It's a cliché to say it was hard to choose a winner, but it really was, especially as I was left choosing between four very different pieces. I would like to commend Kieran Salmon, Rob Perry and Joe Greaves for their entries, each so different from each other, and each very different from the winner, more of which below.
For me, the purpose of such a writing exercise, i.e. writing to some kind of restriction, even one as simple as an exact word count, is that it forces you to consider your words. When you're paring down that 400 word draft to 354, you are made to consider every word for its merits. Every single word gets inspected and peered at and tested, and, if it doesn't really merit being there; it has to go. So once in a while it's a good exercise to try, to really sharpen up what you write. It's all too easy to throw words on a page as if good ones are easy to come by. Personally I think it's better to write fewer better ones, than more average ones...
If you entered the competition, thanks for doing so. Sorry we could only have one winner; competitions kind of suck, really, don't they? But it was good to see so many cool stories, and as I said, it really was hard to choose the winner. (Incidentally, I was able to read the stories without knowing a thing about who wrote them).
The winner is called Of Grace and God and it's by Ian Kenworthy. I liked it because it manages to do many things in a short space of time; it's well written, it builds a small world in your head, and it's poignant. Most of all though, I chose this story over the many other great entries because it manages to do one of the hardest things of all; it actually conveys that sense of strangeness that we feel when a coincidence happens to you. Having just written about book all about coincidences, I know that's a deceptively hard thing to do, and Ian gets it just right. I hope you enjoy it too.
Of Grace and God by Ian Kenworthy
No atheists in foxholes? Wasn’t that the saying?
Sergeant Lane could see why. A foot deep scraping, the only shelter on a muddy battlefield.
Hardly more protective than a prayer.
Another barrage. Shells thundered from above. Ground erupted nearby. So close. A rain of fine grit –Patter-patter. Pitter-patter. Thump. A body flung itself down into the dirt beside him.
Inches above, cracks and flashes and sounds of Apocalypse.
“God save us.”
So I was right.
The barrage subsided, ushering in an eerie silence.
“Is it over?”
Slowly sitting up. Close in the scraping.
“For twenty minutes or so. You get used to it. I’d say don’t worry, but you will.”
Shaking hands. Close as brothers.
“Eddie Parkes 76th Infantry. Just got here today.”
“Quite a welcome.”
“Yeah.” Eyes tilted to the heavens. “Funny, you’d think the sky would be grey, not blue.”
“The sky is always blue when the angels descend.”
“Ha, used to know a priest who said that, old Father Margrove.”
Silence. For once not dreadful silence.
“Not, Saint Agatha’s Old Unitarians?”
A shared smile. Dare they speak it?
“Used to holiday there.”
Away from this foreign field to a church field. Beneath the layer of grime and age were two boys. A summer spent defending battle lines with a bat and ball. Days of laughter, of trying to win hearts. Of hopes. Of japes and jealousy. Eddie who could always hit a six. Always smiling. Always said he would…
“…work for my dad’s cotton company, worked. Not been to Ashby in years, not since I met my girl. I got a picture, want to see?”
Everyone says that. I’ve seen so many pictures.
Except this was no girl. This was Grace Hopkinson. Darling Grace. ‘Met a lad from the city and moved away’, found happiness.
“Just, remembering. Remembering home.”
“Feels so far away, right?”
“What are the chances of us meeting like this? From the same church, meeting up in the same field. What could be more of a coincidence than that?”
The answer, the whistle of an incoming shell.
© Ian Kenworthy 2013