Short Story Contests, Keep on Writing

As I mentioned in my last blog, short story contests are the life source of many a budding writer. Even a place on a long list can be just the incentive the writer needs to keep on writing. A few years ago I won second place in the Crime Short Story Competition run by Writing Magazine.

Here is the first part of that story. The final part will appear in my next blog.

Sticks and Stones (Part One)

Mary slipped off the lead and watched Sadie give a gleeful shake of her ears and prance across the park. At least one of us is awake, she thought. What was I thinking of coming out this early? She stifled a yawn, knowing that the other dog-walkers – the overweight jogger and his basset hound, the leather jacket lady and her whippet, and the elderly sisters with their Yorkshire terrier – would all still be in their beds. And so would she and Sadie if it hadn’t been for that horrible business yesterday.

She zipped up her coat against the cool dawn but couldn’t get rid of the chill that the memory had given her. She put her hand over her coat pocket and felt the shape of its contents. A flicker of doubt crossed her mind. Was she doing the right thing? Would she even be capable? Then she looked down at Sadie, remembering why it had come to this. Her resolve hardened and she walked on.

As she made her way towards the enclosed garden in the centre of the park, Sadie darted back and forth in the same general direction, her tail almost wagging her in half. When Mary reached the wire-mesh fence around the garden, she read the notice: ‘Welcome to The Dell. Regular patrols operate.’

“Not regular enough,” the leather jacket lady with the whippet had said to her only the other day. “When are they going to do something about that gang of louts? Have you heard the language they come out with? It’s an absolute disgrace.”

Mary had nodded politely but said nothing. At the time she thought the “louts” were just kids being kids, nothing to get worked up about. She never had children herself – Sadie had been her baby for the past few years – but she knew it was just the way young people talked these days. It was only old fogeys who got offended by it.

She first came across the gang one evening when she was out with Sadie.

“Got your poop-a-scoop, have you, Granny?” they shouted as they hung out of the far end of the Dell, swinging on the wooden gate, almost yanking it off its hinges.

Granny, indeed, she chuckled to herself, admiring the sunspots on her hands. I’ve got plenty more dog walking years left in me yet. She gave the lads a cheery wave and pretended not to notice when they laughed unpleasantly and one of them spat out his chewing gum. He seemed to be the leader and, in his long leather coat, reminded Mary of an executive fountain pen.

“I doubt he can even write,” the lady with the whippet had said when Mary mentioned it.

“Here, girl.” Mary fetched a well-gnawed tennis ball out of her pocket but something heavy fell out too. Sadie, a flurry of tongue and saliva, bounced towards it. Heart racing, Mary snatched it off the ground before the dog could pounce on it.

“You don’t want that in your mouth, girl. It could kill,” she said in an urgent whisper and dropped it back into her pocket. She looked across the park and breathed a sigh of relief that it was still too early for there to be any witnesses.

Mary smiled down at the clever terrier eyes, playful Labrador nose, and fur that was all fluff one minute and all wire the next. Sadie was the pick-and-mix kind of dog that she adored. She tossed the ball across the grass and the dog threw herself after it.

“Come on, Sadie. This way.” She stepped through a gap in the fence where a post had been smashed down.

The whippet lady pointed it out to her the previous week, condemning it as the yobs’ mindless vandalism. “Any more of this wanton damage and I’m going to the police. It’s time someone locked up that rabble and threw away the key.”

Mary thought the woman was overreacting and that she had it in for them just because their leader had pointed at his leather coat and shouted, “Snap, Missus. We’re twins.” The woman was mortified to have her chic leather jacket compared with something a common lout would wear.

“Take no notice,” Mary said at the time, suppressing a grin because she thought the boy’s coat looked the more stylish of the two. The thought now made her shoulders stiffen. She put her hand in her pocket and touched the cool metal casing inside. Her fingers shrank away from it as a wave of fear hit her. It was designed for professionals and it hadn’t been easy for Mary to get hold of. She still didn’t know if she could bring herself to do it. If I pull the trigger, there’ll be no going back. Do people like me do things like this? Sadie dropped the ball at her feet. Mary blinked back a tear. They do if they’re provoked.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. Her latest thriller, The Roommates, is a Closer Magazine "Must Read". Her other titles are The Good Teacher, The Perfect Neighbours and Gallipoli: Year of Love and Duty. Rachel won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been shortlisted in various competitions including the Bristol Short Story Prize. She was born in Lincolnshire and is a graduate of Aberystwyth University. She now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

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