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Wicked Young Writers' Awards 2015. 2. The Event. By Alex Smith. My grip tightens around the coarse handle of my bat. Whatever was on the other side of the ...

2015

18-25 AGE CATEGORY Gregory Maguire Award

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015

18-25 AGE CATEGORY The Event By Alex Smith My grip tightens around the coarse handle of my bat. Whatever was on the other side of the door, I’d be needing it. I pull a small LED torch out of my pocket, click it on and place it firmly between my teeth, leaving my hands free. My hand rests on the greasy doorknob, I brace myself and allow the door to swing open. The room smells damp, like it hasn’t been used in years. It probably hasn’t. I have to move quickly. There has to be a drawer. A shelf. Something. I find what I’m looking for almost straight away- the room is filled with rows and rows of boxes stacked to the ceiling, moist and starting to rot. I roll the rucksack off my back and start towards the boxes, unzipping my bag and pulling out a large knife. Up close, the boxes are much smaller and the smell of death much stronger. Maybe I’m not alone. A slash of the knife tells me that the first box is filled with what was once fresh carrots and onions. Now it’s little more than a rancid pulp, lying soggy in the bottom of the box. It isn’t until the fourth box that I find something salvageable. I grab five cans of beans from the box. That’ll have to do for now; I can’t be weighed down too much. There still needed to be room for the pills. Another six boxes filled with nothing but spoilt food and dry rodent droppings. Anything still edible had been long-taken by the rats. 2

18-25 Age Category “Stop right there or I’ll repaint the walls with the back of your head!” Slowly, I turn around to see a woman of about twenty clasping a small pistol in her hand. I look her up and down. Her lips are bound tightly together, as though stitched, but her eyes betray her. I call her bluff; she couldn’t shoot me. Even if she could, she wouldn’t. Ammunition was scarce and she couldn’t risk the noise. That’d draw out Drifters and that would mean more trouble than she had bullets. “There’s not much left here, ‘cept for a couple o’ cans and animal shit.” I explain to her. The woman slowly inches towards me, not lowering the shaking hand that held the gun. “Did you come alone?” “I haven’t seen another living person since The Event. They’ve all been Drifters. You?” She looks down and shakes her head, not saying a thing. She’s lost someone. We all have. Not wanting to be the one to break the silence, I return to the boxes hacking messily at the taped edges. She takes a seat on a nearby box. Eventually, I ask her how long she’s been here for. She tells me she wasn’t sure how long, but long enough to feel safe. That’s a mistake. You’re never safe. Not anymore. As she becomes more comfortable with me she begins to share her story; her life before, the dead boyfriend and little things that helped her sleep at night. A low rasping noise. The woman’s neck jerks violently and she disappears amongst the boxes. I dive in after her, kicking boxes out of the way. A Drifter has her by the throat, teeth ready to tear flesh from bone. I act fast and a heavy-handed blow with my bat sends the corpse flying backwards. I help her to her feet, checking for bites or scratches. Satisfied, I pick up my bag and lead her towards the door. She screams out in pain. I look down to see a pair of stiff jaws clamped firmly around her leg. I kick out, dislodging the foul cadaver, taking a chunk of flesh with it. I drive my heel through its scalp and it lies motionless in a puddle of gore and bone splinters, oozing a dark brown mess. Once again, the bag comes off my back and I pull out a grubby bandage. It’s far from ideal, but I’m only dressing it to comfort her. She grabs my arm, pulls me tight and whispers slowly in my ear, “I need to show you something.” The woman rolls up her sleeve and my jaw drops. Just above her elbow sits a deep scar, jagged teeth marks leave harsh ridges 3

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 across her soft skin from where it has grafted over and tried to heal. I run my finger gently along it. The scar looks at least eight months old. This could only mean one thing. “I am immune.”

Achilles By Amelia Roberts

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18-25 Age Category

Red By Becky Jenkinson I used to hate the colour red. My early years were saturated with it. It was the colour of my mother’s ruby lips, pulled in a tight line as she surveyed her two young sons. It was the colour my ear would throb after her sharp painted nails tugged me close, and her voice whispered threats. It was the burning feeling that scorched my blood when I realised I would never be good enough for her. And when my younger brother would stare up at me with wide, innocent eyes, the heat rising in my cheeks would be the only hint that I was suffering. It became the frequent shade of my skin, hidden under layers of dark fabric. When I accidently dropped my fork at dinner, I tensed in hot anticipation. The rare meat on my plate oozed before me. My brother’s eyes, now old enough to be curious, narrowed as I flushed with panic and froze under my parents’ stares. Later, when the sun had set a violent orange, my skin would pay for my mistake like spilled wine on a pale carpet. Red was the colour of the uniform at the private boarding school my parents paid for me to attend. It was the colour of my tie, strangling my neck, and the shade of the curtains around my bed, where I would hide, hearing the footsteps of my roommates and trying to calm my racing heart. Where I would struggle sleeplessly with bloodshot, dark rimmed eyes. Red was the feeling as a shoe collided with my face. Then my stomach. Then my ribs. Spite. Anger. Hate. The stench of sweat and fear. Callous laughter ringing in my ears. One night, I drowned in the colour. With bruises staining my skin and taunts echoing in my mind, I stumbled to the bathroom, tripping over my feet with desperation. My breathing hitched and I leaned against the back of a stall door, gritting my teeth and curling clammy fists. Tears blurred my vision and boiled over my cheeks, overwhelmed by the searing hot panic clawing at my insides. Desperate, I found relief in the sting of a sharp blade. A gasp of pain escaped my lips. I was tainted, broken. When blood was dripping from my arms, I could only stare at the lines burning my skin. The sea of red began to pool at my feet and my head spun. I couldn’t see a way out. Crying. Desperate. Bleeding. Blind red, suffocating hatred. 5

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 In my frenzied state, I hardly heard the cautious footsteps and the slow, creaking of the stall door being pushed open. Abruptly, my grey eyes met green and my thoughts jump-started. I quickly readjusted the sleeves of my scarlet jumper and felt heat rising to my cheeks. A knife of shame. He offered a tanned hand, which I took, tentatively. His cherry lips quirked in a sideways smile. I swallowed, unaccustomed to kindness. Red became the warm shade of his auburn hair in the autumn light. It became the rosy shade of his nose in the cold wind, with his scarf wrapped around his neck and a playful smirk on his mouth. It became the heat of his breath against my lips and the beating of his heart. I never thought I could love the colour red. But then again, I never thought anyone could love me. And I was wrong.

Ella or The Size 9 Jimmy Choo By Caitlin Jenkins I am Ella, by-product of my father’s second marriage. Mummy called time on the relationship the day after my sixth birthday to follow her dream of becoming an actress. Shortly after, Papa moved on to wife number three, leaving me in the care of my two elderly step-sisters, Clarissa and Letitia. You have no idea how difficult things have been for me for the past ten years. I mean, they are very nearly forty. Hot-shot corporate lawyers. Unmarried. Bitter. And always on my case! “You’re not really going to wear those raggy old jeans?” they wail in unison. Reader, they are my best ripped denim. “You are feckless, just like your mother. What’s with this silly idea of being a model? You should go to university and get a degree. What on earth do you get out of staying at home all day cooking? That’s what Waitrose is for.” Why can’t they understand, is that I like baking. The truth is, school sucks. What’s the point of studying classics? Let’s face it, the Greeks must have learned zilch from Plato and Aristotle or they wouldn’t have gone bankrupt. And why would I learn English when I can already speak it? The dried up old prunes are just jealous. Is it my fault if my skin is as a dew-kissed apple, while theirs is a well-baked granny-smith? With a cabinet stuffed with face creams, they are like modern day Canutes, clawing at the 6

18-25 Age Category inescapable tide of time. As for me, I am positively perfect… well, alright, with the possible exception of my feet. I admit that size nine does make buying shoes difficult. Nobody understands how hard my life is, not even Buttons. That’s not his real name; it’s Clint, but I call him Buttons because he has three dark moles the size of a remote control on-off switch peppered along the side of his face and because Clint is such a rubbish name. I know the nerd loves me with all his heart, so I thought he would understand that I wouldn’t want to dress up in some frilly rag and trot along to a posh bash in the City with my two geriatric siblings. I protest but it seems Clarissa and Letitia are up for some award and I must be delighted for them. I wasn’t too fussed with the Valentino off the shoulder number they chose, but when I realised they wouldn’t let me wear my rose-embroidered Doc Martens, I threw a right royal wobbler. Killerheeled, strappy Jimmy Choos look dead cute in size four, but in size nine the effect is of parcel string wrapped round an elephant’s foot. They tell me it doesn’t matter that I can’t walk in them. They say they can’t walk in theirs either. This, it seems, is to be expected. The evening was a crashing bore, made worse by this creepy guy who looked like he had bagged the part of Yoda in Star Wars following me around. When he asked for my mobile number, I figured it was time to use the force. I called a cab and charged it to the ugly sisters’ business account. I got to the bottom of the hotel steps before noticing that my left foot had slipped out of my Jimmy Choo. What the heck. I wasn’t going back for it. They should have let me wear my Docs. I awoke the following day to find my lost shoe had acquired its own Facebook page. It seems the creep from the party was none other than Italian beauty guru, Luca Prince. Then things went viral on Twitter, #bigfootcheckthechoo soon had the whole country searching for me. Unbelievable or what? But that’s how I was ‘discovered’ as the ‘fresh face of Mezzanotte Cosmetics’. Reader, be careful what you wish for. The 5.30am photo-shoots are a drag, the shoes crippling and I am so busy that I can’t remember when I last had time to bake a Victoria sandwich. Buttons still keeps in touch via Facebook. He posted a picture of his new girlfriend. I suppose I am disappointed that she is not as plain as she should be. Meanwhile, Clarissa and Letitia are positively glowing. Samples of 7

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 Mezzanotte youth dew with pulverised mongongo nuts arrive by the van load. In appreciation, they have used their corporate legal skills to muzzle my spending until I reach twenty-one. Hmm… for a fairy tale, I suppose that’s probably not too bad an ending.

Mountains and Crutches By Charlotte Josephs I should’ve known it was bad news when Toby took off the red beanie he’d taxed from me, exhibiting his baldness to the whole world. He took a deep breath as his fingers traced patterns onto the coffee table. “Treatment didn’t work.” “But… what does that mean?” “It — I — Read my blog.” “No, tell me. What does it mean?” “It means…” He paused and looked up at the list of coffee prices. “It means we should climb a mountain.” We decided to climb three. As we shivered to sleep in the tent at the bottom of Pen-Y-Ghent, snowflakes danced around us. By morning, a foot of snow had painted the Yorkshire Dales white. I shivered, pulling my clothing over my pyjamas while Toby took his medication and wiped the frost off his crutches. Cold racked through my skin, spread into my blood, and penetrated my bones, leaving an achy pain that touched every part of my body, inside and out. As we started towards the post office, Toby smirked at the stiffness in my joints. “How’s it feel to share my cancer for a day?” I grabbed his right crutch. “Well, shouldn’t you share this, too?” He kicked the snow and smiled. “Take it. You can be my crutch.” I grinned, remembering the emotional conversation we’d had when he was high on morphine. “I thought I already was.” In the post office, the lady took our names and shook her head. “Severe weather warnings. You really shouldn’t climb today.” We compromised. We’d climb one instead of three. But still, she complained: what would happen if we fell? The helicopter wouldn’t be able to find us. We could die. 8

18-25 Age Category Outside, Toby cracked an ice puddle with his crutch. “Well, I’m dying anyway.” So we walked, arms slung over each other like kids in a playground. My chest ached and my thighs blazed. But we laughed so much, trading anecdotes like fuel to keep us going. There’s nothing like leaning on your friend when you’re trying to overcome a 2,227 ft. obstacle. They tell you that the top of a mountain is beautiful, and that you can see clearly once you’ve reached the peak. That’s not true. At the top of our mountain, a blizzard raged. Too much fog and snow. I held out my hand, unable to find my fingers. There was no scenery, no end to the white mass spread out before me, not even a path to find the way down. We couldn’t see where we were going. I still can’t. “The worst part,” Toby huffed as we shuffled towards the snow trail, “is that after you’ve climbed up a mountain, you’ve still gotta find the way down.” We slipped and slid, but with every step, another glimmer of light slipped through the clouds. “I can see!” I outlined the countryside with my finger. We laughed at the women in the post office- who was she to say we couldn’t do it? Look at us! Young, wild, free and — We fell. I don’t know how long we tumbled over mounds of snow, skirting rocks and sliding through mush, but when I sat up every part of me hurt more than it had before. I glanced over. Toby looked at home, pale skin camouflaged in the snow. I held out my hand. “We’re not invincible, are we?” At the bottom, my bones thawed. The cold retracted from my blood and wormed its way out of my skin. “There,” I said as we waited for the bus, “You can have your cancer back.” He pulled his banana smile and poked my shoulder. The bus approached, but I hesitated to hold out my hand, to go our separate ways. “Toby!” I yelled as he limped to his car. “When you… what am I going to do?” He tossed me a frosty grin. I’d broken the golden rule; we weren’t supposed to talk about it. “Well, you have to come down the mountain. It’ll be clearer once you get to the bottom.” 9

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 “But…” My breath caught in my throat. “But you’re my crutch.” He nodded. “And I always will be.” The bus driver huffed and honked his horn. My clumsy body boarded while my soul melted in the snow. As the bus pulled out, my stomach iced over. I closed my eyes, but his ghost still lingered in my mind, pale skin contrasting against the red beanie, frozen against the bleached backdrop of Pen-Y-Ghent.

The Real Esmeralda By Cyrine-Amani Sinti 26th February 1943, the first sets of Sinti Gypsies were taken to AuschwitzBirkenau. 26th February 1992 I was born to an East German, Nazi-sympathising man and a thirteen-year-old Sinti girl. *** My father has made the majority of his money illegally. He has been part of Neo-Nazi groups since birth and comes from a family with proud, German Military history. My Grandfather still makes all of my Father’s kids (with different women), listen as he gleefully tells us of the family’s horrific actions towards Gypsies. He always tells me afterwards “You’re different. You function like a human.” So, I’m kind of a big deal, being all functioning. My Mother is a Sinti Gypsy. She too makes money illegally albeit nowhere near as much as my Father. She is a prostitute. Not the perfectly coiffed, too-many-teeth-in-her-face-Julia-Roberts type, but the penknife in her bra lining, abortion scars, gold teeth and razor under her tongue type. She gave birth to me in what others call the dirtiest Gypsy Ghetto in Europe but what I call Home; Lunik IX in Košice. She’s hated by other working ladies in Lunik because of her penchant for blackmailing married men. I was thin and easily thrown around when I was raped; the first one robbing me of my virginity, the rest robbing me of my dignity. I was determined not to let that happen again. I made the singer, Adele, my body idol. Because there isn’t a man who could toss her ample arse around. The sky would fall. 10

18-25 Age Category My sister Kiara walked straight past me at the airport when she came to visit from Germany after it happened. I ate so much that she didn’t recognise me; she was looking for the short, thin, brightly dressed girl in too high heels. Instead she got a fat, Penguin-from-the-Batman-movies-with-Ritz-Crackersunder-her-arm. I hadn’t told her the truth. I wanted to stay clean in her eyes. The police were as useful as odourless perfume. They blamed me for not ‘keeping myself safe’. I asked with sincerity what I could change about my behaviour that would prevent me being anally gang-raped. He told me, ‘You could change what you’re born as.’ Born a crime, born to be abused, born to be oppressed. Born a Gypsy. Born losers but we make ourselves winners; with a smile on our face and your purse in our bra. I ended up telling Kiara a few weeks later. She was asking me why I was content with my hips spreading like rumours. I told her what had happened and why it was better to be too big than to be too small. Sobbing, she told me I should tell my Mother. After consoling Kiara over my rape, I considered her advice. Maybe my Mother and I would connect. I arrived in Košice airport. I thought of how to tell my Mother that I was used and dirty now. Maybe she would soften and tell me that I wasn’t ruined. I arrived, rushing to see her. Skipping over the masses of waste and rubbish like I had as a bare-footed child. I found my Mother and found a quiet stairwell. I took a deep breath and explained my shame. I finished waiting for her hands to clasp my shoulders. To this day I wait. She looked at my overweight body with her painted eyes and clicked her tongue. “For free? You let them do that for free?” I knew instantly in that moment, that she will always be a prostitute before she is my mother. Support came from an unexpected place; my Father. He found out from my sister who was inconsolable after hearing my Mother’s response. He turned up outside the house where I had a room within days of me returning. Banging on the door. I opened the door slowly and felt my eyes well up when he saw me. In that moment he looked at me with his blue eyes, I felt beautiful in the way that girls feel when they have their Daddy’s whole attention. I watched from my dresser as he took my bag and dumped some clothes in and a few books. I was touched that he knew I couldn’t be without my books. We spent the whole night on the bed in his hotel room with me sat 11

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 in his lap, crying into his neck and him kissing the top of my head, gently rocking me and whispering I was his “Sweet little Gypsy.”

The Unpicker By Elizabeth Perry On Myra’s thirteenth birthday, they sewed a pufferfish to her tongue, curled in a C around her jaw, tail-stitched to her frenulum. You couldn’t see it when she smiled or when she sang in choir. The teachers said Myra was quiet but content, happy but not loud, which was their favourite kind of student. She did a lot and said little. Her grades were good but not exceptional. Her work was interesting but not groundbreaking, not surprising enough to unnerve the school board into taking away her library card. Her singing was pleasant, but not enough to warrant solos. Myra was the teenage girl equivalent of a decaf tea bag. Myra had begun to pay attention to the size of other girl’s netball skirts. Her team captain wore an extra small, as did goal defense. The referee wore a small, as did wing attack. The abandoned kit of previous classes was a sea of black pleats and purple initials and two letters, X and S, ambulance lights on a dark motorway. Myra had been fourteen for exactly a week when she collapsed in a netball match. The nurse shone a light in her eyes, asked when she’d last eaten, and before Myra could answer the fish woke up. Spines pushed upwards into her tongue and down into the bottom of her jaw. The inside of her mouth was impaled, on fire, not saying a word. The nurse frowned at Myra’s suddenly pale face, his unanswered question. Myra tried again, but the spines pushed out further. She tried to pull her tongue off of the tiny spears but there was no room in the swollen cave of her mouth. She paused, waited for the fish to shrink. And then said, ‘Before the match, sir.’ The nurse gave Myra a biscuit she didn’t eat, and a note to miss the rest of PE. She headed straight for the textiles block and found Leonie sat at a sewing machine, trying to unpick the messy stitches of a quilt she’d accidentally sewn to the hem of her school skirt. Leonie was surprised to see Myra out of class, with her pale face and gnawed fingernails that crowned red fingertips and chapped knuckles, and after a moment put her 12

18-25 Age Category hand on Myra’s arm. ‘Are you okay?’ As the truth clawed up Myra’s throat, the fish’s spines stabbed the inside of her cheeks. An honest answer was crucified on the roof of her mouth, where it quietly gave up. She let the truth and the fish retreat, told Leonie she was fine, that she just wanted a book to read until she could go home. Leonie nodded and pulled a hardback out of her satchel. ’I’ve lost the dust jacket, so don’t let my bookmark fall out!’ Myra promised not to. She headed for her favourite reading spot, a worn and frayed armchair in front of the biggest window in the library, twisting her doctor’s note between two fingers like a rosary. Her mouth felt raw, the puffer fish felt heavy against her bottom teeth, and her stomach clawed at itself remembering her refusal of the nurse’s biscuit. She drew her knees up to her chin and let the armchair pull her in, and balanced Leonie’s book against the windowsill. It fell open to the last page Leonie had read, dented and wedged apart with a makeshift bookmark. Myra picked it up and rolled it between her fingers. It had a small plastic bar at one end, and two curved prongs at the opposite, one slightly smaller than the other. It was the same tool that Leonie had been using to tear open the threads that had fixed her cushion cover to her skirt, a tool was always found on the floor of the textiles block or stuck in the grooves of the oldest sewing machines; a seam ripper, an unpicker. Myra held it up and the light from the window seemed to find the prongs instantly, lighting them up like a trident. She thought of the black stitches under her tongue, the puffer fish, the XS netball skirts, the lights on her scales, her mother’s face at another uneaten packed lunch. She thought of the inevitable questions, inevitable weight gain, inevitable loss of control over the letters on her own netball skirt. She thought of missing more matches, of more visits to the nurse, and more of Leonie’s worried looks. She balanced the unpicker back on the pages of the book, and she thought.

Forgotten By Francesca Dorricott The sun was hot on Sally’s shoulders as she hefted the spade again. She was starting to wish she’d taken up Jacob’s offer of help and waited until Saturday. But the wall had to come down and she’d be damned if she was hanging 13

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 around for a man to help her do it. It was a bloody eye-sore and she’d wanted it gone for weeks. It was the wrong colour for starters. It stood out like a sore thumb, breezeblocks where the house was sandstone. Nobody knew why it was there, either, except perhaps for added re-enforcement at the back of the shed. Sally and Jacob had been pulling the wall down bit by bit for six months. It had all started by accident, when one of the neighbour’s kids had kicked a ball over the fence. The ball had knocked one of the top-most bricks from the wall, separating the roof of the shed from the wall in two places. And then it had started to bother Sally, even though she hadn’t noticed it before. And this morning she just couldn’t stand it anymore. It didn’t help that she hadn’t slept. She wedged the blade of the spade into the line of cement that ran between two bricks like a dry river-bed and wiggled it between the bricks. There had to be an easier way of doing this – but she’d started now. The grass around her feet was littered with the remains of twenty or more bricks, already pulled from the top of the wall. She was working on the middle bit now, hoping if she could get the ones in the centre out the whole thing might collapse. One more heave and the brick she’d been working on finally came free. She stopped, panting, and wiped the ash-like brick-dust from her hands. The air tasted dusty, the taste sticking to her tongue. She resisted the urge to spit. She could smell the freshly cut grass, that familiar garden scent; it reminded her of summer arguments with her sister and the ice lollies they had needed to cool them off afterwards. She leaned into the shade of the shed, peering over the edge of the wall where it was now about three feet high. What she saw made her stomach roil. Was that…? It couldn’t be… She leaned in closer, nostrils flaring as she tried not to breathe. Her heart was hammering, her palms clammy despite the sun. There was something there behind the wall. For a second she stood. Paralysed. Her tongue was heavy in her mouth. And then a gust of wind blew through the garden, making the grass shiver at her feet, and she spurred herself into motion. She grabbed the handle of the spade tighter, thrusting it into the cement with renewed energy. Several bricks tumbled away at once; they fell back into the gap between the front wall and the shed. A gap she hadn’t realised was there. She was trying not to vomit. 14

18-25 Age Category The sun streamed in, illuminating an interior that was dark and warm and smelled like baked earth. There were cobwebs. And something else. Someone else. Sally bit her tongue so she wouldn’t scream. There, in the coffin-like space about a foot wide by three foot long, there was a child. Or what was left of one. Before she could look away, the image seared itself onto the backs of her eyelids and it was all she could see. The girl looked like she was no older than six or seven, although her body had wasted away so much that she could have been older. The skin on her face was papery, pulled across cheekbones that jutted like knives. The lips had curled into lines, exposing a row of small uneven teeth. She wore some kind of wool dress that might once have been the colour of the grass outside. She was curled against the back of the shed like a baby, her knees pulled up and her hands bound together at the wrist. Sally felt the bile rising in her throat. She staggered backwards, dropping the spade on her foot. She wanted to run. But more than that, Sally realised she wanted to reach in and scoop the little girl up in her arms. To cradle her. To tell her that everything was going to be okay. But it was too late. Sally ran inside and grabbed the phone.

Alice’s Adventures Back to Wonderland By Gemma Tomkinson The squeaking of the Lizard’s slate-pencil, and the choking of the suppressed guinea-pigs, filled the air, mixed up with the distant sobs of the miserable Mock Turtle, or so Alice thought. She awoke abruptly to the sight of Dodgson leering over her lifeless body. Her head was balanced statically on his right knee while a cup and saucer lay parallel to her pretty little head. Her bright blue eyes remained fixed on the fireplace where a once strong fire had slowly died out. With her eyes still fixated on the glowing ambers, Alice tried to move. Her legs were numb and her head pounded. She needed to get away from Dodgson. His large bear like paw combed through her golden locks which 15

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 sickened her to her stomach. With every touch she felt as if the tea she had previously consumed was going to make a reappearance. With all her might she tried to command her feet to move. If only she could swing her legs onto the floor, but alas, no such luck. She remained in the same position for what felt like hours and the only thing to keep her going was the thought of Wonderland, waiting for her. She wanted to be reunited with that pesky white rabbit and to have tea with the curiouser and curiouser Mad Hatter. She would have even said that playing croquet with the Queen was better than this. At least the torture would be over with quickly if she was beheaded!! Alice was interrupted in her thoughts by Dodgson lifting her petite little head off of his knee and onto the uninviting cushion below. Alice bolted upright and perched herself ever so delicately on the edge of the sofa. Her feet barely touched the floor which made her look more innocent than she was. With Dodgson across the other side of the room, Alice finally started to feel at ease. His eyes were burning into her forehead like he was removing a piece of her soul. She could feel her innocence slipping away. Although they never made eye contact, Alice never took her eyes off Dodgson and Dodgson never took his eyes off of Alice. His pale skin gave off a greyish glow and his brow always looked like he was perspiring. He had a thin pointy nose that reflected that of a witch’s. He had beady eyes that were too far apart and placed on the side of his head under his temples, much like a reptile. They darted around the room and focused on a target, like a lion strategically watching his prey. His lips were thin and extremely cracked, probably due to his fork-like tongue darting in and out of his mouth so rapidly that it was obviously a nervous tendency. His hand outstretched towards Alice offering her a dainty cup and saucer that suited her doll-like mannerisms. He watched intently until she took every last sip. Alice raised the cup to her lips without hesitation. The warm liquid quickly invaded her mouth. It was sweet- too sweet even for Alice. She found it hard to swallow, but knew Dodgson wouldn’t be satisfied until she did. She forced down every last drop and thrust the cup and saucer back into his paws. Her heart pounded in her throat like a wild stampede of horses. Dodgson sat back next to Alice with a smug smile on his face. Her vision started to become blurry like she was stuck in the middle of a New York flurry. Her heartbeat faded in and out of her ears and butterflies invaded her stomach. Her head felt heavy and it was hard for her to keep her eyes open. She found her head gravitating back towards Dodgson’s lap once again. His hands moving from her head to her shoulders and finally onto her torso. 16

18-25 Age Category In and out of a daze, she could see his fingers manipulating the buttons of her dress open. She began to hear the ticking of a pocket watch. Hark, is that the white rabbit come to save me? Tears pricked in her pretty little eyes. “Well, it looks like I’m back off to Wonderland,” Alice murmured.

Dear Little Sister By Gemma Wilson-Brown 7th January 2014 Dear Little Sister, I’m not really sure what I’m doing with this, to be honest, I just need to get my thoughts down somehow. Perhaps I’ll show you this one day when you’re better. Then again, perhaps I won’t. After all, you’re never going to be completely better, are you? There’s always going to be that risk that you might decide to open your skin up with a razor again. But I hope, perhaps more than anything, that this is not your future. It shouldn’t be your present. At 15, you should be living freely without worrying what you might wear so that your arms are covered. You should be out with your friends, having boyfriends, fighting with your family (older sister included), and making all the mistakes that are ok to make at 15 because, in the long term, they don’t matter in the slightest. Love, Big Sister x 13th April 2014 Dear Little Sister, I was so excited to see you when I got off the train, and so confused to find just Mum there. My heart sank when I found out where you were. I instantly felt guilty. What if I’d replied to your text? What if I’d not missed your calls? Would the situation be different? Just the other day, I was telling a friend how well you were doing, how we’d not had an incident for a good while now. Did I jinx it? Walking into the Children’s Ward, my stomach knotted. Hospitals freak me out at the best of times, but knowing that I was there because I had to be there was even worse. So when I saw you, and you smiled at me, I could have burst into tears on the spot. Mum had spent the journey to the hospital 17

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 trying to convince me it wasn’t my fault but when I saw the bandage on your arm, her efforts evaporated. I wanted to run over, throw my arms around you, and tell you how sorry I was. But I couldn’t. I could barely speak. And, for that, I’m so sorry. Love, Big Sister x 30th June 2014 Dear Little Sister, You are Sweet 16 today and don’t I know it - you must have told me about 50 gazillion times by now. But it’s great to see you so happy, you deserve every happiness you can possibly get. I’m so pleased you liked your cake too – I’ve definitely been watching too many cake decorating programs recently, haha! The bandage is off your arm now but the marks are still visible, and will soon join the ranks of the rest of the scars on your arm never to fade away. It does make me think though. For though this time is difficult for Mum, your brother and I, the confusion, the stress, and the sadness must be only a fraction of what you feel. Although we can be here for you as much as possible, we will never truly understand what it is you are going through. And we can’t wave a magic wand and make it better. It has to come from you, and you know it. I truly believe that the 16th year of your life will be better that your 15th, and I will be with you every step of the way, whether you like or not. Love, Big Sister x 21st August 2014 Dear Little Sister, Today I get to wear my “Proud Big Sister” hat as we found out earlier that you have passed your GCSEs! There is a brain in there after all, it seems. We are all SO proud of you, pumpkin, and I just hope you realise what a fantastic achievement that is. Yes, you may not have got your predicted grades, but those grades were predicted for you at a very different time in your life and there is no point dwelling on what might have happened, when what has happened is so wonderful. I’m not sure you’ll follow my footsteps to university. It just doesn’t seem like your path involves it. But you get to decide your path, and you now have just what you need in order to take those first few steps towards a brighter, and hopefully better, future. 18

18-25 Age Category You are an inspiration and I am beyond proud to be able to call you my Little Sister. I love you. Love, Big Sister x

Run By Jennifer Richards Sometimes I wonder if I could run forever. Other times I wonder when I’m going to run out of breath. I’ve not thought about the accident for a month now. Correction. I’ve not thought about the consequences of the accident for a month, the accident itself has been imprinted my brain. Blink and it’s there. It’s hard to run when it’s your own memories you’re trying to leave behind. Usually I try to distract myself. I’ve found knitting’s good. Rhythmic. Left over the right. Right into a loop. Left behind the loop. In front of the loop. Through the hole. Pull. Or is that how to tie a shoelace? I’m running so fast everything seems to be running into each other. I was told this might happen. Told to breathe and stay calm. ‘I’ve had a lot to deal with’- but haven’t we all? Demons are always chasing us, so we choose to run. But I can’t run, not anymore. I move my hands and the cold metal feels strange against my skin. But of course it’s there. It’s who I am now. I open my eyes in front of the mirror; I try to remember the look of my legs, my height, but all I can see is those two wheels. Yes, my running days are definitely over.

Gunshot By Jessica Birch Our Earth is growing cold. Our air is wearing thin. We gasp for air. We huddle together for warmth ...almost as if there’s too many of us. Too many of the living. 19

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 Too many of the dead. But how? What with all the doctors, medicines and hospitals. Along with all the money, the food and water. With all the murders, suicides and natural deaths. Along with all the deaths that simply can’t be helped. Hey Ellie Thomas here, Some points you should be aware of before we delve into my tragically beautiful story, which some really sound advice. • I’ve just been shot by my real father, the back story to this is not important, he is not important. • I ended up on a cloud, surrounded by the vastness blue skies. • Then I was taken to the gates of Heaven...I’d prefer not to talk about this. Let’s just say flames were involved and a fall was forced upon me. • Ending up in the fiery pits of Hell was not fun. I did not enjoy my dance with the devil and his skeleton followers. • I’m now back at the scene of the crime. Heaven is too full and Hell has no vacancies So here is the thing: even on earth we’re overrun by ghosts. You know when you shiver for no apparent reason and people just laugh it off and say: “Nothing to worry about- just someone walking over your grave”? Well there is some truth to this, that uncontrollable shiver you just endured was in fact a ghost. You know those creatures that aren’t “real”. He or she just walked through you. And believe me if we could avoid you we could, we’re well aware that it’s uncomfortable for you but hey not like it’s a holiday in the Bahamas for us either. It feels like someone is squeezing each of our organs and crushing them to dust each time it happens, which is a lot. Believe me there are too many of us, the dead are walking the earth. However there is a solution to all this. If you can end your life content, knowing the answers to all your questions, having done everything you wanted to do. Then you’re lucky- you can pass on. You can enter to afterlife. The afterlife is a completely separate entity, outside the universe, that can accommodate all of us, but hardly any of us are going to make it there. And 20

18-25 Age Category if we don’t, that coldness that sets in when you walk through a ghost will be a long term thing. So here goes nothing: This Is Ellie Thomas`s survival guide to dying: 1. Be happy: If someone or something makes you sad, conquer it until it has the reverse effect. 2. Don’t wish: Do, if you wake up one morning and think “I’m going to climb Mount Everest and be home for tea” go ahead, strap on your walking boots and put your order in for Sue’s Lasagne. 3. Ask why: If you don’t understand something, find out what just in god’s name is going on. 4. Don’t be lazy: You never know when your last day on earth will be, well, your last day that isn’t walking through people and dying over and over again. 5. And finally, be kind: You don’t want to be held here on a grudge, with someone hating you- you will never make it to the afterlife. So I got shot by my real dad, and that’s fine because I understand why. I got up every day and did what I wanted no matter how crazy and messed up it looked to everyone else. I achieved more one Saturday morning at 2:00 am than I had done my entire life, because I realised I was wasting it. I helped my enemies get what they wanted out of life and now they are not my enemies. And finally when that bullet hit my chest there was nothing that I regretted. Now that I’ve passed that on, I have a luxury apartment waiting for me on the edge of the universe, I hope when your time comes you’re not stuck here. Because the days of Heaven and Hell are over and life after death on Earth really does suck.

The Death Guide By Kate Green Breathing. It’s amazing. A delicate balance of elements drawn into your lungs, without thought, without feeling. Oxygen taken in and carbon dioxide expelled out. Keeping you alive. It’s incredible. But what happens when you stop? I must say that it is rather strange. Your body, or what can be classed as your ‘body’ attempts to breathe, but nothing happens. No rush of air, no 21

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 taste of life as the atoms bounce off your tongue, no charge pulsing through your veins as the muscles feel the energy stimulating their fibres. It tastes like nothing now. It’s weird but I guess you don’t need to breathe when you’re dead. I wouldn’t class myself as a ghost, or a spirit for that matter. I am simply dead, but still alive. We’re invisible to the human eye. We are called The Ethereal. I’m Lily and I’m a death guide. The Ethereal are dead souls who aren’t ready to leave the Earth completely. We still have some sort of attachment to a world where we aren’t wanted and don’t belong anymore. We cross between Earth and the City of Mortlem, doing jobs and tasks that humans aren’t even aware of. I am there when people die. We are strictly forbidden from interfering in any way. So, I just watch as their body gives up, whether from exhaustion, illness or because the person wills it. It’s beautiful to see. A warm glow settles around the body, and like the glimmer of a path of a sparkler on bonfire night; as quickly as it appears, it’s gone. If things go right, the soul emerges and they see me. If things go wrong, the soul shatters. I’ve only seen this once, in my training. The halfformed embodiment of the soul materialised; too delicate and damaged to be removed in one piece. They just stood there. Cruelly broken by this world, spoiling their chance in the next. With the others, shock, denial and disbelief are the most common emotions projected as I take them to Mortlem to register. I help them come to terms with their transition and guide them when they’re deciding on the direction of their ‘after-life’. People react differently. I’ve had people throw questions at me as fast as a machine gun spits bullets; some people are mute. Maybe it’s the confusion or the lack of preparation for this moment, when they’ve always been expecting death to be eternal darkness. Today I am assigned Jason, 17 years old, London UK. As I was 16 when I departed the world I am usually the designated guide for teenagers. I would rather be guiding the old, people who had longer to live and didn’t have their life snatched away. I enter the classic teenage room. Dirty socks and clothes line the floor in front of me and posters of bands line the walls around me. I search the room for danger, for the thing that will take his spark away. There seems to be nothing immediately threatening and Jason is sitting alone on the end of his unmade bed. He stares forward with a blank expression on his face, yet the darkness in his eyes seem to be threatening to expose a secret. His gaze rests on the item in his shaking hands. He starts to slowly open 22

18-25 Age Category the bottle, struggling with the safety catch as a thin glaze of sweat appears across his forehead. He tips one, two and then half a dozen small white pills into his hand. As his intention suddenly hits, a wave of panic crashes over me. I feel ashamed thinking selfishly that I can’t cope with seeing another soul shatter. Nevertheless, I can’t bring myself to let him waste not only his earthly life, but his after-life as well. I neglect the rules and feel myself willing him to stop. I focus all of my energy on moving the pills away from him. As his hand gets progressively closer to his mouth my ‘body’ starts to shake, mimicking the short, panicked breaths of someone who is alive. The bottle flies out of his hand and shatters on the wall behind me. The pills rain down to the floor in slow motion as I realise what I’ve just done. I turn towards Jason, his mouth open, his body paralysed in a state of shock. He looks at me. “What- who are you?” He can see me. He isn’t dead! This should be impossible… What have I done?

The Ocean By Laura Jane Tickle The smell of salt fills my nostrils; I breathe it in greedily as if its duration is limited. It hits the back of my throat and makes my tongue tingle with the foreign taste. A kaleidoscope of blue tumbles over one another, crashing and thriving to reach the surface and to cavort in the salty air, dazzling my eyes with such sights unseen before. The air, thick with trepidation has the approaching warriors of the tide build and collide with the defenders of the earth turning to a flash of dazzling white, only to fade into sudden silence once more. Sea birds dance their entrancing tango overhead, twisting and turning in the sea’s mist as a summer breeze wraps its arms around me and playfully tugs at my hair. I remove my shoes and bury my toes in the golden sand, the titillated tide edges closer to my feet before returning back home. The thunder crash persists to cut through the air as the waves keep coming, becoming more eager to reach me. It extends its icy barrier across the golden sand finally spilling around my ankles. The ice bites into my skin, making me gasp for air. I breathe a sigh of relief for I am new again. 23

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015

The Queen in Red – Welcome To My Truth By Liam Laing If the light that shines down on me is forever to be a sight I see, then I simply do not wish to see it. If the air that brings me life is forever shared by the people I have grown to hate, then I do not wish to live amongst them. It is true, my head is as large as my heart is black, but my face is a deception of the truth, a lie of what I truly feel and love. My “beloved” sister, the White Queen, with her perfect complexion and her blooming personality… How it sickens me. This world follows those who look beautiful and pretty, and hiss at those who are deemed less desirable to the human eye. Why am I so ugly? It is not like I chose to look this way, I did not wish to be hated by all… Did I? As I gaze softly in the mirror in an almost empty room, I look upon myself and question life. Is there any point? Is there any positivity of living in such a world that looks down upon those who are different? I am beautiful, but in my own way. Others may not see it, but I do. Oh, how I wish I were loved. I am forever telling myself it is better to be feared than loved, better to hate than to love and lose. The people that are my so-called servants do not respect me, nor do they even pity me. They fear me. As I walk by, forcing myself to hold a gurn upon my face, I see their skin trembling. I can almost feel it. Is this world better off without me? Is it too late for redemption? I have aged into the woman that people have believed me to be, a woman that is nothing more than a face of anguish. The faces of those who serve me are the faces I genuinely care for. As I walk along the halls of black and red, I hold back my temptation to smile gently to those who kneel before me. I love them, in a way. The truth is, I see no point in living in a world in which no one wants you here. Is there any point? Would it be easier to simply… end this all? A man once said to me that life is what you make it. How wrong he is. If that were true, then I would not feel the heat upon my skin that is the hatred of others. If that were true, then I would have made my life a sweet truth, not a bitter lie. When I was a child, I used to tell myself that fame and fortune was the 24

18-25 Age Category greatest gift of all. Only now have I came to realise that I told myself a lie. Fame and fortune is nothing. The greatest gift of all, is having those who love you around you. The sad truth, is that I am surrounded by no one who loves me. Not one person who would mourn me once I am no longer living, not a single life that would smile for me on my wedding day, if that day was to ever occur. The tears that have now formed in my eyes flow steadily down my plump cheeks as they make their way to the ground, leaving behind a small puddle of self-pity and regret. I watch them stroll across my skin in the flawless mirror opposite me. My red lips begin to tremble as I reach forward and snatch up the knife on the rotten table to my right. The cold from the metal emulates the cold in my heart, the cold that I will never be free of, the cold that I forever deeply wish was a warmth. Slowly, but surely, I raise the knife and hold it under my chin. My hand shakes uncontrollably. The metal reflects what light it can, lighting up my face to show even more of my beauty that is hidden by this monstrous mask that is my face. For the final time, I take a gulp of air and shut my eyes. This world will not miss me, but I shall miss it, forever in life, and for an eternity in death. With one quick motion, I tug the knife across my skin, and end it all.

The Land of All I Lost By Lina Emmerich Every now and then I lose things. Sometimes they are little things. Things like my phone or my passport. Things like the reason I entered a room, or the memories of what I had for dinner last night. Hair ties and lipsticks regularly vanish without cause or warning. But sometimes I lose bigger things. Things like my favourite hoodie or a picture very dear to me. I can easily lose my train of thought, or ideas, or the point I was trying to make. Sometimes I lose arguments. Sometimes I lose friends. 25

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 I like to think all these things I lost end up in the same place. A plain, empty space, full of bobby pins and single earrings. And I like to think they are all waiting there, patiently. Waiting to be found again. Maybe I’ll find them. Maybe somebody else will. Maybe nobody will. One day I lost my hope. It faded away like a stone sinking to the bottom of the ocean. But I couldn’t let it go. I chased after it, diving into the dark, followed it to the place of everything once lost. I faced an abundance of pencils and hair ties and lipsticks, a myriad of lost friendships, aspirations and broken promises, abandoned ideas in the form of unsaved Word documents and crumpled paper. And I told them I was sorry. They asked me why I had never come back to look for them; why I’d let them go, even forgot some. So I simply told them the truth: Sometimes you need to lose things, so new things can be found. I admitted- slight guilt seeping through my voicethat I had come for solely one thing: My lost hope. Thus I rummaged through the piles and piles of my life’s lost pieces, the little and the big, the material and the metaphorical somethings. Somewhere in that chaotic space of discarded objects and memories, in some long-forgotten box of old toys, I found it. Buried under a copious amount of furry and plastic creatures, there it was. A tiny, very fragile glimpse of hope, a flickering light, almost too dim to see. And yet still there, still glowing, stubbornly illuminating the neglected old box.

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18-25 Age Category It lay on top of a little orange cat. She had rough, dusty fur and big, round plastic eyes, as green as can be. Her coat was patchy and slightly stained; the end of her tail was missing. This was but a proof of countless adventures she’d braved a long time ago. Evidence of having once been loved too much. Her wide plastic eyes showed she remembered. Sticky fingers holding her, for years on end. Little hands moving her playfully across desks and bookshelves. She remembered being cuddled at night, (although she was most definitely the farthest thing from soft). She remembered a few tears soaking through her orange pelt. She remembered being picked up for the last time in a long while and falling behind a bed, not to be found until weeks later. She remembered being stashed into a box: “Only for a little while, my sweet. Until I have settled in.” And then she remembered the darkness. I picked her up, hugged her tightly to my chest. “This time I won’t leave you here,” I promised. Many things we lose. Some things we find again. Just before I left this place behind for good, (my regained hope and beloved orange cat in hand) I turned around one last time. To bid farewell to all the things I had lost along the way. Collectively, they made up a world of separate objects and concepts, unrelated to each other. But the human mind finds patterns and symbols where there are none. Even faces. All those things I had lost... things that long ago had been important to me; I wished to look upon their face, if only to let them know: “You are still beautiful, still important. And I hope you know that ‘lost’ does not equal ‘forgotten’.” Imagining there’s a ‘you’ to talk to made the sadness sting a little less. 27

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 I tied my hope to my pinky finger with a little red cord, let it float above me like a helium balloon. It is there to remind me that as long as this knot holds, (I made it a double knot, just to be safe), it is alright if I lose some things. I’ll keep what matters.

Winner of the 18-25 Age Category The Starlight Staircase By Luke Thomas I stared up at the night sky. The stars sparkled and danced and to me, they were like Angels. I focused my eyes on one star in particular. It was right there, slightly under the moon and blinking just for me. I thought back to that holiday in Devon. Mum took me out on the big hill just outside the caravan park one night and pointed at that star. “That’s your Daddy,” she told me, “That star there, do you see it?” From that moment on I had a Dad. Maybe not like the other children’s Daddies, but that didn’t matter because mine was better. My Daddy was a star in the sky, I just hadn’t met him yet. I felt a twinge of sadness in my chest and tore my eyes away. I used to dream about meeting Dad. I imagined he was a pilot, and that that star was his plane making his way across the sky. I would wave up at the sky at night and know that when it blinked, it was him waving back. Father’s Day was always painful. Every kid in school would be making cards. I would watch my friends run up to their Dads at home time and hand it to them. The love and happiness would wash over their faces and it hurt. I always made a card too, but it didn’t matter. I never had anyone to give it to. Clouds started to sweep across the stars and I knew it was time to head in. Can’t get caught in the rain, I thought, she’ll shout at me again if I come in wet. I began to shuffle towards the doors when the staircase caught my eye. I was sure it hadn’t been there before and yet there it was, standing right next to 28

18-25 Age Category the door. It was frosted silver and sparkled like starlight. It had a curly pattern wrapped around the banister, a bit like the old cutlery in the dining room. I stood at the bottom of the stairs and looked up. It spiralled straight up past the roof towards the stars. Towards my star. Before the idea had finished forming in my head I was already bounding up the stairs, two steps at a time. I was going to meet my Daddy, I thought. I was more determined than I had ever been. I carried on taking two steps at a time until my legs felt too heavy. I had already climbed higher than the roof, and the trees in the garden and even the electricity pylons that looked like tiny Eiffel towers. Everything felt magical up here. The lights below were like the stars in the sky that I had looked at every night, the train to London shot down the track like a shooting star and the smoke from people’s houses became the clouds. The world had flipped itself round and it was wonderful. A soft iciness gripped my hand as I began to enter the clouds. I had been waiting for this moment since that night in Devon. I wanted to meet my Daddy so much and now, now I finally would. I pushed myself up through the clouds. The world turned white and cloudy for just a moment and then I was through. “Lucy?” I turned around at my name, “Lucy, you have to come down, dear. You know you’re not allowed up here.” I stared around at the faces watching me, all of them worried and anxious. Nurse Warren had her hand out towards me and a gentle look in her eyes. I put my hand in hers, mine looking old, thin and frail in her grasp, and stepped down from the roof. I felt the relief sweep around the staff as I shuffled back down the stairs with the Nurse. “Let’s get you back to your room so you can rest, shall we, dear? Your granddaughter’s coming tomorrow, isn’t she? That’ll be nice, won’t it?” I let her guide me back to my room and into bed. It had gone cold since I escaped outside to look at the stars but I didn’t mind. I turned on to my side and looked out of the window. The clouds had floated on by and I could see my star again. It sparkled and danced and to me, it was an Angel.

I Dare You By Molly Looby The streets of South Edwards were more difficult to manoeuvre through by 29

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 day, just because I was concerned I was being watched. I made my way round all the backstreets, not paying any attention. I didn’t have to concentrate at all; I made this journey almost every day now. I slowed when I reached the alley I used to access the mesh fence. I walked past it once, flicking my head in its direction to check there was no one hiding down there. I walked down the street for a few more metres before crossing over and making my way back the way I’d just been. When I passed the alleyway, which was now on the other side of the street, I crossed over again. I slipped into the crowd of people all either rushing to be somewhere or happy chatting. No one paid any attention to me. I turned sharp into the alley and continued walking, not pausing, not looking back, acting as if I needed to be down there. Well, I did but I needed to look natural. Nothing suspicious going on here. I walked along the mesh fence until I found the gap and ducked underneath it. I stared up at the wall. As I grew, I never seemed to get any closer to the top. It was as though the wall grew with me. It still towered over me as much as it had the first day I’d snuck out of the house and found myself here, staring up at the monstrous thing. It said the same thing today that it had every day since our meeting. Come on, Leanne, I dare you. Then, unlike now, I was frightened by the challenge. Climb the wall, no way. Nobody crossed the boundary, nobody even touched the wall. I remember first having that thought and grazing my hand across the stone. I did the same now, sighing as I made contact. More ivy had twisted its way through the wall since then. It can’t have been dangerous as it was still here. I tugged on a bit and it came loose, raining dirt down into my hair. “It’ll take more than that to deter me,” I whispered to the wall. It was a new thing for me, talking to it. It didn’t make me crazy though. I was crazy enough for climbing the damn thing. I couldn’t get crazier than that. I’d even been over it. Well I must admit I was proud of that. I backed away and took a running jump to grab one of the lower branches on the tree. I grunted as I made contact, finding my footing on the familiar bumps and dips. I hauled myself up and sat on top of the branch, looking down, panting. I couldn’t help but grin. It got easier and easier every time. First time, it was a disaster, I couldn’t even get on the branch, I could grab on but I hadn’t enough strength to pull myself up. I was smaller then. Six years later and it was just second nature. Once I had my breath back, I climbed the tree until I reached the branch that was growing over the wall. I balanced across it with an easy familiarity and gazed out into the nothingness spread 30

18-25 Age Category out before me. I sat and admired the view of the sun setting in what might as well be a different world as I waited to meet Lucien.

Memoir of a Devastating Crime in the Congo By Shannon Perry I will never, ever forget that day in Bukavu; though it is tougher I’m sure, for the poor Irish lass who was subjected to abuse that day. Of course, the memory and flashbacks of what I had to witness haunts me every single day but Mauve McCarthy has to live with what happened to her every minute of every hour of every day. Time heals nothing in these circumstances. Some people say I was heartless for explaining every detail of what happened to Mauve; her rape by rebel soldiers in the Congo. But I’m going to do it again because it is important for people to understand the kind of lives people lead in the Congo- what they have to face on a daily basis. We have to do more to save these innocent people from the monsters lurking within. Mauve was an aid worker; she wanted to make a difference to these people’s lives. She was trying to help, trying to give effective services to those in this disaster. Who would want to hurt someone so compassionate & loving? Only the rebel soldiers- Burundian rebels. We were standing in the tent surrounded by countless other aid workers when they ran in armed with many weapons- they wanted her from the minute they entered. They screamed at everyone to lie on the floor and not to move; otherwise we’d be shot. Then they grabbed Mauve by her beautiful long blonde hair and hoisted her up; placing a sharp knife under her throat. They indicated we should stay back as they raped her or they would use the knife on her. We knew they were serious. She screamed out; and it punctured my heart. I had to do something. I took a stand and went to grab her back; yet they shot me with a rifle; the blood started to run through my white shirt- it looked like something from a horror film. The pain was unbearable; but because I’m a nurse, I applied pressure to it; and I managed to stay conscious. Just. They grabbed Mauve’s wrists and started to take her clothes off. They were brutal in the whole process; didn’t care that Mauve’s face was streaming with tears, her eyes full of fear and pleading with them not to do it. Five of 31

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 them tied her up with rope; while one was making sure no one made a move towards them. They put a gun to her head and forced her onto the floor; all the while she was begging and pleading with them. They began beating her and telling her she’d be killed anyway if she didn’t “shut her mouth up”, So she lay still silently; blood was running from the wounds they had inflicted upon her; tears were falling down the sides of her head as she was gagged and each one took their turn to rape her. They weren’t gentle; they treated her as if she was an animal. Mauve was treated like a thing there to feed their appetite and when they had their fill, she was passed on to the next person. They were like a pack of wolves waiting to be fed. If she made even one sound they would slice her body with a knife. When they had each finished raping her; they fired random shots that ricocheted off the tables. Then, at the very end, they ran off laughing, as if they had done nothing wrong at all. Mauve was still on the floor; all dignity lost. Screaming out in pain; crying; asking what she had done to deserve this. As a nurse, I took her from everyone and treated her just like I treated all other rape victims in the Congo. It was dreadful- she kept blaming herself; even blamed herself for me being shot. However; I had patched myself up and was feeling slightly better. My priority was to get Mauve in the right state of mind; the police were corrupt here so there was no way she’d have justice. I lost touch with Mauve over the years; I can only hope that she is happy now. I hope she has recovered enough to have a life full of love and light. It’s the least she deserves.

Smoke and Fire By Shannon Smith Noah was scared. Scratch that, he was fucking terrified. Crammed into a small train carriage with 100 other people, he tried hard to keep from panicking. He had never been good with crowds or tight space so right now, this was definitely the worst place he could be. He could hear the others conversing, some with Polish accents, but the 32

18-25 Age Category majority with German, as they tried to figure out where they were being taken; what was going to happen to them. They had all heard the stories – of the Nazis so-called ‘work camps’ where no one seemed to return from; the ash that bled into the sky like poison; the smell of death and misery. He was young, but he was not stupid. Well, he had been stupid enough to be caught. “Run, Snowflake, run and don’t look back. Promise me.” For the thousandth time, he cursed himself for his idiocy. He should have known it was too dangerous to go back - that they would be watching the club for any strays - but he had been filled with grief and blind and stupidly sentimental: he’d just known the ring would be there, hidden away in his jacket pocket, and it was the last thing; the only thing he had left… He clamped down on that thought quickly: those memories would do him no good now. The train’s wheels screeched against the tracks, resonating around the carriage with a ghostly screech. It was mostly silent by now: the babies had long since become too exhausted to cry, and even the smallest of the children had grown silent…nothing but a quiet whimper could be heard from time to time in the dark. The smell had gotten worse though: he’d long since lost any sense of time, not knowing whether it was hours or days since he had been loaded halfconscious into the carriage. The smell of unwashed bodies and stale urine clouded his nose, and underneath, a tang of salt and damp. If he was poetic, he would say it was the smell of fear: of hopelessness. He wished with all that was left of his heart that he didn’t know what they smelled like. The carriage jerked, and he caught himself against the side, feeling the cold metal under his fingertips, wet with condensation and rainwater. He grimaced, but wiped the mixture down his face and around the back of his neck: the metal may be cold, but it was sweltering hot in the carriage, and he welcomed the relief it brought. Another few jerks, and he realised that the train was slowing. The others realised too, from the increase in volume and sudden restlessness that travelled through his companions. “Thank God.” Murmured a man just behind Noah. “It’s finally over.” Noah wanted to turn and punch that man across the face: he wanted to tell the mother with her two young children to run as soon as the doors 33

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 opened: he wanted to scream at the elderly couple clinging to each other not to make their relationship clear; don’t reveal your weakness, don’t give them something to take away from you. Because that’s what the Nazis did: they found out what you loved the most, and they ripped it from you. Noah had a ring on his finger to remind him of that. “I love you, never forget that. Now go. Go!” *** If he had thought the train was bad, the platform was worse. It was chaos. Nazis shouted instructions and when they were not followed quickly enough, they used fists and guns to highlight the message: follow, or die. Noah could hear wailing and screaming and shots and crying and curses and threats, but he put his head down and followed the crowd. ‘Don’t draw attention to yourself, don’t give them a reason to notice you.’ All he could see was grey and black: the buildings, the steel fence, the ground, even the people: it was like the Nazis had leeched the colour from the world, had taken all that was living and were slowly crushing it beneath their heels. He felt as if he had entered hell. They were separated to male and female, with a few cries and curses as a man tried to stay with his wife, mothers with their sons, before being taken into a long corridor and told to strip naked. Noah watched as those around him did as they were told, before slowly following suit. Only one person had ever seen him naked: he had called him beautiful, had ran his hands reverently down the pale skin of his back, kissed his shoulders so gently… “You’re so perfect, Snowflake, so beautiful…” The sharp crack of metal hitting stone and the command of a guard snapped him out of his thoughts, and he berated himself for getting lost in his memories again as he pulled off the rest of his clothes. They were herded further down, where there were bowls and boxes of glasses and watches, rings and earrings: even fake teeth and wigs. Noah felt dread crawling in his stomach as he tightened him left hand into a fist: feeling cool metal dig into his palm. ‘Not his ring, not that: they had already taken everything from him, why could they not let him have his ring?’ His body rebelled at thought, and he felt physically sick for the first time since he’d woken up in the carriage, but he could feel the dark form of the guard coming closer, the cold metal of the gun shining in the dim light, and with a quiet sob and silent tears, he pressed a quick kiss to the precious silver band and dropped it 34

18-25 Age Category into the bowl with the others. “It was my grandmother’s ring, only thing she had when she arrived in Germany. I want you to have it, my little snowflake, I want you to always remember how much you mean to me.” The next stop, Noah sat without feeling as they hacked his hair from his head: watched numbly as the blond chunks fell to the floor. “It’s so soft, I love running my fingers through it.” That didn’t matter anymore. Nothing did. They were herded into another room now, where piles of grey-blue and white uniforms greeted them. The guards hit them with the butt of their guns, commanding them to put something on. There was a scramble as the men tried to find clothes that fit, but Noah merely pulled on the first reasonable looking one from the pile. The trousers were a bit too long, and the jacket a bit tight: the cheap material itched his skin, but it was clothes, and he pulled them both on and then another jacket and a pair of soft shoes. It was coming in to winter, and he knew he’d be glad of the extra warmth. “You give up, and you let them win. Don’t do that, Snowflake, never let them win.” He walked numbly through to the next room, fingers picking at the purple triangle on his arm. He wondered what it meant – most of the others had pink, he realised, and the jumper he had on underneath had a pink triangle on the arm as well. A few others that had joined them from another room which he recognised from the platform had black or red. Strange. He soon saw the final part of this ‘initiation’ – a group of other prisoners sat at what looked like needle-guns attached to wires, and he frowned as he saw one of the men at the front pushed forward, his arm grasped roughly and the needle of the gun pressed roughly into his forearm. The man jerked and muffled a groan as the machine buzzed to life, and then Noah caught sight of another prisoner’s bare arm, and bit his lip as realisation dawned: they were numbering them. “We’re not fucking animals,” growled a man to Noah’s right: it sounded like the man from before, the one who had tried to stay with his wife on the platform. Noah wanted to tell the man to shut it: he would find his wife when this was over - he had a reason to live. What did Noah have? Memories of loving words and tender touches, the ghost of a man and a life taken from him. But the guard was approaching, the gun already raised. 35

Wicked Young Writers’ Awards 2015 “Shut up. Get in line.” The man turned, livid. “No! I will not be treated like…” The crunch of metal meeting bone would stay in Noah’s head for days. The guard kicked at the man’s now lifeless body. “Get in line!” The men almost climbed over each other to follow orders, while Noah merely looked at the body on the ground. He thought of the wife: he had seen a glimpse of a pale face and auburn hair at the platform. ‘At least I’m not the only one.’ Golden skin and ink-black hair. “I love you.” Hard muscle and a secret smile. “Love you too.” Smoke and fire and screams of pain. “JARED!”

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