A Different Ending claims runner up place in Sidmouth story competition

Lyn Darrant won second place in the short story writing competition. Ref shs 03 19TI 8517. Picture:

Lyn Darrant won second place in the short story writing competition. Ref shs 03 19TI 8517. Picture: Terry Ife - Credit: Archant

Gripping short stories have secured two writers book vouchers as part of an annual story competition.

Sidmouth Writing Group asked the Herald to judge its entries in this year’s contest. Tasked with using the same introduction, the writers created wildly different, and sometimes terrifying, stories within the 1,000-word limit.

Here is the runner up entry written by Lyn Darrant.

A Different Ending by Lyn Darrant

It was one of those crisp early autumn days, the trees a vivid blaze of gold and bronze. Nearby, a man was raking fallen leaves onto a bonfire. I remember hearing the Clock Tower bell chiming. Ten o’clock. All appeared well but as I carried on along the road I couldn’t shake off a growing sense of unease. Was someone watching me?

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I stopped in my tracks and looked around. A handful of people were going about their daily business. I could see no one lurking in the shadows. It suddenly struck me as farcical that I could even think such a thing. My present condition was so new to me that I kept forgetting. I paused to look at the buckets of bright bouquets just inside a shop entrance.

“No flowers today,” I thought. I’d have to visit the bench without any.

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I turned into Blackmore Road and headed for the gardens. I noted the terracotta tiles that had once been the front verandah of the old hall, the last remaining sign that a house had existed there at all. Then I passed through a brick archway to the seat. Our seat, where we’d sat and dreamed and planned on sunny summer holidays, before we’d retired here.

Today was the anniversary of your death. Every year I’d brought flowers to leave here and sat a while thinking how one day we’d be together again. So I was totally unprepared when I rounded the corner and saw you sitting there with someone else.

“ George, my George with another woman. How could you?”

I studied her a while and recognised the neighbour who’d passed away a couple of weeks ago. There was no mistaking your feelings for her. One ghostly arm was wrapped around her shoulders while the other held her hand. I veered away blindly, wracked by jealousy, betrayal, and disbelief.

“What now, an eternity of being alone? Hadn’t I endured enough of that already?”

I walked back the way I’d come, not knowing what I was doing or where I was going. Soon I was approaching the man I’d passed earlier, the one raking leaves. It seemed to me now that he was robed in those leaves. He was wearing a tapestry coat of bronze and yellows and a wide-brimmed leather hat that sheltered his eyes. I shuddered recognising the same sensation of being watched that I’d experienced earlier.

As I drew closer he pushed the brim of the hat back from his face. I gazed into pale blue eyes that were familiar but struggled to place them. My mind scrolled back over a lifetime, the years of working, of raising a family, back to when I’d been a teenager and suddenly I’d remembered. It had been at a folk festival. The charismatic singer in the tapestry coat had chosen me at the front of the crowd to focus on for that night’s performance.

The words of the songs, which he written himself, had been aimed directly at me. I would never forget the resinous voice, the chiselled features, but most of all the pale blue eyes, which saw straight into my being. The crowd around me had seemed to evaporate and he stirred emotions I hadn’t known existed until then. After the performance he’d asked to see me but I’d declined, being shy and realising I was out of my depth. In the months following I’d bought all his albums, fantasised from time to time. Then I’d met George.

Standing now, looking into those same pale eyes, a truth hit me. I’d been the person he’d yearned for all those years. A single night, a connection; the one he’d allowed to get away. He held out his hands and I felt a heat stronger than the flames of the bonfire. He was offering a union now, a melding together of two souls. The alternative was an eternity of lonely wandering.

I stepped as close to the fire as I could, the flames licked higher. Those last left over feelings of being in a physical body lifted and wavered with the heat. I heard the clock tower strike. Eleven o’clock. I held his mesmerising gaze and smiled, noting the full depth of his feelings. I knew it would be all consuming.

It was a crisp autumn day, the trees a vivid blaze of gold and bronze. Why had it never occurred to me that hell might be wonderful?

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