Archive for April, 2011

Lying on the dirt I looked up and saw shooting stars for the first time. We’d had dinner at the market. Bowls full of noodles, dumplings in a hot broth and the usual plate of peanuts we had honed our chopsticks skills on. We got our bikes and cycled down Airport Road beside the sunflower fields, crossed the train tracks and settled down with our rucksacks of frozen beer bottles to watch an endless inky sky with more stars than I’d ever seen at home.

Laughter can make you notice someone in a cramped Withington living room. I heard her laugh almost before I saw her. I could say I saw her smile first, but it was actually her legs. She was talking with some people I didn’t know; listening intently and then she threw back her head and really, unselfconsciously, laughed. She took my breath away; it was like seeing the Angel of the North for the first time.

I was sitting on the front pew until I walked up to give the reading. I stared at the tiny words in the bible and was terrified that I’d read the same line twice like I had that time at the school advent service. I faltered near the start as a sob rose up in my throat. I returned to my seat on shaking legs. I looked up to bring the coffin into my eye line but I couldn’t look at anyone else for the whole service.

I’m lying on a blanket. My eyes are closed and the book I only managed two pages of is dangling out of my hand. It’s glorious; I feel my body bathed in the warm sunshine. I can hear kids playing cricket in the park, and ice cubes knocking softly together in my sparkling water. Opening my eyes I realise that even in this small city park there are three different colours of blossom; creamy white, marshmallow pink and deep, beetroot red.

Words: 328

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When Billy-o’s daddy came home from the war he said Billy-o don’t you go, no Billy-o don’t you go.

That’s all the man wanted to say as he took to his tea and tapped out a ditty on the old tin caddy.

But Billy-o wanted to know. He wanted to know why he should not go. So Billy-o’s daddy stirred his tea and looked at the pocket watch he’d brought back from the front and said hush now Billy-o, just don’t go.

But this was before Billy-o ever saw a clock and before Billy-o ever was dead and so Billy-o just asked and asked with a why not daddy, why not, why not. So Billy-o’s daddy said see this spoon, this old pitted spoon? Your grandaddy gave me this spoon. He told me he’d took it away to the front and he used it to stir as the kettle whistled and the bullets sang. He liked his tea strong and each sugar was home. One for his daddy and one for his mammy and one for his dear me and one for himself. So don’t you go, Billy-o, don’t you go. There’s not enough sugar to remind you of home.

But Billy-o wanted to know what do they do when they’re not stirring tea, what do they do and why shouldn’t I go?

These things would not be said and so daddy just stirred. He said nothing. Nothing of the rain and mud and the blood. He said nothing. Of the cries and the tears in the darkening nights he said nothing. Nothing of faces lost in a bang and nothing of tea mugs left by the stand. He said nothing except don’t go, Billy-o, don’t go.

Then his grandmammy sang and though Billy-o cried he didn’t dare go

but daddy-o did
once
more.

Words: 304

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This year, 330 Words is honoured to be playing a part in Chorlton Arts Festival.

We’ve joined forces with some of Manchester’s best bloggers to bring you The Flash Mob Writing Competition, a short-story competition for those of you with a love for brevity.

The competition, which closes on the 29th April, asks you to submit a short story with a maximum word count of 500. If you’re selected the winner, you’ll get your hands on a framed illustration of a scene from your story. Exciting stuff.

We’ll also be hosting a lavish event on the 26th of May where you’ll get the chance to meet some of the area’s best writing talent in one room.

Best get writing then.

Words: 115

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The night air stings, mingling with the burn of standing in absolute stillness. My eyes are closed but, through my golden lids, I can see the growing lightness of the dawn.

I am a statue.

“This is humiliating,” I said.

“I know,” he replied, “but if it works it’ll go down in history.”

“Can’t we use paint?”

“No, it’d crack, you need to be there before they do the security assessments; that’s 24 hours at least. I’m sorry, it’s the only way.”

I nodded at him, then to the man with the buzzing needle.

I am a statue.

With the dawn comes the sound of people, the extra staff for the grand opening.

My breath is slow, the pain in my arms, legs, back swelling with every minute. I let it wash through me, but do not move.

I am a statue.

The first time I looked in the mirror I wanted to vomit. It had taken so long I’d either fainted or fallen asleep.

“Think of it like this,” he said, hand on my shoulder, “You’ll be famous for the rest of your life.”

I looked again into the mirror, at the dull golden monstrosity that was my skin, then I vomited.

I am a statue.

I repeat the words, a mantra, focusing on the sound of the crowd as they are shepherded into place. The sword is heavy, it is all I can do not to drop it.

I am a statue.

“You can do this!” he said to me as I got ready. I nodded and he held my face in his hands. “Everything depends upon this, the new king will be here, you can’t let us down.”

Lifting the sword, I clambered into position.

I am a statue.

A fanfare, the crowd hushes. I count in my head, imagining every movement of the carefully orchestrated parade, the royal car drawing closer. The sword is in my hands; I open my eyes.

I am not a statue!

Words: 329

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Leonie could travel through time. Accompanied with only a rucksack and a spare pair of socks, she had been flirting with time for years, whimsically skipping across decades to suit whatever curiosity struck her at any particular moment.

She wasn’t careless though and throughout her travels, she had just one rule. Never interfere.

*Edinburgh, 2008.*

By the time she heard the woman’s scream, it was too late. His lifeless body, spreadeagled across the grey pavement, was already gathering a crowd.

‘Suicide,’ murmured the masses, glancing up at the roof.

Leonie looked down at the body and, in that second, decided that she would save this man’s life.

She set out to do just that; skipping across George’s, his name was George, timeline in the hunt for the catalyst which would result in his death.

If she understood the why, then she could prevent the when.

Three years of her life had passed. She had seen George’s birth, his first day of school and his first kiss. But still, the moment was elusive and, despite her search, she found nothing which would cause him to take his own life.

She became desperate. In a last-ditch attempt to alter the course of history, she travelled, once again, to the night of George’s death. Ten minutes before he was supposed to jump, she hurried into the bar.

In all her time here, she had never once followed him after he left the pub; seeing him die once was enough.

Like always, George was sitting in the corner, laughing with a group of friends; she glanced in his direction and hurried into the toilets. Holding back a sob, she began to write on the cubicle door.

As George returned to his seat, wiping his wet hands on the back of his jeans, he noticed a woman crying in the corner of the bar.

‘Are you alright?’ he asked.

Leonie looked up, tears streaming down her face.

‘You’ll be fine,’ George smiled. ‘Just tell me what’s wrong.’

Her words turned him pale.

Words: 330

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Alice hooted as the hammer splintered down. The going-going-gone refrain repeated in her ears as the lot was removed from the gawping eyes and gaping mouths of public consumption. It had been a frantic bidding session and the air was sharp with a hushed electric hum and the high pitchiness of sweat. But this was the last the moon-faced Alice would see of Tenniel as a clutch of officials surrounded her.

She was escorted through a mahogany door, along a dark corridor, over an enclosed bridge, down a back staircase, beneath clanking pipes, into a room marked “Interrogation”. Here stood a plain table, two standard-issue public-sector chairs and a uniformed man, arms crossed. Three of the walls were bare; on the fourth hung a substantial shiny surface: a screen, maybe, or a mirror.

The questions came thick and fast, burrowing into Alice, too many to fight off. “What are you playing at?” “Where did you think you’d get the money?” “Why do you keep doing this?” Alice stared dead ahead, at once baffled and baffling. No one appeared to have a grip on reality – the interviewers didn’t seem to know why she was here and Alice was definitely none the wiser. Accusations followed: “You’ve never been the same since that bump on the head”; “You’re a menace to society”; “You need to be locked up to protect yourself”.

The strange men’s voices rang in echoes and the stringent striplight cast the scene starkly. Alice’s whole being was overcome with a wrench of nausea, as if the feeling that she was all at sea were real. The four waxy faces started swimming around her own, melting into the walls and the glossy oblong whose edges were distorting and bending, as if through a fish eye.

Then, suddenly, the cloudy looking-glass cleared, becoming a plain window Alice could peek through. On the other side stood a rabbit, as tall as her and wearing a natty waistcoat. Alice started screaming, and never stopped.

Words: 330

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The weather resembles his life perfectly: everything is vague, misty, unsure. The steam coming of his hot cup of coffee is really visible today. Standing on the platform he waits impatiently for the train to arrive. This train is going to bring him to his university. There, a whole new world of awkwardness will await him. He used to have a girlfriend.

She is in the same class as he is but yesterday she broke up with him. Over the bloody phone. And she didn’t even have the courage to call him, heavens no! It was a text message. Just a cold, heartless text message. He had to refrain himself from throwing his phone against the wall, but that would have solved absolutely nothing. It would only have cost him his phone and she is so not worth that. At least, not anymore.

Twenty-four hours ago he would have staked his life for her. And now? What did he get in return? He gave her all his attention, all his love, everything he could! He even put up with her stupid anxiety crap, always afraid he would leave her. Now she left him. In pure frustration he clenches his fist.

He glances over the information board. Great, now even his train is delayed. He spins around and accidentally bumps into someone. A hefty book falls to the ground and he barely manages to keep the coffee from spilling over the other commuter.

“I’m so sorry!” the girl cries out.

He is flabbergasted.

“But.. I bumped into you!”

He kneels and picks up her book. Applied physics?

“You studying physics?”

“Yea, I am,” the girl says shyly. She must be about his age and she’s cute.

“No wonder you where that physical.”

It was a horrible joke, but she laughed none the less. He stretches out his hand.

“I study chemistry, wanna talk a little?”

“Sure!”

The weather resembles his life perfectly: everything is misty, but the sun is still shining.

Words: 329

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