It is my pleasure to present to you the second place winner from the March 2018 Word Weaver Writing Contest, Anne Clare’s “Dark Corners.”
Anne Clare’s story was a blast to read. She hooked me from the opening and held me straight through to the end. 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.
SECOND PLACE WINNER
Bonny tiptoed to the library door and peered around the frame, holding her breath. Miss Worther sat in the far corner, back bent over the desk, pen scratching across a sheet of paper.
She must be writing to that sweetheart we’re not supposed to know about. She’ll not notice I’m gone. And the other grown-ups are too busy talking about the landings in France.
Tugging on her dark plait, Bonny considered, then nodded, satisfied. She slipped through to the music room and out the French doors, the bottle of milk carefully concealed under her bulky jumper.
The June days were too long for the growing shadows to offer much concealment. She skulked towards the carriage house through the little orchard, travelling from tree to tree. She imagined she was a soldier like Daddy, evading searching German eyes.
At the last gnarled trunk, Bonny turned back to study Thrush House’s frowning face. The windows that dotted the stained stone were empty, blackout curtains in place. Even the other evacuees were absent, the little ones in bed, her brother Edward and the other big boys listening to the night’s programs.
Good. Miss Worther’s not likely to put up much fuss, even if she saw me. But I shouldn’t like to be caught by Mr. H…
Thrush House was about as good a place as they could’ve landed when Mum sent them away from the bombings, but the owner, old Mrs. Heatherington, didn’t care much for children. She’d given them over to Miss Worther, who was nice, but she was always busy at the convalescent home. Weekends like this, when Mr. H, the old lady’s nephew came by, were the worst.
Bonny hated how Mr. H’s eyes never changed expression, even when he pretended to smile at her. He was always suddenly interested in what they were doing when Miss Worther was around. Once she had gone, he went back to scolding them whenever he decided they were “underfoot.”
The rotter can make a big house like this feel smaller than our old flat. At least out here I can get some quiet.
The main doors of the carriage house were shut, and opening them would mean wrestling with rusted hinges while standing in full view of the house. There was, however, a little door on the far side, partially hidden by an old rubbish heap and some weeds.
Bonny tugged it open, then waited for her eyes to adjust to the dusty dark.
She had been the first to think of the old carriage house as a retreat. It was all but abandoned, and the empty stalls were dim and mysterious. The corners were cluttered with interesting old pieces of wood, rusty tools and bits of harness, and it had an excellent old beam in the ceiling on which she and Edward had managed to hang a rope to swing back and forth.
Miss Worther hadn’t forbidden them to play in the carriage house –when the children rescued the first cat, she’d even suggested it as a safe home for the wee thing. However, she had suggested that they only go in during the daylight, and with an adult. She also wasn’t likely to approve of Bonny’s giving part of her milk ration away.
But, if she doesn’t know…
Bonny glanced back one last time and darted inside, pulling the door almost closed behind her.
The new kittens slept in a back corner on some tattered old horse blankets. They knew Bonny’s step and came, mewing and scrambling over each other.
Bonny played with them for a bit, cuddling their warm bodies and teasing their tiny paws. Their mother, Portia, kept to the shadows, and Bonny couldn’t spot Brutus, the tom. She spent a few moments trying to call him and peering through crannies before giving it up.
I suppose I ought to hurry back before I’m missed.
Still, Bonny took her time wiping out the discarded dish she used for the cats’ milk, careful of the large chip in the rim. She refilled it, and the kittens jockeyed for position, lapping the treat greedily.
The crack of light by the door slowly faded, the light turning rosy with sunset. The others would notice she was gone.
Bonny sighed. She stood, stretching, trying to think of one more reason to stay. Nothing. She took a reluctant step towards the door, then froze.
A low murmur drifted from the direction of the orchard- were those voices?
One sounded like Mr. H.
If he sees me, I’ll catch it for sure.
Bonny ducked far back into the corner, crouching, hoping the shadows concealed her.
“We can talk in here,” came Mr. H’s slow drawl as he opened the door. “No one uses it anymore.”
He left the door open, the last beams of light reaching towards, but not quite illuminating, Bonny’s corner.
A bulky shadow nearly filled the doorframe. The glowing end of a cigar failed to illuminate the stranger’s face. “You sure? Door wasn’t locked.” The rumbling growl of his voice sounded like the butcher’s back home.
Mr. H. sniffed. “The evacuee brats probably broke it.” His head swung around, eyes skimming over the shadows. Bonny’s skin crawled as they passed her corner, but after a moment he turned back to his companion. “So. You have a solution to my problem?”
“Half of one. I can’t get anyone down there soon enough, and there are people about who make it not worth the risk. If it didn’t have to be a rush job…”
“There’s no time to spare.”
“So you said. What’s the bloke got on you, anyway?”
“That information wasn’t part of the deal. And if you aren’t going to help me, I don’t see that we have anything more to…”
“Oh ho! Settle down now.” The shadowy stranger flicked the ash off of his cigar, his voice amused at the panic in Mr. H’s voice.
Bonny smiled. Mr. H always acted so big. Sounds like he’s gotten himself in some trouble. Serves him right.
She strained her ears, more curious than frightened.
The big man took a long drag on his cigar. “I have some stuff that’ll do the job. I’ve got a friend on the staff, found out his medications…” he listed off some names that sounded like gibberish. “Just get one of the bottles and dump it out in the loo—it’ll look like he took ‘em all, and then give him this in his drink. He’ll be none the wiser—well, until it’s too late anyway.” He gave a harsh laugh.
Wait—what? What, he can’t mean…
Mr. H held the little glass vial up to the light. “They won’t be able to tell the difference? What if they do an autopsy…”
“Who’ll be asking for one? He’s a mental patient. He’ll be just another victim of the war.”
“Why can’t you handle this? After all, it’s your field…”
The cigar glowed bright. “Not just mine, from what I’ve heard. Just how did your big brother end up in that alley?”
There was a long silence. Stabs of pain shot through Bonny’s foot, cramped from her sustained crouch. She held her breath and tried not to move, waiting for Mr. H’s answer. There must be some answer—none of this could be what it sounded like.
“What…that was…that was an accident.”
The other man snorted. “Lucky accident. In any case, you can’t afford me. You’ve had some losses.”
“Nothing that I won’t win back. And besides, I’ve got backup. When I inherit…”
“When Auntie kicks off you mean? An’ a tough old bird she is.” The cigar wiggled as he shook his head. “No. You already owe me, and I’ve done the hard work for you, getting this, getting it planned out. You’re not worth any further risk to me—not without more coin, anyway.”
“I’ve paid you more than enough. I could’ve gotten this much help from any two-bit swindler…”
“Careful, Heatherington.” The man’s growl made goosebumps rise on Bonny’s arms. “Let’s not forget how things stand. If I were to call your debts in today, for instance…” He pulled a knife out of his pocket and flicked it open. Even in the dim light, the silver blade flashed as he trimmed his fingernail. He left the blade open, and held it between his body and Mr. H’s.
Bonny’s mouth went dry, but Mr. H didn’t sound concerned. “More fool you if you did. What would you stand to gain?”
The shadow chuckled; the knife clicked shut and vanished. “True enough.” He turned to go. “Still, I wouldn’t expect any more favors. Clean up your own mess.”
Bonny hardly dared breathe as the men’s silhouettes filled the doorway. She clenched her sweaty palms together.
Just at that moment, one of the kittens rubbed against her leg.
Her shoulder bumped the wooden wall. A board, leaning against the wall, slid sideways.
Bonny grabbed for it—too slow.
It teetered, scraped against the wall, then fell to the floor with a clatter.
Both men spun about, staring towards her hiding place. “Who’s there?” Mr. Heatherington’s voice cut the air. The other man’s hand flew to his pocket.
Oh God, Oh God, please…
Bonny bit her lip until she tasted blood. Closing her eyes, she imagined herself as a statue.
The image of the knife danced behind her eyelids.
Mr. Heatherington took a step towards her dark corner—
– then another.
A terrifying yowl rent the air.
Cursing, Mr. H and the stranger jumped back. Bonny nearly toppled over.
The tomcat, Brutus, streaked across the floor to her corner, yowling and hissing. Shaking with shock and momentary relief, Bonny stifled a hysterical laugh.
“Blasted cats,” muttered Mr. H. “If I had a free hand I’d drown the little beasts.”
“Hardly good sport. We’ll find better…” and the two men were gone, shutting the door behind them with a click.
Bonny’s heart pounded a frantic rhythm as she waited to be certain they were gone. The silence stretched long, but she did not move. What if they come back? What if they find me? What would they do if they knew I heard them…
At last, legs cold and cramped, she could hold her pose no longer. Bonny drew air into her lungs with a little sob, and plopped down on the ground.
She scooped Brutus onto her lap as he came near.
A few deep breaths later, Bonny scrambled to her feet. Brutus mewed in discontent.
I’ve got to get back to the house before anyone notices I’ve been gone!
She didn’t want to give Mr. H any reason to wonder where she had been tonight.
What did I like about this story?
What spoke to me?
DAN ALATORRE: For me, this story had terrific tension. It set the stage without overdoing it – I like to get hints at setting without being spoon fed. I loved the snarkiness in the main character, and her multifaceted personality. She dislikes some people and likes others, as one might expect, but she takes time for stray cats, too – as children will. She read as real. Three dimensional.
The suspense and tension were terrific, building as the story went, but Anne didn’t just lay it out there. She had it go up and down in the way I believe great storytelling should.
I loved this story, and I can’t wait for more from this very talented writer.
JOHN WINSTON: Good showing over telling = 10. Authentic Dialogue: Spot on, flowed well = 10. Rising tension: Perfection = 10. Character development: Great job of developing the characters with just a few words = 9. Setting and description: I thought this was brilliant. Nice combination of action, description, setting, and even dialogue in such an economy of words. I could visualize all the scenes clearly = 10
JENIFER RUFF: Overall this writing is very clean. Either the author is just darn lucky to be able to write this way, or she put in the time to do a really nice job. There’s really nothing in it that doesn’t add to the story. The imagery is clear, the timing and pace are consistent. I felt like I was watching it happen.
This was a terrific story, as I’m sure you agree.
Join us Thursday for a profile on Anne Clare.
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
and much more! We’re just getting started!
Right now, please join me in congratulating our 2nd place winner, Anne Clare
See you tomorrow!