The Star by Helen Douglas (August 2013)
Everyone else is looking at the sky. I’m looking at the corner of Pond Street, waiting for Ben. He always comes at seven, his skateboard tucked under one arm.
He doesn’t know I exist.
It’s been eight weeks since the last ship left for the new world. Ben’s girlfriend is on one of them.
There aren’t many of us left. We have new rituals, new superstitions. We wake early, opening our curtains to check the sunrise. At sundown we gather in parks to watch the red rays of sunset scorch the sky.
The children come out first. They spin on the roundabout, kick back on the swings, their eyes fixed on the sky. The last to come are the old folks. They bring buckets of popcorn and sit on park benches as though they’re at the movies, watching some blockbuster rather than the dying days of our sun.
Ben appears then. He pauses, not heading to the half-pipe as usual. Instead he flops into the swing next to mine.
“Hey,” he says.
I try to keep my voice steady. “Hey.”
We swing in silence.
“Do you know which star they’re heading towards?” I ask, eventually.
He points. “That one.”
“I wonder how they are.”
His hand brushes against mine. “I don’t see the point of thinking about the people that left us behind. Do you?’ He smiles.
Nobody knows how long we have left. Months? Days maybe.
But right now, I have everything I could ever want.
The School by Emerald Fennell (July 2013)
The School wasn’t really a school exactly, was it, Paul? No. It was more of a…experience. Sorry, ‘an experience’. Thanks, Paul. Paul was always better at grammar that I was, and as I say, The School didn’t really teach us things like that, they didn’t really bother with all that spelling and arithmetic malarkey. Classes were a lot more unusual than that. If ‘unusual’ covers it. No, no geography for us, though they did teach us to use a compass, of course, couldn’t have done half our homework without the compass. And anatomy too, no point killing something if you don’t know which bits you can eat! And of course there was the darker stuff… well, I don’t need to tell you, do I? You know what happened.
I didn’t know Jimmy, actually. He was a few years below. Nice boy, I think, certainly seemed nice a nice lad, anyway. But then, The School did odd things to your perception, we used to joke that they put things in the water. Poor Jimmy. When I read it in the papers, I wasn’t surprised. You weren’t surprised either were you, Paul? I mean, what do you expect really? We were all orphans, we didn’t have anyone to tell us any different, no parents to tell us that it was all wrong, that what they were teaching us there was…well, evil, really, I suppose. Poor Jimmy. He didn’t know any better. He was only doing what he was taught.
The Chase by Elen Caldecott (June 2013)
Emir saw Death the second the tall, pale man stepped off the number 52 bus. Exactly as the Psychic had predicted. Sometimes, her tea-leaves were wrong and Emir would be sent on a wild goose chase across London, looking for visions of doom and finding only harassed commuters.
But today, she was right.
Death, in his pinstripe suit, looked like any other businessman who hadn’t seen the sun for a while; if it weren’t for the fact that he hovered a centimetre above the ground. His polished black brogues never touched the pavement.
Emir knew where Death was headed. A girl with a fever, in a flat above the estate agent. The tea-leaves had said ‘the seller of plots’ which was a bit poetic for Emir’s taste, but the directions were clear enough.
Death walked past crawling traffic. Past shop fronts bursting with produce, honey pastries glistened wetly, the scent of ripe tomatoes mingled with fumes.
Emir followed. He hung the Eye of Horus around his neck. The charm his grandmother had given him on the day she explained his mission.
Death stopped at the agent’s door. He reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a key.
‘Hey!’ Emir yelled.
Death’s eyes narrowed. ‘You,’ he sneered.
‘You can’t take her!’ Emir said, more bravely that he felt. The Eye of Horus glowed.
Death stepped back, a look of fury on his face. ‘Keep her. But, I’ve had enough of your interfering. Time to run, Emir, run.’
The Monster by Jon Mayhew (May 2013)
Dakkar plunged deeper than he’d ever dived before. The weeds swayed in the ebb and flow of the tide. Craggy rocks formed caves and hiding places for darting silver fish.
I love the sea, Dakkar thought. Here, I’m free from scheming adults, from betrayal and strife. There’s just the tide and the fish.
Something moved, coiling up on itself like a snake.
Dakkar nearly let out his breath. Beneath him a long, tentacle curled up and round his ankle. Pain stabbed through his leg as the creature began to crush. Dakkar gritted his teeth and pulled the dagger from his belt.
The giant octopus unfolded itself from the tiny hole it had hidden in. It was the size of a small carriage. Its skin boiled with colour, pulsing red and green as more arms surged up towards Dakkar.
Silently screaming, Dakkar kicked and lashed with his knife. The octopus pulled him deeper until his chest felt as if it would burst. It’s strange eyes stared. Under the body, within the writhing mass was a sharp, snapping beak.
Dakkar kicked towards the creature. Suddenly, they were on a collision course. The Octopus tried to slide more tentacles around Dakkar but he plunged the knife into the monster’s eye. Black mist filled the water. Dakkar felt the creature’s grip tighten. He stabbed again, blindly. His lungs burned but the octopus’s hold loosened.
Dakkar kicked his way to freedom. The surface glimmered above him.
And then he saw the shark.
The Water by Sarah Crossan (September 2012)
She held out her hand and he put a coin into it. It was just a penny—and not even a shiny, new one. Even so, she closed her fingers around it and smiled. She sat down and closed her eyes. It was important, not only to imagine her father’s face, unshaven and with several teeth missing at the back; she had to stir up the feelings that seeing him again would stir in her.
And how would she feel? She would feel joy. And fear, because there was a chance he wouldn’t recognise her: she looked different now she was thirteen. He’d last seen her as a narrow-hipped nine year old.
“What’s your wish?” the boy asked and edged closer. She thought that maybe he would kiss her. This was something she’d also imagined many times, and she knew that if it happened she would be terrified. He pulled a packet of salt and vinegar crisps from his school bag and opened them. “Want one?” She shook her head.
All of a sudden she felt sad. Did she have to choose between wishing to be reunited with her father and getting the boy she loved? Was that how wishes worked?
She opened up her hand. If only she had two pennies. But she didn’t.
“Let’s go,” she said, and turning, tossed the penny into the fountain where it landed with a splash. She watched it sink to the bottom, but didn’t bother to make her wish.
The Plant by Susan Gates (August 2012)
All over the world, people gazed upwards in wonder.
Seeds, like dandelion seeds, but as big as parachutes, filled the skies.
“Beautiful!” people said, in many languages, as the giant gauzy seeds came floating down to Earth.
Where had they come from? No one knew. Maybe they’d escaped from a laboratory, some genetic experiment. Maybe they’d drifted in from another planet.
Then they germinated.
And they were even more beautiful. Great yellow daisies, some the size of wind turbines, sparkled like gold in the sun!
Meanwhile the plants were growing, too, underground. They had white roots like monster worms. The roots had drill-like tips and secreted acids that could dissolve concrete. While people marvelled at the fabulous golden flowers, the roots spread, unseen, for miles.
Then the first buildings collapsed, their foundations eaten away. All over the world, houses, cathedrals, palaces, statues, skyscrapers, power stations came crashing down. Motorway bridges crumbled. The roots cut electricity cables and fuel pipe lines.
Soon cities and towns were abandoned. People moved into forests.
“But they were such beautiful flowers!” said a child, shivering in a cave. His mother wrapped him in fox fur to keep him warm.
Behind him other children made paintings. They dipped their hands in clay and covered the cave walls with bright yellow splodges.
Would future generations be warned? When the skies filled again with giant seeds? Would they recognise the hand prints, faded now, as the flowers of the plant that had once ended civilisation?
The Fight by Sarah J Maas (August 2012)
SALT MINES OF ENDOVIER
C/O THE MINISTER OF COMMERCE
THE ROYAL CASTLE, RIFTHOLD
Filer: Chief Overseer Whyte
Mine Sector: Sector 3, then spread to the entire compound.
Prisoner: Celaena Sardothien. Female. Age 17.
Yesterday, the prisoner known as Celaena Sardothien attempted an escape that cost the lives of 22 23 sentries and overseers (Officer Grant has informed me another sentry just died due to his wounds). After using her own pickaxe to dispatch her overseer (Normann), Sardothien then systematically went through the mines, targeting sentries and overseers. No slaves were harmed.
Upon seizing the swords of two sentries, she then cut a path from the shafts to the main yard. She was still fighting when my sentries surrounded her, and was a finger’s tip from the Wall of Endovier itself when she was knocked unconscious by a sentry (Officer Hare, who I am recommending for a promotion).
Sardothien remained unconscious for hours, during which time she was moved to an isolated cell. Since awakening, she refuses to talk about her motives, and is wholly unapologetic for her actions. Slaves in her sector claim the incident was triggered by Overseer Normann whipping a fellow female slave.
Minor injury to her leg keeps her immobile, though she allowed a healer to mend her. Because of the king’s orders to keep her alive, we have not executed her. It is my sincere hope that this report is passed to His Majesty—and that he reverses his decision.
The Witch By Laura Powell (July 2012)
The Inquisition came for Mum on Sunday morning. The two officers were plain-clothed, but their posh suits and the car with the blacked-out windows were a dead giveaway. When I opened the door, curtains were twitching all down the street.
“Hello son,” said the man. “Is your mother in?”
The woman was sterner. She held up her badge. “There’s been a report of unlicensed witchwork committed at this address.”
So someone informed. It’ll be that nosy cow at No. Eight, I thought, and my guts clenched. Mum emerged from the kitchen, my little sister Mia clinging to her legs. When she saw the inquisitors, the blood drained from her face.
“Mum – I –”
“No, Will.” She shook her head fiercely, though her voice was gentle. “I’ll deal with this.”
The woman smirked. “This is the second time someone’s made a complaint against you. You’ll have to come and submit to testing.”
Mia started to cry. “Phone Auntie Jean,” Mum managed to say before they bridled her, locking the iron muzzle around her head. Outside, the neighbours had gathered to see the fun. Witch-scum, the girl next door jeered.
I watched from the window. I visualised the glass shattering, its shards flying like daggers after the inquisitors and everyone else. I felt the urge rise in me, hot and dark. I could do it. I had the power. But it was this power that had brought the Inquisition here in the first place.
It was all my fault.
The Circus by A. F. Harrold (June 2012)
Sawdust has its own smell. A special smell. An instantly identifiable smell. Especially if you’ve smelt it before. It smells dusty. You might say it smells sawy as well, but that’s not a real word. And besides, no one knows what a saw smells like. Scientists tried to work it out once, but just ended up with noses lying on the floor and their smelling days behind them.
Simon knew the smell of sawdust. It tickled his nose. It irritated his sinuses. He sneezed and dribbled whenever he smelt it, but still… Simon loved it. He couldn’t get enough of it, because where there was sawdust, there was an audience, and Simon was, what doctors call, ‘a show off’. There was nothing that bubbled his blood as brilliantly as being the centre of attention.
Nothing would have pleased him as much as knowing that people came from miles around to see him. But people didn’t. Simon worked in a travelling circus. People stayed where they were and the circus came to them. But still, his ardour was undimmed. People bought tickets to see the circus show. And he was a part of it.
Miss Tremble and her twelve bright white horses looped like ribbons round the Big Top to tremendous applause and then it was Simon’s turn. He strode out with his bucket and shovel, scooped up a steaming pile of fresh horse manure, and, leaving the ring clean for the clowns, stepped back into the shadows.
The Book by Anne Cassidy (May 2012)
Three names were in the book, one of them already crossed off. The second name was Harry Waters.
Joe waited outside the pub. It was dark and seriously raining.
Harry was due at any time. Same routine every night. Out of the pub door at ten past eleven.
“Bye,” Harry shouted and stumbled unsteadily up the road.
Joe watched him with contained fury. He patted his top pocket where the photo of his sister was.
He began to follow him. The road was long and dark and Joe knew he only had to wait a short while until one of the big lorries came off the dual carriageway and headed for Tesco’s loading bay.
Harry slowed up.
Joe bent down to tie up his shoe laces.
From behind he could hear a lorry, its big wheels thundering on the uneven road. He glanced round. The rain was hard, in the street lights it looked like knives coming down. He went on more quickly.
The lorry was getting closer.
Joe took quicker steps and was alongside Harry, throwing one arm around his shoulder as if he was his best mate. Before Harry could blink he pushed him squarely in front of the lorry.
The vehicle screamed and swerved but it was seriously too big to avoid Harry’s soft body.
Joe slipped down an alleyway. He got the book out and crossed out Harry’s name. There was just one more name then his sister’s death would be paid for.
The Discovery by Jim Eldridge (April 2012)
The entrance to the cave was hidden by a mis-shapen tree, and long grasses hanging down, intertwined with savage bramble and long tendrils of escape vines. Was the book hidden inside? wondered Jake.
Local legend said that something was in there, but those same legends said that something had sharp claws and teeth, scaly arms and legs. That it was blind from living in the dark deep below ground, but it had ears that could hear a moth’s wings flutter.
A tale to stop people from venturing into the cave’s depths, thought Jake. He pushed his way through the foliage, feeling the bramble tearing at his clothes, at his skin, and then he was inside the cave.
It was immediately dark, the mouth of the cave barely lit by the thin light filtering through the screen of vegetation outside. Jake let his eyes adjust to the dark. As he did so, a smell attacked his nostrils. It wasn’t just a musty smell, he’d expected that with the damp earth. This was something more.
Then he heard it. A slithering sound. It could have been anything: a sleepy animal that had sought refuge in the cave and was stirring, but Jake knew that it wasn’t. There was something else. A hissing sound from something large.
Jake stood stock still, listening for the sounds again: the hissing and the slithering. It was here, somewhere, here in the darkness.
And then he knew where it was.
It was behind him!
The Ship (March 2012)
Billy ran up the stairs two at a time, the clanging of his boots echoing off the ship’s metal walls. The utility stairwells were the quickest way for the crew to get round the great vessel, a secret labyrinth most of the passengers knew nothing about. But Billy had come to know them like the streets of home.
He emerged onto the first-class deck and was briefly dazzled by the sunlight. It was a bright day, a few majestic white clouds motionless in the blue sky, although the wind was sharp and carried the promise of icy cold. Billy ran on, past the passengers at the ship’s rail looking out at the sparkling green waves as if they owned them. But then they were toffs, unlike Billy’s family back in Belfast, or the second and third-class passengers, the poor people.
‘Ah, Billy,’ said Mr McElroy, the ship’s purser, when Billy arrived at the bellboy station. ‘Take this message to the engine room for me, will you?’
Billy set off again, but stopped by the rail himself for a moment to breathe in the salt tang of the sea air. Mr McElroy worked all the bellboys hard , but Billy had no complaints. This could be the beginning of a great life for him.
Three weeks ago he’d been a lowly apprentice at the Harland and Wolff shipyard. Now he was a bellboy on the most famous ship in the world.
The incredible, the unsinkable Titanic…
By Tony Bradman