SAWC 2008 Short Story Competition Results

Congratulations to our winners of the 2008 SA Writers' College Short Story Award For Unpublished Writers.
First Prize: Waitin' For Fuzzy - by Ross Ian Fleming
Second Prize:  Writer's Block - by Widaad Munga
Third Prize: The Yellow Coat -  by Katja Abbott
The judges, Michelle Matthews, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Karin Schimke and Ginny Swart, have enjoyed reading your stories, and we have loved being witness to the emerging talent of writers in South Africa. 

Below you will find the judges' results, with brief comments.

For all of you who entered, not only our top finalists, well done, and most important, keep writing!



WAITIN' FOR FUZZY - by Ross Ian Fleming

Page 1 of - Waitin’ for Fuzzy

I wake up this mornin’ and the sun shines in the window and Fuzzy starts barkin’ in my ear so I bark back and we race round in circles for about 5 minutes playin’ tag – then I wander through to the kitchen and a bowl has miraculously appeared with - holy guacamole - Delishus Dogg Chunks and i drool a bit and guzzle it all down quickly burp and growl just to show Fuzzy who is boss and then go outside and do a quick business next to the potplant - the Tubby One comes downstairs and starts whinin’ so I hide behind the couch for ten minutes until it’s safe to come out and then the Scrawny One comes along with a poop scoop and I breathe again – oh yes and then Fuzzy comes along unsuspectin’ so I pounce on him and we fall and tumble rock ‘n roll then break ‘n breathe – the Scrawny One goes past talkin’ to himself all the time like a madman sometimes I think I am the only normal one in this family here he comes again  mumblin’ under his breath talkin’ to imaginary friends the cat from next door just came into view - time to drop ‘n chase damn she’s up the mulberry tree – she can move fast when she wants to – hey Fuzzy’s on my team again and we’re both howlin’ at the treed feline hey it’s the Scrawny One shoutin’ he sure has a mean temper – better take cover behind the couch again – ah here’s the Little One - happy day the Great White Hope of 15 Paradise Place she’s always got a smile for me lickies lickies lickies don’t let the adults see – darlin’ did I ever tell you that you give the best kisses in Upper Harfield – ah a biscuit for the little boy - walkies come on walkies its all I want from you just a little stroll i wag my tail and make a cringe-plea-bargain yyyeeesss we’re off and I grab the leash in my mouth and in seconds we’re out the door glorious freedom sniff sniff ah yes Kilroy was here and Fuzzy last week stop for a wizz sniffle a little more hey that car just hooted at us hi guys it’s Furball here where’re you from?
trot trot trot walk run scramble hey this is wild the little one is headin’ for the park and it’s only 6am man this is good good good – hey Marvin Ed Pete – hi guys wadda gas man lets run up and down and maybe chase some tail - how come I’m not functionin’ know what I mean – must have been that trip to the vet last spring  knicker knacker noooo – all gone so you been there done that got the collar huh? chase the kids sniff for the rest - the Little One chattin’ to Ms Ervid the librarian what you doin’ here on your own don’t you know you could get into trouble adjust my glasses scratch my ass bomb on the kids - so I bark at her circlin’ round and tellin’ Ed and Marvin to join in – cowards conformists hustlers they fade and wander off past the jungle jim – your dog has a mean streak Caitlin says Ms Ervid so I give an extra loud one and try anoint her ankle but the Little One intervenes and bang we’re on our way home – sniff sniff this is fun hey check out Ms Ervid’s Volksie wet her wheel quickly – hey more cars hi guys this is Furball remember me?

Page 2 of - Waitin’ for Fuzzy

ssssssmokin’!! the Scrawny One is sleepin’ on the couch again – if the Tubby One finds out its gonna be tickets think I’ll watch this one out – stretch out and snooze in the sunpatch next to the window – dreamland here I come birds cats friends Fuzzy…
snore deep slumber approachin’ sherbet its 7.11am and we’re none of us ready for this day. think I’ll park off and wait for the rush crash bang slosh everybuddy eatin’ shoutin’ chasin’ and the Scrawny One finally off the couch – the Tubby One says how come I godda do everythin’ in this house these dishes still not washed and You sleepin’ on the couch – I bark to show my solidarity with the early risers and wink at the Little One snubbin’ the Scrawny One – the politics in this kennel is powerful man.
yeah it’s 8.23 and everyone’s gone just me ‘n Fuzzy alone in the house – we settle down to watch the sun move across the sky lyin’ next to the window it’s a fine day – god in his heaven Fuzzy ‘n me down here sunbathin’ – we can hear the cars roarin’ down Rosemall Avenue gee those guys got no respect – noise pollution deluxe carbon fumes foulin’ up the atmosphere where will it all end -  we’re cosy here but every twenty minutes or so one of us’ll go bark at the Smellies take a peek for burglars don’t come in here my friend cos we got Teeth and we don’t take no you know what – snoozin’ nicely when i see Fuzzy’s got a lamb bone from somewhere – get outta here pal where d’you get That from? – mice ‘n rats ‘n vagrants from KFC across the road coulda got hold of that - i’m talkin’ rabies guy – not to mention HIV and hepatitis B who knows where that bone has been – put it down Now i say -  that’s the problem with the younger generation no respect for authority i got 18 months on Fuzzy  - that’s about 10 in dog years – my arithmetic not too good on account of all i know is Drop It Furball i’m countin’ 1 2 3 bang you’re dead gotcha etc etc - anyways so Fuzzy’s gnawin’ this bone and all and i’m actually Quite disgusted at this sound so i try wrassle it from him and we’re rollin’ everywhere and the water bowl goes flyin’ – we stop and stare stupidly at the mess and look at one another then break up laughin’ - life is a gas here folks.
and there’s some guy barkin’ for all he’s worth its probably seen one of the bergies – yeah they say a poodle has more smell receptors than an iguana on acid [not that i’d know of course Never Havin’ Been There Ahem] and some of those gentlemen haven’t taken a bath in years sad really hey the whole neighbourhood’s joinin’ in wow this is a subculture its a movement c’mon Fuzzy lets give it a blast Did U Vote and all  – sound of police siren or maybe its an ambulance - guess the bergie got his - o joy exultant justice sublime – what’s that sound of an accident – Fuzzy climbs the stairs to get a look see – screeech bang crash – now they shoutin’ at one another and Fuzzy’s all excited and yappin’ like tomorrow’s been cancelled man the fun never ends.

Page 3 of Waitin’ for Fuzzy

well its 6pm and Nobody’s home maybe its the Rapture – the Tubby One’s always goin’ on about Armageddon – yes Fuzzy i have some sad news for you we are officially ‘Left Behind’ as in the late nite horror movie about Revelations etc etc – Fuzzy mopin’ at the news and i must admit i’m feelin’ a little sorry for us down here – i say a little prayer for the Little One and i’m just scoutin’ for adjectives to describe her ponytail when hey in they walk – moanin’ mumblin’ about the power cut – robots out laptops down system not workin’ – hey guys its me Furball boy am i glad to see you d’you know what happened today yip yip yip – get outta here Fuzzy where did you learn that Raddy is a doll for cryin’ out loud she’s a  girl you can’t wrassle her get off off off the Tubby One is throwin’ a fit Not in front of the children not on the carpet not in my house guys this is a sad day for redblooded males everywhere hoo boy what a sickoe.
ahem yes well a really terrible thin’ happened today – i’m still reelin’ from the implications –  let me elaborate – the whole family goes walkin’ see – i’m talkin’ dudes stridin’ out serious cool with trainers leashes peaks t-shirts and Fuzzy takes the lead strainin’ to get to the park and i’m hangin’ back not wantin’ to be Too uncool when blow me down but Fuzzy slips his leash [it’s been loose for ages but the Scrawny One got no sense of responsibility] and hightails it into the traffic and man he’s dodgin’ wheels brakes squealin’ people watchin’ and there’s a sick thud and Fuzzy goes flyin’ – my heart lurches and i’m tryin’ to get there but the Tubby One is runnin’ harder wobblin’ everywhere and the Scrawny One is hangin’ frosty keepin’ the family on the pavement and Fuzzy is yelpin’  i can hear the pain i’m goin’ mad and then No - there‘s a sudden ominous silence and the Tubby One is screamin’ at the Scrawny One about takin’ ownership and i don’t know where to hide and Fuzzy is dead - know what i’m sayin’ Not Here No More his little body limp and blood comin’ out his nose i feel suddenly emptied and can’t breathe nor think the Tubby One cryin’ hysterically the Little One terribly silent - watchin’ - and Fuzzy cradled in her arms sayin’ goodbye i think i’m gonna cry but i don’t know how - o lord lord lord lord...
the vet just left and we’re all kinda dumbstruck its gonna be either Moonie Hill Pet Cemetery or the back yard – is this what’ll happen to me one day pushin’ up the Scrawny One’s daisies – i don’t know what to say i’m like devastated this is kinda no comment country – who’s gonna bury that lamb bone who’s gonna help me see off the burglars who’s gonna keep me company i feel Very empty and lonely and ever so slightly vacant...

Page 4 of Waitin’ for Fuzzy

the little one took me in her arms last night and we had the Most Meaningful Conversation of Our Lives – she told me what Fuzzy meant to her and i sympathised and gave her lickies and told her what i felt about the situation and there was Empathy and Love and Sharin’ and Carin’. Pastor Jack came round later and we all sat around lookin’ miserable and apparently the Scrawny One is in Big Trouble for bein’ a Typical Callous Male and other names i shall not mention and there was some elaborate apology but as i sit here waitin’ i know that Fuzzy was irreplaceable and that’s a big word in dog language – they’ll be comin’ home later today at some point but who really cares life isn’t worth a bowl of nuggets without my old friend – i think i will just lie here and wait for him to re-appear...
you know i keep expectin’ the little guy to jump me when i drop off steal my Delishus Dogg Chunks when i’m not lookin’ bark at those goldarn burglars holy guacamole i’m sure he’s just playin’ hide ‘n seek is that you, er... Fuzzy...?

Full critique here  

Waitin' For Fuzzy     Overall Place: First


Readability

9/10

5 ½ /10

9/10

8/10 Great sense of humour!

Originality

9/10

7/10

9/10

7/10 I love this sassy hound-dog - his puppyish enthusiasm for life is obvious (although he occasionally makes an-out-of-character comment - why would he care about air pollution?) However, the story needs more of a story... he sees something momentous happen in the family that he doesn't quite understand (being a dog), but the reader does? There are some good moments relaying the kid with the dog that shows the writer could easily do this. At the very least let the family get a new puppy. This ending is very flat and doesn't live up to its potential.

Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?)

7 /10

 5 ½ /10

9 /10

 7/10 Surprisingly easy to follow, considering the original style and POV.

Does it hold your attention?

 8/10

6/10

9 /10

 6/10 I just wish something had happened!

Imagery and use of language

9 /10

 5/10

9 /10

 9/10 Excellent characterisation of very loveable narrator - entirely through the young dog's voice.

Overall gut response: did you like it?

 8/10

 5/10

9 /10

9 /10

Total:

 50/60

34/60

54/60

46/60
Overall Total:  184/240
Overall Place: First
Comments:
·         Not a conventionally structured short story, but immediate, funny and vivid. The inventive use of language is invigorating, and despite the comic tone the ending holds genuine pathos.
·         I like the idea of getting into an animal's head and allowing him to tell a story, but I don't like this dog's American accent, particularly since the story is clearly set in Cape Town. The writer is clever at language and allows the dog-thoughts to flow quick and slick, but I didn't find the dog made me as the reader see anything in a new light. There were parts of the language usage I didn't understand - use of capital letters in strange places for instances - which stopped the flow of the story while I puzzled over it. All in all, I'm not sure what I was supposed to get out of the story as there was no flash of insight, no surprise, no interesting turn.
·         Shades of Archie and Mehitabel! I loved this stream of consciousness from Furball and the humour bubbling away below the surface. "The politics in this kennel is powerful man." Etc. Wonderful little asides like this peppered the whole piece. And the sad ending was a real kicker. I have to ask, is the writer a dog? Terrific, original writing. 
·         What an exciting character and POV - pity about the story chasing its tail....


WRITER’S BLOCK - by Widaad Munga

‘He knew what would happen next.'
Sam stared at the screen. That was where the well ran dry. It had been his final sentence for months now. Still, he sat in the dark and bored holes into it every night, hoping it would magically grow, because he certainly wasn't contributing to its progress. Sam sighed, shut down the laptop, which suddenly seemed to flicker strangely, as if it fought being put away. Reluctantly, he got into bed.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.
There it was again. The scratching, rustling sound in the darkness, just outside the window. And it definitely wasn't a branch this time. Dan had cut that back last week.Sam stared at the ceiling. He thought if he lied really still under the blanket and pretended to not hear, it would go away. But the scratching grew louder and even more persistent. He pulled back the covers and tiptoed to the window, swallowing to push his fear back down his throat. The wooden floor sounding like it needed oiling, didn't do much to quell his nerves.  His hands were pale and shaking as he reached to pull the curtain aside. Sam wanted to scream at what he saw, but his voice had somehow left him. He staggered back, in shock and disbelief. He should have closed the curtains, gone back to bed, called someone, but he couldn't draw his eyes away from the sight in front of him. It was big, dark and what seemed like a man but wassomehow incomplete. Shapeless limbs, and missing structure, as if God had taken a smoke break in the middle of the job. He had never seen anything like it, except of course in his dreams, one dream in particular. He shut his eyes and opened them again to stop him dreaming. But of course it wasn't a dream.  It was Kickpush come to life.

"Took your own damn time."
Kickpush's voice sounded like a thousand pins shuffling in a plastic bag, much like his face. Kickpush was sticking to the window like a warmed lizard, a crouching and bent gargoyle determined to get in. As much as Sam wanted not to think about it, he knew this thing, very well. He put it down to being consumed by writing Kickpush's story, when it began to overflow into his reality: the voices he started hearing, ghosts he started seeing. It was only a matter of time before it had come to this. Before Kickpush manifested himself in Sam's life. He shouldn't have told anyone about the voices. That's how he landed up here, trapped in stark white walls.  
"Let me the hell in." Kickpush barked.
"I can't, the window is sealed."
"You can. You can write it. In your fat head if you must. Let me inside, shit face."
"Why should I?"
Sam pictured the grotesque man inside the room, and he vanished from the window. Sam breathed deeply, relieved. It was short-lived as he heard Kickpush's noisy breathing behind him. He turned around, moving away from the half-man.
"This isn't possible? You're not real." Sam gasped, scared. Kickpush seemed to smile. He tapped his bulbous fingers against the stark walls.
"No? You made me. You should know just how real I am.
"But you're just a... you're made up." Sam protested.
"Not very well, by the looks of it." Kickpush spat out.
"You're not real, like me."
"Like these walls you're trapped in? This life? I've been the truest thing you've known since you put down the first words of my story, but you run from me, pathetic creature.
"What do you want?" Sam demanded.
"For you to finish it."
"I can't."
"Then I'll never go away."
Kickpush was dark, shadow-like with no facial features, but Sam felt like he was being watched like a hawk. He was more shadow than man. A shapeless menacing mess that seemed without substance, yet Sam had never felt a stronger presence in his entire life. Kickpush was exactly how Sam had pictured him. And that was the trouble. Sam could never picture him completely. He was one of those who ran away from him, hid his true self from Sam. One of those Sam got bored with and shoved him, incomplete in the bottom of his manuscripts, maybe to get back to one rainy day when he'd run out of ideas and deadlines.
"Sit down." It was an order.
Sam stood, defiant. He had created Kickpush, after all. He wasn't going to be pushed around. Kickpush moved towards him and raised his voice, repeating himself. Sam sat down.
"Now complete me."
"I can't."
"You created me, you have to."
Sam could hear Kickpush shifting impatiently, and knew he wasn't going to be budging anytime soon. Kickpush had been anchored inside Sam long before he put him down on paper. He went to his desk and sat down with eyes closed, fingers on the keyboard. He knew that nothing mattered more than writing Kickpush story. He knew the latent potential of Kickpush better than Kickpush himself did, even though he hadn't explored it. When he began writing Kickpush's story, he felt caught up in something much darker and more powerful than he could control. His friends and lovers left him at that time, claiming Sam was too volatile to be with. It was only when he found himself pulling his dead dog from the pool filter, when he decided to shelve Kickpush. That was two months ago. He woke up one day in someone else's life, just a vehicle.
 "You're not doing anything!"
"I can't just write on demand. Besides...I don't know what happens to you."
"Of course you do. You created me. It happens to you too."
"No. You created me. This...this place that I'm in, this person I am now, have been for the past few months. "
Kickpush threw his faceless head back and laughed. Sam stared at him. Of course it was absurd. Then again the whole thing was. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps he was crazy. Sane people don't have fictional characters crossing over to real life, ill formed and not completely human characters at that. He stared at the blank screen facing him, knowing he had to put down something before Kickpush got impatient. He knew in that dark place he let no one see, that he really wanted to write. That nothing was more important than writing Kickpush. That he couldn't rest until he did.  He could kill him of course. But it would never work, this he knew. Death was for someone else. Weak and tortured souls, not Kickpush, who'd be more likely to inflict the pain visited on these souls, than be the victim of such crimes. Kickpush was indestructible. Sam had never met an indestructible character before, they're not relatable, he'd learnt, not human enough. You don't write them. People want someone who can suffer as much as they would, if given the same challenging circumstances.
"I don't even have a proper name, half-wit." Kickpush said, stealing into Sam's thoughts.
"That's your name. I can change it, if you like, but then you'd be something else entirely."
"I don't want to be something, I want to be someone. Give me a face, and arms and legs and-"
"What makes you think I can do that?" Sam cut in.
"You did this, didn't you?"
Kickpush was right. He did this. Sam created this magnificent, grotesque being. And he'd achieved what no other writer, or scientist ever could. He gave it life. A very severe and overwhelming thought crept into him and sunk its teeth deep. He had done what only God could do, if there was such a thing. Sam frantically tapped at his keyboard, never resting till the final word. He knew the story. Words were flowing though him, coursing the journey he should have finished months ago. But it felt good that he was finishing it now. He sighed with satisfaction when the words came to and end. He knew Kickpush wasn't finished. He would never be finished. But Sam had more than played his part in it.
Sam felt iron fists closing in on him from behind. He knew what was going to happen next. He had finished Kickpush's story. The half-man was now a stronger, darker and beautifully menacing Kickpush. He carried Sam to the open window, like a three year old being picked up by his father. Sam's mind was calmer than he'd anticipated. Perhaps knowing what was going to happen made it easier to accept. He felt the cool air ruffle his hair and flap against his blue pajamas. He smiled, relieved that he'd finally fleshed out the elusive Kickpush. He'd finally been true to the character. This was the only way it could be. He could finally let go, feeling the air caressing him as he slipped off the 5th story windowsill.
The white coats rushed out of the asylum to find Sam glued to the pavement, another sad soul who couldn't get through the day. They looked up to 5th floor window, but it was still sealed shut. No one noticed a tall shadow moving across the pavement to do some other business. 


Full critique here  
  
    

Writers' Block - Overall Place: Second


Readability

8/10

6/10

8/10

6 /10

Originality

7/10

8/10

9/10

6/10 A nod to Stephan King?

Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?)

7 /10

 6 ½ /10

8 /10

 6/10 It's clear what's happening, but the story falters around the middle.

Does it hold your attention?

 9/10

 6/10

9 /10

7/10 Kickpush is menacing and one would like to know what happens next...

Imagery and use of language

 8/10

6/10

9 /10

 6 /10 Some awkwardness in describing things (e.g. creaking floorboards), mixed metaphors (a well growing?) and grammar errors. Kickpush is well described.

Overall gut response: did you like it?

 8/10

 6 /10

9 /10

7 /10

Total:

47 /60

38.5/60

52/60

38/60

Overall total: 175/240

Overall Place: Second

Comments:
·         A clever tale of horror told with verve and invention, with a memorable monster. The story also succeeds on another level, as an allegory of the creative process.
·         I like the name "Kickpush". Very original. This story needs help to get settled: for instance: what sort of a tree could have been brushing against the window on the fifth floor? Who is Dan? I like the idea of the writer as possessed by his character and the way in which he posses him: that the character is half-formed because of the writer. This allows the story to be read on two levels: one the story of a mad man, the other the story of a writer struggling with an unformed character. Original. I would lose the entire last paragraph of the story as it overstates the case.
·    Excellent title! The most original concept of all the finalists, and the writer carried this horrifying vision of a faceless character right through to the chilling conclusion, the stuff of nightmares. Great use of imagery.
·         A traditional writing horror story that will keep you away from the windows at night.



The Yellow Coat - By Katja Abbott

The gentle light of dusk softened the hardness of the Karoo veld as it flowed into the endless curve of the horizon. Jo was drained by the trip to town and the long drive on the animal that was the road to the farm. Every time its mood was different.
"I know you're alive. I see your breath on cold mornings, I feel your dark holes, your sly slitherings and the stones you throw at me," she whispered to it. 
She had dropped her husband, Jack and her children at the bus station. They were spending a week with her parents. She was distracted, distant. The bus drove off. Relieved, the mechanical smile slid from her face into the gutter. The person they called ‘Mom' stepped out and stood opposite her on the pavement.
"I'm going on holiday too. Without them I don't need to exist. The question is, is there anybody left?"
She watched herself turn and melt into the crowds. Jo frantically glanced around to see if anyone had noticed this strange interaction. Apparently not.
Her mouth was dry. She walked down the road her thoughts arriving like punches, "Post-office. Bank. Sand paper. Chicken wire...Anybody left... who's left, what's left?"
"Hey Jo, you're looking pale, you OK?"
"Huh? Ja, I'm fine." She felt the curious eyes and raised eyebrows of the post office queue follow her out into the street. She quickly finished her shopping and headed back. The stillness of the farm pulling her back.
As she drove home the caged wolf of her grief paced within her. His ancient haunted eyes, angry, desperate. This beast was no stranger. She'd kept him muzzled, chained in a dark place since the first time she'd felt his hungry breath and sharp teeth sinking into her soft flesh many years ago.
"How are you?" people would ask.
"I'm well, everything's fine."
"Liar," growled the wolf.
"Shh, they don't want to know," she hissed back at him.
But now the wolf was restless. He strained at his chains, deep growls escaped his muzzled jaw. He roamed free and wild in her dreams. She'd wake drenched in sweat panting like an animal. Then lie awake for hours. Muffling her sobs in her pillow. Can't wake the family. They can't see me like this. Out of control. They won't understand... I don't understand. She had no idea where it came from., this sadness that lived in her. Grief that rose like floodwater in the cavity of her chest, threatening to drown her.
She'd grown up on the farm with her brother, Scott and sister, Rita. When she came home on weekends from boarding school, she'd spend hours walking the veld. The stillness and emptiness of the land meeting the emptiness within her.
Jo's favourite place on the farm was the kloof where the river sometimes tumbled, sometimes trickled through. Rita and Scot always headed straight for the rock pools but Jo would scramble up to the cave in the cliff. Their splashes and laughter would shoot past her like arrows to pierce the endless blue silence of the Karoo sky. Jo found stone arrowheads in the cave.
"Who made you?" she'd ask them.
She had many questions. And the arrow heads gave her the answers in whispers on the wind, and in the frogsongs that sang her to sleep at night.
The bakkie's arrival at the farm gate nudged Jo back into the present. There was a nervous edge in the dogs' welcome barks. Her skin grew cold but she pushed the feeling away. As Jo turned to close the gate she noticed a single grey cloud hanging motionless in the otherwise flawless darkening sky.
She walked towards the empty house. Its deserted cave coldness both beckoned and repulsed her.  She could not remember when last she had been here alone. Nothing to do now. No need to cook dinner. No bed-time stories to read. She suddenly longed to hear the kids' bath-time laughter and squabbles. To smell the rich cherry tobacco of Jack's pipe wafting in from the stoep.
She absentmindedly fed the dogs, suddenly aware that Jupe her black cat wasn't there. He was always around for his supper. She stuck her head out the back door, "Jupiter!" Nothing. She went upstairs, calling. Faint scratching noises came from the attic. She wrenched open the swollen door. Jupe poked his head out.
 "How did you get in here, boy?"
"No-one's been up here for months," she thought feeling the goosebumps rise on her skin.
She took a deep breath and stepped into the attic. The air smelt faintly of lavender. Instantly the image of her Grandmother's gentle face and sad grey eyes hovered in front of her. The vision felt clinging and slightly heavy like the unwelcome landing of a moth. She could not smell lavender without thinking of her. You always smelt of lavender, Gran. 
And then it came as she knew it would one day. The grief crushed her lungs and grabbed at her throat. But this time there was no reason to hold back and she let the pressure break the wolf-beast's chains. Primal howls and gasping sobs clawed their way up from her belly and out of her body. Wave after wave crashed through her until she lay exhausted in the dust of the attic floor. The dogs stopped barking. And then - for the first time in 20 years - she felt the warm Karoo stillness settling into her bones. Tears of relief and realisation came softly.
"So, Gran," she said to the attic, "the Wolf, it is you. You can tell me. Tell me about the sorrow that lived in you and now lives in me." She gathered Jupiter in her arms, closed the attic door and went downstairs to bed.
Her grandmother had lived with them on the farm. On hot summer afternoons she'd sit on the shady side of the stoep under the vines sewing colourful patchwork quilts adorned with dragons, majestic cranes and tall snowy mountains. She drew Jo into her fantasy world with stories of the magical animals she created. When Jo was older she would say,
 "Gran, what are you doing here on this dusty farm in Africa? Your heart is on the other side of the world." Her Gran would just laugh and change the subject. But Jo would often catch her gazing sightlessly out over the veld and watch as the grey clouds of sadness moved into her eyes.
Her grandmother died when Jo was twenty. She came home from university for the funeral. She was buried in the old graveyard on the farm next to her husband. Jo insisted that her body be wrapped in her favourite quilt, the one with the green dragon and the unicorn dancing in a rain of cherry blossom.
"May you ride your fire-breathing dragons out of your sorrow into the snowy mountains," she whispered as she threw a handful of gazanias into the grave. Then she walked away and up into the kloof attributing the heaviness pressing on her heart, to grief. But now, twenty years later that feeling still lived in her body.
Jo woke with the rising sun. Her sleep had been deep and dreamless. Feeling a surge of energy she hadn't felt in years, she called the dogs and headed straight out in the bakkie to check for holes in the sheep fence. Suddenly the road curved sharply to the left. The bakkie slid on the loose gravel. Jo rode the skid and only just managed to keep control of the car. A flash of something yellow on the barbed wire fence caught her eye as she skidded round the bend. She looked through the rear view mirror. It looked like a coat. Too shaken to stop Jo drove on slowly.
"I'll have a look on the way back," she thought. But when she came back an hour later the yellow coat was gone.
Jo was troubled by the disappearance of the coat. Suddenly the Karoo was too empty and she felt very alone. She got out of the bakkie to open the gate into the yard and then stopped suddenly. The yellow coat was hanging in the willow tree. She called the dogs to her and went towards it. The silk fabric was old and soft. Delicate patterns embroidered in red and black thread swirled across it. Jo brought it up to her face. The coat smelt of lavender. Jo's whole body relaxed.
"OK, Gran, so you've come to talk, well I'm listening." Jo put the coat on. Her hands found the pockets. And in one of them, Gran's voice. She took out the old black notebook and went to sit on the stoep in the sun.
9 April 1925
Today is the saddest day of my life. I have just left Shanghai station and am travelling away from everything I hold dear, everything I love. I arrived here in China 18 months ago with my father. He was sent here from England for business and, as I was 18 and under his guardianship, I came too. Everything about China intrigued and delighted me. The lush beauty, the overwhelming kindness and curiosity of the people.
After we had been here for two months, a business associate of my father came for dinner. His name was Lao lung and he spoke fluent English. He was warm and friendly. Unlike most English men I had met, he spoke to me as if I were his equal. He asked me to teach English to his children. So I went twice a week and after the lessons he would invite me to drink tea with him. Often we would talk for hours. After a while I realised the woman who served us tea was his wife. She spoke no English but was always welcoming and seemed happy that her husband enjoyed my company.
One day after the English classes we went for a walk in the cherry orchard. It was spring and blossom covered the trees. A light breeze blew and clouds of pink swirled around us. We became lovers in the cherry blossom. The way he loved me came as a surprise. He was warm, sensitive, spontaneous, playful. A few months later I fell pregnant. He was delighted. He said he would take care of us. When I couldn't hide my condition any longer I told my father. He was enraged.
He accused me of trying to ruin his reputation and ordered me to remain hidden for the remainder of my pregnancy. Lao lung sent letters and poems with the lady who cleaned the house. Sometimes he managed to sneak into the house at night and would lie with me stroking my growing belly. Our son was born a month ago on 9 March 1925. We called him K'i lan. It means unicorn. My father insisted I have nothing more to do with him.
K'i lan has gone to live with Lao lung's family. At least he will grow up surrounded by warmth and love. My father has sent me back to England. From there I will take a boat to South Africa to start a new life. But I don't want to live. I feel nothing. I cannot even cry.
Jo's tears fell silently, making dark patches on the faded old quilt that covered the wooden bench.
That evening at sunset she walked out into the veld and up to the old graveyard just below the koppie. She wrapped the small black book in the yellow coat and placed the bundle on her grandmother's grave. She struck a match and watched as the flames transformed it into smoke that dissolved into the cool night air. The last ember flickered and died,
"Now we are free, " she whispered.
As Jo turned to walk back her eyes were drawn to something moving in the distance. She could just make out the shape of a large animal loping towards the sunset. Had she not been in the Karoo she would have sworn it was a wolf.

Full critique here

The Yellow Coat - Overall Place: Third


Readability

8/10

6/10

 8/10

7/10

Originality

9/10
6/10
8/10

7/10

Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?)

8 /10

6/10

8 /10

7/10

Does it hold your attention?

8 /10

6/10

8 /10

7/10

Imagery and use of language

7 /10

7/10

8 /10

8/10

Overall gut response: did you like it?

7/10

5/10

9 /10

7/10

Total:

47 /60

36/60

49/60

43/60

Overall Total: 174/240
Overall Place: Third
Comments:
·         A sensitive and surprising story, ambitious in its cultural and metaphorical scope. The author has talent and sensitivity to language, and a sense of pathos, and the piece is well structured. However, I felt it could do with stringent edit to cut down on some overdone descriptive language (adjectives are over-used); and it could also benefit from a more focused extended metaphor: what does a wolf have to with China, or the Karoo?  With unicorns? How does the image of a wolf reflect on Jo's situation, or her grandmother's? I felt these elements could be better explored, perhaps in a slightly longer piece.
·         The relationship between the grandmother and Jo is not entirely clear: why would she suddenly see her wolf retreating just because she found the yellow coat and the explanatory diary entry? How is this connected to her own depression? The yellow coat is a fence peg too far, I'm afraid...but this might be my own preference for reality. For "magic" to work in a story it has to work very, very hard, and I'm afraid it didn't cut it for me. I think this writer can write well, but needs to aim for less melodrama to make the work believable.
·         Some beautiful evocative images here- the farm road as an animal, grief that rose like the floodwater threatening to drown her, etc. Great use of language. The motif of the all-consuming wolf of her grief (or maybe depression) within her and the faintly mystic feel of it all really gave this a wonderful texture. Loved this story!
·         I really enjoyed the emotion, imagery and rich texture of this story...to a point. At times, these were a little overdone, and the incongruence between the different images and icons, and even the unusual story of her grandmother, made the story less plausible than I would have liked. However, the writing itself was mostly beautifully crafted.

 



“UNFINISHED BUSINESS” - by  Peter Church
If Mike hadn’t got up in the night to fetch a glass of water…
If he hadn’t gone to the window…
If he hadn’t parted the curtains…
He wouldn’t have got shot through the head.
And he wouldn’t have died in a pool of blood on our Persian carpet.
And I wouldn’t be the happiest woman on earth.
            ***
 ‘The money will be deposited tomorrow, Mrs. Harris,’ the slim, young man from Sanlam said. He stood up and straightened his tie, snapped his briefcase shut. The tea tray with biscuits sat untouched on the side table. I needed to remind myself that this was my lounge.
‘Sarah,’ I said.
‘It’s five million rand,’ he continued, not meeting my eye.
I nodded. He stood stiffly, briefcase held in a rigid arm. I wondered how much money would fit in it.
‘Small compensation.’ He shook his head sadly.
I dabbed tears with a tissue and smoothed the hem of my black skirt. The curtains remained closed; outside I heard our two children playing gaily in the sunshine. I imagined they were on the swings or digging in the sandpit.
‘Sarah,’ he said. I realised he’d said my name twice. Through my blurred vision he looked like a black pole in the centre of our lounge.
‘If there’s nothing else…’
***
I remember the first time.
We’d dined in Claremont at the home of one of Mike’s ex-private school chums. Seated at a table of his peers, I’d felt fat and frumpy, the other wives ten years younger, with highlighted blonde hair and pouting breasts.
‘Sarah is so stupid,’ Mike said, speaking with his mouth full. ‘Can you believe she’s never learnt to drive a car!’
‘Really?’ gasped one of the Barbie-dolls, her face frozen in permanent surprise.
‘Trade her in,’ joked one of his friends and the table laughed politely.
After dinner, Mike and I were alone in the lounge.
‘Why did you say that about me? In front of all those people…’Mike’s eyes darted to the door; he threw back remnants of another glass of Bell’s; pale, blue eyes floating in their sockets.
‘Aah shaddup!’ he belched and wiped a hand across his mouth.
A Barbie-doll and husband entered the room.
‘Mike…’ I said.
He raised his palm and grinned at the couple.
‘We’ll finish our business later,’ he said out the corner of his mouth.
***
It was the only time he ever hit me, with a closed fist, directly in the face. The shock was far greater than the pain. I cannot remember what I did afterwards. Or what he did. We battled to explain my blackened eye to the children, my parents, his parents. I wore dark glasses for a week, my eye puffed and coloured like a ripe plum. His mother couldn’t believe I’d be stupid enough to bash my head against a doorknob. His father said, ‘She must have been walking on her knees.’
After that, he would only pinch me. Or kick me. In places where the bruises would not show and I could hide my shame with long trousers or jerseys. Naked, it looked like I suffered from a terrible disease, red and purple welts all over my body.
Once he even grabbed my vagina through my pants and twisted, as if wrenching open a car door.
I couldn’t leave. I have no education. I cannot even drive a car.
***
‘Five million bucks,’ Mike taunted me. It was about six months before his murder. The television was tuned to Crime & Investigation; the volume blaring. Mike lay on our king-size bed in a vest and underpants, a glass of Scotch hovering by his side.
‘That’s what I’d get if I knocked you off.’ He swallowed the Scotch and grimaced. Money was tight. Mike suggested we move the children to a cheaper school.
I imagined my two children, aged six and eight, without a mother.
‘Mike. Don’t joke. Anyway they’d know you did it.’
‘That’s where you’re wrong,’ he laughed. ‘I took out the policy on my life. And they offered me a cheap reciprocal one on yours! It’s all very proper.’
I bent down and picked up his clothes off the floor.
***
They caught Mike’s killer. He is a seventeen-year schoolboy from Langa. I didn’t attend the trial but the newspapers carried the story. Our neighbours reinforced their security with laser beams crisscrossing their property. Apparently, electric fences are no deterrent. The killer said he hadn’t meant to kill Mike; he got a fright when he saw a man appear at the window, said he didn’t even know the gun was loaded. Later he changed his story to say someone hired him to kill the madam. But of course by then no one believed anything he said.
Mike’s father phoned me the day after the sentencing.
‘I’m glad this whole business is now over,’ he said.

Unfinished Business      Overall Place: Fourth


Readability

7/10

7/10

 8 /10

7/10

Originality

7/10

5 ½ /10

9 /10

6/10 A common story with a fairly predictable ending.

Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?)

 6/10

 6 ½ /10

7 /10

8/10 The flashbacks fit together neatly, filling the reader in clearly within such a tight word count.

Does it hold your attention?

 7/10

 6/10 - Holds my attention to a point

 8/10

8/10 The opening paragraph has a nice tension and makes you want to read on. The story unfolds snappily and you get on the narrator's side quickly. It's good that the (possible) twist is left right until the end. I would take out the last two lines - having the victim's father on her side is too much of a loose-ended distraction.

Imagery and use of language

 6/10

7/10 - I like the simplicity of the writing and dialogue is good.

6 /10

 7/10 Good use of metaphor and clearly realised inner life of character (e.g. details like her wondering how much money the briefcase would hold). Falls a touch short around the dinner party, particularly the dialogue between husband and wife - could have been made more nuanced.

Overall gut response: did you like it?

 7/10

5 ½  /10 - The story disappointed me, but the writing is crisp and uncluttered.

8 /10

 8/10

Total:

40/60

36/60

46/60

44/60
Overall Total: 166/240
Overall Place: Fourth
Comments:

·         A tightly constructed story that delivers its icy finale with admirable economy. (Although the beginning does rather give the game away; I feel it might have been better to keep the reader in suspense, and reveal the true killer in a twist at the end.)
·         This writer has a clean, direct, easy style. No flowers and burlesques. This makes it very easy to read the story, and gives it a professional, writerly feel. However, the story itself disappointed me. There was no surprise, no revelation and it ended exactly as I predicted half way through. I liked the introduction very much, and the surprise of the speaker's joy at her husband being shot.
·         A very clever story, topical and the use of the phrase Unfinished Business throughout the story was well done, although I felt the violence was described in rather an unsubtle way. Satisfying conclusion!
·         A readable suburban drama from a writer with the ability to smoothly sketch context and to pace a story well.

 



MISS FYN - by Manfred Sommers
I would probably describe myself as a rather gentle soul, quiet and unassuming.  I had a difficult upbringing and perhaps this was partly the cause of my superbly optimistic attitude.  It is an attitude, which has afforded me the safety of surrounding myself with happy thoughts and forgetting about the less desirable aspects of this world.  Without wanting to sound conceited, I must admit that I’ve always thought of myself as a good person, and as a result have always possessed a certain distain and revulsion for the evil elements of this world.  For this reason, I’m sure you’ll understand the type of agony to which I was exposed when I learned that Miss Fyn had been murdered.

            Miss Fyn had been my neighbour for almost three years now.  She was an elderly woman, in her late sixties, and had been a dear friend of mine.  I don’t profess to have been particularly close to her, but she was friendly enough and always greeted me when we met in the corridor or at the entrance hall.  I remember how she had come around to meet me and invited me to tea soon after I had moved into the adjacent flat.  I would have described her as being perhaps a little intrusive but nevertheless a well-meaning and kindly lady who under no circumstances deserved the violent death that was inflicted upon her. 

            I can only describe the sensation I experienced upon learning about her death as being similar to someone driving a hot spike into my brain.  I was talking to the receptionist and mentioned remembering seeing policemen leaving the building a few days ago when I returned home from work.  The receptionist then informed me in no uncertain terms that Miss Fyn had been murdered.  He had become suspicious after not seeing her enter or leave the building for almost a week and phoned the police.  A few days later her disembodied limbs had been found wrapped in various black bags and distributed in two nearby dumpsters downtown.  I remember being filled with feelings of disgust and hatred for anyone who could have committed such a heinous crime.

            I was irritable at work that day.  I really didn’t mean to yell at the secretary and call her a “stupid bitch”.  You must understand that I was, at that time, experiencing a great deal of shock and trauma.  It was at times like that that I saw my father ‘s mannerisms being betrayed in my own actions.  I had fought long and hard against becoming like my father.  My father had not been a good man.  I do believe, without wanting to sound conceited, that on the whole, I have guarded myself fairly well against turning out like my old man.  But then again I am only human, and taking into account the type of post-traumatic stress I was dealing with here, I’m sure one could pardon my unusual lapse.  My father had not been a good man, you see.  He used to come home late at night, drunk, and beat the living daylights out of my mother.  My father never appeared to have any respect for woman, and apparently believed that they are all “stupid bitches”.

            I sat at my desk that day, trying to work on the report I needed to finish, but I simply couldn’t get the knowledge of what had happened to Miss Fyn out of my mind.  It felt as though my head was full of a number of hot spikes, which were shifting around inside my mind and preventing me from concentrating on my work.  I started to type something but the image of Miss Fyn’s severed limbs lying in the dumpster would not leave me alone.  She haunted me like a ghost from my past.  My usual optimistic attitude, which normally sheltered my thoughts and helped me to see the good in the world, was clearly not functioning that day.  Eventually I broke into a cold sweat, drank a glass of water, and after that I was able to do a bit of work.

            During lunch hour I bought myself a hotdog from the street vendor and went to sit in the park while I ate it.  It felt as though this tragedy had recalled the horrors of my childhood days.  The insults, which my father used to hurl at my mother before he beat her late at night.  The sounds of the struggle, the blows and the screams of my mother as she sought cover.  The cold sweat in which I broke out, hoping it was all a nightmare.  The sound of my mother’s voice pleading with him to stop.  But he didn’t stop.  He never stopped.  Not until it was too late.


            That afternoon I was almost as unproductive as I had been in the morning.  I never finished my report that day.  I tried to think of positive things, to think happy thoughts and to remember the good times.  I tried but it was all in vain.  I couldn’t get the images of Miss Fyn out of my mind.  The hot spikes in my mind turned into a bunch of uneasy serpents, wriggling around and changing all the time.  The images of Miss Fyn became images of my mother, when I saw her the next morning, with black eyes and dried blood all over her face.  These images then became images of her funeral when I wanted to cry, I wanted to break down and let it all out but I couldn’t.  I had too much anger and hatred inside me.  I just stood there, I stood there and looked on.  I looked on and tried to think happy thoughts.

            I left work early that day.  At four o’ clock I took a taxi back to my apartment.  The ride home seemed almost surreal.  It seemed as if I was floating and the only real things were those serpents in my head, which had now turned back into hot spikes.  The images were still there but it seemed as though I was managing to deal with them now.  The shock of the news had begun to sink in and my emotions were beginning to neutralise.  I started to feel some of the old sense of peace return to my being.  I began to harden myself to the reality and just at that moment a terrible thought crept into mind.
            The thought I had just then was actually so terrible that, even now, I find it hard to justify.  I therefore will not try to defend myself, other than to say that it was perhaps the only way through which I was able to deal with what had happened.  I thought to myself, and it pains me say it, I thought to myself ‘the stupid old bitch, she probably deserved to be murdered and chopped up into little pieces’.  No, that was my father thinking just there!  I could surely not have entertained such a ghastly thought.  Just then the hot spikes returned and started to move around like serpents again.  Then I thought it again.  I hadn’t known her very well.  She may very well have been a terrible person.  She may very well have deserved to have been murdered and chopped up into little pieces.  I started to feel better again.  The taxi came to a halt so I paid the taxi driver and went up to my apartment.

            I hope you will believe me when I tell you that I tried to get that horrible, ghastly thought out of my mind.  Nobody deserves to die in that fashion, nobody at all.  Least of all a kindly old lady, who had invited me round to tea when I first moved into my apartment.  The hot spikes returned and once again they started to move around inside my head.  Maybe she really did deserve to die.  The spikes stopped moving.  No, that was my father talking.  It wasn’t me.  Not me!  The serpents returned and started to envelope me. 

            I poured myself a stiff scotch and went to sit by the windowsill.  I never normally drink during the week and if I do it is never when I’m alone.  The liquor tasted good and started to warm me from the inside.  Maybe it was me thinking after all.  What did it matter, all that mattered was that I was feeling better now.  So what if she deserved to die.  So what if she was a stupid bitch and deserved to get cut up into little pieces.  I needed to be careful, my father was coming out now.  I poured myself another scotch.

            Maybe it was my fault that my mother got killed.  Maybe she was also a stupid bitch who deserved to die.  It didn’t seem to matter anymore.  The serpents and the hot spikes were gone and I was starting to feel better now.  Why should I resist it?  Why resist it if it caused me so much pain.  I opened the window and lit a cigarette.

            I thought of Miss Fyn.  I thought of her being murdered and cut up into pieces and it no longer caused me any distress.  After all the stupid bitch deserved it, right?  Then I remembered.  I remembered her body being dragged to the car.  I remembered chopping her up and it no longer mattered.  Me and my father, we had become one.  Why should I feel ashamed, for after all I am who I am.

Just then there was a rat-a-tat-tat on the door.  It was a policeman.  He wanted to question me about something or other.  I don’t know what it was all about or why he thought it was so important.  I felt as though I had just become whole.  I had stopped resisting and taken my fate into my own hands.  It was my turn now.  Now it was my turn.  
    

Miss Fyn    Overall Place: Joint Fifth


Readability

7/10

5/10 Repetition and flow are problematic.

8 /10

5 /10

Originality

7/10

6/10

9 /10

5/10 There's a good attempt at creating a clear voice for the narrator, we just need more context.

Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?)

 6/10

 5/10 Towards the end the story the sudden changes (hot spikes/relief/hot spikes/relief) are too choppy and become confusing.

8 /10

 7/10 The story is easy to follow and there's an unfolding realisation that the narrator is mentally ill that is well paced.

Does it hold your attention?

8 /10

 7/10

9 /10

5/10 It's a little repetitive - this can work as a device, but some judicious tightening up is needed. The narrator's past could have been delved into more.

Imagery and use of language

 7/10

 5/10 Repetition of image of hot spikes and serpents becomes irritating.

9 /10

6/10 The hot poker and writing snake imagery is effective, but belaboured. A few obvious clichés.

Overall gut response: did you like it?

 7/10

6 /10 I like the narrator's voice, which is dangerously constrained. The reader has the distinct feeling, from the beginning, that the narrator is a little unhinged. This is very cleverly done.

8 /10

6/10 I would have liked to be drawn into the narrator's world a bit more - if I had gotten on his side, only to discover that he was the murderer, it would have been more enjoyable.

Total:

 42/60

34/60

51/60

34/60

Overall Total: 161/240

Overall Place: Joint Fifth

Comments:
·         A vivid description of the subjective experience of mental breakdown, which manages to evoke the horror of a violently disordered mind. I did feel, however, that the author signals where the story is going a little too early on: I could see it coming.
·         This story needs work. However, it has great potential based almost purely on the writer's very clever rendition of the narrator's voice. It also needs a bit more meat...if the narrator killed the neighbour, why? There has to be more to their relationship than tea.
·         I liked the voice of the protagonist, at first pedantic and restrained, so self controlled and determined to always think happy thoughts. As though he knew that if he relaxed and unleashed his mind, he'd find something horrifying there. Then the way he fell apart as he came to realize what he'd done. The use of hot spikes and serpents added to the imagery...and writing in the first person added to the impact of the finale.  I thought this story was brilliant! 
·         A spooky story with a chilling narrator - you can never tell when a polite person will snap!


DEATH IN A FIELD OF SORREL - by Marguerite Lombard
(Please note: this story was converted from PDF format, and the paragraphing may have been lost in places)

The sun sets early over the valley, casting a shadow that spreads from west to east like a slow stain: down the mountain slope, over vineyards and houses, before lingering over the river that bisects the valley and the town. Briefly, the river stems the slow hemorrhage of warmth and light.
For a short while the afternoon will carry the scent of mushroom and the cumin scents of earth laced with the citrus of the winter flowers. Autumn has stripped the vineyards, leaving trellised canopies with a random punctuation of rusting leaves. This time of the year the sorrel grows almost knee high in the vineyards, their luminous yellow flowers tracking the sun's path across the sky.
At the edge of the vineyard, where it converges with the tarred infrastructure of the town, four shapes climb through the fence, taking a short cut through the vineyards to a small cluster of labourers' cottages on the far side of the farm.
Young boys maybe - three of a similar age, the other slightly taller. They seem boisterous, jostling for position as they track a diagonal course through the vineyard. Their progress is an erratic movement of muted primary colours.
They disappear from view. Then three reappear in the sunlight, and begin to retrace their steps back into town. Their laughter drifting in fragmented sound bytes down into the valley.
#
Dina took her usual short cut through the olive orchard down to the farmhouse. Winter was on its way. She knew it by the force of the northwester and the ache in her leg. It was still dark, but easy enough to pick a path through the long winter grass. Once she reached the road, she began to search for sorrel along the edge of the vineyard. Yesterday the plants would have been easy to find in the sunshine. Now at dawn the flower heads were bowed and closed.
Two bunches should be enough, she thought as she picked, the succulent stems snapping between her fingers. As children we all played in the sorrel. Suuring in the vernacular, because of the stem's sour taste. A fine drizzle set in as she tucked the sorrel into the creased blue and white supermarket bag she had brought along, and walked briskly towards the house.
The going was easier now. Ahead, the yellow light of the farm house kitchen was like a beacon in the damp cold morning. There was nothing else for the eye to rest on. It was still too far to be sure, but a shadow moving back and forth in the window told her that the mistress of the house was up and about. The dogs barked as she neared the house, rushing towards her. Her short stature made her a little taller than a school girl, but she stood her ground and said a few words so that the dogs would recognise her voice.
The boerboel weighed more than she did and was a lumbering giant of a dog. The Jack Russel and boxer were the first to recognise her. By the time she had reached the kitchen door, the threesome were welcoming her with nudges and tail wagging.
"Go away!" she shooed them quietly, her breath coming out in puffs of pale vapour. As if she were afraid to wake the people inside, or did not want them to hear her talk roughly to the dogs. In truth, she was a little afraid of them. Enough farmyard dogs had terrorised her as a child.
The door opened before she could knock.
"I am so glad you managed to come," the woman said. "Come in, I have made some tea."
"Goeie more mevrou," Dina answered. Good morning. "It is so wet outside, and cold."
Dina took off her coat and hung it up in the scullery, putting a newspaper underneath. She stood for a moment listening to the water dripping onto the paper, and the more bell-like tinkering of the tea-making. Then picked up her bag of sorrel, turned around and walked into the kitchen.
"Ah, you remembered to pick the suurings," the woman said, holding out a mug of tea. "I bought some waterblommetjies yesterday, and a little mutton."
The water lilies lay in a turgid mass in the kitchen sink, their white shrimp like flowers just opening.
"They look fresh," Dina said, picking up one of the flowers. The pink and green spots on the flowers are so beautiful, she thought, like something that is new born.
For a moment the two women stood side by side in front of the kitchen sink, looking out through the low window. From the inside, the garden still looked dark, although it was already morning. It was almost impossible to see anything except the dark shapes of the oaks against the grey sky.
What a sad day for a funeral, Dina thought. "I will prepare the potatoes for the waterblommetjie bredie, and then start on the chicken pie," she said, putting down her tea and washing her hands.
The two women worked side by side, frying onions, pealing potatoes, rolling out dough. Years of working together gave the women had a keen understanding of one another, without the intimacy of friendship. They worked for the most part without speaking. When they did, the conversation was about the weather, the coldness of the winter.
They were preparing food for the 30 mourners they expected to attend the funeral. The farm men had prepared one of the outbuildings for the church service and wake, clearing out the farm equipment, washing down the floor and putting out tables and chairs.
By 8.30 the kitchen was a steaming cavern of warmth, filled with the scent of chicken pie and waterblommetjie bredie, and the toast and bacon of breakfast.
"Dina, we are almost done, best that you go home and then we will see you again at 12. I'll serve the breakfast."
"Thank you, are you sure? I could stay."
"Really, it is going to be a long day."

#Christine was relieved to have the kitchen to herself. Johnny's death had left her shaken, even though she had lost contact with him as he grew older.
Must be ten years now, she thought. Dina had brought him in to the farm crèche one morning.
Marta drinks too much, Dina had said, and lost interest when he was in hospital with the meningitis.
His family doesn't want to look after him because they say he is retarded.
It took them most of the morning to bath and clean his crumpled body.
Christine took to visiting him in the crèche. Massaging his cramped legs, teaching him to walk. To use a spoon. His first steps were towards her. His first words were less than a whisper.
"Baas Chrissie" he had said.
She stood rooted in front of the window, hand to her mouth, fighting back her tears.
"Nothing like bacon and eggs on a day like this."
A rush of cold damp weather flooded the kitchen, followed by the rustle of rainwear and the sound of gum boots being dumped onto the filed floor of the scullery.
Since his father's death, Peter had taken to having breakfast with her. His wife worked and the kids were at school, so the arrangement worked for him, and she enjoyed spending time with him.
"No chance we'll get any work done today," Peter said scrapping the chair closer to the table.
Christine made them each a cup of coffee and added more toast to the toaster. "It is all so shocking, killed like that just before he had to testify."
"That is how things work these days. It is not as if those street kids had robbed the local fish and chips shop. They were up for murder. Johnny was the only witness." Peter said, wolfing down his breakfast.
The dogs gave a short bark, then stopped. Peter hesitated for a second, and continued his breakfast.
"I wonder who that can be?" Christine stood up to look out through the window, but then the kitchen door opened. It was her friend, Sarie.
"Brought some flowers for the church, so terribly sad about Johnny. He used to help with the groceries at the supermarket you know."
"Thanks for the flowers," Christine said taking the flowers and setting them down in a basin of water.
"Morning Peter," Sarie continued.
"Christine, we are all so shocked. Everybody knew him you know. Washed John's car every Saturday morning, never skipped a day. Did you see the report in the paper?"
Christine could hear Peter grunt his disapproval. He finished his last slip of bacon, then looked up, listening to Sarie over his cup of coffee.
"He was such a gentle soul. Walked his sister home from work. Loved to sing – remember the picture at the school concert?" Christine smiled, recalling Johnny's excitement when his photograph appeared in the local newspaper.
"You are being sentimental. Neither of you know anything about him," interjected Peter, pushing back his chair.
Christine looked up sharply. She was not looking for confrontation. Not today.
"You know why he was thrown out of school?
"Because he was molesting the girls at school.
"For heaven's sake - he raped a girl on the farm."
Peter was angry, but Sarie was not going to back off.
"He said they teased him at school. They threw him out on to the street."
"You think of him as a child. He was nineteen years old!"
Christine turned to the basin and fidgeted with the flowers.
"Peter, that is enough," she said softly.
"He never had a chance in life," was Sarah's parting words as she headed for the door.
"Sorry Christine. Just wanted to drop off something for the funeral. Have to rush, terrible day ahead," she added, closing the kitchen door behind her.
"Thanks for the breakfast Mom," said Peter, pulling on his gum boots.
"You only remember what you want to remember, Johnny was not what he seemed," he added, giving a brief kiss on the cheek before disappearing into the fine drizzle.
#
Peter had found the body by chance, driving the bakkie through the vineyards with dogs in tow. When the pack darted off barking, his first thought was that the dogs had disturbed children picking na-trossies in the vineyard. They would be looking for the last grapes, those that ripened late in the season were always the sweetest.
He stopped the bakkie, stepped out and whistled loudly. Other than dogs' occasional yelps, there were no other sounds. Not kids then, he thought as he waded towards them through the sorrel.
The dogs were milling around an inert shape. At first he could not make out the shape. A person? Surely not.
"Go away," he shouted to the dogs, now running, fearing the worst.
He reached out, nudged the hand with the tip of his boot. Looked like Johnny Kampher.
The dogs kept their distance while he phoned his office to get the police and ambulance. While he spoke, he took a closer look at the body. At the stab wounds in the chest. The wilted sorrel matted with blood. The arms were flung out above the head, as if pinned down by the heavy skies.
"Jack, Patch, Bull!"
Peter called the dogs to his side. Best get them out of here, he thought. They had been patient and now bounded ahead towards the bakkie. He opened the tailgate for the dogs, and dialed his mother's number.
"Mom, I found Johnny's body.
“No, stab wounds. In the chest.”
"Up at Block 3.
"Yes, in the vineyard.
"Maybe yesterday."
Later he could not bring himself to tell his mother what he knew, standing there on the
stoep, waiting for the police.

Death In A Field Of Sorrel - Overall Place: Joint Fifth


Readability

8/10

7/10

7/10

5 /10

Originality

7/10

6/10

8/10

6/10 The story shows promise of being a solid egte South African tale, but meanders through a potentially interesting storyline and then ends abruptly.

Flow (Does the reader move smoothly through the story from point to point?)

 6/10

 6/10

5/10

5/10 Too many characters. The unfolding of the story is fractured. Flashbacks are awkwardly bookended and not revealing enough.

Does it hold your attention?

 9/10

 6/10

7 /10

 6/10 One's interested in Johnny's story and the relationship between Dina and Christine, unfortunately disappointed.

Imagery and use of language

10 /10

 7/10

 9/10

6/10 Overwrought when setting the scene, otherwise competent.

Overall gut response: did you like it?

8 /10

 7/10

8 /10

4/10

Total:

 48/60

39/60

42/60

32/60
Overall Total: 161/240

Overall Place: Joint Fifth

Comments:
·         A beautifully atmospheric piece, full of suggestive undercurrents and tensions ... although to me it felt like the beginning of a longer piece rather than a neatly encapsulated short story; the ending seemed inconclusive. Despite some confusion about time frames, I thought this was very strong writing, and would have happily read more.
·         This story is well written, but left me baffled. What did Peter know? Also, for a short story I find it too cluttered with characters who don't seem to have anything directly to do with the story...Dina, Sarie, Christine...? Please check spelling mistakes. Nice sense of place and atmosphere.
·         A really great bit of writing with lovely images all through and I liked the South African flavour to this one. Christine comes across as a wonderfully sympathetic character. I would loved to have marked it higher on the strength of the excellent writing, but sadly, once the writer left Dina's Point of View and wandered into Christine's, things fell apart and became very muddled. Flipping back and forth in time, one minute Johnny was having his legs massaged in the crèche   and the next sentence we're talking bacon and eggs in the present moment. The relationship between Christine and Peter wasn't explained until some time after we met him. Then Peter insists that his mother should face up to the fact that Johnny raped someone, but when we got back in time again and he finds the body he tells himself he cannot tell his mother what he knows. Is he referring to this rape? We're party to three different points of view here - perhaps if we'd stayed in Dina's all the way it would read easier. It's just too unclear.
·         A potentially interesting South African story marred by a lack of direction.

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Revenge – By Helana Olivier
Unfinished Business - Duncan Aird
First Monday In April – By Vanda Van Speyk
Somewhere Else – by Elzanne Shepperson
Miss Fyn - By Manfred Sommers
Death In A Field Of Sorrel – By Marguerite Lombard
Tattoo – by John Dendy Young
Unfinished Business – By Susan Ziehl
 
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