It seems strange to have a competition and winners and not to be able to present their awards to, and celebrate with, them. But it didn’t change the enthusiasm of the entrants and participation of our members, which was brilliant to see.
Author of 9 nine published novels, over 1500 published short stories, and a creative writing tutor, Della Galton, was the perfect adjudicator for our April 2020 competition, and kindly stepped in very last minute.
Della’s newest book, Sunshine Over Bluebell Cliff, published by Bolderwood on April 28 2020 has been receiving excellent reviews. One reader wrote: ‘This book got everything absolutely right for me – an excellent light and heartwarming read, recommended to anyone who might enjoy a well-written escape from life’s current realisties.’
This month’s competition was to write a 300-word short story outlining a Medieval farmer’s view of new technology.
Della’s adjudication was as follows:
First place: Lynn Clement for A Woman’s Place
Second place: Mark Eyles for Kindling a Fire
Third place: Damon L. Wakes for Doom and Loom
Highly Commended: Maggie Farran for Tybalt and Carac Meet Alexa
First Place: A Woman’s Place by Lynn Clement
“Outstanding story. A definite winner. The ending was also brilliant.”
‘Time to borrow the ox,’ said Wyatt to his wife Millicent. ‘I’m going to Audley’s and will fetch it back anon.’
‘Aye,’ said his terse spouse.
‘I’ll want hot flummery when I get back,’ Wyatt barked. ‘And you make sure you pray for good weather whilst I be gone,’ he ordered.
‘Aye,’ was the reply.
For the past three years, Millicent hadn’t prayed for the weather. Yet the crop had yielded well. But that was her secret.
Millicent went to the barn. This was her unrevealed walk every time Wyatt went away. There were no children, so she was completely alone. Well…not quite.
Once, whilst Wyatt was at Audley’s Strip, she’d heard a noise coming from the barn. It was like no other she had ever heard. Heading there she was suddenly bowled over by a blinding flash. She picked herself up from the muck and cagily opened the door. Shielding her eyes from the brightness of what appeared to be a woman’s body ablaze on the wooden wall, Millicent could hardly breathe. She held her chest in pain. The woman on the wall spoke. ’Today in rural Winchester the weather will be cold. Over the next few days there will be sunshine and rain, perfect spring growing weather.’
‘Thank you Lucy,’ said another voice and the picture faded. Millicent, panting, had slumped against the barn wall.
Each time Wyatt went away the shiny-woman would appear. Millicent coyly began, to suggest to Wyatt when to travel and fetch the Ploughing-Ox, so that the crop would grow well in the weather. He was reluctant to accept her advice, she being a woman, but believing Millicent had great powers of prayer he did so.
This time when Millicent entered the glowing barn, the shiny-woman wasn’t there, but a gaggle of women instead. The flaxen-haired one said, ‘So – on Loose Women today, we discuss marital relations and a woman’s place in the home.’ Millicent settled down in the straw to listen.
Second Place: Kindling a Fire by Mark Eyles
“Very clever. I liked the slowly emerging story.”
To have my bare back birched before the community. A burning pain in my flesh and soul. I thought of the traveller’s soft hands; her gentle voice. My mouth surprised me by filling with a curse that would forever brand me a witch.
A week ago, after the traveller had left the farm, I had found a hard wooden plate under the apple tree. At the spot the woman had sat through two warm spring days. The plate was finely finished, though square not round. Smooth as my best plates. Black border round a grey centre across which a black pattern scrawled. I think it was writing. Like in the Holy Bible.
The plate was impractical; too small to hold a slice of bread and too flat to hold water, milk or gravy. Too ugly to stand on the kitchen shelf with other plates, so it languished on the floor in the corner with some wooden offcuts. That was where Father Becket found it when he visited the farm to bless the crops on Rogation Sunday.
“What’s this, Rose?” He peered at the plate.
“Don’t know Father. Traveller left it here.”
Father Becket stared at me, tugging his beard with his free hand. Turned back to the plate; held it close to his eyes, then with a cry threw it to the ground, crossing himself.
“Licentious! Do you know what is written here?” He picked up the plate, holding it gingerly between finger and thumb.
“Is that writing?”
“Is that writing? What do you think, woman? Indeed it is, but a corruption.”
“What does it say?”
“Do not claim ignorance. ‘We slept in what had once been the gymnasium…watching girls…a palimpsest…dancers…old sex…something without a shape or name…yearning hands…that were on us…lifting flesh…we yearned…for insatiability’. What does that tale sound like to you?”
“Blasphemer! A maid without a man’s steady hand to rule you, fallen under the devil’s influence.”
Third Place: Doom and Loom by Damon L. Wakes
“A salutary tale of what progress can do. Very topical I thought.“
“Prithee, look at this fine thing the merchant hath brought this morning.” Elspeth gestured to the strange wooden construct that Merek couldn’t possibly have failed to notice standing in the middle of their hovel.
“Hwæt?” was all he could manage.
“It be a loom,” she explained. “With a foot-treadle.”
“Hwæt?” he said again.
“Zounds!” she snapped. “Thou weavest upon it. It be a machine of most ingenious design—and right here, in our humble home!”
Merek put his hands on his hips. “And how much of my gong-farming money hast thou spent on this ingenious machine? Hmmm?”
“Why, none at all!” She gave an exasperated sigh. “The merchant left it here—and the wool besides—and will pay in coin for each bolt of cloth that I canst weave for him. I shall weave while thou workest, and in this way we shall double our pittance!”
Merek was suspicious of this. He could find no fault with the marvellous device, but he did wonder if in lessening the ardour of their honest toil, it might somehow be an affront to God. But times were hard and they could well use the merchant’s coin, and so he said no more about it before departing to complete his own work for the day.
But when he returned that evening, he saw a terrible sight: huge piles of fabric spilled forth from their hovel, threatening to burst its very walls.
“Stop, Elspeth!” he cried. “Stop!”
But: “I can’t!” she wailed. “The loom maketh my work so easy, I know not how!”
Soon the cloth not only filled their hovel, but covered all the land around.
Merek fell to his knees and cried to the heavens: “What hath science done???”
Highly Commended: Tybalt and Carac Meet Alexa by Maggie Farran
“A nicely told tale. Simple, but effective.“
Tybalt and Carac were identical twins. They were both tall and had long noses with nostrils that flared like a horse. It was Spring in Plucks Gutter when the two men set out to plough their strip of land. They worked quietly and harmoniously taking it in turns to lead the shared ox and plough up and down their field. They were taken by surprise when the ox stopped and flatly refused to move on. Tybalt looked at the ground in front of the ox and saw a huge flint rock sticking out of the ground. Together they heaved and heaved until the rock was pulled free. Looking down into the hole left by the rock they saw a round white object flashing at them.
‘My name is Alexa’ it said. ‘Ask me any question you like and I’ll answer it for you.’
Tybalt, the bolder twin, stepped forward
‘Alexa, will I get married and have children?
‘Yes, you will marry Agathe and have four healthy children’
Carac found his confidence and stepped forward.
‘Alexa will I find a wife too?’
‘No, you will die of the Bubonic Plague next year. Most of your village will be wiped out.’
Carac sat down in great distress.
‘Alexa, how come I will die and my twin brother will live?’
‘Tybalt will live because he is stronger than you and does not catch the infection.’
Carac said nothing but hatched a plan in his mind. He had a few months to build up his strength. That Bubonic Plague will not be able to tell the difference between him and his brother. He would be the strongest brother by then. Tybalt would die and he would be saved.
Carac put his arm round his brother’s shoulders.
‘Come on, Tybalt, we’d better get on with the ploughing and finish it before it gets dark. Lets bury this Alexa thing. I don’t believe a word it says.’