The 2016 Themed Short Story Competition was on the theme of ‘Treasure’. Here are the results:
1st Place: Daddy’s Treasure by Jane Willis
2nd Place:On The High Slopes by Helen Jones
3rd Place: Treasures In The Darkness by Jo Derrick
The Treasure Is Mine by Lestie Mulholland
No Way In by Rachel Garrod
Treasure by Carla Burns
Blood, Sweat and Tears by Viki Allerston
Treasure by Geoff Le Pard
The Birthday by Anne Tiernan
The Cake Decorator by Hugh Roberts
Brighton Beach by Adam Dixon
Sit back and enjoy the prize winning stories:
“February is the worst month of the year,” Tessa’s mother muttered, bowing her bronze head against the wind, and pulling her daughter by the hand. Tessa trotted behind, her eyes widening at the dark, muscular clouds. Icy blasts made her gasp, and she could feel her little brown curls lifting and whipping around. Everyone she could see in the car park was hurrying, hammering their feet on the ground for fear of losing grip. Tessa was a kite, dancing in the storm.
Inside the supermarket, her mother dropped Tessa’s hand, scowling as she fussed about in her bag.
“Look at the puffy balloons on sticks!” Tessa trilled. She pointed out the walls of sparkly cards and teddies holding hearts, too, but her mother just grunted.
Tessa saw the coffee shop where she had come with her father. They had eaten chocolate brownies and made up jokes. He had bought her a silver keyring that day. She liked to keep it in her coat pocket and warm it with her hand whenever she went out. She could feel around the edges with her thumb. It was a letter: ‘T’ for Tessa. ‘T’ for Treasure.
“Come on,” Tessa’s mother barked.
They marched along, her mother still huddled and distracted. Tessa liked the supermarket, because it was always full of interesting things to look at and people to watch. But she was disappointed that there would be no trolley ride today – her mother had picked up a basket. That was a shame. It was fun to whizz down the aisles and call out when she saw the things that they needed. It was usually her father who played funny games like that.
“Will Dad be home at bedtime today?” she asked.
“Not today,” her mother snapped.
Maybe that was why Tessa was going to start nursery. Because she kept making her mother cross.
“Will we see Granny soon?” Granny was a flurry of flour and warm blankets, and always looked at her when she spoke.
“I’m sorry, Tess. We live quite far away now so we won’t be seeing as much of her,” Tessa’s mother replied. “But it’s good that we moved, because we’ll be seeing more of Dad. He doesn’t need to travel so far to get to work.”
That was what her mother kept saying, but Dad was only ever there at bedtime, just as before. Today he wouldn’t be there at all. She hadn’t seen him for two bedtimes now. She trembled – she was a bit cold, she thought.
Her mother did look at her, then. Her lips formed a smile, but the crease between her eyes deepened and Tessa knew that Mummy was only pretending to be happy.
Suddenly she was aware of a large person standing behind them. A man’s voice heralded a bright ‘hello’ and Tessa’s mother started, then her face transformed; her smile was the sun shining, blossom flourished on her cheeks. As their eyes met, there was a crackle between the giant man and her small mother. Tessa wondered – was that lightning? She could hear hail clattering on the flat roof of the supermarket, like a hundred unicorns dancing, but no thunder. Tessa looked up. There were grey and silver pipes and lots of lights, and big bits of card hanging down. She dropped her head and gazed at the rows of milk. The lids were red, blue, and green. Tessa’s favourite colour was yellow. Was there a yellow milk drink? She remembered something she had seen on the television.
“Is banana milkshake yellow?” she asked her mother, who seemed surprised to see her.
“Eight o’clock, then,” the man said. He walked away but her mother was still smiling after him. Her face was all the colours of the rainbow.
“Mummy, is banana milkshake yellow?”
“Yes! And do you know what it tastes like?”
Tessa was suddenly sailing on a cloud – her mother had picked her up and was holding her with one arm – she hadn’t done that for ages! She started to sing ‘bananas in pyjamas’ in a silly voice, and bob her up and down as she walked along, her basket swinging on the other arm. Tessa was giggling. Her mother was so pretty, and so funny!
“I know, shall we get some banana milkshake? Then, you can try it! Look, there it is! Can you reach it? Put it in the basket. Good girl!”
Tessa was allowed to pick up all of the things on the list and cross them off with Mummy’s pen! When they were finished, they gave each other high-fives.
“You have been such a good girl, Tessa,” her mother praised. She was smiling properly now. That was because Tessa had been so much fun.
Tessa followed her mother out of the magic doors. The rain had stopped, but the wind was just as harsh. There was a man and woman arguing by the trolleys and they had to sidle past them. It reminded Tessa of something that had happened at home, but she couldn’t remember what it was.
The sun lit up the sheets of weak clouds below it. It hurt Tessa’s eyes, so she looked at the slick concrete instead.
“Who was that man?”
“He taught me to drive when I was younger,” her mother replied. “He lives in the next village to ours.”
Tessa blinked and reached for her mothers’ hand.
“Mummy,” she pleaded, arm outstretched.
“I can’t, Tessa, you can see I’ve got my hands full.”
Tessa found the treasure in her pocket. It was cold now. She had forgotten to hold onto it.
Jane Willis’ story is an excellent demonstration of ‘show, don’t tell’, all through the eyes of an innocent child. The reader can’t help but feel for little Tessa who doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. There’s some gorgeous imagery here. I love the line, ‘Granny was a flurry of flour and warm blankets, and always looked at her when she spoke’. What a lovely way to describe a granny; Jane captures how a child sees things perfectly. Jane’s story is one which stood out right from the start.
On the High Slopes
Once upon a time, an old man told his granddaughter a secret.
She was only young at the time, and she promised in the way that children do, bound in magic and half remembered dreams, the promise a tangible thing to be held onto, entwined little fingers a reminder to keep it safe.
The years passed, and so did her grandfather, taken one winter when the snows lay deep, the mountains sharp against an ice-blue sky. She mourned him, for he had loved her and she had him, their circle of family like a crown of stars.
And she kept his secret still. But as she grew so did the secret, nibbling and working its way into her mind, creating a space for itself that became wider and deeper and longer until it was all she could think about, battering like caged wings against the edges of her skin, so she felt she might burst with the keeping of it.
But she had sworn, and the memory of that day, of a meadow sweet with wildflowers, a daisy chain and whispered words, and a love as wide as the sky above them, made her keep it safe. Though she tossed and turned through the night and shadows appeared under her eyes. Though she dragged her feet during the day at work with the other young women, too tired to take in the glances from the young men, she stayed true to her word.
Until one day.
The snows were almost gone when a young man came walking from the mountains. He was golden, his skin glowing with rosiness like a ripe apple, his eyes blue as the lakes, hair brushed back from a high clear brow and strong jaw. He stayed in the village, joining the other young men in the meadows, working for his place among them. His muscles flexed as he swung the scythe, the young women pretending not to watch him as he moved, pretending not to whisper and sigh if he looked their way. The summer stretched long, grasses turning as yellow as his hair, the nights strewn with stars above the dazzling peaks, trees marching like deep green soldiers to where the snows began.
The day was warm, mountain air rich like the reddest wine. She walked through the village, a pail of milk in one hand, a basket of eggs in the other, weaving through the crowd on her tired feet, the secret heavy like a stone in the depths of her, dragging her down. Her steps became slower until one of her tired feet refused to lift anymore, catching on the path so she stumbled. A strong hand caught her, stopping the eggs from falling though the milk was sadly lost, meandering in rivulets along the cobbles and into the drains, rushing back to the land whence it came.
But she cared not for spilt milk as she lifted shocked eyes to his gaze. For there was something in his eyes that reminded her of love long lost, a splinter of memory floating in blue. And she fell once more, though this time it was her heart that was lost, rather than milk.
Through long summer twilights they walked arm in arm, past streams silver with snow water, through meadows fluttering with flowers. At harvest time they found a barn sweet with hay, a small patch of stars visible through a hole in the beamed wooden roof. Together they lay as fiddlers played and dancers whooped, echoing through the valley and into the high places. And, as the patch of sky above them turned from gold to blue, she told him her secret.
‘There is treasure in the mountains.’
And it was as though she cracked open, the secret escaping to flutter away, its weight leaving her. As though she was free of a burden long held, yet at the same time had lost something incomparably precious and she cried out, soft, like a bird in the night, and he held her close and smoothed her hair, telling her that he loved her, that she was special, she was his and they would never part.
In the morning he was gone.
Those who had seen him said he had a shovel and pickaxe, climbing rope and food enough for several days, tied onto a pack on his back. His hair was golden, they said, like the rising sun, his eyes blue as the shadowed slopes above.
He left her a note promising to return, to take care of her forever, and she held onto this new promise like a shimmering dream in the first few days he was gone.
But as the days stretched to weeks and there was no sign of him, there were signs of something else. It seemed he had left her with more than a note and, as the days grew shorter and her belly larger, she began to sink into despair, shadows returning to lie under her eyes, her feet once more tired, the nights long without her golden sun.
And so it came to be, when the snows began to recede and the wheel of the year to turn towards the sun, that a new life came into the world. Golden she was, with eyes blue as the cornflowers that dotted the meadows where her father had worked, before the mountain had taken him away.
And her mother looked at her, at the miracle of her small hands, her downy soft cheeks, and she realised that her grandfather had been right. Treasure had come from the mountains to give her the most precious gift of all, replacing the weight of secrets with the light of love, golden like his hair, like the setting sun’s rays across the peak where he now lay hidden under ice and snow.
And she shared the secret with their daughter, that there was treasure in the mountains once more.
There’s a lovely rhythm and feel to this story, right from the start, as if it’s a tale that’s been passed down over many generations. Helen has a wonderful talent for painting a picture in the reader’s mind with plenty of vivid description, meaning the reader can picture every scene and character within it. Her story flows effortlessly all the way through from the first word until the uplifting ending.
Treasures in the Darkness
Ida stood in front of the shop window. The leather suitcase was open to display a beautiful vanity set. Two pounds nineteen and six was a lot to pay, but it would be ideal for her honeymoon. Perhaps Uncle Phil would lend her the money. However, this overwhelming desire to purchase attractive goods and first edition books had to stop, especially after she was married. Times were hard.
Ida didn’t move. She looked at the other goods on display – a John Bull repair outfit, a glass perfume bottle and petal dust.
The pretty things in the shop window were a far cry from testing a Lancaster bomber’s 96 plugs, but Ida would miss the war work when the men came home. George had a forty-eight hour pass, so their wedding and honeymoon in Brighton would be a rushed affair. Uncle Phil said he would foot the bill for the spread afterwards and had booked the function room at The Grand.
Ida knew she was lucky that her uncle was both generous and well off. He’d taken her in when both of her parents were killed in a raid in December 1940. Ida had been at a friend’s house that night. She still cried in her sleep and her Uncle Phil would tap on her door, then bring in a mug of Ovaltine. The smell of his pipe smoke weaved around her room like a comfort blanket.
There were no possessions left after her home was bombed. Ida suspected that had any treasures survived the bomb, unscrupulous neighbours or chancers would have taken them long before she could bring herself to go back there to inspect the damage. The sight that greeted her would stay imprinted on her brain forever more. The leaning and splintered oak wardrobe; the William Morris wallpaper hanging in tatters like stalactites and the family Daimler a burnt out shell upended on the pavement.
Uncle Phil had held her while she cried, before he caved in and sobbed for his only sister. Then he’d driven her back to Cadogan Square in silence. Her only solace the smell of the leather seats of his Lagonda motor car.
Uncle Phil’s clay pipe was the talk of the street. The aroma of tobacco clung to every object in his house, including Ida’s clothes. She didn’t mind. It made him feel so much closer wherever she went. Her theory was that when you lose someone close, you cling to those meaningful objects and treasures, which effectively take the place of those loved ones. This must be what Uncle Phil had been doing with his pipes.
He had the pipes made in Sunderland and they were posted to him in beautifully carved wooden boxes. Ida pictured his face, when the maid brought the small packages wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. His excitement matched that of a small boy at Christmas. Such was his eagerness to unwrap his gifts, his liver-spotted hands trembled.
Ida wondered how she’d get to sleep at night once she was married to George and could no longer smell tobacco and Ovaltine. Her fiancé was unusual in that he’d never smoked. Even though he flew dangerous missions across the Channel, he didn’t need a gasper to keep his nerves steady like the other pilots.
Ida finally tore herself away from Browne’s shop window and walked home. Uncle Phil would be preparing something for their tea. It was Mrs Brannigan’s day off, so it would probably be either an omelet made with fresh eggs he’d managed to get on the Black Market or Spam with boiled potatoes.
When Ida walked in to the beautiful house in Cadogan Square, she couldn’t smell a thing. No warm fug of cooking smells coming up from the basement nor the acrid smell of Uncle Phil’s pipe.
“Uncle Phil! Are you there? What’s for tea?” she shouted, running across the grand hallway to what he still called ‘the morning room’.
There was no answer and the morning room was empty.
Ida rushed to her uncle’s study. No doubt he’d forgotten the time and was reading one of his dusty old law books.
“Uncle, you’ll never guess what I saw in Browne’s window today? It was the most beautiful…”
She stopped dead in her tracks. Her Uncle Phil’s pipe lay on the faded rug and a few glowing red strands of tobacco had already started to catch. She stamped them out with her foot.
Her uncle lay with his head on the leather inlaid oak desk, as if he was taking a nap. Ida went over and shook him hard.
“Wake up, Uncle! Silly billy! Don’t you know what time it is?”
His body tumbled from his chair, lifeless and still.
On her wedding day, Ida took the bundle of wooden pegs wrapped in ribbon from the small girl who lived across the street from Uncle Phil.
“Thank you, darling,” she said, and turned to George with tears in her eyes.
“And Mum said these might bring you even better luck,” said the small girl and handed Ida five clay pipes wrapped in the same cream silk ribbon. “They were your uncle’s, Mum said. I hope you don’t mind that Mrs Brannigan gave them to us. Mum asked especially. Something to remind you of him on your special day, she said.”
Ida went to sleep that night, wrapped in her new husband’s arms in a comfy bed at The Grand Hotel with Uncle Phil’s clay pipes on the bedside table. They’d had champagne instead of Ovaltine. Uncle Phil had left specific instructions that the bottles be taken from his cellar for the celebrations.
The leather suitcase with built-in vanity set she’d seen in Browne’s window lay at the foot of the bed.
There’s a delightfully warm, chatty feel to the story and Jo captures the time the story is set in beautifully. As a reader you can’t help but care for these characters and become involved in their story. Jo’s story starts with the leather case and she brings it back highly aptly to the case once again at the end. Her story was a joy to read.