September 2019

About Forums Den of Writers Monthly Competition September 2019

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    Right, many of you know I use paint samples as one of my writing prompts in creative writing sessions; now you get to have a go.

    The samples are all beige/brown in colour. Your challenge is to pick one of the following names given to the shades of brown and give me a max of 400 words, using the name as a title. Your choices are;

    Je M’Appelle Missy
    Dream Weaver
    Tortoiseshell Specs
    Seed Cathedral
    Battle Drab

    Go to it!


    What a fun idea. Who’d have thought there were so many weird and wonderful names for beige. I shall get my thinking cap on.

    Baz Baron

    Interesting prompt. Some call me, Baz. Some call me, Chris(real name).


    Squidge, you mentioned paint colours when we did the Lords and Ladies, and I’ve been gathering them as prompts ever since.


    Sandra, they are fun, aren’t they? Valspar (Other paint companies also available!) are the absolute best ones – much more imaginative than others I could mention!


    Early because I’m about to go on holiday (and yes, Squidge, definitely Valspar!)

    Battle drab (400 words including title)

    DS Fran Lloyd had visited Lucy before; remembered the picture window framing a stunning view of Edinburgh’s Castle perched on its volcanic mound; the stepped backsides of the buildings fronting the Royal Mile and a sliver of the Forth, Fife’s hills beyond.

    That time, Lucy very much alive and Fran, given what she knew (he’d mentioned it, before he said he loved her) struggling to maintain her confidence. No such problem now! Not that death too soon, was anything to rejoice about – but she couldn’t deny the new-lit flicker of a tiny flame of relief when she heard.

    The team sent to search her apartment – not the crime scene – an all-female one. Fran hadn’t needed telling male colleagues potentially problematic. No-one mentioned souvenirs, but all too easy to imagine the stampede and depletion of laundry basket and knicker drawer!
    Having also been told Lucy’s earnings came into the phenomenal, no surprise the place furnished throughout with both money-no-object and good taste. (He, not deemed one of the impartial, unlikely to forgive anything less).

    The surprise was in the dressing room. A once-square room narrowed by opposing mirror-doored wardrobes. Ironing board permanently set up in front of the window.

    Lucy was petite, kept herself in trim and, as something much more than a whore – ‘courtesan’ her tax-return job-title, though she’d told Fran she considered herself a mistress. ‘Times five’ she’d said. ‘Escort’ another of her titles – men liking to flaunt what they thought they owned, hiding from themselves they were one of several.

    Again no shock re the quality and quantity of working clothes. Dozens of dresses, outfits, for all occasions. Working, searching through them exclamations became repetitive. Silence fell. Nothing of significance found.
    Immediately opposite the dressing-room’s door, a similarly-sized white-painted blank. Took a moment to spot the covered keyhole. Many more to find the key, in a purpose-built box glued to the underside of the ironing board.
    Trying not to let imagination run amok, Fran unlocked it. Not trophies of lovers lost (Just as well!) but shelves of cheap-brand jeans and fleeces, trainers and a baseball cap. Scarfs and several pairs of sunglasses. Even a camo jacket. All ubiquitous, anonymous, guaranteed near-invisible.
    Fran recognised a downside to Lucy’s apparently glamorous life of luxury (apart from the obvious!). She had to maintain the illusion. Couldn’t be seen out with friends. Not unless she dressed to hide. Battle drab.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 8 months ago by Sandra. Reason: spacing


    In my dreams I’m strong and fearless. My sword is sharp and silver, but I won’t stab you if I don’t have to: I’ll give you the chance to surrender and walk away.
    But only one chance, mind.
    In my dreams, there are green trees that smell of apples and yellow roses that fill the garden with sunshine. Vampires and monsters turn to dust when they see them, even if they’re only peeking over the gate.
    In my dreams, the snow is white but it’s never too cold to go out and play. I can make a giant snowman while the sun is shining and he’ll still be there a week later. Two weeks later. Maybe even three.
    In my dreams, there are chocolate biscuits that don’t rot your teeth and vegetables that taste of rainbows.
    In my dreams, I can run and run and jump over tree roots and dive into deep pools full of starlight fish and mermaids with green hair and voices that tinkle like Christmas decorations. In my dreams, no-one will ever catch me.

    But when I’m awake
    And voices explode in my ears What have you done, you filthy little sod? What was the last thing I said to you, eh?
    There is nowhere to hide.
    And footsteps stamp on the floorboards and hands squeeze and drag and shove, and slaps that sting and broken nails and bruises that spread like stains on the sheet
    Pain crushes me to tears and my throat burns and the cold curls around me, burying me alive.

    Please. Won’t someone bring me my sword?


    Tortoiseshell Specs

    It was always worse when you first entered the house – the smell that made you want to hold your breath till you’d opened the windows, and the stuffy heat because she wouldn’t let you.
    ‘She’s asleep, the poor love,’ Thelma picked up her bag. ‘Call me if you need me.’ The door clicked shut behind her.
    Mum’s knitting was in her lap, a jumble of colours – lime green, baby blue, red and purple and gold. Her mouth hung open and a rattly snore ended each breath. She was still wearing her specs. New ones. Tortoiseshell. I’d forgotten. ‘They don’t suit her,’ Dad had told me on the phone, ‘but what does it matter? She chose them. She had that kind when I first knew her.’ Her last ones were gold frames, with a zigzag pattern on the side arms.
    Three days after that phonecall he was gone. His heart had had enough.
    Sometimes I think all our hearts have had enough.
    When she woke, I was sitting on the sofa sewing name tapes into her clothes.
    ‘Hello, Mum. You’ve been having a lovely sleep.’
    Not a frown or a smile. A blank. Then – ‘Where’s Alan?’
    Normally it was He’ll be back later. Don’t worry. But how could I lie? I took her hand. ‘He died, Mum. Yesterday. Thelma’s been with you and now I’m here.’
    Her expression clouded, and her mouth trembled. ‘Those ones out there…’ She pointed to the garden. ‘Like this…’ She made a small waving movement with her fingers. ‘They need help.’
    ‘I’ve bought you some new clothes, Mum.’ I held up pyjamas. ‘This is a nice colour, isn’t it?’
    ‘Yes. Blue.’ Perhaps the hint of a smile, a spark of life in her eyes? ‘Where’s Alan?’
    ‘He died, Mum. You’re going to stay in Abbey House. You’ve been there before on holiday.’
    ‘Is Alan coming?’
    The next day, I took her in, and the day after that I went to see how she’d settled.
    She had the wrong glasses on – gold rimmed ones. It was clear she couldn’t see. The lady in the next chair, fast asleep, had a pair of tortoiseshell ones in her lap. Definitely Mum’s.
    ‘Can I borrow these?’ I whispered, taking them.
    When I swapped them, Mum smiled at me. ‘You’re a very nice lady. Where’s Alan?’
    Even with the tortoiseshell specs, she’d never see the world the way we did.

    Baz Baron

    Je M’Appelle Missy (384 inluding title)

    A sweet voice announced, “Je M’Appelle Missy”.

    I looked up from the menu and immediately two sets of Brown eyes burned into each other.

    An awkward smile later and my schoolboy French produced a stunted smile from the young waitress which turned into a guffaw, like that of surprising a toddler with a loud Boo!

    The summer evening and warm sound of laughter drew me to the small café on the Champs-Élysées. Marie, her real name – looked over her shoulder giggling as she floated away to bring my order. All I could do was wave my hand like a wary five-year-old.

    After paying my bill and a hilarious conversation, Marie grabbed my arm and begged me to speak in English. It was then I discovered she was fluent in the language. Reluctant to end the tease I asked if she knew of the nightclub, Lo Hobo. She told me it was close by and if I could wait around for fifteen minutes she was going that way herself.

    We never made the club, instead we ambled along the Avenues’ hand in hand toward the Jardine des Champs-Élysées Park when she told me of a bridge nearby known locally as ‘The lovers bridge,’ which crosses the River Seine – apparently couples would attach engraved padlock’s to the railings then throw the keys into the river below as a sign of their devoted love.

    This is no longer the case as the authorities banned the gesture for health and safety reasons owing to the several thousands of padlocks placed there. The Parisian Mayor suggested taking selfies instead which is now what happens.

    And yes – you guessed it. We took it, in turn, a selfie on each of our mobiles.

    That summer morning I made my way back to the café on the Champs-Élysées. My encounter with, Marie seemed a world away. The empty tables, the sound of laughter had disappeared.

    The maître d’hôtel was in tears when he told me how Marie had been caught up in an outbreak of rioting on her way home soon after we parted. She died of her injuries on the way to the hospital.

    Under the moonlight, I stumbled my way to the Pont des Arts and attached a padlock to the railings.

    La fin.


    Seed Cathedral

    It was not the first of its kind but it was the one which marked the moment past which things would not return. There were too many and they were too popular. And tomorrow was my day. Today was Alfie’s – my brother.

    “We who hold our rockets,” said the priest, garbed in a sheet in the roofless shadow of the abbey, “sit together and dream of better days.”

    Alfie had been excited as I imagined he would be, but I knew the truth. Why else would the priests remain safely on the ground while the rest of us got strapped to a piece of ordnance before being blasted a couple of thousand feet up and blown to smithereens, returning to the earth only as ash and fertiliser? As it should be. As it was written.

    Because he was in on it, that’s why. He was the reason. Anyway, there we sat amid the ruins, whose grounds were well on their way to rewilding heaven. The atmosphere was pastoral, one you’d expect at a village fete or any other fun day out. Cake stalls and donkey-rides. And the periodic whizz-whizz of the rockets.

    The fuse was lit. The priest read from his little book. For one moment he stopped in front of Alfie and seemed to be blessing him with a brace of smouldering herbs. Then that was it. Whoosh-bang. Alfie rendered a streak against the blue-grey sky. Behind me, a carousel commenced its garish whirl to a lurching river of organ music. Jugglers juggled. A cheery pie-seller broadcast her wares. And so it went, until the next day.

    I would not go.

    Did the priest sneak a look at me just then? Did he know? His bushy eyebrows hid a terrible secret and a pair of knowing eyes.

    That morning, I had decided. We who hold our rockets, choose not to embark upon this state-mandated bottom-up thinning of the herd. So what if the earth is way past capacity? I will not go. There is a better way. I who hold my rocket will tilt it from the sky and at the robed figure whose hooked nose rarely ever leaves his book.

    I will not go. As acolytes light my fuse – the sparking cord surprisingly heat-free – I learn that the rockets are immovable. I, whom my rocket holds, see my spark nearing its sputtering end. I will not go.



    Tortoiseshell Specs

    I wear tortoiseshell specs. My dear old mum did too. And Dad. A family tradition that I hadn’t really thought about. I mean, we had so many things that I hardly even noticed. Family traditions, that is. There were words we used that I thought were just normal. Mum called me dinny if I did something daft and lairy when I was naughty. It never occurred to me that these weren’t what everybody said.

    But there were other things – things that I learned pretty quick weren’t what everybody said. Or did. Our praying was one. We did it in private. More than that, we did it secretly. If somebody came to the door when we were praying, Dad put his finger to his lips and we all jumped up and pretended we were in the middle of something else. When I was very little, they sat me down and explained.

    ‘They wouldn’t understand. Our people – we aren’t popular – not round here.’

    I got used to it. But the odd thing was, Mum never did and she’d never known another way. She loved our neighbours. She was always minding their kids, helping with washing. We even invited them to eat with us and that kindness was almost never returned. One day I found her crying. I ran to her, hugged her, said, ‘Please don’t cry, Mummy. What’s the matter?’

    ‘Everything,’ she said, ‘I just want to stop hiding.’

    I knew it was important that some family matters stayed between us but that’s when I realised it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t like dinny and lairy or tortoiseshell specs. It was a commitment and it had to be forever. From then on nobody had to tell me to watch what I said and how I behaved. So, although I laughed with my friends over how lairy we all were, I never told them that in the confines of our house we asked for blessings on the Begthoran which translates as ‘People who believe’ or ‘us’ to put it more plainly.

    And as Mum fed me and my friends after school, I didn’t dream of telling them that they were eating Pathkie. That translates as ‘food’ or to put it more plainly, ‘People who do not believe’.


    Oh yes, 373(ish)


    Apologies for the delay in posting – life got in the way!

    Well these shades of beige definitely weren’t boring. Thanks to everyone who entered – thin on the ground perhaps (well it is York month) but not thin on quality.

    Some really poignant pieces in this mix (Dreamweaver, Je m’appelle Missy, and Hil’s Tortoiseshell Specs) secrets in Battle Drab, and a controlling, destructive priesthood in Seed Cathedral.

    But this month’s chosen piece is Ath’s Tortoiseshell Specs, because of it’s pervading sense of secrecy and that awesome cannabalistic (if I’ve understood the story right!) twist at the end.

    So, well done, Ath!

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 7 months ago by Squidge.

    Thanks for a fab competition, Squidge. You’ve brought a tear to my eye. I’ve been doing the monthly competition for nearly 10 years, although with fewer entries in the last few months, and this is my first win! There were some super entries this month; I’m really pleased.

    I re-read my entry and worried that it might be steering too close to the manner of those rather paranoid anti-minority tales that were especially popular in the past. Apologies if anybody took it that way. They say that the author’s intention is not of major importance when judging a story’s merits, but in defence of myself, if not the story, I intended it to be a simple horror story with a sharp twist.

    I’ll get a new comp started later today.

    Baz Baron

    Well done Athers and everyone else. I do love these monthly competitions if only to keep the old grey cells rattling around but especially to see other interpretations of the prompts that always intrigue this reader. So, thanks to all for the pleasure and thanks, Squidge for a great idea.


    Ath – really?!


    I might be a bit over sensitive, but it’s the kind of trope that surfaces when feelings are being tested: stories about minorities and their secret evil ways. The classic cases would be all the tales of alien mind-control and body take over that were so popular during the anti-communist frenzy in the US during the late 40s and 50s, or the ‘Yellow Peril’ stories earlier in the century when every Chinese family had doors closed to hide evil intent. I hadn’t even thought about that when I wrote it, but the imagery is pretty obvious. Things like having to pray in secret are exactly the experience of persecuted minorities.

    Not saying that’s what I wrote, but I can see the issue. As it happens, I made myself laugh when I wrote the ending – which is good, I think.


    I very much like your story, Ath, exactly because of the problems you comment on. The twist worked really well for me, and I often don’t really enjoy such stories because the twist feels tacked on. This one, though, feels integral to what’s gone before. I also enjoyed it as a horror story but that was secondary for me. I could be over analysing the story or misunderstanding it but I read it as showing how persecuted minorities can absorb and use negative tropes just like anyone else – sometimes it can be hard for people see where else to go – and their members don’t have to be more, or less, ‘moral’ than other people.

    The business of layers and references in fiction is really tricky. I battle with it. My novel includes the Manchester cotton trade in the 20th century. I can’t not mention that the industry was a continuation of the one built on African-American slavery; it’s a question of how to do it without, as you’ve called it yourself, waving at the reader.


    Congratulations on the win Ath, and for what it’s worth I found it uncomfortably horrific in its pervasive cult brainwashing manipulation – the sort of thing I usually avoid reading and very definitely cannot write, so am as admiring as I am uncomfortble with it.

    And thanks Squidge for the competition which I took as opportunity to try out a scenario for not-yet-begin novel.


    Thanks Libby and Sandra – and once again, thanks to Squidge!

    October beckons.


    Nice work Ath 🙂


    Well done, Athelstone. And thank you, Squidge.


    Good job, Ath 🙂
    And thanks, Squidge. I’ll never look at a paint colour quite the same way again!

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