Monthly comp – December 2018

About Forums Den of Writers Monthly Competition Monthly comp – December 2018

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  • #3335

    Ok, so I’m going all seasonal because how could I not? Below are two lists, one of seasonal events/moments, one of items/beings. Pick one from each and do what you like with them. 400 words. Have at it, my lovelies.

    – Lighting the first menorah candle.
    – a Christmas eve midnight church service.
    – Longest night.
    – the hour before dawn on Christmas morning.
    – hogmanay.

    – a black cat.
    – a broken window.
    – a child on their own.
    – something washed up after a storm.
    – pages torn from a book.


    I can work with that… 🙂


    UNTITLED (388 words)

    You weren’t coming back. I see that now. But had it really taken a pre-dawn walk on Christmas morning to untangle my thoughts and clear my clouded vision?
    Yes, should the truth be told. It had.
    I had lain awake for hours – body tired, mind agitated, and senses heightened in the dark. Aware of the warmth of my breath in the chill of the room. Aware of the empty space in the bed beside me. Aware of the faint scent of you on the pillow-case that I hadn’t changed since you left. Or did I imagine the trace of your after-shave, like I imagined there was substance in your vague promises of coming home when you’d ‘got your head on straight’?
    When? When had it seemed like a good idea to swing my legs out of bed, pull jeans and a jumper over my pyjamas and go downstairs? Thrust sockless feet into fleece-lined boots and cocoon the rest of me until only dark-circled eyes remained visible? And then to head outside, into a world that stole my breath away.
    Dark, clear and crystalline. Beautiful and scary.
    My feet chose their own direction, boots crunching in the snow, and somehow I found myself at the children’s play area. I lay on the frosted bench and stared upwards, at knots of silver starlight embroidering a petrol-blue vapour sky, while air weighted with ice crystals scoured my lungs as I breathed. My mind stilled. I closed my eyes and relaxed… just for a moment…
    Car tyres swished. Not slowing. Not belonging. But dragging me out of my refuge, nonetheless.
    I walked back the other way, past Christmas decorations of a different kind. A bottle wrapped in tinsel tucked carefully into the corner of a window ledge. A lettuce and tomato garnish in the snow at the side of the road.
    I passed Shaheed’s still shuttered doorway and stopped at the sound of a soft mewl. A scrawny black cat, little more than a kitten, spat at me as I reached towards her, a weak, half-hearted defence. I snatched her up and my heart contracted. She was frozen, almost weightless. Your allergy to cats had never allowed it, but since that no longer mattered, I tucked her inside my jacket, into the curve of my swollen belly and took her home.


    Wow, Sea, the December comp had not impinged at all so I read this not knowing the theme – what stunningly beautiful – crisp and fresh – sensory descriptions, and clarity of insight. Loved it.


    The Blackest Cat in the Longest Night

    That twenty-first, that longest night, much darker than before
    I dragged my sorry soul up from the bench and through the door
    ‘Cross the gutters I did step, my footing slick and icy.
    When something tried to trip me up! I stared; what did my eyes see?

    A cat! – the cat, the blackest cat, a rat-tail in its snapper
    Two em’rald gems, dual lambent slits, the markings of a trapper
    So black this cat presented that it would not be a tall
    Story to confess to you it was not there at all.

    The direst cat, the dirty cat, and if I set my eyes
    On another like it, that would be a great surprise.
    It was not there; that horror-cat, that Schrödinger’s monstrosity
    Living and not-living – turning cheerfulness to paucity.

    All thoughts of Yuletide happiness did flee before its claws
    I knew myself a quarry, captured fast among its jaws
    Yet even now I cannot think that shadow-cat was real
    Aside from the bleak terror and dismay it made me feel

    Desire I not, to see that cat, nor feel that way again
    Should I make it through to Christmas Day, or to year’s end
    That longest night, that blackest night, the season’s perigee
    And its malignant death-cat dwelleth in my memory.

    ~212 excl.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 1 month ago by Jonathan.

    In absence

    ‘Anna’s party’s on the 21st. I’ll stay over.’

    Anna. Beth’s sister. She and I had a hate:hate relationship for reasons neither of us ever disclosed to Beth. Beth had sense enough not to ask.

    On this occasion my smile was for more than gratitude at her tact. An entire night to myself; twelve plus hours, taking into account Beth’s travelling time, suited me perfectly. That it was only three days away was, by the sound of it, less of a problem for me than Beth getting a hairdresser’s appointment.

    While she fidgeted in the bedroom, trying to decide what to wear; whether she needed anything new, I planned. For a start, working out what I wanted to say. A little bit of … not ambiguity, but suggestion maybe. But forceful enough to dispel doubt.

    I tried to recall what I had in the way of supplies – it had been a while since urge and opportunity coincided. For a brief while, I wondered whether I could still do it – Anna apart, secrecy was alien between us – but I told myself ‘Of course. When will you get a better opportunity?’

    Beth left at three. By now the urge to begin, to relax my mind and let the love flow in was urgent. I made straight for my studio. I’d already found a good-sized sheet of aluminium, sanded its edges and degreased it. Had torn 310 gsm Magnani Acqueforti to size and stirred and checked the inks I thought I needed. (Probably only lamp blue black but, just in case, scarlet red and yellow ochre).

    I’d applied the etching grounds while she was getting her hair done. I set Verdi’s ‘La Forza del Destino’ playing, put white spirit and cotton rag handy, seized a needle and began.

    The hours flew. Wiping, inking, polishing – am I the only man who regrets the demise of Yellow Pages? Their directories perfect for tearing into squares, setting between heel of hand and plate and wiping round and round to remove all but the ingrained lines and shadings? – re-inking and blurring in other areas, putting through the press again, breath held until I can answer – will this be the one?

    At 2 a.m. it was. I allowed myself to gaze a moment, then put it under boards, cleaned up and went to bed.

    On Christmas Day Beth unwrapped it – mounted, not yet framed. Smiled at me. Said, ‘Yes.’

    [400 words excluding title]


    Untitled (398 words)

    In the dark before dawn the phone woke me. Its light made me squint. A window was broken at the shop, said a female police officer.

    I pulled on a thick jumper and skirt and, with a thumping heart, drove into the centre of town. My shop – high-quality second-hand women’s clothes – was in a small road off the high street and when I parked outside it, the door’s glass hung around a jagged hole. The alarm jangled, as did the frequent question shouted by my bank balance. Time to sell up? Glass shards on Christmas morning looked like a signal to quit.

    The display window was intact. Two mannequins in wide-skirted party dresses stood just as I’d arranged them yesterday. A glazier’s van waited nearby, probably called by the police, for a quick repair job. On the pavement a handful of people stood around and inside the shop I turned off the alarm. My heart-rate settled to average.

    Back outside I joined the guy from the vegetarian café. All the street’s premises had been attacked, he said, with a hammer or some such. Doors mostly. The windows were of toughened glass.

    There were four empty shops. Targets for criminals. I looked at the dark windows. It was easy to be gloomy. The rise of internet shopping, the business rates weighted against us, the council’s demand that traders pay more towards the town’s Christmas lights. Now we’d been physically attacked as well.

    The veggie guy was silent and sombre and I kept quiet too. Should I sell or expand into smart but used children’s clothes? That idea had come a few days earlier. Go in deeper and also get online, or get out? My talent was fashion, and it took imagination to sell clothes, to put looks together and make enticing displays. But no-one should deny internet reality.

    A police officer came to ask questions and handed us incident numbers. She said the CCTV might reveal the culprit. I told her it seemed to be someone who didn’t like shops, and heard my own resignation.

    Above the street the sky lightened. The doorway to a large, empty shop opposite me had a flat entrance – no step. My mind’s eye, or maybe my heart, brought along parents with prams and grandparents with stiff legs and maybe electric buggies, all going in to look at clothes arranged amid plenty of space.

    John S Alty

    Road to Redemption

    It was the hour before dawn on Christmas morning. Robert stood under a pair of bay trees at the far end of the garden and breathed deeply, calming himself. The darkest hour it’s sometimes called, but he could see the light was coming fast now, a sliver of red showing on the eastern horizon and he knew he’d have to hurry. Shouldering his duffel bag, he set off across a lawn silvered with frost towards the house where the glow of the security light in the kitchen gave him a window on a world he’d once shared. His work went quickly and when it was done, he left. The familiar surroundings, the smells, the knowledge of their presence, their closeness, had taken a toll and his eyes glistened as he strode away on the long walk to his digs.

    Robert knew Adam no longer woke early on Christmas morning to tear into his presents; the boy couldn’t share that giddy pleasure most children felt on this special day. But in an hour or two his mother, Janet, would bring him from his room and sit him in front of the twinkling lights, the fascinating glittering wonderland, of the tree in the living room. The boy wouldn’t say anything, of course, but his mother would sense the joy, see it in his eyes, feel his little body tremble with excitement. And there, under the branches at the front of the tree he would see the new present. Robert stopped walking, closed his eyes, imagined the scene.

    Janet would wonder about the broken pane in the kitchen door and why the glass had been swept up and a piece of cardboard taped in the gap. But Robert knew she’d work it out as soon as she saw the new present under the tree. She’d have been notified of his release a few weeks ago, may have worried he’d try to contact her despite being forbidden to do so. He was on probation, there were rules. Three years, he’d been inside. Causing injury by careless driving when under the influence of drink was the legal term. Coming back from the office party pissed and running over your own son who was waiting in the driveway to welcome you, that’s what it was, the reality.

    Robert shook his head, clenched his fists and walked on. It was a going to be a long road to redemption.

    (About 380 words)


    Very clever John – you’ve left me poised and nervous as to what sort of ‘reality’ comes next.

    • This reply was modified 3 years ago by Sandra.
    Xander Michael

    The Longest Night

    Every year on this night she took a walk. Winter solstice was important to Hanna. She hated the endless dark living in Tromsø, but tonight she knew that the light was returning to her, even if it wouldn’t arrive until mid-January. True the northern lights were spectacular when they appeared, but usually the days and nights were overcast keeping everyone in the dark.

    She found people different in the dark, they were colder themselves as though the winter seeped into their very beings. She’d thought of leaving, but the summers of endless light were what kept her in Tromsø. The light was magical and filled everything with vibrant life.

    Loki, her elkhound, pulled on his lead jolting Hanna out of her daydream of summer and imagining how busy this beach would be in the summer months. Which are on their way, she thought with a wistful smile. Loki kept straining, trying to take Hanna down to the water. It was well frozen over now, but when they reached the shoreline there was a cylindrical object lying in a small clearing, half on the sand and half in the water. Loki sniffed at it and Hanna squatted down to examine it. She wanted to take a closer look, but was hesitant. It didn’t make sense that the area around it had thawed completely. Sharing her curiosity, Loki took it in his mouth immediately dropping it with a yelp. Loki barked at the object, but seemed otherwise unscathed from the heat of the object.

    Picking it up Hanna could feel the heat of it through her thick mittens. She turned it over investigating it, but it was unnaturally smooth except for a small button at either end. She pressed them one at a time, but nothing happened. Then she pressed them at the same time.

    It was as if the world had reached the far side of the sun and she was standing in its eternal light. Startled by the blinding light she dropped the cylinder in the snow and the world returned to darkness. When her sight returned, she recovered the object and pressed both buttons again and again the night turned to day. It was as bright as a cloudless day at noon, but there was no sun, just a vast and beautiful blue sky, but oddly no warmth in it.

    “What kind of trick is this Loki?”


    Don’t forget about this! 🙂


    Guys, I can’t apologise enough for being NINE days late coming back to this. THe holidays were … not conducive to remembering things, so I am sorry for keeping you in suspense (and making January a very brief comp!)

    So… thankyou for managing to fit in writing your entries during the xmas busyness.

    – I loved the tiny details that you used to set scenes, the motif of warmth and cold, lying on the park bench. And that final subtle reveal – Oh, if I could slap that man!!!

    – thank-you so much for entering a poem – this is totally awesome and such a fun read. Esp the ‘Schrodinger’s monstrosity, living and not-living…’ 🙂 But so many other brilliant descriptions and I love the presence/absence theme.

    – Oh, but this was LOVELY. I was expecting a dark ending, but you gave me SWEET, and I loved it! You give such clever details that the whole scene felt totally real.

    – This was such a clever tale. You capture a much wider story within this small piece. I loved the unreliable narrator and the conflict between my empathy for him, and how his actions are likely to be perceived by that poor woman!

    – You build up a scene really well in this, I can picture every detail of the street and the slow decline in that and the character. I also loved the idea of broken windows leading to opening doors – a nice image.

    – Yay for some wintery fantastical light – I want that light thing! And I can never resist anyone/thing called Loki! Honestly though, I thought this was brilliant – the way you build us up with hope but throw in that hint of menace at the end, very nice.

    So, they were all great to read and thank-you again for bearing with me. It took me a while to choose, but I’m going for @johnalty as the winner – for the sense of depth in the story, and for making me feel so sympathetic towards such a flawed character! Good luck and sorry for the abbreviated month!!


    Congratulations @johnalty – well deserved. It was a gripping story.

    Thank you @Raine for your kind comments on my entry. I’m sorry you’ve had a difficult Christmas. Hope things will get back on track for you soon.

    John S Alty

    Well, I didn’t see that coming. Thanks, Raine.
    Well done to all the entrants for taking part.


    Congratulations John, and many thanks Raine for setting the comp. I hope the rest of the month is easier on you.


    Congratulations John, well deserved, and thanks Raine for the judgement and nice comments – hope Life takes an uplift for you.

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