Sidmouth short story competition winner announced - read the winning entry

Short story winner Chris Chapman with her prize. Ref shs 02 19TI 8281. Picture: Terry Ife

Short story winner Chris Chapman with her prize. Ref shs 02 19TI 8281. 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.

Winner - Out! by Chris Chapman

It was one of those crisp early autumn days, the threes 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.

As I approached the park, I glanced behind me, but there was no-one to be seen. Finding a bench I decided to stop for a while. It would give me a chance to catch the watcher out, or maybe just calm my paranoia. I noticed a dog walker throwing a ball for an energetic terrier, another scooping poop in a bag. Some mums and toddlers were sitting on blankets eating cake. Two children chased the oak leaves that swirled around them. In the distance some teenage boys were setting up a game of cricket. I could hear their teasing banter and boasts of hitting sixes.

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The sun was weak and a breeze was beginning to gather strength, blowing my fringe across my face. A I pushed it back another figure came into view twenty feet away. With a jolt I recognised the man of my nightmares, a terrifying reminder of the past. I felt him watching me as he stopped to light a cigarette, the flickering lighter revealing the deep scar across his cheek that I had caused all those years ago. He looked heavier now but still carried that air of confidence that had once atteacted me to him. Ehat a naïve, silly young woman I had been back then!

My heart was thumping and I began to hyperventilate. Breathe slowly. Relax your shoulders! Don’t let him see that you’ve noticed him. I pretended to enjoy the view while all the time my brain buzzed like a hive of bees, trying to figure out how this could be happening. Surely he got life, so how can he be a free man now, after only ten years? But then I suppose people rarely actually do a full life sentence these days. Wht hadn’t be informed he was out?

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I still couldn’t believe he was really there, stalking me again. I had been young when we married, thinking I’d found the pergect man, but Sam had soon begun to show his true colours. His increasingly controlling behaviour and his later violence towards me followed the typical pattern of abuse, as did my own responses as a victim. When I finally left him, he hunted me down and tried to kill me. This time I had fought back, which was how his face had been scarred, but this only fuelled his rage. Wrestling back the knife, he’d attacked me and left for me dead. Luckily someone reported the disturbance and I was saved, but I was physical and mental scars and years of recovery. When he was found guilty of attempted murder, I was relieved that he was to be locked away and that I was safe at last.

The old fear had reawakened at the sight of him and I knew I had to act fast. Taking my phone I called Jack who answered immediately and I breathed my message in a pre-agreed code.

“Sam. In the park.”

“On my way,” came the gruff reply and the call was ended. Feeling relieved I got up and started walking away from my ex-husband. Jack was in town and would find me via the app we had both installed on our phones, but it was best to keep moving.

I walked briskly, not daring to look back and was close to the park exit when a hand grabbed my arm, pulling me into the copse. And once more I found myself face to face with evil.

“Hello Grace,” he said softly, staring at me with his cold blue eyes. “Long time no see. Thanks to you I spent ten years locked up when you were the violent one” He pointed to the ugly scar on his cheek and I found myself staring at it, frozen with terror.

“I can see you haven’t changed. Still the same weak, ugly bitch. I wish you could see yourself.” He laughed in the same old way that used to turn my stomach, then pulled a knife from his coat.

“I’ve waited a long time for this. Now it’s time you got what you deserve.” I tried to scream but my voice failed me and I couldn’t move. It seemed that I was going to die after all. But then I heard a loud thwack and somehow Sam was on the ground lying still as a stone, open eyes staring, a trickle of blood on his face. Still terrified, I moved warily forward to bend over and feel for a pulse, but he was clearly dead. Then I saw it near his head. The cricket ball that had saved my life but taken his, At that moment, two boys came bursting through the trees to look for their ball and Jack, my second husband arrived. He pulled me into a fierce hug and quickly took charge of the situation, telling the shocked boys to go back and wait with their friends.

The police soon arrived and I explained everything, including my ex-husband’s second attempt to murder me, showing them the knife and the ball. They took the names of the young cricketers, nit told them it would be unlikely they would be charged with anything as it was an accident. The boys’ horror had turned to relief when they discovered they had saved my life and with their old bravado returning, they headed home. They thought that the ball was already rolling along the ground as it entered the trees, but the police had dismissed this as improbable.

After making a statement at the police station, we went home. Jack poured us some wine and we snuggled up on the sofa, talking quietly about what had happened. Still feeling dazed, my eyes strayed to a framed picture on the wall showing Jack standing with his cricket team holding up the trophy they’d won some years earlier. Noticing my distraction, Jack raised his glass.

“Yes I always had a good arm. And I still have, it seems,” and then he winked.

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