Pen To Print
dan cross author write on xiii short story graffiti

Showcase – XIII & The Chocolate Box

Next up in our series of flash fiction submissions is my own short story, XIII, which was fortunate enough to place as second runner-up. As before, I will let the competition judge, Clare Cooper, introduce the piece. While this is the last of the finalists, we will be publishing the other fantastic and imaginative entries over the coming weeks.

But that’s not all! This week, I am spoiling you lovely people with a second Showcase submission. Vi Charlton has submitted a wonderful poem of nostalgia. The Chocolate Box is the story of a grandmother revisiting a lifetime of memories by rummaging through an old box of keepsakes…something each and every one of us can probably relate to on one level or another.

Keep on writing!

Dan (Associate Editor)

Introduction by Clare Cooper

Flash Fiction Competition Judge and Guest Editor of Write On! Issue 4 (available now!)

I worked in the Fiction Dept at Woman’s Weekly for 29 years. As Deputy Fiction Editor, I was responsible for reading, critiquing, choosing and editing the short stories for Woman’s Weekly and its monthly spin-off title, the Fiction Special. I am an avid book and magazine reader, although I can’t yet break the habit of looking for errors. One day, I hope to write something of my own. In the meantime, you can read my blog at: claredotcooper.wordpress.com and find me spending far too much time on social media.

We thought it would be fun to run a Flash Fiction competition for this issue (4). It’s hard to encapsulate the essence of a proper story – a beginning, a middle and an end –  in so few words and I was impressed with the quality and range from all the entrants. Congratulations, everyone!

My second runner-up story is by Dan Cross.  “XIII” paints a bleak world, run by “Our Leader.”  The words the “vandals” write over freshly washed walls every day send out a message of communication that will never be silenced.

 

XIII by Dan Cross

dan cross author write on xiii short story graffiti

We stencilled over a dozen murals last night. Julia thinks it might be the most patterns administered in a shift since the new regulations.

We used to “wash” four times the number of walls each night. Why waste time putting up more unsightly images when we could roll over them with a single pastel colour in less than twenty minutes?

But it was simpler back then. Before the attacks. Before the trials. Before Our Leader shut down parliament. The Vandals only used graffiti to protest. We were each expected to wash thirty walls a night, which wasn’t difficult. The only people who ever failed turned out to be traitors, conspiring with the enemy.

But The Vandals grew bolder. Not twenty-four hours would pass before a washed wall was marked with another tag; a public declaration it would be graffitied again. As the number of illegal protests increased, so rose the graffiti. We struggled to keep up.

The final straw came after subtle messages appeared: murals depicting the times or places for underground meetings.

It was Julia who proposed using their own graffiti against them. She realised that while we saw a freshly washed building as a sign of order, it was a blank canvas to The Vandals. An invitation to rebel.

The Party offered deals to a few captured criminals. Controlled freedom in exchange for creating a selection of designs. Today, we have about five hundred unique stencils, and we try to mix up the patterns on every wall. The Vandals don’t like spraying over each other’s work, you see.

We try and get one side of a street done before curfew ends, and we leave the tags of known Vandals-at-large on any walls we can’t complete. The Vandals respect the tags. They think it means they are winning.

 

Dan Cross, 2020

Dan is a historical fiction author and professional editor. His debut novel, Caesar of Mercenaries, was shortlisted for the 2018 Wilbur Smith Adventure Prize (Best Unpublished Manuscript category). He is seeking representation for his first two novels while writing his third.

 I don’t know if there is a single novel that made me want to become a novelist, but The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is probably the one that inspired me most. It’s not just the witty and beautiful prose but how compellingly the characters make their arguments, despite the obvious injuries to themselves and others. In that way, it’s deeply human.”

Dan Cross, Flash Fiction Competition Second Runner-Up

 

The Chocolate Box by Vi Charlton

showcase write on vi charlton chocolate box

I was clearing out a cupboard

Just the other day,

A job that I’d been putting off

For too long, I must say.

 

I came across a chocolate box

Its ribbon faded blue,

My memory did a backward flip

To when that box was new.

 

I thought about that young slim man

Who’d bought those chocs for me.

We shared and we made them last,

They were then a luxury.

 

I opened up that old choc box

And there inside I found

A fountain pen without a nib

And a wristwatch over-wound.

 

A tiny snapshot – black and white,

A broken string of pearls.

An empty perfume bottle,

And some snipped off golden curls!

 

Again my thoughts winged backwards

Across so many years,

That pen I’d used to write him notes

Some mad, some sad, some funny.

 

The watch now minus its second hand,

The snap was one he took of me

In days when I was slender,

The pearls he gave me when our love was young

And sweet and tender.

 

The perfume – it was lavender –

I’ve always loved the scent.

On my wedding day I sprinkled it on my veil,

Then to the church I went.

 

Those curls were from our first-born son,

A loving, golden boy.

Three more children followed on

To bring us so much joy.

 

I gazed at these once precious things

And saw through misty tears,

The pageant of our life together

Through the passing years.

 

The dreams we shared, the plans we made,

They didn’t all come true.

But through those years we two had stayed

Together stuck like glue.

 

Suddenly my reverie was broken

When I heard my grand-daughter call.

I put the lid back on the box

And hurried down the hall.

 

“What were you doing, Grandma,

Cos you didn’t hear my knocks?”

“Not much” said I

“Just sorting memories in a chocolate box!”

 

Vi Charlton, 2020

 

If you’d like to see your writing appear in Write On! Showcase, please send your short stories, poetry or novel extracts to: pentoprint@lbbd.gov.uk Or you can read more fiction, poetry, interviews and author advice in the latest issue of Write On! Available here 

It was Julia who proposed using their own graffiti against them. She realised that while we saw a freshly washed building as a sign of order, it was a blank canvas to The Vandals. An invitation to rebel.