The 500-word Write-A-Chapter writing competition was held again very recently.
The first chapter in any book is the most important. You have such little time and space to grab the reader and make them want to keep reading. The hook has to be there. The thing that keeps them glued and gains that first investment of attention, and this competition, with only 500 words to set the scene, introduce character(s), give setting, plot, story arc etc, was incredibly hard.
This was the third time I’ve held the Write-A-Chapter competition and with a record number of writers taking part the standard was very high from the outset.
In previous contests, I have used a pre-written prologue and stipulated a number of rules that the chapter must contain. This year was a little different as the only requirements were that the story must be set in space and feature a talking robot. That was it. The rest was down to the imagination of the writer.
From the initial submissions, Mary Doyle (previous winner, now a dear friend, gifted writer, co-judge and all round lovely person) and I filtered them down to a shortlist of ten. Those ten were then asked to provide a second chapter, again with a limit of 500 words. They also had less time, only a couple of days really to get their submissions in, and blimey! They were all just incredible.
Mary and I read them through, discussed, read again, deliberated, dissected and eventually chose the top two. Both of these are fantastic and so very enjoyable to read. I’ve added them below so sit back and let your eyes gobble the words and feed them into your brain that will release some nice chemicals of happiness.
In 1st place with a prize of £150
Jason Salyers with this entry
Clara the cow smelled like a wet dog drizzled in poo and it added little to the intimacy of our moment. I climbed under her anyway and whispered my sweet-honeyed words, but Clara bristled and clucked and acted like she resented our relationship — or possibly my squeezing her lady parts while yanking them like handles.
She was a puzzle, that Clara.
She surprised me then with a gentle love tap from one of her thick spider-cow mandibles, which provided me with a wonderful opportunity for much-needed rest. I awoke later with a new shiny lump on my forehead and three new thoughts in my mind:
1) My feelings for Clara had cooled
2) Her milk—and our magic—were gone
3) Larry and I were up cow-stink creek without perfume or paddle
4) My head really, really hurt
5) And I can’t count to three with a concussion.
It was a phallicky phallus of a long hauler who forced us from his convoy and dropped us on this planet four years ago. After a week of weeping (me), wandering (Larry) and weeping (me again), Larry and I began hunting, squishing and eating every smallish arthropod we could find.
A year later, we stumbled into a farm of tiny unarmed (literally) natives who fled before the threat of our squishings. It was a nice spot, so we settled in, become farmers, and waited for our rescue. Three years and a billion liters of spider juice later, the rains stopped falling, our food stopped growing and Clara’s teats withered like my mother’s love.
“Boss!” Larry interrupted as he pushed into the barn. He never respected my brooding, that Larry.
“Remember when you asked for ideas,” he asked.
“No, I asked you …”
“I found one!” he squeeled—loudly.
“Oh, god. Um … look … Larry … my head really, really hurts, and …”
“But we’re not trapped,” he said and I ignored.
“…Clara’s gone dry,” I continued, “and … and …” and I started sobbing— big, loud, bouncy and shameful. Even the cow was embarrassed.
“Listen, Boss,” he pleaded, “I found a way back to the Shine!”
That broke through. I stopped crying and looked hard at him through puffy wet eyes.
“Um … what did you find,” I asked.
“You sure you wanna know?” he asked.
“I said I did, Larry.”
“No, you asked me to tell you,” he said.
“Oh, please don’t…”
He went on, “I’m just saying that if you really wanted …”
“ALRIGHT,” I yelled and winced. My purple skull-egg thrummed in pain. “I want to know, okay?”
The two Larry’s (wasn’t there just one?) reached into their vests and pulled out a piece of paper. Or pieces.
“It’s so simple! All we need to do is …”
Larry froze — mid-sentence. Mid-smile. Mid-hallelujah of a fucking miracle he would never finish. His battery had died and I hated him for it.
No perfume. No paddle. No hope.
I couldn’t even brood for the weeping.
Eventually, the tears stopped and I drifted into a concussed and dehydrated heap on the floor—but I felt much better when I awoke.
I explored the lump on my head and found it was healing well, so I sat up and looked around. Larry, my recently disempowered robot, remained in his previous position, but I was surprised to find that everything but his face was cocooned in thick white silk, making him look like a creepy, giant, smiling cashew.
“Fuck that,” I said.
Clara, I noticed, had a guilty look in her eyeballs as she occasional glanced at me from her corner. That was enough for me. I stood, brushed my hands on my pants and said to myself, “Dobbins, it’s time to get off this world.” So I pulled a pair of shears from the wall and went to cut Larry free.
That’s when I noticed his paper on the floor. Clara must have knocked it free when she was wrapping him in a Larry Burrito for later.
I picked it up and unfolded it, discovering a picture of a man wearing bright purple robes. His dark hair was greased back, which made him look like a used shuttle salesman who won at the races.
The other pictures on the sheet showed the same man happily standing among masses of tiny aliens—like the ones we drove away from our farm. Weird. The title was in galactic standard and it read: “Most Holy & Reverend Barnabas Wilson.”
That’s when it got it. If this Barnie guy lives on this planet, he most likely has access to ships that could return me to the Shine!
My giggling turned into laughter as I jumped into action and tied Larry The Sticky Sack to Clara’s body. Then my laughter turned into guffaws as I led her and Larry The Man Bag towards the barn’s heavy door. I then dropped her lead and pushed the door open wide, doubling over to keep myself in control as I grabbed Clara’s lead and turned back to guide them outside.
I looked up, then, and my maniacal laughter died with a throttled wheeze. Surrounding us and extending into the hills beyond was a mass horde of pissed-off aliens—with no arms. Millions of tiny teeth glittered in the light of the setting sun as they growled at me in unison. Then they began lunging in small, synchronized leaps, communicating intentions to charge.
Instead of running away from the fight—or even running to it—I tossed back my head and released what was now my most lost-my-fucking-mind cackle. But as my head went back, I noticed a large rock falling from the sky, which then proceeded to land with a thunk on my thunked-up lump, crumpling my poor body to the ground.
In my final moments, I had time for one thought, one question to ring through the ages, and this is what I asked:
How the fuck can they throw rocks without hands?
In 2nd place with a prize of £50
Jamie Mi with this entry:
In a desolated village on the planet Hatej, a bell rang four tolls. A buyer, foreigner to Hatej and here for the sole purpose of receiving his purchase, smoked lazily at a bench as he registered the agreed time of the package drop-off. He had been keeping an eye on the ugly blue fountain, as was the negotiated location, but aside from a lone girl sitting at the fountain and a group of rambunctious young men entering a coffee shop, the square was empty.
He waited a few minutes longer; this investment was his largest in all his fifty years after all. Still keeping an eye on the fountain, he duly watched as the loud men, seven of them, bullied the coffee-maker and trash the place. By the time these men had finished and were filing outside, the man could only assume with disgruntled acceptance, that his trader wouldn’t move until he revealed himself first.
The man approached the fountain where the tiny girl sat. She was ten years at most, in a neat blue dress with her ankles crossed and her chestnut hair in waves to her shoulders.
The girl looked up with large, crystal-blue eyes; her face expressionless.
“You lost, little one?” he asked gruffly.
When she didn’t move to speak or run, he could only assume she was either dumb or terrified. Before he could tell her away however, multiple footsteps approached from behind.
The snickering that followed made it clear who it was.
“A big, old man cornering a wee little girly?” a nasal voice started with glee. “My, the world’s such a terrible place.”
“Good thing we around to teach ‘im a lesson,” another said, cracking his knuckles with a laugh.
The rest of the group joined in the laughter.
“Why don’t you get going, kid,” the older man suggested to the girl, snuffing out his cigarette with a boot. “It’ll get a bit messy here.”
“Time: 16:12.” The girl spoke, her childish voice devoid of any emotion. “Location: Sindi Square, Hatej. Voice identified, confirmed twice. Buyer: Grey Reaper.”
She stood and bowed.
“I am T685236, yours to use and command. What is your desire, Master Reaper?”
Behind the man, whispers had already begun and one name was being repeated, each time said more fearfully than the last. The Grey Reaper, destroyer of three planets and mass murder in twenty-six, was well feared and wanted dead across the galaxy.
“I asked for the latest killing machine,” the notorious man said chuckling. “Something powerful, lightweight, indestructible. This– well this is going to be amusing.”
He drew a new smoke from his pocket and lit it.
The men began running, sprinting, cursing as they prayed.
“You say you’re my new weapon then?”
“Yes, Master Reaper.”
“Let’s test your speed and durability first then,” he mused.
The Grey Reaper lit his smoke, inhaling deeply.
Her bright blue eyes stared up at him, waiting.
He blew out lazily with a feral grin.
“Do you wish for their bodies to remain intact, Master?”
“I don’t care.”
“Do you intend to collect their belongings after, Master?”
“If you have no specific method you wish for me to carry out, I will begin, Master.”
The man snorted. “I was expecting they’d be dead by now, actually.”
“My apologies, Master.” And she was gone.
The droid had simply taken a step forward and disappeared. His head swiveled toward the men only to find them slewn on the ground, or rather butchered – indistinct limbs and flesh slathered across a slow pool of seven men’s blood. Standing just ahead, unblemished and unfazed, was the weaponry droid who carried the appearance of a ten-year-old girl.
He took a stiff step forward – then another, and another, fury boiling greater with each step, as he made for the droid.
She bowed as he neared. “I await your next orders, Master.”
He remained silent and walked straight into the carnage of bodies, ignoring the squelching of flesh and blood beneath his boots, and approached the machine that had the ability of a power so rare and feared that the handful among the galaxy who had once possessed it, was now extinct at the hands of extermination. He knew this power and this history better than anyone alive – both were his after all. They had been his people, his people of his planet slaughtered before the eyes of a child.
“Who created you?” he asked coldly, his eyes dark with wrath.
“I have no information of my creators inputted, Master.”
“Of course you don’t,” he said, seething.
He pulled out his gun and shot straight between her eyes.
“Master, are you alright? Your heart-rate has been increasing dangerously and with your lungs already beyond –”
“Shut the fuck up and follow,” he growled.
Not a single mark indicated that a bullet had just ricocheted off her face.
They made their way past the village to his ship in silence. The villagers remained inside, unseen and unheard as if they could momentarily seek the shelter of oblivion, but he knew they would be dead by the hour. Whoever was behind this, behind the creation of this droid and its power, would see that this village be silenced. There would be no saving, no mercy, and so he boarded his ship without a glance back.
Besides, it seemed this village would not be the only one. The galaxy was now, or perhaps had been for a long time, under the ploy of being torn apart without even knowing it.
“Sit there and stay there,” he commanded as he started the ship.
Someone was playing a game with the entire galaxy, weaving strings to start a puppet show, and they had decided to make the Grey Reaper a player.
He looked down at the droid, obediently still in her seat.
They could play, he decided, but he would make them regret letting him into their game.
There will be another writing competition soon if you are interested in taking part. I’ll post on here and on social media.