I’d like to give my heart felt congratulations to everyone who entered. It was such a tough choice trying to decide between the entries. We were overwhelmed with the response from many talented writers. Each and every one of the entries had something special about them. They all encapsulated heart, which is why it became near impossible to choose between them.
I can only thank everyone who submitted their work for taking the time and the courage. In the end we decided upon 3 winners. Some were carried through to the short list by plot, some by characterisation and others through their descriptive writing skills. But let me tell you that each of the entries submitted held value, promise and heart, and I want to encourage you to keep going, keep writing, keep crafting your talent.
Please join me in congratulating the winners of this competition?
Hari G, Margaux Powell and Aaron Walden.
Be the first to read their submissions.
I spend most of my time up trees. I’m usually late for everything.
Hari G. Age 14, UK
WAKING UP by Hari. G
A cold iron gate. It looks ancient and stained sunburnt orange by a swollen and fading sun. Its colour reflects a once familiar schorching, shimmering silver star. It’s been painted into an abstract variation of countless shades of orange, red and purple to create a magnificent masterpiece. Behind the gate lies stone ruins of what seems to be an old castle built thousands of years ago. The castle is mounted by monsterous snake-like ivy strangling the remains of the already destroyed stone palace. Around the ruins stand trees with golden twisted trunks and leaves the colour of mango flesh.
This is where I woke up, left to gaze at what seems to be a new world to me. It certainly isn’t the world I went to sleep in. My head hurts badly as if someone has spent the night pounding my skull with a hammer. My mind is blank. No memories of who I am come to my rescue. All my yesterdays are blur. All I know is that everything seems oddly strange yet familiar, as if I’m waking within a frequent dream. My mind and body feel dis-connected, weak from their separation. I can barely move. My muscles are crippled and shaking with hunger. I feel as though I haven’t eaten in centuries.
For hours I drift in and out of sleep in a trance-like existence, as if floating in a blur of lacklustre energy. After waking again, I use some of my remaining strength to drag myself to the nearest tree and sit with my back to the rough bark. That’s when I hear hushed voices whispering dubiously from behind me.
”Is he alive?” asks one of the voices, soft and faint, concern hanging in the space between us. Her voice is swift and pure like a nightingale’s song.
”He’s breathing but barely,” replies a heavier voice. His words are like incantations that shake the earth beneath my legs. He speaks slowly and clearly. His tone strong and deep with the power to induce an earthquake. ”Get the horses. You try to wake him up,” he insists. I hear rushed footsteps scurry into the distance. My muddled mind starts to overflow with questions.
”Who are these people? Who am I? Why am I here? Where is here, exactly?” I try to remember anything to help me understand what’s happened to me, to give me some leverage to help myself, but all I see is nothingness. All I manage is to create a deep stirring in my stomach as if I’m being dug out from the inside. The questions return. ”Why am I here? Where am I…? My mind is lost in a labyrinth of confusion.
The swift gentleness of the nightingale’s song returns, cutting into me. It envelopes me and quiets the voices in my head as it draws closer.
”Hello… Hello? Can you hear me?
I try to answer but I can’t talk. My throat is burning as if someone has pierced it with a white-hot needle. I know I have to say something. Painfully, I croak ”Water. Please. Water.” I hear her pick up what sounds like a glass bottle chinking against another. Her hand, soft and feather-like, lifts my chin. Cool, fresh water pours into my desperate mouth. It heals my throat like a magical remedy. I swallow more and more until the last drop hits my tongue.
I breathe relief as finally I can reach my voice without pain. ”Where am I?” I ask in confusion. She responds calmly, ”You’re in a land called Antiquorum. It’s been abandoned for thousands of years. I can see you’re not from here. You really don’t belong to us. What in Antiquorum are you doing here?”
A land called Antiquorum? Her voice replays in my mind. I don’t belong to them? Where in the hell is home? Somehow, I manage an answer, conscious that her body is shadowing mine from the sun and she is nothing but a black shape. I have no choice but to trust this voice, for the moment at least. ”I woke up here. I have no idea how I got here or how I’m going to get home.” Suddenly I begin to feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and any minute now munchkins will creep out and burst into song singing that that the witch is dead!
”You better come with us it’s too dangerous to stay here at night.” Her voice has taken on a more serious edge that makes me try to get up.
Loud footsteps draw closer. That’s when the softness of the nightingale voice unleashes a roar, ”Arbor where is the carriage?”
His name is Arbour? I bank that for later. Arbor responds in his deep, earth trembling tone, ” It’s Saeva. He won’t bring it. He said he won’t risk damaging the carriage.”
The nightingale tusks in frustration. ”What is wrong with him?”
Arbor sighs. I feel his voice closer. I can sense he’s trying to be quiet as he nears me. ”Hi there, are you ok? Do you think you can walk?” I open my eyes again, blinking furiously, but all I can see is shadow and light hazing in and out of one another. Shapes are thrown around me. His voice shifts away from me, speaking to the nightingale?
”Laminae, we need to get him out of here quickly. Before dark.” I see his shape shift as light crosses the shadow. Is he looking back at me for an answer?
His head nods in my direction and cloudily I remember that I need to walk. Doubt and my caution to accept help fill my words, ”I can try.”
I roll to my side, gaining the momentum I need to push myself onto my knees and then my feet. I’m unsteady. My knees jerk. A branch breaks my fall. I look up and to my side. The shadow and light have morphed into visible beings. Stunned with shock I see Arbor and Laminae. They look like a crossbreed between nature itself and Humans. Arbor looks as if he has been carved out of a tree. I realise, the branch that broke my fall is his hand, still holding me steady.
He is colossal. Twice the size of a human. I see his body made up of rock and wood and skin. He is strong like a warrior. Laminae is more humanlike with emerald green hair and gemstone eyes as captivating as the flaming sky. She is as beautiful as a blossom tree. I gasp in shock. I look down her body looking for remnants of the nightingale voice she soothed me with, anything that might have that softness. But patches of her body are covered in a bark-like formation, woven into her skin.
I can sense her looking at me, eyeing me also. I look beyond my chest, down to my feet and am horrified by what I see. Something has happened to me. It’s this place. It must be. It’s changed me. My veins still pump blood and my flesh still meat, but my feet are woven with brown and green. I am becoming something else.
Arbor and Laminae look to me sympathetically. They know. How can this be? Why me? What the hell am I doing here?
“It’s okay. Try not to panic. We must get away from here and out of sight. This is more important right now. You must try to walk.” Nightingale doesn’t sound so soft and gentle anymore. It’s Arbor in my ear that sounds more calming. “Come. Once we get to the carriage and away from here, we’ll get you the help you need. We’ll fix you.”
I snap out of my confusion. Arbor said to Laminae to hurry for a reason. Using the last of my strength I grab Arbor’s hand and pull myself steady against him. Pine needles and sap brush against my skin. The smell is comforting. From my world. My memory. I remember those smells. This is good.
Slowly but surely I limp to the horses and carriage with my arm around Arbor for support.
” So, who are you?” There is caution in his voice.
” I don’t know. I don’t remember, yet.” I am filled with hope that my memory will return and I’ll figure a way out of this place and back to my life.
“Aahh… you will,” he says cheerfully. It always comes back sooner or later.
Suddenly a scream echoes from the distance. A horrific scream packaged with pain and terror. Arbor lets go of me and runs bravely towards the scream.
”It’s Saeva! ” He yells in panic.
Pumped by adrenaline I jolt after him. Clunky foot, after clunky foot, I manage to jump from one to the other with Laminae behind. When we near the carriage, I wish I hadn’t made such an effort. Guts hang loosely on the carriage door, like decoration. They’ve been torn from his body. Blood paints the floor like a flash flood. All that is left recognisable of the one they called Saeva is his head – but even that shows a gaping bite mark where teeth have pierced his skull and drained it. There is still a frozen expression of terror tattooed into his face. The smell of iron hangs in the air. I step back away from the blood.
Laminae screams. I turn as a dark shadow absorbs the light. The owner of those teeth is still here. It shrieks loudly in the near distance. My eardrums pound with pain. The giant horses next to the carriage charge trying to break free. Trying to save themselves. The creature leaps from the shadow at one of the horses. Tears its head back slowly from its neck. A sharp sound of splintering wood crunches as the carriage takes a hit. The splattering of flesh bursting open fills my ears as the horse’s head is peeled from its body. Thick black blood showers the carriage and flattened pathway. The disgusting monster nuzzles greedily sucking the insides out of what was to be our ticket out of here. Our passage to safety.
In horror, I shout, ”Arbor! What is that thing!”
Arbor howls ” Mors dolorum. RUN!” I turn to run but it’s too late. The bloodthirsty shadow turns to face me, and springs toward me and Laminae. Paralysed by fear we do not move. It glides through the shadows with its mouth open ready to free me of these limbs that no longer belong to me. It happens so fast. Everything grows dark. It feels as if I have been overdosed with fear and terror. The Arachnid like figure approaches closer and closer still. Knowing we do not move, it begins to slow its pace. It’s sizing us up. It shrieks. Then jumps aggressively to kill its prey.
“Margaux Powell writes about life’s experiences as she sees them. She sees life from every angle, experiences empathy and can translate those deep emotions into words. Margaux lives in London and as a creative, she also loves art and cooking.”
THE END by Margaux Powell
Margaux had many beautiful memories of Positano and the Amalfi Coast. She decided to return to her happy place one last time. She spent all day yesterday walking around Positano, exploring every nook and corner, climbing up the narrow little streets and all the stairs in her beautiful Rene Caovilla crystal sandals. She would rather be seen dead than without her stilettos to accentuate her beautiful long legs. Margaux had a shoe collection similar to that of Imelda Marcos, if not better. When it came to fashion, she was always impeccably and elegantly stylish in the classic sense. Although only in her late thirties, she exuded a timeless quality.
That morning, Margaux decided on a sunrise drive along the coastal road from Positano to Salerno and back. The 80 miles drive was with iconic panoramic sweeping views of coastal cliffside villages and beaches, and catching the sunrise was simply the ultimate drive especially in a classic open top 1961 Mercedes-Benz 300S. She was the envy of many drivers that morning as they gazed and tooted at her magnificent car. As the wind blew across the Hermes silk scarf tied around her hair, her face slightly hidden under a pair of black, oversized Fendi sunglasses, in a very Grace Kelly-esque manner, she waved politely and gave a smile. Underneath the smile, her mind was racing close to the top speed of her car at 100mph.
Margaux sat in the terrace of the hotel’s restaurant; La Sponda, over looking that beautiful view of Positano, staring into the horizon, enjoying her glass of Solaia after her 3 hours drive to Salerno and back. Margaux with her olive skin, hazel brown eyes, long wavy brunette hair and slim frame was the epitome of beauty, but don’t let her beauty mislead you. Margaux was also very opinionated, strong and assertive bordering on aggressive when it came to her business empire. From the outside world, Margaux looked serene as if she hadn’t a single worry in the world. No one knew of the tempestuous raging waves inside of her fragile soul. To the rest of the world, she was indestructible.
Back in her suite, Margaux opened the doors to the balcony. She could hear the waves and feel the gentle breeze from the Tyrrhenian Sea. Perfect setting, she thought to herself. The bellboy had kindly brought up the Nitrogen tank from her car to her suite, which she picked up this morning from Salerno. She was apparently scuba diving in the next day or two, or so that was the excuse she gave. No one of course would dare to question Margaux especially not the staff of Le Sirenuse. She placed the tank beside the bed and tied it with a silky black ribbon to the post of the four-poster bed, to ensure that, in case of a struggle, her plan would not fail. Margaux had thought of all possibilities, calculated everything and planned the details down to exact precision. Those who knew Margaux knew the extreme precision she had for everything, almost to the point of being obsessive and compulsive!
From her Louis Vuitton trunk, she took out the ‘bag’. She prepared this last week when she had decided on her exit plans. It was a rather simple oven bag, big enough for a large turkey, with a small opening for a tube and drawstrings to close the bag. Margaux had done her research and she had read all the modifications to the ‘bag’ to ensure it would surely do what it needed to do. She carefully placed the ‘bag’ on the bed, fed the tube from the Nitrogen tank through into the bag. She tested the valve and ensured the Nitrogen gas was filling up the ‘bag’. Having done all her checks, she knew it was almost time for the grand finale. She walked out to the balcony, held on to the rails, watched the deep blue sea and clear blue sky one last time, inhaled the sea air deeply, whispered to herself that it was time, exhaled and gracefully walked back into her suite towards the antique walnut bureau. Her cold manicured hands pulled open one of the small drawers, and she took out 3 handwritten letters addressed to her children, her husband and Salvatore. She had written them last night, carefully penned with her Fulgor Nocturnus fountain pen, made by the renowned Tibaldi of Florence. This pen was designed based on the Divine Proportions of Phi; ratio between the cap and the visible portion of the barrel is equal to the phi ratio of 1.618. Talk about precision when it comes to Margaux. Of course, the letters were written on her own bespoke stationery handcrafted from Smythson in the signature nile blue with her own monogram. She placed the letters carefully on the bureau, next to the vase of Sarah Bernhardt peonies specially flown in from China, though it was not in season. What Margaux wanted, Margaux usually got.
Margaux walked towards the restored antique gramophone in the suite, took her favourite vinyl record from the shelf, the little sparrow, Edith Piaf of course. After winding up the motor on the handle, she carefully removed the black sleeve and placed the vinyl on the turntable and gently placed the needle in the take-up groove at the outer edge of the record. The voice of the little sparrow came alive with one her favourite songs; La Vie En Rose. The countdown had started. The gramophone would play 8 songs approximately and by the time, the motions were set, her favourite song, appropriately timed for the moment; Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien would be playing and fading as she drifted off.
Dressed in her favourite Oscar de la Renta dress, a strapless floral tea length gown in silver with strapless neckline to show off her beautiful long neck and cleavage, a wasp waist full skirt to keep her timeless classic look, and a red floral design throughout, she looked as alluring as ever. She would usually do her hair up in a chignon, but not today. She knew she would likely struggle and would not want a single hair out of place from her chignon. She chose to let her long wavy brunette hair down. She spritzed her favourite Chanel Coco Mademoiselle on her wrists and just behind her ears. She was the picture of perfection. No one could ever guess why she would choose to do this. The mask she normally had on was enough to fool everyone, to hide her real fragile self away. Alas, life always had a way of hurting the most vulnerable and fragile soul. Even Margaux could not escape the cards life had laid out for her.
She carefully placed her Sophia Webster’s Evangeline White and Rose Gold wing sandals beside the bed. She needed the wings for her next journey, if there is indeed an afterlife, as Dante Alighieri had suggested. If so, she knew, she would definitely be heading to Inferno. This was not a doubt in her mind. The question would be which of the 9 circles would Margaux be tortured in? Likely the second circle she thought for her lust or perhaps the fourth for her greed or maybe the fifth for her anger. She knew no matter how many Hail Marys she recited, it would never be enough to atone for what she had done. Nonetheless, she knelt by the bed, clasped her cold hands together and prayed for forgiveness.
As calmly and gracefully as she could, she climbed into the bed without disturbing the crisp white bespoke Charlotte Thomas bed linen and duck egg throw. She checked the black ribbon on the tank tied to the top left post of the Dalbergia wood frame. All secured. She could feel the palpitations of her broken heart. She looked up at the white bed canopy and took a long, deep breath. She positioned herself carefully on the goose feather pillow and picked up the ‘bag’. With utter precision, she slipped the bag over head without smearing her makeup or her Rouge Dior in a matte fresh rosewood. Her left hand carefully turned on the valve of the Nitrogen tank. The bag filled up expectedly. With no hesitation, Margaux pulled the drawstrings tightly with both her hands and secure them in a double constrictor knot just at the suprasternal notch. Known famously as the Almasy Bosporus, as claimed by Count Laszlo de Almasy (played by Ralph Fiennes) in the film, The English Patient. Margaux loved that classic film. Her mind raced to the moment Katherine wrote her last words in the cave as the light went out, “We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, taste we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves”.
Margaux let her mind wander. She could still hear the waves in the background and she could hear her favourite song blasting from the gramophone. Margaux certainly did not want to regret anything, not her. Bitter or sweet, happy or sad, what’s been done cannot be undone. Margaux felt tears rolling down her beautiful hazel brown eyes, she could still feel the palpitations of her broken heart but she knew this was what had to happen, this was the grand finale to the one and only Margaux D’Amour. It was as if it was all written in the stars, fated and pre-destined. Her family name was love but also a secret love affair. Margaux was the secret love child that ended her life after a secret love affair of her own. That was the story.
The song was barely perceptible and her breathing more laboured. She didn’t struggle. It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. And so it did.
Hailing from the Southeastern United States with his wife, Aaron considers himself less of a writer and more of a hopeful one most of the time. He finds inspiration from the driving forces behind our actions, both good and bad, and enjoys toeing the fine line that defines morality when he writes his characters. After starting in poetry he transitioned to lengthier projects. The excerpt he provided is part of his ongoing project titled The Valley of Windfall Mountain which he tries to work on between walking his four dogs and completing nursing school assignments.
Aaron Walden, The Valley of Windfall Mountain
Jon stood outside of his shipping container vomiting in the crisp, freezing air, disgusted with what he had done. What little food he had in his stomach was now spewed across the snow and along the side of his metal shelter. Once he had emptied his stomach of its contents he kicked some snow over his mess to cover it up before walking inside and throwing his rifle in the corner. Before being able to lock the door Jon collapsed to his hands and knees and struggled to catch his breath as he took in sharp gasps of air, exhaling just as quickly. He could feel himself getting light-headed as he started to hyperventilate. Before he could slow his breathing Jon collapsed on the floor, just inside the threshold, as the cold wind blew over him it started to snow and he felt himself wake up in the middle of a forest he wasn’t familiar with.
“Hello,” Jon called out to the forest; the response only a slight echo of himself. He noticed as he surveyed his surroundings, that the forest was stained; it was as though it had been painted with shades of purples, reds, and grays while a dark light zigzagged through the trees towards him. Then he looked down at himself and saw that he was only in a tee-shirt and boxers. No shoes, jacket, or pants. Jon looked around desperately trying to find a familiar landmark to be able to get back to his home.
Suddenly he found himself walking though, without a direction, as though someone else decided for him to try and find some shelter or relief from the cold. But as he walked he winced and shouted in pain. It was as though he was walking on thick shards of broken glass that drove themselves into his feet with every step. He looked down at his feet and noticed they were a deep purple color and getting darker by the second. Jon began to panic realizing his feet were slowly freezing and he had to get somewhere warm before he froze to death. Forcing himself, Jon walked through the snow, one agonizing step after another until the cold and the pain forced his legs to give out and he began to crawl through the snow.
He looked back at his feet and saw they were black with the color beginning to extend towards his knees, sprawling upwards like twisted black vines. Jon felt the same excruciating stabbing pain in his palms as he crawled towards the hope of any kind of warmth and his hands were quickly turning purple and black just as feet and legs. It was spreading too quickly. And he was losing all ability to move his arms and legs. Jon could feel the cold pouring rapidly through him; past his elbows, his shoulder, and now deep into his chest all the way to the bone. The cold grew deeper and Jon struggled to breathe.
His life slowly started to fade away.
Jon rolled to his back, eyes blankly open to the underside of the dark forest’s canopy while he started to convulse from the cold as it started to snow and blackness started to envelop the sky.
Suddenly, as though struck by lightning, Jon woke up on the floor of his shipping container with a fresh layer of snow blanketing his entire body and most of the interior of his metal home. With a swift kick, he knocked the door closed and struggled but somehow got to his feet. He made his way over to the wood stove in the corner and with shaking hands managed to get a fire going and hovered over it to try and absorb as much heat as he could. Slowly adding wood to help it grow.
As Jon warmed himself by the fire he checked his extremities for any signs of frostbite. His arms and legs were a little pale, fingers and toes a stark white, but he breathed a sigh of relief from the fact that it didn’t appear as though he would have to cut off any fingers or toes in the near future. After he was sufficiently warm enough to move again Jon made himself a pot of warm tea and retrieved some deer jerky he had stored in large plastic containers and sat down on his cot while he refilled his stomach and enjoyed the growing warmth from the fire.
After eating enough of meat Jon put back the large plastic container and retrieved a large metal bottle containing a variety of mismatched small pills. The logo, faded from age and handling, still had the word vitamin visible on it. He reached inside it, retrieved two pills and tossed them in his mouth before quickly swallowing them and placed the bottle back on the shelf.
Now warm, fed and tired Jon sat on his cot and recounted what the man had told him. He knew what he wore and about how old he was. Jon believed that was enough. He knew he could find him even if he died in the attempt. The description of the man formed a figure in his mind. “Black coat, red scarf, and around my age,” Jon muttered to himself. “A black coat, a red scarf, and he’s around my age,” he repeated again and again as if reciting an incantation to try and manifest the man in front of him.
Jon stopped speaking and smiled to himself. Thinking of how ridiculous the idea was he shook his head while the words reverberated in his mind. Jon inhaled deeply and breathed out slowly and the words began to fade away, growing quieter until they seemed to disappear entirely. Once his mind had stopped replaying the man’s description Jon retrieved his journal from underneath the cot and decided to write once more.
My hands are dirtier than they were before and I don’t think my heart and soul can understand what the others’ purpose is now.
I feel like a divide is forming.
My conscience seems like it’s fighting against me now. It wants some righteous man. But, I’m not a righteous man.
I don’t think I can be forgiven anymore. I think I’ve fallen into the depths of something I don’t know like I’ve been cursed. I wish I had discovered the world as it should be. Without me. Because in my absence it would’ve flourished and found a bright light.
Like how a campfire along the shoreline of a black oil ocean with thunder rolling in the distance finds the entropy to grow. Unsoiled, this new world would’ve become a haven in a void that needed it. And I would’ve looked on from a distance with squinting eyes and held a deep breath while a hurtling whirlwind threw chaos into a burning fire and then put it out. Where it cooled to smoother blue-grey.
And I would’ve closed my eyes. For a moment. While the new settled down from its oblivion and I would’ve taken stock.
Because there would’ve now been beauty in the world and a dull shine, that kept it silhouetted, and gave it the right perspective.
But instead, that’s what I am now.
The right perspective.
Jon paused writing to refill his cup with more tea. He took several large sips from it and enjoyed the warm liquid as it radiated heat inside of his body. After he set the cup down Jon exhaled a breath of laughter and started to sing, very quietly to himself. But as he did he wrote down the short song he remembered his mother used to sing to him and his brother and sister when they were young.
I found my soul in the river that was nearly taken from me,
But deep in that cold water, I was reminded it’s not free.
And I found true love in the river that left me too soon;
And she called on me softly as if crying for the moon.
When I found a fire in the river it caught in my chest,
And the water couldn’t cool it or put it to rest.
But I lost all hope in the river as if in a quick-rising tide,
Now your body weighs on my soul and in the water it hides.
Though he had always remembered the words his mother had sung to him and his siblings it wasn’t until now he understood the meaning.
His soul was heavy, he thought. But he also knew that he would have to endure more weight upon it in time. Jon knew he could survive a while longer. He knew he had to survive a while longer. As he thought about the song, and about the man whose face was still hidden to him, Jon laid down, closed his eyes, and he drifted quickly to sleep with his journal still in his hand.