Highly Commended stories
First Prize: £400
Publication in the MTP Winter 2020 Anthology (print book and eBook)
Anthology title based on the winning entry
Benny Allen - The Forgotten
Second Prize: £300
Publication in the MTP Winter 2020 Anthology (print book and eBook)Peter Pitman - The Hit Program
Third Prize: £200
Publication in the MTP Winter 2020 Anthology (print book and eBook)
Alison Hill - Transition
Highly Commended (in alphabetical order)
Afreen Butt - Lawrence's Story
Alanna Cramer - Love Be Good To Me
Andrew Next - A Day in the Life of ...
Barry Dennis - The Crocks Banned
Cath Wilson - Talk to Me
Catriona MacLeod - Storm In A Tea Cup
Chan Du - A Book of Smells
Chris Rogers - Spaceman
Christine Phillips - 1965
Daniel O'Neill - Cold Meat
Daniel Parker - Inhuman
David Vernon - Gurgle
Eamon O'Leary - Tranquillity
Eamonn Murphy - Short Story
Edmund Barker - Cheesy
Eileen Wellings - Harvesting the Sun
Ewa Mazierska - The Kaiser of the Immaterial Kingdom
Helena Keers - Dead Tissue
Ian Mangan - Premonition
J Reddy - 9 Suspects
Jay S. Galbraith - Baby
Jan Norval - Sod's Law
Jenni Clarke - When Susan Met Rose
Jodi Hope - Peace of Mind
John Notley - Stairway to Heaven
Joss Wyatt - Dinners and Saints
Karina Holm - Death of a Hamster
Lily Andrew-Martin - Lewis John Malworth
Lucy Bignall - Mr Peacock's Spell Emporium
Mark Gee - Memorial Park
Max Kanefield - The Nesting Cage
Ren - Tani-San's Lunch Disagrees with Her
Richard Hooton - The Bookkeeper
Sally Ryhanen - Someplace Else
Sam Szanto - Making Memories
Sue McLean - The Devil In The Detail
Tabitha Bast - To the Top of the Mountain, Always to the Top
EXCERPTS from the PRIZEWINNING STORIES
Benny Allen - The Forgotten
Your name is Charlie Southwark and today you’re breaking rules. With you, a bunch of people sharing the same, daily thirty-minute bus ride to work.
Bodies so intertwined you can sniff all-day-fresh rolling stick deodorant and a whiff of cigarettes passengers puffed before hopping in. One big smelly mess travelling forty miles per hour.
Pollinating each other.
Recommended distance interactions among acquaintances should be from four to twelve feet. Those are proxemics rules.
Commuting to work, every day, you all break proxemics rules. Those buses packed of commuters and armpits on your face are flushing away decades of studies. Recommended human-to-human interaction distance is just one of them.
Keep that in mind next time somebody tries to grope your ass on an overcrowded bus. Pushing knees forward over the seat gap to feel the texture of your trousers. The perkiness of your bum.
That goes against proxemics rules too.
So you know.
There you are then, Charlie Southwark getting to work. That survival-temporary job you got for a short while. The same job you’ve been stuck with for years.
Your daily escapism.
Those instant conversations with your co-workers your daily social interaction.
A girl in the office asks you how your weekend went, pouring herself a cup of instant coffee. That must be Mairi. Or maybe Jenny. You can’t even remember her name.
You say, hey. At work most people become simple anonymous exclamations. And you begin the story of your weekend not exceeding your expectations, because something something. But she parries you with a sorry-gotta-go.
Those questions pulled out from The Book Of The Perfect Co-worker nobody wants an answer to. That’s the life in pills you are addicted to.
Counting down minutes to your next coffee break.
Counting down minutes to your lunch break.
Then, you’re looking after your protein-carbs-fat balance. High cholesterol is right there waiting, hidden within a double cheeseburger dressed with your favourite double-dipping sauce. Extra layers of fat on those used-to-fit denim jeans.
After lunch it’s all downhill. Halfway through, days always seem easier to deal with. So do weeks. And months. And years.
That goes for your whole life.
Hit half of your goal and then it’s all muscle memory. Body inertia. The motor of that zombie-life you never ought to hit. Those great life dreams you had when you still knew how to dream. Time scoffs them all down.
What’s left after that is just Panda waiting for you at home. Starving.
Panda being your pet. Your fluffy best-friend cat...
Second Prize: Peter Pitman - The Hit Program
In the administration office of one of London’s long-established firms, Grace Wilmot was working another weekend. She didn’t need to work but she enjoyed it. And there was the employee discount. She was there because a lot of people had problems they needed resolving with a finality that The Cleaners was famous for.
She punched in the names of the available Enforcers – Jack Hatchet, Sally Shooter, Bill Butcher... All good, reliable operatives.
She selected the Targets from the file and entered their details into the computer – Peter Prey, Quentin Quarry, Jane Slain... She’d long stopped wondering what the poor sods had done wrong.
The method of disposal would be selected by the computer, one of - gunshot, poison or car accident.
She pressed the RUN button and an old, basic, but efficient computer program whirred into life – The Hit Program.
Right, then. What’ve you been up to Mr Peter Prey? Why have you come to the attention of The Cleaners?
Jack was holding an A4 size picture of an ordinary-looking bloke in his 30s. He tossed it on to his desk where it settled appropriately next to his Glock 22. He knew it was best not to ask questions, not get involved, but he had a curious side to his nature that would one day get him in trouble.
He looked through Peter’s dossier and all he saw was an office worker who had no political or criminal connections and had nothing to do with the cops. So, why was Jack being paid £5000 to put a bullet in his head?
My brain screamed. The tall man in a sharp blue suit and sunglasses swung around and pointed a gun at me. My brain screamed again, my knees knocked together like coconuts in a swaying basket, my stomach turned over and I felt the warmth as piss leaked down the inside of my left leg.
“Wrong place, wrong time, buddy,” he said, his lips curling up at the edges. “Nothing personal.”
Having a gun pointed at you is far worse than they show you on TV. I tried to speak but my Adam's apple seemed to have bounced up into my throat.
The other man pushed the chloroformed woman into the back of the estate car and walked around to the driver’s door. I knew I had no more than ten seconds left. Why had I come running? Why did I have to be the doomed hero?
I swallowed hard and started to garble, “My name is, uh, Peter Prey, I live at, uh, 27 Sandon Street, New Basford. I-I’m 36. I, uh, live with my girlfriend, Anna. With, uh, two kids. L-lovely kids. Er, dad dead, mum still alive. I’ve got an older brother...” I’d read somewhere that it was easier to kill someone you knew nothing about. I was trying to make it harder. “Please don’t kill me... I work as an accounting techn...”
“Oh shut up!” he laughed as he pulled the trigger.
I froze waiting for fireworks, then blackness. The gun stalled, a switch flicked in my mind and I took flight. As I belted across the concrete, weaving from side to side, a police car screeched to a halt behind me. I was safe. I hid on the stairs shaking and trembling.
I’d seen enough cop shows to know better than to go to the police as a witness. These people were serious. I waited a couple of days and returned to the car park and retrieved my car. I didn’t notice the camera that was watching me.
Jack cleaned his gun, slid it into his belt and pulled on his jacket. He sat outside the Prey’s house until the wife and kids had gone out to work and school. He’d discovered that Peter Prey had booked a week off work. He waited until the Prey had gone out to the shop and broke into his house. He wanted a look around before he did the job.
There was nothing to find. There was no obvious reason why the bloke’s number was up. He had to know, would have to interrogate him first. So he sat on the sofa, gun by his side until Peter got back.
Jack heard the rattle and scrape of a key in the door lock, followed by the stamping of feet on a doormat. Peter Prey walked in, his facing showing fear, but not surprise. Jack recognising something was wrong made a grab for his gun. Half-a-dozen armed police burst into the room dressed like Imperial Guards.
“Drop the gun!” ordered one of them.
Jack realised his curiosity had probably got him caught. He knew the management of The Cleaners wouldn’t forgive him, so he raised his gun and died in a cacophony of rifle fire.
Move ‘N’ to Termination...
Third Prize: Alison Christensen - Transition
Geillis called me into his office the week after George had expired. I crept into his office without knocking and plonked myself down in the chair opposite him swinging it backwards to balance. I had to hand it to him, he kept his face completely expressionless as he ignored me whilst he carried on reading the paper set in front of him. I began to get restless and started tapping the underside of his desk and eventually he raised his eyes to glare at me.
George had been my first client and I had failed dismally, sending everything into uproar and getting both Geillis, my boss, and myself hauled up in front of the Governing Board of Angels. I got off pretty lightly due to my lack of experience, but Geillis had been dragged over the coals for not managing me properly.
You see, I had suggested to George that we played marbles with the big round blue pills I’d found in his medicine box. He was eighty-seven and due to expire the following week and as a Transition Counsellor it was my job to make his journey as easy as possible. I forgot to put the pills back, instead I inadvertently tossed them into the bowl of jelly sweeties he always had next to him. His heart gave out a few hours later, a week earlier than his due date and everything had to be rearranged.
Geillis was furious, he had an impeccable record until I managed to ruin it and I knew that it would not serve me well in my future relationship with him. Frankly I didn’t really care as I didn’t like him anyway, he was always angry, I don’t think I ever saw him smile and I didn’t choose this stupid job in the first place.
“Felix, I trust you are well. I’ve called you here as I have a new client assigned to you. Her name is Felicity Spark and she is due to expire in three weeks, that will be Christmas Eve on Earth.” Geillis was staring at me just as I heard the wooden legs of the chair crack under me. They both snapped simultaneously and I reached out to stop myself falling but only succeeded in pulling a large pile of papers that were stacked neatly on his desk to the floor with me.
To Geillis’s credit he didn’t react nor move a muscle as I hauled myself to my feet and began picking up the papers that were now scattered all over the room.
“You can start tonight. Felicity is ninety and has had several falls recently so she is now living with her granddaughter’s family. We are planning that she falls down the stairs on Christmas Eve and is killed instantly,” continued Geillis whilst my mouth fell open and hit the floor in horror at his last sentence.
“She is especially close with her great grand-daughter, Molly, who is eight years old. The child keeps her company often, so you will have to be careful. Are there any questions?”
“My head was spinning with questions, “Why would you make her fall?......... On Christmas!........ With her grand-daughter there and everything!”
“We don’t get to decide the dates and times, it’s just like any other day for us here,” replied Geillis unmoved by my outburst.
“B B B B But it’s Christmas and there’s a child,” I protested. “Can’t she just go to sleep and die like George?”
“If everyone expired in the same way, then humans would soon start to suspect that there was someone behind it. We must add variety, and Felicity will not even know what’s happening. It will be quick,” sighed Geillis.
I picked my mouth up off the floor and stared gloomily at my boss.
“Felix if you cannot do this simple transition, then I will have to assume that you are not cut out for this line of work and you will have to go back to accounting. They are getting inundated with an unprecedented number of new born stars in the Botherial Universe and need to get them registered,” said Geillis sternly. “Now have you any more questions?”
“None,” I replied miserably, feeling defeated as I piled a heap of crumpled papers back on his desk. The last place I wanted to be was out in the freezing Universe with only stars to talk to……They are re-nouned for being incredibly vain and boring.
Geillis sighed and shook his head sadly before saying, “You can get the details from my secretary Felix, just stick to the rules and remember I’ll be watching very closely this time.”...