Monthy Comp – September 2020

About Forums Den of Writers Monthly Competition Monthy Comp – September 2020

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    One of my favourite scenes in one of my favourite books (The Love Song Of Miss Queenie Hennessey), features a beautiful descriptive of a sunset. I love sunsets; the colours within them and the effect they have on landscapes and seascapes.

    I want you to write a piece which features a remarkable sunset. Brownie points if it plays a significant part to the story. Word count is 400 excluding title.

    John S Alty

    The sun melted into the horizon like a knob of butter in a frying pan and behind it the sky was on fire, it’s flames dancing on the restless sea. Soon, for this was the tropics where sunset and darkness are never far apart, a million stars would come out to play. Frank and his sister, Sarah, sat shoulder to shoulder, their feet half buried in the sand, watching the familiar display.
    “Come on, Sarah, we’d better get the signal fires lit”, Frank said as he got to his feet.
    “And a bloody waste of time that will be”, she said, standing and dusting the sand off her backside. “The chances of a ship seeing the fires, let alone reporting them, are non-existent, that’s the truth of it.”
    Frank said nothing; he knew Sarah was probably right but he wasn’t going to fuel another bout of anger and anguish at their predicament. Later, when the fires were burning brightly, they ate the fish Frank had caught that day and drank the last of the day’s ration of water. Unless it rained soon, Frank knew, there wouldn’t be many more sunsets to be watched. The four barrels they’d managed to retrieve from the ship before it completely disintegrated on the rocks were almost gone. Two or three days at the most, for tonight’s sunset had shown no clouds gathering on the horizon.
    As they prepared for bed in the palm thatched hut, Frank cut another notch into one of the support poles. Ninety-six days. It must end soon, one way or another.
    “Good night, Frank.”
    “Good night, Sarah.”
    Frank came awake with a jolt. He sat up, looked around, confused. What had woken him? Then he heard a shout, coming from the direction of the beach.
    “Ahoy! Ahoy! Anyone there.”

    John S Alty

    Excuse the bizarre formatting, this had indents when I wrote it.


    390 words.

    Prison? Or exile?

    My senses woke – to unfamiliar birdsong and the whisper of wind through long grasses; to the brush of warm air across my skin and the scent of lemon lavender and rose petals spiced with cinnamon; to the taste of salt-tinged air on honeyed lips. I stretched, easing joints taut with inactivity, then opened my mind to clarity and my eyes to a smoky topaz sun in a wash of indigo sky.

    Confusion stirred, then anger. Where was I? Was I alone? What crime had I committed to be treated this way? I had no answers. I steadied my breath and pushed upright, allowing this new world to settle around me, only to be unnerved again by the means of my arrival: an ancient doorway – beyond anything I might otherwise have imagined – cut into blood-red rock.

    I had been delivered to this place with the tools to hunt and make shelter so, for a time, I buried the hows and whys of my coming and sampled my new awareness, wary at first of straying too far from the doorway in case someone should realise their mistake and come to set me free. But straying too far became inconsequential when I discovered I was bound to the doorway by a will much greater than my own, and that exploration beyond a certain radius crippled me with an overwhelming sense of loss which compelled me to return. I discovered too, that I was not alone, co-habiting instead with a pale-skinned native species who communicated with hand gestures and a series of grunts and snarls. They had no fear of me – which I took to mean they had met my kind before – nor interest, it seemed, for they resisted my efforts to engage them, abandoning me to a lonely existence.

    I filled my days with the routine of survival and my nights with the pain of darkness and doubt.

    At each day’s end, as the topaz sun merged with the sea, rays of gold set fire to the sky and copper flames leapt across the mountain top. Rivulets of rust would spill down the mountainside like blood through an open vein and I would weep in confusion and beg the doorway for answers.
    On the seventh night of the seventh month, as the sky-fire bled across the horizon, they came.


    The marking of a life, or two.

    This the second funeral in six days and the mourning very different.

    Last week’s was of a mother. Not his, not biologically, but one who had nevertheless mothered him. Had generously included him, enabled him to share in the love she gave her natural sons. Much needed when his own family had been hard and spiky, sly and cruelly deceptive.
    Last week his wife of just two weeks had driven them down, he still incapable. They’d spent the night at a nearby hotel, spare bedrooms at the family home being needed for elderly relatives. He’d not seen Baz, his honorary brother, until they arrived at the church. The assumption he’d walk beside him, behind Baz’s two brothers, shadowed support for their solitary father, a warming moment in the monochrome of the day. A not-inappropriate palette for Sarah Rose, who had never been a showy woman, but whose warmth was steadfast, quiet and reassuring. Giving rather than taking. And always, always there.
    But, in person, never would be again.

    Today, seven days before Christmas Day, the sky once more played its part with a stage-set accuracy which gave rise to a momentary wondering whether God himself had been a client, before he realised, without question, Ed must’ve made a pact with the devil.
    He shared the car with Baz and another who’d known her at eighteen. On the west-facing slope of a sliver of privately-owned moorland, they met with a fourth. Ed Hetherington had known her near exclusively in her early twenties. Had been her landlord, had identified her smashed-up body and was executor of her estate.

    The other men were there as individuals.
    Black-overcoated men whose desire to maintain anonymity was made clear by turned-up collars, pulled-down hats and face-concealing scarfs, unmerited by the weather. Each standing well apart.
    Not one of whom was related by blood.
    Paying individuals.
    And police.

    As Lucy Longland’s coffin was very slowly lowered (each man present holding one end of a black strap) into the peat-dark pre-dug rectangle, a chorus of rooks, in lieu of words, lamented the harshness of her ending as the scarlet pyrotechnics of the sky both mirrored and celebrated a life lived nigh on its entirety for the joy,¬ the skin-slid sweat-streaked crimson blush of orgasm, the end-of-day sharing of hard-worked blood and ever-present promise of more to come tomorrow.
    Except for Lucy it would never come again.

    [398 words plus title]


    How would you describe a breathtaking sunset? Why not come along to the monthly comp and put it into a short story? It’s already half way through the month, it would be great to get a few more entries.

    • This reply was modified 1 year ago by Janette.

    Only 5 days to go for the September comp – and only 3 entries!


    Red Sun

    Sunsets are very different here. Everything is different, but it was the sunset that I was staring at last night. Or rather, the absence of a sunset.

    OK. No sunset. Tell you what, there aren’t any asthmatics here on Grissom’s planet either. I’m not blaming anybody; when a 300-mile-wide asteroid drew a bead on Earth at twenty-five miles per second, you didn’t waste time. You just took whatever transport was going. So, Jess and me jumped on a Christian Science mining ship bound for Grissom and when the third planet briefly became a second sun, we were already 17 light years from the solar system. At the time it didn’t seem important that Jess had an occasional breathing problem.

    Staying busy – that’s the trick. When everything you ever knew has gone, you just focus on anything: any work or study that gets you through the day. Jess took it hard. She’d been a scientist specialising in history and most of what gave her life meaning was vapour circling a sun 20 percent of the galaxy away. It didn’t help being surrounded by people who believed that antibiotics came a poor second to prayer for treating bubonic plague, and that illness is an illusion. Jess had some thoughts about that.

    She figured out why asthmatics were dying, and coincidently, why our sunsets are crap.

    Grissom’s planet circles a red giant. When around ten percent of the people started coughing, Jess realised that radiation from that big old red thing up there was producing atmospheric acids. The acids were benign except for asthma sufferers. Asthma sufferers died. And the acids suppressed cloud formation, so just an even mist layer. No sunsets. Red sky. Red sun.

    Loads of plant life. No animals or bugs. Enter the Christian Science mining corporation, with a handful of passengers. And God bless them, they had given us free passage and asked for nothing in return. Only they didn’t bring any medical supplies, or a doctor.

    That was fifty years ago. Jess lasted one of those years. She died in my arms as we watched the huge red sun sinking through the red sky.

    ‘I can see blue,’ she said, ‘and brilliant orange and yellow. It looks like the sunset on the day we met. It’s unbelievable. So beautiful.’

    I held her long after she had ceased to move and the sun had gone.

    I saw only red.

    400 words plus title


    ‘We have picnics at Stonehenge when we’re off-duty, it’s enormous fun.’

    (400 words)

    You lean back against the fallen stone, head tipped so that your horizon is the great circle of stones and a mosaic sky. Smoke from your cigarettes moves through the air like moths and the stone is cold against your arms, your hips. The others are laughing, but you and the girl beside you are not. You lift your cigarette, feel the burn, watch the wingbeats of your breath rise. Between aluminium clouds, the heavens are the colour of tears.

    ‘It’s clearing,’ the girl says.


    ‘Whisky?’ One of the doctors rears up from your feet like a resurrection. ‘Twelve hours till we’re back on. Have some more.’

    You don’t look at him because sometimes it’s better not to. You are all drowning, and all lying about drowning, and your limbs weigh as much as worlds but you have twelve hours and there would be no sleeping tonight so you may as well drink, and smoke. The clouds are clearing, the moon will be high.

    If you tilt your head just so you can look through a standing arch and the outer circle beyond to where the wounded sun is falling towards the plain. It’s midsummer; the last blood-red rays of the long day will die here on the altar stone where you wait, smoking moths, drinking fire. Off-duty and with a scrounged tank of petrol you have escaped the hospital, the city, the inexorable hours when you either sleep as if the world had already ended, or cannot sleep at all in case it does. The clouds are gilded lead and someone passes the whisky again. Your throat burns peat, smoke, falling stars.

    ‘Who’s our sacrifice tonight?’ someone calls.

    The sun fills with blood and fury, the sky is steeped in fire and then light slips between stones, blinding you. There is a ragged cheer. Midsummer.

    It will be clear tonight. The bombs will fall. You pass the whisky down to the doctor at your feet, he says something you do not hear. You are hours away from blood and death again, again, again, and the sun dies against the stones the way it has died for four thousand years.

    ‘Poor bastards,’ someone says. ‘Here, pass the bottle. Let’s have a song.’

    You sing. The night rises like the tide. Searchlights appear in the valley, cleave the bloody tendrils of the sunset. The stones sleep; you do not.




    And the theme for this evening is Armageddon. Car after car heads west into London under a roseate sky, a bursting bloom, seepage of orange and crimson, a lure like a turn-on.

    I drive. We all drive.

    Earlier today, Clare’s voice on the phone.

    – Who is Emily?

    Emily. Emily naked.

    – Dunno. Why d’you ask?

    – You left your office mobile behind. It rang. Your office number. I answered because I thought it would be you.

    I was in the office when she told me this. At my desk I searched my keyboard for a grasp at normal. Caps lock and qwerty.

    The cars in this queue stretch like a narrow audience in front of a screen but a few drivers come the other way – night workers going to all the offices in the suburbs. Most people agree it’s better to work in the ’burbs where each building has its patch of greenness and there are soothing lakes to walk around, keeping everyone cool.

    We day workers are so calm we lose track. I forgot my phone and Clare has found out. When this happened last time she made a threat.

    I look through the windscreen. These sunsets are quite common, and Clare and I watch them from our apartment opposite the British Museum. The view of them is interrupted by buildings but living in London is cheap and although we don’t see the sun sink low we do see its flare. All our neighbours love the way the sky’s hugeness is like a gift. The space in the suburbs isn’t the same and we come home for real life.

    To recognise what home means to us, the floodlights playing the walls of the Museum are coloured like a rosy sunset. The colours slide across the steps and the portico. During the day, pinks, reds and yellows shine from the flowers in beds dug between the street and the Museum. The roses crowding together and growing up arches are a favourite with most people, and a public vote picked the most comforting varieties: China Blush, American Pillar and Peace.

    I don’t know what’s right or wrong but understanding politics is difficult and sex is easier. It’s easier even though everyone should be in a couple and single life is made difficult.

    When I get home Clare will throw me out.

    Emily already has a partner.

    I drive. We all drive.

    398 words


    Six entries this month, each a real pleasure to read, but the strength of writing has made judging a tough order.

    John S Alty – Sunset
    I thoroughly enjoyed this story of Frank and Sarah shipwrecked and stranded on an island. Loved the ‘knob of butter’ image of a sun setting, though felt the expression could have been strengthened if it was written in context (reminded him of home cooking?). The depth of hopelessness, lifted by that final call, was a perfect ending to a well-penned story.

    Seagreen – Prison or Exile
    Stunning observation of a person newly passed through a doorway into a different world. It had mystery and tensity, and was enriched with brilliant descriptives like ‘Rivulets of rust spilling down the mountainside like blood through an open vein’. I wanted to read on – yearned to know why/how/where. Is there more? I hope so.

    Sandra – The marking of a life, or two
    A strong, emotion-laced story of a funeral – or two, which told so much in so few words due to excellent phrasing. Loved ‘A warming moment in the monochrome of the day’, and the sunset being a ‘promise of more to come tomorrow – except for Lucy’. Steeped with feeling and a joy to read.

    Athelstone – Red Sun
    Stunning twist – no sunset – great hook. Again using so few words to say so much about how they came to be on Grissom. Loved the expression that antibiotics came a poor second to prayer (being a Christian Science ship). And just as I’d given up on it – that scene of Jess dying to a different though stunning sunset. Perfect.

    Raine – We have picnics at Stonehenge when we’re off duty, it’s enormous fun.
    A remarkable monument with a remarkable story woven around it. Where better to watch the comings and goings of the sun? Full of breath-taking phrases – ‘the clouds are gilded lead’, ‘the sun fills with blood and fury’ and ‘The sun sleeps, you do not’ among my favourites. A strong element of ancient wonder with a distinct flavour of the here and now. Fabulous.

    Libby –
    A journey home of a cheating husband, his mind ticking over what has passed while he observes the urban scenery compared to the suburban sprawl. Beautifully described. Particularly liked ‘The cars in this queue stretch like a narrow audience in front of a screen’, also the comparison between the coming night shift and the returning day workers. His acceptance of his fate is a perfect ending to a thoroughly enjoyable story.

    I struggle to single out a ‘Honourable mention’ because each had strengths I loved. On the basis that I was so compelled to read on, not to mention that breath-taking descriptive of a sunset, I choose Seagreen and Prison or Exile as this month’s winner.

    • This reply was modified 12 months ago by Janette.

    Congratulations @seagreen. I love the voice in your story.


    Great stuff @seagreen. Super story.

    John S Alty

    Well done, @seagreen, excellent story.


    Just remembered to check in… Well done @seagreen!! It’s a fab story! And thank you @janette for the kind feedback and giving me a lunchtime prompt! 😊


    Eek! Sorry about this, but I’ve been caught on the hop. Loved ALL of your stories and wasn’t expecting to be anywhere near the podium this month.
    Thanks to Janette for hauling me out of a particularly deep rut with the theme for this comp, and thanks to all of you for challenging me to be better.
    I think I have a idea for October…


    Well done, Sea – and also for the theme of next month’s competition.
    Thanks Janette, for an opportunity to rehearse a scene, and for feedback.

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