FAR REACHING… The great Purbeck Short Story Competition
Our short story competition winner featured in edition 7, autumn winter 2014
Introduced by assistant editor and judge, Helen Pizzey.
Local writer, Jude Evans, is who we’d like to congratulate as winner of our latest Short Story Competition. Her entry, Tidal Reach, has a pacey, contemporary feel with a strong opening paragraph. The passage of time is woven through both the storyline and description as the writing reveals with sparse clarity its compounding series of events and outcomes. Competition judge and bestselling author, Janet Gleeson, says: “It’s got a strong narrative, great sense of place and is well composed.” Well done, Jude, and we hope you will enjoy our classic Salt Pig Hamper prize.
Honourable mention goes to another intriguing story, Rosa’s Kiss, which also captured our attention; it’s written in diary format, calling on entries from older family diaries within it resulting in a curious ‘Russian Doll’ effect. It’s great to see the varied and creative ways in which our competition entrants are choosing to use their 2000 word limit. We look forward to more as a change of season tempers our moods and inspiration.
Thanks, everyone, for all your stimulating submissions – keep writing!
By Jude Evans
Hunched against the freezing wind, Dan Fletcher travelled back 15 million years with each step he took. A few steps further and he entered the era of the early microbes. In a mere 100,000 years they would be obliterated by a comet.
Fascinated as he was with the time walk, he moved swiftly. Time had the better of him; he was 20 minutes late for his grand opening at Durlston Castle. Pushing through the heavy glass doors he took a deep breath as a warden approached.
“Here for the exhibition, sir? Down the spiral staircase to your right.”
A clinking of glasses and babble of voices drifted up the stone steps. Reaching a door with a driftwood sign declaring “Tidal Reach: a celebration of the sea”, he paused. Could he do it? Could he go in? Pushing the door he stepped inside; he had travelled this far already, so what difference a step into the present?
It was all Peter Tremaine’s doing. Sat in his office last August, Dan had been staggered when he’d boomed: “I’ve found the perfect spot for your exhibition, lad … Durlston Castle… refurbishment… Jurassic coast…”
Peter’s words had faded as Dan’s mind trekked back to his childhood in Swanage. He’d been lonely. His bohemian mother refused to send him to school saying he was better educated by reading and playing in the fields. Ostracised by the local kids, he’d spent his days outside with only a sketchbook for company until he had been befriended by Lucas. When he was 16, his Mum had joined a retreat leaving him to fend for himself in a local hostel. Sixteen months later he’d left Swanage abruptly – with a lot of baggage but few belongings. Images of the past flickered through his mind like a cine reel, stopping abruptly at a picture of Amy.
However, Dan owed Peter a lot. If he wanted the exhibition in Swanage then that was what would happen. If this philanthropic Cornishman hadn’t recognised his talent and sponsored him through a Fine Arts degree, he would still have been churning out seascapes on driftwood for tourists in Polperrin.
Entering the room, he saw a long glass wall overlooking a choppy sea. The gallery walls were hung with his vast seascapes showing the power of the sea in all its different moods. Inspired by the sea as a boy he had been obsessed with capturing it in paint. One canvas depicted a 60-foot wave crashing over the cliffs at Trevose Head in Cornwall; another, the full moon broken into shimmering fragments by surf in Lyme Regis.
The huge centrepiece portrayed the lighthouse at Anvil Point. Working from memory, he’d used a fleeting sunbeam emerging from storm clouds to highlight the white lighthouse against a slate grey sky. Gulls circled overhead and the sparse blackthorn had been moulded into strange windswept shapes scouring the sky with spiky fingers. In contrast to the wintry colours, a small figure in a pillar-box red coat could be seen standing at the cliff top. She gazed out to sea, thick ribbons of russet hair blowing around her head.
Dan moved forwards though the crush, seeking out Peter. Moments later he heard his deep voice demanding: “Dan, where’ve you been? We thought we’d be starting without you, lad.”
Curious looks were cast his way, making him feel exposed. He hated to be the centre of attention. Even worse, over the craning necks of the crowd clustered around his centrepiece he saw a head of distinctive hair that could only be Lucas. A tidal wave of memories rose and crashed through his head and, just as before, he ran.
Once outside, Dan descended some steps and reached the stone globe, a perfect back circle against the fading cobalt blue of the evening sky. Turning to face the sea he scrabbled in his pocket for a cigarette. Taking a deep puff he rested the back of his head on the statue. An old quote popped into his mind: The past beats inside me like a second heart. His past was beating like the hooves of a panic- stricken racehorse.
A voice hailed him through the half-light, “Dan is that really you? You look like Atlas with the world on your shoulders!” With a few bounding steps, Dan’s past met his present as Lucas stood before him. Wild hair, gangling limbs, lop-sided nose: Lucas looked much the same.
“Bloody hell, Dan. Where have you been?” Dan frowned. Where had he been? What type of question was that? Surely that was far less important than why he’d left? He screwed up his eyes peering at Lucas through the half-light.
“Does it matter? Wasn’t it just best that I left?” Lucas shook his head. “Best? How could it be best? You were my best mate – in fact, my only mate.” “What else could I do? Nobody would’ve believed me.” Dan’s voice cracked. “What do you mean, Dan? Believe what?”
Dan recalled the events of that afternoon with painful clarity – as if he’d painted them himself, every little detail. Lucas’s kid sister, Amy: her image sliced through him like the freezing wind that had whipped the sea into a frenzy. Amy in her red plastic mac, messing about on the rocks at Peveril Point. He’d seen her from the old air raid shelter where he was waiting out the storm. It was an accident waiting to happen, he thought, as he scrambled towards her shouting: “Amy, come away from the rocks!” Amy had laughed, a daredevil desperate to impress her brother’s friend she had teased: “If you want me, come and get me!”
But the storm had got her first. A rogue wave lifted her momentarily then cast her face down on the rocks, motionless. Dashing to her side he’d scooped her up, her eyes closed and face bleeding. Struggling to keep his footing on the algae-covered rocks, he had raced towards the coastguard station for help.
Suddenly he heard shouting and an arm circled his throat, pulling him away from her. “It’s that bloody Fletcher kid – what have you done to her, you bastard?” Thwack, a fist met Dan’s nose and he fell heavily to the ground. Dragging himself up, he realised that the pack of local lads had taken Amy. “She’s been attacked”, he heard one yell, “dial 999.” He’d fallen back to the ground, covering his head with his arms to ward off further blows…
“Why did you go, Dan?” “They said it was me – Amy, the cut; she was unconscious, bleeding”. Lucas’s expression registered disbelief. Dan scrunched his cigarette under a heel and turned his back on Lucas. To be honest, once he had run it had been easier to just keep going. To turn back meant to return to the isolation he had felt as an outsider in a small seaside town.
However, Lucas was demanding an answer and Dan knew he owed him one. He told him everything, unearthing a story he’d kept deeply buried – like the fossils around him.
Lucas listened patiently at first, then with agitation. “But why, Dan? Didn’t it occur to you that Amy would tell everyone the truth?” “No, and by the time I could think straight I was hundreds of miles away. I did worry though, you know; I mean, whether she was OK?”
Inside the gallery, Peter was becoming perturbed at the disappearance of his protégé and went out to see if he was OK. He saw two figures deep in conversation, their bearing telling him this was more than just the catching up of old acquaintances. He turned back; he’d suspected all along that there was a story behind Dan’s reluctance in wanting to hold this exhibition in Swanage. It had been etched on his face the day he had told him about the booking.
Returning inside, he was struck by a girl in her early twenties with long, reddish-brown hair looking intently at the picture of Anvil Point. “It’s his only painting with a figure in the landscape”, he remarked, standing at her side. “I asked him about it once but he wouldn’t say who it was.”
The girl turned with a smile and began to speak. “Oh, but I know who it is, it’s…”
Her voice tailed off as she looked over his shoulder, her eyes widening in surprise. Peter turned to follow her line of vision; Lucas and Dan were coming through the door, Lucas’s arm draped around his old friend’s shoulders.