November 2018 Competition Results: Gary Farnell – Adjudicator

The November competition was judged by Creative Writing Lecturer and acting HWS Chairman, Gary Farnell.

The brief was to write a 300 word account of an air crash survivor’s last few minutes in the air.

And the winners were:

First Place: Love Thy Neighbour by Gill Hollands

Second Place: Toxic by Barbara Needham

Third Place: Get a Grip by Helen Adlam  

Highly Commended: Going Down (in History) by Damon Wakes

Highly Commended: Now Concentrate … Think! by John Quinn 

 

November winners

Helen Adlam (left) with Barbara Needham, Gill Hollands,  John Quinn and Damon Wakes Photo by Summer Quigley

First Place: Love Thy Neighbour by Gill Hollands

This piece offers a highly dramatic situation in highly dramatic writing. It breaks the rules of writing [and] the heightened realism makes it outstanding – a worthy winner!’ 

‘Passengers please adopt the brace position.’ 

It drowns out my iPod. I forget my aching back. Stunned silence hangs. Time stops.

Dancing oxygen masks fall.  I jump.

A child wails. Shrieks explode.

The aisle is a ramp. Bottles roll.  Newspapers slide.  Shoes flip.  Light strips flick on.

Vibration. Clacking teeth. Jelly bellies.

White knuckles on the armrests. The plane howls.

Cursing, the mask defies my fingers.

Screaming.

‘What’s happening?’ A man shouts. A chorus. Unanswered.

Finally, I fit the mask.  Sweet air rushes. I pant it in.

‘Help!’ My neighbour’s hand fumbles. I snap elastic on grey curls.

‘All window blinds up, please!’ Yells a voice from below.

I reach across, yank up the blind. Gasp.

Flames, streaming. Black clouds billowing. Can’t swallow.

‘Ahhh!’ Wails my neighbour, arms up.

Muffled screams. Shouts. Prayers. Sobs. Flailing limbs.

Past the flames, I see blurring fields, buildings.

‘Brace! Brace!’ The captain yells. The siren blares.

I slap my hands over my head. Smash my face into the seat in front. Wait.

Grinding. Roaring loud. Louder. Engines scream. Cover ears. Wait.

Bang! Flying out my seat. Seatbelt tight. Slapping down.

Screeching. Hurtling, out of control.

Blue lights flashing past.

Slower. Leaning. Hanging on the belt. I see only asphalt.

Smoke. The strip lights flash.

‘Evacuate. Evacuate.’   Quick.

I unclip the belt. Unclip hers, coughing.  Climb into a crush. Drag her up. Fight them off. Shove her ahead.

Canted aisle underfoot. Hauling on seats.

Barged.  Can’t see. Shoved. Can’t breathe.

Arrows.

Magnet sunlight.  Eyes smarting, running.

She’s gone. Wait.

A hand pushes me down.  Hacking, I sit, slide.

Blinding day. Champagne air. Solid ground.

I heave deep breaths.  Stinking fuel.

Services converge. Foam billows.

Stumble to the bus.  A zombie shamble.

Safety.

A grey head lands on my shoulder.

We cry together.

Second Place: Toxic by Barbara Needham

‘Perhaps the most imaginative entry in this month’s competition [with] close attention to detail and careful plotting within the space of 300 words.’

‘Orbit and descend to landing site.’

Those were our orders.

We carried them out faultlessly.

‘Fire the retro-rockets,’ Ched commanded, his voice calm and authoritative. Immediately, the craft swayed and began decelerating. We were on the final approach.

There was an undercurrent of excitement among the crew, as red craters and sulphurous pools loomed around us. After years in space, we were about to land. We had rehearsed this manoeuvre hundreds of times.

But there was a problem.

‘Re-program system. Re-program system.’ The monotonous voice of the on-board computer interrupted our preparations. The warning lights flashed. ‘High definition analysis of destination area shows rocky outcrops. Re-program system.’

Chief engineer, Kai, looked aghast. ‘Bloody hell!’ he shouted, swinging into action, his robotic hand changing controls to manual, imputing coordinates of the new landing site. We all knew that last minute alteration in direction was fraught with danger.

While he was distracted, I covertly removed a small unit from the cryogenic store.

‘Solar energy reserves are low.’ Ched stared at banks of monitors.

‘And wind speeds high. More than 100 kilometres per hour.’ I voiced concern.

‘We are being swept off course. Brace yourselves. Brace!’ yelled Kai.

The spacecraft lurched uncontrollably, hurtling towards a jagged surface. A mighty explosion ripped the fuselage in pieces, scattering twisted metal and plastic.

In the eerie silence, I stumbled out of the carnage, clutching the frozen package, turning its dial to thaw mode. I smiled as I passed the mangled body of Ched. Now he was out of the way, I was free to assume the mantle of leader.

Even as I put the little box down, a jostling sound came from within. Eggs from planet Zog, soon to grow into the obedient slaves of this new toxic world. And I was their master.

Third Place: Get a Grip by Helen Adlam 

‘The story is clever at being funny and frightening both at the same time.’ 

You’re hurting my arm.

I am?

Yes you are.

Right.   But … WE’RE GOING DOWN!!  You heard the brace announcement, right? 

Yes, I did.

WHOA!!  DID YOU FEEL THAT?

My arm -?

Oh, right …  Hold on …  Ok, so my fingers are kind of locked on.  It happens when I’m scared.  I mean, when I’m, like, totally freaked out.  It’s very debilitating.

Isn’t it.

You seem pretty calm.  You know, considering. 

I just wanted to finish reading this chapter.  If I can.  So, if you don’t mind …

Ok.  Wow!  Like, really, WOW.  Because I was thinking that if I get out of this alive … I’m doing BIG things.  I’m going to totally turn my life around …   

Good for you.

I’m thinking a kind of AA 8 step plan thing.  Or is it 12 steps?  12 sounds a lot.  Anyway, I’m going to make amends to everyone and HEAL myself.    Starting with my mother.   Ooh, so …  Where to begin?   I mean, my mother could be a total pain in the arse.  Very manipulative.  Right from when I was around five.  Or six?  No five.  Six – yeah.  I was small for my age.  Look, I’m sorry but …                                          

What?

Could you, you know, put the book down?  You probably don’t realise, but you’re giving off a very negative energy.  I’m finding it pretty stressful, to be honest.

Fuck’s sake

Sorry?

Putting the book down now.

Ok – thanks.  Gently would be good.  No … okay.  Your call.

* * *

Anyhoo …  after my mother and my father, there was granny.  Now granny ………  JESUS!! YOU MUST HAVE FELT THAT!  I CAN SEE CARS ON THE GROUND!!   I CAN SEE …  actually … you’re sort of hurting me.  Your hands round my neck are, like, totally cutting off my ….  

 

Highly Commended: Going Down (in History) by Damon Wakes 

‘This has the most sophisticated vocabulary of all the entries [and] is bold in its intellectual conceits.’ 

It’s strange, the kind of thing that pops into your head when you’re about to slam face-first into Greenland at six times the speed of sound. For me it was: “Oh no, not again.”

I’ve tried to explain that a sleigh is a ground vehicle – suited for a very specific type of terrain – and that it lacks the control surfaces required to manoeuvre with sufficient precision to navigate to the house of every child in the world while also maintaining the speed necessary to do so in just one night. I’ve also made the case that although it is – contrary to all common sense – possible for the collective wishes of mankind to get the sleigh airborne, the 1.9 billion stockings’ worth of toys and bonbons still have negative buoyancy and will tend to make for a rather top-heavy ride.

Frankly, as I barrel towards the ground at eighty miles a second, I’m forced to wonder why an individual elf with the industrial output of a large Chinese province would opt to move cargo by sled in the first place. You’d have to imagine he’s got the wherewithal to build a sizeable aeroplane. A blimp. Even an ekranoplan.

I am not being politely self-deprecating when I say than an uncommonly shiny reindeer nose is no substitute for the anti-collision lights mandated by law.

For me personally, I suppose Father Christmas’ slapdash approach to aviation isn’t too much of a bother. If you’re magic enough to withstand the aerodynamic heating you encounter on this kind of journey, you’re magic enough to have it end in a faceplant and still walk away.

It’s the children I feel sorry for.

And the parents, who’ll have to buy the toys themselves for the 2,019th time in a row.

Highly Commended: Now Concentrate … Think! by John Quinn 

‘The prose is very lively, with an effervescent quality. It is very effective at capturing the equivalent of an adrenalin rush in the speaker’s mind.’

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Minutes to live… should I record a farewell to the kids on my phone?

Ridiculous, it won’t survive the crash! I could scroll something on the back of the menu with lots of kisses? Stupid: it will burn in the fire.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Shouldn’t my past life be flashing before me? No, that’s when you drown, idiot! How about regretting things I’ve done? Wouldn’t it be better to regret the things I haven’t done, like climbing Everest or becoming vegetarian? No, soya’s rubbish!

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Bloody English passengers, all calm and considerate. The bloke across the aisle is offering to share his tiny bottle of Prosecco with the old lady next to him. Why can’t this plane be full of Italians: all shouts, panic and gesticulations? At least it would be entertaining, rather than polite.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

What about sex? When the lads are having a beer we’ve talked about ‘what we would do if we knew we had minutes to live.’ And it’s always included sex. My last act on earth, or at least above it, could be to join the mile-high club. I should grab one of the cabin-crew, throw her over my shoulder, drag her into the toilet and have my wicked way. Maybe not with my shoulder…

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Well, they do work – the oxygen masks actually do magically appear, hitting you on the head. Those yellow mouth covers look like they are dancing on the end of their clear tubes. Now concentrate… think! Say a prayer or find religion. No, I gave all that bollocks up at the age of eleven.

Fuck, fuck, fuck!

Why have I pulled this seatbelt so tight, it’s cutting the blood supply? Still, that’s the least of my worries.

Fuck …

 

 

 

 

 

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