November 2019 Competition Results: Laura Williams – Adjudicator

The November competition was judged by literary agent, Laura Williams.  The brief was to write a creative piece entitled ‘The Waiting Room’.

And the winners were:

First Place:  On the Landing Stage by Peter Duncan    

Second Place: Smart Rooms by Nigel Luck

Third Place: The Room, Waiting by John Quinn        

Highly Commended: Waiting for the Word by Barbara Needham

Highly Commended: Teething Problems by Dominique Hackston          

November Competition winners, Barbara Needham, Nigel Luck, Peter Duncan, Dominique Hackston and John Quinn, with literary agent, Laura Williams

   Photo by David Eadsforth

First Place: On the Landing Stage by Peter Duncan

‘This is the ideal short story – a snapshot of a moment, leaving you satisfied but also imaging more.  A worthy winner!’

The bus drew to a halt. The driver turned off the engine. Jarred into movement by the brief silence I stumbled toward the doors, heaving the rucksack onto my shoulders. The driver glanced up, then went back to counting his fares.

The lights in the deserted ferry terminal shone pointlessly bright. Above the covered walkway leading down to the landing stage I saw familiar adverts for department stores and local newspapers, now oddly distorted by the brightness. The echo of my footsteps on the wooden boards carried too loudly all around. I had never been here so late before.

Out in the open again I faced the wide dark river, my senses caught by the wind coursing in from the sea and the rank smell of industrial estuary. The lights of the city were spread out all along the distant farther shore.

I spotted a weather boarded, dimly- lit cabin right at the end of the landing stage and began walking slowly towards it. Oily water slapped against the steel piles beneath me. The river night was all around. It felt for a few moments as if I was walking into oblivion.

I pushed at the door. Inside, nothing more than a long and heavily graffitied bench beneath a wide dirty window. The place smelled thickly of stale cigarette smoke. I laid my rucksack on the bench, sat down and gazed through the grimy salt- smattered window at the river and the city way beyond. Behind me was the place I could no longer call home: somewhere ahead was a destination I didn’t yet know. I sat in that cheerless room waiting for the ferry to arrive, held terribly between the life that had been and the one that was yet to come.

Second Place: Smart Rooms by Nigel Luck

‘This story is instantly intriguing and perfectly self-contained, with an original and clever concept.’

The problem with Smart Rooms was first recorded in the waiting room of a large hospital. Basic functions of these rooms were common across all, they could read people’s body temperature and adjust the heating or air conditioning accordingly. The more sophisticated could monitor occupants moods and make changes to improve their comfort.

Bathrooms could inform you when the shower had reached the optimum temperature thus avoiding the shock of a cold shower. Smart kitchens were able to do the majority of cooking or talk you through a recipe. Laundry rooms washed, dried and folded your clothes and even the playrooms were capable of putting away toys. It was noted that as a result injuries from Lego had been reduced by 100%.

The sensory detectors in these rooms were designed to read the needs and desires of their occupants and make adjustments in line with these.

Smart Rooms in large buildings were particularly sophisticated; Gym Rooms, swimming pools, restaurants and libraries were all equipped with multi functionality. Waiting rooms however were limited to adjusting room temperature, lighting, and occasionally playing easy listening music.

The difficulties in the Hospital waiting room began one afternoon in May when it deviated from the norm by instigating a game of charades with the waiting patients. It took the Hospital staff two hours to stop the game. Programmers were brought in and the problem was thought to be fixed. But the following week the waiting room compared a talent competition. Following activities included a mass game of hide and seek, a disco and a game of Sleeping Lions where the winner turned out to be dead.

It became apparent that while the resulting activities were direct responses to the occupants desire to alleviate the boredom of waiting, the Hospital deemed this type of behaviour inappropriate. The smart room function was turned off and Hospitals across the country reverted back to installing flickering fluorescent lights and torn magazines from the previous decade.

Third Place: The Room, Waiting by John Quinn

‘This story is so atmospheric and totally heartbreaking – a real achievement in so few words!’

The heavy brocade curtains defiantly stared out of the windows, inside their linings, beige and dull, remained mute. Only the slimmest shaft of sun evaded the room’s defences, momentarily and theatrically illuminating a small speck of Turkish rug or a plank of the once mirror-polished oak floor.

It was in these rare moments, when the interior of the music salon was dimly illuminated, that the room took a shallow breath, surveyed itself in its gloom and, reassured, settled back into a melancholy wait.

It noted the tuning fork, dust covered and slightly rusting, lying unloved and abandoned on the music stand. Even the metronome, that transmitter of time, could not recall when last it had been wound and allowed to sway and click and precisely and lovingly fulfil its destiny.

The Steinway, normally that proudest of grandest pianos, was relieved to have its out of tune embarrassment covered by dustsheets. Those sheets had last been respectfully lifted by blind Dr Cox, the piano tuner, but even his cane’s tap, tap, tap had been absent for more than a decade.

Since the riding accident Suzanne had been confined to bed or wheelchair and, out of respect or pity, no one had struck a chord or carried a tune in the room’s well-proportioned and once elegant interior. Bridy, the maid, had realised, several years ago, that dusting was pointless and had privately declared the room a no-go zone.

Now Jody, just five, tall enough to reach the room’s door handle and strong enough to turn it, clasped the brass knob. ‘Grandma, there’s a piano in here? I’m learning at school. I can play Chopsticks.’

Suzanne pushed hard down on the inner wheel rims of her chair to catch her mischievous grandchild. ‘Don’t go…’ But then she paused. Confused, Jody, turned to look at the grey-haired woman. ‘No, of course you can, darling. Turn the light on, be careful, I suspect it’s rather dusty after all these years.’

Highly Commended: Waiting for the Word by Barbara Needham

‘This is a very clever interpretation of the theme, and the author has been sophisticated in using the reader’s knowledge of history to fill in the blanks.’

There was a palpable sense of déjà vu. The Great Hall bustled with activity. Heralds in shining livery awaited their moment of glory, spitting into their trumpets. In a distant office, clerks eyed their copies of a royal proclamation. Complete … except for one important word.

Messages had reached Henry that events were underway in Greenwich. He waited, alternating between joyous anticipation and a sickening feeling he could not articulate. Hours went by. Restlessness gave way to anger. Why, in God’s name, was it all taking so long?

Henry was accustomed to being in control. Giving the orders. Making the decisions. He felt impotent and frustrated by lack of action. Blast those sycophantic courtiers surrounding him, who told him what they thought he wanted to hear. Blast those toadying cronies who were probably lining their pockets at his expense. And damn and blast all the soothsayers, prophets and priests who claimed in total confidence that, this time, he would have his wish granted. Not one of them dared to voice the question of what if…

Attendants sent for the court jester, but even his antics failed to lighten Henry’s mood.

The long-awaited deputation filed in. Henry’s heart sank as they bowed low. There were no smiling faces, no puffed up officials bursting to impart momentous news and no-one looked Henry in the eye. They were hesitant, muted and measured.

He prepared a trite answer to hide his overwhelming  disappointment.  When they had said their piece, he forced himself to ask about the welfare of the mother.

Henry made a perfunctory visit to the mewling infant, with her silky thatch of red hair. Meanwhile, clerks sharpened their quills and inserted the word princess into their documents.

Highly Commended: Teething Problems by Dominique Hackston

‘This story has a very funny and unexpected twist, which was well executed and neatly done.’

Bob sat next to his mother, his leg twitching. Silently he inspected every poster on the walls. Only one of them depicted looming torture. He twisted and untwisted the latest copy of Beano. Finally, his mother reached over and calmed his agitated leg.

“It’s only a check-up.”

“Do I have to?” he whimpered.

“Read your comic.”

Obediently he opened it but stared over the top at the huge perfect pearly smile opposite. ‘Bet she’s never had a filling’, he thought.  His eyes slid to the story below. Dennis and Gnasher were having a bad day at the doctors and got stuck in a window trying to escape. Bob ground his teeth and wondered why Dennis hadn’t tried the larger window.

“I need to er…” He stood.

“You’ve just been. Sit!”

He sat. Dennis could never have got into trouble with a mother like his, he lamented. Bob returned to his comic where Roger the Dodger was cleverly distracting an old man with a photo album while he crept past with a steaming apple pie.

Bob rose and rifled through the pile of publications.  He handed a glossy cookery magazine to his Mum, sat and waited for her to bury her head in a new recipe.

“Sit!” she hissed without lifting her eyes. “Lilly might see you?”

He checked the door and flopped onto the chair. An-hour-long five minutes later the dentist’s door opened.  Giggles tinkled as Lilly’s blonde curls bobbed towards him in her mother’s arms.

“Mummy thaid I can thit on your lap too, Daddy.”

“Did she now?” He set Lilly down and she toddled straight back to the dentist. He followed. In the doorway, Bob scooped-up the chuckling child. He scowled at his mother and his wife, firmly closed the door on them and plastered a smile of his face.

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