October 2017 Competition Results – Mick Jackson’s adjudication

Mick Jackson, award winning novelist and screenwriter, who spoke on the evening about Finding Inspiration kindly adjudicated the October competition – write a story inspired by an unusual object. 300 words.  He had his work cut out with a 25% more entries than usual.

Mick’s adjudication was as follows:

Joint 1st Place: Peter Hitchen – My Incredible Word Mining Machine

Joint 1st Place: Georgina Lippiett – The Japanese Puzzle Box

3rd Place: Barbara Needham – Measurement Technology

Highly Commended: Margaret Jennings – Clinker

Highly Commended: Maddy Dorobantu -The Carcass

Prizewinners October 2017
L: Margaret Jennings, Highly Commended and R: Peter Hitchen, (joint) first place

Joint 1st Place: Peter Hitchen – My Incredible Word Mining Machine

Mick Jackson: ‘Inventive and arresting – an original idea delivered with great wit.’

I invented a machine that can extract the words that get trapped in walls or under the surfaces of tabletops and windowsills.

You see, when people speak their voices hit things, but instead of rebounding they’re absorbed, trapped forever like layers of sedimental rock.

No amount of drilling  can extract them.

Scraping is useless.

Yet the words prevail with half lives infinitely greater than that of plutonium.

Fossilised sound, irrecoverably locked away

Unless

You’ve got a machine like mine, to reconstitute the trapped sound and turn it back into intelligible words.

I tried it out for the first time this morning while everyone was out.

Hooked it up in the bedroom, put the mic next to the wall and turned the machine on.

It worked perfectly.

Turns out, the walls of my house are storyboards and play scripts for psycho thrillers and porn shoots.

By the afternoon, I’d smashed my word mining machine.

Joint 1st place: Georgina Lippiett – The Japanese Puzzle Box

Mick Jackson: ‘A puzzle in itself, all the better for remaining unsolved at the story’s conclusion.’

Once he’d gone out I would slip in to the hush of his study, drawn to the box as if by a siren. My jittery hands would be calmed by tracing tiny fingers over the patterns, feeling the edges and changes of surface, cool and smooth. Could this really have come from something so enormous, so vital, as a tree?

Like starlight in a jam jar.

I would lie on the floor and place the box next to me in the afternoon puddles of sun. Mesmerised by the fingertip-polished colours of autumn captured in its surface, willing the answer to shine out. I remember thinking I could just stop. Be satisfied with the promise of an answer without pushing for any more, without committing any more, without risking any more.

But inevitably I found myself stroking each of its six sides, searching for breaches in its armour. Despite the slight shift in the surface, the whisper of hope, the spike of excitement, the box always held firm. Clutching at his own words for justification (‘failing to try, is trying to fail’), I would shake the box, pushing its edges, corners, fractures. Heart racing, time running out, my temper snapping with my fingernails . . . stopped only by the sound of the front door, the signal to retreat. Defeated for a few months I would wait, patiently, until the mystery weaved its magic and curiosity claimed me once more.

* I stand in his study for the first time in years. The box is now tiny but its secret still has power. Holding the box to the light, I feel the old pull of longing. The certainty that to understand the puzzle of this box would be to understand him. I shall not fail to try.

3rd Place: Barbara Needham – Measurement Technology

Mick Jackson: ‘chosen for its confident navigation towards the final revelation and the weighty object at its heart.’

In his bedroom Alfred deposits three items on a battered chest of drawers: an official letter, a notebook and a large, retractable tape measure. This last item has a special significance for him. It has a heavy embossed leather casing, worn with use, a brass button to release the tape back into its holder and the initials A.P. engraved on it.

Alfred stows his suitcase neatly under the bed. He is a man who appreciates order.

He eats his evening meal alone as he does not want to socialise at the bar. They might ask him why he has come to Germany and he contemplates their distaste if he tells them. Lying does not come easily to Alfred and he lacks the imagination to develop a convincing cover-story. Still, if they think he is a taciturn Yorkshire man abroad on government business, that is not wide of the mark.

Head against the iron bedstead, Alfred contemplates the coming day. He picks up the letter and reads it over again with quiet satisfaction. He has been specially chosen and he is confident that he will discharge his duties with total efficiency.

Alfred was appalled at the incompetence of his predecessor. The man was a complete bungler who could not have applied any scientific principles to the job. Nuremberg was a shambles.

Alfred appraises the tape measure and cradles it in his stubby hands. He caresses the leather. It is an old friend, a tool of his trade. Height, weight, physical condition, that’s what you must assess, then the length of the rope, the type of trapdoor and the drop.

Satisfied, Alfred Pierrepoint, hangman of England and instrument of retribution, settles down and sleeps soundly.

Josef Kramer, The Beast of Belsen spends his last night on earth.

Highly Commended: Margaret Jennings – Clinker

Mick Jackson: ‘Chosen for its drama. Displayed great potential – and made me want to see what the writers would do next.’

His breath smells like the wine Grandpa used to drink.

The smell transports her to a swing in a garden on a sunny day; mushrooms growing in the grass, the smell of cooking wafting, the happy banter of the grown-ups coming like music from the house. The sky is a blue cocoon and she is a tiny chrysalis safe in its care.

The man shouts, pushes her shoulder. She holds the clinker tighter. The pain of it digs into her hand, distracts her from the fear.

What is going to happen? So many things have happened. Now she is centre stage.

Grandma said she was an actress. I do not need to have the flounce and flare of an actress now, he likes wine I have no wine I should sing I am shaking too badly, I, I, I, smaller and smaller and smaller her soul quavers and searches and cannot find and the sky is glowering the world shrinking filled with shouting and where is Grandma snap where is Grandpa and where is Mummy snap and where is Daddy snap and when I am going to be away from this man and will the dreadful things…

The child clutches the clinker fiercely. Blood.

The gun has clicked bulletless three times. The man throws the gun, laughs, marches off.

A hand drags her away.

‘You are bleeding child, what have you done to yourself?’ The woman opens her hand, reveals the clinker.

‘See, what did I tell you, that clinker from the chimneys is your grandma and your grandpa come to make you safe, you are safe now, breathe child.’

Later another woman asks, ‘Why do you lie to her?’

‘Because when truth shall not keep her safe, we shall give her lies. It is all we can do.’

Highly Commended: Maddy Dorobantu -The Carcass

Mick Jackson: ‘Chosen for the raw energy. Displayed great potential – and made me want to see what the writer would do next.’

The flames burn reds and oranges and blue. The air fills with the heavy smoke, coming from the burned tyre. Generations of motorcycles before it sense the intense heat. The smoke sits on the tip of the tongues of the passerby, in the eyes of the rushed firefighters , on the drew of the early morning grass. Blacked grass, just a puddle left to see, and the empty skeleton of a yesterday bike, the noise of the revved engine still lingering in the air. You see heat , you smell the orange of the fire, lying on its side in the grass like a fallen empire.

The boy looks vaguely at the empty carcass, yet to be collected in a van by the council. The park is dark, only the light of a full moon hanging overhead. He hears the sudden rush of a lonely cricket through the darken grass. The wind blows through the hollowness of carcass, the emptiness of his heart and his breath catches the silent smell of the man in the leather jacket. The man is close now and looks rapidly around him, taking in the panoramic view of the park, judging the exits and measuring every step.

The saviour is close, his steps clear in the stillness of the park. The boy trembles and his hand reaches the man’s just in time.

A firm handshake, a stern look. The man lights a cigarette.

‘You did well, mate! You can now be part of the GANG! ‘

The man hands him the package and disappears in the shadow of the trees.

The lonely, burnt bike tells the tale of his initiation. He is now a man, a brother. As the wind staggers through the empty shell, he dreams of becoming the man in the leather jacket one day.

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