Monthly Competition – August 2021

About Forums Den of Writers Monthly Competition Monthly Competition – August 2021

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  • #10626
    Seagreen
    Participant

    Stealing Sandra’s idea here and giving you the first line of a poem to do with as you will. It’s from Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

    No lower limit to the word count, but no more than 400 words, please. You have until midnight on August 31st to indulge your imagination.

    #10700
    Sandra
    Participant

    I remember …

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood …

    except it wasn’t the wood that was yellow but the fallen leaves, many of which were tinged with gingerbread brown. And it wasn’t a road they covered but a track. At least, one was a track. Green grass centred and, from the narrowness of the wet mud indentations, cartwheeled. Which thought took me, in my mind, further down that track, to the dark forge; the glow of the coals in the furnace and the black silhouette of the horned anvil. As a child, I’d watched sparks fly as rims were hammered thin. Watched them, while pliable, laid round the horizontal wheel. Each spoke shaped as an hour glass. I used to wish they could be made of glass. Filled with different coloured grains so as to spin as the wheels went round.
    A magical, travelling kaleidoscope.

    Then one day I was told never to take that road again. Even though it was no longer yellow. Even though I’d been the first that winter to see it white. The first to see not a double line of cart tracks but hurrying black footprints.
    And a spotted scattering of red.

    [203 words including title – an enjoyable opportunity for a brief stream of consciousness, thanks Seagreen ]

    #10702
    Seagreen
    Participant

    Halfway through the month and still loads of time to get an entry in to this month’s comp.

    If you have a setting waiting to be explored, a weird and wonderful character aching to be brought to life, a misbelief to be addressed, or general mayhem, murder and malice, now’s your chance.

    Don’t be shy…

    #10703
    Knicks
    Participant

    *content warning for a bit of gore down at the end*

    All Woods

    Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. One led to autumn, calm and chilly, its last bronzed leaf picked by a wind still echoing with residual birdsong. The other to darkness, cloaked in mist, where naked trees loomed overhead like a canopy of murderers, intentions ill. The signpost before us was worn with age, the letters slipped away in time and wood rot. Moira could not read them and didn’t seem to know which way to go. Autumn’s beauty called to my senses, but it was the darkness that beckoned, leading me by my very nature down the wintry lane.

    I wanted to be safe. I wanted to be safe. But the call to adventure sang in my bestial blood and I knew I would never find it down well-worn paths. All woods are lovely, dark and deep, but only one is your home. Moira seemed to trust that I knew where we were going, but I was only trusting my heart and knew nothing at all. When the thieving trees thinned at last to reveal the mediaeval castle, it was all I could do to not recoil at the sight. But it was I who led us here, and there is always a reason, even if only in remembrance.

    Still, I pawed at the frozen earth and shied away from the high gates before us, skittish and very much unnerved by their gothic, alien ironwork. Even before I heard her sharp intake of breath, I felt Moira’s heartbeat quickening at what now stood before us, and the gate that slowly opened though no one opened it, and the howl of nearby wolves at our back. She slipped off, reins in hand, and reached to touch my muzzle, the gesture intended to steady. From where she tethered me there in the cobbled courtyard, I could observe the end as it unfolded.

    Moira’s nervous knock on the thick, wooden door. The shadow within shadows. The pause before her muffled scream, and the sudden tearing away of her beautiful face. The wet noises of him feasting on her flesh, hungrily tearing the clothes from her body, crunching her bones. The eternal silence thereafter, as he slipped into the moonlight and fur fell away from a blood-soaked face more beautiful than even hers. He walked towards me then, reaching out with a gentle hand and an even gentler voice.

    “What a fine horse.”

    [400 words excluding the title]

    #10757
    Libby
    Participant

    Two Routes (394 words including title)

    Autumn brought knowledge, and he liked that, the gladness that the year had turned up nothing untoward. Evenings with mild friends, some cricket watched and books read. At work, where he crunched data for the health service, an easy retirement waited a few months ahead.

    This morning before leaving for the office he checked his emails as usual. There was one from his sister. In plain-faced Calibri she stated, “Your nearly home is up for sale.”

    His nearly home. His nearly marriage.

    More text. “Shall we go and have a look at it? I’m curious!!”

    He breathed hard down his nose.

    After work, he rang her. “Why d’you want to see the house?”

    “I need to down-size, it’s the right price, the garden is tiny and the agents reminded me the stairs are easy.”

    She’d had both knees replaced and practicalities were important.

    “You serious?” he asked.

    “Yes. It was always a pretty house.” She’d seen it when he’d been intending to buy it. “You don’t mind, do you? Your laid-back attitude.”

    The frequent little dig about how he lived. It was a self-compliment for her energy. Even in new widowhood she’d hardly stopped for breath.

    ***

    The house was indeed pretty in its terrace. Back in the do-up-everything 1980s the estate agents had called it an artisan’s cottage, though what kind of artisan had never been declared. The porch with trellised sides had held a pink rose; the woman he hadn’t married was especially keen on both porch and rose. It had been impossible, though, the thought of marriage. A mixture of boring and stressful. What he’d wanted, he remembered now, was to relax.

    His sister had collected the key and they let themselves in. The 1980s had disappeared beneath white paintwork, and new cupboards were so sleek that the uneven walls supporting them were occasional shadows. He hardly recognised the layout of rooms.

    His sister was looking around and smiling as if already moving in.

    “It seems weird,” he said, “you wanting this place.”

    “It will suit me fine. And it’s not as if there’s any trace of you here.”

    At work the next day, as he ran statistics for data analysis, he knew that someone else would soon do this job and prepare similar reports. Differences in style were discouraged.

    That remark of his sister’s about trace began to nag.

    • This reply was modified 1 month ago by Libby.
    • This reply was modified 1 month ago by Libby.
    #10783
    Athelstone
    Moderator

    Fox Wood

    When I was little, the two roads through Fox Wood were no more than undergrowth pressed flat by habitual footfall. Now I am old. The roads are asphalt paths. Fox Wood is a quarter of its previous size and instead of the roads emerging onto glorious open fields, they emerge onto Honeysuckle Drive and Rose Crescent, although there is nothing floral about either.

    When I was little, I took the lower road home from school, because it was much longer and dipped down to Fox Stream. I met a girl called Maureen there. I said, ‘Fox Stream isn’t for girls’, and she said, ‘Oh, you can have it then,’ and pushed me in.

    Maureen and I married.

    I pick the lower road, and as I walk it occurs to me that Maureen has been gone for longer than the paths have been asphalted over. I stop and gaze at Fox Stream, although it isn’t anymore. It’s Buttercup Way (Unadopted) and Fox Stream runs in a big pipe underneath. Rumour has it that it is joined by sewer outlets from the expensive private villas.

    The lower road breaks here and I have to walk along the pavement for a few yards until it resumes and I am back in the wood.

    They say that Fox Wood is “doing well” now that it is managed. It is a popular local amenity. The roads have large signs at either end that read, “Cyclists Dismount”. By and large they don’t. It doesn’t bother me much, but sometimes my memory takes me back to the first and last time I ever cycled through the wood. A large hand landed on my shoulder. Constable McCall lectured me on the Highways Act of 1835 and did I think it was clever to have committed a criminal act.

    The lower road joins the upper road ten yards or so from the edge of the wood. To be fair, they were never far apart here. I look back to where they fork. Does it mean much to me? I’m not sure. I know that it meant something once. On and out into the estate. I can see my flat ahead. There is a new development where the old Baptist Church once stood. It will rise three stories and I shall no longer be able to see Fox Wood with its two roads from my kitchen window.

    399 with title

    #10815
    Clebs
    Participant

    Apologies if the formatting is bad. I’m posting from my iPad.

    The Conductor Plays a Tune

    Anastasia straightened the crown of daisies on her head then pulled the bronze slippers from her feet. As soon as she’d placed one on each pathway a hard gust of wind announced the start of proceedings.

    She shut her eyes and clenched her fists, there was a choice to make. The wind swept her almond coloured hair towards the velvet pathway. A dark cushioned surface would be soft underfoot. A comfort as she sought the entrance to the promised bigger world.

    Or perhaps she should take the pitted gravel path with its rain filled holes interwoven with lines of fresh daisies? Harsh underfoot but a more interesting route.

    Anastasia gasped. ‘Did you hear that?’ She took a step backwards. ‘The clouds have clashed. They’re getting closer.’

    In the middle of the crowd a conductor in his black tuxedo waved a baton. A confusion of notes filled the copse.

    ‘Where is the band?’ Her right hand pressed against her chest, her middle finger tapped to the rhythm of the music. With her left hand she wiped beads of sweat from her neck.

    ‘Go left, go right, go left.’ her middle finger shouted as it tapped.

    ‘Go left.’ shouted Idris, ‘I took the right and it didn’t lead anywhere.’

    ‘But Florence took the right pathway and she’s not returned.’ Ambleweed called from the back of the crowd.

    Day became night, the band continued to play, Anastasia’s finger continued to tap. Grey mist settled as night became day.

    Anastasia shivered as the clouds lowered. A small flutter in her chest grew to a thump. The weight of the clouds pressed down on her shoulders increasing the heaviness of her mood. A choice had to be made. Her body shouted left, the velvet path was the nearest, her mind shouted right. She walked towards the pitted gravel pathway where the grey mist moved to form a hand. Her fingertips froze as she reached forward. There was a cold hand. She was pulled closer.

    ‘Thank you my lovely.’ Florence stepped out of the mist and pushed Anastasia onto the pathway. ‘There is no way out my lovely. Just a never ending circle of freezing pathways. Left or right, it doesn’t matter. Keep walking so the clouds will stay away from the copse.

    #10853
    Seagreen
    Participant

    Quick update to let you know I haven’t forgotten. Results will be posted later today.
    Many thanks for your patience.

    #10856
    Seagreen
    Participant

    Five glorious entries and oh, so difficult to choose! Many thanks for participating 😊

    Anyway, down to business. You know what I’m like with feedback so I’ll keep it brief.


    @sandradavies
    – Loved the voice, the descriptive language (gingerbread brown and the notion of a magical, travelling kaleidoscope – how perfect!) Then, just the hint of threat, neatly packaged in a couple of hundred words.

    @knicky – Ooh! A modern day fairy tale – dark and chilling. Such glorious use of language – that ‘canopy of murderers, intentions ill’ and ‘letters slipped away in time’ then, horror of horrors, ‘the shadow within shadows.’ Eek! Poor Moira ☹


    @libby
    – Your first paragraph is so expertly drawn – like watching an artist sketch an outline – and we recognise this person in a few strokes of the pen. And ‘Plain-faced Calibri’ – love it! (My favourite font, so what does that say about me?)
    The underlying thread of his ‘nearly home’ and his ‘nearly marriage’, before the unsettling remark of his sister’s, reels us in and I almost wished I’d given you more words to play with. Almost.


    @athelstone
    – Oh dear. I connected with this straight away which obviously means I am old now, too.
    I was there, nostalgic, resigned, hating what they’d done to the place, with their Buttercup Way and Honeysuckle Drive. (Sigh). And there was never any doubt in my mind that Maureen was the girl for you after pushing you in the river.
    A reflective piece.


    @clebs
    – Clebs! Long time no see! Nice to have you back 😊
    I could see the scene clearly in my head, but so many questions! What were the proceedings and why was it important to keep the clouds from the copse? Who was Anastasia with her crown of daisies and what did she have to do? How long had Florence been missing? And I loved the name Ambleweed! Is this part of something bigger?

    I loved all the stories and, on a different day, I might have picked any one of the others. This time, however, the baton passes to Knicky who edged it with the unexpected element.

    #10857
    Athelstone
    Moderator

    WooHOO! Well done Knicky. Absolutely smoking story. And thanks for the comp, Seagreen.

    #10858
    Libby
    Participant

    Congratulations @knickylaurelle . A wonderful story, so beautifully written. Thank you @seagreen for the competition.

    #10859
    Clebs
    Participant

    Congratulations Knicky! A well deserved win. Thanks Seagreen for the comp. I thoroughly enjoyed entering.

    #10860
    Knicks
    Participant

    😃 Thank you, @seagreen, for the competition and for choosing my piece! I’m so glad you enjoyed it, it was most delicious to write. I took inspiration from what came to mind with the prompt, which was that scene in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast when Maurice (Belle’s dad) was on his way to the science fair with his invention, and Phillipe (the horse) wanted to go the autumnal way, and Maurice wanted to go the wintry way.

    Then they swapped perspectives / motivations, and Maurice became Moira, and got eaten by a Beastly thing, haha 😬🤓

    Thanks to @athelstone, @libby and @clebs too. I’m glad you liked it! All entries were wonderful, and very different, and I enjoyed each one.

    @athelstone
    ’s really touched me. The romance of lives and woods disappearing. The way time changes and breaks things. The necessary stink of progress. And what it all means in the end. Oof! Written for my heart it was. In the deft, microscopic strokes of a handful of words too.

    Will post this month’s comp prompt, shortly. Need to get my mind around articulating the idea, and for that I require coffee. Thanks again 😊✨

    #10862
    Sandra
    Participant

    Late to this, but well done indeed @Knicky, for a poetic tale. Also to @Athelstone – I too had a lane like that in the place where I was born, which decades later had its magic buried beneath tarmac.
    Thanks @Seagreen for the challenge and the feedback – I did enjoy the opportunity to just play.

    #10863
    Knicks
    Participant

    Thank you, @sandradavies 😊

    • This reply was modified 2 weeks, 6 days ago by Knicks.
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