Monthly comp – October 2018

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


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    Left Luggage

    You can be the finder, the keeper, or the person in the lost and found looking after the following items:

    An old army great coat
    A banjo or ukulele
    A plastic lunchbox with a 60’s TV theme (contents up to you)
    A spellbook (my nod to Halloween)

    Choose one and weave a compelling story around its loss or discovery.
    No more than 400 words, please.


    Nice prompt… Looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into this one.


    Seagreen, what a juicy idea. I will try on paper and see where it leads. I haven’t written anything for years.


    Earth and smoke and iron

    It were an odd one and no mistake. She were odd. Educated; not from round here. ‘Otherworldly’ some might say.
    She lugged it in, wrapped up in brown paper, tied with string. Knots sealed with blobs of scarlet wax.
    ‘You’ll ‘after tell me what’s in it, lass –‘
    ‘A coat. An army one. That’s what’s the smell –‘
    I sniffed. And aye, beyond the paper there was earth and smoke and iron. ‘Who’s is it?’
    ‘It’s Paul’s – He’ll need it when he comes. I’ve told him I’ll leave here, to collect.’
    ‘And when’s this Paul coming for it, lass?’
    ‘Soon. He said soon –‘
    Her face all aglow in an expectation I hoped would not be broke. Seen too many o’ them over the last few years. ‘I’d best ‘ave your name, lass. And an address.’
    That fazed her. Didn’t want to say but couldn’t bring herself to tell a lie.
    ‘It’s Leonie’ she whispered.
    The address she gave the pilot’s cottages, down at the tip of Spurn Point. Last time I was there they were ugly black-tarred wooden huts. Three or four mebbe, but no place for a lass like this one.
    Like a crystal glass in the roughest sailors’ dive.

    Weeks went past. No-one came. No surprise. Then I met Meg Partridge in the street. She a pilot’s wife. Built like a tank, six bairns in five years and stood no nonsense. I asked her, ‘D’you know a Leonie? Married to a Paul?’
    Her face did a somersault from scorn to pity and back again. ‘Paul? Her man’s John Cooper –‘
    ‘Brother, then?’
    ‘She’s no-one else. John rescued her. Vicar’s daughter, didn’t know owt about anything. When John took her – and he’d put himself to the trouble of wedding her first!– damned near screamed the place down, John said. ‘E’s besotted. Made a promise to a dying man to look after her. Guess that could be Paul.’
    ‘If no-one comes for it soon I’ll ‘after let it go. Can you tell him to come and fetch it.’
    John Cooper wasn’t best pleased.
    ‘There’s no such coat, ‘cept in her imagination, which has Paul wrapping her in it on the beach every bloody night.’
    ‘Best we open it to make sure –‘
    But sure enough, all there was was the smell of earth and smoke and iron.
    ‘Iron?’ John Cooper said. ‘That’s the blood he shed before he died.’

    [400 words + title]


    Argent Strings

    In his dreams the nylon twanged faster and faster, jumping like fleas, until –

    Until he woke. The hipster fashion for tiny instruments had not run dry. Instead it had uncovered a sinister network of enthusiasts, meeting once a month in railway huts, disused kiosks. The world’s abandoned places. But why? That was his job, to find out.

    Find out and report back, to the Mandolin Society.

    He smoothed his cream collar down. The lost-and-found was as good a place as any. Ukelele player? The attendant’s mouth was a stern line. No. Sorry. Not seen one for ages.

    But as he was about to re-enter the platform, the man spoke again.

    Got an instrument here, sir, if you’d like. Been here for months. No, no-one’s claimed it. Take it if you like. No, don’t be silly. There you are. Nice woodwork. Mind how you go.

    Mind how you go. Sage advice from the lost-and-found porter. He minded how he went. As he stumbled over metal tracks he thought about Kamakawiwoʻole, dead from a heart attack. Of course the papers cited obesity and it was a compelling argument. Of course it was. Of course they did.

    Elvis played the Uke. That was a clue right there. “Soupy” Campbell. Formby. John Lennon. Jesus, Justin Hawkins? Greta Garbo. The list went on. Could Fozzie Bear be the source? Think smaller. Find the hidden places. Hawaii? Too obvious. An asylum in Italy, a fairground in Pripyat, all covered in radiation. They wouldn’t meet there.

    Or would they? In war, all things were possible.

    The flight attendant raised an eyebrow. A ukulele? her expression said. His nod confirmed it. The Society. She understood. Have a good flight, she replied in broken English. He would.

    October Ukranian winds whipped his coat and for a second, he was tempted. The Society advised against strumming, and rightfully so. He was minding how he went. They could stamp that on his card. Strum the strings – whoever heard of such silliness? Tremolo picking was the way. What would Justin Hawkins say?

    Quite a lot, apparently; the radio played I Believe In A Thing Called Love. Damnable irony.

    Its home is here, my friend; think about where we are. It’s not the player, it’s the instrument. That was the driver’s input, the damnable lutist. He took the weapon and strummed its strings.

    Damnable radiation. The sound they made was quite pleasing.


    400 on the nose, excl.

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 7 months ago by Jonathan.
    • This reply was modified 3 years, 7 months ago by Jonathan.

    That’s a cracking idea, Sea!


    Should I look forward to seeing an entry? 😉


    Never Judge a Book

    No, sir, we don’t hold property any more. Not since 1 October. Yes, you did just miss out. Yes, if it was a gold bar we probably would look after it and if you ever find one of those on a park bench then don’t hesitate to come straight here. But this is a book. Well, look after it but leave us the details and we’ll contact you if anybody asks after it. Twenty eight days. It’s yours after twenty eight days, but if the owner turns up they might try to claim it back in court. Well, no, it’s a bit tatty so probably not. Yes, sir, it does look quite old. I’m no expert but I’d guess nineteenth century. No, not a thousand years old. Well, first because it doesn’t look a thousand years old, second because the earliest printing press was invented less than six hundred years ago. No, sir, I’ve already said I’m not an expert, I just paid attention at school. Well, sir, I’m still a sergeant because I made certain career choices; choices I sometimes wonder about.

    Look, do you want to report this found item or not? No, you can’t just dump it in the bin. Because we can’t have people walking into a police station just to bin stuff. What do you think you can do with it? Read it maybe? French? It’s not written in French – that’s Latin. Yes, I’m sure. Because I can recognise Latin even if I can’t understand it. Give it here. Praemium lege vestra – something to do with premium: the best of something or a price? No idea, sir, maybe it’s a Victorian self-improvement book. No, you won’t be able to improve yourself much.

    Right then, if you’d just like to complete one of these, er, one of these… I’m sorry, I had a pile of forms right here this morning. Stay right there, sir, and I’ll just get a couple more, I won’t be a second.

    Right, now where did I put those forms? God, what is that smell? Is somebody burning a cat out there?

    Oh great, he’s gone, what a surprise. And we’ve gained a tatty old book written in Latin. Funny, it looks bigger than I remember – much bigger. Oh, this can’t be the same book. Bloody little chancer taking the Micky out of me. Title’s in English: Read your Reward.

    398 words excl title


    The Book of Death

    I’ve waited a long time to claim this one; lurking in shadows at each sniff of her foetid breath, or a glimpse that would transpire to be a rag in a tree. One day she would err, I knew it. Until now though, the loathsome hag had remained one move ahead, vanishing into the night before I reached the aftermath of her latest curse.

    Of course, the greatest part of my work must be done incognito, usually a nurse or the ringer of a loved one. I’d never hook a soul while my skull grinned out from beneath a hooded cloak, now would I? Today, I’m the man in Lost and Found. Pity I had to take out the real one though he should be grateful: the tumor in his brain would not have been as merciful. So, a lunchbox and banjo left to claim beside the book I’m watching. I do hope their owners aren’t as quick to come forward as the soldier was for his great-coat. Twenty-two was no age to look death in the face.

    I thought she’d have been here by now, despite the exhaustion she must have felt after last night’s cursing frenzy. Séance, she had told the poor wretches; twelve teenagers to make up the magic thirteen. The nerve of that hag; I decree who might live and who died. In the least, I’d have spared them the torture. Her attack was so manic that after five-hundred years of stealth mastery, her lapse was as foolish as a left book on the 23:45 train. Not any book either. It was the Book of Death, no less, left for any callow halfwit to find. And look how the hag had corrupted its pages, scrawling curses and spells from cover to cover. More to the point, while both have been missing over the centuries, the human population has become more like an infestation. Nature cannot sustain such a burden. Much longer and the whole earth would die.

    Once back in my grasp, book and hag will be guarded like life, or should I say death, depended on it. Ah, here comes a woman wearing a scarf, perhaps for the lunchbox that looks like it came from the same era … except I’d know those eyes anywhere. The moment she stretches out her clawed hand, I’ll have it, then it’s straight to platform 666, destination hell.

    399 words excl title


    I’m living on me nerves, so I am, wondering where the next comp entry is coming from… I know there’s one out there. I can feel it, see?
    And it scares me.


    I know it doesn’t work in quite the same way, but *Bump*


    Also, bumpety bump

    John S Alty

    The Banjo
    The phone rings in the lost property office at Euston Station in London.
    “Lost Property, Smith speaking, how may we help?”
    He takes a sip from his tea, listens.
    “Yes, sir, anything left on a train on this line ends up here. Assuming it’s turned in, like. What have you lost?
    “So, a banjo is it sir? Well let me have a look, won’t be a minute.”
    A smile plays across his lips. Paddle faster, I hear banjos. Old joke.
    “Sorry to keep you waiting sir, had another customer to deal with. Well, I don’t see a banjo in the log, sir. Sorry about that.
    “Yes, I hear what you’re saying, sir. Duelling Banjos with only one banjo would be a bit of an anti-climax, I agree and I can see why that might be a problem for you at your gig tonight. There isn’t a banjo in the log, though, and if it’s been turned in, it’ll be here.
    “I do sympathise, sir, and I’d like to help you but I don’t know what I can do. Hang on, look, the latest load has just been delivered, if you bear with me I’ll have a browse through it. OK, sir?
    “Yes, still here, sir, I’m having a look. There’s an old green greatcoat here, bloody odd that ‘cos it’s been a bit parky of late. No, I understand, sir, just talking to myself.
    “An Elvis lunch box, a stack of books, always get lots of books of course. Hmm, here’s something. Four strings, bit like a guitar. It’s a ukulele, sir, I’m sure of it, my Uncle Harry used to play one.
    “No, I can see that sir. Wouldn’t be much of a duel, a banjo versus a ukulele. I can see that, yes.
    “Ah, here it is! Well, it’s a banjo, can’t say it’s yours for sure. Could you describe your particular banjo for me?
    “Well, you’d be surprised. We have over three thousand umbrellas left every year so it wouldn’t be a stretch to find two banjos, now would it? It’s not my fault you’ve lost your banjo, sir, I’m just trying to help.
    “I don’t think saying it looks like a lollypop with strings is sufficiently precise to allow a definite identification, sir. And, I have to warn you, we don’t tolerate that sort of language. Good bye, sir.”


    A Story of No Importance
    Or, Lady Wokingham’s Ban
    Or, Baloné: A Tragedy in One Act

    Was meeting the in-laws ever straightforward? Alton reflected on the frosty atmosphere as he pushed his food around his plate. Gwen gave him a smile when her mother’s attention was otherwise engaged but he could tell she felt as awkward as him. Every topic of conversation quickly ran into him saying something that displeased the patrician Mrs Wokingham.
    “What’re your politics, Mr Towers?” Gwen’s mother asked after the silence became too painful.

    “Er, I don’t really…that is…”

    “Mum!” Gwen protested.

    “You must have some political opinions,” Mrs Wokingham pressed, ignoring her daughter. “You’re not dull enough to pay no attention?”

    Damn, so he couldn’t get out of it that easily. He grasped for the thing that would offend the fewest people, and what came out of his mouth was the exact opposite. “I’m a Liberal…Democrat?”

    Mrs Wokingham tutted, and returned to her Sole Veronique. “Your parents must be so disappointed.”

    “I wouldn’t know,” Alton said before he could stop himself. “I don’t know where they are.”

    Mrs Wokingham stared. “You mean…you’ve lost your parents? That’s not very promising for when you have children.”

    “Mum!” Gwen yelped.

    Alton put down his fork. “I’m sorry Mrs Wokingham, they abandoned me by the M6 when I was a baby. I was found by a couple who had tickets to a theme park…”

    “You were just left by the side of the road?” Gwen’s mum shrieked. “The M6 of all places? How unhygienic.”

    “I wasn’t just lying there, Mrs Wokingham. I was in a lunch-box.”

    “A…lunch-box?” Gwen’s mum’s eyes were bulging alarmingly and it looked as though she was having trouble breathing.

    Alton had had enough. “Yes, Mrs Wokingham. I was in a lunch-box. A large, plastic lunch-box. With ‘Captain Scarlet’ on the front. A very ordinary lunch-box.”

    Mrs Wokingham’s face turned grey. “Gwen, dear,” she addressed her daughter. “I don’t think you want to be tied to someone who was raised in a lunch-box, do you? Your last boyfriend, Ernest, wasn’t raised in a lunch-box!”

    “Mum…” Gwen sighed. “It’s very important to me that my future husband is not Ernest.”

    “Future husband?” Alton stared at her. “Do you mean?”

    “Of course, silly.”

    Alton grinned. “But first, there’s something you don’t know. It wasn’t just the lunch-box. That was itself inside a hold-all. With a picture of Harrison Ford’s character from Star Wars.”

    “A HAN BAG?” Mrs Wokingham screamed, “I forbid it!” and fainted.

    400 words excluding titles

    • This reply was modified 3 years, 7 months ago by Daedalus.

    Last day to put in an entry for the Den monthly competition, people… 🙂

    Xander Michael

    “Let’s go. Everyone’s gone!”

    “Not yet, there’s still one coat left.” I only been working in the cloak room for less than a month, but I take it seriously. It’s my first job after my stint in jail. Nothin’ bad, just got me some sticky fingers is all. Then of all the jobs to land after that, I gets a job takin’ care of other people’s belongings. Who says life ain’t got a sense of humour?

    “Then they left without their coat. I checked the loos, they’re all empty. If they miss it they’ll be back for it,” Ralph says, opening the door to a brutal winter wind. “C’mon I gotta lock up.”

    Fat chance anyone’d go out in that weather without their coat. “I’ll check the pockets. For ID, ‘kay?”

    Ralph rolls his eyes at me, but don’t tell me not to. I hurry my fingers into the pockets of this old army great coat. Feels good to go looking even though I’ve kinda got permission to, but the pockets is all empty and I find only a crumpled up scrap o’ paper in the breast pocket what was buttoned shut. I unwrap it and read it twice, but it don’t make no sense.

    I’m sorry. This coat is yours now.

    I come ‘round the counter to show Ralph the note, but he’s comin’ to me with his hand in the air sayin’ “Whoa! What d’you think you’re doing? Take that off!”

    “Wha’?” I said.

    “It’s a nice coat sure, but you don’t get to take it just cause someone forgot it.”

    “I ain’t takin’ —“ but I am. It’s on me. Feels great too. Nice weight. But I don’t remember puttin’ it on. I take it off and go to show Ralph the note, but he’s standin’ there, arms crossed, lookin’ at me like I’m an idiot. The coat’s back on me, but I know I didn’t put it on.

    I go to give the coat to Ralph, you know, gotta show I ain’t stealin’, but then I sorta black out and next things I know Ralph’s on the ground out cold at my feet. That’s bad.

    I run outside and immediately the coat’s collar goes up, protectin’ me from the wind. I know it sounds crazy, but I swear it’s true.

    But the note lied. The coat ain’t mine. It don’t belong to anyone. I belong to it.


    Thank you all for taking the time to post an entry, especially Sandra, who kicked things off (phew!), but later withdrew by reason of unavailability to set the next comp should she win.

    Anyway, as most of you know, I’m rubbish at any kind of feedback so I’ll keep this short.

    Sandra – strong voice. And some perfect turns of phrase – ‘Like a crystal glass in the roughest sailor’s dive’ and ‘Her face did a somersault from scorn to pity and back again.’ Loved it!

    Jonathan – I won’t pretend to fully understand this, but you have an easy way with words which I envy. Strong scene-setting – from the world’s abandoned places to the October Ukranian winds whipping his coat. Not a superfluous word anywhere.

    Ath – another strong voice (as ever!) and a character we can all relate to. I enjoyed listening to it and hope it made you smile as you wrote it 😊

    J – you put me in mind of The Book Thief. You’ve packed a lot into it with some excellent word choices, and my favourite phrase has to be ‘a glimpse… be a rag in a tree’

    John – voice again. Who hasn’t met this character? Or can’t recall a conversation much like this one? Simple and effective.

    Daeds – you surprised me with this. (Don’t ask me why). It had a kind of Wodehouse feel I liked. As for the lunch-box, when I plucked the 60’s TV theme out of my head, it came with a Sting-Ray/Fireball XL5 image, so Captain Scarlet was a good choice. And a Han Bag?

    Xander – Welcome back! And with yet another strong voice. What I like most is the ease with which the reader is sucked into the scene and the casual way you leave us wondering what happens next.

    You are all honourable mentions, but my winner this month, for leaving me with an odd, unsettled feeling, is Jonathan.


    Wow. Gobsmacked. I wasn’t expecting this. It’s a change from the crack of regular rejections I’ve been getting used to, so thank you Seagreen! Great entries all 🙂

    I’ll set another prompt shortly. Just … got to come up with something.


    Congratulations Jonathan, fascinating story – sounds like there’s a lot more to it than in the words on the virtual page. And congratulations to everybody who entered. I’m in awe of how you manage to come up with stories at the drop of a hat. Every month I read the prompts and think I’ll have a go but somehow I never do. Maybe this month….


    Yes, sorry, meant to congratulate the worthy winner – great, unsettling and dreamlike tale that owns the innate silliness of the tiny guitar and the bizarre phenomenon of the vast ukulele band. Great stuff, and thanks Sea for a challenging and fun competition

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