can picture the nameless protagonist quite clearly, mouthing off in his gloriously pompous way.
And as the story progresses we see that this same character is capable of much more than a bar brawl.
Keepin the Numbers Down
Writing from a child’s perspective is tricky but this child narrator has a consistently strong voice. Drowning kittens is not that simple either! It could easily have fallen into the trap of sentimentality but there are no survivors in this pitiless ditch water. It is a sad but quick end to their short lives.
For me, the strength of this story lies in the child’s observations of the adult world, a world largely occupied by her gruff father. He says one thing, but often does another. He says he hates the cat, but pets it tenderly when he thinks no one is looking or breaks off bits of food from his plate to feed it under the table. We are offered glimpses of his soft side, and this makes the ending that much more poignant.
The cyclical element of people not always saying what they mean works well. At the end the child is angry at her father. She hates him. She swears she does, as she always means what she says, but we know that this hatred will diminish with time and that the drowning of the kittens, an act born out of poverty rather cruelty, will just become one of life’s harsh lessons.
Thanks go to my lovely friends Ed Dadswell, Katherine Haw and Mila Steele for their thoughtful input on the 2013 stories. I’d also like to thank Jen Crisp once again for her beautiful design work on the flyers and Ed Mottram for his support on the website.