My assignment was to write a story with a maximum of 1,000 words, using specific prompts – a character plus an event. We were given a photo of the character and I will attach this to the piece.
Yeah Write said: “Writers will receive a description of a character (this may be in words, images, or a combination of the two) and an event. The character does not need to be the main character, and as in round one the event does not need to form the plot arc of the story, but both must be included in such a way that the story would not function without their presence. There are no genre restrictions.”
I was placed in group 2 and given the prompt (event) ‘stumble over a body’ and this photo (character):
I have included the judges’ feedback below and, as always, your feedback is very much welcomed.
* * *
Synopsis: Lydia tries to escape her demons by immersing herself in London’s wild nightlife. Can she avoid the trauma that comes with an anniversary?
* * *
The beat pulsated through Lydia’s body, dull thuds radiating inside her like waves slamming against resilient sea walls. Bodies crammed themselves into the tiny London flat and a mixture of white powder and whiskey flowed freely through the veins of the midnight revellers.
She vaguely remembered how she got there. There was a club, one that smelt of vomit and damp shoes, followed by a visit to an underground basement with people she no longer recognised as friends. The last thing she saw before collapsing into a taxi with the strangers was two women fondling each other’s nipples through sheer tank tops. She touched her own breasts, wondering if they had experienced the same ordeal.
The concept of time became lost as she ignored playful screams from the others, instead falling asleep to the gentle hum of the car engine. The welcomed rest was soon interrupted though, and Lydia was woken by an angry driver threatening to shove her head up her arse if she was sick on his upholstery. With the back of her hand, she wiped drool from the side of her mouth and followed the group inside a tower block to ride the elevator to the house party upstairs.
Once inside the flat, Lydia made her way to the nearest window. It was stained by fingerprints and overlooked the rooftops. They were high. At least 18 floors up. She knew she must be in Canary Wharf because she recognised the financial district in the distance. The cocktail of substances mixing in her belly, combined with the view, made her stomach feel as if it was being wrung out like a face cloth. Taking a step away from the glass, her heel got caught on something hard and heavy behind her. She stumbled backwards over it, before losing her balance completely and knocking her head hard on a china ornament of Lord Nelson.
She lifted her hand to scratch at a tickle, caused by blood oozing from her forehead. Then, before the scene around her became enveloped in black, she saw the thing which had caused her to fall.
Still and ignored, alone in the corner of the flat, there was a body.
* * *
Norfolk’s coastal October breeze wraps itself tightly around Lydia’s body, swaddling her like a newborn baby in a blanket cocoon.
The beach is empty and the tide is out. The bottom of her jeans is drenched from walking near to the sea’s edge. She reaches down and grabs a fistful of dirty orange sand, allowing its coolness to soothe her aching palms.
The only thing missing from this scene was a puppy. From the age of four she had crazed her mother to buy a dog. As well as being a friend for Lydia, it would have benefited her mother too, by keeping her company instead of the strips of happy pills from the doctor.
A rhythmic blast of yellow from a lighthouse built on the distant horizon snaps Lydia out of her thoughts. This day starts to become familiar to her. It happened thirteen years ago but she could remember it all. The sun was setting and her five-year-old self stared out of her bedroom window for what felt like hours, gazing silently at the sea. Alone in the house she brushed her teeth, dressed herself into torn Care Bear pyjamas, and attempted to read Bedtime Stories for Girls. Her mother still wasn’t home.
She tried to shut her eyes and count sheep but when that didn’t work she listed the planets using a rhyme she had learnt at school. Finally, she sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star quietly to herself. She still couldn’t sleep though; she hadn’t heard the front door being pushed open, signalling the return of her mother.
Feeling brave, Lydia eventually made her way downstairs and put on her fluffy slippers and grubby pink robe, which was a size too small for her. By the time she had run down from their house to the beach, it was dark.
“Mamma,” she called, her voice lost to the wind. “Come home, Mamma! I’m sorry…”
She ran towards one of their favourite places; a Second World War pillbox, which had fallen from the cliff and now rested upside down on the shore. Sometimes, when her mother was in one of her better moods, the two of them would sit here and have a picnic.
As she felt her way around the crumbling walls she stumbled over something which had been hidden in the grasses growing around the base of the fallen structure. Legs. Frozen and rigid.
* * *
As she opened her eyes, Lydia was greeted with a smile from a grey-haired man wearing a well-ironed paramedic uniform. Probably ex-forces, she thought.
“Tough anniversary?” he touched her arm, reassuringly.
“I… I don’t know what you mean,” her hand instinctively wrapped itself around the gold vintage chain around her neck. It belonged to her mother and had ‘LOVE’ written across the pendant.
“Found this in your pocket. Had to look for ID. No one seemed to know who you were in there.” He handed over a tatty piece of paper. It was an obituary which had been ripped out of a newspaper years ago and included the photo of a young woman smiling at the camera. Even on recycled paper, her brown skin shone like melted chocolate and her eyes gazed at the unknown photographer with serenity. It was the only remaining picture Lydia had of her mother.
Then she remembered.
“The body. There was a body right there. Next to my feet!”
“Police have cleared the place out. No bodies in here. Listen, you’ve got one hell of a bump to your head so don’t be worrying about anything else right now.”
Lydia knew she was getting worse. Every year the anniversary haunted her.
She wondered if she would ever stop hearing the whispers of hurtful words once screamed on that fateful day.
Feedback from the Judges:
What the judges liked:
- The shifts in tense in the middle of the story are consistent with the narrative and for the most part smoothly handled. It’s important to the narrative that the reader, like the main character, slowly begin to doubt the presented “evidence” of the story – many writers would be tempted to resolve that for the reader and it’s not necessary.
- Nice job incorporating the prompts seemlessly; your description of the first scene was effective.
- Great use of scene setting with descriptive language and dialogue.
Where the judges found room for improvement:
- Be careful using words like “chocolate” to describe Black skin. It seems useful but is both trite and disfavored by the professional community. The second half of the story has some shifting tense issues; try to stick with one tense per “section” for clarity and to avoid sounding as if you’d made a mistake.
- Inconsistent tenses within each section of the story made the plot difficult to follow; conclusion was a bit clunky.
- A little more show and a little less tell would really make this essay come to life even more.