|"Hanoi Water Puppets - Fairy Dance (3695189852)" by Greg Willis from Denver, CO, usa|
February's image proved a tricky one if the fewer entries than usual is anything to go by. Not that it made picking the winners any easier! Before announcing the winning stories I'd like to thank everyone who entered and everyone who supports the contest by sharing the links. Your participation is greatly appreciated.
And now for the winners...
- First prize of a £50 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Matt Porter for his story 'Dead of Night'
- Second prize of a £20 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to Nav Logan for his story 'The Puppeteer'
- Third prize of a £10 Amazon or PayPal prize goes to John Moralee for his story 'The Ones Left Behind'
Congratulations to the winners and here are their stories:
Dead of Night by Matt Porter
“From out of the sea, in dead of night,
come porcelain dolls, with faces white.
Any child who misbehaves,
will be taken back, beneath the waves.”
Mist rolled in over the ocean as Chris dragged James towards the beach. They were twins, but their similarities were limited to their appearance.
“Chris, we shouldn’t be out here.”
“Why? Are you scared of that stupid old rhyme that parents tell their kids to try and scare them? They only use that to stop us going out at night, you know. Why should we be home in our beds? This is the coolest time of day!”
“No it isn’t. I wish you didn’t bring me here. Why do we always have to do what you want to do?”
Chris slapped him over the back of his head. “Because everything you want to do is boring. Look, check it out. I bet we can find some starfish or some crabs in that rock pool over there.”
James perched nervously on a rock as his brother dropped down and shone a light around the rock pool, hoping to find something moving. James surveyed the sea and was constantly looking over his shoulder, expecting to see something a lot more terrifying than a crab.
“Look! James, I found one! Stop being a baby and come down here and help me catch it.”
“Any child who misbehaves…” it was just a whisper, but it seemed to carry across the whole beach, “...will be taken back beneath the waves.”
“Shut up, stop messing around and come down here.”
“Chris,” James stammered, “it wasn’t me.”
“Any child who misbehaves…” this time it was a chorus of voices, getting louder, “... will be taken back beneath the waves.”
Slowly appearing through the mist, approaching from the water, were several porcelain dolls, and their number was growing by the moment. The chant was getting louder as more and more of them glided up the beach towards the twins.
Chris, terrified, began to climb up out of the rock pool, but slipped on the wet rocks and hit his head. Dazed, he tried to reach up to his brother. James leaned down over the rocks and held out his hand for Chris to grab onto, but it was too late. The dolls were upon him and were beginning to drag him back towards the sea, the dropped torch eerily illuminating their lifeless faces. James jumped down and started swiping and kicking at the dolls, but they just kept coming, while the chant continued.
Then, it dawned on James that this relentless horde of dolls was completely ignoring him. He hadn’t misbehaved, Chris was the one behind it all, he was the one they wanted. James helplessly watched as the dolls dragged his brother away towards the sea. As they finally dropped beneath the surface, his screams and their chants died out together in an instant.
The Puppeteer by Nav Logan
They said that Phan Thi Chu had magic in his fingertips, but he dismissed their praise. Still, it pleased him to hear the gasps of the crowd as they watched his creations in action.
Years ago, his grandfather had given him the secret of his success.
His cruel grandfather had taken in the orphaned boy and started to teach him how to bring the puppets to life and make their water theater something special;
For years, he had slaved under the old man’s regime, getting paid a pittance as he served his apprenticeship. It probably would have stayed that way had the old man not stood on a landmine.
His grandfather had survived, but could no longer perform. The water theater was their only means of income, so reluctantly, he told Phan Thi Chu the final secret that would bring the puppets to life.
“Each new moon,” he instructed, “You must sneak into the temple and bath the dolls in the Pool of Life.”
“But why, Grandfather?” I asked, astonished.
“Don’t ask stupid questions, boy, just do what you’re told,” he scolded. “You must do this at night when the monks are asleep. They will be furious if they catch you desecrating their pool."
“Is that all I need to do?”
“No,” he advised. “You must repeat the following prayer.” Handing me an ancient scroll, he forced me to read and re-read the words until I had them memorized.
Finally, I could recite them accurately, and the time of the new moon approached.
“Tonight is the night of the new moon, Grandfather,” I announced. “I will perform the ceremony after this evening’s show.”
“Very well,” he grunted. “In that case, you must go to the market and buy a chicken; a fat healthy one. You’ll need to bring that with you.”
“You will need to slit the bird’s throat, and drain the blood into the pool. The better the sacrifice, the more lifelike the puppets will become, so don’t skimp on the Dong for the chicken. Pick a healthy bird.”
“Does it have to be a chicken, Grandfather?”
“No. Usually I buy a goose, but we cannot afford that at the moment. Our takings have been poor recently. When things improve, you can buy a better gift for the gods, but for now a chicken will have to suffice.”
That night, I crept into the temple as instructed, carrying my blood sacrifice over my shoulder. Laying him beside the pool, I whispered the prayer that I’d been taught, and then slit his throat. I gave thanks that the loss of his legs to the landmine had made grandfather easier to carry up the hill to the temple.
True to his final words, the puppets positively glowed with life after the ceremony, and my fortunes increased rapidly as word of my water theater spread.
Once a month, I would walk the back alleys to find a suitable street urchin to prepare for the next new moon.
The Ones Left Behind by John Moralee
Every night the four ghostly dolls appear. I’m on the lake shore at midnight, wearing just my nightdress, looking at tendrils of mist creeping over the black water like long skeletal fingers, when they float in the air towards me, silently, their porcelain faces shining in the moonlight. I’m afraid of them, but I can’t get away from them because my bare feet are trapped in a thick clawing mud.
“What do you want?” I say.
They whisper in little girl voices things I don’t want to hear.
“Your parents are dead, Matsuko.”
“You are alone now.”
“You should have drowned too.”
“Join us. Join us.”
They float closer and closer.
Wanting me. Needing me.
I don’t want them to get me. I struggle to free my feet. Tears of frustration run down my face. I can’t get free. They’re coming closer. Closer.
“Go away!” I scream. “Leave me alone!”
And then I wake in the darkness of my bedroom, my heart racing, soaked in cold sweat. There are no creepy living dolls in my room and I know it was only a dream – but I turn on the lights just to be sure.
There’s nothing there.
Every night I turn off the lights, close my eyes and cry myself to sleep.
I’ve been having the same bad dream since I moved in with Grandmother. She’s my only living relative now my parents have died. They were victims of the tsunami that washed away my village.
I miss them so much it hurts.
Grandmother lives in the mountains, near the lake haunting my dreams. In her living room, on a high shelf, she keeps the four dolls.
The first time I saw them I thought they looked pretty. I wanted to play with them in the garden – but Grandmother caught me lifting them down from the shelf, slapping my hand away.
“No – don’t touch them. They are not toys.”
“But Grandmother -”
“No! They’re mine. Never touch them. Promise me that.”
I promised her.
But then the dream came to me that night. I woke Grandmother and told her about it, sobbing.
She brushed my hair, calming me. “You must ignore them, Matsuko. The dolls can’t harm you.”
“You dream about them too?”
“I did – when I was your age.”
“I hate them. Why did you keep them?”
“My mother made them in memory of Yuko, Kaoro, Noriko and Izumi. They were my older sisters. They died before I was born. My mother found them drowned together.”
Today I wait for Grandmother to fall asleep – then I take down the dolls. I carry them in a basket down to the lake. I smash them. A strange grey powder bursts from each and scatters on the breeze. I go home to Grandmother.
“The dolls! What did you do?”
“I broke them to stop the dreams.”
“Oh, no,” she says. “You let them out!”
I hear voices. Real voices.
Coming for me.