2022 Creative Writing Competition 19 +

Click HERE to see the judges’ decisions

Bricks and Flowers by Louise Crankshaw

It was a swelteringly hot day when I boarded the train.  As it rattled its way through the countryside leaving the rank air far behind, I drifted in and out of sleep, forcing myself to stay aware of the conversations and activity around me.  Just as all of that was getting too much, sending my head swimming in endless circles, I heard the call for my stop.

Swinging out of my seat, I grabbed my bag and swung it onto my shoulder.  Today was the beginning of an adventure back to childhood.  I stepped off the train and took a deep breath, expecting the crisp country air to cool my blackened lungs.  I coughed, I was simply breathing in muggy, stifling heat, tainted with a familiar edge of traffic fumes.  As the train pulled away I took a moment to look around me, rolling expanses of fields had gone, and I was facing a housing estate under construction.  I trudged up and over the foot bridge, each footfall heavy with the realisation that my childhood home had moved on.

I paused for a sip of water then resolutely set off up the road towards Burrowdale – my childhood home.  As I neared the village boundary I was struck by the horizon, it appeared really bare in places.  My heart sank as I realised it was too bare, I was too late.  I continued down the leafy lanes leading me closer.  One more corner and I’d be there, be there to rescue the family secret my father had hidden when I left home to get married.  He’d said I should go back to recover it when he died.  Here I was, my pace slowed as I rounded the corner to see bricks and flowers.

My knees gave way and I sank to the floor in shock.  My home reduced to rubble.  I felt a tap on my shoulder, a warm palm took my hand.  It was Arthur from across the way, he gently explained that there had been a tragic accident.  A young mother had spun out of control on the bend and overturned, spinning into Burrowdale.  Building inspectors had declared the house unsafe, it was demolished and flowers in her memory left on the mounds of rubble.  Like flowers on a grave.

Then he was gone.  I hauled myself up, gingerly stepping amongst the rubble, nothing had been salvaged, it had been too dangerous to go in, my father’s secret was lost forever.  Rather appropriate that I was moving amongst rubble and flowers as I mourned my father’s death and now as if to compound my grief, the death of his secret.

I stopped to read the cards attached to the flowers, there were messages of love and tenderness for the woman, one simply a scribble from her child.  Then, partially buried under the rubble, I glimpsed another card, the writing smudged by the rain or perhaps by tears: “In Memory of Arthur, a heroic man.”

Sunflowers and Corr…jets by Angela Susan Gooding

Charlie’s happy place was at his Grandad’s allotment. He loved nothing more than being close to nature, getting grubby and listening to Grandad’s wartime stories of ‘Dig for Victory’ and food rationing. Charlie couldn’t imagine a life where pizza and chicken nuggets were rationed!

One Sunday morning, as they drank tea and dunked digestive biscuits, Grandad talked eagerly about the forthcoming summer show.

“I’m hoping my courgettes might win a prize this year”, he said.

“Ah that reminds me! There’s a competition for the tallest sunflower”, remarked Grandad.

He grabbed a handful of seeds from a small tub and put them in Charlie’s hand.

“These are the seeds I harvested from last year’s sunflowers”.

“How tall will they grow?”, asked Charlie

“Why not give it a go and find out?” said Grandad.

Charlie planted the seeds and was thrilled when tiny green shoots began to emerge. It gave him such a buzz to see something so simple and small grow and flourish into a living thing. He was excited to see how tall they’d grow and spent every spare minute nurturing them. His efforts eventually paid off and he was rewarded with a display of tall sun-like spires that smiled and swayed in the breeze. But would they be tall enough to win the competition?

As the big day approached competitors pulled out all the stops getting their entries in tiptop condition. Then the unexpected happened, Grandad had an accident. As he was taken off to hospital, with a gashed head and suspected broken arm, his parting remark rang in Charlie’s ears long after he’d left.

“Look after my courgettes, won’t you Charlie?”, he implored.

But Charlie was too upset to think about anything.

On the day of the summer show, crowds flocked to the array of marquees to marvel at the spectacular displays. The competition tent was fraught with tension. Judges paced up and down, scrutinising every detail, their straight-faced expressions impossible to read. Finally, the silence was broken by a high-pitched screech, muffled taps on a microphone followed by…“testing, testing, 1, 2, 3”. The hubbub of noise quickly hushed.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the results are in…”

Charlie felt a tug on his shirt sleeve. He looked down in slight bewilderment at the small boy looking up at him.

“What you doing?”, asked the child.

Charlie took a moment or two then bent down to the child’s level. He uncurled his hand to reveal what he was holding.

“Planting sunflower seeds. If we’re lucky, they’ll grow really tall”, said Charlie.

“How tall?”, asked the little boy

“We’ll have to wait and find out”, said Charlie.

“I hope they grow as big as our house!”, the child declared.

“I know someone who got pretty close to that once. And your Great-Grandad used to grow the best courgettes. He won a prize for them too!”, said Charlie smiling

“Daddy, what’s corr…jets?”, asked the child.

“I tell you what, we’ll plant some of them too”, said Charlie.

Wanderlust by Sarah Haggett

The swish of a linen skirt starts it.

Brushed by the hem, a swarm of gossamer seeds float up on a mischievous breeze. Most meander back to earth and send out curious roots, once caught by grass or trodden into loam.

One lonely seed is taken by a gust of wind, up into outstretched blue. The girl with the skirt watches, and there is wonder in her: the purest kind, the questioning kind. Where will it land? In some familiar field, or far away? Could it blow out to sea? Her heart is quick with envy at that chance, yet heavy at the thought of life snuffed out in treacherous waters.

The seed rises, tossed higher still by the capricious wind. As sunset paints its gaudy hues across the sky, it glides above the ocean.

The wind drops.

Slowly sinking to meet the waves, it surely will be swept away, lost to the incomprehensible vastness of the sea.

Then…it is gone, snatched from the twilight air by the hand of a sailor, who smiles at this sign that land is near. He pockets the seed as he steers by the stars, to plot a course home to his linen-skirted love.

While somewhere across the vast incomprehensible galaxy, at what might, given the vagaries of time and space, be the same moment, two restless souls plot a course by those same stars. They are not human. The tiny winged creatures that flutter round their many feet are neither seeds nor butterflies, though they resemble both. These bugs bury themselves in warm damp soil beneath the spaceship boarding ramp, ahead of the long hot season. When that season ends the sailor and his love will be long dead, these insect-seeds will sprout, and the two travellers will return home as new adults.

In what these aliens would perceive as an hour, the sailor arrives home and the girl makes him her husband. They plant the seed in their garden, a symbol, so the sailor says to their children, of his new family motto: only those who leave, can know how it feels to come home.

The children grow and journey, sometimes return, have children of their own. Generations rise, live the cycle of wanderlust and belonging, die. Wildflowers grow on their graves.

In the sunset of the twenty-first century, a great-granddaughter of a great-granddaughter collects those graveside seeds in a vacuum-sealed bag and stows them on a spaceship. They thrive in Martian soil made rich by her efforts.

Our two ancient adolescent aliens scan backwater solar systems for fun. They are amazed to find not one but two planets teeming with life. Reason enough, they think, to say hello.

As the astronaut tends her plants, she glimpses a silver dot descending through the rusty sky. It lands. A door opens. She steps towards it, grazing a plant with her foot. This liberates a cloud of spindly seeds to dance on a ventilation current. They rise up, ready to wander.