Last month we set our members an extra special challenge over the Easter break. We ran a writing competition with a real difference. We gave them 3 writing prompts and said they must use all 3 to inspire a single story or poem of no more than 2,000 words, and they only had 24 hours to write it. The prompts were-
1: the location of a seaside pier. 2: an egg. 3: the spoken line of dialogue “Whose plan was this anyway?”
Well, nothing fazes SWC members, and the pieces of writing that were submitted were phenomenal! Thank you to everyone who took part.
The entries were judged anonymously (names removed from texts) by the SWC team and editor of 21-Magazine, Twan Zegers. Now we are extremely pleased to announce 2 runners-up and our overall winner.
Read their fabulous writing here and discover just how they went about weaving the prompts into their stories.
How Many Eggs Did you Have This Morning? by Stephen Hewitt
Three Little Words by Janice Cutting
Mermaid’s Purse by Eithne Bradley
By Eithne Bradley
“Don’t touch it. It might be dangerous.”
Bossy as ever, Josh pushes me aside.
“But I found it!”
“Mum and Dad left me in charge. So there.” He picks up a stick of driftwood.
Even in the dark under the pier, the egg shines. Like it is still wet. But the tide went out hours ago. I can see it. It looks like a grey smear, miles away, halfway to Wales.
Josh pokes the egg with the stick. Something inside it wriggles, flips over. Josh jumps back. He’s more scared out of the two of us. I see the shape inside and want to touch it. Feel it bump up against my fingers.
“It’s just a fish,” I say.
“In a bag?”
“It’s not a bag, it’s an egg. Sharks have their babies in eggs.”
“Nobody likes a know-it-all,” he says, like he’s a teacher telling me how to behave.
“But they do!”
“Whatever. Come on, the tide’s coming back in. We need to get to safety before it does.”
I frown at the tide line. It doesn’t seem to be coming any closer, but then Josh is two years older and he knows things I don’t.
“Come on,” he says, and starts off up the beach.
I have been holding my plastic bucket with both hands. Inside is some water from a rock pool and a bit of seaweed. I liked it because it was a nice red bit, but now Josh says it is poisonous so I don’t want to touch it any more.
“Stupid slowcoach,” Josh shouts down the beach. He’s going to be angry if I wait any longer and he might hit me. He does that a lot when Mum and Dad aren’t looking.
They say sort it out between yourselves. But he’s two years bigger and tougher and how could I ever win?
I crouch down. It’s like Josh is pulling on one of my hands, away from the egg, and the egg is pulling my other hand, and I want to pick it up really badly. So I do. It is cold and slimy and the thing inside goes crazy, flipping and wriggling. I put it in the bucket and go after Josh.
“Did you pick up that stupid egg? I told you not to.”
I trail along behind him, not saying anything. He puffs out his chest. He is a bit fat so it makes him look completely round like a ball.
“I didn’t,” I say.
“You’d better not have.” he says.
Mum and Dad are still by the picnic blanket at the top of the beach. They are packing up and it makes me sad. One more day of school holiday gone. One day closer to going back. I don’t want it to go. I want it to be the same day every day forever.
We go back to the guesthouse. My bare feet are gritty on the hot pavement as we walk back and it makes my teeth feel funny. Lots of grown ups are pink in patches and stripes.
“Sunburn,” says Mum. “They’ll regret it in the morning.”
Josh laughs like he understands. I don’t, so I keep quiet and hold my bucket.
The guesthouse is all white with a black roof and it is right by the rock pools. They were the first thing I went to see on the first day we were here. The limpets are great. You can slide your fingernail right under the shell when they don’t know you’re there, but if you wiggle them a bit they clamp down as hard as they can go, and you can’t get them off at all. You can have as many baked beans as you like at breakfast in the morning and the toast comes on these little silver racks. Josh says the beans make you fart but that’s OK if you’re on the beach all day.
We go up the stairs to our room. The stairs smell like Grandma’s house and the carpet looks like one of her dresses.
Our room is little. Josh has the bed by the window because he got in there first.
I go into the bathroom. I put the bucket in the bath. The egg will be safe in there, only I will know it’s in there. Josh takes showers because they are more grown up than baths. Only kids have baths.
I still have baths.
The egg is still there in its leathery bag. The creature inside is quiet. I hear the door bang as Josh heads out again. I know where he is going. There are three boys in the hotel, they are all bigger than me and Josh likes to go and do what they’re doing. He says he joins in but last time I saw them in the garden they were all playing at throwing stuff and he was just standing there. Maybe they weren’t really allowed to be throwing stuff. Josh always knows what is allowed and what isn’t. He tells me every time.
“Don’t worry,” I tell the egg. “You’re all safe in here. Safe as houses.” Which is something my mum says. Houses are very safe after all.
All through dinner I think about the egg. Is it happy? Does it have enough water? Is the seaweed poison for it too? I read in a book that chocolate kills dogs and I stopped eating it for a bit in case it killed me, but then my teacher Mrs Penney told me that it was OK and I started eating it again.
I push my peas onto my potato and pretend it is a cake. The potato has a funny taste like school dinners. Then I feel bad that I forgot about the egg.
If I think about it, nothing bad can happen. That’s right. If you think about all the things that could go wrong, then nothing will go wrong.
At night, before I go to sleep, I go into the bathroom. Josh says “Oh my God, do you need to go again?” but I’m not going to have a wee. I go and check on the egg.
There’s a little split along one side of it. Something is moving around in there, half in, half out.
In the morning Josh goes out to the arcade with the boys. Mum lets me go to the rockpools so long as I stay in sight of the guesthouse.
I need more water. The fish is almost out of the egg now. I take Josh’s bucket although I know he will be angry if he finds I’ve touched his stuff. I fill the bucket right up with water and carry it back to the room. A bit of water slops on the staircase but the carpet soaks it up and looks just the same as before. I plug the bathtub and pour it in. Then I go back down for more. When the bath is full, I tip out the egg.
The rip in the side widens. And tears. And something shoots out.
It does two laps of the bathtub. I stand up as if it might bite me. But it doesn’t. It slows down and then I can see it properly.
It is half a fish, a slimy one with a fin. But the other half looks like a person. Like a lady with hair that floats around her. She looks at me with her tiny eyes and I look at her.
I try to say hello, but my voice has gone. She points to her mouth and I get it at once. She is hungry. I race downstairs. I wait until all the cleaners have gone into the kitchen and take a handful of potato from one plate and a piece of meat from another. The meat is cold and slippery with gravy. When I drop it into the bath, the mermaid goes straight for the meat. She tears into it with teeth that look like a cat’s.
I fish out the potato because she obviously doesn’t like it and it’s not nice being forced to eat something you don’t like.
Then I crouch down, arms on the tub, and watch her. She is very beautiful, like a Barbie but with dark hair. When I put my hand in the water, she swims around it a few times but doesn’t bite me.
“What are you doing?”
Josh is back. I stand up to try and hide the mermaid but it’s no good, he’s seen her and he is straight over the tub goggling at her. She swims around staring at him.
“It’s a mermaid,” he says, like he always knew. Like he knows all about mermaids when we have the only mermaid in the whole world right here in our bathtub.
“She’s mine, go away!” I am starting to cry. “I looked after her! She’s mine!”
“This. Is. Amazing.” He says every word like a TV host. “I’ve got to tell the boys.”
“No, you can’t, it’s a secret!”
He hits me over the head, not very hard. The mermaid swims my way. Her eyes are very big.
“Whose plan was this anyway? Yours. You’re such a stupid baby. I told you not to bring that egg home. You can’t go around saying it’s a secret after that. You’re lucky I don’t tell Mum and Dad.”
“No, don’t tell them -” I think of the holiday ruined by Mum’s angry silence, Dad shouting. The mermaid back in the sea.
“Then shut up, and stop being such a crybaby!”
Josh runs out of the bathroom. I cry harder. The mermaid was mine. All mine and now Josh has spoiled everything.
The mermaid waves at me with her tiny hand. She wants me to come closer. So I do. I come so close that I can smell the seawater.
And then I hear a faint voice, like the wind off the sea, like an echo in a cave:
“You have one wish…”
“Anything you desire…”
I can hear the boys running up the stairs. Shouting and banging.
“I wish – I wish I had you all to myself and that Josh couldn’t barge in and get his way like he always does because he’s the oldest! It’s so unfair!”
I hear the door of the room bang open and Josh shouting, “It’s the coolest thing ever, just you wait till you see it!”
The mermaid smiles. There is a smell like seaweed and wet rocks and the space under the pier.
Someone in the other room shouts. It is like he has forgotten words and is just shouting. I quickly cover the mermaid with the red seaweed and I pull open the bathroom door.
The big boys are standing in a circle around something on the floor. One of them says, “That’s not possible, it’s not possible -” I have to put my head right back to look at them, they are so tall.
“He just-” says another. And steps back.
On the floor, in a puddle of Josh’s clothes, is a baby. It screws up its face and begins to cry. The big boys all look at each other. They wait one moment. It’s like they are talking telepathically although my teacher said that wasn’t possible. Then, all together, they all run away. I can hear them all the way down the stairs.
I look at the baby. It has the snub little nose of all babies. The same dark hair. I know it though. From photographs. The ones Mum makes us sit through, saying how Josh was such a good baby.
The baby looks at me.
I wipe away my tears. Stand up straight.
“Now who’s the oldest?” I say.
How Many Eggs Did you Have This Morning?
By Stephen Hewitt
I don’t know Uncle Mike’s leaving story, but I do not—I repeat, NOT—imagine it to be like one of those scenes in the movies where the son waves a tearful goodbye to his family just before heading off to war. Instead, I see an angry young man tearing out of town in a dusty convertible, long hair flapping in the wind, leaving nothing behind but a trail of flames and screaming “Good riddance!” into the rearview mirror.
“What was I going to do? Fish for living? I don’t fuckin’ think so!”
He ended up thousands of miles away, in Toronto (or ‘The Big Smoke’, as he likes to call it), just like thousands of other Newfoundlanders. He never got rich, but he kept himself going working factory jobs and eventually saved up enough money to buy a modest house in the suburbs.
“It ain’t much, but it’s mine!”
And then there I was, 20 years later, living on the Mainland, too, just four hours up the road in Ottawa. Close enough that I could drive to visit, but far enough that I had to wait for long weekends, like Easter weekend, to make the trip worth my while.
“Well, well, well, look what the cat dragged in!”
It became a bit of a tradition, me driving to Toronto to spend Easter with my uncle. We’d spend the weekend catching up over a few beers, watching baseball and waxing nostalgic. If the weather was nice we’d pitch lawn chairs in the backyard, kick up our heels and pretend we were back in Newfoundland, sitting on the pier watching the sun set over the Atlantic. He’d tell me stories about growing up in Newfoundland and, because it was Easter, he always drifted back to one story in particular, when he was just a wee lad, standing in the yard with his father on Easter Sunday. They had just returned from church and there, walking up the dirt road behind them, was cousin Ed, who lived at the end of the lane.
For reasons I’m at a loss to explain, it was customary at that time for everyone to eat eggs for breakfast on Easter Sunday. A lot of eggs. A veritable feast of eggs. Families would be saving up for weeks. Going without. All for Easter Sunday. But for some of the men in the community, it was not enough to simply eat more-than-the-usual amount of eggs. No, you had to eat as many eggs as possible, and if you ate the most, well that was something you could brag about. And so it became that every Easter Sunday the question that was on the tip of everyone’s tongue, the thing everyone wanted to know, was “How many eggs did you eat this morning?”
Uncle Mike deepens his voice and straightens his back, mimicking his father, standing there in the yard, looking down the lane towards Ed.
“Good morning, Ed.”
“Good morning Uncle George.”
“How many eggs did you eat this morning, Ed?”
The story never gets old. Not for me. Not for Uncle Mike. We bust a gut laughing every time.
“Proud as a peacock, he was! 18 eggs! Jesus Christ, imagine all that down in your gut!”
Then Uncle Mike spins off in a titter, speculating about how long Ed must have been saving up eggs, how stale they must have been, how sick it must have made him.
“I don’t know if Ed even had hens!”
“Refrigerator?! Sure, they didn’t even have electricity back then!”
“I don’t even think they had a toilet in the house!”
For years we’ve been laughing at this story, but it wasn’t until this year that I asked Uncle Mike, “How many eggs do you think you can eat?”
He shot me a devilish grin. “Well I knows one thing for fuckin’ well sure, I can eat more than you!”
“Get the goddam eggs!” I said. “Challenge accepted!”
There was only 6 eggs in the fridge, not nearly enough. Neither of us had a clue how many eggs we could eat, but we were feeling confident. We drove to the 7-11 and emptied the cooler, and in less than an hour we had five dozen boiled eggs, cooled and peeled sitting on the table between us.
We stared across at each other like a couple of gladiators preparing to do battle. The smell of sulfur was making my stomach turn.
“Whose plan was this anyway?” I asked.
Another devilish grin from Uncle Mike. He sensed weakness. “You’re not backing out of this now, ol’ boy!”
He grabbed an egg between his thumb and forefinger and, never losing his stare, pushed the egg into his mouth and swallowed it whole. It rippled down his throat like a snake devouring it’s prey. He never even flinched. It was as if he had been waiting his whole life for this moment.
I was dumbfounded. “If you choke, I’m not doing mouth-to-mouth on you,” I told him.
“Don’t you worry about me, ol’ boy.” He grabbed another egg and popped it into his mouth. Again he swallowed it whole. I couldn’t take my eyes off his throat. “Are you doing this, or what?” he said.
I started eating, but it became quickly apparent that I was outmatched. He had ten down his gullet by the time I ate my fifth. He cruised past 18 without even breaking a sweat. I tapped out at 20 but Uncle Mike was still going strong. It wasn’t until he hit the 30 mark that he started to slow down. Swallowing them whole was no longer possible. Each successive bite got smaller and smaller.
There were only three eggs left, and he was determined to eat them all. His stomach was rumbling loudly.
He picked up the last egg and took a deep breath. In four bites it was gone.
I straightened up in my chair, and in the deepest, calmest voice I could muster, said:
“Good morning, Ed”
“Good morning Uncle George,” he replied.
“How many eggs did you eat this morning, Ed?”
“40 sir,” he said, proud as a peacock.
Three Little Words
By Janice Cutting
A rhythmical buzzing broke through her dream into reality. She captured the phone and held it to her chest, letting the buzzing soothe her for a nano second before she could deal with reality. She really was out of practice. Her head was thumping and her throat was dry. She rolled over searching for her water bottle, somewhere on the floor amongst the books. Empty. She lay back. The buzzing started again. She turned it around. Fifteen messages and only 4% charge. She looked down at the crowded socket beside her bed. ‘Shit,’ she said, removing the laptop charger and replacing it with the phone plug. The action of her head being lower than her body was more painful that she expected or would have liked. She pulled herself to upright, rearranging the pillows behind her head and scrolled through her messages. Some videos of last night. She cringed. She wished she’d agreed to those singing lessons her Mum wanted her to have when she was twelve. She’d refused of course. That was her sisters thing. All that prissy pink dancing stuff. More messages with high emoji counts. She threw her phone down on the bed. She couldn’t deal, she would have to go vertical.
The shower definitely helped. And the coffee. Most definitely the coffee. She picked the phone up again. The cover raggedy and falling off. She’d thought about a new cover but really she needed a new phone. She hated the way the batteries lost their charge so quickly just so you’d be forced into a new one. That was never happening. Not unless she found more work. At message 13 she was losing interest. It was almost like a full replay of last night and she wasn’t sure that she really wanted to relive it. But text 14 was a killer. From her boss. She needed to deliver a package by 12 noon. It was already 10.30. ‘Shit!’
She screamed downstairs. Jumped on her bike and pedalled like fury to the collection point, a house on Regent Terrace. She rang the bell. The door opened and the guy handed the parcel over.
‘It’s fragile,’ he said ‘don’t let it fall.’
‘I won’t.’ she indicated her panier, where it would be securely held. He looked doubtful.
‘Here’s the instructions. He said you would understand.’
She took the envelope and thanked him. He closed the door heavily and a bit too quickly for her liking. She placed the package, a rectangular box, into her panier and opened the envelope. Inside was a card with three words.
Flux Remembers Recapture
She didn’t understand. What the hell. She rang the bell again. No answer. She pulled out her phone and dialled her boss’s number. No answer. She rang the bell again but more insistently. No answer. She stepped back and looked up. Steam was pouring out of an upstairs window and the faint sound of not such great singing.
She sat down on the front steps of the house. The singing continued. The sun was starting to warm the air. Little buds of blossom were starting to appear on the trees. She looked at the card again and flipped to the other side.
‘Deliver by 12 noon,’ It said, then underneath, ‘three little words.’
She examined every word on both sides of the card. Words. The penny dropped. Three Little Words was that app with satellite coordinates. She and Jed used to laugh about it all the time. Three words for every place on Earth. She went to download the app. No service. She jumped on her bike and headed downhill and under the bridge. She was right, there was a Starbucks with wifi and luckily a queue. She scraped around in her pockets but she could only find £1.85. There is nothing in Starbucks for less than two quid these days. Wifi should be free everywhere. Like street pavements. Battery life 10%. She found the app but it was taking forever to download.
The woman in front couldn’t decide. She was asking lots of questions about the various milk types on offer. ‘Idiot,’ Jackson said to herself, ‘Just choose. Actually don’t. Take your time.’
The square was three quarters of the way round when she reached the top of the queue. She hesitated, rolling the four insufficient coins in her pocket with one hand while watching the square complete on the other.
‘Eh.. do you have?… Actually, how much is a croissant?’ Jackson said. The guy behind the counter was confused. He knew about coffee. He turned around to look up at the board in search of the price.
‘One pound eighty,’ he said ‘to take away.’
‘I’ll take one, thanks,’ she said relieved, ‘I’ll have it heated.’ She followed up smugly. That will give me more time. Eventually it down loaded. So many choices. English (Australia), English (Canada) English (Indian). ‘just English for god’s sake’ she said to herself, finding English (UK). A mute point at the moment. She clicked it. It started to give her the tutorial. She furiously clicked through each screen. Why won’t it go faster.
‘Jackson. Heated croissant,’ the helpful Starbucks employee shouted over her head at a man behind her. Really what is the point of all this ‘take your name stuff’ she thought. It doesn’t help in any way with any kind of ‘engagement’ or whatever they were going for.
‘That’s me,’ Jackson said. The employee looked surprised and handed it over. She stalled by the napkin area while she fumbled with the envelope to find the three words. She dropped her croissant bag. The bloke behind her, who was accused of being Jackson, picked it up.
‘Can I help with anything?’ he said kindly. She looked up at him flustered. He looked like Jed. He was about the same height with the same weirdly curly hair. She smiled.
‘I’m not sure I can be helped,’ she said ‘but thank you.’ She took the croissant bag from him. Why did he have to look like him? She had been doing so well. She’d spent last night drinking away any thoughts of him away. Today was going to be a new beginning. A new start.
‘Whose plan was this anyway?’ she said to herself.
She was actually beginning to feel a little hungry. The adrenalin had left an empty hole in her stomach. She eased the croissant out of its bag. The Starbucks employee glared at her. She pushed it back in and picked up a napkin, staring back at the employee with a smug entitled look. She checked her phone. It was on vapours. She leaned on her bike just outside the door. The wifi seemed to be holding up. She stuffed the croissant in the panier beside the package and typed in the three words.
Flux Remembers Recapture
There were three options. ‘For god’s sake!’ she said to herself. One was in China, one was North Berwick and one was south Denmark. ‘I thought this was meant to be fool proof.’ She said to herself. Apart from the fact that it could only be North Berwick, there were three slightly different uses of the plural. But then it dawned. She looked at her watch. She was not going to make it. She jumped on her bike. It was going to have to be a train. She pelted up the high street and cut off down to the train station. She flew in. She knew exactly which platform. She loved North Berwick. A beach town out on the coast facing out to the North Sea. She and Jed met there. Running around the beach as kids, their parents setting up picnic camps trying to hide the fact that they had wine in their flasks. She made the train. Loaded her bike and sat down on the side that looked out at the sea, her panier on her lap.
That hunger pang started again so she opened the panier and took out the croissant. The oily residue from the croissant bag had leaked onto the parcel. It had no address on it. Just the same three words in black ink. The writing was strangely precise, like some one was trying deliberately to hide their writing style. She tried to run the oily residue from the brown paper but it made it worse. It made it almost hand shaped. The parcel was light. She shook is slightly. It had some moving parts inside but it didn’t seem fragile. She munched on the Croissant. Her headache had gone. She drank some water just in case it came back. She really was out of practice. But last night had to be done. Lucy was right. Oh that’s right it was Lucy’s plan. ‘get steaming drunk,’ she’d said ‘and you will forget all about him.’ As if. He was going to take a long time to forget. He’d been part of her life for so long now. She had it all planned out. Or so she thought. Was that why he bolted? Did he not see a future?
The train jolted as it came into the station. She dropped the panier in an effort to save the Croissant and the water. ‘Shit!’ she said, as the pannier and parcel dropped to the floor. She put the lid back on the water bottle and bent to pick up the pannier. She eased the oil smudged parcel out of the pannier, and tentatively shook it. It had many more moving parts now. ‘Oh god,’ she said. ‘I am definitely not getting paid for this now.’
She contemplated throwing it away. Maybe if it just never delivered it would be better than delivering it broken. She couldn’t do that. She checked her phone. She had 7 minutes. She looked up the coordinates again. It was literally the end of the pier. How could she deliver a package to the end of a pier? The phone went blank for the final time. She packed the parcel into the pannier, clipped it onto the bike and set off downhill, thankfully, to the pier.
The sky was clear blue and the sea full of whispy tufts of waves, just the way she liked it. ‘A perfect wind day’ Jed would have said. She pedalled faster trying to lose the image of him. She tied the bike to the railings at the side of the harbour, fished the parcel out and jogged round past the boats and up the red sandstone steps to the pier. The sun was straight in her eyes but she could just make out a figure at the end of the pier. She slowed to a walk. One careful step in front of the other.
He was leaning against the iron railing at the end of the pier. He curly sandy hair bounced around in the wind. She wasn’t sure she could take another step.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said.
‘This is yours?’ she said, almost unable to hand the box over to him.
‘Happy Easter!’ he said ‘I thought you’d like the words. I know how much you like words.’
‘I think its broken,’ she said.
‘We can fix it,’ he said, opening the parcel and handing her a chocolate Cadbury’s buttons Easter Egg.
‘You think?’ she said, shaking the broken chocolate
‘I love you,’ he said.
She dropped the box and hugged him tightly.