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2005 Short Story Competition Results

Though this started out as a competition run just by the Friends, after only a short time, BBC Radio Kent and The Folkestone Herald also became involved. Though the majority of the entries were from Kent, we also attracted a few from other areas including a couple from London and one from Glasgow. The judges were Patrick Cassidy, manager of Ottakars in Folkestone, Sinead Hanna from the Folkestone Herald and Paul Leaper, Managing Editor of BBC Radio Kent. They were all pleased with the standard of the entries.

Katherine May - Over 18's winner
Lauren Martens - Under 18's winner
James Pyott - Over 18's runner-up

Katherine May was the winner of the over eighteen section with her story “Whistling Up The Wind”. She is 28 and has kived in Rochester, Kent, since graduating with a MA in Social and Political Sciences from Cambridge. She is an experienced teacher and workshop leader, and is currently working as a gallery educator, delivering creative writing workshops both for Tate Britain and Medway Council.

Katherine took up writing seriously in 2003, and writes in a range of formats. Her short stories have been widely published, and her first collection of prose, Ghosts and their Uses, was published 2006. She is currently working on a novel set on the Kent coast.

In 2004 she founded The Medway Mermaids, a women’s writing group. She has given readings of her stories as a part of this group, in solo performances, on Radio Kent and also at the ‘Tales of the Decongested’ night at the Poetry Café in London.

In 2005 as well as winning the Folkestone Literary Festival short story prize for Whistling up the Wind, and was a winner of the Killie Writer of the Year Prize.

Katherine is also a published poet, and was commissioned in January 2005 to work with four local artists to create poems inspired by their paintings and ceramics. The resulting poems were compiled into a pamphlet by Medway Council.

She takes a keen interest in the local arts scene, and is currently editing an anthology of ghost stories by local writers.

Whistling up the Wind
by Katherine May

Hazel dipped her hand into the bucket, pulled out a clam, and tapped it hard against the table. Its shells shuddered and drew tightly together, so she passed it to her elder sister who scrubbed it with a nail brush.

“How come you’re suddenly so superstitious?” she asked.

Anna touched the grey pebble that was hanging from a bootlace around her neck. She wished she hadn’t shown it to Hazel. She had expected her sister to be envious, but instead she seemed amused. “I’m not superstitious,” she said, “but Ed thinks that holey stones are good luck. He said that if I wear it, it’ll keep him safe while he’s at sea.”

Hazel rapped another clam against the table, but it lolled open, so she threw it into the bowl with the other dead ones. “You don’t believe it, then?” she said.

The kitchen door opened and their grandmother came in, carrying a plastic laundry basket on her hip. Hazel picked up her pace so that there was soon a tidy pile of clams next to Anna waiting to be scrubbed. “Nanna,” she said, in the child’s voice that she seemed to adopt whenever an adult was present, “when Grandad was at sea, did you have any superstitions?”

Their grandmother began to fold the washing onto the dresser. “Yes, my love, we did,“ she said. “Not that it kept your grandfather safe.” She found a speck on one of her blouses and began to scratch at it with a fingernail.

“What sort of things did you believe?” “Oh, all sorts of things. When there wasn’t much wind, we used to try to whistle it up. You couldn’t go too far with that, mind; you didn’t want bring on a storm.”

Hazel cracked another clam. “What else?” “Well, we would never bang our glasses together at the dinner table, because every time a glass rang, it would be a sailor’s death-knell.” “What if you did it by accident?” “It didn’t matter. You just had to be careful.” “Did you believe it, Nanna? Did you really think it would come true?”

Nanna looked out of the window, towards the beach. “I’m not sure, love. We just did what we could. It’s hard being stuck at home when they’re out at sea.” She seemed to scan the shoreline for a few moments, before picking up the basket and walking back out of the kitchen. “You’ve upset her now,” said Anna. “You’re so immature.”

Hazel didn’t reply. She slammed a clam so hard against the table that Anna thought its shell would crack, and began to whistle a slow, mournful rendition of the drunken sailor.

“What are you doing?” asked Anna. Although it had been calm and sunny all afternoon, the window rattled with a sudden gust of wind.

Anna tried to steady her voice. “Stop it,” she said, her fingers growing clumsy around the slippery clams. She felt cold deep in her gut. Outside the window, she saw a black cloud loom in front of the sun, and a few drops of rain began to spatter the glass. “It’s not funny, you know.”

As the rain pounded down harder, Hazel began to tap the clams in time with her tune, beating them on the table and throwing them into the saucepan like a sinister metronome. Now, when the clams drew their halves together, they looked to Anna like old men pulling in their coats against the weather. She glanced out to sea, the tune ringing in her ears, and saw that the waves were high, grey and white-crested. She imagined Ed’s trawler being thrown about on it.

“Stop it!” she shouted, and leapt at her sister, letting her chair crash to the floor. She grabbed for Hazel’s hair, and tried to smother her whistling mouth. Hazel screeched and lashed at Anna’s face, and then she caught hold of the bootlace that held the holey stone and tugged hard at it. Anna fell back as the lace snapped, and the stone was catapulted onto the flagstones, where it smashed in two.

She scrambled to pick up the two pieces and held them together. If she pushed hard, the join was almost invisible. She could hear Hazel laughing, but all she cared about now was the broken stone and the rain hammering against the window. Gradually, she became aware of the chime of a slow, low bell, and looked up to find Hazel with two glasses in her hands, banging them together with malicious precision.

Anna grabbed Hazel’s wrists and shook them until the glasses fell to the floor and shattered. Sobbing now, she knelt down to try to pick up the shards, but she felt a firm hand on her shoulder, pulling her to her feet.

“That’s not your mess to clear up,” said Nanna, “and you, Hazel, shouldn’t mess with things you don’t understand. Now go and get the dustpan please.”

Nanna picked up the two halves of the holey stone. “Oh dear,” she said, almost under her breath. “She doesn’t understand, love; she didn’t mean any harm.”

Anna looked out of the window, towards the sea. The waves were calmer now, and the rain had almost stopped. As she searched the horizon for a sight of Ed’s trawler, the figure of a man in a yellow windcheater passed across the window. “He’s back!” she said, and rushed to let him in, wiping her face on the tea-towel.

The door had swollen in its frame, and Anna had to yank it so hard that it opened in a sudden rush. The smile that had spread across her face soon dropped away when she saw what was there.

Although it was Ed that stood before her, his face was as white as the chipped paint on the door frame, and his eyes were swollen red. He reached out towards Anna, pointing to the space at her throat where the holey stone had been, and then he vanished.

Outside, Anna heard the bell ring to call out the lifeboat.

© Katherine May 2005

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The under 18 section was won by Lauren Martens. Now aged fourteen she said she simply sat down and wrote this story. It was considered really excellent by all three judges. She is a very wide reader, has always liked writing, and spends a lot of time just jotting things down. Her story was printed in the Folkestone Herald:

The Sand Castle
By Lauren Martens

The beach was packed when they arrived. Full of white bodies, slung out on towels, shielded by a thin slip of shade provided by the sun umbrellas that dotted the beach like bizarre mushrooms. Between the slumped bodies ran little children, screaming, shouting, their skin glistening with sun screen, the cream acting as glue to the fine white sand. The sky above was a brilliant clear blue, blurring in the distance with the vague line of the ocean, stretched out placidly like a good tempered old mare. The father of the family grunted as he hefted the heavy wicker basket from one chubby hand to the other. His wife clicked her tongue impatiently.

“Look Harry, there’s space over there,” she pointed with one finger at a small square of white sand, marooned in the middle of the mass of people.

“Yes Marge, I can see!” Harold, his wife and their small son began to pick their way across the beach, finally arriving at the bare patch of sand, leaving a trail of grumbling holiday-makers in their wake.

Marge stood impatiently while her husband set out the umbrella, laid out the towels and opened the cooler box. When this was assembled she clicked her tongue again and began, prudishly, to undress down to a neon green swimsuit and a large pair of black sunglasses. It was not long before Marge and Harry were strung out on their beach towels like dead livestock ready for roasting. Little Thomas, their young son, sat at the edge of his towel, tapping the top of his plastic bucket with a plastic spade. It made a hollow tapping sound that shook the grains of sand on top of the bucket.

Boom, ba boom, ba boom boom boom.

“Stop that noise Thomas!” Marge bellowed. Thomas scowled and picked up his bucket by the plastic hinged handle, the spade resting inside.

“I’m going to make a sand castle.”

“That’s nice, Thomas, leave mummy alone now.” Marge adjusted her sunglasses and Harry began to snore, his nose was already beginning to redden like an over-ripe tomato.

Thomas walked down the beach, weaving between the holiday-makers, until he reached the sharp, stickly line of shells that marked the tide-mark. The sand beyond this was wet and smooth, pocked only by the occasional pebble or shell. A few children were running around, one child was building a sand castle, their father stretched on a towel next to them. A small party of adults and children were wading into the water, teeth clenched against the cold. Thomas liked it here, there were less grown-ups telling him off and hours to go with nothing but his own initiative to occupy himself: something he enjoyed immensely.

Laboriously Thomas began collecting wet sand in his red bucket, ferrying it from one spot to the other, gradually building up a heap of material with which to construct his castle. Once this was completed he began to shape the sand, sculpting it with his hands, dribbling wet sand through his fingers to form convoluted worm-like pillars. To his ears the beach became silent, the only sound being that of his own breath and the steady smacking sound of spade against sand, smoothing the grains down, giving life to the castle.

It was noon when Thomas finished; the sun was high in the sky and blisteringly hot. The little boy wiped his wet, sandy hands on his swimming shorts, stepping back to admire his work. The castle was a masterpiece; there were towers and turrets, crenulated edges and fine carvings in the sand walls of the castle. Shells and feathers were arranged artfully and Thomas had made a draw-bridge from a piece of drift-wood, as wells a dungeon in the castle courtyard. It was truly magnificent.

“Thomas! Where are you, you silly boy!” from near by Thomas heard his mother’s voice.

“Mum! Look at my castle!” Marge lifted up her sunglasses and squinted at the sand castle.

“Very nice, but we’ve got to get back to the hotel now, we’ve caught the best of the morning sun.” Marge paused and looked, reflectively, at her little boy. “Come along now, Thomas.”

Thomas sighed and looked back at the castle one last time before trotting along after his mother, his face passive, but his mind whirring with half-thought ideas and dreams.

The castle was truly magnificent, the best piece of architecture the realm had ever seen. It was in the middle of the Wet Desert, a short ride from the Shell Banks. The king and queen had just recently moved in and the building was coming to life with a whole variety of courtly servants, entertainers and of course, royalty, come to admire King Dune’s new castle. It was made of finest grained sand and hailed by the critics as “modernistic design, in its highest standard”

The king himself was a short squat man with a thick black moustache and curly black hair that he grew in an unruly mop, flattened down by his gold crown, which he wore everywhere, even in bed. His queen was quite the opposite: tall and thin with long straight hair and gray-green eyes: a beauty born of a common snail-herder. Recently all the stories the newspapers ran were stories of the imminent birth of the new prince or princess of the realm. There was great speculation on all matter of things; from names to the designer of the child’s clothes. Looking at the Queen now it seemed she had not a care in the world, the King at her side, both of them smiling and waving.

It was late afternoon when Thomas returned to his beach. His mother read a book, relaxing in her sun-lounger, his father having remained at the hotel to watch the sport. His castle was still there, it’s once proud battlements now eroded slightly, grubby and rough at the edges. The sand was dry now, and crumbling. Looking beyond his castle he could see the sea. It was moving in, sucking at the sand as it clawed its way nearer. Thomas frowned and began to dig, dragging the sand around the castle to form a high wall of wet sand.

Princess Marina looked around the once proud country that was her home. Her mother and father, bless their souls, were not alive to see this. To see that it had come to this. Labourers from nearby villages were hauling bags of poor quality sand from the quarry towards the Wall. The Wall was their salvation, it would save them when the waters came. The Princess turned away from the wind and stepped into her crumbling palace. No labourers could be spared to repair the castle, the winds increased by the week and the castle was being slowly blown away.

Looking down at the ground now seething with labourers she could remember the time when she had played there, as a child, riding hermit crabs and teasing the grounds-men who cared for the top of the range kelp that had once grown in the royal kelp-beds. Now it was all gone. Marina sniffed and gritted her eyes against the harsh winds. She had paper work to attend to, matters of state. There was the uprising among the hermit crabs to be considered and the threat of war from the neighbouring nations. It was all too much sometimes.

“Thomas! Time to go!” Thomas turned around and saw his mother, silhouetted against the sunset. He glanced at his castle. The sea was lapping at the walls, sinking them from under. He frowned slightly, before running after his mother.

The waters had broken through the Wall. The princess felt weak and powerless. She was getting old and for the first time in her life experienced the strange feeling of having nothing: being responsible for nothing, able to do nothing. She bowed her head humbly. There was nothing she could do. The people had been evacuated into the castle. More had come every day, but the castle could not hold them all. Some had been turned away; she wondered where they were now. She sighed. For days now they had been trapped in their fortress, the water gradually encircling them. Occasionally some supplies made it through, but the last one was a week ago and people were getting hungry.

The Labourers were the first to see the waters. They were doing the rounds, checking for weaknesses, potential openings. One of them was doing a repair job, there wasn’t enough sand though and so it had had to be left, half finished. It was here that the water burst through. One of the labourers was there, smoothing the sand when the water smashed through, enraged at the puny blockade that had tried to hold it for so long. With one crack the wall was defeated. Sand tumbled down, the water burst through, it swilled around the castle, creeping higher. The Princess, in the highest tower, was asleep when it happened. As the water entered her bedroom she was still asleep. As the water touched her toes, she opened her eyes. She stood up and waded to the window. The sea was all around her. She smiled and slowly, stiffly, climbed out the window and began to swim away. Away from the palace, away from the wall, through the water, swimming on.

As darkness slid over the beach, all that remained of Thomas’s castle was a lump of wet sand and a heap of feathers and shells. Later another child would pick these up and put them on his own castle, a truly magnificent sand castle.

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James Pyott wwas the runner up in the over 18 section. He works as a homeopath and his story was the first writing that he had done since leaving school. He said that he greatly enjoyed doing it; in order to motivate himself he will do anything that requires a deadline:

Heaven and high water
By James Pyott

The sea is all I can see from the top of the tower, dotted here and here with the apices of various other tall buildings which were strong enough to remain standing. No trees. No sheep. No roads. For twenty miles inland, or what was inland, where the marsh used to lie safe behind the dyke, like a precious liquid cargo held intact by its container wall. Now the liquid has reversed the equation into a mathematics of pure disaster. I think we knew deep down that this would happen one day, but it remained theoretical, like the distance from a light source in school physics classes, which allows you to consider its rays are parallel, this event allowed us to consider that its proximity in time was negligble.

Why or by what agency I have been allowed to survive this disaster is a mystery. Of all the virtues that would make me useful in such a situation I am entirely bereft. I cannot build boats. I cannot build underwater walls. I cannot even fish, except when the mackerel used to come up into the shallows and offer themselves up in a spirit of misplaced sacrifice, like a sort of unsolicited fruit machine jackpot.

Most of the survivors have left on the boats provided by the state, sharing their transport with countless corpes, or those local boats which were not anchored so strongly that they were unable to rise with the incoming sea level. Those that have stayed are mostly lunatics. Some of them have a sort of seawater rapture, like those divers who become so enamoured with the beauty of the underwater environment that they forget about the realities of life and just drift off, never to return to the surface, as if they'd somehow reversed the ages-long process of evolution in a single moment and reverted to a water dwelling ancestor. Others stay because they see themselves as pioneers pitting themselves against nature. For them it would simply be an act of cowardice to reject the challenge of survival. Others stay, like me, merely because they feel they are unwelcome in the wider world beyond the marsh. It is a very different world, and if you have no friends or kin there it can appear more hostile than the sea itself. Unless the sea has any more tricks up its sleeve that is. I expect it will leave them for a 'thoeretical' future.

In all though, only a handful of survivors remain, all of whom were, I suppose, at the top of whatever high buildings were still left standing when the water came in. It wasn't like a big wave or tsunami or anything . It just crept up slowly over the course of a few hours I suppose, like a snake crawling silently into a babies bedroom in the darkness.

I expect some drowned in their sleep. Perhaps they were the lucky ones. Others may have tried to start cars or run to higher ground, not that there is much higher ground to run to.

The only contact I have with the "real" world is the battery operated radio that sits on my bedside table in the tower where I have lived for the past four years. All the electrics are gone, of course, and everything apart from the top floor is now underwater.

Things changed slightly yesterday when a small dinghy washed up against the side of the tower. The dinghy had the name "Viareggio" painted on the prow, if such a small boat can be said to have a prow. Inside the boat lay a woman of indeterminate age and a black cat. No oars nor motor has this boat. No sail. No method of propulsion. I wondered if the cat was dead as it looked completely rigid. The woman, I could see was breathing, but not conscious, and looked as though she had been through a hurricane. Probably backwards. I wondered if they had been in the boat since the water rose up, which was now seven days. they say that when someone is drowning, their whole life flashes before them. Well, I can tell you, exactly the same thing happens when you're alone in a tower surrounded by water. Perhaps it is the water itself that contains the memories and when external stimuli are stripped away, they are all suddenly laid bare in unexpurgated technicolor.

I thought of the Sumerian stories of the great flood, and how they believed that God had sent down the waters as a punishment for human behaviour which was getting further and further from the divine design. What had we been doing to incur Gods displeasure? Too much lager, adultery, football violence? Swearing? Eating pork? Inventing spam? converting churches into flats? I'd not done any of these things recently-is that why i've been spared?

The cat had also been saved. Maybe he'd not done any of those things either. We had something in common, the cat and I, but he was in a far worse state than I was.

My first thought was water, as if I could think of anything else . I had been managing to catch some rainwater in a saucepan, and I was able to pour a small amount of this precious liquid into these two poor creatures' mouths. They seemed somehow equal in their present condition. I felt no bias towards the Human. They were both equally incapable of reason or even movement. They were both breathing, but that was it. I decided not to move them until they were a bit more hydrated, but covered them with the quilt from my bed. I went back a few times during the night to check on them, and get some more water into them.

It's hard to sleep when the world has been turned on its head, inside out and back to front, then torn to shreds and stitched together in the wrong order. I found myself dropping off into something that resembled sleep but wasn't, coming back to my senses suddenly with a violent start and then starting to drift again. Coleridge?

I'd advise anyone with an interest in haute cuisine to avoid visiting me for the time being. The menu consists of one item:- boiled seagull. I mentioned before that I don't know how to fish, but it can't be that hard. I will ask the cat for advice when he wakes up.

I'm hoping that i can find some way of distilling seawater for drinking, like I've seen them do on television. I've not seen television for a week now, but it's possible that all this is some kind of a trick with hidden cameras:- the next step on from 'Celebrities in the jungle drinking their own urine' or whatever it was called. "This is big brotherÑplease report to the Extreme Unbelievable Experience Simulation room".

I managed to get the camping stove up from under the dark waters of the floor below, though there are only a couple of gas cartridges left. That's not going to last long. If only I'd said yes to that solar-panel salesman who came around last month:- it's a useful thing hindsight.

The radio tells me that everyone in this area has been rescued, but I know this isn't true as I've seen small boats in the distance. I'm dreading them coming here, they must be able to see the top of the tower, after all, and they might have reverted to savages. Some of them might not have to far to revert, come to think of it.

Will the waters start to subside when God's decided that we've learnt our lesson I wonder? Scientists are saying they dont know yet why this has happened but there are countless reports of similar disasters from all over the globe. There are many theories but it is impossible to disprove the wrath of God. We've had our chance, now it's the fishes' turn to take over, see if they can make a better job of it. Can't see it myself, they'd never get the hang of the computer keyboard.

When morning came it started to rain and I managed to get my guests (who had miraculously sprung to life like reconstituted nineteen-sixties space food, though neither was about to swim for the shore) into the single room in the tower which is now the whole of my home. They are both still in a state of shock, which I am hoping will be improved by the seagull and seawater soup (I won't tell them what it is until they've eaten it). The cat is miaowing faintly from time to time. I have decide to call him Noah, as he arrived in a boat in a flood (Ziusudra is too much of a mouthful). The woman has regained consciousness and recovered enough to tell me that her name is "Shelley", she can't recall how she got into the boat, doesn't know the cat, but seems happy to have found a piece of dry "land", however small. I am enjoying my new role as resuscitator of women and cats cast adrift, but have begun to hallucinate that the water is beginning to go down.

Well, I can think of worse hallucinations.

James Pyott, 2005

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