Monthly Comp – November 2019

About Forums Den of Writers Monthly Competition Monthly Comp – November 2019

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  • #6621
    John S Alty

    OK, I realise there is other stuff going on to occupy you, so let’s keep this simple, and seasonal:
    About 400 words on “Falling Leaves”
    Have fun!


    A Coat of Many Colours

    Her debut frock had been remarkable enough. Clouds upon clouds of fragrant petals laced together with birdsong; an ode to spring. Dressed for the occasion, she rose from her slumbers to a reveille of golden trumpets, gathered in bands around her heels, and coloured the air with fragrance … though the show soon moved on.

    She changed into a gown of green, lush and velvet and rich. This was her best attire, many thought, and captured her beauty in so many pictures. The gown dripped with diamonds in the sunshine following warm showers. On brighter days, bold rays passed through her rippling folds and set them alight like fairy lamps. The progressing pageant was glorious – unbeatable – until autumn arrived.

    In honour of the maturing sun, she and her sisters wore their best ribboned coats, each slowly changing from greens into mustards, to crimsons and so to rich russets, rippling and swaying in the strengthening winds. They stood whispering, nonchalant, while small creatures raided their jewels: polished chestnuts, spilled acorns, and berry-laden pendants: a larder of riches selflessly shared.

    As her floral minions had come and gone, so she must return her gowns to the earth, each shred of them falling like coins; payment for the splendour mother nature bestowed. Knowing her show to be over, she weeps to the last, each tear curling crisp and brown, adding to thickening rivulets which ran down banks and along kerbs. Gleeful children kicked through the rivulets and crunched them underfoot, uncaring of her decline. Mothers and fathers no longer raised their cameras to capture her beauty, presuming the skeletal lady dead.

    But look closer; tread gently over her tattered rug, and you will discover that this is not death, but sleep: a pregnant promise that spring will return. See her fingers, studded with buds: embryos, tucked up tightly, safely, while shifts of hoar-frost are draped and shed. Beneath her winter coats, the buds fatten, ready for the next show to begin. It is only a pity that the best comes at the end; not in the rise, but in the fall.

    348 words

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 2 months ago by Janette.

    Steps of passing ghosts

    ‘Trees are at their best when they’re turned into timber,’ said Norman as he picked the large golden leaf from his decking, crushing it in his hand. He had searched for ages to find this house with no trees in sight. There had been a spruce in the garden when he moved in, that the previous owner said had been a Christmas tree, ‘from when my children were tiny.’ Norman cut it down and dug out every scrap of root, burning the lot with satisfaction.

    On Tuesday morning, he looked through his patio doors at the light sprinkling of leaves. He frowned. Somebody was playing silly devils. The leaves were gathered up and after some thought, fed into the waste disposal.

    On Wednesday, there was a substantial pile, spilling from the decking onto the lawn. This was going to take some time to clear away and he walked suspiciously all the way around his house. Not a tree anywhere, not even on the horizon. The gravel drive was freshly raked as he had left it. No sign of a trailer or a truck being driven up.

    That evening, instead of heading up to bed, he turned his reclining chair to face the garden and settled down under a quilt.

    His Thursday began just after five when he awoke, cold and stiff. It was dark and when he switched on the light next to his chair, he couldn’t quite work out what he was seeing. The room was reflected in the glass doors, but there was a mottled pattern rising about a foot from the floor. He rubbed his eyes. Leaves! There were leaves piled against the doors.

    At eight o’clock he telephoned the police – who were unsympathetic. ‘You have leaves on your decking?’ they said, and, ‘You’re aware that it’s November?’
    It took him most of the day to rake and sweep the leaves up and feed them into a bonfire.

    Sleep came hard and was fitful when it arrived.

    On Friday morning he couldn’t open the patio doors and light trickled in through a thin strip at the top. Norman ignored the leaves. He would hire a contractor – in a day or so.

    He was woken by rumbling and creaking in the night, but pulled the covers over his head. Eventually when the LED lights of his clock read nine thirty, he stared blankly across the bedroom and shivered. It was dark behind his curtains. Leaves. Downstairs he ignored the garden altogether and opened the front door. There was a solid mass that he could not push through with all the weight of his body. As he scrabbled with his hands more leaves replaced those he scooped away.

    A year or so later, a postman cycled past the copse on his way between the town and Coopers’ farm. The shade in summer and the splash of gold in autumn was a welcome contrast to the bleak landscape. He couldn’t remember a time when it hadn’t been there.

    (A number of words, possibly within the concept of ‘about 400’ but if not, well, never mind)


    Patience undoubtedly a virtue (308 words)

    In the same way that Christmas cards seem each year to embrace a different theme – last year it was robins, the year before gold-embossed letters and musical notes – this year’s trend in ‘In sympathy’ cards appeared to be fallen leaves. Drifts of them, beneath trees, along kerb edges, gold and yellow scatterings, bloody acres of them. And before they got to landing, whole trees with half-bare branches, illustrating the aridity of a part-denuded life.

    Less depressing in colour (especially – even – when autumnal) but they tended to be outnumbered by a preponderance of black and white. Etchings, lino-cuts or skillful pen and ink. Tasteful litters of them, deemed more in keeping with mourning, no doubt. Certainly hit the message home.

    As did, even harder – for where the appeal to other senses? – the soft and spineless sympathy, mournful pigeon-tones of verbal ones, left on the phone? Took me right back to the music my grandmother sang along to – all those saccharine, mooing ballads, repetitive heavy-rhyming ‘moon’ and ‘June’ and ‘soon’ doom-laden words. And I’m sure there were falling leaves there, too, sung by Tony Bennett or some such plastic-faced crooner.
    (And, yeah, ‘rock’ and ‘clock’ no less heavy, and just as ubiquitous, but at least they had life!)
    Which he no longer had.

    And, it seemed, neither was I supposed to, from now on.

    Except. Except the life I lived with him had never been the life I’d choose were I alone. (Or with another, I suppose. But that dependent on who.) And had I declined his effortfully-romantic proposal – you guessed: moon and June and wine and roses – I’d no certainty of having the money I have now.

    Money always comes in useful.

    And by the time leaves fall on that recently-dug patch in the depths of the wood where we did our courting, mourning will be well and truly broken.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 2 months ago by Sandra.

    Captive No More

    Immovable behind a wide table, the five children sat strangely motionless. From tallest on the right to smallest on the left, they patiently faced an audience seated on ten rows of scarlet-topped hotel ballroom chairs.

    The tallest child spoke first. “My name is One,” he said quietly, but loud enough. “I am the oldest. I am fifteen years old. My life….” He paused.

    An elderly man with astonishing white hair sat on another ballroom chair by the side of the room. He had nodded as One spoke, then sat still when One fell silent.

    One continued, clearer now. “My first memories are of them-…” at this point his face crumpled, and he looked down and bit his lip, then sat up straight, and took a breath which refilled his sails and propelled him to speak again, “my parents- … of them shouting at me.”

    No breath escaped the audience, neither was it taken; no rustling of clothes, no shuffling, no wringing of hands, no sniffing. They could have not been there, except for the impressions their plump buttocks made in the scarlet upholstery, the stench of their aftershave or eau de parfum, and their vile prurience.

    The second tallest child’s eyes swivelled towards her elder brother, then away – far, far away – beyond the back wall of the ballroom where standing shadows watched, or occasionally turned to each other. Unlike those shadows she spoke loudly, with a tremor in her thirteen year old voice that betrayed anger invisible on her face. “I never ever heard our parents shout.” She looked around at One who still faced straight forwards. “They loved each other, One, and they loved us.” She looked forward, daring the audience to gainsay, and that audience sat lumpen, unmoving as a hill.

    He had nodded as she spoke, and now the elderly man stopped as the girl stopped speaking.

    Left of the girl, her younger brother shook his head once, and again more vigorously, making his straggly hair fall to obscure the riot in his eyes. It seemed that out of sight beneath the table he reached a hand out to his elder sister, and that she reached out to him, but neither betrayed their comfort from the contact.

    The next smaller child – a boy, ten – stirred, and stated boldly, because this was his chance to claw his way out of purgatory, and he knew it, “I need fresh air after all my time underground.” He turned away from the others towards the youngest, looked down at the seven year old and held out his hand. “Please come with me, Five. You deserve this most.”

    Five Ling took Four’s hand and together they stood and without looking back left their siblings, and that mute immobile audience, and the ballroom.

    Heard through the closing door, Four’s young voice was effervescent with sunlight, blue sky, and cheeks tickled by the breeze. “Look, Five, look! Those are birds.”

    The white-haired man nodded, then smiled his piranha smile.


    Yeah, the words are definitely countable, not necessarily within the aforementioned parameters.
    edited to add spaces between paragraphs.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 1 month ago by Barny.

    I sit on the park bench under the pines whose needles clog the spaces between its wooden rungs and whose scent mingles with the faint smell of urine and of the sweet green mould that covers the wood.

    Children race around me, chasing after the leaves that whirl on the wind. I look for you in their faces. I look for me too. But we are not there.

    One stray leaf swerves in, flutters for a while as if desperate to return to its fellows then lands gently on my lap. A sycamore leaf – five pointed and jagged. I trace its spikes. Its surface is still supple like expensive leather, veined in deep red and in between yellow blushing with orange. The colour of the summer sun that made it grow.

    I get up to go, brushing the leaf off my knees, and it lies gleaming among the grey flagstones and the green moss. I think of all things we took home from this park and kept until they crumbled or turned brown or died.

    I take it home and place it between folded newspaper and weigh it down with an old copy of the bible from our mother’s house and one of your old books on dinosaurs. You loved dinosaurs.

    The pressing works. I can hardly believe it. Somehow it seems too simple for this day and age. But in my hands the leaf is perfect. I frame and hang it on the wall above my desk where every morning it reminds me of children grabbing after falling leaves, of you grabbing onto life as the disease ate you away, of good times and bad times. A bitter meditation every morning.

    Until one evening when a lover who you’ve never met, buys me a print from an exhibition you will never go to, done by an artist whose name will never break the silence in your ears. A vase of flowers, caught in the sunlight from an open window. You can feel the warm breeze pushing the curtains aside and dropping petals from an overblown rose on the blue-painted windowsill.

    ‘Look,’ he says. ‘It will look perfect above your desk, light up a sombre corner.’
    ‘But I have something there.’
    ‘I think that’s had it.’
    I look at it properly. It has faded. The leaf veins once so clear and strong have blackened. Mould spots speckle the surface and the edges are shrivelled.
    ‘Time to throw it away, I think.’

    It is definitely around 400 words!

    John S Alty

    Well, I’ve read your entries with great enjoyment. Jeanette gave a beautiful allegorical rendition of the passing seasons, Athers made me laugh with his tale of Norman, the folium-phobiac hoist by his own petard, Sandra found a silver lining and Barney completely confounded me with this disturbing narrative – I’m still asking myself, what the hell is going on here? Then Jane Shuff’s poignant tale drifted in.
    All excellent, as you would expect from this group, but there can be only one winner and this month it’s Jeanette.


    Well done, Janette, and thank you John for releasing words I’d not anticipated writing. Thanks also for some brilliantly enjoyable reads.


    Congratulations Jeanette. It is a stunning piece of writing. And thanks John for provoking such a great collection of stories!


    Congratulations, Janette – nice work! And thanks John for the prompt.


    Totally unexpected, thanks John. Need to go and put my thinking cap on.


    Well done, Jeanette – super piece. Great comp, John!


    Well done, J!
    Apologies, John. I actually wrote something for this but never got round to tidying it up 🙁


    “… confounded me with his disturbing narrative…”

    To explain a little in case this wasn’t clear: Four Ling leaves 🙂

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 1 month ago by Barny.
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