Well that was fun.
We feel like we’ve been on a lovely coach tour of the ancestral halls of your imaginations. Don’t worry, we didn’t touch anything.
As you’ll recall, this week’s prompt was this first line:
Borrowed, of course, from the masterful ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Which felt particularly apt, as it’s short story season at the Academy right now — our Five Day Short Story students have been in the building all week, and we’re looking forward to welcoming the next group next month.
Anyway. You managed to do all kinds of things with the opening; some as sinister as the original, some decidedly more sunny.
Here are this week’s winners:
RUNNER-UP: Liz Hedgecock
TEN RULES FOR THE FULL ENJOYMENT OF STATELY HOMES
1. Dress appropriately. I favour a full skirt and a modest wedge, while John goes for the ‘enthusiastic rambler’ look. This also has the advantage of including a rucksack.
2. Be kind to the staff. Always have your membership card ready, don’t go behind the ropes, and do look fascinated when they impart information. Unless it’s ‘please don’t touch’.
3. As on an aeroplane, take note of the entrances and exits; particularly locks, bolts, and useful ground-floor windows.
4. Be patient. The woman with the huge ring of keys will leave eventually. It’s not her fault you’re hiding in a wardrobe full of tickly furs. That was your decision.
5. If the outfit won’t come off the mannequin, it wasn’t meant to be. And breathing in all night is not a good idea. Neither is enthusiastic corset-lacing. I swear one of my kidneys has shifted permanently.
6. Check all foodstuffs before tucking in. John once chipped a tooth on a very realistic apple.
7. All kinds of music work in a ballroom. I find the sprung floor lends itself to pogoing.
8. If an assistant or security guard finds you, switch to ghost mode. Glassy eyes, outstretched arms. Not too close to zombie, though. I had to climb out of a window after that one. After I’d put the guard into the recovery position.
9. If the assistant joins in, humour them. To a point.
10. Observe the stately home code; leave everything as you found it. It is history, after all.
RUNNER-UP: Tomas René
THE YELLOW WALLPAPER 2.0
It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer. So, rather than keep wishing for something that would never happen, John and I spent the winter programming a highly advanced virtual reality simulation of ancestral halls, to inhabit from June to August.
I was responsible for coding and fixing bugs, and I left John in charge of the aesthetic details, which turned out to be a big fucking mistake. Imagine my dismay when, on the first day of our stay, we entered the completed halls and there was bloody yellow wallpaper everywhere.
‘I HATE yellow wallpaper’, I told John.
‘For God’s sake woman, pipe down’, he replied. ‘This is where we’re staying and you’re going to like it.’
‘You absolute bastard’, I said to him, and was about to punch him when the doorbell rang.
‘Don’t tell me you programmed visitors into the simulation’, I demanded.
‘No – I didn’t’, John said, frowning. ‘That’s odd.’ He opened the door, to reveal a bland-looking man standing on the doorstep.
‘Nice to meet you’, the man said. John, bemused, accepted a handshake. ‘Welcome to my nightmare’, the man continued.
‘What the –‘
Suddenly, the man’s grip on John’s hand tightened intensely. Powerless and in unimaginable pain, John felt several bones crack.
John knew that I had programmed this, as revenge for a wasted life trapped in a miserable relationship. John had taken my hand in marriage – and at last I had taken his hand.
WINNER: Anstey Spraggan
SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS
‘Can we live here forever, Daddy?’ Nadya asks me. My fingers are curled round her tiny hand.
I pull the sleeping bag up under her chin. ‘We can stay a while.’
Across the room, I see her mother’s face in shafts of light and candle shadow; she stopped crying months ago but she would now – if she still could – just from relief. It has taken our every last penny to get to this place but we have chosen wisely or – at least – with luck. We would never have found this marooned desert palace without help.
My wife and I sit next to each other, on the floor, and watch the children sleep.
The smashed patterned tiles are covered with tendrils of succulent plants and crumbling statues look coquettishly at the floor where beetles and spiders have claimed dominion. There is no electricity and the taps are dry but there are no men with guns, no roadside bombs.
‘It feels like Heaven,’ she says into the dark and a moth moves his brown wings across the night.
I check the vivid stitches in her leg. It is hard in the half light but my work is as neat as it was in the hospital, in our other life. ‘It’s another life,’ she says sometimes and smiles, ‘better than no life.’
We are safe for now; a doctor, his architect wife, and their two frightened children sleeping in the dust.
It is another 4,000 kilometres to Calais.
Congratulations all! And we’ll see you next week: same time, same place, new prompt.