Whachoo lookin’ at?
That little rascal was our prompt for this week, and although we say this every week (and it’s true!), there was SUCH a high standard of stuff that came in today. We were blown away.
But here are the three stories we liked just that little bit extra.
RUNNER-UP: Van Demal
‘Imagine it’s blood,’ she says.
I’m waiting for the giggle that will undo the spell. It doesn’t come. We watch each other through the frame of her fingers and I find myself in a battle. Who will look away first? Her gaze is constant whereas mine shifts from one eye to the other. When the periphery slides to darkness and those hands wobble blood-black around her cold white gaze she releases me.
She smiles. ‘Dinner time!’
These games wear my nerves. Never Cops, only Robbers; the soft toys stitched back together (we need patients if we’re playing hospitals); dolls with drawing pin holes in their eyes; each portrait she says is me a darker red than the last.
There’s more carnage on the windowsill, various crawling or flying things denuded of limb and life.
Meticulous at the sink, she worries at the web of skin between each finger. Gouts of paint slip across the white porcelain and vanish into the drain. I point at a smudge on the outside edge of the sink.
‘Damn,’ she mutters and attacks it with some tissue.
How do I tell her parents? Hello, Mr and Mrs Johnson. Yes, a good day. We learnt about forensic cleanliness. Incidentally, I think your daughter may be psychotic.
No, I need this job. And who would they believe? She’s a harmless little girl. I glance at the pin-punctured dolls.
Dinner eaten, she wanders back to her spattered crime scene. I count the knives back into the drawer.
RUNNER-UP: Simon Higgs
Speak No Evil
With turpentine and salty tears I tried to cleanse her hands and wipe from the memory of her eyes that terrible tide and wide and freezing sea. The quick-bitten fingernails by baby teeth were Prussian blue and cobalt now, manganese and aquamarine.
From that darling mouth struck dumb, for eighteen months no words, not a syllable or squawk. A mouth that had all too briefly but oh so sweetly spoken so amusingly before. Our cheeky monkey, squeaky mouse.
In post-trauma exercises we planted trees and floated lanterns silently, or, far worse, with me uncontrollably babbling. Floundering, I tried to speak for three now. We listened to music, we walked and played and relentlessly she remained silent.
Her mother’s work adorned our home, Polaroid and Kodachrome, first framed by fingers, then by reclaimed wood. Those she had captured, down the years, from our boat were absent now, no salt in the wound.
‘Have you tried painting?’ I was prepared to try anything and procured brushes, oils, rags, and sheets of paper almost as big as she.
Upside down we gasped for air, blue with cold and screaming with fear. Only two of us clambered in the becalmed morning air onto the capsized hull and clung there.
My nailbrush scrubbed at her fingers, what had I done? This terrible vision she had created before us, what on earth was I thinking? More turpentine, more salty tears, more turpentine. ‘Daddy, stop, you’re hurting me!’ More salty tears.
WINNER: Anstey Spraggan
It’s Never Too Late
We know now that the sea had been sending us messages for some time. Whales beached themselves in odd places, sacrificed their lives with an ancient dignity. Fish leapt out of the water into the faces of reporters. The media loved it. Newspapers chewed up trees to publish the apocalypse, the public churned through oil and gas gathering information about impending doom.
Everyone saw it, heard it, lived it; but continued.
No one knows how the children and the sea first started to communicate. There are theorists who connect a captive orca called Dasha and a small girl called Polly Jennings. It is a matter of record that Polly became one of the first painted children.
Globally, children stopped speaking. Parents would wake and find their babies with painted hands; walk into their teenagers’ rooms in time to see them put down the brush and lift their palms to their faces like a frame. The children opened and closed their mouths like fish, peered through their blue and green fingers, accusing grownups, shaming drivers and consumers.
Parents discovered that the only way to restore the children was to turn the television off, leave their car to rot in the driveway, plant the lawn with vegetables to share. They recycled.
Polly Jennings stood on the beach at Rhyl. The seas were emptying of plastic, the smogs – globally – were clearing. She lifted a freckled arm, blue-green palm outstretched.
And back, from the waves, the flick of a tail, a shudder of hope.
Congratulations Van, Simon and Anstey! And thanks to everyone who entered.
Happy weekends, happy writing – see you next week!