In Competition No. 3237, you were invited to submit a short story using words of only one syllable.
This challenge produced a delightfully diverse entry with echoes of Dr Seuss, Hemingway, Kafka, Shakespeare and Beckett. The winning slots were keenly contested and I regretted not having space for Frank McDonald’s meditation on St Paul and the nature of love or David Shields on Kant and sense perception. Other strong performers included Richard Spencer, Gail White, Peter Mullen and Gillian Gammon, but it’s high fives all round and especially to the winners below who nab £20.
To hear a rare tale, weird yet true as I stand here, just take a drive out to our inn on the moor. We keep a good pint and, in the snug by the fire, you will meet Old Seth. As he tells it, a George was King when he was born. How, mad for some wench now so long dead her grave has quite gone, Seth sold his soul to Old Nick, is the crux of his tale. That Old Nick will not take said soul is the twist wrung from it: Job must live his life — a span of years far too long, as you shall see — and his mad lust these days is for nought but the trip to Hell. Want proof? Knock him flat with your car as you leave. He will not want to rise, nor do so with ease, but rise he will.
It is a truth well known that a man of means is in need of a wife. But the man is proud and when he meets a girl of wit and good sense with fine eyes and falls in love she spurns him. She would as lief flirt with a man in a red coat who tells her that the proud man wrought him wrong. She comes to loathe the proud man. But she learns the truth of the rogue from the proud man who then saves both her and her kin from shame. She sees his worth at last, to wit, a large house, a vast deal of cash and a well hung gig. And he knows that this girl, with her spry ways, will ease his path through life and make small talk for him, of which he is glad, for he is a man of few words.
The sand wastes were like huge dead pools, full of stench, flat and sick all the way to where a pale sky stitched its vague edge to dark earth. ‘How’d we know there’s life there?’ asked Zane and tipped his hat back on his slack fat neck. ‘We don’t,’ said The Kid. ‘But we still need to go see, if we want the cash.’ ‘Hell,’ whined Zeke, ‘we don’t know if they own one buck. Most like they’re cheats.’
The Kid stared Zeke in his glass eye. ‘You have a new plan, pard? No, sir. I’m fit to be tied with your noise.’ He smiled, though, in his dark heart: he knew where a deep trench pined for a fresh corpse, where no Boot Hill stone would mark a new death. Still, he thought, I could run to a cheap prayer. He’d made one up when Zeke shot him cold.
A man and a boy stand at a fork in the road. The day ends and night falls.
‘When will he come?’ asks the boy.
‘Soon,’ says the man.
‘What does he look like?’ asks the boy. ‘Is he tall?’
‘He is not tall,’ says the man. ‘But he is not short.’
‘What does he wear?’ asks the boy.
‘A suit,’ says the man. ‘Or a coat.’
‘How will we know who he is?’ asks the boy.
‘We will know him when we see him.’
The boy sighs.
The man takes sticks and wood and lights a fire. The clouds clear to show a full moon. Its pale disc has grey marks like lines on an old face.
‘Is that him?’ asks the boy. He points at the moon.
The man stirs the fire with a stick. ‘If you think so,’ he says.
Eve said, ‘I am your rib, right?’
The man whose name meant ‘earth’ said, ‘Well, that’s what God claims, and yes, there is a sore spot on my chest now that you bring it up, but the tale God tells does not ring true. I mean, you’re not a rib, are you? You’re flesh and blood. And I’m not at all dead, as I would be if they had pulled you through some sort of hole in my skin big enough for you to fit. So no, it makes no sense. You’re not my rib. But who cares? I’m still glad you’re here, Eve. There’s a tree with plump fruit I’ve had my eye on, and it would be nice to share some of its fruit with you. Are you game?’
Eve said, ‘Show me the way.’
I have just read this big book in which James Joyce has your man Bloom walk through town on one whole day in June, year One Nine O Four. There are scenes set in his home, a place where the dead lie at rest, a book room, a house of ill fame, and of course a pub crawl. There are grand themes and tropes; lots of puns, quips, new words, styles of speech, plus some smut. There is talk of fate, love, food, the Cold Cup, and the birth of a boy. The core is the search by Bloom for a son. When you reach the end, there is a sense of work well done. But your eyes will need a long rest. The last words are from his wife in bed: ‘And yes I said yes I will Yes.’ Ten out of ten? Aye.
The door was not locked. Nor shut. In the dark I could not see it, but I heard it as I pushed. The night wind brushed it and it creaked. It made a faint noise, like the squeak of a young owl, or the fall of rust from a pipe. I tensed. Loud would have freaked me less.
It helped that the tropes came thick and fast, but they were just words. I had to act. She was there, I could tell by the scent of sin, the one who had hurt me and shrugged it off like a mink stole.
As soon as I moved I tripped, a blind dolt. My arm stretched to break my fall and jabbed a light switch. I froze.
And there, in front of a tiled hearth, her green eyes lit by stark cold hate, Nyx the cat sat on the mat.
No. 3240: a life in limEricks
You are invited to tell the life story of a well-known figure, past or present (please specify), in three consecutive limericks. Please email entries to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 9 March.
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