SHORT STORY ENTRY: Flash 500 Short Story Competition
The long-list for the Flash 500 short story competition has been announced so I am now free to post my entry. You can find out details about the competition here:
You can find my entry below but to repeat myself (which I do often) I will post this ‘disclaimer’ whenever I post a short story entry: I decided that 2016 would be the year I enter competitions and at present I have around four or five a month on my list. Every time I enter one I will copy the story as a blog post ready to go and share it with you. Let me put my hands up in surrender now, I do not expect to be shortlisted or win any of them. That’s not an easy excuse, it’s just being honest. I don’t think these will be my best work and I have a lot of years ahead of me in which to improve my writing but this is my reasoning… it’s more of a compromise. I have two main objectives this year, to grow my company (a little bit) and complete the first draft of my novel. They are ongoing projects that occupy my mind night and day, however, I have a lot of scraps of ideas that I have set aside (as I won’t be spending time developing any short stories to self publish this year) and I felt bad at just leaving them to rot. They are playing on my mind so why not use them to enter short story competitions? The ones I self publish are always a minimum of 10k words (up to around 20k) and take me weeks to work on but the competitions can be as short as 500 words. I think that by allowing myself to spend a few hours (at most) on these entries I will firstly feel better than I am keeping myself busy when not working on the novel (which again, is often), secondly improve and test out new ideas or techniques (that may come in handy later) and thirdly reach out to new people and new content which is naturally a frightening thing because you are exposing yourself to people who are better than you. That’s the only way to learn though and I have never shied away from that. The only negative is that I know I won’t be spending enough time on the stories to show off the best I can do, but that’s the compromise isn’t it? I get a lot out of it without spending huge chunks of time. You can’t have both. So, is that a good enough excuse for you?
I had beautiful wavy blond hair. Some days it glowed, like it was alive, not literally of course, I’m not strange, but that’s how I used to think. Alive, because it did what it wanted; there was no controlling the thing. I felt that with all parts of my body. I repeat, I’m not strange, but back then I believed I had such a forceful vitality that every little bit of me was its own being, talking back and forth with my brain as if the whole body had to agree before doing anything. I’m saying it now like it was a good thing but it’s simply the extra thick, Melchizedek-bottle-sized rose-tinted goggles I wear these days. To level with you, I was always anxious about my appearance. I hated that hair. Thought I looked like a girl. It’s upsetting because no one ever said that. I knew that no one was criticizing me. No one. Everyone loved me… and they loved my hair, always saying how good it looked, so where I got my paranoia from I wish I could tell you. I wasn’t soft, I’ll tell you that much. I was… maybe a touch sensitive. I was twelve years old and I felt like a tough guy. A tough guy with wavy blond hair who looked like a girl. I looked really young too. So there you go, girly and young. I can see it now. Silly obvious. I mean, joking, ridiculous, blatant, in your face, obvious. I look at old photos and it’s hard to understand why I was so pent up all the time. I can’t drag up any trauma to tell you about, to explain it. I liked myself. I really remember liking myself (like, maybe too much). I barely looked old enough to be at secondary school, soft luminous peachy skin, no hint of spots, a roundness – not chubbiness – around my mouth and cheeks that made you think I’d never wrinkle... those photos I swear, you’d say it'd beimpossible to imagine that child as an adult. That damn hair though. I’ll tell you something that I know doesn’t explain everything but I’ll tell you anyway… I wanted it to be thick and sleek, metal, you know, I wanted to look metal. No chance. My hair rose up and fell down in curled - powerfully held - waves, a firmness that would make any adult cry. People spend their life trying to get that bounce: creams, sprays, mousses… buy all you like, nothing could give you that shiny thick beast I had, every cell as fresh as a North Sea January morning, yet I hated it, I was consumed by detesting it, what can I say? It was far too boy band. I wanted Satan’s fingers, covered face, straight-down-the-back metal hair, and all I saw was this fake teenage ballad crooning make-girls-cry shallow poster-on-wall heartthrob. I got it all wrong. I messed my time up like it was a competition. Can you imagine the fun if I had gone with it?
It was the boys from my street I wanted. No, not in that way. It wasn’t romance, it was heroism. I wanted to be the action movie hero. A star. Legend. Force. See, I know this is making excuses after the fact, but if I had just been presented with one opportunity to prove myself, one rolled-red-carpet-spotlighted-event… then maybe I would have stopped worrying and just got on with letting the girls paw me. What a waste.
First, it was the pink milkshake. The boys had emptied a carton over my front door. It wasn’t liquid and it wasn’t solid but this sort of disgusting… sludge. Like the dirty thick foam you get on seafront waves. Full of crap you don’t want to think about, never mind touch. That day, pink milkshake day, I turned into the little paved path that led to my door and I swear, I saw them do it, but without actually seeing it… do you know what I mean? I could replay it in my head like I was a security camera. I saw them huddle together, I saw them push and shove each other, goading each other, taunting and teasing each other until finally one of the bastards found the courage to step to the front and do it. I felt like our house had been marked. Not the way you’re taught in religious class where the marked are the blessed and will be saved… no, it looked like we were the plague, the stricken: cheap pink milkshake for diseased blood. All our neighbours would see it. Look, here’s the poor, here’s the unworthy. Those damn boys.
There were a few other occasions on top of that but it was all the same sort of stuff - eggs one day, silly string the next. You should have seen how I worked myself up preparing to catch them, to confront them. I would think about it before the final bell of the day had rung. I would start thinking about it at lunch sometimes. I would see the journey home in my mind hours before it came.
Grey road…Grey pavement…Count the chewing gum stains…Grey houses…Face down, eyes up…Low wooden fences…Grey parked cars…Count the cracks between the paving stones…The old grey metal shutters…Mum’s friend’s house I’d rush past…Scratched swear words in grey lampposts…Slap the top of the wooden bollards crossing the road…Half full skip of greyness…One hundred paces to go… count them…Scowl…Fifty paces to go… count them…See the corner…Nearly there…Clench fists…Face sweating…Back and shoulders tighten…Faster…Turn the corner…Faster…Look straight ahead…Don’t blink…Don’t turn…Don’t slow…Clench jaw…Stomach convulses…See my house……No one there…Relief…Self disgust…Cowardice…Hatred…Long for revenge…
I told you before how everyone liked me. It’s true. They did. I had loads of friends. Loads. But I never told anyone about the boys. Not my closest mates. Not the school, not my cousins, not my mum… nobody. It was me alone, all about me and all up to me. Which is why saying I wanted to be a hero is so messed up. Shows a bit of psychological damage or something, don’t you think? I don’t know. It’s hard to admit but it wasn’t about being seen to be the hero, I wanted to be the hero to myself, in my own story, in my own universe… and I have no clue why. I would shuffle the keys out of my pocket and into my hand, open the front door and run upstairs. The first thing I would do is check how I looked. I would find myself staring at this red faced little angel, full of bitterness and restlessness for a fight. It’s remarkable. I didn’t know who this heavy-breathing, excessively salivating, frightening devil-angel looking back at me was. There had been no confrontation, yet I imagined myself with black eyes and a bruised forehead, with red lumps from the impact of bullies' knuckles. I would force this psychotic square smile and picture what I would look like toothless. Then after a short period, just two or three minutes is all it was, I would be calm. The redness from my own induced pressure would dissipate and the devil-angel would be the boy band heartthrobagain. Then I would rush back downstairs and clean up the mess. I’d get my mum’s mop and her cardboard box of cleaning stuff from under the stairs - I had no idea what all the bottles were – and wash away whatever the boys had done. By the time my mum got back home from work and I’d hear her familiar shout from the door, the mess would have been long gone and any water I’d used in the cleaning dried up. As the saying goes, she’d be none the wiser. Then, like countless nights before and countless nights yet to come, I’d be her little angel, her blond haired cherub, always a good boy and always the popular lad.