Runners-up... or runner-ups?
By now you should be aware of who won our Halloween Flash Fiction writing competition. If not, why the hell not? I suggest you bloomin' well go and listen to the winning entry right now, you young upstart!
OK, now that's done we thought it would be nice to showcase some of the entries that came oh-so-close to winning, but shall forever remain cigarless. Some might call them losers, but we prefer to simply say "they didn't win".
So, first of all our resident super-judge Tim Craig selected two entries to receive the title of "Highly Commended". Try to think of them as the ones that didn't quite make it onto the podium but were at least in the same photograph as the winners as they crossed the line. They are "Tongue" by Tim Clayton from Poland and "Put in Pieces" by the Yogoslav-Kiwi from Amsterdam, Emil Cholich.
It hit the floor with a thud. That’s maybe not the sound you’d expect a tongue to make when it lands on a dry, wooden attic floor. But that was the sound—a sopping wet thud. And then it flipped around for a few moments like a landed fish, gathering up dust and splinters.
Maks puts his hands up to his lips. They are quickly covered in blood. His mouth tastes of iron and salt, greasy and full.
“You look upset,” says the tongue from the floor where it is flipping around, still picking up splinters, unconcerned.
“What you gonna do? Tell on me?” it taunts.
Maks tries to shout out but he can’t get the sound out. No tongue, no dice.
“This is your own fault,” says the tongue. “You were told that if you lied, your tongue would fall out. You lied. Your tongue fell out, just like they said it would. So who is to blame?”
The boy spits out a mouthful of blood, much of which lands square on the tongue.
“You lied. You told the kids that the old man didn’t give you any sweets. You said he went for trick not treat. But he gave you a whole big bag. You hid them in your costume and then brought them up here to eat them without being seen.”
Maks starts to cry; fat, ugly tears.
“Be careful,” warns the tongue. It speaks in Maks’ own voice but there is deep, adult malice in there. It’s goading him. “Remember what they said about crying for no good reason. If you do that, your eyes will all out. You sure this is a good reason? After all, you brought it on yourself…”
The kid pulls himself together. He stops his tears in case his eyes fall out.
He needs to get out of this nightmare but he’s too afraid to step past the flipping tongue to the entrance to the attic. He’s worried that he will step on it and then slip down the stairs, maybe break his neck.
He starts stamping his feet loudly on the floor. He has to wake up his mother, who is sleeping off a night shift. She has to come up and rescue him.
The tongue speaks up again. This time it is not taunting the kid. It’s afraid.
“Don’t do that!” it says. “You know what will happen if you wake your mother up. You wake your mother up, you wake up the devil…”
“Let the devil come!” thinks the kid, and pounds his feet rhythmically on the floor, right above the room where she is sleeping.
PUT IN PIECES
Hello. Hey there. Pleased to meet you. Say. Would you mind helping me? Just a little? I'm all in pieces. Some rude horrible mean man put me in pieces.
Like my arm. It's all the way on the other side of the room. Behind my mummy's wedding dress. And on top of that big wardrobe by the window, that’s my left leg, but I can't walk over there without it.
Why are you looking at me like that?
What is that look on your silly little face?
I'm not the one who came into someone else's home. Sneaking around their personal private space. You climbed my stairs into my attic. And now you're looking at me with a face like that.
No, no, no. Wait. Come back.
Don't be scared.
I suppose you're here because you can hear me. At night when the wind's quiet. Crying. Well can you blame me – have you seen what I look like?
I used to be pretty. The prettiest. My face, the finest porcelain. When I had both my eyes, they were beautiful. Almost as nice as yours. Such shiny little eyes, Caitlin.
I lost one of mine when the mean man did all those awful things to me. Forever ago. It was my special day too. Kind of like my birthday. He put me in a fire and burned up my pretty dress. Then he threw me in the lake. The water was so cold and slimy and gross.
But I came back. It took me a whole year to wake up. I had to crawl back home all on my own. And when I did, the leaves were pretty and orange, like they are now.
Then when he saw me got real mad and tried to bury me deep in the dirt. All the bugs ate my hair and the worms wriggled inside me. It took longer that time, I think. It was hard to tell under the ground, but by the time I stuck my head out there were tasty pumpkins.
But I still came home. Because proper girls return home on time. That's what Daddy says all the time right, Caity?
Except the mean man got so, so mad when he saw me, he pulled me apart and put me in all these pieces. He was so mad and he was screaming and he didn't look where he stepped and he fell down, all the way down my stairs. And his head. It hit the floor with a thud. Like a big dumb bowling ball.
Serves him right, don't you think? We shouldn't ever get so mad or bad things will happen to us.
But you're not like the mean man, Caity. You're a kind thing, I can tell. You heard me crying and you came. You’re here to help. Won't you help me? Please?
You know what it's like to be sad like me. I hear your tiny footsteps during the day. Walking around in circles in this boring old smelly broken house all the way out here. No other kids and Mummy and Daddy are always so, so busy.
But I can be your friend. I love playing. There are so many toys up here I want to show you! Do you like horses? I used to have two. They’re sleeping under the barn.
They’re ready to wake up now and come home. We could ride them everywhere. You and me, we’ll be sisters forever and none of us will ever be alone, or bored, or in pieces ever again.
All you have to do is help, Caity.
My tummy first. It's over there in the wooden box with funny writing on it.
Now we make it to the serious business, the top three! In third place, picking up a bronze medal (although actually not getting a medal at all, bronze or otherwise) is "A Girl Takes the Train Home at Night" by Kasper Hviid Rasmussen from Denmark (proper international this competition, eh?) Oh, and don't worry, it's supposed to only have one full stop.
A GIRL TAKES THE TRAIN HOME AT NIGHT
She had, after all, decided to wear that “female Blacula” vampire costume, and it had been well received—white geeks do love when you turn your race into a gimmick—and she had gotten drunk (moderately) and danced (alas, also moderately) and it had all been jolly and fun—but now, now the party is over, and as she stands on the cold platform among the commons, awaiting her train home, she is painfully aware how her garish vampire costume makes her stand out and, whilst standing thus, she gradually gains awareness of a cold gaze sizing her up; and truly, it may be just that—someone somewhere in the anonymous crowd leisurely gawking, male gaze, comparatively harmless—and yet, when her train finally arrives and she boards it, moving, with stilted casualness, from the soft dusk of the platform into the inquisitive brightness of the trains interior, she notices a figure boarding immediately after who, when she takes a seat, choses to occupy the seat right next to her (but there are plenty of empty seats) and so she sits, staring right ahead, doing her best to not notice the figure (white, male, casual street-wear) and almost immediately he whips out his mobile and he types a frantic message (which she can’t see, he holds the phone at an angle) and he sends the message and he puts the mobile away and he just sits there, ever so relaxed and she sternly forces herself to perform normality, staring dozily out the window, watching the sporadic illumination from street-lights, windows and advertisement floating by and that sprawling dark cityscape silhouetted against that rich dark-blue sky and thus she sits in frantic passivity as the train plunges relentlessly onward, making first one stop and then another—and here, at that second stop, a group of five men board the train, none of them giving her as much as a glance (but who wouldn’t notice a female Blacula?) and they take various seats, or they stand, but she senses, she is almost sure of it, that they were summoned by the figures message and she scolds herself, saying, under her breath, you thought you were so damn clever, did you not, you thought this would feel real empowering; stealthily exposing your true self, a vamp dressing up like a vamp, but guess what, it didn’t take off, it never took flight—nay, it hit the floor with a thud; ‘cause this is lazy creativity, this is the stale cleverness that every damn vamp was gonna think up, and thus, the hunters only needed to 1) wait for Halloween, 2) look for people dressed as vampires, 3) check if those have a shadow, the absence of which is pretty darn noticeable in the harsh electric light of the late-night train—but regardless, nobody had actually done anything and so she still clings on to the faint hope that she is just being paranoid, female intuition gone haywire, and at some point, surely, when the train makes a stop, some or all of them will just get off, and that would be that, but no, nonoNO, they never do; on the contrary, with every stop, the other passengers are gradually thinning out, until, when heading for its final destination, the train is empty safe for her and the hunters who, on an invisible cue, form a semi-circle around her and with solemn male pride expose their weapons—brass knuckles, gun, steak-knife, numerous crucifixes and, of course, hammer and stake—and she finally accepts that this is it, this is where they were heading all along and so she gets to her feet and meekly removes her plastic fangs, revealing her true ones, and her lips draws back like a blooming flower, revealing more and more, and she is ever so scared, literally shaking with fear, ‘cause she suffers from hemophobia, fear of blood, and, Oh God, from those six hunters there was going to be ever so much of it.
And now the last runner up. Or maybe the first runner up depending how you look at it. Also, on a personal note, I much prefer silver to gold anyway. In terms of jewellery, like. Just prefer the colour, no big deal. Anyway, in second place it's "Halloween Babies" by Terri Mullholland from London
That summer, the babies grew plumper than ever in the locked greenhouse.
Lizzie peered through the hot glass, watching Mama tending to them, watering, feeding them, watching her stroking them.
They grew along the ground, under large shady leaves. Mama put down blankets for them; to protect their growing bodies from the cold earth.
Lizzie always ran away before Mama saw her.
Mama didn’t like anyone watching when she tended the babies, watching those stray tears that crept down her face as she turned the key on them for the night.
Father inspected them once a week while Mama stood in the doorway, wringing her hands in her apron, as he poked and prodded her babies.
Then at the beginning of October, he went in with a knife to harvest the best ones, the perfectly ripe, plump ones, to sell for Halloween.
He went up to the largest, whipped away its blanket, and held it up in front of her, looking her in the eye as he severed the stem and let it go. It hit the floor with a thud.
Lizzie buried her ears in her hands to block out Mama’s screams as, one by one, her babies were cut off their vines with Father’s knife and taken away from her.
Mama huddled on the floor in the greenhouse, clutching the severed cords to her chest.
Lizzie remembered there being blood on the concrete floor of the greenhouse after, remembered Mama taking one of the blankets her babies had slept on to wipe it clean. Lizzie never knew if it was Mama’s blood or her babies’ blood.
Father always kept one, to taunt her. Made Mama watch as he cut a hole in her first-born’s head, scraped out its flesh, gouged eyes, nose, a horrible jagged smile.
At the first cut, the pumpkin oozed a clear liquid that ran down the side of its face like tears. That’s when Mama started screaming again.
She was still screaming that night when father took a lighted candle and placed it in the baby’s hollowed-out head. And she continued screaming as father took Mama in the candlelight, planting the seeds early for next year’s babies.
In the corner, the last pumpkin baby watched, flesh heating up, mouth drooping open, and flames creeping out into the room.
And that's that. Hope you enjoyed the stories and the competition as a whole. Hopefully we'll do more of these in the future, but if you want to know when...you'll just have to subscribe to the podcast, won't you.