Available NOW:

MTP Anthology

TURKISH DELIGHT
Paperback edition of all Prizewinners' works and all Highly Commended works

(240 pages)

plus Kindle eBook edition

 

First Prize: £300
Publication in the MTP Anthology & Certificate
Anthology title based on the winning entry
Publication on the MTP website
Owen O'Hagan - Turkish Delight


Second Prize: £200
Publication in the Anthology & Certificate
Publication on the MTP website
Liza Kocsis - Days


Third Prize: £100
Publication in the 2017 Anthology & Certificate
Publication on the MTP website
Hannah Contois - The Wish Carver
 

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Diana Brighouse - Homage to Chagall
Michael Thompson - Rope
Edward Sergeant - Voices and Songs
Francesca Casilli - Standing Awkwardly In Rooms
Celia Law - In Wolf's Clothing
Pete Pitman - More Than Life
John Bunting - Take The Gamble
John Bunting - The Last Voyage of Ferrywoman Katherine Marshall
Laure Van Rensburg - Angels with Razor Wings
Charles Osborne - Zig Zag
Sean Crawley - Busting a Rhyme or Two on a Lovely Spring Morning 
Jennifer Hayashi Danns - Aspirational
Michael Demus Hanson - The Nervous Bread Van
Mary Charnley - Five Pound Notes and Fluffy Bunnies
John Notley - How To Commit The Perfect Murder
Lee Wadmore - 1.5 Minutes (Approx.)
Steve Wade - Stalking The Muse
N.B. Cara - Lucky Number Seven
Wanda Dakin - Heart of Gold
Hannah Van-de-Peer - The Kite
Dan Patton - The Cold Records
Richard Salsbury - Sonata for Sausage Roll and Exploding Foam
Yvonne Popplewell - Starving
Sen Jayaprakasam - Consequences
Jordan Ryder - Valentine's Day
Philip Pendered - Blind Date
Sandra Howell - Cleaning Up

FIRST PRIZE: Owen O'Hagan - Turkish Delight

Two shots of Aldi peach schnapps and an amaretto is not enough to get me drunk, I realise, standing in the Northern Quarter amongst what seems like the entire of Manchester.
I open the notes on my phone pretending to be busy because then surely no one will notice me. I’m early even though I tried my hardest to be late. I walked slowly to the metro, walked slowly to the restaurant, even though walking slowly is something my long legs never really do.  And yet, I’m still five minutes early. 
There are two muscly bouncers next to me – it’s as if they were employed only because they look like stereotypical bouncers. They’re laughing and joking, chatting about a woman they both seem far too familiar with. Then a taxi pulls up and two girls in short skirts jump out. 
I don’t want them to see us kiss. I walk a little bit down the street. Just because the first date ends in a kiss, doesn’t mean the second has to begin with one, does it?
Then there he is, crossing the road, maybe wearing the same black clothes from Sunday night. The same hype backpack over his shoulders. The same bouncy walk that reminds me of my best friend from school. 
Do we hug? Do we kiss? Do we do nothing? 
He hugs me, how are you doing he asks, kissing me on the cheek. We pull away and there’s this second of silence so I ramble about how loud it is in the street. Apparently I’m eighty years old.  
We shuffle towards the entrance, uncomfortable with each other, neither willing to take the lead. Climbing the stairs we get the how was your week awkwardness out of the way. 
Then we’re told there’s an hour wait for the table. Fuck. The waitress takes my number and says she’ll text me when the table is available. I play it cool, ramble like an old person again about how modern this is, as if I’m trying to convince him I'm not nine years younger than him. 
As we’re waiting at the bar I’m playing back everything we spoke about on our first date so I don’t fuck up and ask him the same questions, tell him the same stories. At least there’s a cocktail menu to steal our attention away from each other. Strawberry daiquiri.  Ooooh we both say almost simultaneously and then laugh nervously. Long island ice tea. I want to say ooooh again but resist. 
I’ll pay, I insist. I don’t want him to think I’m letting him buy everything because he’s older. He refuses until he has to agree because I’m not giving in. He goes to find us place to sit and I wonder whether it’s his breath that smells or mine. I overdosed on mouthwash so it can’t be me. It better fucking not be me.
He gets a tequila and absinthe concoction. Possibly the worst combination in the world. Mine is vodka-y and bright blue with a cola ice-pop sticking out the top. Things are improving. 
Now we’re sitting face to face and I have no fucking clue what to say. The first date didn’t feel like this, did it? I sip out of my funky straw and smile. He smiles back. Then I check my phone to see if the table is ready. It’s not. I ask him about work and conversation starts to flow. Phew. He made a mistake today that cost his company at least 50,000 pounds. I don’t really understand what he does but at least we’re talking. A song comes on that I recognise, and he says he’ll Goggle it, smiling, reminding me about how much we googled on the first date. Somehow we already have an in joke after only one meeting. 
He asks my favourite TV show. I say Six Feet Under. He says how much he loves it too. He really wants to re-watch it soon. Hint hint. His drink tastes shit. No one’s surprised but him. He tells me to try it and yes, it’s disgusting. But I volunteer to have it anyway because I need to be drunk. I mix it with my blue drink to make an extra special cocktail. At first he’s laughing but then I spill some and the crushed ice skids across the table towards another couple.
He tuts. A disapproving ‘I can’t believe you just did that’ tut that makes me feel shitty about something that I really don’t think I should feel shitty about. And then he apologises to the couple at the end of the table, twice, even though they barely noticed. I take a drink from my new cocktail, almost a little ashamed, avoiding his eye contact. Still no text from the waitress. Hurry up. 
What am I supposed to be feeling for him? 
He goes to get a merlot, I say I’m fine. Who the hell drinks merlot? I check my phone a few dozen times until finally, just as he’s back with his goblet of wine, the waitress texts. 
There’s two tables we can choose from; one out in the open, the other in a dimly lit corner. I know which one I want to choose but he picks the corner and we’re sitting down. I change my mind about the drink and order a vodka and coke. I need to loosen up. 
The menu is like all menus in the world to me; pointless because I already know what I want. A burger. He ums and ahs and keeps saying trailer trash fries in an American accent as if it’s meant be funny. So I laugh. 
When we order I don’t ask for no salad on my burger even though that’s as natural to me as chewing on the food. I drink the vodka as quickly as possible. It doesn’t seem to be helping. I’m fine, I’m confident. I’m telling stories and listening and laughing but I just don’t feel anything. A spark. I am putting on this act but I can’t stop myself, like a rocket already set off. 
I take the lettuce and tomato out of my burger, hope he doesn’t notice. We talk through full mouths, say how good all the food is, especially the trailer trash fries he says, laughing at himself again. I laugh a little quieter this time. Another song comes on and he googles it and we laugh. Hahaha. He asks why I don’t eat salad and puts it on his plate. 
I don’t think I fancy him. I do not fancy him. I definitely don’t fancy him. 
Then he asks if I’d like to go somewhere else after the meal. My stomach sinks, if only I could squeeze my eyes shut, open them again and wake up at home. No I don’t want to go somewhere else.
Yeah sure, I say. 
We go back to where we had our first date. But instead of an acoustic indie band playing quietly in the corner you can barely hear anything but the beats of the R&B DJ. I order him another merlot, thinking I’ll likely never order this drink at a bar ever again. I get a double vodka this time. Can you get a triple?
We sit in the dark bar, underneath an unusually large plastic red lampshade, barely able to hear each other. Occasionally one of us lean over and bitch about the music. This music’s shit. What? The music, it’s shit. Yeah, it is. It doesn’t seem to be bothering anyone else. They’re having fun. Maybe they’re not listening so intently. 
We down our drinks and move on. Yet again I want to squeeze my eyes and disappear. I want the night to be over. I want to go home. But I keep going, rocket flying high. 
This next place is better. Musically. But I’m flagging, my false enthusiasm dying slowly. I can’t think of anything else to say and so let the silences hang in the air. We watch some rowdy drunks throw their coats in the middle of the bar and start dancing around them. I wish I was out with them.
Suddenly, I feel him stroking my thigh. I ignore it. 
I go to the toilet, even though I don’t need to go. I stand at the urinal, nothing happening, wondering how I can escape. I realise I need to leave before I look strange.
Same hanging silences, same dancing drunks, same attempt at thigh stroking. So I go to the toilet again, ramble about how alcohol makes me pee too much. I want to ask someone to save me, get me out of here, bump into someone I know. I don’t. 
So what do you think of me, he says when I get back, closer to me now. Do you see me as more of a friend or do you fancy me? Do you fancy me? 
Is this a normal question to ask? Isn’t that what you leave for the polite but slightly rude text when you’ve both gone your separate ways? Uhhhhhhhh is all that comes out. I should tell the truth. But I do want to fancy him. Why don’t I fucking fancy him?
I say something about how it takes me time to see someone in that way and ask him what he thinks. He fancies me, he says. How is that possible? How can we not be feeling the same things? Then, suddenly, he asks if I want to go back to his house. 
Maybe it’s the bar. I’m self-conscious. I’m not used to this. Maybe it will be better when we’re alone. So I say yes. And somehow, it’s better. It’s night and it’s rowdy in the streets and I’m following him in a direction I’ve never been to before. Conversation flows so easily as if all we needed was some fresh air. 
He tells me about watching Queer As Folk and how it helped him come out. And I agree. I totally agree. He’s going to make me a hot chocolate. We’ll watch the first episode of Six Feet Under. This is good. This is fun. Maybe I could fancy him. Maybe I do. 
There’s this little petrol station that’s open and he asks if I want some chocolate. Of course I do. It’s like I’m high all of a sudden. Or maybe the vodka’s finally kicked in. I’m giggling trying to choose a chocolate bar. He’s laughing too, indecisive. He picks a fruit and nut bar which I only judge internally. Then I see these Turkish Delight bars I used to get at home in Ireland. Oh my god, I gleam. I pay for the bars because he hasn’t got any change. We agree to eat them at his. 
Finally we’re at his apartment block and it reminds me of the last time I went home with a guy way back in university. I was drunk then too. He keeps apologising about how untidy it’s going to be. We get in the lift and there’s a giant mirror at the back of it but I don’t want to look into it. 
The flat’s not messy, it’s nice and modern. It’s lovely, I say, again and again. A word I’ve barely used in my life. I don’t even sound like me anymore. He shows me the balcony. It’s the most amazing view of Manchester. How can this be his flat? How can he own all of this? If there was ever going to be a moment this would be it. I sense it in the air. But I pretend not to notice.  
I’m not relaxed. It’s not better. I don’t fancy him. 
But he has sensed the moment too and definitely does not ignore it and suddenly he’s kissing me. I close my eyes and kiss back even though I’m not sure I want to or if I’m any good. Finally, I pull away and laugh, more nervously than intended.
Sorry, he says. You’re not, I think. 
He’s making me the hot chocolate he promised me, Six Feet Under ready on the TV. What the hell am I doing here? What the fuck have I done? He asks if I want my Turkish delight but I say no. I can’t stomach it. So we watch Six Feet Under. I’m sipping the luke warm hot chocolate, him another glass of merlot. I don’t look away from the screen until half-way through when he stares at me and asks if I’m alright. I look at him and smile politely. Yeah.
Five minutes later, my favourite programme on in front of me, his legs near mine, I realise I need to leave. I cannot stay here after this episode ends. The decision is made. It might be the worst thing I’ve ever done. It will be awkward. But I am going home tonight. 
The credits roll, shit. He gets up to take the DVD out. And then I do it. 
I think I have to leave, I say. I can’t stay there tonight. He’s defensive, arms folded, saying that’s fine that’s fine. I keep saying sorry and putting my hands in my head. He says don’t be silly and I say I’m sorry again.
He’s older than me, he says. He knows what he wants. He wants a relationship. He didn’t drag me there. I know, I say. I’m taking the blame. I shouldn’t have come back with you. No, he says. You shouldn’t have. 
He’s right. 
I don’t think I understood awkward until now. I used the word a lot, felt it maybe, but now I really and truly know what it means. He edges to the end of the sofa, offers to call me a taxi but I say I’ll do it myself. I dial and realise I need his address. Fuck. I ask him and he tells me.
Thirty fucking minutes away. 
He says he needs to sleep and somehow I find myself washing the hot chocolate mug. He tells me to leave it and I feel just like I did in the bar when I spilt the cocktail. You can wait here until your taxi comes, he says. I lie and tell him it’s outside.
Do you know how to get downstairs, he asks.
Yeah, I say, lying again
He opens the door for me and gives me directions I try to listen to. I step outside into the hallway and he tells me to message him when I’m home. I turn to him in the doorway, wonder whether we should hug, or shake hands, or acknowledge each other in some way. But instead I just say bye, almost laughing to myself. I am the arsehole here. I am the one messing him about. He doesn’t want to hug me.  
The door closes. Down to floor 2, cross the garden, down to floor 0. Somehow I find my way out first time around. It’s dark, eerily quiet except for the occasional revving car. I have no fucking idea where I am. It’s cold. It’s 2am. And the taxi won’t be here for twenty-five minutes. 
What if it doesn’t come? I call three other companies just in case, all of them are too busy. So I just wait, walk out of sight of his window so he thinks I’m gone. Thirty minutes later, still no taxi. Drunks walk by, coming home, barely noticing me. Other taxi’s pull in and out but none of them are for me. Shit, shit, shit. This is the stupidest thing you have ever done. Who can I call at this time? They’ll all be asleep. And this is embarrassing. I don’t know what to do. Should I start walking? 
Then my taxi pulls up. I run over desperately and climb inside. It smells stale, like old men, but I don’t care. This is best taxi in the world. 
Why so far from home, he asks.
Bad date, I say, thinking over the night now as if it never happened. 
He gets embarrassed himself, tells me I don’t have to talk about my personal life. We don’t talk anymore, sit in comfortable silence. I’m going home. I need to get cash out so he stops half-way to Didsbury, tells me it’s better if I have money before he drops me off so I don’t run off without paying. 
I almost don’t want to leave him. From the cash point I keep turning to make sure he’s not left me, pretending the drunks all around me don’t exist. Nothing really happened to me. I wasn’t hurt. I’m okay. And yet I can’t help but feel unsafe now, wounded maybe. My pride. His pride. I’m not sure. I climb back in the taxi and eventually recognise somewhere near home. I get out and probably tip him too much but I don’t care because to me he just saved my night.
I walk home, arms folded and shivering, head heavy and drunk. 
I don’t take off my clothes or brush my teeth, just lie on the floor and stare at the ceiling, the room spinning. I look at my phone; 3.30am. I message him to tell him I’m home, adding a final sorry because I can’t resist. Maybe he didn’t actually want me to message him. But then maybe he did because he’s clearly a better person than me.  
I type why don’t I fancy people into Google, laughing to myself. Then I take the ‘Am I sociopath?’ quiz and it tells me I’m 76% not a sociopath. That’s okay then.
Finally I take off my clothes, wash the night off my face and gurgle some mouthwash. My head finally on the pillow, the room still spinning, I suddenly remember the Turkish delight I’ve left at his flat. 
Damn it. I really wanted that. 


 

 

SECOND PRIZE: Liza Kocsis - Days

Day 1
06:59 Good morning everybody, you are listening to Sunshine FM, the time is 7am, it’s shaping up to be a beautiful day in March, with the temperatures reaching up to twenty degrees, rain is not forecasted anywhere in the UK...
Glass breaking. The radio stops. Silence for a while.
-What on earth did you break again?
-A wine bottle. Why are you leaving it in the way?
-It was empty anyway.
-Sure. You won’t be the one cutting their feet open.
The girl sits at the edge of the bed for a little while. She takes a deep breath and jumps over the broken wine bottle. She digs her coffee stained, pink dressing gown out of a pile of dirty laundry sitting on a chair and puts it on. She walks to the small kitchen that’s only a couple of metres away from their bed in the studio apartment. She slowly opens the fridge, stands there for a couple of seconds, then takes out an empty milk bottle.
-Can you tell me why you always have to leave the empty bottle in the fridge? Is it so difficult to chuck it in the bin? 
-The bin was full. It didn’t fit. Do we have to have the same conversation every single morning?
-I’m asking the same thing! Do you want coffee?
She rinses two dirty mugs under cold water, and makes a coffee using whipped cream that was left over from Christmas, instead of milk. She opens the balcony door, warm spring breeze sneaks into the room. She is observing the still sleepy and quiet city, the old ladies rushing to the market, the pigeons mating dance. She lights a cigarette and takes a sip of her coffee. She suddenly spits it out.
-Don’t drink it. The whipped cream is off.
The doorbell rings. She freezes and looks at her dirty dressing gown.
-Could you get that please? 
-Nope, I’m sleeping. 
-Thanks. 
 She opens the front door, the postman looks up and down on her hungrily, until his eyes finally settle on her tights. 
-I’m delivering a last warning from the gas company. You need to sign here and here please.
She turns the letter in her hand, contemplating whether or not she should open it, but in the end she just throws it on the table on top of the other unopened post and empty pizza boxes. She goes back to the room and stands around for a while aimlessly. 
-You need to wake up or you will be late for your interview.
The boy moans and turns on his side. The strong sun is burning his eyelids, he is hot. He kicks the duvet on the floor.  She gets dressed, brushes her teeth and shouts back from the door one last time:
-I’m going to work. Please get up, I don’t want to listen to your annoying dad again for two weeks. I will call you in 10 minutes to make sure you are up. 
She slams the door hard. Flakes of paint crumble of the walls. The loud bang echoes in the silence for a long time, it broke the peace of the morning, gave a sign to the city to start the day. A bus rushes through the wide road, two homeless men argue over a secure sleeping spot, a little bee hides away, trembling. The city life doesn’t suit it. 
16:39
As the girl gets home the boy is sitting on the edge of the bed, smoking a cigarette. The girl stops in front of him and runs her fingers through his hair.
- How did it go? I asked you not to smoke inside.
-It wasn’t bad. They asked a bunch of questions about my dad. I think I got it because of him, but only so he can keep an eye on me.
The boy’s phone starts to buzz. He runs out to the balcony and shuts the door behind him. He comes back 5 minutes later.
-Who was that?
-Father...To see if I went. He said if I don’t get it he won’t send any more money, he won’t pay for my weed,  bills and the rent...
The rest of the day goes as normal. The afternoon light paints the walls a different colour, the heat bounces back from the ceiling and splashed on the floor. The girl takes down the rubbish in the evening, her lung squeaks on her way up the stairs, the old lady on the second floor doesn’t return her smile.  The city doesn’t want to go to sleep for a long time, there is something in the air. The wind carries dirt around. Then everything goes quiet.

Day 2
06:59 Good  morning everybody, you are listening to Sunshine FM, the time is 7am, it’s shaping up to be a beautiful day in March, with the temperatures reaching up to twenty degrees, rain is not forecasted anywhere in the UK...
Glass breaking. The radio stops. Silence for a while.
-Not again?!
-Why are you leaving it right next to the alarm? 
-I didn’t put it there this time.
-Whatever, I don’t want to argue.
The girl gets up, jumps over the shards on her way to the fridge. Takes out the empty milk bottle.
- How can you drink so much milk? Now I won’t have any for my coffee again.
-I don’t know what you are talking about, are you drunk?
-Shut up.
The girl puts on her slippers and goes out to the balcony. The doorbell rings.
-Who the hell is that now?
She opens the door, the postman is standing there, his eyes settle on her black bra peeking through her dressing gown.
-I’ve brought a final warning from the gas company, please sign here.
-I’ve already signed for this yesterday.
-Not possible. It has today’s date on it.
She is rummaging through the mess on the table. A pizza box falls on the floor, but no letter is found.
- Never mind, I sign again, why not.
She stares at the envelope for a while, then chucks it on the table. She gets dressed quickly, kisses the forehead of the boy who is still lying in bed and goes to work. She leaves the balcony door open, two homeless men are arguing on the street. A bus stops with a huge sight. A little bee flies through the open windows and happily ventures between dirty dishes. It found what it was looking for.
16.56
The door opens, the girl walks in. The boy is pacing up and down the door angrily in his sweatpants. A cigarette is burning away between his fingers. 
-So father just called. Asking why I didn’t go to the interview. Telling me he is going to cut me off, that I am a druggy, who doesn’t know what to do with himself. I tried to tell him the interview was yesterday but he was having none of it. He is gone crazy...
-Everyone was really weird at work today too. They gave me the same numbers to process as yesterday.
They stare at each other for a while, then the girl turns around and runs down to the street. She returns with the newspaper under her arm.
-It says it’s the 21st of March. I thought it was the 22nd.
The rest of the day goes on as normal. They order a pizza and smoke some weed. The sun finally goes down at 6pm, leaving a slight scent of cut grass in the air. There is not a single cloud in the sky, it’s a fine spring evening.

Day 3
06:59 Good morning everybody, you are listening to Sunshine FM, the time is 7am, it’s shaping up to be a beautiful  day in March, with the temperatures reaching up to twenty degrees, rain is not forecasted anywhere in the UK...
Glass breaking. The radio stops. Silence for a while. The girl turns around in bed, they are looking at each other, frightened.
-Did you..?
-No!
They jump out of bed at the same time. The girl gets dressed straight away, and when she turns around she notices the boy standing in front of the fridge, staring at the empty milk bottle in his hands. They both have their coffees on the balcony, black. The doorbell rings. The boy goes to answer it. When the postman sees him the smile disappears from his face.
-I brought a final warning from the gas company sir. Please sign here.
-Could you tell me today’s date please?
-It’s the 21st of March, sir.
She leaves for work, meanwhile two homeless men start a fight on the street, bus 96 suddenly comes to a halt while smoke pours out of the engine. The city is having a difficult start.

Day 5
06:59 Good morning everybody, you are listening to Sunshine FM, the time is 7am, it’s shaping up to be a beautiful  day in March, with the temperatures reaching up to twenty degrees, rain is not forecasted anywhere in the UK...
Glass breaking. The radio stops. Silence for a while.
-You know what? Don’t go to work today. What’s the point? 
She makes a cup of tea. They are drinking it slowly, sitting by the kitchen table, when the doorbell rings.
-Don’t open it! Or open it, but naked! Imagine the old perverts face when he sees you!
They watch the letter fall through the post box. They laugh. The boy leans over and kisses her neck, then lifts her up with one smooth motion and takes her out to the balcony.
-What are you doing? People can see us!
-So what?
-There could be children around.
-They will forget it by tomorrow...

Day 22
15.13
They are sitting on a bench in the park. There are lots a people running on the grass, enjoying the early spring heat.
-Why do you think we are the only ones? Who noticed about the time...repeating?
- Look at these people. They were living the same day even before it happened. They have the same past, the same future. Look at those kids smoking by those bushes. They think when they finish college they will be free. They don’t know they won’t have jobs, houses, pensions. And the ones that will have these things... Well what’s the point? Family, crying baby, fat wife. It’s better for them like this. They are not going anywhere, like they weren’t before. 
-Why not us though? We haven’t got a flat, or money. You have no job. We are running the same circles too!
-Maybe somebody wanted us to see them. And us. I don’t know. Look on the bright side. We will never have to pay bills again. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t clean the apartment. It’s paradise!
-We could rob a bank and be rich for a day. I can eat whatever I want and I will never get fat. I won’t have to work with those idiots again.

Day 37
21:49
The couple is out dancing. Their pulsating, overheated bodies move to the rhythm of the music. He gets too wasted and throws up on the middle of the dance floor. She carries him home.  
A lot of people are getting drunk tonight. They are trying to forget yesterday.  Little do they know that they are locked in today. The city wants to rest for the night, but they won’t let it. A rat finds a whole slice of bread on the street, drags it into its hiding place and peacefully munches on it, when a loud noise scares it away, leaving more than half behind.

Day 55
06:59 Good morning everybody, you are listening to Sunshine FM, the time is 7am, it’s shaping up to be a beautiful  day in March, with the temperatures reaching up to twenty degrees, rain is not forecasted anywhere in the UK...
Glass breaking. The radio stops. Silence for a while.
-Could you be more careful? You know that goddamn bottle is right there, would it be so difficult not to break it?
The girl jumps out of bed angrily, accidentally stands on a shard, cuts her foot deeply, the dirty white tiles are painted red in the kitchen. She suddenly starts crying, not from the pain, she shrugs down, hugs her knees and weeps.
-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it. Come here, you won’t feel it tomorrow.
She frees herself from his hug, puts on a dress and storms out, banging the door behind her. Yellow paint crumbles off the walls. Its 7:22am, a warm March morning, the old ladies left for the market early. A girl is running on the street, not knowing where to, not caring who she pushes out the way. She runs past a homeless man sleeping, past a broken down bus. A little bee flies next to her persistently, it’s drawn to her yellow dress, it’s hungry and thirsty.
  
Day 79
10.12
The couple is sitting at the corner pub. They are stirring coffee in silence; she is deep in thought.
-Do you think if we went away it would be the same? Maybe we were meant to do something good with this extra time, other than shagging and getting stuff for free.
- I don’t know. I don’t think so. Where would you go anyway? It’s shit everywhere, not just here. Look at that miserable waitress, look how useless she is. She dropped something again.
-Do you have to be so negative? I can’t take it anymore. I can’t even look at you. You know why we are the only ones knowing about the time? So I can see what a miserable bastard you are! I never noticed it before. You think we are better than everyone else, the chosen ones. We are not. I wish we didn’t know about anything. It was fun at first, but not anymore. Maybe we didn’t have a future but at least we moved from A to B.
-Are you going crazy or something?
She jumps up and rushes out the door. People are staring at her leaving, then throw murderous looks into his direction. He shrugs his shoulders. Maybe he would care if they remembered this the next day.
  
Day 104
They haven’t spoken to each other in three days. The silence is cutting through the room like a knife. She gets out of bed, gets dressed and leaves. She buys a coffee and flirts with the barista for a while.  She is looking at the kids at the playground with pity and some jealousy. She could do anything a child can now, without consequences. But no, she knows too much of life. She couldn’t laugh or love like a child can. Can she love at all? Does she love the boy she’s been living with the past 10 years? The boy who doesn’t want marriage or children. She gets an ice-cream and runs away without paying.
14:11
When she gets home she finds the boy in bed with another woman. She turns out the door and gets lunch somewhere. She doesn’t get home until late evening.
19:29
-Fantastic. You found a woman willing to sleep with you in three hours. Bravo. 
-Listen, I’m sorry, you know I love you. The world is our oyster, baby. She won’t even remember me. Come on, I was bored without you here.
-I hate you. If everything was normal, would you not be bored then? Our life wasn’t much more exciting before either. You just had to cheat on me, didn’t you?  If you loved me you wouldn’t be bored. No, leave me alone. Don’t touch me! Leave me alone!
23:33
The city is trying to sleep, but keeps getting woken up. The rat couldn’t finish his dinner again. A rotten smell pours out of the drains.  The girl is standing on the balcony, smoking her fifths cigarette in a row. Her hair is messy, there is a strange light in her eyes . She bit her lips bloody. She is flicking the ashes on the street below, watching them drifting in the moonlight.  She moves slowly and quietly closes the balcony door behind her. She purposefully makes her way to the kitchen, where she fumbles around for a while in the dark. She stands by the bed, looking down on her boyfriend’s sleeping body.  She is looking at his stomach pouring out of his t-shirt. His thinning hair, his yellowing teeth in his open mouth. His arms she used to love, big hands covered in veins. She is not thinking, she is not feeling. She grips the kitchen knife and strikes him in the chest, in the stomach, in the leg, once, twice, a hundred times. While she is working she is thinking about empty milk bottles, yellow walls, mouldy pizza slices, bills piling on the table. He doesn’t even have a chance to wake up. When she finishes she wraps the body in the sheet and rolls it off the bed. Thick, dark blood spreads quickly, and seeps through the gaps of the wooden floor. Suddenly she feels tired like never before. She lies in the bed that is still warm from his body. She falls asleep immediately.
It’s a strange night. Clouds are gathering in the sky, growing ever so bigger. The air is filled with electricity. The bugs and animals seek shelter somewhere safe. The moon can’t be seen anymore. The city can’t wait for the rain to ease the abnormal heat and to settle the heavy dust.

Day 105
06:59 Good morning everyone, you are listening to Sunshine FM, I am sad to report that the heat did not last long, temperatures dropped more than 10 degrees over night, rain is forecasted all over the UK. Now let's listen to Creep by Radiohead, I would like to address this song for all of those who struggled to get up this morning. Let’s get to work, people!
 

 

THIRD PRIZE: Hannah Contois - The Wish Carver

I never woke up. There was no gradual increase in awareness. There were no flickering eyes or twitching fingers. Everything was black, empty and blank, up until the moment it wasn’t. A flash of lightning that lights up the night’s sky, I suddenly existed once more in the inside of bolt of electricity.

I had no concept of time in the white. Hours, days, years. Any amount of time could have passed. I only knew the piercing light and the vast, sucking emptiness of my existence. I only knew the ache of a memory of a warm palm in mine. I only knew the stifling silence without my daughters’ chatter and the pressure in my ears as I tried to listen for them.

“Are you willing to pay the price?” A young man’s voice slipped into the space that I wandered around, the first sound other than my own voice in this shrieking silence.

I whirled and there was a boy. No older than 13 or 14, he rocked back on his heels, hands in jean pockets, watching me. While his face appeared young in the long but soft way of young men’s faces, his eyes were ancient, timeless. Black as night. Black as the darkest part of the ocean. Absorbing without a speck of light in their depths. Shark eyes.

Surprised, I stumbled back and he watched me fall without the slightest sign of reaching out to help me. The smallest hint of a smile played with his lips, pitying and yet self-satisfied. Unruly black curls puffed away from his forehead like dark rainclouds under his hood.

“Tell me,” he said, tone sardonic and cynical, like he already knew what my response would be. “Are you willing to pay the price?”

I swallowed hard, thinking that it should hurt to swallow around the lump in my throat. “Price? What price? Who are you?”

He untucked his hands from his pockets, bowing like a jester. “I’m the Wish Carver. For a price, I will grant you a wish.” He glanced up at me from his bow, eyes glistening from below the edge of this hood.

“What’s your name?”

“I don’t have one. Or if I did, I’ve long since forgotten it in the eons that I have been here serving the souls who cry out for change. For a wish.”

“A wish?” I breathed, my family filling my thoughts; my daughters’ shining blue eyes, my husband’s smile that could fix even the darkest of my days. “Any wish?”

The Carver shrugged lean shoulders. “If you’re willing to pay, there is no end to what you could have.” He swaggered in a circle around me. “Fame. Riches. The list goes on.”

I shook my head. “I want my family. Are they okay? Are they alive?”

He nodded in the impetuous fashion of teenagers, indicating over my shoulder. I turned, fearing the worst. Fearing that my family was here in this void without me. That thought was almost worse than having them live without me. They didn’t stand there but a TV did, conjured out of thin air by the Carver, resting on an old fashion AV cart like the ones from my high school. I held my breath.

Playing on the screen was a video and in a rush, like water from a dam, memories plowed into me, playing in synchronicity with the video.

It had been muggy, typical for a Florida morning. My husband was driving our minivan, his shaggy oil slick hair mussed from the wind. I leaned across the center console and whispered something into his ear and the ghost of the words hung on my lips.

Come on, Mav. Do some of that pilot shit.

Behind his favorite Aviators, I knew his blue eyes had twinkled like blue flames. He’d pulled me in close so that his lips had brushed against the apple of my cheek.

Have you lost that loving feeling?

I remembered his voice with stunning lucidity, like a nightmare that never left. The eerie clarity of the words was carved into my bones. Etched into my soul. The piercing stare and butterfly swarm that his words had induced and the sappy, sweet smile we’d shared. Then his swearing as he had veered across the road, broad hands yanking the wheel. There was a flash of light on the screen, the reflection of the sun off the hood of the oncoming car, and then sparks as our minivan skid on the asphalt. The scream of metal assaulted me in the silence of the void and the ghosts of the sparks hitting my skin popped along my arm and neck.

An image of Michael holding our daughters on our couch flickered across the aged screen and I fell to my knees. This was not part of my memory. This was their reality. They were curled into his chest like sleepy kittens with brows knitted like they were having nightmares. I coughed lightly, choking without knowing it, without feeling it. My husband looked empty, drawn. Not a smile in his eyes or on his face. He looked in so much pain that I crawled on hands and knees towards the TV before I knew what I was doing. The screen snapped at my touch as I traced over his downturned mouth, wishing beyond anything that I could take it away. On the table at his side, tucked into the picture frame that held an image of us laughing at our wedding, was a strip of newspaper. My obituary.

“I’m dead?” My voice was empty, flat. Surprising given the turmoil that blanked my brain.

“Of course,” the Carver snapped, as if my question was the stupidest thing he had ever heard. “How did you think you got here?”

“I don’t know,” I mumbled, sounding small and broken. I felt small and broken.

He smiled that cynical, satirical smile at me. “You wanted something so badly that your soul cried out loud enough that I was summoned to offer you a deal.”

“What deal?”

“A second chance for a price.”

“What’s your price?”

Clucking his tongue, the Carver wagged a finger in my face. “I can’t tell you. You have to make the deal without me telling you the cost.”

Again, I spoke rashly. “I need them. They need me. I wish to go back. I’ll pay. I’ll pay whatever it is.”

Shark eyes pinned me in place and I wobbled on my feet. He shook his head. “You souls are always the same. Disappointing and predictable, thinking only of yourselves. I was hoping that you would be different but if that is what you really want, your wish is my command. I’ll send you back to your precious family,” he said, tone impudent and irreverent.

“What is it like?” I asked.

“Just like hitting the reset button.” He snapped his fingers with a shark’s smile and all went dark.

“Have you lost that loving feeling?”

I smiled into Michael’s face and then hiccupped back into my seat. Something was off, an itching sense of wrongness, but I couldn’t pinpoint it. A pain lanced my collarbone, distracting me. I sat forward, reaching to pull the vanity mirror down but movement in the road up ahead caught my eye. A car, careening across the median and into our oncoming traffic.

“Michael!” I screamed, throwing my hand out to catch his arm. He cursed and veered, slamming on the brakes as the front of the car just kissed the nose of the mini-van, and sent us into a spin. The girls screamed behind me, with me, until we finally stopped. In a cloud of burnt rubber and dust, we stopped.

“Everyone okay?” Michael’s normally steady voice, shook. His hands white-knuckled the steering wheel as he glanced in the rearview mirror, at our daughters, and then at me.

“I think we’re okay,” I managed to whisper.

“That was close,” he breathed, arching around the edge of his seat so that he could see the girls. Both their small faces were pale, tears welling. My own eyes burned. We were alive. All of us. I unbuckled from my seat and jumped in the back, wrapped my arms around my children and hugged them close. A broad hand landed on my back, warming my frigid bones.

A tow truck came and hauled away our car, stuffing all four of us into the cab that smelled of cigarette smoke and fear sweat, the latter of which came from me. I had one of the girls in my lap while Michael held the other. Neither of us were letting them go.

Years passed by. I watched my children grow, my husband age like a sunset over mountains; beautifully. My girls went away to college, bold and brave, ready to take on the world. Ready to change the world.

I got the call no parent wants.

My daughters. My beautiful, intelligent young women, were dead. Caught in an accident on the highway.

It was like no pain I had ever experienced. Like jumping into a frozen lake, the shock took the very air from my lungs and left me dry heaving on my living room floor as Michael asked the officers for details. I begged for it not to be true, clutching at Michael’s pant leg and felt only agony. Consuming and choking agony.

Michael carried me from the room while I thrashed and sobbed; ripped apart, decimated, never to be put back together again.

I dreamed that night. Trapped in a white void that hurt my eyes and burned my skin like the sun on a hot summer day. Chest aching, I’d spun in circles trying to place why it felt so familiar.

“I’ve been here before,” I had muttered to myself, spinning in circles.

“You have.”

Startled, I turned and saw a young man with unruly black curls in a hooded sweatshirt and baggy jeans slouched against an unseen wall. “Who are you?”

He had shrugged away from the wall. “I’m the Wish Carver.”

I got a flash of memory; a shark smile and snapping fingers. “How do I know you?”

“You’ve been here before. Years ago.” He walks a small circle around me and I turn to keep sight of him.

“I don’t remember,” I said though bits and pieces were starting to float into my mind.

“Let me help you then.”

He stepped up close and pressed a thumb to the center of my forehead. It was like a jolt of lightning through me, shocking the breath from my lungs. It all came back to me. The car accident. The same white void. The emptiness and sorrow. The wish.

“I made a deal with you,” I breathed. “I made a deal and you sent me back.”

He hummed. “I did.”

“Why did you take them from me?” I had screamed, voice ripping into my throat like the devil’s talons, hard and hot. “Why?”

“I didn’t take them from you. You took them from you!” He had screamed back, face reddening. “Did you think of no one but yourself when you cast your first wish?”

Taken aback, I’d fought back tears of anger. “I thought of my family.”

“Oh, yes,” he sneered. “Your family. But why did you think of them? Because you missed them? Because you needed them? You, you, you, you, you!” He quieted but looked no less angry. “Your children should have grown up to be leaders, strong in remembrance of their mother. In time, your memory would have softened in your husband’s mind and he would have been happy again and changed the life of a woman and her son, who would grow to do great things in his time. But because of your selfishness,” he spat the word, “you created a ripple in time and space that caused the death of your daughters.”

Shocked, I’d choked. “I did this?”

“You did this,” he’d hissed at me. “Because you changed the course of time and lived that day, another car was hit. In that car was a young man. In the first reality, that young man watched a paramedic try to save your life and was so inspired by his efforts, that he grew up to be one. When your daughters got into the car accident, he was the one who saved them. In the altered reality, he died. You killed an innocent boy. You took away someone’s opportunity to make a difference in the world and changed the lives of more than just yourself.”

The weight of his words nearly took me off my feet. “But I said I was willing to pay. Me.”

“And so you did. In turn and in time. But you dropped a stone in a lake of time and caused a wave on the other side. Everything you have ever done has an effect, even if you don’t see it.”

“Fix this!” I’d snapped, tears searing my cheeks like acid. “I didn’t ask for this!”

“You asked me violate your justice,” he boomed in a voice that was stronger and more commanding that his teenage body should be able to produce. “You asked me desecrate the flow of time and space. You asked me to penetrate your very soul. You think you can be free? Think again.” He turned another circle around me and stared me up and down.

“Honestly, why are you fighting against the very thing that you created?” The Carver whispered in my ear, so close I could feel his lips graze the shell and I repressed a shudder. The words were damp and heavy, a summer storm with none of the relief in the aftermath. He pulled back ever so slowly, his young face creeping into my periphery and I’m struck again by the stark difference between his flushed cheeks, youthful and smiling, and the darkness in his eyes. Opal and deep, cynical and jaded. Old eyes. Soulless eyes.

“So,” his Cheshire cat smile appeared once more and I had to bear down on my knees with my fists to keep from clawing at his mocking stare, my anger replacing the cold dread his declaration had doused me in. “What will you do?” Hands stacked on his hips he leaned back, towering over me with that damned smile on his face, daring me to make my choice.

Potentials and consequences were a flock of screaming crows in my mind. Pecking at my conscience.

“Tell me!” He demands, voice going diamond hard and I flinch in my skin, shutting my eyes tight. “What will you do?!”

I shut my eyes, blacking out the view of him and remembered that last hug I gave my children. I remembered the proud smile my husband gave me when they walked out the door for college and the glow in my chest when I knew, without a doubt, that they could change the world for the better.

“I want to reset the clock. One more time.”

He’d hummed, interested. “Are you willing to pay the price?”

The question shook my bones, piercing into my chest where the mark had been burned into my breast. “What is the price?”

“You know that I shouldn’t tell you but this is special case. No one has ever come back to fix what they broke.” His head had turned, a snake staring down a curious mouse before striking. “You would have to become the next Carver, as I did eons ago. Take my place here and I will fix all.”

I’d thought of all the things that I had done, my purpose in the world. I had been a passionate woman who loved deeply and raised my children to be the same, but better. Where I was happy with my small, perfect world, they were the ones that saw the bigger picture. They had goals to perfect the world outside of our small one. They saw the potential and were determined where I was happy to be in my happy bubble.

“Yes.” If it meant that my daughters, my brilliant world-changers, would be alive, there was nothing that I wouldn’t give up.

Something other than irony sharpened his eyes. “That was the right answer.” He stepped up close. “Are you ready?”

I didn’t want to but I hesitated, scared of the unknown. “What is dying like?”

The Carver shrugged. “Like falling asleep. Don’t you remember?” His thumb pressed deep into my forehead as he shoved me and out of the light.

I knew what was coming this time so I left the vanity mirror down so I could stare into my daughters’ happy, brilliant eyes a little longer. This time, when I leaned over to whisper in Michael’s ear I told him that I would love him until time itself ends. He looked at me curiously but told me he loved me, too. Rather than release his hand, I held onto it tight. I held onto it until the very last second. I felt the warmth of his palms in mine until he let go to crank the wheel and steer them into safety and me into the void.

And all was right with the world.

I blinked as movement from the corner of my eye cleared away the memory. A crying, sputtering soul tripped towards me with a red nose dripping snot, and tear chapped cheeks.

He was young and told me his story, declaring injustice. Why did he have to die? He wished with every breath for things to be different. I said nothing until he finally fell into a hiccupping silence and stared at me, all wide swollen eyes and heaving chest. When I moved, it was with the same timeless grace that Carver had when he first slipped through the void into my mind’s eye. I cupped the soul’s shoulders in my hands, stilling him. I leaned in close enough that when I spoke, it was hardly more than a sigh into his ear.

“Are you willing to pay the price?”

 

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