Monthly Competition – January 2022

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    Happy News Year, Den!!

    I know I don’t have to tell anyone that the last 3 years have been a task. Yet here we are! It’s an undeniable wonder. In keeping with that spirit, the theme for this month’s competition is Overcoming Adversary. This is super broad topic, so the actual adversary can be anything or anyone, and I’m expecting loads of diversity and uplifting, feel-good sentiment in how the deed is done. It can be a bit of fiction that is personal to you or something wild and alien and free. Always excited to read your words. No more than 500 of them though, hehe. Deadline at month’s end.

    Andrew Bruton

    Hi. I have been absent from the Den for over a year and just managed to get myself logged back in. I hope everyone has been well. My short story entry is only loosely adversity-based, but it’s very tongue-in-cheek and not very serious. Readers sensitive to bad language and poop should read no further. I spent 2021 getting the kick up my writing butt that I needed after doing the Jericho Writers Self Edit course which was incredible. It’s allowed me to write, write, write and not think too much and pushed me to do NaNoWriMo for the first time (my WIP is now at over 80k). So, with all of that in mind, here is…

    The Toddling Dead

    Brad’s shotgun was rock steady. Each cell got a a quick ninety degree spin, Brad to the left and Jack to the right.
    ‘Clear.’ said Jack.
    Two cells left at the end and a smashed vending machine.
    ‘Dude, can you smell that?’ Jack said.
    ‘Of course I can smell it.’
    They both swung quickly around at the last two cells. On the right, Jack could see an empty cell; one metal bed with a plastic mattress and a metal toilet. ‘Clear!’ He said.
    ’Shit!’ Brad shouted. Jack shot round.
    “What is it?’
    ‘No. Shit. Look!’ Brad pointed into the cell. A man was on the floor, slumped with his head on the metal toilet. Opposite him was a mound of poop the size of small dog. It reminded Jack of a working model of Vesuvius he had made for his school science fair back in fourth grade. There were even rivulets of brown lava coming from the summit.
    ‘Why the fuck didn’t he use the toilet?’ Said Brad.
    ‘Paaaaaaaarrrrp.’ Jack tilted his head.
    ‘Brad, I think the corpse farted.’ Whispered Jack.
    ‘No shi…’
    ‘Holy cr…’
    ‘fut…futfutfutfutfut…’ Brad made the sign of the cross and lifted his shirt over his nose. They took a step back.
    ‘Dude I think he’s…’
    The man’s eyes opened and he scrambled to his feet as the two men raised their weapons.
    ‘Thank God!’ He shouted ‘I thought I’d die in here…’ Brad stopped him.
    ‘Did you lock yourself in here?’ The man was at the bars and both Jack and Brad took a step back; he stank in a way only a mother could ignore.
    ‘Are you fucking crazy!’ He shouted. ‘I crashed my car into a tree and the cops locked me up to sleep it off. Next thing I know, I wake up, everyone’s gone and there’s a vending machine outside my cell.’
    ‘So you have no idea what’s happened?’ Asked Jack.
    ‘They took my phone. Now get me out of here!’
    Jack shook his head.
    ‘Listen.’ Said Brad. ‘On the day you got drunk and crashed, a three year old in Maryland started biting the teachers in his school. Real zombie shit. Kid gets sedated, three teachers bleed out and die.’ He paused. Jack continued.
    ‘Soon there are reports coming in all over. Three year olds, sprinting round biting people, only the bit don’t turn. They just die.’ Brad took over.
    ‘Now I don’t know if you have kids, but three year old zombies are the worst there is.’
    ‘They’ve got speed.’ Jack said. ‘They’ll climb anything and just drop on you before you know it.’
    ‘They’re stupid strong.’ Added Brad.
    ‘No sense of danger.’ The guy’s head was going back and forth.
    ‘You can’t reason with them.’
    ’They don’t sleep.’ Said Jack. ‘They went for their older siblings first.’ Brad lowered his head.
    ’Nobody thought a crayon could be weaponised.’
    ‘We can let you out.’ Said Brad. ‘But understand this. It’s their world now.’


    Not exactly ‘Overcoming Adversary’

    Truth is, I can’t think of anything big enough in my life to count as ‘adversity’. (If it was big, I either ignored, walked painlessly around, or didn’t even notice it.
    So I’m giving you, ‘My writing journey‘, which is as close as I can get.

    If we’re talking about ‘proper’ conscious writing; wanting to set down on paper a story that had been building, sentence by sentence, night after night in my head, as a means of preparing myself for sleep, my journey began when I was around thirteen.
    The hero was an amalgam of characters based on television cowboys (Rowdy Yates et al) and went by the name of Jet. Skinny, black haired, scowling, unpredictable and undoubtedly (albeit undefinedly) ‘bad’.
    I, of course, was the heroine (transformed into something a good deal more attractive than actuality).
    I was kidnapped. Taken, at what must have been a great descriptive length, to a hut in the woods where … knowledge fell far short of yearning.

    Stupidly, (stupidly, stupidly) so buoyed by the beauty and power of my words, I read the story aloud to my parents, aware within half a minute of their discomfort, distaste and and embarrassment.
    The following weekend they sent me to stay with a favourite aunt. I returned to an emptied desk and the news that my cat Pip was dead.
    I didn’t attempt to write fiction again for best part of fifty years.

    2008 I gained an MA in Cultural History and a prize for my dissertation, assured over and over that I could ‘really write’. 2009 (having researched it for 20+ years) I wrote a family history my children might enjoy reading. My daughter declared it ‘boring’ and in January 2010 recommended I join Six Sentences, an online writing group. A challenge to “write something sexy” led me to scrabble together six discarded sentences from something part-wishful, part biographical. That grew to sixteen episodes. Six weeks later, the three-month baby in that tale reached sixteen, and demanded I tell her story. Result: three novellas plus two full size novels, the first of which done in NaNoWriMo 2010. (Biggest surprise there was what a doddle 50K words!) 2011 I added the extra challenge of writing a crime novel (not having read more than a handful myself). This was ‘Step So Grave’. An ‘unwieldy disaster’ according to my daughter.
    But the characters grabbed me and would not let go. I’m now on the first draft of book 6
    They are not, not entirely, crime novels. One reader said ‘Love Triangles with murder’ which is perfect. And they are all books I enjoy reading. I’ve self-published four. But (and this perhaps my unadmitted adversary) I’ve not yet gone down the route of seeking agents, publication.


    Right – it’s ramshackle and unplanned, but at least I’ve done one!!!

    To breathe.

    That’s it. That’s what you need to do to win against this particular enemy. He’s always been there, this one. He’s one of my earliest and definitely my most constant childhood memory. Hunched forward in the dark, fear and aloneness so present in the room they have gathered mass, your whole body bent around your lungs trying to eke one terrible breath, and then another whisper-thin, glass-sharded, fire-aching breath. And then another.

    Two things they don’t tell you: How panic will kill you more surely than anything else, and how tempting it is to stop breathing, and hurting, than to carry on. One thing it teaches you as you measure out your breath in blue-lipped, wordless, rattling increments, is that fear is a monster to be wrestled down without mercy. Hold it by its throat and do not give it an inch or it will take everything; how panic is a grey thing, grey and insidious and clawed but that it is possible, even when your vision fades and the world is nothing other than this pain and this sip of oxygen, and this one, it is possible to exist within yourself like a fortress.

    I remember years of sports days and PE lessons that ended like this. On the floor with panicked voices meaningless and the touch of others meaningless because if there is not enough room in your lungs for air then there is not enough oxygen in your blood for thought.

    I remember her saying, You just need to work through it. It’s like cramp.

    I remember her saying, No, you cannot be excused.

    I remember the day I walked out anyway. That she shouted at me to come back, that I carried on straight to the headmaster’s office and said, I will stop whenever I need to. She has no power over me.

    Fear does not control me, I thought, otherwise I would have died several dozen times. So ignorance doesn’t get to control me either. I exist within myself like a fortress, I breathe.


    Warning: Dark humour.


    ‘Twenty-five years we were married,’ I tell the young police officer as he hands me a cup of tea with shaking hands.

    ‘I’m very sorry for your loss,’ he murmurs, gaze resting anywhere but on me.

    I suppose I should wash and change, but I’m feeling a bit odd right now.
    And it will take more than a wash; I need a good scrub in flowing water. George didn’t approve of showers; he thought them too working class. But a bath would be a mistake under the circumstances.

    ‘He was very particular about the garden,’ I say. ‘Wouldn’t trust it to anyone else. Said they wouldn’t understand his standards.’

    I’d had high standards once too. It’s how George and I had ended up together. Both perfectionists who seemed a fit. We’d brought it into every aspect of our lives: Work. Fitness. Home.

    I take a slurp of tea. ‘There’s a picture of our wedding day.’ I point. ‘And there’s us with the children.’

    The officer takes the opportunity to turn his back on me and stare at the photographs.

    It was when the children came along that things changed. They hadn’t fitted into our lives quite as seamlessly as we’d expected. Suddenly there were sleepless nights, an endless stream of dirty nappies and bottles.

    ‘That’s him playing golf,’ I say. ‘He was the president of the local club.’

    The officer nods.

    The children didn’t change George. He still fitted in his Saturday morning match, and expected a roast dinner with all the trimmings afterwards. The children had to meet his standards too. But did it matter if they didn’t speak Mandarin like the neighbours children, or weren’t blackbelts in karate? As long as they were happy. Surely that was the important thing.

    ‘There’s our Harry at his graduation,’ I say, indicating the picture on the mantelpiece.

    They’ve long flown the nest now. But even without their demands for my time, I didn’t want to go back to the old ways. Wanted to slip into a relaxed retirement. But George would never agree to that. He never let up on me. Slovenly he told our friends. An accident waiting to happen. He was right about that.

    ‘I was holding the ladder,’ I say.

    ‘It wasn’t your fault,’ the officer soothes.

    Not entirely. George had been foolish to leave the shredder running right there under the tree. I could have warned him, but he wouldn’t have listened. It only took a moment. He reached a little too far. I gave the ladder a shake. His scream blended with the whir of the shredder blades. Red sprayed until the motor jammed, leaving legs twitching at the sky.

    He really is one with the garden now.

    I hide a smile, place the tea cup on the coffee table ignoring the coaster and pick a piece of bone off my skirt.

    I feel light. Is this freedom?

    ‘I think I’ll have a shower now.’

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