March 2024

Competition Results


First Prize - joint winners!

They Think It's All Over, Colin Rote, Kenilworth, UK

With Each Moonlight Visit, Marie Day, Bristol, UK

Third Prize

Nelson's Grave, Glyn Matthews, Cheshire, UK

The thee stories will soon be added below! Enjoy!

The March 2024 Shortlist


With Each Moonlight Visit, Marie Day, Bristol, UK

Transitory Beauty, Sarah McCay, Needwood, UK

They Think It's All Over, Colin Rote, Kenilworth, UK

The Old Woman and the Boy, Adam Smith, Sheffield, UK

Pineapple, Ben Howels, Exeter, UK

Nelson's Grave, Glyn Matthews, Cheshire, UK



The March 2024 Longlist


Workday, Wendy Turner, London, UK

With Each Moonlight Visit, Marie Day, Bristol, UK

Transitory Beauty, Sarah McCay, Needwood, UK

They Think It's All over, Colin Rote, Kenilworth, UK

The Portrait, Alex Cissold-Jones, Yarnton, UK

The Old Woman and the Boy, Adam Smith, Sheffield, UK

Shedding, Sally Curtis, Poole, UK

Pineapple, Ben Howels, Exeter, UK

Opium of the Privileged, Dianne Bown-Wilson, Exeter, UK

Nelson's Grave, Glyn Matthews, Cheshire, UK

Lubeck Hill, Marcin Ostasz, Spain

Honeysuckle and Bindweed, Ruth Edwardson, UK


They Think It's All Over by Colin Rote


30th July 1966 is one of those dates, for boys of my generation, when everybody remembers where they were. A bit like when President Kennedy was shot, although I was never actually able to remember where I was for that. For most boys, the date was memorable because the England football team won the World Cup. But, for me, it was an unforgettable date for another reason.


I’d never had much interest in football. Our school played rugby, and the games master referred to football as a game played by hooligans. Prior to 1966, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as the World Cup, but having it played in England fired up the media and consequently the public, so by the time the tournament started, everyone was aware of it, and at school, you were nobody if you couldn’t recite the names of the entire team. So I learned them. 


I watched the game at Ian Jackson’s house. Jackson (we all knew each other by surnames at school) had been a fellow sixth former until we took our ‘A’ levels in June. His house was preferred for two reasons: because it had, undisputedly, the largest television of any of the parents houses; and because Jackson had a dad who told all the boys to call him Dave, and let them have a glass of beer from his Watney’s Party Seven can. He was a builder and more approachable by far than other parents at the boys’ grammar school; the solicitors, accountants, civil servants and so on. Jackson had been useless at maths, and I got to be an insider in his circle by regularly letting him copy my homework, a strategy that got Jackson through the school year but failed him at exam time, much to his parents’ puzzlement. Even though Jackson dropped maths in sixth form, I was deemed to have done enough over the years to stay on the periphery of the preferred group.


The day hadn’t started well. My father insisted I wear a shirt and tie for the visit, which would have been an even greater disaster if I hadn’t begged him to drop me at the end of the road where Jackson lived. As soon as Dad's car pulled away, I slid the tie off, rolled it up, and put it in my pocket. I still faced a barrage of ridicule as I arrived dressed in a formal shirt, open at the collar, and grey flannel trousers. They were all dressed in jeans or corduroys.


“Come for a day at the office, old boy?” he said, in what he imagined to be a posh accent, and ruffled my hair as though I was eleven.


I can still remember bits of the match, a grainy black-and-white image on the screen, despite Dave having closed the curtains to make the room more like a cinema. I especially remember the end, when Geoff Hurst collected a long pass, high up the pitch on his own, to the sound of Kenneth Wolstenholme’s voice commentating the soon-to-be immortal words, “Some people are on the pitch. They think it’s all over.” Hurst shot for goal, the West German goalkeeper didn’t even dive as the ball cannoned into the net, and Wolstenholme intoned, “It is now.”


The joy after the match led to the opening of another Party Seven, and, even though it was a dull day, the revelry spilled out into the garden. The ‘hip’ lads lit up and collogued by the shed. I hadn’t learnt to smoke and wasn’t going to try in such a large public arena, so I moped uncomfortably, hands in pockets, by the dustbin at the side of the house, too excited to walk home but too paralyzed by feelings of inferiority to join in.


After a while, Jackson’s sister, a dark-haired girl who I had met before but never really taken any notice of, emerged out of the back door of the house, next to the dustbin. 


“They won then,” she said, stopping next to me. I felt a blush flow into my cheeks, not because I wasn’t used to talking to girls, although I wasn’t, but because I might be seen talking to her by the others, especially Jackson.

“Yes, four, two.”


“You’d think they’d won the war again, the way everyone’s carrying on.” I looked down, and smiled. “Silly, if you ask me, twenty-two grown men chasing a bag of wind around a field.” I snorted with laughter. If she were a member of the debating society at school, I would have accused her of reductio ad absurdum, but it struck me as having a core of truth. I looked up at her, and she was smiling, showing a set of small white teeth, all even apart from her left canine, which was out of line with the others—not a snaggle tooth exactly, not as severe as that—just overlapping the tooth in front a little, a tiny imperfection in an otherwise perfect smile. I thought that imperfection made her the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. My chest felt light, and there was a stirring in the pit of my stomach. 


“Don’t let your brother hear you say that,” I said, catching her eye, which was dark and mischievous.


“He never listens to anything I say. Boys don’t listen, they tell. They tell you a football player they’d never heard of three weeks ago is the best footballer in the world, just because a posh bloke on the telly says so. And next month it’ll be a racing driver, or an astronaut, or something.


Something they wish they could be.” I felt chastened. I recognized what she said in the prattle that passed for conversation between the boys; half parroting so-called experts and the other half wishful thinking. “Bobby Charlton should have scored from that range; I could have done it in my sleep.”


“You don’t like boys, then?” I said it with a smile and surprised myself that I was capable of teasing. Was that what flirting is?


“Most of them are idiots. Some are okay.” She shifted her weight, dropping a hip, and her slim body shape changed from one set of curves to another.

I wanted to stare at those curves and study the way they intersected to produce a configuration so fascinating.


“Are you one of the ones going to university?”


“Yeah, I hope so; it depends on my grades.”


“What subject?”


“Civil Engineering.”


“What’s that?” She wrinkled her nose.


“Building things.”


“Like my Dad? You don’t need a university degree to do that.” She flicked her bobbed hair, and I watched the arc of its swirl.


“No. Really big things like bridges, motorways, that sort of thing.”


"Do you really think you could do something like that?”


“Yes, I think so. Obviously, I’d be starting at the bottom.” She shifted from one hip to the other and her A-line dress slid up her leg. I tried not to look, but I failed and hoped she didn’t notice. She stepped closer to me, and I could smell her perfume. I drew a sharp breath. I could feel an erection starting and began to panic. If she saw, or worse, if any of the boys saw, the shame would be unbearable. My chest burned. ‘I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name.’ As soon as I said it, I felt the heat in my face double.


“Helen,” she said, “you’re Peter, aren’t you?”


The evening set in, and still the boys relived the victory along with Dave, who sometimes crushed Jackson into his side in a show of affection my dad would have deemed vulgar, as toast after toast was made to Alf Ramsey and the boys. They told each other, in great detail over and over, how the win was achieved until it was hard to believe they had all witnessed it together.


Around the corner of the house, Helen and I talked about the future. She was confident and realistic. She had taken her ‘O’ levels and had a place at a teacher training college in town, if she got her grades. I shared my anxiety about not getting the two As and a B needed for Uni.


By the time Helen’s Mum called her, she was leaning against the wall alongside me, our arms pressed against each other’s. I was amazed by the fact I was touching a real girl and thrilled and fascinated by the feel of her. I was wondering if I should take her by the hand.


The call made her jump, and the motion caused me to jerk my arm away. There was an urgency about the tone of Helen’s Mum’s voice, and in the way Helen trotted to the door in response. I braced myself in case I was about to be on the receiving end of a rebuke about my conduct. But, to my surprise, what actually happened was Helen walked back towards me with her head down. Only when she was standing directly in front of me did she look up. There were tears in her eyes.


“There are some people here to pick you up.”


“My parents?” Why would they come to pick me up? They weren’t expecting me home yet, and in any case, it would be mortifying for my father to come here.


“No. Mr. and Mrs. Gough? They said they’re your next-door neighbours."

I couldn’t fathom a credible reason why they were here asking for me. I must, somehow, be in deep trouble, but I couldn’t think how or why.

“It’s about your Dad; they said he’s died.” The meaning of the words didn’t register fully. I felt distant, as though I were watching the real world on a screen, like Dave’s big television, and I was an observer rather than a participant. “Peter?”


“My Dad?”


“Yes,” she was fully crying now, and Dave came running across, face full of concern for his daughter. 


I came back into the real world with a jolt at the thought that it was just my luck this would happen when I was talking properly to a girl for the first time. That this was my first thought upon learning of my father’s death didn’t seem at all strange to me at the time.


Helen’s Mum whispered something in Dave’s ear and then came over and hugged me to her. And I let myself be hugged, a thing that had almost never happened to me.


“It was his heart; he didn’t suffer,” said Mr. Gough, who was, by now, standing in the back doorway, tall and formal in his sports jacket. “We’d better get you home, your mother needs you.”


But, in case I’ve misled you, it wasn’t the death of my father that made the date memorable. Not directly, anyway. It was the aftermath.


As an only child, I felt it was my duty not to abandon my widowed mother just when she needed me, so I didn’t go to university that year. The plan was for me to apply for the following year, but by then I was an apprentice Surveyor and also deeply in love with Helen, and she with me.


And so, fifty-eight years later, we are all in this hospital ward: Helen, me, and our adult children Michael, and Jenny, who is  a Civil Engineer, as it happens. We were a proper ‘happy-ever-after’ family until this illness struck.


Now, I gaze at Helen and see past the lines that age has etched into her face, past the pallor and the looseness of her skin, and see the girl I met that day. Beautiful.


I look across at the children, faces wrought with anxiety and sorrow, and can’t help but remember those words: ‘They think it’s all over’.


And as my final breath leaves my body and the faces of those I love fade to grey, I hear Go'd voice say, 'It is now.'


With Each Moonlight Visit by Marie Day


It wasn’t lost on Ada how she saved the best crockery for those who wanted to visit her the least. She reached into the cupboard for the large dish with the vermillion rose print. When she set it down on the kitchen counter, she noticed that the painted stems, twisting around the porcelain edges, had gathered more thorns.


She chopped the carrots, slicing the wooden board beneath like a prisoner marking the days till their release. Things could be worse. Much worse. Her mind drifted to the Hobarts, sinking into poverty because of the livestock they’d lost. Earlier in the month, Frankie Hobart had run out with a shotgun in the dead of night to find most of his sheep gone. Bones and all. Hearing the news, Ada had dropped her shopping basket onto the counter and asked whether Frankie had shot whatever killed his livestock. The others in the store snorted as though she were ignorant. Course not. A shotgun can’t leave its mark on the devil.


Ada was relieved that the meal she had to prepare for the visit coincided with the Hobart’s downturn in fortunes. In some small way, perhaps she could compensate for their losses if she bought extra meat and vegetables from their farm shop. From now on, she would buy all her vegetables there, even though she could find them cheaper elsewhere in town.


A switch from the jazz music she’d left on in the background gave Ada a start. The red needle slid across the radio dial through a range of stations. A woman gave the weather – Elvis sang You’re the Devil in Disguise – a new band was introduced – a crackle of static grew louder and louder. Ada snatched at the off button and reminded herself odd things tended to happen on nights when he visited.


When an outside noise broke her thoughts, Ada glanced at the clock. It was too early for him to be there. Hope devoured her, and she looked from the window to the full, round moon and the yard beneath. The wind had picked up and the broken swing squealed on its single hinge. Over by the trellis, just as before the last visit, her late husband was deadheading the roses.

‘Alf,’ she whispered. Desperate to ask him about the whole awful situation, she ran to the kitchen door. And like last time, he was no longer there when she stepped into the garden.


The rare glimpses of him on these nights, both lifted and splintered her heart. Sometimes, she believed he was sitting at the kitchen table while she put away the food she’d bought in town. She could hear his soft chuckle as she danced clumsily between the fridge and the cupboards, hear the deep sigh when she told him about the bloodstains found in the churchyard. A churchyard of all places.


Not able to close the door on Alf, she left it ajar. By the radio was a photo of her son as a small boy. A wide, trusting smile, with a gap at the front where his new teeth were yet to grow. He’d always been shy, would cling to her skirt rather than join the other children in the park. It’ll all change - her sister had said. Wait till he falls for a girl. Believe me, that old saying about a daughter for life and a son till he takes a wife. All true. The women with older sons nodded and laughed as though she were a fool whose naivety they needed to break. While the other boys threw a ball around the park, she placed an arm around her son and held him closer than ever.


Ada glanced at the clock above the kitchen door; it was almost twelve. Not much longer. No doubt her son’s wife would wait until the last possible moment to decide whether she would join them. Sometimes she accepted the invite and stayed silent for the duration, her nose held high in the air, rarely making eye contact with Ada. One time she simply looked at the food and walked off. Ada had watched her make her way over the bridge towards her family’s home.


More often than not, she didn’t visit. Though Ada wore the hurt like a tarnished brooch when her daughter-in-law stayed away, she also enjoyed their time alone. She’d never liked the girl. Ada had warned her boy to stay away from their kind. Her son had no time for small town gossip and even less time for superstitions. But beneath its garland-decked streets and flower beds on every corner, the small town was built on the rocky foundations of myths and superstition.


At her window, the rustle of leaves spoke in a way she only understood in the thick of night. They warned of misery and an approach.


A long howl shook the night and her nerves. She wouldn’t keep him waiting. She grabbed handfuls of meat, arranged the ox hearts over the roses and placed the hunk of raw lamb in the centre of the dish that weighed heavy in her bloody hands as she stepped towards the door. The autumn air greeted her as she made her way into the night.


On a silver horizon stood the wolf. She joined him via the white wooden garden gate and placed the bowl with the roses and thorns and ox hearts and lamb on the grass before her son. He pushed the vegetables to one side, as he always did as a boy, but devoured the meat. Ada cast her gaze to the river, away from the sharp teeth tearing through muscle. At least when he ate with her she was able, in some small way, to spare the town of more bloodshed. Meal finished, he licked bloodied lips and nestled closer against her thigh. She crouched before her son and ran a hand through matted hair, sickness twisting her stomach, so close to the stench of blood and death and lost dreams.


‘Could you change? For me?’ Ada asked. Then added, ‘As she doesn’t care enough to be here.’


Never criticise his love. He’ll only turn on you – her sister had warned.

Legs stiff, hackles raised, the wolf bared its teeth. The gums were darker and redder than they’d ever been. Ada stumbled back in fear and regret. Over the years, she’d seen less of the young man. He regularly chose to bear no resemblance to his own kin but instead mirror her kind. With each moonlight visit, she felt him slip further away and a part of herself die.


Somewhere, in those eyes was a ghost of the boy he once was. Before love stole him away.


‘No. Stay as you are.’ She raised her hands in what she hoped was an apologetic wave. ‘Stay however you feel…you. Just please stay longer.’

The wolf lowered its head and padded with her along the riverside. By the silver ripples, Ada let her voice wander far away. She told him about the roses she’d laid on his father’s grave, how she’d scrubbed the wooden bench that overlooked Alf’s headstone.


‘Mrs Fletcher at the store asked about you the other day,’ she said. But Ada could feel the weak hold on her son withering to nothingness. What did he care for any of the people in town? He’d despised them since they’d moved here for Alf’s work. And though Ada understood those feelings, these people had become part of her life. They did right by her when Alf passed, baked her apple pie, invited her for coffee at The Parlour or asked how she was when buying eggs at Fletcher’s store.


My son? He’s doing very well, thank you. He’s still travelling with his new girlfriend. Loving every minute from what I gather – Ada had said to Mrs Fletcher. And with a heavy heart, Oh dear, that’s terrible – when the old woman told of her granddaughters’ kittens torn apart by a wild dog… or worse. Much worse.


‘I’m doing fine for money these days. I mended some trousers for Harry Lawton, made a blanket for the Fletcher’s new grandbaby and I’ve almost finished the curtains Harriet McColl ordered. The folk in town pay a fair wage. So, I’m fine. You needn’t worry about me.’


For a moment, as clouds wandered before the moon, the wolf looked up at her and Ada let herself believe he was still the quiet boy he had always been. The one content to be by her side and simply listen. If he came to care for these people and their small town, he and his family might spare them more bloodshed and terror. If he could see that they were decent folk who’d done all they could when his own father passed, then he might go to another town where the people weren’t as kind or deserving. Not that anyone deserved that. But somewhere far away where she didn’t have to be reminded all the time. But when he blinked and stared ahead across the river, something twisted inside Ada. She hardly ever saw him and yet there she was wittering on and on, adding her worries and tales of mundane life as a side dish every time he came for dinner.


If only she had a more interesting topic with which to snare him. Money put food on the table, but she couldn’t afford the cinema or the theatre. Her one treat was a brandy at The Candlelight Lounge, playing Bridge on a Sunday evening. It was a time to bluff with tales of her son sending postcards from Vienna, Paris, Rome. Thank goodness he found a lovely girl in college he could share those experiences with.


Ada religiously stuck to that one drink and one game against the backdrop of Miles Davis on the jukebox. Then she made her way back to the empty house before the others got onto the topics of slaughtered animals and glowing devil eyes in the garden and the inevitable countdown to the next full moon.


Across the river, deep within the heart of the woods arose a long howl. This one set the hairs on Ada’s neck on end because she knew what it meant. He would leave. The sound of his mother’s voice, her wearisome stories about the townsfolk, the tears in her eyes – unable to tether him.

Goodbyes were hurried. Be good. The words flew from her mouth as though he were still a child about to go on a playdate. He tolerated her clinging hug before he rushed back to his life. To his new family. Alone, Ada returned to the house. She turned on the radio and allowed music to fill the home. Rubbing her hands under the tap, she watched the blood swirl down the sink. It would be another month at least until the next visit. She looked over to the photo of her son with his shy, gap-toothed smile and felt the cold water gnaw at her bones.


Nelson's Grave by Glyn Matthews

My mother stopped at traffic lights. I fidgeted in the back. I didn’t like the look of the man on the bike next to us. He had a bristly chin and I could see right up his nostrils. He had a face like a cartoon eagle. His cycle helmet made him look even more dangerous. He looked down at me and I turned my eyes quickly away. I willed the lights to change and, at last, we accelerated. As we passed the cyclist I pulled out my tongue. The traffic slowed to a crawl and a quick glance revealed the cyclist coming up behind. I slithered out of my seatbelt and lay in the footwell.


 “What on earth are you doing down there, Oliver?”


 “I thought I saw a pound coin but it’s a piece of silver paper.”


 “Get up at once and sit properly. And do up your seatbelt. Do you want me to break the law?”


 We gathered speed and I breathed a sigh of relief as the eagle on a Raleigh disappeared behind us. In the rear-view mirror I could see a section of my mother’s hair like a random piece of jigsaw, one of those annoying pieces you keep going back to, wondering where the heck they fit. More lights and the parcel beside me rocked slightly as we stopped. A woman in a white hatchback pulled up in the lane alongside. From my shorts pocket I retrieved the piece of paper I had hidden there, unfolded it and held it flat against the glass. I had written in bold felt-tipped capitals:



 She saw it and did a double-take. We pulled away and the woman slotted in behind us. I may have had a result. To make sure, I chanced a quick flash of my message through the rear window without my mother noticing.


The indicator t-tick, t-tick, t-ticked and we slowed to turn left and the hatchback braked behind us, I mouthed, ‘help’ at the woman and she raised her eyebrows. I gave her a suitably desperate look and raised my hand as if I was drowning. ‘If that doesn’t do it, nothing will,’ I thought. We entered a road leading into a new housing estate. The lady in the hatchback carried on along the main road. I’d done all I could. I hoped for the best. I turned my attention to our surroundings. The houses were detached, those boring ones they build on ‘desirable’ estates these days with Lego front doors and hardly any front garden. They all look the same and they all have matching BMWs parked outside on Sundays.


The car stopped, my mother got out, flung open the rear door and dragged me out.


“Come on, hurry up, I’m double parked. And bring that parcel and mind the wrapping.”


I fumbled with my seatbelt and she reached impatiently inside, taking the wind out of me as she leaned on my stomach while she released the catch.


“Ahhh, now look what you’ve made me do. I’ve broken my bloody nail.”


“Mummy, you shouldn’t swear.”


“I’ll swear if I bloody well want to.”


“I’m just saying.”


Oh, those perfect nails. She cares more for them than me. I reached for the parcel and dragged it after me. I noticed there were balloons tied to an ornamental tree and bright triangular flags hanging on a string across the front bay window spelling out ‘happy birthday’. In her hurry to bundle me up the drive my mother almost knocked over a girl I didn’t recognise, wearing a pink party dress. Yuck. In fact I didn’t recognise any of the other children gabbling in the porch. I scanned the boys, looking for familiar faces but I was disappointed. They all looked too clean. Maybe there was somebody I knew inside.


My mother wrenched the parcel from my hands and thrust it at the lady who was welcoming the guests.


“Here, take this,” she said, “I’m double parked.”


Without a goodbye she pushed me forward and click-clacked across the pavement in her high-heels. How she drives in them I’ve no idea. My dad says she’s ‘death on wheels’. But he should talk, got done by the same speed camera twice in one day. Anyway here I am. Let’s get that party started.


“Go through,” said the lady who was collecting the gifts, giving me an odd look as I ducked beneath her arm and followed the sound of voices. I entered a living room full of unfamiliar children. I couldn’t even see Andrew, the birthday boy. Still, it was quite a crush. Apparently he had a lot of friends I didn’t know. I was quite surprised. I wouldn’t have said he was that popular. The boys had gathered more or less at one end of the room and the girls at the other. Standard procedure. I’m surprised there were any girls. Maybe Andrew’s parents had hired them. Anyway, I stood at the edge of the boy brigade. I was ignored and I couldn’t be bothered to say anything so I wandered over to the girls. The one my mother tried to trample into the drive turned and smiled and said, “I’m Charlotte.” She had a gap between her front teeth, a quite attractive feature but I wasn’t going to say so. But I did try to make polite conversation. I looked at her incisors and was careful not to make any rabbit jokes. Instead, I smiled back and complimented her, “Hello, I’m Oliver,” I said. “I expect you can spit right across a road through those teeth?”


She closed her mouth and turned back to the girls. A little rude, but I can take rejection. With parents like mine I’ve had plenty of practice.


A lady came into the room and clapped her hands and said how lovely it was to see us all. She said we shouldn’t be shy and, to break the ice, we would play Musical Statues. We had to dance about and then freeze when the music stopped. And if you moved you were out. I jigged about like an idiot. I mean, you might as well when you get the chance. It’s called ‘getting in to the spirit’, which is more than I can say for some of the others. Some of them should have been disqualified for hardly moving. That’s cheating if you ask me and I was out well before the end. Not that I was bothered. I sat at the side and watched Charlotte twiddling about in her pink dress. She was taking it very seriously and was last in and won a packet of Gummy Bears. Next we played Pass the Parcel which is one of the most boring party games ever invented. Charlotte won again. The prize was a pencil sharpener. Still, it’s a useful lesson in the management of expectation.


Then the woman, who must have been Andrew’s mother, set up a table with various items, hidden under a cloth and things got a bit more interesting.


“Now,” she said, “We are going to play Nelson’s Grave.”


A hand shot up. “Please, what’s Nelson’s Grave?” a voice asked. It was Charlotte again.


“On this table are some of the mortal remains of Admiral Nelson.”


“Please Miss, what’s mortal remains, Miss?” asked a boy wearing a tie on a piece of elastic.


Who invited him? I helped him out, “Dead bits.”


“Dead bits?”


“Yeah, like bones and brains and intestines and such. I saw a poodle get run over once and its guts sprayed out all over some kid in a pushchair eating an ice-cream. Made a right mess. Anyway, that’s mortal remains, but of a dog.”


“I don’t want to play this game,” said Charlotte.


“It’s all right, it’s just a game,” the woman told her. And she pressed on with her prepared introduction, trying hard to get back on track. She cleared her throat and smiled, “Nelson’s body was dug up by an archaeologist friend of mine and he has donated some of the body parts especially for this party and you will be allowed to examine them. But some items are very delicate and may crumble with exposure to light, so you will have to feel them carefully in the dark. Other bits are a bit gooey, some of his innards for instance.”


“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” I interrupted.


“Nelson is one of our greatest heroes,” she continued bravely, “so it is wonderful to be able to examine his remains. Now, form a queue. We are going to turn the lights off and, one by one, you are going to come forward and feel different parts of his body.”


"I want to go home,” wailed Charlotte.


“Of course you don’t, Charlotte,” said Andrew’s mother. “We haven’t had tea yet.”



“I don’t want tea. I want my mummy.”


“Shush now Charlotte. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it when it comes to your turn.”


Lights were extinguished and the queue became a conveyor of quailing, shrieking children shuddering at thought of dismembered body parts. Charlotte tried to stay at the back of the queue but was forced constantly to the front. I made sure of that.


“And this is a piece of Nelson’s tongue – eyeball – rotting brain – earlobe – toe bone ……”


And so it went on.


“And this is his blood. A bit congealed but never mind. Have a feel then lick your fingers…. if you dare.”


“I’m going to be sick,” said Charlotte.


The game over and the carpet cleaned, we sat around the dining table facing mounds of scrambled egg and fish paste sandwiches and finally, blancmange. Some diners seemed strangely quiet and picky but I dived in. I had two helpings of blancmange. There was a plate of chocolate fingers, great for dipping into the blancmange so I grabbed a handful. I don’t need asking twice.


It was the best party I’d been to for ages though God knows whose birthday it actually was. The boy blowing out candles on the cake certainly wasn’t Andrew. In fact, he pointed at me and asked his mother who I was. Cheek.


As the guests thinned out and were collected, to be taken home by grateful parents, I was asked to stand to one side in the hall. I hadn’t nicked anything apart from some chocolate fingers for later, so I wasn’t too bothered.


Eventually my mother came. She simply smiled without saying anything, ushered me out and shoved me into back of the car. Pulling into traffic she told me over her shoulder, it was a mistake anyone could make. What were the chances of there being two children’s parties on the same road on the same day? She said all parties are much the same so I hadn’t missed much.


By the time we pulled out of the estate, it was spitting with rain and going dark. I sat back and watched the shadows cast by streetlights revolve around the car’s interior. It had been a better day than I’d expected, though I didn’t admit it to my mother, why spoil the upper hand, and I sat quietly munching chocolate fingers behind her back.


When we arrived home, it got even better - there was a police car with flashing lights parked outside and two police officers standing in the rain talking to my dad on the doorstep.


“What on earth do they want?” said my mother to herself.


I could have offered a guess but I didn’t want to spoil what was coming next.

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