Monthly competition – January 2020

About Forums Den of Writers Monthly Competition Monthly competition – January 2020

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    In honour of the new year, the theme for this month’s competition is The Future. You can interpret that in any way you wish. Around 400 words but happy for it to be a lot less if you prefer.


    Nice one, Jane. I’ll get my thinking cap on.

    John S Alty

    The Future

    “The future is the time we haven’t had yet,” he said, “simple as that.”
    “That may be what the future is but not what it holds,” she responded, “not what’s in store, where it might take us.” Then she got up from the picnic table outside The Black Bull and walked off.

    He thought about that last exchange as he strolled down West Street towards his flat. She’d became agitated, exasperated, frustrated. Why? She was perfectly alright over lunch – ploughman’s for him, spinach salad for her – and afterwards too, as they sipped their drinks. Then she’d asked that elementary question about what the future was.

    “What is the future?” At first, he hadn’t realised it was a question, just one of her philosophical musings. Then, when he saw her expectant gaze he answered, logically, correctly. He now realised she must have been looking for something deeper. His simple answer was unsatisfactory. If he had known she would react the way she did, if he could have seen into the future, he would have described a vision she might prefer, even long for – she’d become a great philosopher, publish papers and a book, marry, have kids. Whatever.

    In his flat he plugged himself into his recharging module. Just before he dropped into sleep mode he wondered if the technical people would ever get the bugs out of the emotional response software.


    A not-so-idle threat

    Even though she knew looking left and right as she opened the discreet dark green door was a dead giveaway for anyone watching, she couldn’t stop herself. Crowds and dazzling Christmas lights made it harder to spot a spy, but surely, after five days at Ivo’s cottage they’d’ve given up by now. Wouldn’t they? The low-level but persistent panic she’d succeeded in subduing whilst away had grown stronger the closer she got to Edinburgh, so by the time she handed back the hire care she’d already decided to take a taxi home.

    She sniffed at rare staleness. Unsurprising since she’d cancelled her cleaner. But warmer than Ivo’s. She emptied her suitcase and stripped the bed – the twice-daily change of sheets a habit hard to shed – and set the washing machine going. Checked the fridge; milk still in date. And the vodka too tempting to ignore.
    A mistake.

    An hour later the doorbell and she too sluggish – five hour drive as well as the drink – to be thinking straight, mis-identified the caller and let him in.

    A big man. Wealthy. (They all were that. Had to be to afford her, but some wore it less ostentatiously.) As he now wore a pretence of good manners.

    ‘What are you playing at, Lucy? Marrying the law? You’ll be playing a very dangerous game if you think you can outwit him –’

    I don’t intend to outwit him. I said last month this, the nasty little arrangement you tricked me into, has got to stop –‘

    ‘And I said you were mistaken –‘ He looked at her, the well-fed – not fat, not yet ¬– face of him bunching round eyes only two shades bluer than glacier mints.

    He’d said, in the early days, he enjoyed the challenge of her; said most women in his life liked his money too much to disagree with him. She’d asked him then what was he worth and had smirked when he boasted.

    He came closer. ‘If you married him in the hope he could protect you, Lucy, you’ve made a grave mistake –‘

    She stood firm. Kitten eyes grown fierce.

    ‘He won’t be around all the time. It’d be a matter of minutes – seconds – to slice that lovely face of yours open. Anywhere. Anytime. Or I could pick a man less squeamish. Who’d do damage enough to ruin what earns you your money. Then where would your future be?’

    [400 words plus title]


    Oooh! Two entries already! How exciting. I am longing to read them but I guess I should leave it until the end of the month. Thank you @sandradavies and @johnalty

    John S Alty

    Oh, go on Jane, have a peek.You know you want to.


    THE FUTURE (379 words)

    For what it’s worth, he never hit me, but then, he didn’t have to. He found so many other ways to hurt me. So many other ways of subjugation without resorting to physical violence.

    You think I’m exaggerating, don’t you? That it couldn’t have been as bad as all that. After all, I’m well presented, aren’t I? Decent figure, nice clothes? Not a bruise or a broken nail to be seen. And there are places women can go now, if they want out. Not like in the olden days where you had to lie in the bed you tumbled.

    You’re probably thinking I don’t realise how lucky I am. That there must be hundreds of women out there who’d be willing to step into my shoes, if it meant they could live in a nice house and never want for anything.

    Anything except freedom, that is.

    Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps you don’t think captivity is simply being confined – in a cell or to the house. Never getting out; never seeing people. I’ll tell you, shall I, what captivity really is? It’s smiling when you’re crying inside. It’s having him read all your letters and screen all your phone calls. It’s not flinching when he touches you. All those other things – debasement, humiliation – I won’t bore you with the details. It’s not having a voice. It’s not having a thought or an opinion that he didn’t put there. Never having the chance to express memy thoughts, my feelings.

    But you’ve already made your mind up about me. Please don’t bother to lie; I can see it in your face.

    My mind is made up, too. His accident was an unexpected release for me. Which is why I don’t care how disabled he is or how much care he’ll need at home because he’s not coming home. Do you understand? Right now, I don’t care what his friends think or what kind of a position this puts you in because, finally, I get to choose and I choose the freedom to walk away – from him and my miserable existence. You can send him wherever the hell you like; my term is up. I have a chance at a future without him and I’m taking it.

    • This reply was modified 2 years ago by Seagreen.

    Wow, Sea, this is hard-hitting and not a word wasted. Superb.


    The Future (399 words with title)

    I awake dry mouthed and tight headed but without the regret usual to such mornings. Sunlight warms the floorboards and in the lane outside my lodging a song thrush rings out his tunes as if he sees something new.

    Last night in Sedham’s rooms, while enjoying his Madeira wine and Spanish sherry, I drank down Sedham’s conversation. He is the son of a viscount. In Oxford there are several such men who like help with essays and have money to pay me. I am a poet. The truth is that the award of my own degree last summer brought satisfaction and no rise in my income. But there is a difference between Sedham and similar undergraduates. He has intelligence and freshness of thought. And he is quite the firebrand. Vive la révolution! he cried last night, holding up a glass as the quad clock chimed midnight. With his lineage I doubt he meant it but I measure his ideas against my life. I try them for fit. Would a revolution help me?

    He reads newspapers and passes his copies to me. We discussed the Army’s retreat after the Battle of Corunna and the condition of our soldiers when they reached British ports. Hungry, shabby, wounded; many had died and horses been slaughtered. Sedham showed one of the turns of thought that make our discussions so lively: all war must be banned. I laughed at the naivety but asked him to say more, being depressed myself by news from the Peninsula.

    He leaned forward and, putting his glass down on the rug, was near sober with seriousness. Journalists, he said. More information must reach home, then the populace will rise against what isn’t right.

    In front of his fire, the intensity of his gaze lit my failure. What a habit I had of conservative views. A crafter of words should breach new clarity but my poetic depictions of mankind’s lot and his potential only repeat what mankind already knows. If a mind could blush, mine did.

    But this morning I believe my pen can describe a new wisdom and, with blood thrumming, I’ll rupture the old.

    I get up and wash, needing to walk to the baker for today’s bread. But at the door the opposite direction beckons, towards open country. There is a bend in the lane. What lies beyond is just out of sight.


    What a wholly satisfying tale Libby. Thank you.


    Looking to a Brighter Future

    Me old bones ache, Vee, sitting here hour-on-hour, gawping at you in that hospital bed. Look how quiet you are; how still. Niver would’ve stayed so still in the old days, hey? Specially when we first met, at the rockabilly café, remember? Shaking the floor dancing and, later, rocking the back of my old Cortina, you shouting my name as we rode the crest of passion – begging and writhing and moaning.

    Aye, the moaning, there were plenty more o’ that … soon as I got through the ruddy door, nagging and blaming and belittling. Shouting ‘til you were red in the face. Screaming ‘til a blood vessel burst. Even then you didn’t have the decency to leave me in peace, did you? Lingering in no-man’s-land, squeezing every ounce o’ pride outer me as I turned into an object o’ pity. I could at least stand proud in fronter folk, out from under yer stuck-up nose. But now all I get is sorry looks, all-on-sundry telling me ‘ow they think I must be feeling – even leaving meals on the doorstep. Charity case, I am, now.

    D’you know what day it is today, Vee? In that there bed in your winceyette nightie, wi’ yer eyes and mouth shut for once? It’s our anniversary, of the day you faced me in that swanky gown and vowed to love and cherish. You can’t have had your fingers crossed else I’d not have got that ring on. How is it then, all I got were spite and torment?

    It’s coming up late now, Vee – I orter be gone. They said I could stay, but I’d rather not, if you don’t mind … unless you’ve an anniversary present for me. Go on, dear, pop off and see yer mam, I don’t mind it being on our special day. Talking of special days, I promise to give you a right proper send-off, plumed horses an-all, if you go, and I’ll make sure I’m seen with a tear in me eye. I’d wear a black veil too if I could, if only to hide my smile. What a future, eh? No more nagging. No more visiting this hell-hole. As for the pity pots, they can keep ‘em. It’ll be pub meals for me from now on, and peace and quiet for afters.

    384 words excl title


    Just a quick reminder that you have until Friday midnight to get your entries for this month’s competition (around 400 words on the theme of The Future interpreted in any way you wish). I know some of you, like me, are fighting to finish your entries for the Winter Competition but can I tempt those of you who are sitting back and basking in the pleasure of beating the deadline?


    OK, late and rather unedited entry, soz! Content warning for miscarriage.

    Tomorrow I Will Rise.

    Tomorrow I will rise. I will smile and talk with friends and I will be braver than I am today. Tomorrow I will rise. Next week I will laugh. Next month, next month I will bleed.

    Today, I count your futures, each possible thread, each vine and permutation. You would have been a doctor or an engineer, mountaineer, teacher, star. Or no, perhaps an artist painting souls, a dancer in the dark and never lonely. You would have lived beneath the sun and loved the sea, hated waking in the mornings.

    What else? What else?

    Your first word would have been your sister’s name, toddling at her heels like a comet’s tail, an aurora dancing in her wake. Your first day at school you would have run off laughing while I cried in the car. On your eleventh birthday you would have fallen off your new bike, carried a scar on your chin into your twenties that your first girlfriend, or boyfriend would touch gently, turn old hurt into tenderness and eroticism. You would have loved generously and hurt terribly, and loved again. You would have loved, because you would have been so loved. You were so loved, you are.

    What else? What else?

    You would have fitted within my arms like the heart of a star, laughed head thrown back and helpless and slept with your hands open wide, catching dreams. You would have had your father’s eyes, and my hair, and my mother’s courage, and you would have been so loved.

    What else?

    I would have held you till you were sleeping, rocked you in the dark. I would have walked with your hand in mine until you stopped me and I would have been so proud. Because oh god, how much of parenthood is simple pride?

    I would have never let you go.

    But I have. I have.

    I have lost you in the dark, in pain and blood and quiet cataclysm. There are no futures now that have you in them, no futures now that will ever be quite whole. I would have loved you so very much. I have, I do.

    Tomorrow I will rise. But not today.

    Xander Michael

    She will go to a palm reader, a magic of the past that few believe in and even fewer practice, but it’s her birthday and she’ll want to do something different today.

    She will have hoped for an older woman with lots of jewels and a kerchief on her head, but she’ll be unpleasantly surprised. Not only will it be a man, but he’ll greet her at the door in a track suit and with a baseball cap worn backwards on his head the way that they used to wear them. She’ll feel overdressed in her best summer dress.

    He’ll welcome her into his apartment which will also disappoint her. It will be completely modern with no art work to speak of. Nothing like the descriptions of mystical rooms with beaded curtains and crystal balls that she’ll have read about.

    Still there will be an air about him that is calming and she will trust him with her future. He’ll offer her a seat on his stiff couch and after he’ll have served her tea and finished with the pleasantries, he’ll sit on the coffee table and gently take her hand in his.

    He will look over her palm in silence and trace his finger down the lines which will tickle her slightly.

    “This is your life line here. Nice and long, curving around the base of your thumb. See these lines coming off of the head line here that go down and intersect with the life line?”

    She’ll nod even though she’ll barely see them. Still, she’ll be instantly absorbed and will want to know more.

    “Those are your past lives which are still unresolved. You’ve got a lot of work to do still for them. About a third of the way through your life they stop and you’ll start working on this life’s tasks, whatever they may be.”

    She’ll squint to focus on those lines and wonder who those people were who will now be her.

    That third line is me. I’m not sure what I’ll be leaving unresolved when I die, slip into the void and eventually return as a woman, but it’ll be up to her to finish it since the two before her failed.

    I look at the lines of my past life, and wonder if I managed to finish all of their work. If my future self finishes what I don’t, will I know?


    Just reading through these, and much fun it is. 🙂 Thank-you all for brightening up my lunch break.

    – that sneaky wee twist made me laugh. 😀

    – erk!! Love the ‘not fat – not quite – not yet’ line, instant image of the man!

    – wow, hard and powerful, and I am totally siding with her!

    – impressive world building in a tiny piece, and so poignant.

    – love the voice, as always! But must confess my sympathies are torn!

    – oooh mysterious! Love the questions this leaves hanging!


    ‘You don’t have a future, not really,’ said Gregor. He shifted his bones on the stone floor making his chains rattle.

    ‘Ah,’ said the philosopher, at length, ‘you’re one of those Zenonians. A Stoic I suppose. You imagine that because we can never sufficiently divide the instant we call the present, then it must be an illusion, as is the future. And indeed, the past.’ He nodded with satisfaction.

    ‘Not quite what I meant,’ said Gregor, ‘actually, I…’

    ‘The trouble with you Zenonians,’ continued the philosopher, ‘is that you confuse the practical rules by which we choose to measure, with the thing itself. Take this chain,’ he pulled at the iron links on his thin ankle, ‘about two cubits, would you agree?’

    ‘Around that, give or take.’

    ‘And if I choose to measure one half of it, then that would be one cubit?’


    ‘And should I measure one half of that first cubit, then that would be one half of a cubit. I can continue for some time. Indeed, I may continue ad infinitum, as the Roman scholars have it. Yet this simple feature of our technique, that division may be pursued even to infinity, is said by your Zeno…’

    ‘He’s not my Zeno.’

    ‘Is said by your Zeno to be sufficient proof that movement is impossible. Look here.’ He adjusted his body so that his chained arm could reach his chained leg. With his index finger he traced a path to the spike driven into the wall. ‘According to your Zeno…’

    ‘Not mine!’

    ‘…in order for my finger to travel from my ankle to the spike, it first must traverse one half of the distance. And in order to traverse one half of the distance it must first – yes? You see? This journey may be divided into an infinite number of steps and hence it is impossible to complete. My finger may not actually do it. And yet, you saw it happen. Hah! Thus is our method or measurement and division falsely compounded with the thing that is measured. And so it is with your naïve view of time.’

    ‘No,’ said Gregor, ‘that’s not what I meant at all. I heard the guards talking.’

    There were voices outside and the key turned in their cell door. A guard entered. He unlocked the philosopher’s chains and pulled him to his feet.

    ‘I meant you. You don’t have a future.’


    Thank you all! I am looking forward to readying them. I am out most of today so results will be posted this evening.


    Nice one, @athelstone 🙂 I want this to be part of something bigger!


    Thank you everyone. And sorry for the delay. We’re away for a few days from tomorrow and I had quite a few things that had to be done before we went.

    A cracking bunch of entries. I hope you enjoyed writing these as much as I enjoyed reading them. As usual I was struck by the many different ways they all responded to the theme.

    1) @johnalty. I thought this was a revealing snapshot of two people misunderstanding each other. They felt truthful and anchored in a real time and place and then the end pulled the rug away from under me. Very clever! Particularly loved the voice in ‘Why? She was perfectly all right over lunch – ploughman’s for him, spinach salad for her ….’

    5) @sandradavies More about Lucy. Excellently structured piece of storytelling taking us from her arrival home with hints of something not right through to full-blown nastiness. I’m enjoying the ongoing saga. Great bit of description with ‘the well-fed – not fat, not yet ¬– face of him bunching round eyes only two shades bluer than glacier mints’

    2) @seagreen A howl of rage with a happy ending or at least a chance of happiness. Powerful and moving, I can’t have been the only person shouting approval at the end.

    3) @libby What a little gem of a story. How did you manage to cram so much into so few words? It had everything. A glimpse into a previous time and place so fresh and alive I could have been there. Two characters who felt rounded and real and one of them experiencing a moment of clarity about what the future could hold; a moment of change. Loved it.

    4) @janette Great characterisation expressed through the actual words and syntax of the voice but also the details of his life – the rockabilly dancing, the Cortina, the winceyette nightie and the meals on doorsteps and his hard-hitting unsentimentality. ‘Go on, dear, pop off and see your mam…’ and you ‘vowed to love and cherish. You can’t have had your fingers crossed else I’d not have got that ring on.’ I felt as though I’d met him.

    6) @raine A poetic and profoundly moving expression of grief. I loved the way you focussed on the what might have been to convey the pain of what had been lost.

    7) @xander78 A very clever and thoughtful riff on the future with the introduction of the actual narrator towards the end suddenly revealing how the past and the future might circle in and out of each other. It made me think.

    You made me laugh when I read this last night which I hope was your intention, but it is a lot more than a joke. It reminded me of Terry Pratchett with its impeccable wit and timing and characterisation.

    I found it very difficult to pick a winner as they are all so different but I’m going to choose Libby’s because it transported me into the world of the story from the first line and left me wanting more. No honourable mentions because I honestly thought they were all great. You are a talented bunch!


    Thank you, @janeshuff . This is the first time I’ve won a monthly Den competition and I’m really pleased, and especially so as everyone else’s entries were excellent and a delight to read. Many thanks!


    Congratulations Libby; well deserved. And thank you @janeshuff for a challenge well set.


    Thank you, @Janette !


    Very well done, Libby – such a strong and individual tale (as were they all) and thank you Jane for the prompting and the comments.


    Great entry, Libby and a very well deserved win.
    Jane – another great competition. Thanks.

    John S Alty

    Well done Libby, excellent. Good job, Jane.


    Congratulations, Libby! 🙂
    And thanks, Jane, for kick-starting my writing year x


    Ooh congrats @libby on a very deserving perfectly formed story! 😊 And thank you @janeshuff for a challenge that got me away from editing/fretting! X


    Just noticed that I forgot to take the numbers off my comments. They mean nothing. I got my OH to print the stories off with nothing to identify them and number them so I would judge them blind. Except for Ath who posted so late he missed the process.


    Ps posting this at the airport. Has anyone been to Seville? Any recommendations as to things to do?


    I spent a day in Seville. I recommend a) don’t drive; it’s considerably more insane than Paris and that’s bad enough b) wear a surgical mask or take oxygen; the air reminded me of London circa 1973 only much, much, worse c) we liked the Plaza de España and the Cathedral, but honestly there’s so much. We were almost persuaded to visit the site of Expo 92 but having glimpsed it early on from an open top bus, I’m glad we didn’t go.

    Have fun!

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