It's that fun time of the month again where I read through the previous month's short fiction contest entries and complete the tricky task of picking the winners. January's image was a rather enigmatic picture of a wooden statue and is inspired a good variety of stories making the job of picking the winner as hard as ever.
Before I announce the winners I'd like to thank everyone who entered, the standard of the stories continues to be high and it was a joy to read them all. Thank you also to those who have helped promote this contest, your help is much appreciated and please continue to share the contest and winners links wherever you can.
And now for the winners:
- First prize of a £50 Amazon gift card goes to Darren Grey for his story 'The Playground'
- Second Prize of a £20 Amazon gift card goes to Andrew Campbell-Kearsey for his story 'Urban Myth'
- Third prize of a £10 Amazon gift card goes to Jason Purdy for his story 'Turpentine'
Congratulations to the winners and now lets enjoy their excellent stories:
The Playground by Darren Grey
“I think it’s a statue of a Viking god,” said Roger, who always liked to get his opinion in first.
The children stood round the tall, wooden statue. The new addition to the park had attracted their attention immediately upon their arrival. Its carven features stared down at them sadly, sombre eyes set above a ruddy face and a long beard.
“Do you think it’s magic?” asked Billy.
“No, it’s probably some god that’s dead by now,” replied Roger, gaining more authority in his voice. “Maybe from Iceland or Scandavianland. Somewhere like that. They have old gods there but no one prays to them anymore.”
The children crowded closer round the statue, trying to detect some ancient divine energy from the dark wood. When no evidence of miracles presented itself their minds began to wander again.
“My dad says it’s out of a movie, one with dragons and things in it,” said Jessika, twisting a pigtail around her finger. The rest of the group ignored her. They’d learned long ago that any statement beginning with “My dad says” means it was made up on the spot.
“It’s probably just one of a thousand statues made in a factory somewhere. There’s nothing special about it.” Victoria’s dismissive attitude broke the spell around the group, and the statue became just a normal object, devoid of mystery.
Victoria walked up to the statue and knocked on its chest. “See? It’s hollow. Probably isn’t even real wood. Just made in some big factory out of plastic stuff and empty inside.”
“It’s not empty,” said Celia in a low voice. The children all turned to her – it wasn’t like Celia to say something without being prompted first.
“There’s a man in there,” she continued, staring down at the statue’s feet as she talked. “He tried to hurt me, here in the park, so I trapped him in wood. He can’t get out now.”
A brief moment of silence settled over the children as they exchanged glances.
“Let’s go play on the swings,” said Roger, pushing Celia’s comments out of his mind. The children all ran off, leaving just her behind.
The young girl walked up to the statue and placed her hand against its chest.
“I can hear you screaming still,” she said. “No one else can, but I hear, and I know. I’ll come visit you every day just to hear you scream.”
She turned and ran off to join the others. The statue stared on sadly, its sombre eyes unable to look away.
Urban Myth by Andrew Campbell-Kearsey
Max had paid a fortune for his detached house with a swimming pool and integrated sound system. The blinds were programmed to open at dawn and each regular visitor had a personalised doorbell sound. The gardens were kept immaculately as he was a tough employer. Each room was redecorated on an eighteen month cycle. He was modern-day lord of all that he owned but not of all that he surveyed. He could not control the view from his den.
His opposite neighbour had erected a wooden monstrosity in her front garden, near to the kerb. Max was enraged at this eyesore. He’d hired environmental lawyers to determine whether it had been carved out of endangered timber. In which case it may be impounded by the authorities– unfortunately not. The object was over thirty feet tall and seemed to have been positioned so that it faced Max’s property. He took great pride in the low-level Japanese style front garden. It was out of the question for him to plant a fast-climbing shrub or erect a front wall. The asymmetrical bonsai acacias and rare orchids nestling amongst the miniature rock formations and water features depended upon unfettered views. Max was too busy to rake his own Zen gravel driveway. He paid somebody daily to create new patterns and vicariously calm Max’s mind.
He intentionally knew none of his neighbours. He valued his privacy. However Max broke his rule and approached his neighbour when she arrived home one afternoon. He struck up a conversation about the wooden statue.
‘It’s fabulous, isn’t it? My late husband was a huge “Lord of the Rings” fan. He picked it up in Thailand. He named it “Gandalf”. We had it in storage. It was only when I moved here after he’d died that I knew I’d found just the right place for it. Glad you like it.’
Max uncharacteristically did not have the heart to tell her how much he detested it. Over the weeks he spoke to his therapist. She designed breathing and meditation exercises for him to overcome his antipathy towards it. Every morning when he spied it anew he felt anger and revulsion welling up inside. His therapist had grown accustomed to early morning calls demanding emergency appointments. She always fitted him in as he was a wealthy man.
Eventually, she suggested an unusual solution.
Everybody had heard about gnomes going missing from front gardens and then their owners, sometimes months later, receiving postcards from them from exotic locations. Max was all about taking it to the next level. He had to go one better.
Naturally, Max’s neighbour was distraught when she realised that her beloved “Gandalf” had been stolen. It even made the local news. However, a week later she received the first of many webcasts from increasingly exotic locations. It had cost Max a fortune in transportation costs and the hiring of an Ian McKellen soundalike but his neighbour gained much comfort from the heart-warming messages she regularly received from Gandalf.
Turpentine by Jason Purdy
Her father had many hobbies, but was especially fond of wood carving. The house forever reeked of fresh shavings, turpentine, and varnish. When there was no wood to hand, no time to carve or work the lathe, the house stank of other fluids. The sort you’d more readily associate with a middle aged, recently divorced, overweight and bald man.
Things were better than there was wood around. He used to buy it, but when he was laid off it was hard enough to put food on the table for the girls, never mind splashing cash on supple oak, firm maple, or fortified wine. After that, he started lifting it off the backs of trucks, or sneaking into the woods in the dead of night and grabbing what he could find. Even when he shot the man and buried him deep in the frozen earth, that didn’t stop him stealing.
His daughter’s left shortly after his wife, and then all he had to do was feed his dying liver and feet his insatiable lust for wood. His friends would have made a joke about that, but they were all long gone. He’d taken to carving extravagant figures out of the wood. Towering figures, resplendent, solid bodies, masterfully crafted and smoothed to perfection. Strong faces, long, hard oaken beards, and deep set, polished eyes that seemed to followed you around the room.
People had always told him his craft was good enough to sell, but he had been brought up well, and he knew never to sell out your friends, never to rat on them. They were the two ground rules, the core tenants that any and every friendship should, and must, be built on. So he’d never sell them and he wasted away, carving figures of splendour, wooden gods, unsullied and untouched effigies. A testament to the sense of humour that God obviously has when he hands out talents, picking and choosing, deciding that the sperm cell that runs down the leg was the one that could have been the doctor, while he makes the winner a certain Jeremy Weed. An unhinged alcoholic with the temper of an inferno and the hands of a savant.
Jeremy Weed lived in his workshop with his friends, his friends who never asked him if he really needed another bottle.
It only took his neighbours three days to smell it. They were used to the strange smells, wood shavings, booze, varnish, a heady mix if there was one, the smell of old bars and dirty barns, but the smell of rotting flesh was unmistakable. Even if you’d never smelt it before, it’s there, a spiritual stink, an ancestral odour, a reeking that you know on every level of your being.
The police found Jeremy Weed covered in blood and puckered with so many stab wounds that he looked like a pin cushion. Each of the wooden warriors held a knife. Each of the officers would swear that the eyes followed them as they left.