June 2023 

competition results


First Prize

Only One Man Died by Denarii Peters of Didcot, Oxfordshire, UK

Second Prize

The Deepest Part of Man by James Schannep of Fountain, Colorado, USA

Third Prize

A Real Party Animal by Karla Dearsley of Northampton, UK


The three stories are below! Enjoy!


The June 2023 Shortlist


A Real Party Animal by Karla Dearsley of Northampton, UK

Snap by Ted Gooda of Billinghurst, UK

His Backpack by Alexis Wolfe of Binfield, UK

The Deepest Part of Man by James Schannep of Fountain, Colorado, USA

Only One Man Died by Denarii Peters of Didcot, Oxfordshire, UK

Oranges, Oxygen and Us by Martyn Greenwood of West Yorkshire, UK


The June 2023 Longlist


A Real Party Animal by Karla Dearsley of Northampton, UK

A Cure for Happiness by Andrwe Hodge of Nocagdoches, Texas, USA

None So Blind by Pauline Cleary of Victoria, Australia

Simple Twist of Fate by John Savage of London, UK

Poetry for the Epilogue by Kevin Broccoli of Johnston, Rhode Island, USA

Snap by Ted Gooda of Billinghurst, UK

His Backpack by Alexis Wolfe of Binfield, UK

The Solution To All Our Problems by Andrew Taylor of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

The Kebab Van at the End of the World by Penny Rogers of Dorset, UK

Not Found Wanting by Wendy Markel of Northampton, UK

The Deepest Part of Man by James Schannep of Fountain, Colorado, USA

Only One Man Died by Denarii Peters of Didcot, Oxfordshire, UK

Oranges, Oxygen and Us by Martyn Greenwood of West Yorkshire, UK



Only One Man Died by Denarii Peters



“Don't worry. He won't get stuck. He practised that manoeuvre only last week.”


“Who said I was worried? Dan knows what he's doing.”


If Dan's mother wasn't concerned, everyone else in the room was. Besides, the way she stabbed at those potatoes gave the lie to her words.


I'd been in this kitchen when Dan was practising. He'd taken two upright dining chairs and placed their seats one in front of the other, then slithered beneath the crossbar, through the back of the first one - a space less than twelve inches square - across the seats and through the gap at the other side, twisting so he landed on his feet. He was ever so slender but even so it should not have been possible.


“He dislocates his hips,” said Ros, the sister proud of her elder brother's ability.


Dan and his sibling Richard were members of the Craven cave rescue team. It was the end of one of the longest, hottest summers in living memory but that afternoon the weather had broken. Lightning flashed around Morecambe Bay and raindrops cascaded down. The squall came out of nowhere. Clouds formed in an instant and the road outside became a river.


The call when it came had been expected. Dan had already stowed his gear so it lay ready in a rucksack by the door. Weekend cavers are not always as careful as they should be. The hot weather had lured many inexperienced potholers into difficulty during the long summer season. Those had been easy rescues: a broken ankle or a couple separated from the rest of their team but having the sense to go no deeper and soon recovered. If someone was in trouble in this weather, any rescue would be nothing like as straightforward as those.


The family did not have a telephone. Instead a Land Rover pulled up outside to collect Dan. Richard couldn't go. He had injured his leg playing football a few days before.


As soon as Dan had left, his mother started on the potatoes. They would be baked ready for his return as he was bound to be cold, wet and tired.


I was only a guest at the house. I suggested it was time I left but Mrs. Ellwood shook her head. Ros had invited me. I was supposed to be staying the night. “Besides, I wouldn't send a dog out on...” Her voice trailed away.


Richard brought out a large hand drawn map of the cave system beneath Gaping Gill. He spread it over the kitchen table. I didn't understand how he thought this would help but his father, who had been sitting silent in his armchair by the Aga, came across and the two of them began tracing routes through tunnels and caverns.


It would take at least forty-five minutes to reach the cave system. Then the team would have to walk some distance over rough terrain. The rescue could well take all night and still the rain continued to fall, the streams to rise, the danger to increase.


“They'll be on the A683 by now.”


“No, Dad, they'll have taken the A6. It's longer but they'll get there quicker by that road.” Richard stood beside his father, one grey head and one with straggly black hair bent together over the diagram.

Forty minutes later they agreed the rescue team would have reached the limit of the terrain the Land Rover could handle. They would have to leave the vehicle, each loaded with ladders, lights, spare bulbs and batteries.


“For every hour someone travels through a system, it takes the rescuers at least twelve to get them out again. And that's if they're only a bit lost. If they're injured, you're looking at a full day,” said Richard without looking up.


Beyond the window the rain kept on falling, a drenching curtain so thick you could see nothing beyond it. Up around Gaping Gill the ground would have been hard and dry only hours before but now it would be a sea of sticky mud concealing sharp shards of slippery stone. The waterfalls in those caves were some of the biggest drops in the British Isles. Through the drought they would have been trickles but now they would be torrents. The change in the weather had been so sudden, flooding would be inevitable.


Richard traced a path on the map. “They could have gone in through Rat Hole, taken the old east passage to Mud Hall and Car Pot...” His finger became still. “...or they might have headed for Far Waters. There are some pretty tight squeezes on the way, even for our Dan.”


“Maybe, or they could have entered by Corky's Pot then gone on to Disappointment Pot, though I hope not. There's bound to be a lot more water that way.”


There was a loud hiss from the Aga, as though a bucketful of rainwater had found its way down the chimney. The flames dipped and a sudden coldness came into the room.


“Get some more wood, will you, love?”


Mrs. Ellwood opened the fire chamber while Ros and I headed for the tiny room next to the kitchen that held the fuel.


We gathered up handfuls of tinder dry sticks and, hugging our bounty close to us, we returned and fed the fire. The door was closed and warmth was restored.


Ros remained on her feet. “We're getting a bit low, Ma.”


“We'll be fine. We'll sort it in the morning.”


“No, I'd like a bit of air. I'll go out and find a few more branches.” It was a ridiculous idea. The hedges on the opposite side of the hill would be spattered in mud and the trees would be sodden, their branches bent over under the weight of falling water. One wet twig would be enough to drown the flames of the warning, welcoming Aga. But I understood. She could not sit and listen to the two men discussing Dan's possible fate. He might be diving, forced to swim through an underground tide in bitter cold conditions, all the time surrounded by pitch darkness.


Outside in our own darkness, we tramped along, our heads bent, Ros dragging her little trolley behind her, its wheels slipping on the slick surface. We took the path round the side of the castle, past the priory church and on into the gloom. There were no street lights. The path was a narrow, descending cart track between steep sloping fields. The trolley kept catching its wheels among the stones and turning over. Reaching out to steady it, I slipped and skidded, falling into the clinging, sticky mud. We were so wet we might as well have been drowning under a waterfall.


We turned back. At least there were no narrow rock walls to compress our lungs, no twisting tunnels in which to lose our way. But without warning we were tramping through a torrent which had not been there only minutes before. We were forced to abandon the trolley.


Yet still the rain and the lightning persisted. Our shoes filled with mud. We were getting tired.

Ros muttered, “Exposure. Cavers die of exposure more often than drowning.”


But she and I were in no danger. We were no more than ten minutes from Ros's home. Yet in the darkness behind the priory, with no light and with water clutching at us, threatening to drag us down, I had never been so afraid.


As my teardrops joined the raindrops, ahead reared a black shadow: the imposing bulk of the priory. We reached the stone wall surrounding it, using it to trace our way forward, frozen fingers trailing through moss more like seaweed, over snails more like barnacles and through nettles whose leaves were too sodden to sting.


We rounded the corner. Across the shimmering water between the kerbs, swirling around the overflowing drains, lay our route to safety, to shelter. Splashing across this wider, though shallower, river, we arrived back at her door and tumbled inside, filling the hallway with our damp presence, for an instant forgetting Dan, the caves and the danger. We laughed at our bedraggled reflections in the ancient, tarnished mirror.


In the kitchen no-one was speaking and our laughter was cut short. Ros's parents and brother clustered round the radio. The authorities had just issued a severe weather warning. No-one was to venture out unless they had to. The A6 was closed due to a crash involving several cars. It was feared a couple of hikers were lost out on the moors. There was no mention yet of any lost cavers.


The rain stopped but we did not celebrate. Richard estimated the lower reaches of the Gaping Gill system would be filled with water and there would be no sudden end to the flow. He pointed to several underground streams criss-crossing the map. All of them would have burst their banks. No dry refuge anywhere.


Ros's mother removed the shrivelled, over-cooked potatoes from the oven and threw them away. No-one was hungry. She took fresh ones from a basket, stabbed them deep into their cores and placed them in the Aga.


It was almost midnight but no-one suggested we got any sleep.


Yet sleep I did. The room was warm and my own concerns were not as all enveloping as a sister's worry or a parent's fear.


I woke to a pale dawn, light streaming in through the windows. The scent of fresh bread had replaced the background smell of baking potatoes. This family had their routines and in routine there is always solace. Fear is diminished when faced with familiarity.


Dan had been away for over fifteen hours. There had been no word. The radio talked of casualties from the accident on the A6 then interrupted itself with a breaking story about the two hikers now rescued from the fells. No mention of Gaping Gill.


Richard began to fret. “Why does no-one come? Someone from cave rescue should have brought us news by now even if...”


Outside the window, the sky was a clear, mocking blue. The sun was already warm enough to dry the road but it would take many hours before waters underground would recede.


An hour later the sound of a car arriving was followed by a knock.


As Ros opened the door, we all saw the police car and heard her shout out as she let the visitors in.

Exhausted, soaking wet and draped in a thick, grey blanket, Dan followed her inside.


The policeman was a step behind them. “Bit of a hero, your boy, Mrs. Elwood. Saved a baby. Never seen anything like it.”


“A baby? Someone took a baby into the caves?”


“What? Nothing to do with caves. No, this was the A6. Ten or so cars all piled up. We couldn't reach the baby but your Danny did. Like an eel, he was, straight through the passenger window of one car, over the back seat, through that window and into the next. Ripped his coat to shreds on the broken glass but he brought the child out.”


“Shame I could do nothing for the driver.”


“He was beyond help. But it's thanks to you, Danny boy, and the rest of your team helping out till the ambulances got through that only one man died.”


The policeman gone, Richard tapped the map. “What about the cavers?”


“Huh, we got news of them just as we finished up helping the police. They committed the ultimate sin, that lot, the only one for which a caver can never be forgiven. Before they set out they left plenty of messages, told people when to expect them back and when to begin to worry. Only they never did reach Gaping Gill. The closest they got was the Square and Compass in Clapham. The only liquid they encountered was best Yorkshire Ale.”




The Deepest Part of Man by James Schannep


September 13th, 1912. To the members of the press, the university faculty, and to family and friends: I release this letter with deepest regret, per my instructions. –JD Chapman


From: Sacnej Mensa, PhD

918 Parsonage St

Arkham, MA 01914


May 31, 1912


To: Professor Jessen D Chapman

c/o Miskatonic University

1 Miskatonic Lane

Providence, RI 02112


Dearest friend and colleague,


My forthcoming journey to Peru and the lost city of Machu Picchu is well-known throughout my circles. However, my reasons for choosing this destination have hitherto remained unclear to all, including my travel companion. I am certain that my assertions will seem akin to madness, but as another with a scientific mind, I implore you to read on with the courtesy of belief interspersed with rational skepticism until the final declaration has been made.


I write to you as an admission of fact, though if all goes well and the mystery is revealed, I shall insist you burn this letter, never to share my dreadful account. I am sure you understand the need for discretion, so I’ll stress that point for a second time: burn this letter should you hear from me again. I don’t simply speak out of concern for my own reputation, but more for fear of the knowledge itself.

Some of the phrases herein—I dare not call them incantations, though that is what they certainly are—should remain unknown to the outside world. As you read these (and I cannot possibly state this with more importance), do not under any circumstances utter them aloud. I give you undue burden even by recording them, but they add verisimilitude to my account and we are both men who ply our trade in fact and the details found therein.


I’m afraid I’ve hesitated in telling this tale, perhaps leaning on word of warning to forestall the need to put the events to paper, but I shall do so no longer. Without further ado, I’ll let these events speak for themselves.


It all began a year prior to the planned date of my ascent to the mysterious citadel. I had a persistent vision, not quite a nightmare, although the experience left me with an odious sense of dread. The hallucination, like a message replayed on phonograph, with grooves of memory etched deeper with each recitation, though none so clear as the original.


You see, Bingham had sent me samples from the excavation site, and I set to work at their translation. Despite my expertise, I found no culture known to man where the inscriptions would fit. There was a curious rhyme and rhythm to the phrases, even while their meanings remained elusive. They replayed within the amphitheater of my mind, over and over again, until the recitation birthed forth something…other. 


My vision was extremely lucid. I could see myself, as if from an observer’s perspective as I climbed. In the dead of night, always in the blackest hour, I found myself venturing up a moss-covered hill, its sickly green ooze slick beneath my boots. There was a chill in the air, and in the high altitude, I found it difficult to catch my breath, as if some wretched hand was clutching at my neck.


Still, like one with a singular sense of purpose, I pressed forward through the unfamiliar sounds of the jungle, unconcerned with whence I came or where I was going next. The moon was a bright specter, and my eyes played tricks on me. I could see ungainly shadows following my every move. In the form of this out-of-body experience, I wanted to warn myself, but found I had no external voice with which to do so.

Inexorably, I found the ruins, covered over with jungle growth, just like they were when Bingham reclaimed them. Though I’d only seen a few pictures of the ruins up to this point, I knew them by name. Their walls were painfully angled; their geometry clashed with the natural surroundings to the point of nausea. My head spun because of some ancient power the ruins possessed, yet still I pressed onward to reach their pale, languid features.


A cavern suddenly opened near me—or rather, I felt as if it had always been there—and reached out to me with soul-gripping strength. The ubiquitous darkness extended beyond its mouth, like some great chasm that led straight to hell. Why I stepped forward, I cannot say.


My footfalls echoed with a cacophony of whispers and hushed laughter, so that each scuff of my soles on the hard, merciless stone reverberated like a devil within my ear. Water dripped down the walls in slow, tepid drops. It was as if the cave itself salivated at the prospect of devouring me as its meal.

The snickering and breathing sounds intensified, to the point where I had no recourse save to stop in my tracks, close my eyes, press my hands against mine ears, and hold my own breath. For a time, it worked, and there were no further sounds. Then, just as my lungs began to burn for want of air, it came like a cool breeze: runajpata astawan…


I froze, trying to grasp what I’d just heard. Was it a voice? A trick of the wind? As if in answer, it sounded again, this time as the completion of the phrase that I’d somehow known was unfinished.


…ukhuyninqa pataqaran.


Those ethereal tones, the eldritch, otherworldly rasp spewed forth at me and turned my bones to cold milk. I wasn’t sure if the words had even been spoken aloud, or if the wretched foulness had originated within my own mind. Those ineffable words themselves, had been etched onto my consciousness the same way they might have been carved with hieroglyphs upon the ruins all around. ‘Twas very the phrase I’d been obsessing over in my translation work.


That’s when it hit me, with a kind of certainty that only occurs in dreams: the voice in question was mine.


At this dark revelation, I stepped toward myself from the shadows. That is to say, another me, a doppelgänger, moved in and enveloped me with a sinister embrace. In my forty-six years upon this earth, I’ve never experienced a night-terror such as this, and my own fright was palpable. Although, I’d be remiss not to reveal that I felt the grasp was one of longing, a horrible love that only phantasmagoria could offer. It was glad I’d come to this place. That I’d received its invitation, sent to me through space and time, and had heeded the call.


I looked upon my own countenance, yet this was no mirror. All of my features were cragged and wicked; there was a trace of youth in the indolent face, although most of it seemed somehow stolen. The eyes looked back at me with the same infinity as the cavern itself, a black, deathly emptiness. The lips parted, head fell back and mouth opened; the vapor that then spewed forth was one of lurid sulfur. The words that emerged were not uttered by this apparition, but instead were born in some otherworldly dimension not known to man. His form simply allowed their exit: runajpata astawan ukhuyninqa pataqaran.


As the words mixed with the imprintation upon my consciousness, my other’s fingers pressed into my flesh. There was no pain as they moved through my skin and became my skin, his sallow glow taking over my own pale complexion. We merged, became one, but more than that, he overtook me, not with struggle or conflict, but much to my horror, I allowed him and willed him to possess and become me.

I couldn’t scream out, or worse, I didn’t want to. There was less of myself as he shifted into me; to be more accurate, he grew while I shrank. Like the sands in an hourglass sifting from one side to the other, I was pouring out and he was filling up. This wasn’t an out-of-body experience at all, but a transference of body and soul.


Just as he replaced me, I awoke from my trance. Back home; transmission complete.


I’ll spare you the rest of the planning details of my trek up to the Lost City of the Incas, of procuring a travel companion, porters and guides, and of arranging the rest of the particulars for my trip. Suffice it to say, I had to go. Something compelled me, and I cannot explain why.


I know it seems like madness to have a vision such as this and to succumb to the wishes of the fiend. Perhaps I could argue I must go there to conquer the vision, the fear that hovers over my every waking moment, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Yes, my rational mind says to expose the shadows to the light and erase them from the darkness, yet I fear it is I who might be erased.


The deep dread that I’ll be lost upon my arrival is pervasive, and yet I can’t alter this destiny that has been thrust upon me. My one fail-safe is this letter. It must be released after my planned date of return, September 12th, unless I return to you in person to instruct otherwise. Should I not return and ask you to burn it; to laugh at this cloying obsession and share with me the Pisco brandy of that land while we sit by your hearth and discuss my foolhardy safeguard as old friends, then you must release this letter.

For if I do not ask you to burn it, the inscrutable truth would be that it is not I, not truly, who has returned to you.


Fare thee well,


Sacnej Mensa


A Real Party Animal by Karla Dearsley


How did other people do it? George fumbled in his coat pocket for the door key. He knew hundreds of people and virtually all of them were one half of a couple. They had their ups and downs but somehow they managed to stay together, or if not, they soon found another partner. Not so George. Women said he was funny and tried to mother him, but go to a party with him? He had as much chance of being the next man on the moon.


 He opened the door and was almost bowled over bya whirlwind of chestnut fur barking ecstatically. "Okay, okay, Dusty. I'm pleased to see you too." He disentangled himself from the red setter's enthusiastic welcoming embrace, holding its front paws as if they were dancing so he could pass it in the narrow hallway. "If only I could meet a woman who'd be as pleased to see me as you are." George walked through to the lounge avoiding the dog's tangle of legs and slumped down in a chair. If he was going to arrive at Bob's party at a reasonable time he ought to start getting ready, but he did not have the heart for it. "Going to a party on your own's no fun, Dusty."


The dog rested its chin on his knee, gazing up at him with adoring eyes. He stroked the silky ears.

"I wish I had someone like you to go with. Loyal, trusting obedient – well, most of the time – and with stunning looks."


Someone who only wanted to be with him, who never criticised him.


"You know, Dusty, sometimes I envy you. Dogs have it easy. All they have to do is eat, sleep and go for walks. Simple – no struggle to earn a living, no problems with the opposite sex. I wouldn't mind being a dog." He pushed the hound away. Time to shower and get ready. "You wouldn't make a bad-looking woman, with that red hair and those long legs."


"You think so?" The husky voice stopped George dead in the doorway. He turned slowly.


Where the setter had been there now stood the most gorgeous woman George had ever seen. He felt his jaw drop, but could not gather his thoughts enough to close it, he could not even frame a coherent question. How did she get there? Normally he would have danced a jig at the mere thought of having such a beauty in his lounge. Her long auburn hair framed a delicate face with a large liquid brown eyes. Her figure was sleek and her legs... She could not be real. George blinked hard. She was still there.

"Who are you?" he whispered.


 "I Dusty." The husky voice was hesitant. George tried to place the guttural accent.


"You–Dusty?" George found his voice had developed a squeak. He looked about. Where was the dog? Not under the armchair or behind the settee. The woman watched him search. The eager, expectant way she waited was familiar, like Dusty when it was time for her walk. George covered his face with his hands. This was it. Friends had warned him he would go mad if he lived on his own too long. The woman took an awkward step forward and licked his cheek.


"Um, I don't think that's a good idea." He felt stupid talking to an hallucination, but the lick felt wet enough to be real. It was ludicrous! Dogs did not just turn into people, especially absolute knockouts wearing red lace mini-dresses and velvet chokers.


"You wish for me." The woman answered his thought. George had often thought Dusty could read his mind. She looked expectantly at him.


 "Er, sit." The woman obeyed, folding up her long legs to sit on the carpet.




After a cold shower George felt better. He had been working too hard, that was all. A few drinks and some lively company at Bob's party were just what he needed. George strode confidently down the stairs, but all his self-assurance vanished as he opened the lounge door and peeped round it. There she was, sitting just as he had left her; beautiful as a Greek goddess and just as likely to exist. He slumped against the wall and slid onto the floor. The woman shuffled closer and tapped at his arm. Her face wore a beseeching expression. His hand automatically reached out to stroke the silky auburn hair. She looked real, she felt real, and after all, he had often thought that Dusty was better behaved than most humans. Why shouldn't he take her to a party? At least it would prove whether he really had lost his grip on reality or not.


"Come on, then."


Dusty jumped up and rushed to the door ahead of him.


"Heel! I mean, wait–please." Should he treat her like a dog or a woman? If George did not know how to behave how could he expect her to? It was not far to Bob's house but it was far enough for George's misgivings to weight each step. What if he introduced Dusty as his girlfriend and all everyone else saw was a dog? The less attractive canine behaviour bothered him too. When he thought of the sort of places dogs sniffed, George broke out in a sweat.


Bob opened the door and his eyebrows nearly shot to his hairline. George held his breath, then his friend's face broke into a predatory smile. His gaze followed the long-legged redhead as George ushered her inside.


 "You lucky dog, George. Why'd you keep her so quiet? Scared of competition?" There was an expression of incredulous admiration on Bob's face as he greeted George.


George revelled in it. "Oh, Dusty and I have known each other for years."


Bob laughed and slapped him on the back. "Just friends, eh?"


Gradually George relaxed. Dusty behaved impeccably, becoming more and more human as the evening wore on. Her speech lost its throatiness and became more articulate, but she retained her dog-like devotion to him, never straying from his side. George felt as if he had suddenly grown six inches. He ignored a persistent itch behind his ear as he watched Bob approach.


"You don't mind if Dusty and I dance, do you?" Bob smiled and held out his hand to her.


George was suddenly furious. He smacked Bob's hand away. "Yes, I do!" The room fell quiet. George had not meant to sound so ferocious, but for the first time, he had a stunning partner and he was not about to let anyone else come sniffing around.


Bob stepped back holding up his hands in denial. George knew he ought to say something, turn the incident into a joke but he felt more like following after him shouting insults. Dusty belonged to him, she was his girlfriend–dog, he reminded himself with a jolt. This was getting out of hand. He scratched absently and gave way to an urge to sniff her neck. She smelled human.


 Dusty patted his arm. As she began drawing George towards the door he did not resist. A good night's sleep; that was all he needed and then he would feel himself again. They had barely stepped outside before he was paralyzed by an awful thought.


"It's not midnight is it? I mean, you're not going to change back?"


"No, I'm not."


George felt weak with relief as he inhaled deeply of the still night air. Now all he needed was to get rid of that darned itch. Anyone would think he had fleas. George sat back on his haunches and gave it a really thorough scratch with his hind foot. His hind foot? George looked up at Dusty with bewildered eyes. She bent over and patted his head.


"What's happening?" His voice came out as a pathetic whine.


"It's the other half of your wish. You did say you'd like to be a dog."


"Why didn't you tell me?" he howled.


Unlike Dusty, he was no pedigree only an ungainly mongrel with a scruffy brown coat.


Dusty leaned towards him and ruffled the springy fur on top of his head. "You never asked me," she said, but he was no longer listening.


George was under the pull of a smell far more tantalising than Dusty's perfume. He sniffed the nearest lamp-post–neutered boxer, elderly greyhound, young poodle princess.... Time to try out his canine chat-up lines. He might not be a handsome dog, yet he did have a certain comic appeal. He wagged his tail and trotted off.

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