Story Competition Winners - Aged 15 and Over

1st Place - Esther Crooks

Amina looked down onto her adopted village from her cave in the hills above. It was only a few hours before dawn but flickers from the fires still illuminated the stern, lean faces of the villagers. Too hungry, too distressed to sleep they talked into the night. The interminable drought had not been vanquished by their prayers, their sacrifices, and nor by the spells they had implored Amina to cast. The discovery that Amina could not – or would not - use her powers to make it rain was a cruel blow. Some of the villagers - angry and desperate – were now turning on her with accusations of betrayal and sorcery.

With a sigh, Amina bent down to continue packing her pots and her potions. She would leave at first light for another village, another home. For six years, Amina had prepared remedies and brewed potions, dispensing relief to wounds, pains and fevers. Now, yet again she realised her grandmother had been right – always keep moving, she had always told her. People both desire and fear your powers. They will not allow you to settle.

Six years of settled life had meant an accumulation of home comforts that she must now discard; she could carry only the essentials. Just a little more room, she thought, checking her pack. Perhaps could she perhaps take her grandmothers old books? Reaching under the wooden bench by the fire, Amina brought out a small wooden box of family heirlooms - books, recipes, beaded necklaces, a silk scarf. But there, in the corner was another, smaller box she had never seen before. It was lacquered red, green and gold with images of a distant land of lakes and mountains. It looked like the Eastern lands her grandmother had told her of, along with tales of fantastic journeys, mythical beasts and powerful magic using essences of the earth. How strange she had just discovered this box now; had it been there all these years?

Squinting in the gloom, Amina took the box outside to see it better by starlight. Sitting by the embers of her fire, she opened the lid. Inside was a coarse grey powder with an acrid smell, glistening slightly in the pale light. Inside the lid, in her grandmother’s own hand were written the simple words, “Throw me in the fire in your hour of need”. Amina hesitated only a moment before throwing a handful of the grey powder into the embers of the fire. There was a blinding flash, a sharp crack before the entire the world turned black and she remembered no more.

It was dawn when Amina slowly opened her eyes and she at once sensed a change in the world. She was no longer alone. Gentle hands cared for her, offering her water. Many whispering voices surrounded her. But it was not the voices which had brought her back to consciousness. It was the cool, rhythmic feeling of rain falling on her cheeks.

2nd Place - Emily Morley

I used to believe that I wasn’t capable of committing a crime, but I soon discovered that I was wrong.

I was afraid of reprimand as a child. Causing trouble was my brother’s speciality. You could tell Johnny right from wrong, and he’d still end up being sent to his room, banned from the local shopping centre, brought home in a police car in the middle of the night…

But I would always cover for him if I thought I could get away with it. When money went missing from Mum’s purse I’d convince her that she’d bought an extra packet of cigarettes from the off license. When Dad was hunting him down, ready to smack him one, I’d hide him in my wardrobe, say he’d just cycled off down the street.

One night Johnny needed me more than ever before. We were teenagers and he was involved with a gang. It was usual for him to sneak out of the house late at night, but I’d noticed a change in him and I could sense something was about to happen. He seemed anxious and quieter than usual.

He had set off on his bike and I followed on mine. The voices in my head screamed at me; I’d be in so much trouble when I got back. For once I ignored them. I eventually lost him as he disappeared down an alleyway. It turned out to be a dead end, no sign of Johnny except for his bike, propped up behind an industrial waste bin.

I heard raised voices, mostly male and full of rage and challenging. They came from the other side of the alley. I climbed up on the bin. Every sound I made sent a stab of fear through me, my heart thumping with the anticipation of attracting unwanted attention. I kept expecting a light to turn on, a voice demanding to know what I was up to.

I could see Johnny on the other side. He was on the ground, his arms around his head and his legs tucked into his chest. A hooded figure stood over him, fists clenched. His back was to me, so I couldn’t see the face of the monster kicking my brother and stamping on his head. Shadowy figures stood watching and jeering until police sirens began to wail nearby, causing them to flee.

There was a knife on the floor, perhaps it was Johnny’s. I lowered myself into the car park, for once not thinking of the consequences. I picked up the knife and, bringing back my arm, I brought it down on the hooded monster. The blade slid into flesh and he crumpled. I looked over the body and into my brother’s shocked face. I held out my hand and helped him up, then he led me out of the car park and away from the oncoming police cars.

This was when I made the discovery that I would do anything for my family.

3rd Place - Jan Chappell

It wasn’t working out well. She thought they were going places together but tempers had spiralled out of control when he’d texted. “Sorry babe – can’t make it. Can you cancel the estate agent or view the apartment solo.” I can do even better she thought angrily as she clicked the curser on her lap-top over a Ryanair flight to Spain.

Jane’s brother and young family lived in a seaside village in Valencia Province. There was nothing keeping her home now so a few days later she was walking towards a deserted beach on a clear sun-bright summer morning. She hadn’t particularly wanted to walk this early but Jamie was shouting from his cot as she quietly closed the door. It seemed easier to stroll the beach than to queue for the bathroom. The sophisticated apartment Jane had so envied seemed pokey now that she was sleeping on the bed settee and how come one small toddler needed so much gaudy plastic and stuffed animals! It was like sleeping in a toy department. Jane was grateful though. Grateful that her sister-in-law hadn’t probed – just quietly passing her a couple of sheets and a pillow when she had tearfully arrived a couple of nights previously. Had she acted too hastily running to Spain, Jason had texted her twice now and included a photo of an apartment that he’d viewed just to show her he was still serious.

Sea glistened invitingly. Sand was almost too hot on bare toes. A group of women having fun working out on the shore line caught her eye or more specifically the muscular and tanned coast guard giving the keep fit lesson. Life had been too much paella and vino of late so – what the hell – she shyly joined in when he threw her a welcoming smile.

With broken Spanish she learned that lessons were freely provided by the local council. They took place every morning for a few weeks each summer and yes she could join them tomorrow. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to lose a few pounds.

“Teacher’s pet” caused laughter back at the apartment when Jane announced that Carlos had invited her to celebrate the night of San Juan a few days later. Young and old, everyone gathers at the beach just as night falls on the evening of 23rd June. All along the shoreline little fires would be lit, there would be music and laughter and paddling in the night-time sea. Carlos would bring firewood and bocadillos but could Jane bring ‘una manta’.

Jane remembered thinking that a blanket seemed a bit excessive as she tried to apply lipstick and fend off young Jamie’s sticky kisses at the same time later that week. But as darkness fell and she felt Carlos gently pull the cover more closely around both of them she discovered quite happily that hot Spanish sand goes surprisingly cool at night and she snuggled more closely into his arms.