December 2022

competition results




First Prize


Peter Collins of Guiseley

‘Who Will Sing at Davy McGarry’s Funeral’




Second Prize


Bryan Thomas of Colchester





Third Prize


Richard Westwell of The Gap, Australia

‘I Hope This Finds You Well’




The December Competition Shortlist


Time and Again by Lynn Bushel of Cavendish

Who Will Sing At Davy McGarry’s Funeral? by Peter Collins of Guiseley

The Final Act by Ros Levenson of London

The Last Race by Michael Bateman of Horsham

The Merciful Kindness of Heaven by Kit Mas of New York, USA

I Hope This Finds You Well by Richard Westwell of The Gap, Australia

Nineteen, Twenty, My Plate’s Empty by Iqbal Hussain of London

Phoenix by Bryan Thomas of Colchester




The December 2022 Competition Longlist


He is Just -There by Pamela Laird of Orewa, New Zealand

Time and Again by Lynn Bushel of Cavendish

Jumping the Fence by Nellie Crawford of Freemantle, Australia

Who Will Sing At Davy McGarry’s Funeral? by Peter Collins of Guiseley

The Final Act by Ros Levenson of London

Eleven Eleven by Nicola Wiggins of Codicote

Michel’s Smile by John Marston of Rushington

The Last Race by Michael Bateman-Lee of Horsham

Cat’s Cradling by Bernie McCarthy of Cork, Ireland

The Merciful Kindness of Heaven by Kit Mas of New York, USA

I Hope This Finds You Well by Richard Westwell of The Gap, Australia

The Bubble Blowers by Joy Clews of Snitterby

Nineteen, Twenty, My Plate’s Empty by Iqbal Hussain of London

Phoenix by Bryan Thomas of Colchester


Who Will Sing At Davy McGarry’s Funeral’

Peter Collins



‘…How great Thou art, how great Thou art.’


The strong, clear baritone had barely finished before the congregation burst into a spontaneous round of applause. Davy McGarry walked solemnly from the lectern to the edge of the altar, bowed to the priest and made the sign of the cross, then returned to his seat. He was delighted that the mourners had liked his singing, but he kept his expression sombre. After all, this was Paddy Ryan’s funeral mass. Later on at the Irish Centre, he could accept their praise and compliments, but now was the time to show respect.


Father O’Hara, never one to hang about, hurried through the rest of the mass and was soon giving the mourners a farewell message.


 ‘Just to let you know that Paddy’s family have asked that only relatives and very close friends come to the graveyard, please. But everybody else is more than welcome to come down the Irish Centre to see Paddy off in style.’


Whilst the undertaker stepped forward to organise the pallbearers to carry the coffin (there was never a shortage of nephews and cousins for such a task at an Irish Catholic funeral) Davy wondered whether he would count as a very close friend and if he should go to the graveyard. He probably should, he decided; he’d known Paddy for forty years and Mary had asked him to sing at the funeral for heaven’s sake. But he wouldn’t barge in. He’d stand respectfully by the hearse and wait for Mickie or Mary to invite him as they were sure to do.


The mourners slowly filed out behind the coffin and Davy joined the queue, shuffling solemnly along.  As he neared the church door, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to see the diminutive figure of Maggie Walsh, without whose say-so, nothing got done in the church.


‘Will you be a lamb, Davy, and help me with the hymn books?’


Davy glanced out of the door. He didn’t drive so he’d need a lift to the cemetery. But there was still a large crowd of people milling about. It’d be a while yet before the hearse set off.


‘Sure, Maggie. No problem.’


He went with Maggie to gather up the hymnals. They lay scattered forlornly around the church like debris after a music festival. Then Maggie caught sight of Father O’Hara and buttonholed him about the children’s liturgy leaving Davy to collect the books on his own. There were more than he had thought and when he finally got outside the hearse had gone. Dark clouds had gathered ominously overhead and the smell of rain was in the air. Davy looked around hopefully for a lift but the rest of the mourners had already headed off to the Irish Centre. Turning his collar up against the weather, he thrust his hands in his pockets and began to walk.


Walking wasn’t a problem for Davy McGarry. He was seventy-six years old but he was still fit. He’d spent his early life on the family farm in County Kerry and then forty years in the building trade here in England. He wasn’t a tall man, but he was broad and still well-muscled even in his retirement. His once sandy hair was now grey and his open face was weathered from a lifetime working outdoors. He’d first met Paddy when he’d come over from Ireland and started working for Paddy’s brother, Mickie. Davy had a fine voice in those days. He’d lost count of the weddings and funerals he’d been asked to sing at. He’d become a fixture in the Irish community in the town; part of everybody’s extended family. Davy had never married. He considered his circle of friends at the Irish Centre to be his family. It was important to Davy to be part of that circle; perhaps more important than anybody knew. Singing was his anchor. His voice wasn’t as strong now as it once was. That was only to be expected. But he’d learned a lot over the years and his timing and phrasing was better than it ever was. He still had a few more years left in him.


It was a fair walk to the Irish Centre and the rain had come in earnest. He could see from the cars parked outside that the family had made it back from the cemetery. A broad-shouldered man with a pronounced beer belly wearing a faded green and red Mayo football jersey was sitting by the door reading a dog-eared detective novel, a half-drunk pint of lager on the table in front of him. He nodded a greeting and watched without offering to help as Davy struggled to take off his wet coat.


‘Afternoon, Danny,’ said Davy hanging his coat in the cloakroom.


Danny Malone, long time doorman and general factotum at the Irish Centre frowned gravely.

‘Busy in there, Davy lad,’ he said. ‘I’d get a few in now if I were you. Save time.’


Davy nodded and headed into the bar. The place was heaving. A few people patted him on the back and congratulated him on his singing as he jostled his way through the crowd. At the bar he bumped into Mickie Ryan.


‘Ah, here’s the man of the hour. It’d be a poor funeral without you singing, Davy. Will ye have a drink with me?’


Mickie Ryan was a giant of a man and he’d used his intimidating presence to good effect in getting building contracts over the years.


‘I’ll have a pint, please, Mickie,’ said Davy, quietly pleased at Mickie’s obvious show of closeness.


‘Grand. Tell you what. I have a bit of business to attend to. Could you get them in for us?’ Mickie passed a ten pound note across to Davy and levered himself away from the crush.


Davy queued for the two pints. His lack of height and less commanding presence meant he was easily overlooked in the crowd and it was a while before he got served. Eventually he made his way into the main room with the two pints.


‘Davy, over here,’ a voice shouted over the noise.


He turned towards the voice.  Danny Malone was struggling to bring some trestle tables into the room.


‘There must be close on two hundred people here. The girls are busy getting more food ready and they didn’t put out enough tables. Can you help me with these?’


‘I’m just taking this to Mickie,’ Davy replied holding up the pint.

He’s in the back room with Mary. This’ll only take a minute.’


Davy looked around helplessly for a moment but he could see Danny was struggling. He put the pints on one side and began to help Danny bring out more tables and chairs.


‘It shows what a popular man Paddy was,’ said Davy indicating the throng of people as they carried out the last table.


Danny just snorted. ‘It shows what some shameless feckers will do for free sausage rolls and chicken wings.’


They set up the tables and as Danny headed back to his place on the door Davy retrieved his pints and headed to the small office at the back of the Centre. Inside he found Mickie with his son, Tommy and Paddy’s wife, Mary all sitting round a table with a large stack of white envelopes in front of them.


‘Ah, cheers there, Davy lad,’ said Mickie, reaching for the proffered pint and downing half of it one large gulp.


‘Tommy, Mary,’ Davy nodded his respects.


‘Ah that was beautiful singing, there, Davy,’ acknowledged Mary with a sad smile. She was a slender woman and the black dress she wore seemed two sizes too large for her. ‘Himself would have been pleased to hear it.’


‘Anything for Paddy, Mary, you know that. He was like family to me.’


Davy looked down at the table and saw a pile of small cards, no larger than playing cards, each with a photo of Paddy on the front.


‘Are they the memorial cards, Mary? Jeez, you’re quick off the mark and no mistake.’


‘It was Paddy’s wish, Davy. He wanted me to get the cards ready for family and close friends as soon as we could.’  


Mary continued to place a card inside each envelope as she spoke. Mickie downed the rest of his pint and stood up.


Right then. Well I’ll leave you to it. I’d best get out and socialise.’


Tommy spoke up. He was large and ruddy faced like his father. ‘Dad, before you go.’ He raised his hand and rubbed his thumb and fingers together in the universal sign for money. ‘We’ll need something to tip the staff.’


Mickie reached for his pocket.

How much?’


‘Well, there’s Danny Malone, the three lads on the bar, and there’s at least four of the girls doing the food. Best make it two hundred. We can’t be mean with the hired help.’


Mickie stared at Davy in mock despair. ‘Jeez, the little fecker’ll bleed me dry.’ But he was already peeling the notes from a large wad of twenties.


Davy followed Mickie back to the bar. The party was in full swing now. Beers were being drunk and a lot people had begun to reminisce about the old days. A few people slapped him on the back and congratulated him on his singing. One of Paddy’s old workmates (Declan, or was it Conor?) bought him another pint. The night seemed to go by in a blur. A number of people asked him to sing something. He was flattered, but out of respect for Paddy he decided not to.


At the end of the evening he saw Tommy tip the bar staff and caterers, and then watched with interest as Mary and Mickie discretely sought out members of the inner circle of Paddy’s friends and family and passed each of them a white envelope. Tommy caught his eye and wandered over.


‘Thanks again, Davy. This is for you.’ He handed over a small white envelope.


Davy nodded his thanks and put the envelope in his pocket. He was filled with a quiet pride at receiving the memorial card. He didn’t really know why that should be; he’d known Paddy a long time and they’d become close over the years. It was only natural that he should be included, but it gave him a warm feeling inside. Davy considered opening the envelope there to have a proper look at the memorial card, but he thought that might be a bit insensitive to the people who hadn’t received one. He decided it could wait until he got home.


He said his goodbyes and set off on the short walk home. It was still raining and he was glad to reach the shelter of his flat. He took off his coat, turned on the small electric fire and poured himself a generous measure of Jameson’s. He raised the glass in a toast.


‘Here’s to you, Paddy. May God rest you.’


He sipped the whiskey appreciatively and settled into his chair. Davy picked up the white envelope and opened it slowly. As he did so, the single piece of paper it contained slipped from his fingers and dropped to the floor. He looked at it for a while without attempting to pick it up. He took another sip of his whiskey and sat back in his chair, his eyes glassy and unfocussed as he stared unseeingly at the flickering gas flame for a long while. He dug his fingers into the arms of the chair as if to check it was real. The chair seemed solid enough, but despite that Davy could feel his whole world crumbling about him. Who would have thought that a single piece of paper could be so devastating? He bent down to pick it up. Not the memorial card given to close friends and family but a crisp twenty pound note paid out to the hired help.





Bryan Thomas



It was a surprisingly hot, sultry June evening. After a sweaty day of culture, looking at Wren churches, I was wandering, somewhat aimlessly, around the older streets of Bow in East London when I came across a small pub.


The Phoenician was one of those dark old inns with brown mahogany tables and blackened low beams. The walls were hung with Old London' prints, and a row of pewter mugs lined a high shelf. Worn old quarry tiles, beginning to crumble at the edges, covered the floor, and the smell of slightly warm beer hung over all. There was a quiet murmur of voices, for it was busy, and the only empty pew was in a dim recess where an elderly man was hunched, sipping a pint.


He had gnarled old hands. His knuckles looked stiff, and his fist gripped the tall glass of ale with a fierce intensity as he raised it, a little shakily, to his lips. As we started chatting, he told me he had been a monumental mason. He had worked on several of the Wren churches before he had been obliged to retire. On learning about my studies, he mentioned a recurring dream that had puzzled him over recent months.


"It goes somefing like this," he began.


 "I'm in this bloody great underground cavern workin' by the light of old sputterin' torches hung on the walls all around. I am there, carvin' nscriptions an' figures on these sarcophaguses - like coffins for dead


folks," he explains. "It's bloody 'ard work because the stone is granite an' the tools are funny an' not very sharp, but I seem to 'ave the knack of it."


"What sort of carvings?" I ask him, "sounds fascinating."


 "Oh, the carvin' is sort of realistic like, with goats' n cows in a land what looks bloody hot, an' tells the story of ordinary lookin' folks. With their heads at funny angles, the tall figures are like marchin' up an' down with long poles, some of 'em with eagles an' such on top an' with chickens scratchin' away under their feet." He pauses and looks across enquiringly.


"Keep going, "I encourage him.


"Some days, my supervisor lets me carve the creatures that will go along with the dead, as he says, 'to the next world'. I am quite chuffed to be doin' this ‘cos the sandstone is easier to work, 'an in the dream, me ands are no longer stiff an' don't shake. It's sort of artistic; gives me a buzz, kind of, when the birds an' animals look real".


"If you don't mind the stink of them torches an' the piss an' sweat down here, the work is great. More'n you can say for the poor buggers I hear about, beaverin' away on the outside in the heat and dust. They are grindin' the faces of them great blocks, an' when they are done, they ‘ave to break their backs haulin' them into place, day after day, month after month. They stop workin' for a mo', they are whipped; they get ill with the fever, or if the liftin' finally does for them, they are pitched down the long slopes to die an' get to feed the bloody vultures. Rather be down here, I tell myself; just keep your nose clean an' stay out o' bleedin' trouble".


The old man takes a long draught and then grins up at me to see if I am still listening.


"Keep going", I say, fetching him another pint.


"In me dream, I hear a rumour, one time," he goes on, "that the Pharaoh is dyin' an' that this place, after the hoo-ha an' the prayin' stuff, must beready to bury him, so we are now bein' cussed to work faster.


"There are soldiers now, as well as supervisor guys, an' more people are workin' down here than ever, layin' out long rows of empty bowls an' ugs, rings an’ bangles, an' even, like robes an' headdresses."


“It is bein', put about, too, by me mates, that we will not be let free, even when the job is finished.Maybe a load of rubbish, but it gets me worried."


"I never seen anyone leave for the outside and, after talkin' to several of me mates when the guards' backs are turned, I begin to think that the rumours are true. So when the soldiers are pissed 'an sleepin' it off, I sneak away to a dark corner behind a pile of stone rubble an' do a special bit o' carvin' of my own.


"Soon there are loads of great chests bein' moved in an' jars of all bloody shapes an' sizes; the little'ns for herbs' an spices; the bigger ones are full of corn an' oils. Some jars are full o' wine, and I take a long swig or two when I get the chance. Well, mate, got to keep my own ruddy spirits up, ain't I?"


 "One day, we hear the fuckin' truef. We are goin' to be buried with the great King, to be 'is slaves, when they say, we will all be 'resurrected'.


The animals an' birds that we've carved will wake up as well. The grub 'n wine has been stored, ready for us in the next world."


"The bloody cup final comes at last an', with a load of poncey malarkey, the blowin' of horns, 'an the blood of sacrifices pourin' into the cracked stone floors, Ramses, bloody II is laid to rest. A great stone is rolled across the last opening to the outside. Quite soon, the last torch splutters an' goes out. Then, in the scary dark, some stupid bugger kicks over the last pitcher of water, and the wailin' begins."


"Time to go, I say to meself. I haven't worked for forty years to be buried with some bloody trumped-up Pharaoh."


"I feel me way around the walls until I reach the special place - me spare time work is about to pay off. Pushin' hard on the keystone I'd carved, open up the last ventilation shaft, squeeze in, an' push it softly shut behind me. Over the last few weeks, I have lifted quite a few bits an’ bobs out of the chests. So, draggin' me sack full of Jools behind me, I start crawlin' towards the dim glow at the end of the tunnel...."


He pauses again, and seeing that I am not yet ready to give him a refill, he continues.


 "I promise meself that I will soon be havin' a great time watchin' the kids splash about in the river. I might even empty the sand out of my old felucca an' do a bit o' sailin' like when I was a lad. An' only then it hits me; I know the way out, so I can pop back any time if the coffers is getting a tad low." He pauses.


"That's me dream, then. I suppose the archaeology stuff is a load o' bollocks, but the stink an' the carvin' an' such make it all feel so bloody real." He drains his glass, pauses and then suggests his own answer to the puzzle.


"Is me dream some sort of inherited memory?" he asks cautiously, as though he had learnt the phrase by heart. "I heard tell that one of me ancestors was a freed slave in the Roman army which finished up in Lunnon. Us Cockneys, yer know, go back a hell of a long way, an' our


Pearly Kings an’ Queens must've got their loot from somewhere, know what I mean?"


He leans back and looks at me quizzically, then muttering about takin' a leak, he clambers unsteadily to his feet, raising a sinewy arm in salutation. Behind the yellowing, grey beard, he has undoubtedly got a deeply tanned face, unlikely in a true East Londoner. His sandaled feet are bare, and is there just a hint of a gelabi from somewhere way back in his baggy, tattered, white trousers and long, white cotton shirt?


He does not return, and the pub is quieter as I make my way past the bar.


The Landlord stops polishing the brass and says, "I see you've been chatting to Fred. With his white outfit and his sandals, I bet he's been telling you about his work on the Pyramids."


"He told me his dream," I say.


"He's a rare one," says the Landlord. "In winter, he would have dressed in sea boots, with a long blue coat complete with epaulettes and gold buttons, to tell you his dream about the Armada - Captain of a Spanish Galleon – the only survivor washed ashore, nearly drowned and being looked after by an English village lass."


 "Or with a multi-coloured coat, a stiff leg and an eye patch recounting his adventures as a pirate in the Caribbean, how he was captured and locked up in the Tower of London awaiting death until a servant girl helped him to escape through the tunnels."


"Very good for business is our Fred," says mine host, returning to his polishing. Mind how you go. It's hot out there."


The whiff from the toilets and the reflections in the polished brass from the sputtering of electric wall candles behind the bar turn my mind back to the old man's dream world in the monster cavern.


I open the heavy oak door to feel the heat and a draft of hot air picking up the sand and have to shut my eyes against the glare. When I open them, all I can see is an endless desert with the tracks left by a small bent figure heading towards a distant pyramid in the mirage. On a zephyr, I catch the echo of a wheezy chuckle.




I Hope This Finds You Well’

Richard Westwell





I hope this letter finds you well. 


Please disregard for a moment your most unusual present circumstances; all will be explained very shortly. You will find a small bottle of water at your left elbow; I encourage you to take as much as you need. We anticipate that your mouth will be dry. It is unclear how much comprehension of the recent ceremony you will have, but it is our hope that your situation now is at least comfortable. The light by which you are reading this letter comes from a small battery-powered lantern behind your head, the lifespan of which should be perfectly adequate for our purposes.


You will have some pressing questions, which I will do my best to answer briefly. These are likely to centre on the matter of where you are and how you got there. For reasons which will become clear, I will start by answering the second of these enquiries. 


You have done, you will agree, a tremendous quantity of evil in your life to date. You have inflicted great cruelty upon your wife and children, and both physical and financial harm not only to your rivals but also to those who once called you a friend. No, do not get angry. The narcotics which were administered to you yesterday evening are only now beginning to dissipate, and an increase in heart rate is most inadvisable. Instead, use this moment of tranquillity, lying there in the flickering shadows, to reflect upon what you know to be true - you have been a deeply bad person.


It is fitting to mention whence came the design to sedate you for the purpose of punishment. Fitting because your wife made the acquaintance of our village apothecary after several trips to his establishment to purchase dressings and salves for the injuries you enacted upon her. This is an irony that you can surely appreciate. I know this apothecary to be of excellent character, being his brother. My own wife laughs at the thought of how many customers he might contrive to send me if he were only a little less fastidious with his weights and measures, but in reality he has never before taken action of this sort, you may rest assured.

It is quite understandable that you are not in a position to reply to this communication, and no reply is expected. As I write, word has come from your wife that you have devoured every morsel of the drugged pudding she prepared and are already coiled in the snoring embrace of Morpheus. When I have finished this missive, I will put it unsealed into the envelope you will have found placed on your chest, as I do not expect a man buried under six feet of fresh earth to be in possession of a letter-opener.


I am certain that you now appreciate that in the act of explaining why you are in your current position, I have also answered the where. Yes, you have been buried alive, and are reading this from a recumbent attitude inside one of my finest mahogany coffins (for as you will have guessed, I am the undertaker of this parish).


Now, sir - your excellent wife does not wish these tidings to bring you to total despair, so it is most important to confirm immediately that your interment is only a temporary state of affairs, designed to demonstrate to you the pain that duress and the abuse of power may bring. To teach you a lesson, in other words, a lesson which you will be unable to curtail or resist, being quite literally a captive audience. Rage all you want; you will remain in your coffin until Monday morning, when you will be liberated in, we hope, a chastened and more reasonable state of mind.


Your funeral service was a quiet family affair, with only a few carefully invited acquaintances who wished to be present at the moment of your downfall. You are a short man in the largest coffin available, which caused eyebrows to raise until we explained the necessity of providing a sufficient initial supply of oxygen. Given my profession, the preacher is a close confidant, so there was no need for alarm when an urgent knocking began to issue from your casket - on the contrary this merely encouraged us to sing Jerusalem all the louder.


We perceive that your immediate concern will be this quantity of breathable air, but there you need have no fear. Discreet rubber tubes have been linked to small holes drilled into the base of your coffin - you may be able to see them in the dimming light if you twist your legs - and the cemetery caretaker, old Bowker, has been instructed to attend your graveside every eight hours, rain or shine, there to work the small foot pump concealed beneath the cast-iron flower holder. In this way the oxygen may be replenished regularly, leaving you in relative comfort until your forthcoming deliverance.


In summary, you have been buried alive to teach you a much-needed lesson about humanity, and you will remain so buried for two full days. With this understanding, it is our sincere hope that you will have by now returned to a state of calm and have recovered fully from what must have been a most unpleasant initial shock. It is probable that you are recuperated to the point of confident wrath and are even now plotting some violent revenge against those friends and family who have reduced you to your present condition.


Which brings us to our ultimate point, and the final page of this communication. Please, have a drink from your water bottle - you have ample to last two days, and it would be shame for you to spill any once the battery for your lantern expires. 


Is your thirst slaked? Then it is with some gratification that we wish at last to apprise you of the fact that we have not been altogether honest hitherto. 


One can only plumb the depths of misery after first raising oneself to the heights of great hope, do you agree? It was your wife’s concern that the very fact of waking up in your own coffin might provoke in you a feeling of numbed fatalism, quite at odds with the stabbing pain of anguish she wished you to experience. And so, it is now our pleasant duty to inform you that the hope of release and revenge given to you by this communication was a fiction, designed to raise your spirits the better to dash them now onto the rocks of despair. 

To be clear - we are not going to free you. No one is going to dig you out. You do have the air supply mentioned above, but only because we consider death by thirst a more agonisingly slow way to die than mere suffocation. The lantern’s battery will soon expire, leaving you to suffer parched misery in the cruel dark alone.


Please be aware that any cries or screams from your direction will be deadened long before reaching the surface. It is possible that some sound may travel up by way of your breathing tubes, but the narrowness of this passage will produce only the thin moaning redolent of an unhappy wind, quite appropriate for a lonely country graveyard.


A last word from myself in a more business-like vein. In order to offer my services as cheaply as possible to your deserving wife it is my desire to disinter this fine wooden coffin for reuse in a month or two (long after your passing, no matter how protracted), and I would therefore be most grateful if you could refrain from scratching at the inside of the lid with your fingernails. I can assure you of the futility of this, as the wood is an inch think and nailed down most securely.


Rest assured that your family and friends are thinking of you at this time.


I remain, sir, your most obedient servant.



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