Thanks to everyone for their entries in this year’s competition. I was thrilled to see so much great work out there. As a genre, dystopian is as popular as ever, and it will be interesting to see what way it develops in response to the changing realities of our world. Up until recent years, the dystopian world was, at least in part, a fiction. As our reality becomes ever more disturbing, how will Art respond?
We shall see.
But for now, here are this year’s winners. Before we get to the stories, I’d like to mention those that made the shortlist. Honourable mention to:
Caitlin – Pound for Pound
Chloe Shakesby – Criminals
Jamie McGee – Rossum Light District
Liz – Fertile
Lucia Sosa – Manifesto
Derek – You Have the Right to Die
Grant – Divine Intervention
Thank you, guys.
Now onto the winning entries. The winner of this year’s comp is Shantell Powell with The Snow Hath No Queen. A story that combines dystopia and mythology to weave a superb work of prose poetry. That is all I will say. Please enjoy.
The Snow Hath No Queen, by Shantell Powell
Chimney County has a good waste disposal system, but we must all do our part to keep the streets clean. Sunflakes melt tires into treacle, and if they’re allowed to bank up, they catch the air on fire. Wailing sirens send us back to our homes where we must seal the entryways. Even the filtered air stinks of burning petrochemicals on those days.
I live in Smokestack 32A on Chimneysweep Street in Chimney County. I close the sunroof when Hyperion sails by overhead and his team’s hooves tear up the cobblestones of the sky to send sunflakes raining down. Once Hyperion reaches the west, I don my asbestos suit and go out into the heat-hazed streets to shovel the driveway. I dump the sunflakes into insulated dustbins and not onto the street because I am a good citizen. At night, when the heat isn’t quite as fierce, I dream of snow.
No one has ever seen such a thing. It’s a fairytale creation, like unicorns or lions. In my dreams, there are no sunflakes, no asbestos suits, and no heat sirens. Instead of glowing with molten plastics, the world is white and flecked with synthetic diamond sparkles. I am not covered in soot and sweat. Instead, my skin shrinks against my flesh and my silver exhalations off-gas into the sky.
Is this what cold feels like? When I imagine hard enough, little bumps rise upon my skin and reach out to kiss the air, my teeth clack against one another like pistons, and my knees knock in the dance of freezing.
In my dreams, I slide out across a solid river, gliding with ease until I fall through a hole in the ice (that’s what it’s called: ice) and I am submerged in water so cold it burns my skin like sunflakes. I wear my panic sluggishly. My heart slows. My movements slow, and soon I am breathing water. Not effectively. Not at all. And when I die, my spirit erupts somewhere far from Hyperion’s reach.
I never knew all the codfish went to the underworld when the Grand Banks collapsed. When my ancient ancestors first came from the eastern continents, the cod were so plentiful that you could hop your way across the ocean on their backs. This was back before there was plastic. My ancestors staked claims on land and sea alike. They killed the cod like they killed the great herds of bison and the sun-blocking flocks of passenger pigeons, only they used trawling nets instead of guns.
I wonder if I’ll see bison and pigeons down here, too.
I know one thing: one of these chthonic codfish has a map tattooed on its skin. I do not know how to find this singular fish in the sea of the underworld. In my death dream, my spirit corpse swims with the fishes, wriggling with the currents and swirling through schools of aluminium-coloured fish. The shoal coalesces into the shape of a huge maw. It opens, big enough to swallow the world in a single gulp, and I wake from death to escape.
When I open my eyes, I’m in my air-filtered sleep tent clasping a tommy cod. Its mouth opens and closes with metronome regularity. Its gills flare and recede, flare and recede as it flops in my hands. It’s drowning in air. I carry it to the kitchenette and dispatch it with a knife. When I peel the skin away, I find my map tattooed on the underside.
This map is from a forgotten era. It’s like looking at a subway map from antiquity. I see landmasses where there should be none. Are those continents? “You are here” is marked in the middle of one of several oceans. It’s marked atop Chimney County, right in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Garbage Patch looks right, but the other geography makes no sense. The earth flooded those land masses away years ago when the glaciers melted and the polar ice caps disintegrated.
Nowadays, land is made from salvaged plastic, floating in interlocked masses atop a dead and stinking sea. There might not be land like in olden times, but there’s more than enough plastic to create a reasonable facsimile. As I trace my fingers along the contours of the map, I am transported to a place with neither sunflakes nor snowflakes. A vast field is polka-dotted with all the wrong colours. Instead of sepia, the sky is blue, and the earth is green instead of grey and black. And I see and smell blossoms of red, violet, yellow, and pink. Where are all the microplastics? Where is the smoke? My nose doesn’t know what to do with this lack of scent, so I sneeze. Then I hear a drone of sound as little yellow and black creatures land on the blossoms. Bees, I think. These must be bees. I thought they were mythological.
I lie down amongst living flowers and a vine creeps its way toward me, tendrilling down into my ears and whispering to me about the Queen of Snow. When flowers whisper, they sound like the cold things of my dreams. Like sleet in relentless wind. The frigid wash of white noise lulls me to sleep and I awaken on the green field now twinkling with hoarfrost, blossoms locked into place behind a thin filigree of ice.
A huge white caribou erupts from the frosty soil right in front of me. She gazes at me with red eyes and lowers her head, then bows down onto her front knees. Her name is Tuktu. I know this though I don’t know why. I get on her back, and her muscles bunch then relax as she stands back up and then we are tearing across the sky like Hyperion, like Santa, like the archaeological ISS spacemark.
We gallop across the aurora, a green and red drift of light painting the evening in a coat so thick the stars and satellites don’t shine through. The northern lights shift, but Tuktu doesn’t lose her footing. She’s migrated across the sky all her life. We pass over taiga, muskeg, and tundra, rocks encrusted with lichen, massive floating icebergs, and sheets of ice reaching out across the Arctic Sea. We pass through a conspiracy of ravens, croaking and cawing as they wheel through the air. We travel for hours through sunless sky until we find a campsite with glowing ice mounds spread across the tundra.
Tuktu will not enter the camp, so I slide off her back. She snorts, then leaps back up into the sky and gallops off.
A massive igloo rises like a mountain before me. I pass sleeping dogs, their noses tucked beneath their tails, and crawl through the entrance. Inside is a lake, light flickering far beneath the frozen, translucent surface. That’s fire down there, the only familiar thing I’ve seen on this journey. I walk across the ice in my bare feet, reach inside my coat pocket and pull out a handful of sunflakes. I scatter them and they burrow like worms through the ice, hissing as they go.
A woman clad in white fur rises from the water on the back of a whale, her hair a wild, black tangle of icicles. She has no fingers. Seals and walruses squeeze out from the stumps.
“You have no business here, qallunaat,” she says from the pinniped pile. She waves her sea-birthing hands, and like that, I’m back home.
I live in Smokestack 32A on Chimneysweep Street in Chimney County. In the daytime, I wear asbestos. When the heat is not so bad, I dream of winter and the caribou in the sky. I dream of huge schools of fish, and fire burning below the ice. I dream of these things, but I’m careful not to think of the woman with no fingers. I’m a good citizen. I go outside and shovel sunflakes into the bins.
We have two runners up: Megan Hardiman with Subjugation, and Compos Mentis by Terry Lowell. Subjugation is a superb tale that may put you in mind of The Handmaid’s Tale, and Compos Mentis is first chapter of what promises to be a excellent novel.
Subjugation, by Megan Hardiman
“Subject 250, step forward. Squat, piss, wait. Pregnant. Not viable. Deficiency detected.”
Subject 250 rendered unusable.
“Subject 251, step forward. Adam 25 requires you. Stop crying, stop crying. Subject 251 will not stop crying. Deficiency detected.”
Subject 251 rendered unusable.
I shuffle next to 270 and 284, squeezing hands underneath skirts, below layers of cream fabric. One cold, one sweaty, I momentarily relax under gentle human touch, hands soothing, veins beneath wrists pulsating with life. Thick hot blood masked by delicate skin and intricate genetics. I catch myself rubbing my thumb over 284’s vein, the bright blue worm wriggling under my scrutiny. 284 shivers, her eyes locking with mine. It’s a fleeting moment, a return to girlhood, where we’d race the boys up the trees and come home to Ma with sticky gravel knees.
Our walk is purposeful. We move as one. Like a man-powered boat, our oars are muscles, slamming into the tide. The hard leather and peeling glue grate against red heels, our feet rubbed raw with each mile. 270 stumbles over the hem of her skirt, the click from loaded weapons is a warning. I reach out to help, my grip on her forearm firm.
“273, let go.”
It rises from the dark space, echoing from beyond the wired fences and floating cameras. I struggle to tell if the voice is human or one of the bots. Not that there’s much of a difference between an Adam and a robot. Some were luckier when Adam Day arrived. Some say ‘Desirables’ live together in castles and mansion houses; it’s an endless girl’s sleepover and they are only approached by the Adams when they need their daily release. The Desirables get to choose where the release is deposited, some pick their chests or backs, some use their mouths, others prefer the chance of being promoted to wife and mother, and let the Adams implant their seed.
We are the Subjects, not because we aren’t Desired, but because we weren’t born rich. The Adams desire everyone, but wealth is advantageous. We do not get to choose where an Adam sows his seed, often it’s into the mouths of women, another way to ensure we don’t speak out of turn. They prefer us quiet, powerless, submissive. The ratings we get from the Adams determine our board and lodgings. I’ve been fortunate, Adam 37 repeatedly returning for more, always leaving glowing reviews. I give away a neatly packaged section of my body, wrapped in brown paper with a bow, and he unwraps it greedily. They are all the same, eager to open their presents, like a child on Christmas day salivating over the thought of a brand-new car or LEGO set.
Occasionally, Adam 37 lets me stay at his apartment across the river. There is a large oak tree blocking the lamplight, branches curled up against the double glazing. I want to stay again so I am making it my little game to impress Adam 37 more than any other Subject can, hoping he will lead me over the cobbled bridge and up to the second-floor duplex. He has big swirly stairs leading to a bathroom that looks like ones I saw in magazines that were still permitted in the outhouses. Marble flooring and a pearly mirror led to a double rain shower. Once, he gave me permission to use it and he washed my hair with rough fingertips.
I sometimes imagine we are a couple. I am a journalist at Vanity Fair, he is a stockbroker. We come from old money, our families toasting overpriced champagne at our union. We wear expensive suits. I am allowed to wear trousers again and he playfully slaps my ass, telling me I am the most beautiful woman. We travel to European cities on the weekend, exploring history and culture. We plan for the future; we talk of children and walk around department stores picking out cots and curved cupboards, so the children won’t smack their heads or stub their toes. We have a cat that snuggles on our sofa at night when we watch horror movies and laugh at how ludicrous the villains are when compared to the realities of the world. We discuss politics and literature, and debate whether renaissance art or post-modern impressionism is better. He holds me through nightmares, my smaller form shaking into the warmth of his chest.
Instead, he is the nightmare. His fingers falling from my scalp, down the base of my back, water droplets cascading down my goose bumped spine. His calloused fingers go from massaging my hair to probing my pussy, dry as sandpaper. He bends me over, my feet sliding on smooth tiles, my arms aching from holding myself up.
“Wash, you look dirty.”
He leaves the door open, watching me from the landing, making sure I don’t react badly to his unwanted advances. The extractor fan whirls against my head, the once elegant bathroom light now clinical and revealing. No crying, that’s the rule the Subjects must follow. The founding Adams established a set of hard rules that we live by, to make sure we all have an appropriate role in God’s house. The Adams have full domain over us, we were once the Eves but that implied a temptation, we are not temptresses. Instead, we are neutralised, we are Subjects of the State, and the Adams subject their will on us, and we nod and smile. If we don’t, we are rendered deficient. No one knows what happens to deficient Subjects, some say they are sent to dark rooms and starved, left to live out their days in tight spaces with no air to breathe. Is the air we breathe any different? Others think that there are no punishments, and that the deficient Subjects are released out into the woods, left to fend for themselves like wild animals. I behave myself, always. Good girls don’t get hurt, not properly.
We reach the boundary gates to receive our weekly injection and rating. I know I’ve outperformed the other girls this week, I have kept the Adams busy.
“Subject 273, please step forward.”
I brandish my arm, revealing a wiggly 2 7 3 scratched with florescent pink ink as a reminder of feminine values. As Timothy said, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.” The Bible is not to blame. I am a Christian. I will always be a Christian. Blame lies with man, as blame often does. The founding Adams have cherry picked the Bible to fit an agenda, twisting love to violence, devotion to submission. Of course, Ephesians “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” is neglected. Marriage is rare, and reserved for the most devout Adams, the Adams who will give up all physical urges and settle. Marriage is a given right for the top Desirables, and in very peculiar cases, the prettiest of the Subjects have been chosen by an especially interested Adam. They need to be careful, Adams do not want to appear weak, and marriage is a weakness. Marriage is a tool a woman uses to trap a man. An Adam does not want the natural order to be shifted, he cannot become prey, always remaining predator. I have no desire for Adam 37 to marry me, he proposed the idea once, when we were curled up in a tangle of limbs.
“Would you ever want to get married, Elodie?”
He used my name, which is forbidden. Names equate to identities and individualism is dangerous to the new way of life. He didn’t seem to flinch, he didn’t seem concerned. I know his name too, but I have never used it. I will only use a man’s name when he is gentle, caring, kind. Adam 37 is not. He is young, reckless, power hungry and driven by his dick. I let him stroke my stomach, his fingers hauntingly close to my womb.
“No, I don’t want to get married. I see no reason to.”
“Marriage is another way for Adams to trap Subjects, except, instead of being constrained by several Adams, you are restricted by one. At least this way, if one Adam rates me poorly, I have three more who will rate me well. But, if I have a husband who I happen to accidentally upset, he will punish me severely. I might be condemned to sleep on the floor, or starved, or tortured. If I keep being a good Subject, then the majority of Adams will keep me from harm’s way, I will have a bed and I will be warm and fed.”
Afterwards, Adam 37 was silent. My words dangled between us, teetering on rebellion. I bit my nails down to their stubs, two fingers bled, and I sucked them hard so I wouldn’t bleed out on his green satin sheets. He looked at me with an unreadable expression, I thought I could see sympathy that hardened into disgust.
“No one would want you like that anyway Subject 273”. We never spoke of it again and he stopped caressing my body, instead flipping me over and suffocating me in a sea of pillows.
An older Adam with a stubbled grey beard bruises my arm and jabs a needle into my skin before the PR system rings, “Congratulations Subject 273, you are the top performer for this week!”
The sound of confetti cannons and celebratory music boom across the open space. 270 and 284 have envious looks, they share a glance, I don’t miss it. Sometimes, it’s better to not perform well, to keep your head down and look like you aren’t colluding with the Adams. Special treatment is isolating. The Adam scribbles 4.85* on the palm of my hand releases my arm, shoving me forward, where I am greeted by the smiley man in a white lab coat. It is the same procedure as last time. He drags me into the hut and pats the gurney.
“Well done 273 well done, I bet you are delighted! The fourth time I’ve seen you this year, you clever clever girl. Now, same old same old, climb yourself up there and pop those legs into the stirrups. Perfect, well done. Now, lift your skirt up for me, good girl. Let’s have a feel then. Ahh I see, excellent production of fluids, yet still incredibly tight. A small scratch now so I can take another sample to send off to the docs upstairs. All done, up we get!”
It’s over before it’s even begun. I force my eyes onto the clock, counting 78 seconds. The lab coat Adam operated in speed time, he must be a top performer too. I stand with shaky legs, and I am led back to our space. I see 270 crying. She has received a 2.3* rating this week and anything below a 3 requires reflection in the church. I have only been sent there once, for a particularly poor week, where you are forced to sleep on pews, the draft from the door cranking your neck. I offer 270 a small smile of support which is not returned, she looks at my healthy skin, my big blue eyes, my hair swept up into a neat plait, and she is jealous. I can smell her jealousy. I cast my eyes across to 284, who shrugs at me and mouths, “don’t worry.” I just keep walking.
The Adams wait for our weekly assessments to be completed and I see Adam 37, standing with his hands in his pockets against a wall. In another world, I would have found him incredibly handsome, with tousled curls and steely grey eyes. Now, he repulses me. He screams dominance and his eyes scan my face appraisingly. He raises his hand, beckoning me over. I trail along, my feet dragging, my head spinning.
“Good job this week 273, you can always rely on your ratings.”
Compos Mentis, by Terry Lowell
The women lie in steel-framed beds, two-hundred and forty in this warehouse alone. I counted them on my first day, though I was careful not to let anyone notice. It’s supposed to be beyond my mental capacity.
They lie on their backs or sides, high on pillows or buried under blankets. Moans and coughs reverberate from the corrugated roof and breezeblock walls. Soothing classical music drifts from speakers. Soon Vivaldi will give way to Mozart, then Ravel, then Mahler then Vivaldi. The women don’t appear to care that the same sequence of music plays on an eternal loop. I wonder if any of them even notice.
I’m used to the smell by now. I don’t know how many beds I’ve stripped that were covered in piss and shit. Too often the urine stains are days old, the faeces crusted and the women’s skins raw and cracked with neglect. Even when dirty sheets are replaced with freshly laundered ones the stench hangs in the air like poison gas.
I mop the floor in slow, steady strokes and avoid looking at the empty bed. Two-hundred and forty, minus one.
An orderly had found a letter in one of the lavatories. It was wrapped in a plastic bag and tucked inside the cistern. Last night they set a watch and caught Cybil with her pyjamas around her ankles composing a reply.
So, Cybil was Compos.
I picture the old woman shuffling down the aisles, her forehead creased as if permanently confused. One button is fastened in the wrong hole of her grubby cardigan. She’s relating stories she’s told a hundred times to anyone who will listen or, sometimes, to no one at all. She knew all the tricks, except the one that said you should never get caught.
I know all the tricks too. I use them every day, but unlike Cybil I’m one of the lucky ones. I get to go home at night to a place of sanctuary, a place where I can breathe and let down my guard, as long as the doors are locked and the curtains are closed.
Why was she hiding, I wonder? She must have her reasons. I know I have.
Someone taps my shoulder. ‘Time to go, Georgina.’
I turn my head and stare at Supervisor Ashford. My lips touch and move apart, but no sound comes. He moves his face closer to mine. I taste the cigarettes on his breath.
‘Time to go,’ he says.
I pick up the bucket and, trailing the wet mop, walk with hunched shoulders towards the locker room. As I near the end of the row I raise my eyes to look directly at a bald, waif of a woman in a nearby bed, blanket scrunched around her neck. The woman’s bloodshot eyes fix me with a knowing stare as I walk towards her. She blinks, slowly and deliberately. I lower my gaze and move on.
Inside the locker room, I pour dirty water down the drain and place the mop and bucket in the closet. Becca enters as I pull on my coat. She is the only person on site that I knew before. Seeing her on my first day here was a shock, but thankfully she didn’t recognise me; not then or now.
She hugs a sweeping brush to her chest and regards me with pained confusion.
‘I… Is it…? Time?’
‘My… daughter is coming for me. Have you seen my daughter?’
I shake my head. I’ve never seen Becca’s daughter and probably never will.
She frowns, staring at the wall. Her lips twitch. She gulps a breath as if part of her, hidden deep, knows the truth even if her conscious mind refuses to accept it.
‘She’ll come for me,’ she whispers. ‘My girl.’
I push open the fire exit and step outside into the frigid night air. A blink of lights from the road tells me Art is on time. Carefully, I negotiate the steep path, hugging my coat tight. I want to run and put this loathsome place behind me, but I can’t. Even in the darkness I never know who may be watching.
Art opens the passenger door of the battered Tesla and fusses me in that patronising way he adopts whenever we might be observed. ‘In you go. Let me get that belt. There we are. All safe and secure.’
He closes the door and moves around to the driver’s side. Moments later the car pulls away. I close my eyes, and the weight I’ve carried since eight this morning slowly begins to dissipate. It won’t go completely. Experience has taught me that.
‘You look tired,’ Art says when we’re a safe half-mile from the warehouse.
I stare at my reflection in the windscreen. ‘They took one away last night.’ I tell him about Cybil.
He glances across. ‘Did you know she was Compos?’
‘Have you had any contact with her?’
‘I cleaned her arse a few times.’
‘Jane, this is not funny.’
‘I know. She’s not a danger to us. We’re safe.’
His lips tighten as if he wants to say more, but has decided against it.
I’m glad he doesn’t probe further because then I might have to tell him the full truth and I don’t want to worry him. I know that’s a stupid, arrogant decision. After everything he’s done, everything he’s risked, he deserves to know. I will tell him about the bald woman, I promise myself for the tenth time, but not yet. And if the woman is a danger I’ll take care of it.
Just like the old days.
A spatter of rain hits the windscreen. Art switches on the wipers and a combination of water and dirt smears the glass in two perfect arcs. I scrunch my eyes as the lights of a passing four-by-four dazzle the side mirror. It’s almost six o’clock, what would once have been the middle of rush hour, but traffic on the North Circular is light these days.
A few weeks ago I read a government estimate that there are now twenty million fewer vehicles on the roads in Britain. As a matter of principle, I take anything they say with a brick-sized pinch of salt, but even so it feels right. The article was celebrating the environmental gains made across the world over the past year due to a massive reduction in greenhouse gases. Every cloud, as they say.
‘Hear anything from Max today?’
‘Yeah. She’s been learning the countries of South America.’
Art passes me his phone and I flick through the messages to the most recent picture. Max’s shock of dark hair stands up from her head, as if she’s been electrocuted. She’s grinning her mischievous grin, the one that looks so much like her big sister’s, the one that fills me with an unconditional love, and an almost overwhelming sense of grief. She’s holding an atlas above her head like a trophy and under the photo is a message, ‘Done it!”
Art takes the exit, follows the road, and a mile further on turns into the estate. At the crossroads he pulls into a parking space and gets out.
Mr Floods’ grocery has a Chinese takeaway on one side and a boarded-up women’s clothes shop on the other. As Art approaches, pulling up the hood of his jacket, Mr Flood appears at the door, one hand resting lightly on Max’s shoulder.
‘Thank you for your help, Maxine,’ he says. ‘Off you go now.’
Max runs to her dad. The large atlas tucked under one arm makes it difficult to give him a full hug, but she tries her best. She looks up, her face bright and eager.
‘I know Brazil and Peru and Uruguay and…’
‘That’s great, Spud,’ Art says kissing the top of her head. ‘Hop in the car and you can tell me all about it when we get home.’
‘And Suriname and Argentina…’
With a grunt of exasperation Max runs to the car and throws open the rear door. She jumps inside.
‘Mum, I know Bolivia and, and…’ The space between her eyebrows wrinkles in a frown. ‘And Brazil and Peru.’
‘Very good,’ I say absently. ‘That’s very good, Mia.’
Max makes an impatient noise with her tongue. ‘I’m Max, Mum. Mia died, remember?’
She pulls on her seat belt and opens the atlas on her lap. I adjust the mirror to see her better and watch as she traces a map of South America with her finger. The tip of her tongue sticks out to help her concentrate.
It breaks my heart when I have to pretend to forget her name, but I can’t let my guard down, not even with Max. I want to read to her, take her to the park and play kick-about. I want to be the fun mum I was when she was younger. But that’s not possible. If the deception is to work, Max has to believe that her mum is not the woman she was. We can’t risk her saying anything different.
Staring at Max, my thoughts drift inevitably to Mia when she was that age. My memories of that time have an almost magical quality now, the occasional tantrums and sulks neatly edited out, leaving just the happy times to revisit over and over again. Taking Mia to see England play, her exuberant, uncontrolled excitement at being inside Wembley Stadium; teaching her to ride a bike, gripping the saddle as she trundled down the road screaming, ‘Look Mummy, I’m doing it’; sweltering days exploring Florida’s theme parks (Can we do Spiderman again, Mummy? Can we? Can we?).
Max will never have that. Any of it.
Outside, Art and Mr Flood are talking. I lower the window a crack to listen.
‘Good as gold and twice as precious,’ Mr Flood says.
Art says something that I can’t make out and Mr Flood grips his forearm.
‘A girl should have an education,’ he says. ‘Even if…’ He stops and looks around to see if anyone has overheard his unguarded remarks. He catches my eye and raises his hand in a wave. ‘Good evening, Mrs Neville.’
I don’t react.
‘How is she?’ he asks Art, his voice low, conspiratorial.
‘Oh, you know. She’s not always with it, but we love her, so…’
They enact a version of this same conversation most days, and I’ve learned to read the unspoken sorrow Mr Flood feels when he looks at me. I’m a catalyst that reminds him of Mrs Flood and those months he spent watching her deteriorate and being unable to stop it. His sorrow is not unique. Almost everyone can tell a similar story of a partner, mother, daughter, sister. The pain is shared, but that doesn’t make it easier.
‘Wait a sec’.’ Mr Flood nips back into the shop and returns with a bulging brown bag. ‘Apples. Came in this morning.’
‘On the tab, yeah?’ Art hugs the precious package to his chest, squeezes Mr Flood’s shoulder and hurries back to the car.
As we pull away, I watch Mr Flood silhouetted in the doorway of the shop until we round a corner and he’s gone. Five minutes later the Tesla turns into the driveway of our neat semi-detached house. Art kills the engine, gets out and unlocks the front door. Max runs past him into the hall, tears off her coat, kicks off her shoes and disappears into the kitchen. Art comes back to the car and opens my door.
‘Out you come,’ he says brightly. ‘Do you need a hand? No?’
I swing out my left leg then my right. Clutching the door frame I haul myself up, grunting with the effort. Some of this is acting, but too much of it is not. Art hovers solicitously. I slouch past him into the house. He enters and locks the door behind him.
Thank you all again!
There we have it, friends. Hope you enjoyed the stories as much as I did. I will be back next year with another competition, so until then, stay busy, but don’t forget to take a break now and again. One way or another, that story will get written!