Today we have extracts from 15 stories entered into the Everyday Epic short story competition! We hope you enjoy this taste of the stories:
Table of contents
- The Balled of Edward Lasalle
- The Merry-Go-Round
- Everyday Epic
- Master of the Rolls
- Nice Light
- The Beginner’s Guide To Being Arrested
- On the Threshold
- It was just one of those things
- Protected Housing
- Ridiculous, unsettling coincidences
- In the slave room
- How I became a closet nutter
- Things Happen
- Behind the Door
- The Silver Bracelet
The Balled of Edward Lasalle
Heart pounding, he fell into a hunched run, low over the rocky beach. Dropping to all fours LaSalle moved like a panther, squat and predatory, slipping clandestine across the greasy pebbles until he was straddling the granite protrusion. Ignoring the searing pain in his hip, LaSalle closed the gap on the bird as it dared to fawn over its illicit catch. Catching sight of the hunched octogenarian, the bastard gull started, black and beady flecks darting as it sensed near moral danger. For once in his life, the old man was the quicker, and buoyed by decades of welling frustration he leapt; bony fingers summoned the remainder of their strength as they closed upon a pristine white throat. Shrieking with rage and surprise the bird took flight, launching backwards off the stone.
LaSalle rallied, each dilapidated sinew straining against its muscular predetermination as he held tight to the gull’s retreat. Amidst frenzied squawking he rose unsteadily, eyes blazing, sandwich all but forgotten. It was the last straw, destined to snap the proverbial camel in half. The creature’s malevolent irises met his, and with a start the old man realised just what he was doing, several feet out amidst the crashing waves with his hands wringing tight around a seabird’s neck. As the fingers relaxed, the gull let out a howl of defiance and came at him, razor beak thrusting ever closer to those grey and cataract-inlaid irises. LaSalle’s trailing leg slipped free from its footing, and he fell.
For one unabridged and inescapable moment the world ceased to turn. Both man and beast shared one final glare that crossed that last Darwinian divide. If truth be told, LaSalle had hoped to exit this mortal coil in a far more heroic manner. And yet, his heavy metallic watch flashing bright in the opportune lustre of a lightning bolt’s momentary flare, he saw no mean feat or life-defining moment. There were no witness present, no poem penned. Just one old man’s hand around a seagull’s brazen throat amidst the all-consuming fury of the English Channel – and a thousand Argus headlines, dreamt up long into the night.
Tonight it seems like pure torture! I’m trying so hard not to stare, but I can’t stop, it’s like they’re calling to me. Perhaps I shouldn’t bottle this up; perhaps for once I should let it all out? I’m confused; it’s too much to cope with tonight. The tears start to well, my heart is racing and every irrational hormone is surging throughout my body. Bail, bail, bail! I’ve got to go!
I tried so hard to maintain a smile whilst I struggle to my feet and then it happen, something I’ve wanted for years, waited so patiently for. “Peggy” I flinched as I heard Ms Bateman’s niece call my name. “Yes my dear” I managed to force out. “Would you like a chocolate?” The tears instantly breached and flooded down my face, I smiled from the bottom of my heart “Thank you, I would so love one, it’s been so long since I tasted the delights from a chocolate box”. Mrs Bateman’s niece couldn’t miss my tears so she turned, hugged me and handed me the whole box. “Please Peggy, these are yours. I will bring more for my aunt tomorrow”.
That single expression of kindness and compassion stayed with me until my dying day, as news of my misfortune whispered from resident to visitor and I often received a box of delights to savour and finally silence the taunting.
Gav is drunk.
You can see it in his ordinarily militant body; His usual brash march is more of a meaningful flounder as he meanders across the pebbles.
Gav opts for an unnecessarily loud and exit from the blaring serenity of Brighton beach, striding past the bank-holiday families with their middle-class picnics. The hipsters with their disposable barbeques bought with their disposable incomes.
They are all being circled and Gav ruffles the seagulls’ feathers as he strides noisily past them.
Tourists and locals huddle round tables drinking premium beer from flimsy cups as the sun starts to set.
Gav turns back to look at the glitter-bomb ocean. The sky is as beautiful as a Bierstadt.
Gav breathes in the wafts of charred meat, cigarette smoke, aftershave and salt. He listens to the voices shouting over the deafening base lines and the sirens overhead.
He pulls his last can of lager out of his pocket. It’s still perfectly cold.
He holds the can for a moment, feeling it penetrate his hands and enjoying the sensation. He cracks it open and takes a swig.
The beer simmers in his mouth and the taste is wondrous. And at that exact moment, Gav knows it’s a good time to die.
Katie quickens her pace along the seafront. Edie’s hungry and she’s all out of snacks, and the need-food-now-meltdown of a toddler is the last thing Katie needs.
She’s about ten minutes from home, except she doesn’t call it home because it’s a dump. Katie weaves Edie’s pushchair in and out of the obstacle course of tourists and mobs of language students who are literally everywhere. She’s an absolute pro at this and is practically sprinting now. Most of the human obstacles back away or stand completely still as they see her coming towards them, which pleases Katie enormously.
Katie stops momentarily to catch her breath, then distracted by the sunset. The backdrop to the litter-covered beach. An absolute mess. Just like her life. The main difference being that there won’t be people in high vis jackets coming to pick up the pieces of her life in the morning.
She starts to run again, committed to getting Edie fed and put to bed so that she can finish her short story which needs to be submitted by tomorrow evening. It’s for a competition.
She probably won’t win though, she thinks.
Master of the Rolls
The groan that oozed from Amir’s throat pitched as horror, sadness and pity took turns to confront him. The barbeque was tomorrow. And now £95 worth of meat – the beef-burgers, the lamb-chops, the vegetarian sausages – was all gone; destroyed. And £20 of breads used as tennis balls? This could not be happening. Everyone in The Building had been invited: ten families; thirty two stomachs. He couldn’t cancel. He must think of a solution – one that didn’t involve shelling out money. Because all he had in his wallet was a maxed-out credit card and a £10 note. Nothing in the bank until the cheque he’d paid in for the Matheson’s loft job was cleared. It would be Wednesday, at the earliest, before that £200 was in his account. Amir heard his wife sniffling her sobs under control.
One of those days in Brighton where the heat is thick. Everybody lying on the grass watching everybody else. Ice lolly sticks all over the playground. Dogs with their tongues out, dry. Max sleeping next to a crate of Foster’s. No clouds. A teenage boy in a grey t-shirt tapping me on the shoulder. Sweat patches, smiley. Tells me he’s looking for alcoholics. Making a short film for college. Just thought he’d ask around the park. Hot day, you know? Writes his mobile number on a rizla. Don’t have to decide now, just something to keep in mind. He’d appreciate it.
Put the rizla in my back pocket. Remember being seventeen, on a bus. Woman with a sandwich turned around in her seat to tell me to go easy on the drink. She’d seen me on this route before. Couldn’t even walk straight at eleven in the morning. Better kick it before it’s too late. Got a whole life ahead of me. Not a thing to waste, a life. I thanked her for the advice and got off at the next stop to buy four K Ciders. Guess I’ve got it written all over my face.
The Beginner’s Guide To Being Arrested
I worried about being ‘on the system’. I wasn’t online – I didn’t have broadband, Facebook or Twitter – they just it weren’t for me. I’d given up on the landline as it was too expensive and just use a pay-as-you-go mobile phone. When it rings it’s always a random cold caller and I can barely text. It takes me ages to send just a couple of words. I’d kind of lost contact with the world and now I was suddenly thrown into the 21st century by biometric data.
After the samples and prints had been taken it was back to the cell. I fell asleep to be woken up and asked if I would like dinner? I said “no” thinking it was still morning and this was some trick to confuse me. I developed a mindset that everyone was against me. I had gone out that morning, been attacked then gone home but my place-of-safety had been intruded upon by police arresting me.
The hatch in the cell door slammed open waking me. I’d fallen asleep sitting up again.
“Your Solicitor will be here in forty minutes”, someone shouted through the hatch then slammed it shut. It was no good knowing that. I didn’t have a watch on. I waited in the cell in which the temperature was now unbearably hot. I decided to go to the toilet ignoring the overhead camera. Immediately after I had finished, the cell door opened. “Your duty solicitor is here”, the custody assistant said.
(Matt, Shoreham By Sea)
On the Threshold
On the threshold, Emily told herself: you can become the version of you that’s needed, send another letter, take one more step forward. She took it, and closed her front door quietly behind her, for the sake of neighbours who’d never noticed her. Once again, the street smelled of last night but the sky was pink with possibility.
Passing across the square, she recognised, from identical mornings, another early riser. He didn’t see her smile, was too busy examining the inside of his frown. There is always tomorrow, she thought.
She was right on time for the park, and ready for the dog walker’s half-hearted salute, which might really be no more than a shaking of the leash. She threw her first ever greeting, but it fell short. The walker didn’t turn to pick it up, didn’t wait to see what might happen next. But a word had been spoken, and that was better than yesterday.
It was just one of those things
She tipped the contents of the barrow into the English Channel, and smiled: Nobody could find him now! The police could investigate, and the media speculate as much as they liked; in a couple of weeks no-one would give a damn about the disappearance of a guitarist in a boy band. She’d got away with it!
The barrow was easier to push now that it was empty, but a small plastic sandwich bag remained in the bottom. Helen stared at the bag; damn I’ve forgotten his bits and pieces after all! Oh well, they can go in the fridge. I’ll go to the pier and feed them to the seagulls tomorrow
The voice from behind her came as a surprise, ‘Allo. Allo. Allo. What’s nice a girl like you doing in a place like this in the middle of the night?’
Helen turned slowly, ‘Oh hello officer! I’ve been taking some rubbish to the dump.’
The police officer looked into the wheelbarrow, where at the bottom, Justin’s sad looking bits and pieces along with his fingers and toes were clearly visible in the transparent sandwich bag, ‘What the f***…’ he said and stared at Helen in disbelief.
Oh well you can’t win them all.
‘It really was the most marvellous garden,’ she said. ’Not that I had anything to compare it with.’
He tried to recall it. ‘It smelled so beautiful. No chemicals of course then, and it rained only when you needed it. I remember a tree,’ he said. ‘Because I used to sit in the shade and make up names for things. Then you came along, and you thought of miraculous names. Like Flutterby.’
‘You improved on that one.’ She smiled. Although her skin was so wrinkled these days, she retained a smile to charm the birds out of the trees. They seldom spoke of those days because they seemed not only to belong to a different age but to two different people entirely.
‘Would you like to go back?’
‘Well, we couldn’t, could we? For one thing, we’ld never find it.’
‘There’s a few clues. The Land of Nod.’
‘But what’s that mean? It’s just a metaphor. It means you might see it in your dreams. You might. I haven’t had a dream for months.’
They were sitting either side of a plain oak table on which lay the remains of a frugal lunch; soup and some unappetizing fruit. Their conversation was interrupted by power drills and the cheerful blasphemies of workmen for whom every day was predictable. The village was being reinvented.
‘I did dream about the snake once. He was an old charmer, despite everything.’
‘It must have been part of a plan,’ Adam remarked. He wanted to continue talking and to leave the dishes till later. ‘And when you consider all the aspects of it, it was a weird kind of plan, because I don’t believe we had any choice. It would have been helpful if we had some record of it all; photos maybe.’
Ridiculous, unsettling coincidences
Across the cliff top she walked for a while, picking her way along the path by the light of a low moon that hung over the sea. She paused occasionally to shoot her voice over the water that surged against the rocks far below. Seagulls flew around with angry moans. By now it was three in the morning. Liz couldn’t bear the thought of another night coming on. The void calling beneath her was something she would fall into, never to rise again.
Silence. Nothing. No one. That was it then. For three or four minutes, Liz stood, suspended on the edge of the abyss. She could not turn herself back to the solid cliff behind and prepared to take a step into the ultimate experience of nothingness.
A co-incidence. A ridiculous, unsettling conjunction; two separate points of the universe colliding that should never have come together.
As Liz took a step into the chasm of sea and darkness beneath, just then, the phone rang. What on earth? Here? Of course it was the mobile phone still in her coat pocket. As if wandering disconsolately along the cliff at Beachy Head was unreal enough, this was surreal. “Go on, answer it,” she said out loud. Instinct took hold as the curiosity of the self she had been about to extinguish rose from the abyss.
“Hello?” she said. She couldn’t believe it. Rev Bill?! Here. On the phone? Now? This time of night! It had to be the oddest thing that had ever happened.
“Liz, I had the strangest and strongest impulse to phone you. I know how late it is. And you will tell me to back off and go to bed. But something has made me call. Tell me you’re all right?”
Liz took a deep breath and couldn’t resist smiling at the situation. Maybe all her experience did not have to be a long extended conversation with oneself. Perhaps there was someone out there able to break in upon us. What should she say?
“Yes I’m all right”. Even as she said these words, she felt herself struggle back over the cliff to find a foothold once more. “Look, thanks for phoning. I’ll go back now” (though she didn’t say where she was), “come and talk to me soon” she added, almost as an afterthought. Liz thought she saw a crack in the sky. There were choices to take and moves to make. And she sat there for an hour until pale flecks of morning began to line the eastern sky. A new day.
(Christopher, Brighton area)
In the slave room
Later that evening there were no punters for an hour, and I was able to sit and talk with Sylvie. “I have a right to be here and I live only in fear,” I told her quietly, but she said nothing, just looking at me sadly for a few moments. She seemed about to speak when Angela came in, and stood watching the rest of the news report while sucking on an e-cigarette, and cursing the lack of business.
She paused to draw on the e-cigarette again, its tip glowing with cold heat, then gave a strange smile to us. “You two should be glad the punters couldn’t care less where any of you come from. You’re just a collection of holes to them!” She paused, then waves her e-cigarette at Sylvie. “Though you’re a bit special, of course, Sylv. Brown sugar special request…. A taste of the exotic with our wild African temptress.” She laughed.
“I wish I was back in Africa,” said Sylvie quietly. “It’s not exotic to me – it’s home.” This defiance made Angela go mad. She slapped Sylvie, and called her a “f****** ungrateful bitch”, then threatened to get Danny upstairs to brand her. “Put the f****** mark on you like a prized cow,” she spat out. “The closest you’re ever going to get to Africa is if you get moved to the flat in Brixton.”
The buzzer had rung during Angela’s outburst, and now rang again, which made Angela stop suddenly, swear, then compose her greeting face. She snapped at us: “Get back in the lounge, and look f****** ready – ready for f******.” Then she left to go and greet the punter and take their money.
Sylvie had a strange blank look on her face as she walked past me towards the lounge. I gulped down the last of the tea, then took a few moments to swoosh out a sludge of Hobnob in the bottom of the cup, then began working on my punter face.
When I walked into the lounge I just stared, trying to take things in. Sylvie had taken a tasselled cushion from the sofa where we sat for punters with our skirts high up our legs, and she had set it on fire using the bars of the heater. Now she was walking quickly, precisely around the room holding the flames to anything that might burn. She turned to me sharply, and with a fierce voice told me not to make a sound. “Help me push the sofa against the door so that bitch can’t get in,” she spat. “We have to keep her out until someone out there sees the fire and calls for help.”
We pushed harder than we had ever pushed before, slowly pushing the sofa until it was against the door. All around us cheap fabric began to burn – a chair, a worn rug – then flames began to destroy the dark curtains that blocked the outside looking in. We retreated to a far corner of the room and began praying that someone would see.
How I became a closet nutter
I can’t say for sure when the journey to Friern began, but two dates that spring to mind are July 5th 1957 and Friday April 13th 1972.
My memory of that day in July starts with (not being allowed to go swimming with dad and George) two policeman coming into our flat and talking to mum. Shortly afterwards she became distressed and began to cry. I ran over to comfort her and wrapped my arms around her legs, being only five at the time. Later on I learned that the policeman had told mum that dad had drowned having one last dive at Highgate pond. He must have hit his head on the bottom.
My brother George, twelve at the time, had been with dad. When dad failed to surface George ran all the way home, about four miles. I shudder to think of the impact this must have had on him. As for me, being only five I couldn’t understand what was happening. All I can say is that to this day I have no memories of my father’s physical presence, perhaps because I chose to forget what was painful and inexplicable to a young mind.
During childhood, I suppose I could have taken a variety of different routes that would have taken me far away from Friern Barnet. But after starting work on building sites at 15, I thought ‘fuck this for a game of soldiers, I can’t handle this for another fifty years’ and began the ever quickening march to Friern, the beat of the powerless thought ‘something’s gotta happen’ keeping me company. On the Friday the 13th of April the march became a mad dash.
Every Monday Elsa would take the tram to the square and walk down the Koenigstrasse. She would stop at the flower stall at the corner next to Café Ludovic, and buy a small bouquet which she then tied on the railings near the spot opposite St. Agnes Lane. Facing it was a bench where she would sit. That had been her routine for nearly five years, but this day was different. The moment she left the stall she could see them. There. By her spot on the railings. Bright yellow flowers. Gaudy. Most unlike the subtler reds and blues of her bouquet. She hurried along and peered at them. No note. No explanation. Just a large bunch of bright yellow flowers, wrapped in expensive shiny gold paper, tied above the withered remains of her last offering.
She started to tie her own fresh bunch to the railings below those of the intruder. But a surge of indignation stopped her. This was her place. So she fixed them above the yellow ones. For a moment, she even considered removing the others.
A coincidence, she thought. Another death. An accident perhaps. But not the tragedy she had faced. Her son murdered. His character maligned. Elsa wiped her eyes. Unusual nowadays. Her tears had long run dry. Her pain was now held tight inside. She found herself wondering about this other victim. A young man perhaps. Like her son. Pavel had lived life to the full. Girls, football, politics and motorbikes. She wondered whether this young man had also had a motorbike. An accident. That had always been her worry. She had feared that one day she would get a call to say that Pavel had come off his bike.
Behind the Door
The inmates inside were a complete mixed bag of creeds and races. Some guys were pretty big and terrifyingly intimidating. Some were overweight and kept their heads down. A few were old and grey, again, my heart went out to these old men, they looked lost and out of place. Some were like me, average height, skinny and wondering what the hell went wrong with their lives to put them in such a place.
Thankfully, I was amazed to see queuing going on. Queuing I thought, the first sign of mutual respectfulness and courtesy. This was a good sign. It reminded me of a wildlife documentary I watched once where all the animals on the African plain were suffering with a two-year long drought and as they all gathered around the last watering hole no animal was harmed or killed. I prayed this was the case in this watering hole.
Each time a shower became free, the man next in line would quickly undress and jump in, and he’d hurriedly lather up his head with shower gel and then with a flannel use the froth to clean the rest of his body. This whole process took approximately sixty seconds. He was soon, in his track suit, sopping wet and leaving through the door back onto the wing.
Razor looked at me and wordlessly nodded me over to the farthest end of the room. I gathered that being nearer to the end of the shower-room his back would be covered by the wall and he could see anyone and everything that was going down. Men stepped out of the way and let us both pass without so much as a comment or a sneer. The king of the jungle has come to the watering hole and even though there was an unspoken truce, the other animals didn’t push their luck.
(Jai Byrd, East Sussex)
The Silver Bracelet
I left the bracelet in the bird’s nest and began my descent which was much more difficult than the climb because you can’t see where you’re going. After a final undignified slither I was safe on the ground, brushing off the green mould. Veronica held out her hand. ‘My bracelet please.’ I shook my head and shrugged. ‘I told you. If you want it back you can go up and get it.’ She thought I was joking. ‘Now don’t be stupid Jim. Give it back to me.’ I threw my arms apart. ‘I haven’t got it. Search me if you like.’ She still thought I was joking and patted my pockets. ‘Where is it then?’
‘In an old bird’s nest at the top of the tree.’
‘Well you can jolly well climb up again and get it.” Her eyes were blazing, and her hands were clenched. I waited for her anger to turn to laughter but it didn’t. So I went back to the tree. ‘All right then. Keep your hair on. I only did it for a joke, like.’ I began climbing when she called out: ‘ no – don’t bother.’ She was smiling now. ‘I didn’t like the rotten thing anyway.’
‘If you want me to I’ll go up and get it’
She shook her head.
The church clock was striking and it gave me an idea. ‘Today is the twenty seventh of October. Suppose we come back in twenty years’ time and day at exactly four o’ clock and I’ll climb up and get your bracelet.’”
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