Winning Stories

Please take a moment to read these incredible stories that stand out from the crowd! 

Competition Theme: Fantasy 
Date: July

      Fixing Safa

By Qurra Saiyed

 

 

      The creepy shed at the end of Safa’s parents’ garden sat untouched for years. As her father grew older, he didn’t have the energy for DIY or gardening, and since Safa was staying over for the next few weeks, she thought she’d spruce the place up.

      As she entered, Safa jolted and squealed when a tiny spider shot across its web in front of her.

      ‘Is everything okay back there?’ her mum shouted from inside the house.

      ‘Yeah! Don’t worry, it’s all under control!’ Safa yelled back as a wrench clattered onto the floor.

      Safa searched for the rusty old toolbox, not thoroughly, of course, because she feared that all the little insects would be hiding underneath. She peered behind paint tins and peeped in some of the cupboards, but it wasn’t until she turned to leave that a silver toolbox that shone in the dark caught her attention. It’s shine made it look brand new, but was covered in ivy that wound around the middle.

      Unexpectedly, the toolbox opened and a bright orb floated out of it. Safa’s eyes widened and she moved towards it, forgetting all about creepy crawlies that lurked in the shadows.

      When the orb reached eye level, Safa outstretched her arm to touch it, but her finger penetrated through the light. Nothing happened for a second and Safa frowned with confusion, but as she continued to stand frozen, her surroundings blurred into a different reality. In any other situation like this, Safa would have descended into a panic, but an odd calmness overcame her as she succumbed to the force that drove her. The dusty shed dissipated and she found herself in the living room of an apartment. She observed and absorbed, and Safa realised that she knew this place extremely well.

      Safa looked out the window and noticed how different everything appeared. A dated Cadbury advert on a billboard caught her attention. The cars parked on the street below weren't top of the range, instead, a collection of eyesores compared to the ones she had grown accustomed to.

      As she settled into the cushioned sofa that swallowed her up, Safa noticed her outfit for the first time. It was hideous, and the waterfall cardigan made her look like a grandma. She was certain it was the one she found at the back of her wardrobe a few years ago and chucked out. Discombobulated, she turned on the TV and her stomach dropped when she saw the date. Friday 4th October 2013. The year stood out like a sore thumb. Everyone has a year in their life that stands out for good or for worst, and 2013 was certainly that year for Safa. The year her life changed forever.

      If she had travelled back in time, that made her twenty-four years old. Gosh, it felt like yesterday that she was carefree and busy having fun. Responsibility and consequence were non-existent, but over the years, the burden of struggle and hardship has taken its toll on her body and mind.

      Safa approached the full-length mirror in her bedroom and gently touched her youthful face. It was unbelievable how so much stress could change the human skin in five years. She sighed and turned to leave, but a thought manifested in her mind like the diagnosis of a fatal illness. Her heart raced and she twisted inside. Did danger lurk just around the corner?

      Safa stood still for a few minutes, but the sound of her ringtone jolted her back to reality. Her heart dropped to the floor and her limbs shook. She found the courage to locate her phone and look at the screen, but she feared the person on the other end of the call.

      It was Shair.

      Should she answer?

      Shit! She missed it. If he didn’t call back in the next ten minutes, Safa would have to return the call.

      Gently, she rocked on the dining chair.

      Twenty-four; she remembered the birthday vividly. Safa had planned a road trip with her closest friends, and considering she hadn’t had much to look forward to, she had been incredibly excited. However, Shair told her he had something in mind and wanted to show her how special she was; that she would have the best birthday of her life. Safa believed it was to make up for how badly she had been treated, so she decided to give him the opportunity. Nevertheless, the road trip with her friends had been cancelled. Shair had given her a location that she had been expected to drive to, but when she arrived, it was a random street. No restaurants, no surprises, and no Shair. Safa tried calling him, but there was no answer.

      She waited.

      And waited.

      Her mind and body turned into a tumultuous sea of emotion. She didn’t know whether to be angry or worried about his wellbeing, but her gut told her he was fine.

      The sun began to set as she cried herself numb, and hours later, she made the two-hour drive home. The worst birthday ever. The excuse? He had been arrested, wrong place-wrong time, that sort of thing. Apparently, one of his friends was in possession of drugs in Shair’s car.

      A migraine squeezed her skull as she pondered the past, so she forced herself to remove the thoughts from her mind.

      Her ringtone startled her for a second time. It was Shair again. Safa had a good mind to ignore him, but the consequences could be dire. She didn’t know how long the toolbox would allow her to be here, and she didn’t wish to make things any more difficult for herself. Would she ever be able to get back? What kind of a stupid toolbox was it anyway? If she couldn’t return, she had to get rid of Shair sooner rather than later, but if the toolbox could take her back, she needed to act with care. Safa couldn’t waste any more time.

      She answered the phone.

      ‘Hey.’

      She probably should have sounded more excited.

      ‘Why did it take you so long to answer?’

      ‘Oh, I was in the bathroom. Sorry.’

      ‘It’s okay. I was going to ask if you wanted to hang out? Did you have anything planned?’

       Safa placed her thumb and index finger at the top of her nose between her brows and took a seat on a dining chair. What would she tell him? There was no way she could act her usual self, she hadn’t seen him for years!

      Should she break up with him right now?

      That would be ridiculous, and he wouldn’t ever leave her alone.

      ‘You still there? Hello?’

      ‘Yeah, sorry, I was, um, had something in the oven.’

      She walked over to the kitchen and began clattering trays.

      ‘Hmm, you cooking something?’

      ‘Nothing special, just a pasty.’

      What was she doing? Stop, Safa, she told herself, but she didn’t know how else to deal with him.

      ‘Nice. Can I taste some?’

      She should have known.

      ‘Of course! That’s if I haven’t eaten it all.’

      ‘So, is that an invitation for me to come over?’

      ‘Sure.’

      ‘Okay, cool. I’ll finish work in a couple of hours, get comfortable, and then be there around seven-thirty. That okay?’

      ‘Yeah, that’s fine.’

      ‘Okay then, see you later.’

      ‘Bye.’

      Great. Absolutely great.

      Safa showered with haste and changed into something her twenty-nine-year old self approved of. She found some money and rushed to the local Co-op Food. There wasn’t much of a selection, but she was lucky enough to spot a cheese and vegetable pasty, so she dropped a couple of boxes into her basket.

Back at home, Safa could finally relax. She placed the pasties into the oven, lightly painted her face and collapsed onto the living room sofa. Shair would arrive in 45 minutes. The silence of the apartment transported her to another memory. A pillow fight at Shair’s place. He stared deep into her eyes.

       ‘I could watch you all day,’ he said softly.

       She rose from the sofa to make herself a coffee. Whilst she waited for the kettle, she remembered the day he grabbed her by the hair.

       ‘You like that, don’t you?’ he asked.

       She had reached a stage where she never knew what to say to him. It was as though Shair was in a relationship with himself; she could only do what she was permitted to do.

       His face was about an inch away from hers. ‘I could kill someone if I had to, you know.’ She looked away from him, but he demanded eye contact. ‘Do you know that?’

      Safa dipped her brow at him, confused. What exactly did he want her to say?

      She took her coffee to the living room and switched on the TV. She had to remind herself that this had all already passed and the future was brighter. She knew this. There was nothing to worry about, but a fluttering anxiety kept her mind occupied. Although a TV soap had sparked her interest, something sparkly in the corner of her eye distracted her.

      She turned to find the same toolbox on the carpeted floor. Safa approached it with caution and carefully opened it. A note floated out and hovered at eye level. She scooped it up and it dropped, lifeless, into her palm.

      Once unfolded, it read: You could leave now, leave it all behind, or change what has passed, so the memories don’t last, unlearn what you’ve learnt, so you don’t get burnt, and the hardship you know, gets overturned.

      Safa analysed the message. What could it mean?

      She took the note back to her seat and picked up a snow globe from the nest of tables on the way. The cool glass pressed against her clammy hands helped to sooth her nerves. Safa watched the small particles float around within the sphere, like a whirlpool of memories that slowly settled at the back of one’s mind.

      The sound of a car door snapped her back to reality. He was here! But all at once, a host of emotions and memories engulfed her.

      This was it.

      Safa knew what the note meant.

      She knew why she had been brought back to this day. The horrific day that destroyed her for many years.

      She peeped through the blinds. There he was, carrying the bottle in his hand, disguised as a drink. She knew exactly what was about to happen next.

      Shair would make his way upstairs and Safa would let him in. Soon, he would ask if she wanted a drink while she fills the kettle. She would accept. Ten minutes later, her vision would blur and there would be another knock at the door. Shair would offer to open it and tell her to lie down. The person at the door would be his friend, the one who made a profit from distributing explicit media. Safa would demand that he leaves, but they won’t listen. They’ll ignore her when she lashes out as they try to drag her around with their fingers deep in her skin. Safa will try her best to scream, but no one will arrive to rescue her. In the struggle, she will somehow grab the bottle and smash it over one of their heads. Shair’s friend will wrap his hand around her neck in an attempt to choke her. Her screams will be stifled, but she will fight. Shair won’t want her dead, not when there is blood in the apartment and the risk of being caught. Shair will punch his friend, who will let go, but his friend will be erratic and bring his body close to hers, the stench of cigarettes lacing his breath.

       ‘I will destroy you! I will be waiting for you at every corner and force you to live a miserable life,’ he will say.

       Those words, the entire incident, and the future stalking will haunt her for years. Shair will shout at Safa as though it was all her fault. Her body will be broken and bruised, but the adrenaline fuelling her veins will allow her to stand and reach for her mobile phone.

       ‘We’re leaving. Stop!’

       Shair will fling the phone across the room and drag his friend out.

       ‘I’ll call you later,’ he will say before shutting the door behind him.

       The sound of the doorbell sent shivers all over her.

       No.

       She couldn’t relive it.

       She had healed.

       It had taken Safa years, but she had accomplished so much, learnt great lessons, and was thankful that she had made immense progress. But the toolbox gave her another chance. A chance to change her past, eradicate this trauma from her life. Would she take it? Did she need it? She had often wondered how different her life would have been, but given the opportunity to undo everything, she hesitated.

       But why?

       Safa was a different person now, no longer fighting to survive. She had made it and had proven that it was possible to bounce back, even if it took years. She was proud. And more importantly, her lessons would be wasted, someone else would take advantage, just like Shair, and she would never know until another trauma comes her way.

       Shair knocked on the door. ‘Safa! You there?’

       Safa rushed to the toolbox and placed the note back inside. An orb floated out.

       ‘Take me back. Please, take me back,’ she whispered.

       The room filled with lustrous light and she thought she might have passed out, but within an instant, Safa was back in the shed and the toolbox disappeared, leaving no trace of its existence. She looked around, took a deep breath, and slowly exhaled. It’s over. She would never ask what if or say if only again. She was content. Her life wasn’t perfect, but she wanted to make the best of it and work hard to achieve that.

       Safa turned to the shelf where she had found the ivy-covered toolbox. It had been replaced with her father’s red one that was brighter than a London bus. Safa smiled and reached over to it, but a big, black spider descended from the ceiling.

       ‘AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!’ she screamed and darted out the shed.

       ‘Safa? You okay?’ Her mum yelled again.

       ‘Damn these spiders, Mum, I hate them!’

       Her mum’s laughter provided Safa with comfort and she even chuckled herself.

Competition Theme: Revenge 

Date: January 2020

The Golden Rose 

By Andrew Kaye

 

www.andrewkaufman.co.uk

Follow Andrew on Twitter: @JKaye82

       Esther turns the corner into Staroievreiska, unsure her feet can take her much further. The cobbled stones are uneven and there are no walls to help smooth the path. The Golden Rose synagogue used to be located at the end on the left, before you reach the Arsenal. That was what the kind Ukrainian woman at the hotel had said.

       Taking slow, deliberate steps, Esther sees the city’s emblem of a proud lion, visible in the brickwork opposite, but fading.     

       ‘Just like me’, she thinks to herself. She wishes she had agreed to Joe’s proposal.

 

       ‘Look, I understand why you want to go to Lviv. I do. I just don’t think you should go alone. You don’t have a stick. How will anyone know they need to help you?’

       'Help me? Why would anyone need to help me? They might want to. But please, Joe. I thought you knew me better by now. I don’t need anything. Not from anyone.’

 

       ‘Too damn proud,’ she mutters under her breath. There it is. The empty plot. She gasps. Memorial stones inscribed in Hebrew only have birds for company. They flutter their wings in the breeze.

       Behind the surviving synagogue wall, one of the city’s many cathedral steeples rises in the background. This is where Levi’s family came to pray. For decades, generations of them, hunched, came every Friday evening and Saturday morning. She imagines them dressed warmly in their overcoats, with the men in top hats. This is where Levi even had his Barmitzvah. She couldn’t visualise him as a young man. To her, he was always brittle. Repressed.

       High above, clouds give way to a pale sun. It seems implausible, she thinks to herself, that this space used to hold daily services, weddings, funerals. A couple of tourists chatter as they walk past.

       ‘Look, Marvin, this is where there used to be a synagogue. Isn’t it so devastating to think. All those people.’

       ‘I know. This is where Schindler’s List was filmed wasn’t it?’

       ‘No, come on, that’s in Poland. We were there three years ago, in Kra-cow. Have a look here.’

       Esther inhales, ‘I didn’t bring Joe, but I have stupid Americans for company.’

       The memorial stones are neatly lined up like well-behaved children. The first is dripping wet. Hard as she tries, she can’t decipher the silver print. It is a quote of some kind, Martin Buber, perhaps? Her central vision is the least reliable of guides. She dapples the rain drops on the surface of the stone just behind but realises only later that in the patterns she is drawing, she is producing tears. She peers in, half in hope that she might find Levi’s name.

       

       ‘The entire history of the Jews in this city comes together in this close, fenced in little courtyard. And from the old walls of the synagogue, the cold, the frost of the ages beat down, the shudder of four long centuries…’

 

       Drizzle starts to tickle her ears when she notices the sole tree in the small square, naked except amber-coloured leaves. It stands out against the dull greys and greens of the algae-covered wall.

       ‘What an amazing place. So incredible,’ the American woman says to Esther.

       ‘Yes, it is.’

       ‘What brings you out here? To Ukraine?’

       ‘So many things. It’s hard to…’

       ‘My husband Marvin and I have some roots in Russia. We never could quite work out where. So we have been spending at least one vacation every year in this part of Europe. Visiting all the old sites, you know.’

       Esther smoothes her fingers across the rainwater and slowly washes it off. ‘I am sorry, I hope you understand, but I need to be by myself. Sorry.’

       ‘Oh, yes. Of course. Do take care. And if you need a hand…’ the American woman adds.

       ‘I am fine, thank you. But it is kind of you to ask.’

       Esther notices a single satellite dish a couple of storeys above, on the side of a pastel pink residential block. Her eyelids feel heavy, she wishes to be transported.

       ‘I am struggling to know how to help. Levi, tell me darling, how can I help?’ Esther remembers now how she paced around their living room.

       ‘The past is better left where it belongs, in the past.’

       ‘Is it these nightly broadcasts? We don’t have to watch them, I mean I don’t have to. If it upsets you. The televised trial, it’s a lot to absorb. Too much, perhaps.’

       ‘Eichmann? Jerusalem?’

       ‘Yes, the news footage. I know it can’t be easy.’

       ‘Well, the bastard has it coming. I don’t mind you watching it, but I don’t need to. You understand.’

       ‘I do. But it might help to discuss, sometime at least.’

       ‘We’ll have our revenge, that’s all I care about. The verdict will be reached soon enough. Let him hang, that’s all I care about.’

       Esther remembers how pallid Levi was, his colourless eyes and lack of appetite. Before he killed himself. Joe had encouraged her to open up, following one of his regular charity visits to her Hampstead home.

       ‘What a naive young woman, I was. That last month, May 1961. I should have sensed what was happening.’

       ‘You can’t blame yourself. Everything your husband had to experience and live through, no one can possibly imagine what that was like. You told me he left a note’, Joe ventured.

       ‘Time doesn’t heal. Not truly. It didn’t for him. The note came as the greater shock. Somehow, when I saw him, his head drooping in the garage, I wouldn’t say…I wouldn’t say it wasn’t a shock, but there was a logic to it. I knew from the very first moment we met, he had one of those awful tattoos imprinted on him. But it was the note that spoilt everything. And explained everything, too. And it hasn’t provided any closure. Just questions. So many damn questions.’

       ‘You don’t have to go on, only if you want,’ Joe said.

       ‘He ended up at Janowska, close to the city his family all lived. Lviv. Have you heard of it? I think it used to be called Lemberg when his parents first settled there. Then, it was a fine, civilised place. Under the Austrians. But by 1942, it was all over. The synagogue he used to pray in. All gone. Bombed. Buried. He never really did come to understand what happened to his family. But his note did explain one thing. A secret.’

       Esther opens her umbrella and hears Marvin and his wife’s voices turning to whispers, something about whether they should offer one last time to help, to invite her for a late lunch. She pivots away, crouching nearer to what appears to be the final memorial stone.

       Putting on her gloves, she wipes away the water to reveal text from a woman this time, a Janina Hescheles-Altman.

       ‘I return in my imagination to Lwów…I return, knowing that my Lwów is everywhere; it speaks to everyone.’ Esther can’t decipher the middle section, but taking a deep breath, reads the final words aloud. ‘Lost their family in violent circumstances.’

       She wonders whether she will ever see this place again. She is eighty-one and accepts this will be her only visit. Taking a last nervous glance, she narrows her eyes to see what other remnants of Levi’s family past she can witness. There are a few shrubs growing out of the soil. Small traces of brickwork where the bimah might have once stood are metres away. Is that where Levi was invited to recite his Torah portion, she ponders. Beyond, alcoves point to a world that no longer exists, of burning menorah candlelights and nights full of songs and laughter.

       Taking another look, she resents the satellite dish protruding from the apartment block. Who watches television here? She has an image of the plump Ukrainian woman she saw in the hotel lobby with a purple tint to her dark hair. She was putting her feet up on a stool watching a programme about the new President, funnily enough, a comedian. And a Jew, by all accounts.

       A last turn of the head. She notices the faintest of marks in the right-hand corner of the synagogue wall. Exposed beneath the peeling paint is original Hebrew text, who knows, possibly one of the Ten Commandments.

       ‘Thou shall not kill,’ she utters out loud.

       Esther knows the minute she leaves, the finality of the act will leave her feeling more distant, as if she was thousands of miles from this place, more distant even from her first husband. The one she couldn’t be a proper wife to, the man she couldn’t turn into a father.

       Winding down the path, she is at a loss to know what to do. She wants to be far away from the Americans, from any other tourists.

       Next door she finds a restaurant with panels patterned with dancing red lions, dandelions and doves.

‘Heavens!’

       She stumbles on the steps leading in, her sense of powerlessness rising from her belly to her throat.

       ‘Welcome. Let me take your umbrella and coat.’ A young man exits the restaurant to guide her in. ‘I can show you to a table for one. Would you like a seat by the window, overlooking The Golden Rose?’

       ‘I won’t be able to see very much of it, but it is the thought that counts. Yes, that feels right. Thank you.’

       She shivers and wipes away a tear.

       On the menu there’s Cholent, with pearl barley and smoked goose. There’s something she thinks is spelt Lazanki, with duck and vegetables. She scans for something simpler. There. Chicken and vermicelli soup!

       Breaking the dry Matzah bread that accompanies the soup, she looks out of the window, but again, the view is obscured by the fog of her macular degeneration.

       ‘What would you like to order, Madam?’ the waiter asks, rain now pattering hard on the panes.

       ‘I would love the chicken soup. I will order two, please. My husband used to love my chicken soup.’

       ‘That is a great choice!’

       The young man has silver ear piercings and tattoos underneath his rolled up sleeves.

       After slurping both bowls, Esther orders a Turkish coffee. ‘Can I ask you something? I am curious. Are you from here? From Lviv, I mean?’

       ‘In fact, I am from the Czech Republic but I started working here just over a year ago. I like it.’

       ‘And do you know very much about the city’s past? About The Golden Rose opposite?’

       ‘I must admit, I don’t. I know it used to be a temple, my boss tells me to learn more, because we get so many customers from Russia, the States. Even Israel.’

       Esther looks at his tattoos, which are a labyrinth of lines. He is dressed well, in tight trousers, a collarless shirt and a fine wool jumper. She is tempted to run her fingers across his forearm.

       ‘You are a fine looking fellow. I can’t see very much, but I can at least see that,’ she laughs.

       ‘Well, don’t tell my boyfriend you said that, you will make him very jealous.’

       ‘And what’s more, I can see you’re blushing!’ Esther enjoys teasing.

       ‘I’m Pavol. It’s so nice to talk to you.’

       ‘The Golden Rose was named after a book in fact, by David Halevi. It was devastated once before, I read, sometime in the early 1600s. The land was confiscated. For monks!’

       Esther notices scrawled handwriting at the bottom of the bill. It’s similar to Levi’s. She wishes she had spectacles that could help correct her vision. She wishes she didn’t have this damn condition.

       ‘I cannot be what you need me to be, or what I wanted to be. I cannot be anything but what I am. There is so much I don’t understand about what happened in the war. So much I haven’t been able to process. I still can’t comprehend. One fact I can only obsess over is that

I couldn’t save my younger cousin. It is consuming me. I saw him taken away at Janowska. I can’t stop seeing his face. I only tell you this now to try and help at least provide some meaning. My cousin was forced to wear the pink triangle. While I managed to escape, at least to the margins, with my yellow star, he had no such fortune. He could hide, integrate, but he didn’t. But he and I weren’t very different. Not in essence. I only go knowing whatever this trial achieves, - whatever happens to Adolf Eichmann - it can only be outweighed by all the terrible injustices. The incalculable injustice. I am so sorry, my love. So very sorry. You deserve every happiness.’

      In January 1962 Esther bought every newspaper she could. Eichmann had been sentenced to hang. His body was cremated and his ashes spread in the Mediterranean. She didn’t think it was adequate. There were others, like him, living normal lives in Latin America. She heard rumours. There was talk of the man in charge of physical experiments at Auschwitz living in Argentina or Brazil.

       Pavol’s piercings reflect the light off one of the fake chandeliers. Another handsome young man enters the restaurant. Esther is surprised when he playfully touches Pavol’s midriff. His boyfriend, Esther imagines. She smiles, ‘what lucky boys.’

       Sighing, she tries to read Pavol’s handwritten note on the bill.

       ‘How was your meal?’

       ‘Perfect, it was just what I needed,’ Esther says.

       ‘Do you want me to call a taxi back to your hotel?’

       ‘No, that’s fine. I am ready now.’

       She opens the door, raising her head to the rain. ‘Your handwriting. It’s so very much like my husband’s.'

The End

The Hourglass 

By Natalie Beddows

Follow Natalie on Instagram: @herecomesurman

       In the emptiness and silence of the forest stood an unusually large house. The curves of the architecture moulded to the shape of the gnarled trees as the branches wove their way between the bricks, whispering in the wind and rain. The forest was his garden, filled with branches encasing giant stones like his numbing heart.

       A canopy of twisted trees created a cape that shrouded the house in obscurity. The decaying flowers shrivelled from the lack of sunlight, like the dust-smothered furniture inside, slowly perishing.

       Inside, the moon forced itself through the musty windows and painted streaks of glimmering light across the floor. A wide beam illuminated the only being that lived in the house, reflecting off his copper-coloured fur. His eyes were an unexpected, pallid blue and as round as the moon. Almost friendly - but not quite.

       An hourglass stood in the fragile, gold-rimmed cupboard in the distant corner, confined by the walls the colour of chestnut. The panels of the cupboard were blurry from the thick layer of dust that had built up over the many years of his idle existence. Unlike the

steadily ticking clocks that watched his every motion, the fine grains of sand inside the hourglass were stuck in the same moment, unmoving for an eternity.

       He mumbled to himself under his muggy breath as he sat in his crimson chair. Its velvet upholstery hung in tatters, shredded from his cursory bursts of violence. He slouched into the cushions, stretching out his bowed legs. The chill in the house made the thick, rusty hairs on his body rise. All he did was think about the family who left him and the life he never had.

       By his chair was an age-old bottle of whisky with a deep crack in the top that he drank from. When he was hungry, he prepared thick slabs of meat, slicing them slowly and skilfully. He ate them raw, savouring the tenderness with each bite. The smoky scent of whisky and festering flesh made him feel alive.

       Looking at his crooked, beastly body, he caught himself in the mirror. Running his huge hands over his fur, it stood up in the cold frost of the house. The many clocks of his ancestors stood suspended in time. They attempted to catch their breath as he lingered in front of the mirror. He staggered and the clocks inhaled, resuming their consciousness.

       He loathed himself. His life in the bleak forest which was only inhabited by the stones, the trees and himself. Contemplating what it would be like to not be alone, he rapidly poured another drink, inhaling the strong scent of the whiskey. Without warning, he threw the delicate glass at the wall and watched it disintegrate into the floor. The remains of the alcohol enriched the oak floorboards as he stood in the opposite corner to the hourglass, soaking up the solitary silence of the house.

       Swaying towards the window, he sat in the musty window seat that had a decaying opulence. He picked up the half-read book that was thrown on the floor the day before and flicked through it to distract his anguished mind. He stared through the window to the world

below, admiring the undergrowth that encased the house; bushy with the bloody and delicious berries he loved to pick. They were so juicy and sweet! A perfect dressing for the fly-speckled cut of meat that hung in the kitchen.

       Through the house he clambered, ascending the broad staircase that was covered with a flowing crimson rug to match his chair upstairs. He hurled his whole body through the door, which opened like the sky when it releases a torrent of rain. The moonlight reflected off of his mane, an orange beacon in the night. At the bushes he grabbed fat fistfuls of ripe berries and thrust them into his mouth, the juice bled and stained his worn face. As he was eating, the round moon slipped away…

       The sky revealed itself to him. Muted tones of oranges, pinks and reds. Paler than his fur. The pastel colours blended into one making a masterpiece in the sky, like the paintings on the walls inside, but softer and more subdued. He wished he could caress it with his rough hands, but it was untouchable. His gaze intensified towards the sky and he became entranced by the beauty – he was trapped within the time limits of an hourglass while everything was still. Not even his cursed thoughts about his family would puncture his mind now.

       In the distance there was a warm glow which resembled the sunset in the pastel sky. His eyes focused as it grew closer and closer, eventually turning into hundreds of small eyes staring back at him. It was a pack of wolves, all with golden orbs for eyes. Ink black fur - sharp in contrast to the heavens above. He mulled about how beautifully malignant they were and wondered how they got into the woods. They each took a different direction, flowing through the forest with elegance. The wolves cautiously approached him and encircled him, creating a full moon. Inhaling the air surrounding his form, they choked on the scent of whiskey and raw flesh. He towered above them, but they showed no fright. Their heads turned, all at once, towards the corridor of trees that parted. Another figure was revealed.

       The wolves ran towards the apparition and followed it in the formation of a narrow, pointed arrow from behind. She was enveloped in a white dress that flowed like a waterfall and the silk poured onto the ground, forming a stream behind her. Her elfin body was accentuated by the velvety radiance of the sky above, but her face was invisible. It was hidden behind what looked like a mask – bearing the same attributes as the wolves that followed her – tightly strapped to her face. It was covered in a cluster of black fur with pointed, alert ears. He could see into her eyes behind the mask, circular and blue like his, which revealed small details about her character. He imagined her thin lips, the same colour as the berries, and her skin shaded like the sky. The last time someone walked through this forest was when his family left.

       Slowly, he gravitated towards her. The wolves remained silent and did not move. They sat with curious and impenetrable eyes. Her dress blew in the breeze, creating ripples in the air, winding him in. He wanted to look further into her eyes, beyond the mask, and discover what lay within. Nearly stumbling over the stones with his deformed legs, he stood in front of her. They could now hear each other breathing. Her icy breath created a layer of frost on his face. Using his hooked hands, he caressed her silky face, realising that it was not a mask. The hair flourished from the grooves of her skin and those pointed ears were real.

       His whole body twitched as he backed away. Fear quivered through his limbs for the first time as they began to convulse. Was this the effect of the whiskey? But she was still standing there, not moving, watching him like a famished vulture. He fell to the floor and all the sound drained from his fuzzy ears.

       Awake, he turned his head. Unable to move the rest of his body. He was imprisoned in a circle of trees, splayed out on a rotting stump. He was away from the enclosure of his home, stuck in the heavy umbra of the forest. The moon had made its return, circular and full.

The sky no longer full of those delicate colours, just a boundless black hole. He could hear her delicate steps moving towards him, crunching on the ochre leaves. She slowly pricked out his eyes one at a time, blinding him to the possibilities of life.

       With the little strength left inside his body, he heaved himself up. He loomed above her, contorted like the trees in the forest, yet she had the power of sight. He felt his chest rip open as she dragged a dagger towards the ground. His heart - hurt and full of untamed desires - poured out onto the dry leaves below, enriching the soil. He crumpled and fell onto the forest floor, his body broken more than ever before.

       All that was left was a lump of lifeless fur and an empty body.

              Ravished by time.

        The sand in the hourglass began to fall again.

The End

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