It is my pleasure to present to you the #1 story from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest.
Geoff’s tale was a lot of fun for me to read, and obviously it was a fave of the celebrity judges, too.
Have a good time reading this story. I’ll give you my reasons for why I liked it, as well as including comments by the celebrity judges, at the bottom of the post.
GRAND PRIZE WINNER
Geoff Le Pard
Jeremy sat back, staring at the final words. What if? Nicely ambiguous, he thought as he closed the document and made for the kitchen.
Mel looked up, a frown melting away from her forehead. “Well?”
“Yep, all done. First draft is complete.”
She jumped up, hands flapping in a parody of a small girl’s excitement. “Woo-hoo. The Booker next.”
Jeremy allowed himself a smile. “Perhaps.”
“What about the title? Are you sticking with What If?”
The smile began to dissolve. “Let’s have a drink.” As Mel poured two glasses, he added, “I had a great idea yesterday.”
“Oh? You ready to share?”
“It’s gone. I dreamt it, but when I woke… poof.” He shrugged.
She laughed, “Poor lamb.”
He nodded, his frown growing deeper. She didn’t understand how it grated.
“What does the great author want to do? Champagne bar, or snuggles on the sofa?”
The evening passed quickly. As Mel chatted inconsequentially, his mind drifted back to his story, vivid images forming in his head.
He started as she asked, “You ok?”
His laugh was forced. “Day-dreaming. One of my characters has just been injured. God, sometimes they seem so real.”
“What happened? You’re all flushed.”
“Oh, nothing. It’s all make-believe. I’ll get us another glass.”
Mel stood. “I’ll go. You need spoiling.”
As soon as she’d left the room, he began pacing. His stomach felt knotted. It had felt real enough, like he’d just had bad news. The scene that had come to him – which originally had involved killing off Arvand, but which he’d changed by allowing the sexy Daleen to save him – had troubled him from the beginning. He’d almost changed it, that afternoon, but the effort had been too much. Maybe he should look at it again.
As he turned for the door, Mel reappeared, holding up a bottle and grinning. “Early night, cowboy?”
Jeremy breathed deeply, feeling calm in the afterglow of sex. He felt Mel roll onto her side, giggling. “You up for having a go at a sequel?”
His body tensed. He wanted to, but the word made him feel nauseous. He stopped her hand as he felt it move. “Too much wine. Maybe tomorrow.”
She sighed and rolled away.
He’d told her he’d write a sequel, but just now that felt impossibly hard. She’d think him weak if he didn’t, wouldn’t she? “You don’t mind, do you?”
He heard her yawn, “It’s your call,” she said.
She had misunderstood him, as he knew she would but he didn’t correct her.
Sleep took a long time coming; as he slipped from consciousness, he heard his name being called – a distant cry – in a familiar voice which he couldn’t quite place. His dreams were troubled. At one point his eyes sprung open, and he sat bolt upright, his chest heaving, his T-shirt drenched in sweat; he was utterly convinced in that moment he had lost something so dear as to leave him completely bereft. The next thing he remembered Mel was waking him.
“Why did you call out?” Mel peered at him anxiously.
He massaged his jaw, which felt stiff. “Did I?” But he knew.
“You called out Arvand. More than once.”
“Arvand?” Jeremy shivered convulsively, like a cold finger had run down his spine.
“It was definitely Arvand. Is that a place?”
“No idea.” He stumbled as he hurried to the bathroom. “I need to get a move on. I promised Martin I’d be in early.” Behind the locked door, he fought to suppress a rising sense of guilt. Why lie? It was just the name of a made-up character, though he’d not told her about the change to Arvand from Sebastian.
From the bedroom, Mel called, “Mum rang. She wants to stay. Maybe you can devote a chapter to sending her home quickly.”
The next two days were hard; he couldn’t concentrate and the urge to revisit his draft almost overwhelming. At night his febrile love-making satisfied neither of them. Sleep, too, was difficult, with shapeless dreams that he couldn’t recall; all that remained were the wispy remnants of a sense of foreboding, of some impending violence, of people in fear for their lives. The face that stared back at him from the bathroom mirror was gaunt; he needed a break and soon.
On the third evening, Mel was cooking when he arrived home. He’d barely said hello, when she asked, “Someone called Daleen rang for you.”
“Daleen?” He could barely stop from shaking.
“You left your mobile.” Mel turned, but Jeremy couldn’t meet her gaze. “She has the oddest voice, sort of cartoonish sexy, all deep and husky and come-hither. Who is she?”
“I… I don’t know any Daleen.”
Mel expression hardened. “Well, she knew you. She said she’d catch you at the gym tomorrow.”
He knew she was staring, sure she could sense the lie and would assume his silence was just a cover, but what could he say? The only Daleen he knew was dead; he’d taken his character’s name from a grave. “Wrong number. Really. What’s for dinner?”
He fully intended skipping the gym, but he couldn’t. He had just parked and was digging out his sweats, telling himself to relax, when a voice behind him nearly stopped his heart.
“Hey sexy, good to see you.”
He spun round, his face ashen as the shocked speaker jumped back. It took him a moment to recognise Maggie, one of the other regulars.
“You ok, Jem? You look dreadful. Have you seen a ghost?” Her frown betrayed her concern at his reaction.
“Why’d you put on that stupid voice?” he snapped. “Geez.” He saw her expression begin to change from worry to annoyance. “Look, sorry. You made me jump. I shouldn’t have snapped.”
“Yes, well. I’m sorry, too.” She turned away, clearly hurt.
He pulled back his hand before it touched her arm, growling to himself, “Get a grip, man.”
After a ferocious session, Jeremy headed for the changing rooms. The endorphins kicked in, and he felt good for the first time in days. He stopped at the drinking fountain; the cold water was very welcome. His mind drifted, to the scene at the icy lake where Arvand left Daleen for dead. He grinned to himself. He should have let her die, then she’d not be ringing him.
As he straightened up, his attention was caught by a movement outside, by the pool. It took a moment to realise what he was seeing; a woman floated, face down, in the water, her blonde-streaked hair and blue patterned dress spreading out on the surface of the water. He gripped the fountain to stop his legs giving way: Daleen, exactly as he’d described that scene. Bile rose to his throat as he tried and failed to swallow.
He hesitated, his chest tightening, when two things happened. First, a young man leapt into the water, frantically swimming to the inert woman; then, from behind him another man, laughing, pushed past to the window. He rapped on the glass. “Look.” The man beckoned two others. “Seb’s doing his lifeguard test. I bet he lets her drown.”
Jeremy backed away. He shook, his nerves in pieces. Instinct drew him to the Grand and its quiet bar. As the barman pushed the whiskey at him, he said, “You look done in, mate.”
Jeremy grimaced as the spirit burned his throat. “I thought I saw someone drown, but it was just an exercise.” He forced himself to smile, feeling stupid.
The barman grinned back at him. “That’s Daleen, mate…”
Jeremy gawped, and nearly dropped the glass. “What did you say?”
The man jerked his head back, as if slapped. “I just said, ‘That’s some scene’. Geez.” He wandered away, muttering.
Outside, Jeremy breathed deeply. He needed space to clear his head. He was late getting home but Mel wasn’t there. No note, no message. He tried calling, suppressing a rising anxiety he knew to be irrational.
When, finally, he heard the front door, he squeezed his eyes shut before going to the hall. He found her sitting on the bottom stair, trying and failing to take off her boots.
She was drunk. His frustration turned to anger. “Where the hell have you been?”
By way of a response, she fumbled with her phone and held it up. A woman with blonde-streaked hair, startlingly turquoise eyes, a mole by the side of her nose and a scar from the corner of her mouth and wearing a blue patterned dress, smiled at the camera. “I’ve just spent the last two hours with your girlfriend.”
Everything slowed. A ringing filled his ears, accompanying an insistent pulsing of blood as he fought to stay upright. “Who?” But he knew who; this was exactly how he’d first described Daleen.
“She called me, needed to talk. How could you?” Mel barely contained her sobs.
“What are you on about? I told you I don’t know any Daleen.”
Mel shook her head. “Stop lying. You recognised her right away.” She snorted a laugh. “Who knew you liked them so tarty? Did you pay for those fake tits? She said you did.”
“I didn’t…” He stepped back, as if a force-field emanated from the picture and pressed on his chest. “It’s not…” And then it hit him and he laughed, starting deep down and coming out with a burst of air. Tears followed, so hard did he laugh. He pointed at the phone, at Mel and shook his head. He could see she looked, at first perplexed, and then furious, but the laughter just kept coming. “Oh Mel,” he managed, gulping air in short breaths. “Christ, you had me going. That’s what happened in chapter seven. Did you hack my laptop?” She was parroting his own words back at him. He shook his head in order to look serious. “Tell me. Was she wearing grey suede thigh boots? The photo doesn’t show her legs.”
“You bastard.” The fury that had filled Mel’s face a moment before was now partly masked by the cascading tears. “She told me you’d spent the afternoon together. Martin said you’d not been back, after the gym.”
He felt colour drain from his face. “I went for a drink. And a walk.”
Mel’s shoulders sagged. “When do you ever just go for a walk?”
“I did today. It…” Sweat beaded his forehead. How could he explain?
“Here.” She swiped a second photo. It was him entering the Grand, with the blonde close behind. He hadn’t seen her. “She said you made love.”
“I just had a frigging drink. This is crazy, a wind up. If it’s not you, it’s Martin. She’s a character in my book…” He petered out as he saw her expression.
“A character in your bloody book? Oh please. And this ‘character’, when did you get her pregnant?”
“She showed me the picture from the scan. You hit her, didn’t you? In the stomach. How could you?” She spun away, apparently intent on going upstairs. He grabbed her arm, but she shook him off. “Get off me. Don’t come near.”
He held up his hands, defensively. “Honestly, love, it must be Martin. He’s set this up. You know what he’s like.”
Mel’s voice was harsh. “She described you. How does a ‘character’ know where you have a two inch scar?”
Jeremy took a step forward, his throat dry. “This has stopped being funny. We need to call Martin. Now.”
Mel’s eyes blazed. “You son of a bitch. For months you’ve said you were off to this café or that bar to write that bloody book. ‘I need somewhere different,’ you said. ‘I’ll get stale here.’ That was your excuse, wasn’t it?” She swallowed another sob. “But it was ‘us’ that was stale. Me. You were just shagging another woman. What a cliché. She knew all the details. I’ve seen where you hit her, Jeremy. God knows why she’s not gone to the police.’
“She’s fiction, Mel. Let’s have a drink and I’ll show you. We’ll laugh about this in the morning.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you? God, the nerve.” She began to climb the stairs.
“Where are you going?”
“I’ll get a bag and go to Mum’s. That tells you how desperate this is.”
He began to follow, but his head was spinning. How could Daleen be pregnant? He’d toyed with the idea, but eventually left it out, thinking it a neat twist for the sequel. If she was pregnant, then so much else needed changing. After a quick glance upstairs to check Mel wasn’t leaving immediately, he rushed to the kitchen and his laptop.
A sound made him turn. Mel leant against the doorframe. “Our lives are falling apart and you’re what? Writing?”
He didn’t look up. “I didn’t make her pregnant. That was Arvand’s idea and I scotched it.”
“Arvand? Isn’t that the name you called out the other day? The one you said you didn’t know? Who’s Arvand?”
He glared at her. “Just a bloody character. Come here and I’ll show you.” He typed pregnant into the ‘find’ box. The response was seven hits. The first was on page 159: Daleen knew what the sickness meant; she was pregnant. Her stupid fumble with Arvand had had consequences after all.
Jeremy blinked. That wasn’t how it happened. He clicked through the links. That wasn’t why Arvand attacked her. It ruined the ending, it no longer made sense. He rolled the tension out of his shoulders and pulled a pad to him. As he did so the front door slammed shut.
“Shit.” He ran to the window, just in time to see Mel reverse out of the drive and speed away.
He needed to talk to her, but first he needed to find out what had happened to his book. Only that way would he make sense of this nightmare. He returned to the table, surprised at how numb he felt.
His phone rang and instantly a weight felt as if it lifted off his shoulders; smiling he reached for the handset. “Hi Mel, I’m really…”
A male voice cut across him. “This isn’t Mel, Jeremy.”
His throat began to constrict as, with his hand shaking he looked at the screen. The phone clattered onto the table as he screamed. It fell face up and he goggled at the caller’s name:
It couldn’t be. He, too, was a name from a grave. He didn’t know any Arvand, so how could he have that name saved in his contacts? How could he be calling?
Swallowing hard, he picked up the phone. “Yes?”
The voice felt so familiar, one he had heard during his recent dreams, one he felt he had been hearing for years, a smooth voice with a slight lisp. “What are you doing, Jeremy?”
“I’m correcting the draft.”
“We’ve told you before. That’s not your job.”
“I know this is really you, Martin. It’s all very clever, but don’t you think you’ve taken it far enough?” Jeremy felt something slip inside his head, wanting Martin to reveal himself and fearing for his sanity if he didn’t.
“You know this isn’t Martin, don’t you, Jeremy?” Whoever it was didn’t wait for an answer. “If you don’t believe me, then have a look at what you changed just now.”
Jeremy scrolled back up the page to where he had hastily deleted the first reference to Daleen’s pregnancy. It had gone, the previous version restored. “How did you do that, Martin?”
“We explained how we wanted our story to come out. That’s your job. Your only job.”
Jeremy pulled his shoulders back. “That’s enough. This has to stop now.” He softened his voice; Martin loved his jokes. “Come on, mate. Why don’t you pop round? We can run through the manuscript and tailor it so it’s just how you want it.”
“We’re already here. Outside.”
Jeremy wiped his hands on his trousers before reaching across his desk. He yanked back the left curtain. Looking up at his window, Arvand held the phone while Daleen cradled her stomach. Jeremy no longer felt connected to the scene in front of him. How had Martin managed to find two people to so accurately match his characters?
Then his blood turned to ice as Arvand’s voice sounded in his ear. “We need to talk about the ending, Jeremy. It’s time to let us in.”
Jeremy gagged, a globule of greeny phlegm splattering the screen. His heart raced, beating so hard he wondered if anyone’s heart had ever broken a rib. “I’m not letting you anywhere near this. It’s my book and…”
As Jeremy watched, Arvand bent down and opened a bag by his feet. He knew exactly what he’d see: a short-handled axe. Enough. He needed to end this.
“What do you want?”
“What if you let us in and we’ll tell you?”
What if? “What if I don’t?”
“But that’s not how what ifs work, is it? Not in a novel. You can’t leave them unresolved. The readers will never forgive you for that. There always has to be a conclusion. You have to see this through.”
Jeremy put the phone down and stared at the screen. He clicked on Select All. He just had to hit delete and this would be over. The sounds of wood splintering filled the air, accompanied by someone calling his name. As his finger brushed the key, something cold pressed against his throat.
A woman’s hand, sporting a large emerald ring stretched past his shoulder and softly closed the laptop. A voice – husky, sexy and full of a mix of promise and foreboding that froze his blood, while it melted his heart – whispered next to his ear. “Oh darling, you couldn’t do that to me, could you? After all, we’ve been through.”
Jeremy forced himself to speak, tears squeezing out of his eyes. “What do you want?”
The man spoke next to his other ear. “Time to plot that sequel, don’t you think?”
What did I like about this story?
What spoke to me?
DAN ALATORRE: For me, this story had a little bit of everything. I think every writer probably enjoyed the conclusion where he reaches for the delete key, but the fast pace and the elements of mystery, the hint at possible romance but also the intrigue of an illicit affair… it all had me basically on the edge of my seat the entire time. There’s no doubt this one was loved by all of our judges, since they all gave it such high marks.
ALLISON MARUSKA: I loved the creepy aspect of the characters haunting the author and them messing with his wife. The ending is killer.
JOHN WINSTON: Good showing over telling = 10. Rising tension, Perfection = 10
JENIFER RUFF: Clean and well-written. Great escalating suspense and tension. I didn’t have a single suggested change.
This was a fun story to read, as I’m sure you agree.
Join us TOMORROW for a profile of Geoff
Wednesday by the 2nd place winning story, Dark Corners by Anne Clare. And of course, on
Thursday we will have Anne’s profile.
Friday, it’ll be the first of our two 3rd place winning stories, Excavation Murder by Victoria Clapton
Saturday will feature the second of our two 3rd place winners, Dreamers by Heather Kindt
Right now, please join me in congratulating our 1st place winner, Geoff LePard
See you tomorrow!